Tag Archives: Woodbridge Youth Centre

Woodbridge County Councillor: Whats been happening 2016-17

This is the last year of the four year county council electoral cycle. Apart from the ultimately bathetic non-event of Suffolk’s devolution  – which managed to take up an extraordinary amount  of last year’s council administrative time  with absolutely no ultimate outcome – a lot of other things have happened in Suffolk over the last  12 months. Here are some of the most important to people in Woodbridge:

Agreed 20mph zone & calming in Woodbridge   Years of requests from Woodbridge Town Council, individual bodies and local residents came to fruition in February when I presented a report and a mass of supporting documentation to Suffolk’s Speed Panel – and  got through – ambitious proposals for speed calming in Woodbridge. I am grateful to the contribution of former Mayor Nigel Barrett to this and much cross-party support in managing to make this finally happen.

The overarching intentions will be:

  • to ensure that the ancient centre of Woodbridge is calmed
  • that heavy traffic is discouraged
  • that (often elderly) residents and visitors have easier access between the heart of the town and the riverside area
  • that children can walk and cycle safely to school
  • to help solve longstanding and persistent problems of heavy traffic in the Thoroughfare and surrounding streets
  • to assist in dealing with longstanding traffic related air quality problems at Melton Hill which is a designated Air Quality Management Area and an action for SCC to resolve
  • and by supporting the 20mph signage in the centre with a holistic scheme, to prevent unintended consequences of people ‘rat running’ elsewhere in the town
  • to support the Woodbridge ‘Walkers are Welcome’ initiative.

The approval of the panel, though vital, is only the first step.  All speed changes have to be put out to community consultation before current speedscan be changed and funding has to be found from a variety of sources. There will be 4 years’ Highways  funding from the County Councillor, and we will hope to draw from money for Air Quality and CIL money payable on account of local development.

Thoroughfare traffic improvement   I regrouped the Thoroughfare Working Party in November to try and tackle the continuing issues of traffic in the Thoroughfare – balancing the needs of  residents, visitors, traders, shoppers, pedestrians and (necessary) vehicle users.  Representation is from all 3 levels of council (cross-party), retailers, residents, police and highways engineers. The aim is to try and find consensus for a short, mid- and long-term plan to improve footfall and preserve the future of the Woodbridge Thoroughfare in all its aspects because it is the heart of Woodbridge and the lifeblood of the town.

There are two different issues with different enforcement needs (people driving through and people parking).

We look as if we are close to reaching a solution which can be put out to community consultation.

Woodbridge Youth Centre    Although some years ago I had been assured by Suffolk’s Chief Executive Deborah Cadman that no decision concerning the Woodbridge Youth Centre would be made without full disclosure to all Woodbridge councillors, I was called into a  meeting last summer to be told the centre  would close imminently.

The line was “we’re afraid something significant over the next year might force closure at short notice..so  we thought we’d force closure at short notice now.”

The centre had been home to many community initiatives: Not only was it home for Just 42,  there had been a youth club there for decades, The Gateway social Club for people with learning disabilities met there for 30 years, Company of 4 used it for rehearsals, it housed classes for Pilates, baby massage,  country dancing, French,  Italian, English as a second language, tai chi, as well as having a very important role in young people’s social care, and as a ‘safe house’ for children to meet parents in difficult home situations.

Suffolk County has offered the site on a long lease  if a good business case can be made within a year for a new centre, and (once Just42  was rehoused in temporary accommodation), we have got a group together to ensure that we can rebuild the youth centre on its present site as soon as possible for all users!

New rural Community Transport  – new difficulties for Bus Pass holders After Suffolk’s Conservative  administration stopped supporting scheduled bus services in many parts of rural Suffolk back in the Andrea Hill era rural dwellers have relied on a patchwork of demand responsive services.

In June these were brought together under a new community franchise offer, with the aim of rebranding and savinf significant sums (the county no longer provide free vehicles – saving some £570k (which largely voluntary bodies would have to find) – but also SCC would HALVE the community subsidy from £1.4m to £700k over the next four years) Although Suffolk was told this would create parity across Suffolk, it has instead created a postcode lottery .

While Suffolk Coastal Community Transport -operated by  previous  operators CATS  and FACTS (in Felixstowe)-  will be operating the same services as before:  a mix of Demand Responsive Transport (on which bus passes will be accepted), and door-to-door and community car services on which passes won’t be accepted (exactly as before.) in mid-Suffolk, the  franchisees no longer operate Demand Responsive Transport in their Community Transport offer – eg   Bus Passes will NO LONGER  be accepted, under-16 fares will only apply if are accompanied by an adult, and the under 18 reduction is derisory with no provision for young people to use SCC’s Endeavour card.

This leaves all people eligible for concessionary passes in mid Suffolk with the choice of accepting £100 in vouchers and no pass (for travel outside midSuffolk) or a pass that cannot be used where they live. And of course Suffolk bus pass holders from other districts cannot use them to  travel into mid-Suffolk either.

Queen’s 90th Birthday Commemorative Badges for Woodbridge Children     In the past Britain’s schoolchildren were always given a souvenir to commemorate special occasions and this year it seemed  – particularly in this time of austerity –  a good idea to revive this custom. So I funded a commemorative badge for every child in every Woodbridge school to celebrate and commemorate the Queen’s 90th birthday (2975 badges). Over the birthday week deputy Mayor Clare Perkins and I personally handed out about 2000 badges.

Suffolk Highways Maintenance  Controversy:  A new Highway Maintenance Operational Plan, and Contract extension   In the summer Suffolk’s administration agreed a new Highway Maintenance Operational Plan with contractors,  Kier,  and towards the end of 2016 extended their contract – despite their record of appalling performance.

Basically Suffolk’s administration had little option for the former  because the past Highways Maintenance plans have been a disaster, criticised by everyone, regardless of party affiliation. (And anyway, the new Plan had been running (‘trialled’) without Cabinet consent since early May.)
The good news is that it concedes that the previous way of Highways Maintenance working was unwieldy and inefficient, as county, town and district councillors across Suffolk could testify. There should now be a much more unified and strategic way of working between SCC and contractors Kier to try and make things work more efficiently than they have, meaning that the Highways small schemes backlog – created solely by this administration’s ideologically driven decision to outsource the contract in the name of efficiency savings – may clear at long, long last.
The bad news is that the mantra of ‘you’ve got to pay the market price for the work you get’ is very much to the fore, so there is no suggestion of many highways schemes being affordable any more.  (I have recently been quoted £5,000 to ‘design’ the siting of a single bollard!) Small towns like Woodbridge will no longer be able to rely on their County Councillors’ Highways budgets. Currently these are half what they were at best (mine is £6660 this year).  Yet jobs will be many times more expensive.

At county  Cabinet meeting I asked whether this was not a case of the ‘tail wagging the dog’? That this newly designed Highways Maintenance Operational Plan (the second one in a year!) had been constructed to fit the contractor because the contractor had been unable to stick to the agreed plan?(This was loudly rejected – but with little evidence).

In particular I pointed out the utter  absurdity of a private organisation mouthing the ‘you’ve got to pay the market price for the work you get’ mantra whilst providing no competition to ensure that they are offering good value for money. I was talked down, of course.

As for Kier’s  contract extension, this appeared to be for no more cogent reason than Macbeth’s “I am in blood so stepped that should I go no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.” Again, I spoke and urged the council to return to cheap, efficient, knowledgeable in-house provision as we had in the past. Again, the quiet voice of reason was overlooked. Cassandra could take my correspondence course.

Political Make-Up of Suffolk County Council A lot of these unpopular decisions have been forced through by a wafer-thin majority: the Conservative run council has spent the last year balancing (and occasionally tipping over the edge )  of a minority administration. As we come up to the council elections the current balance is technically hung 37:37 with one vacancy . The make up is

  • Conservative: 37
  • Labour: 15
  • Liberal Democrat: 8
  • UKIP: 9
  • Green: 2
  • Independent: 3

So, if you don’t like the state of the roads, of social care, of the libraries – remember to register your dissatisfaction through your vote.  (The Suffolk LibDems county manifesto can be found here )

Another Cuts budget for Suffolk, 2017-8   Suffolk County Council’s County Budget 2017-18 was set at the beginning of February. The  Conservatives emphasised keeping spend down and how they have amassed large reserves over the past seven years of zero council tax rises.  Labour wanted to spend to preserve services and give the residents of Suffolk what they need. Lib Dems felt the Conservatives were cutting too hard but Labour were spending at the top limit of what would be possible. The Conservative’s slender majority carried the day and a further £30million will be cut from services.

Woodbridge Library petition gains 1200 signatures in 10 days  Amongst the many cuts to this forthcoming  year’s budget,  Suffolk County Council is inflicting a further £230,000 cut to the library service.  (£280,000 if we include the archives) on top of the significant cut made in this last year.

In ten days in February I got 1200 signatures in Woodbridge to amypetition which read  “We oppose any further reductions to the funding of Suffolk’s invaluable and irreplaceable library services, and urge Suffolk County Council not to make this cut. “ The people who signed were of all ages, backgrounds  and political affiliations – the eldest was 101.  The one thing they agreed on was that these cuts were unacceptable. Over and over again the signatories’  comments repeated the fact that our libraries are ‘essential’, ‘vital’, and that users want “No more cuts!”. At the budget meeting I asked  the administration, on behalf of the people I represent, to withdraw this cut. Once again, they did not listen.

Proposals for Ipswich Northern Bypass – and how each impacts on Woodbridge  Woodbridge residents may think that a Northern bypass for Ipswich has little to do with them – but the plans will bring it close. With Ipswich coming to a standstill every rush hour and every closure of the Orwell bridge, a progress report into the need for additional road capacity to the north of Ipswich, has been published (the long-proposed Ipswich Northern bypass). Initial broad route corridors have been considered for a potential link between the A12 and A14; and are:

  • an inner corridor from Martlesham to Claydon
  • an middle corridor from Woodbridge to Claydon
  • and an outer corridor from Melton to Needham Market.

All of these will impact on residents of Woodbridge. Obviously each potential corridor would have different impacts on the environment, and on the potential to support future growth. We now have to wait the next stage of study will examine route options in more detail, including traffic, economic and environmental impacts. It will also consider the extent to which the options might support potential future scenarios for housing and employment growth beyond 2031.

The very splendid cake with which the No Cald Calling zone in Morley Avenue was celebrated

First “No Cold Calling Zone” for Woodbridge  Suffolk Trading Standards and I visited every home in Morley Avenue to talk to residents about their experiences with cold callers,  to set up a ‘No Cold-Calling zone’ in the Avenue  and to supply “No Cold Calling” door stickers advertising this.

Woodbridge Library Reading challenge  400 children registered this year, 60% of whom finished  the challenge. This meant Woodbridge Library volunteers spent 250 hours helping with the scheme over the summer, and I presented 240 certificates at the award ceremony in September!!!This year I augmented the scheme by funding story-reading sessions for the children over the summer, a Dream Jar competition and a magic show to finish the afternoon off in style, once the certificates had been presented.

Planning Developments  I have, as  ever, made representations both to planners and to Highways  officers regarding proposed developments in my division where I have been concerned that the impact on county council  infrastructure and services would be unsustainable. The Gladwells and Queen’s House developments were cases in point.

County Councillor’s Surgery  My regular  monthly open access County Councillor’s  surgery in the library, now in its 7th year, continues to bring in more and more people from across an ever-wider sector of Suffolk Coastal. It is clear that  many Suffolk residents would be grateful if their own county councillors held open-access monthly surgeries. Currently I am the only one. Just saying!

Overwhelming issues are parking, speeding, road surfaces, and pedestrian problems. However I deal with problems as diverse as  deportations, youth issues,  special educational needs, disability concwens, social care crises, homelessness, charitable organisation support – and benches!

Locality Spending My Locality budget spending this year has covered such diverse grants as: new sessions for the New Horizons Lunch Club, a contribution to the Rural Coffee Caravan (which has volunteered to do sessions in parts of Woodbridge);  rent for Woodbridge premises for the head injury charity Headway; badges for all schoolchildren 16 and under in Woodbridge to commemorate the Queen’s 90th birthday; promotion and publicity materials for Woodbridge Community Circle;  support for Woodbridge Library’s reading scheme; support for the first Woodbridge Ambient Music Event; reading materials for Got to Read’s adult literacy scheme in Woodbridge; sessional funding for Suffolk Rape Crisis; in addition to a large £7000 grant to kickstart the rebuilding of the Woodbridge Youth Centre

 

Woodbridge Youth Centre – saved from the ‘Dragon’s Den’

As you know I have been very anxious about an unconfirmed threat of development to the Woodbridge Youth Centre premises for a couple of years.

It turned out that despite the nay-sayers, this threat was genuine. I had wondered why officers had decided – in secret – not to process the licence for our local youth club, Just 42.  (This documented decision was not disclosed by officers.)  Just 42 had to have a licence to occupy the premises. Not renewing the licence would presumably have made it possible to give Just 42 speedy notice to quit!

This is a disgracefully disrespectful attitude to take to the young people of Woodbridge – and indeed to anyone who takes their concerns seriously.  These officers are our public servants. They are paid to work for the public good. They should be open and honest with councillors and with the public who have elected them. We may not be in Kansas, Toto but we’re certainly not in the Dragon’s Den either.

The culture of secrecy also meant that plans and proposals were being discussed for the redevelopment of the Woodbridge Youth Centre site. These had progressed to detailed plans for the development in question (I have copies) without any reference to the occupants, the users, the elected councillors of Woodbridge-  at all levels, or the people of Woodbridge as a whole.

Having discovered this information by a lot of detective work (and a lucky break when an email accidentally came to me with a string of prior emails attached to it, exposing the whole secret decision-making forum and process) I took my concerns to the most senior officer at Suffolk County Council – Chief Executive Deborah Cadman, who investigated the matter. She assures me that officers will never in the future make decisions without involving local elected representatives to the full. This means, I hope, that they will not behave with such disrespectful secrecy, arrogance, and assumed autonomy from the needs and requirements of the local communities they are supposed to serve.

We have been told that Woodbridge Youth Centre is now safe and that any discussion about its long-term future will involve all stakeholders, which jolly well includes our elected councillors. (My Woodbridge locality officer – in collaboration with SCC’s Rachael Rowe  – arranged the first stakeholders meeting last week – and I was delighted to see both Town and District council represented.)

I am very pleased to have it confirmed that my anxiety was not misplaced and that all the effort I have expended on this issue has been rewarded. The outcome will hopefully be protection – not only for the future of Woodbridge Youth Centre and the young people of Woodbridge – but also for other community facilities across Suffolk faced with similar threats!

No room for the next generation?

Recently I’ve been worried about  the Woodbridge Youth Centre  and all those who use it. And now I’m  sharing both information and my own concerns about this situation.

The Centre houses a number of spectacularly useful and important groups for young people, including Just 42 – the only open access youth group in 400 square miles of Suffolk Coastal;  provides  rehearsal room for the Company of 4,  offers meeting places for various groups;  and is the only place between Leiston and Felixstowe which can provide meeting space for children and young people in a safe, non-school setting. Already, the centre is used for  something like 170 different meetings a month of one sort and another.

However,  if you look at it cynically,  the Woodbridge Youth Centre’s  Kingston Field site is also one of the last pieces of prime development land in Woodbridge. My concerns were aroused when I was told that a three-year lease promised a year ago to one of the groups that used it had failed to materialise. I then discovered that decisions about the future of the WYC appeared to be occurring without any traceable reference to any elected member at County, District or Town level.

It was as if some of the council officers involved were acting as entrepreneurs rather than caretakers. And suspiciously as if they  had forgotten that they did not own the land, and were supposed to be administering the site on behalf of the people of Woodbridge. Having first raised the matter with the County Council  in May, I eventually got an email telling me that indeed, the group in question

 were offered a three year lease. However, it became apparent that there was a need to look at the bigger long-term future of the building and occupants following the start of the Our Place discussions… The intention is to continue to renew the annual licence, while the options are considered.

I didn’t think that this covered the issue completely, not least because I discovered that there seems to have been an unilateral decison made as to the  best usage of the site : the development of yet more sheltered housing for old people. ( As if there isn’t really quite a lot of this in Woodbridge already!). And because, after a whole year  this other (again unilateral) decision to downgrade a 3 year lease to an annual licence  had not been mentioned to anyone until I  started making a fuss. And because I have been representing Woodbridge since before the inception of the ‘Our Place’ scheme and I had never been party to any discussions on the subject!

I am therefore raising  the following wider concerns on behalf of the councillors and residents of Woodbridge:

a)  “it became apparent that there was a need to look at the bigger long-term future of the building and occupants”  As this sentence is in the passive  – a timehonoured way for bureaucrats to avoid telling anyone who said what, when and why to whom –  I have asked who it was to whom “it become apparent’?   I know, it was  not to me, nor to the building’s occupants, nor to the Town Council, nor to the residents of Woodbridge.

So far I have had no answer.

b) “There appears to be a lack of space in Woodbridge generally.” I have asked for this remark  to be disambiguated, so that everyone can be clear whose lack of space is being referred to.  Past conversations and emails suggest that it doesn’t refer to the young people of Woodbridge –  the group who really do lack space in Woodbridge. Rather it  refers to the amount of  sheltered, and care provision in Woodbridge. If this is the case, it is  not true.  There are already 660+ units offering such to the elderly people in Woodbridge – and that excludes those who prefer to live in  standard housing!
Just to remind you, there are 7500 people in Woodbridge, and because of the amount of sheltered housing  already,  3000 of these are in the ‘grandparent’ age group.  Many of these  have contacted me with concerns about the extreme lack of facilities there are for young people – particularly those people who grew up here and raised their own children in past decades!

c)  The email mentioned “the start of the Our Place discussions” ( which supposedly consist of ‘officers working alongside elected members to develop local service solutions‘.) Yet any discussions as to the “bigger long-term future‘  clearly took place without the presence or knowledge of me, and as far as I know, of any other elected member. The start of these particular Our Place discussuons must have occurred quite a long time ago, bearing in mind the lease has been witheld without any reason for a full year

In conclusion  – and because localism is about joint decision-making from the start – I have asked SCC  to approach no organisation with any proposition whatsoever  without having discussed in advance the various available options  for the site  with all the stakeholders.  That is – at the very least – myself (as County Councillor), the members of Woodbridge Town Council, the current occupants, and representatives of other youth stakeholders within Woodbridge.

I have shared my concerns with the town council, and they are very supportive, and I’ve convened a meeting of all the youth groups  this Friday.

We all need to make sure that our town’s youngest generation  does n’t get marginalised and forgotten. After all, they will be supporting us one day!