Quote of the week

Life isn't about finding yourself, it is about creating yourself'

George Bernard Shaw
If you cannot mould yourself entirely as you would wish, how can you expect other people to be entirely to your liking?
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/wish.html

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas Greetings

Pietro Orioli (1458-1496) The Virgin and Child with Saints Jerome, Berdardino, Catherine of Alexandria and Francis, about 1487-90. Tempera and gold on panel. (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)

would like to wish all readers of the blog a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous 2008.

Keep on reading next year!

How to dispose of your Christmas Tree

When my husband was a very small boy he lived in Paris with his parents. At Christmas the family scandalised the ferocious concierge of their block of ‘apartements’ by disposing of their Christmas tree by dropping it into the street from their 5th floor balcony. (Well yes, perhaps not a great idea….but I am assured that care was taken to see that no-one was injured!). I think that Nick’s mother was worried about dropping needles all the way down the stairs, which of course would have also enraged the management.

Residents of Babergh will, I’m sure be delighted to know, that they do not have to resort to such anti-social methods. Instead, on Sunday 6th January you can take your tree to one of 36 recycling points (all baubles removed). The trees will be chipped and composted, so will support the growth of other plants in the future.

Looking at the list, the nearest point for people in Waldingfield Ward is either the car park at the Kingfisher Leisure Centre in Sudbury, or the car park of the Old School in Long Melford.

If it is a nice day I do recommend the walk over the fields that starts from the Long Melford Car Park. A twenty minute stroll takes you to a fairly dramatic weir on the River Stour, and there are good views of the Church on the way back.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Power to the People?

It is the people themselves, who are incessantly called upon to participate personally in the decisions, not merely by expressing opinions about them in innumerable popular meetings; not merely by voting for or against their exponents at recurring elections; but actually by individually sharing in their operation’

Read on to find out who said this about what, where and when!

The course that I have been attending this autumn in Peterborough has been very interesting, not least because the tutors try to bring to our attention new trends and developments in the sphere of Local Government.

A recurring theme has been this Government’s commitment to ‘community consultation and participation’, which pervades their thinking on Local Government reform. The idea is that ‘People should be empowered’ to take responsibility for their own neighbourhoods, and that the role of the Councillor is to ‘lead’ and ‘facilitate’ the people in their role. (It was a course for Councillors, so they couldn’t be entirely written out of the equation!)

The motive for taking this approach is cited as concern about general apathy towards local government, whether evidenced by low turn out in elections or unwillingness to participate in community events. It is thought that by empowering people one will stimulate some sort of community spirit.

In this connection we were introduced to two projects that derive from Government ‘thinking’; ‘Participatory Budgeting’ and ‘Transfer of assets to the community’. The first idea is that local communities should be given some of the public purse (or ‘community kitty’) to manage for themselves, and the second is that a number of assets currently owned by councils should be handed over to local people to run.

In my view there are many problems with these ideas, and I, along with the vast majority of participants on the course, am highly suspicious of them.

There is absolutely no guarantee that money or assets passed to the community as a whole will ultimately fall into the hands of those who actually need them. Far more likely is that they will be appropriated by those ‘usual suspects’ who are articulate and can shout the loudest. I believe it is one of the key roles of the elected representatives of the community (i.e. councillors) to make judgements about resources, and to be accountable to the community as a whole. Anything else would result in an unpleasant free for all.

I believe that these ideas are really an attempt to concentrate more power in the hands of central government by diluting and emasculating the power of Local Councils yet further. In the event that local communities fail to act responsibly the perverse result would be to shift the seat of judgement further from the grass roots

This brings us back to the provenance of the quotation that started this post. It was actually written by Beatrice and Sidney Webb about Stalin’s Russia in 1936. Does this tell us something about the present Government’s mind-set and agenda?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Keep an eye on Chilton Church!

Nick and I went to St. Mary's Chilton on Sunday to the candlelit Carol Service. This is one of the three services held at the Church every year. The large number of people who attended bears witness to the fact that although the church is in theory 'redundant' it is still held dear by many.

In this connection I have received the following e mail

Lead thieves have brought grief to the congregations of a number of Suffolk churches in the past year, the latest being St Gregory's in Sudbury. Often they strip the lead in daylight, completely unchallenged because they are dressed and equipped as if they are bona fide contractors.

If members of the public should see men working on a church roof, please take vehicle numbers and call the police if you have the slightest suspicion that all is not that it seems, with the proviso of first making sure that they are not in the process of replacing stolen lead!

Best wishes from an ex-Chiltonite.

There are a good many dog walkers in the area! Keep your eyes open!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Local Government 15th Century style.

Francesco di Giorgio (1439 - 1501) The Virgin Mary protects Siena from Earthquakes, Biccherna panel, 1467-8. Tempera, gold and silver on panel.

I have just come back from the third session of the Leadership Academy in Peterborough.

On the way I spent an afternoon in London, and went to the National Gallery to see the Exhibition Renaissance Siena, Art for a City. The paintings on display were very lovely, and their history interesting. I generally drive my husband, Nick, mad by insisting on having the 'whole experience' when I go to exhibitions, not only looking at the pictures, but watching the film and also hiring the audio guide. On this occasion it was definitely worth it since my knowledge of 15th and 16th Century Tuscany is a bit hazy to say the least!

Pictured above is what is called a ' biccherna panel'. These were decorated covers used by the local council to protect their account books. At the bottom of the panel you can see the names of all the councillors. At the top is the Virgin Mary, pictured above Siena, which she is protecting from earthquakes.

What a pity Babergh District Council doesn't have the resources to commission something similar!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Shock and Awe in Springlands

Colin and I were up bright and early on Thursday morning to take part in an Impact Day organised by the Suffolk Fire Service. The idea of an Impact Day is that representatives of the public services such as the Police, the Fire Service, the DVLA, Babergh Environmental Health, the Education Service, Babergh Anti Social Behaviour team, Litter pickers etc. descend en masse on a locality to try to sort out problems on the ground, and do some clearing up along the way.

We mustered at 7 a.m. at the Big Apple Bowling Alley. All four Babergh District Councillors for the area participated. After a briefing we set off through the gloom to the Springlands Estate where a happy five hours were spent in the pouring rain generally sorting out the area. We manfully strode about revealing endless piles of rubbish in alleyways and hedgerows and a goodly number of untaxed motor vehicles under the bemused gaze of local residents, who had probably not seen so many police officers gathered together in one place at one time since the last Royal Wedding. Colin, Peter and I managed to unearth a Dyson cleaner and a pool table (pictured above). Unfortunately neither was salvageable.

The police made one arrest (a disqualified driver on the Eastern bypass) and also managed to run a potential villain to earth who had secreted himself in a garage and was making suspicious banging noises. We all were told to keep clear as the officers prepared to storm the premises, but at the eleventh hour the suspect was reprieved when it came to light that he was simply mending the garage door on behalf of the home owner.

There was much that was slightly comical about the proceedings, but it would be wrong to be critical. These operations have done a great deal to improve some of the more difficult areas of Ipswich and Colchester and are particularly helpful when they can be repeated after a few months.

So what were the results of the operation? The list was very long, but included: 14 paper delivery children who were discovered not to have the right papers, and thus were uninsured. One truant was apprehended and one missing child found. Trading standards investigated six roadside vehicles for sale and reported two building firms to Scambusters. Enquiries about 24 vehicles with out of date tax discs were sent to the DVLA and 40 homes were checked for safety by the Fire Service. 22 items of graffiti were reported or removed, 46 incidents of fly tipping were found, along with 7 Tesco shopping trolleys. The police stopped two drivers with no insurance and two overweight lorries and representatives from the Environment Agency stopped 12 lorries carrying waste and found one to be without a licence.

On the whole the day was felt to be a success despite the dreadful weather, with a good time having been had by all, except, probably, the man in the garage.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Blears scuppers Ipswich Unitary

When I first agreed to stand for Babergh it was thought very likely that I would not actually serve a full four years as a Councillor because the Government was calling for all areas to abandon the County Council/District Council pattern. Councils were to be rearranged as larger, ‘unitary’ councils which would undertake the services performed by both tiers of government. The Government then changed its mind (I know that you find this hard to believe!!!), and by the time the election came it was clear that Babergh would probably survive for at least a further four years. Babergh were however signed up to the idea of ‘Pathfinder’ whereby it was committed to trying to save money by sharing services with other authorities, and indeed it was looking very likely that a full merger with another District Council such as Mid Suffolk or St. Edmundsbury was a real possibility.

Well all bets are off now. Hazel Blears has spoken: pathfinder has been halted and Ipswich Borough Council has been told to get back into its box and abandon all ideas of unitary status within its current boundaries. It seems that the most likely outcome now is two unitary authorities for Suffolk, either one based around greater Ipswich, and a rural one for everywhere else, or alternatively East and West Suffolk Unitaries just like the good old days!

Objectively, although it goes against the grain to say so, one must congratulate Ms. Blears for this change of heart. There are far too many councillors, a lot of duplication of cost in the current system, and some very strange division of labour (for example the County Council does the roads but Babergh does the road signs!).

I’m not at all sure what this all means for the future political career of yours truly. However, coming from the City I am used to uncertainty. I narrowly escaped being a part of Merrill Lynch’s takeover of Smith New Court in the late 1990’s, leaving Merrill Lynch a week before the announcement that would probably have meant the loss of my lovely office with view of St. Pauls and a new life in a snake pit that contained some of the more exotic reptiles in the City. The thing is to carry on as normal and do one’s best…it ain’t over until it’s over.

P.S. I couldn’t bring myself to put a picture of Hazel Blears on my blog. Instead I have posted a picture of Bury St Edmunds…where we may all be paying our Council Tax in the future.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Sunday Feedback

My son Matthew seems to think that my blog is OK as far as it goes, but is distressed that I have switched off the capability for you, the readers, to leave immediate feedback on what I write. It has to be admitted, that although I am constantly surprised at how many people do seem to have accessed the site from time to time, I am aware that regular readers number fewer than 100, and that therefore the number of ‘nil returns’ in the feedback department may be a bit embarrassing.

However, I do get a fair few e mails in response to posts, and thought it would be a good idea to share some with you today. All three were written after the Folly in Folly Road post on Wednesday evening.

By e mail from Acton

‘Thanks for all the latest. The "creep" in density of the Piggeries is no surprise. I fear the same thing has happened with Chilton Woods. Originally it was to be 700 homes. At the public meeting with the developers, hosted by Acton Parish Council back in April, the developer's representative began by saying 700, subsequently said "700 or so, perhaps 750", and by the end of the meeting, if I remember rightly, a figure approaching 800 was mentioned. Ever since then I have taken it that the new development will have some 800 homes on it and I bet that's what it turns out to be. We shall see.’

By e mail from Great Waldingfield:-

'When agricultural land is worth circa £3k per acre – a farmer only has to permit the run down of his holding and hey presto – in a dozen or so years the value will increase a hundredfold. I can remember the pig farm in use and it was not a pretty sight (or site)! The precedent appears to have been set – run down your agricultural holding – do nothing and trust in the Local Plan. There needs to be some real and tangible planning gain for the local community. Ouch – just fallen off my soapbox so must retire for treatment.'

A regular correspondent from Little Waldingfield:-

'I heard it from you first Jenny.

Extra Extra Read all about it here!!!!'

I will post more feedback on the blog when appropriate! If the volume suddenly leaps from a trickle to a flood I will certainly consider turning on the automatic feedback switch.

Any comments will of course be reported anonymously (unless of course you want people to know that you are making a point!). If you don’t want me to publish your comments please let me know.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Folly in Folly Road?

Babergh’s Development Committee today gave a very sympathetic hearing to Vince Humphries, Jean Misselbrook, Colin and me on the subject of the Piggeries Site but at the end of the day they felt obliged to give the go-ahead to the proposed development. Two Councillors actually voted against giving permission, but realistically it was unlikely that any other outcome could have been achieved.

The main problem is that since the principle of the development was included in the Local Plan, and the developer had jumped through all the hoops required by the officers in respect of landscaping, highways, building design etc. etc. a refusal at this stage would certainly have been reversed on appeal. This would have been very costly for Babergh (and thus for you and me as council tax payers).

The size of the development, traffic at the school and local infrastructure were raised and discussed at length. The ‘creep’ that had raised the number of houses from 40 in the original plan to 93 today was brought up, and it was quite clear looking around the room that a number of councillors felt uncomfortable with this. I am sure that this is only the first of many similar cases, and next time it may well be housing plans in their wards that are affected! With the benefit of hindsight it is possible to trace how the increase came about, but realistically only a real planning anorak might have predicted it. (Please give me a call if you really want chapter and verse).

I made clear that we felt that it was very misleading to leave the indicated number of 40 in the final version of the Local Plan after the Inspector had quite clearly stated that the housing density on the site as planned was too low. This effectively meant that the village was lulled into a false sense of security and did not take their opportunity to object at the most appropriate stage in proceedings.

What lessons can be learned from this? As I have said before, the key to planning is eternal and early vigilance. Babergh will shortly be moving on to the next strategic plan for the District. We must all keep our eyes open for anything that will affect Waldingfield Ward and attempt to take pre-emptive action where necessary.

On a brighter note, during the debate councillors’ attention was brought to the congestion issues at the School, and the question of whether improved parking might be arranged using land belonging to Babergh will now be investigated. This would be great, but please don't raise your hope s too much in this regard. Things of this nature, I have learned already, take time.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Site visit for Chilton Mineral Extraction

On a brilliant, but rather fresh morning, about thirty people assembled on Valley road yesterday to participate in the Suffolk County Council site visit to examine the proposals to extract gravel (plus some related industrial processes) from land between Chilton and Great Waldingfield.

Pictured above are the site itself, the group discussing the adjacent A134, local residents, Peter Clifford (in red) Chairman of Chilton Parish Council, and Viv Codd the officer from SCC with the Chairman of the SCC Development Committee. When I photographed the A134 the road was uncharacterisingly deserted, but luckily the usual flow of juggernaughts and speed merchants appeared in time for them to be fully appreciated by the County Councillors!

The site meeting was lead in an exemplary fashion by the Chairman of SCC Development Committee. The site was fully walked, and everyone present had a chance to have their say. I do feel that people in Great Waldingfield and Chilton should feel that most issues were adequately aired.

The matter comes up for discussion at Babergh, which is a consultee, on Wednesday 28th November and Colin Spence, District Councillor for Waldingfield and County Councillor for Sudbury East, will be making representations at that time.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A busy week ahead - feedback welcome!

Silence from the blog does not imply inactivity….rather the reverse!

In addition to going to a Members’ Seminar for Babergh Councillors this morning which will be the subject of a later post, I have been preparing to participate in several events next week. I would very much welcome feedback from blog readers on any of the items below.

On Tuesday 27th I will be appearing before the Independent Reconfiguration Panel to try to give voice to why people in Waldingfield Ward will be seriously inconvenienced by the destruction of Sudbury’s hospitals and their replacement by very little.

If anyone has first hand experiences of hardship already experienced due to having to travel to Bury for hospital services could you please e mail me on antillj@btinternet.com before Tuesday morning. I may well be able to include this material in my presentation.

One point that I want to make is that any savings made by the Health Authorities will be clearly offset by damage to the economic wellbeing of the Sudbury area. There is an economic cost involved when time is taken off work in order to take relatives to hospital a distance away, or to visit them when they are there. Sometimes people are obliged to arrange paid child care when a relative is ill so that they can visit, and travel is increasingly expensive both economically and environmentally. In addition there are the extortionate parking fees at the West Suffolk, which I believe are a disgrace. All this drains resources out of our area, and this is before one realises that assets developed many years ago by the community are apparently being sold off without any thought of compensation.

Another issue I will address is the amount of development anticipated in the Sudbury area in coming years. Surely this increase in population warrants careful consideration when thinking about the provision of hospital services?

This brings me on to the next subject because on Wednesday 28th the application to build 93 houses at the Piggeries site in Great Waldingfield finally reaches the Development Committee for consideration. I will be asking the Committee to take note of the concerns of residents, and echoing the representations of the Parish Council.

At the same meeting Babergh will be asked for comments on the proposal for gravel extraction at Chilton. There is to be a site visit tomorrow organised principally for County Councillors who will make the ultimate decision on this matter. Last time this issue arose Babergh urged that the scheme be turned down. As I wrote on the blog recently changes have now been made by the applicant, Brett Aggregates, which appear to address some of Babergh’s concerns. Whether this is in fact the case however is not entirely clear. More work to do on this one…..

Friday, November 16, 2007

Conserving Little Waldingfield

At the Strategy Committee Meeting yesterday I was very pleased to be able to propose a motion supporting a small enlargement of the Conservation Area in Little Waldingfield. I am happy to say that the measure was supported unanimously, together with similar proposals for Pin Mill and Bures St. Mary.

As many in Little Waldingfield know, there was a public meeting in September as part of a public consultation on the proposals at which 50 people were present. 18 people responded favourably in writing, and the Parish Council has also approved the plan.

Included in the plan initially was a proposal to re-plant an avenue of Lime trees north of the church. This proved controversial, possibly due to the fact that they might obscure country views, and so this has been included as a plan as a suggestion rather than a proposal.

Patrick Taylor, the Conservation Architect, from Babergh has produced an illustrated appraisal to support the scheme which is very interesting. It includes information about the Domesday survey of 1086 which lists two manors and one church for Waldingfield as a whole, but makes no distinction between Little and Great. The name of the village is reputed to mean the ‘open area (field) of the dwellers by the wold.

As far as the built environment is concerned Patrick notes that the village has examples of most of Suffolk’s local building materials that have been used through the ages. He comments in particular on the Church and the adjacent former almshouses. He also mentions Wood Hall (pictured above) and Malting farm and notes that there is also a listed K6 telephone kiosk on The Street.

I’m sure everyone in Little Waldingfield would like me to thank Patrick for his efforts on behalf of the village.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Liberal Democrats hold on to Hadleigh

Well we failed to dislodge the Liberal Democrats in Hadleigh.

When I found out yesterday I was preparing to write a piece deprecating the low level tactics employed by the opposition. However looking more closely at the detailed results I find that we actually did quite well increasing our share of the vote. (The turn out was dismal by the way, but that is another matter.)

The nature of the Ward meant that it was always going to be a bit of a struggle. The real problem however was that last time there was a Labour Party candidate, and this time there wasn't. This meant that while the vote was split last time, any Labour enthusiast in the 'anything but the Tories' camp voted Liberal Democrat this time, making it very difficult for our man, Peter Burgoyne to come through on top. He was however a very creditable second and should be pleased with his performance. He fought a strong and very clean campaign.

I WILL be writing that piece about low level tactics from the Liberal Democrats, since being the Chairman of the Committee (The Information Technology Task Group) whose activities they were attacking I know that their campaigning claims were complete rubbish. However, no time this morning!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Site visit blues

Given the fact that from time to time I find myself unable to keep cool when provoked I think that it is probably a good thing that at the time of the notorious site visit by members of the Development Committee to the Piggeries in Great Waldingfield I was several thousand miles away.

Being a beginner at Babergh I would have been completely ignorant of the nature of these visits, and would not have had a clue with regard to who was allowed to say what to whom. This may well have resulted in trouble.

It seems a pity firstly that Babergh doesn’t make sure that new members know the ropes in this regard so that they don’t inadvertently raise expectations, and secondly that the Council does not automatically send the protocol relating to site visits to all interested parties ahead of the event. This seems to be the practice of the County Council, who probably, in this way, manage to pre-empt a certain amount of misunderstanding.

However, I don’t think that the amount of distress caused to people in Great Waldingfield can entirely be written off as a misunderstanding, and this should be faced squarely by all concerned.

Despite the fact that Colin was present, I was the Ward Member who asked for the site visit, citing traffic concerns and the proximity of the school as the ‘planning reasons’ necessary for so doing. I therefore do not find it totally surprising that the Development Committee members did not choose to actually set foot on the development site although taking a few minutes to have a look around might have been useful given the development’s size and importance. The impression was given, whether rightly or wrongly, that other matters did not receive much close attention either. This is one thing that upset people, and would, had I been there, have upset me too. Unlike much that the Council does, Planning is a quasi-judicial activity, and in my view it is important that ‘justice is not only done, but that it is seen to be done’.

Then there is the issue of good manners. Speaking generally, we Councillors only hold our positions because of the votes cast by the general public. We serve the public, not the other way round. The public deserve to be treated with respect at all times. Sometimes events conspire to make this difficult, but we should not be surprised if people are upset if there are failures in this regard.

At the time of writing the best guess as to when a decision will be made by the Development Committee on the Piggeries site is Wednesday 28th November.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

News from the County Council about gravel pit plans

I set out below the text of an e mail that I have today received from Viv Codd at Suffolk County Council in respect of proposed gravel extraction at Chilton. Mr Codd writes:-

‘The application has now been amended, and in particular it embraces the following changes:

*The transfer and sorting of general wastes has been omitted from the application

*As a consequence of the above the number of daily HGV's has been reduced from 61 to 36, i.e. 72 movements

*It is proposed that some importation of inert soils be undertaken to achieve a satisfactory restoration at the 'lower level'

*The proposed means of access has been subject to more detailing and provides for the slight movement of the carriageway to the south and inclusion of additional land to provide for the realignment.

*A conveyor would be used in part to transport aggregate to the plant area;

*The boundaries of the site have been extended to embrace off site landscaping. This does not extend the area of extraction;

*Provision of a permissive footpath.

*Arrangements are in hand for the revisions to be subject to advertisement and public consultation for a period of 21 days. The relevant drawings and correspondence have been placed on the Council's web site.'

There is to be a site inspection on Friday 23rd November and the application is likely to be considered by the County Council Development Committee on Thursday January 24.

I haven’t yet had time to consider this closely but on the whole the proposals do seem to be something of an improvement on the previous plans, with fewer lorry movements, improved landscaping with an additional footpath, and the removal of the waste transfer activities. It seems that ‘bagging’ is going to continue (as far as I can see). The partial use of a conveyor belt rather than dumper trucks should reduce noise levels from the site.

What I believe must be guarded against at all costs however is the building of any ‘temporary’ industrial activity which could lead the land to be designated as ‘brownfield’ after the ten years extraction period, giving an excuse for housing development, or worse.

If anyone has any comments that I can pass on to Colin, who is our County Councillor and who I expect will be speaking at the meeting on 24th January please e mail me at jenny.antill@babergh.gov.uk or at antillj@btinternet.com.

Friday, November 2, 2007

False alarm over scam from Belize

Many thanks to a blog reader from Great Waldingfield who has drawn my attention to the fact that the scam referred to on the blog at the end of October is actually very old news.

If you visit the Phone Pay Plus website (they are the people who regulate premium rate numbers) on http://www.phonepayplus.org.uk you will see that they actually closed this particular operation down two years ago. The scam did originate in Belize, but it turns out that the claim that calls cost £15 was wrong, and that a call to the number in question would have only(!) cost you £9 if you had been on the line for the maximum 6 minutes.

I have passed this information on to Babergh and am sorry if I have caused concern to any of you!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Ties that blind - a new constitution for Babergh?

Out in the real world neck-ties seem to be going out of fashion somewhat. However in the world of politics they continue to be worn, and sometimes have a significance known only to the cognoscenti! It has been noted for example that Gordon Brown wore comforting blue or green ties throughout his non-campaign to be elected leader of the Labour Party. Ties are generally worn at Babergh, and I was struck at Tuesday’s full Council Meeting by a remarkable example.

An early item on the agenda was a motion to approve the setting up of a task group to look into changing the Constitution. Babergh is something of an anomaly in the world of councils in that it is a ‘Group Four’ type, headed by a Chairman, which makes its decisions by means of a structure of committees. There is a broad consensus between most of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats that it would be better to have a Leader and Cabinet structure. It is thought that this would speed up decision making, and also make individual councillors (the ‘cabinet members’) more accountable to the public for the Council’s activities and decisions. It also happens to be the structure adopted by the vast majority of other councils in the U.K.

The idea is not much supported by the Independent councillors, who realise that under this structure it is probable that they, together with other ‘backbenchers’ will have less to do and possibly less power.

Almost at the start of the debate a rock was thrown into the pool that threatened to submerge the whole process before it had started. Was it not possible, enquired Mr Clive Arthey, Member for North Cosford, a person of such singular opinion that he does not number himself even among the Independents, was it not possible for the task force to consider alternative forms of constitutional arrangement open to us while they were at it? Why restrict themselves to just looking at the Leader and Cabinet model? An amendment was moved!

Clive Arthey’s suggestion would have condemned the working group, and later the Council as a whole (working inexorably through its numerous committees) to additional hours of harmless fun!

A moment of gloomy silence greeted the proposal. Silence was followed by muted expostulation. My fellow councillors were clearly stupefied by the notion that the decision making process to speed up the decision making process could be high-jacked in this way. At last the confusion was brought to an end by the firm expression of a contrary opinion from Councillor Penny Clarke, Member for Berners Ward, a lady with many years experience of this sort of thing. The amendment was defeated.

I turned to look at Councillor Arthey who looked pretty unperturbed. He was however wearing a very fine tie! It depicted a flock of white sheep, with one black sheep gambolling happily in the middle I could have sworn that the black sheep winked at me.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Scam for Christmas!

I thought that I should share the message below with you. It came from an officer at Babergh and I have no reason to believe that it isn't true:-

'Can you circulate this around especially as Xmas is fast approaching - it has been confirmed by Royal Mail. The Trading Standards Office are
making people aware of the following scam:

A card is posted through your door from a company called PDS (Parcel Delivery Service) suggesting that they were unable to deliver a parcel and that you need to contact them on 0906 6611911 (a premium rate number). DO NOT call this number, as this is a mail scam originating from Belize.

If you call the number and you start to hear a recorded message you will already have been billed £15 for the phone call. If you do receive a card with these details, then please contact Royal Mail Fraud on 02072396655 or ICSTIS (the premium rate service regulator) at www.icstis.org.uk

You have been warned!!!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Canvassing in Hadleigh

There is to be a by-election in Hadleigh North on November 8th. The Liberal Democrat incumbent has apparently found that it is all too much work. As a result I have spent a few hours over the past week helping the Conservative candidate, Peter Burgoyne, by delivering some leaflets and doing a spot of canvassing.

I must admit that I had to overcome the feeling of revulsion for letter boxes and doorbells which I developed towards the end of the campaign in May. However, once I had persuaded myself that there were no large dogs, or worse, on every doormat, the door-knocking experience was as usual interesting and ultimately rewarding.

I was struck by a number of things.

Firstly, the hot topic of the swimming pool was mentioned by absolutely no-body I spoke to. As I am sure you have gleaned from the press, Hadleigh Pool is (probably) on its last legs. Inflation and contemporary safety and other standards being what they are it is going to cost around £7m to replace. Babergh simply does not have this sort of money. It was felt that around £3 to £4 million might be found, but this would have meant using capital receipts not only from asset sales in Hadleigh, but from everywhere else in the District. I was personally less than happy about this, since I believe that benefits from the sale of Council property should be spread more fairly, but Councillors from Hadleigh have been vocally demanding the lot (and Liberal Democrats have been trying to blame the Conservatives for not letting them have it, which is inaccurate and unfair.)

Secondly, whatever time of the day or week you call on people at least 50 percent are not at home. Where on earth do people go? I know that many people work, and of course Saturday morning is probably a shopping morning for many, but whole swathes of houses lie completely empty, as far as I can see, for hours at a time.

Thirdly, Labour supporters are getting a very raw deal in Babergh at present. Once again no Labour candidate is standing, which means that there is no chance of the end of Babergh as a ‘Socialist Free Zone’.

If Peter wins in Hadleigh the Conservative Group will still not have overall control of the Council, which is a great pity to my mind since 6 months as a Councillor have taught me that the lack of clear political direction at the Council has many drawbacks for almost all concerned.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Anyone for Autumn Arts?

What with higher costs for fuel and taxes, not to mention higher interest rates, I think that people are feeling a bit hard up at present. As a result a lot of arts organisations seem to be suffering from lower than usual attendance.

I have just received the leaflet for the Winter Concert Series of the Suffolk Villages Festival, which is directed by the internationally known early music expert Peter Holman. I note that their annual fundraising supper, which is usually a great success, has been cancelled due to lack of support. This rings a bell with me because we are currently taking bookings for the Autumn Arts season at Gainsborough’s House and although the events will not be an embarrassing disaster, tickets are not walking out of the door in the customary manner!

This is a bit depressing, since we think that we have lined up an outstanding range of performers and speakers, some of whom are coming quite a long way to do their stuff for us. There is always the feeling that perhaps we haven’t done enough to publicise these events, but in the past most of the tickets have been snapped up by Friends and Volunteers at the museum so there has been little need for extra advertising.

Anyway, what’s the point of a blog if one can’t use it for this sort of purpose? So! if there is anyone out there who would like tickets for one of the events detailed below just e mail me, or contact Reception at Gainsborough’s House.(tel: 372958 credit cards accepted) The price for all events is £8.50 which includes a drink which makes the whole deal pretty good value even in these belt tightening times! All start at 7 for 7.30, and all will last a little over an hour with the exception of the first event, which will last for two hours with an interval.

On 1st November actress Elizabeth Norman (of British Telecom fame) and Pat Brindley have devised an evening of readings based on the theme of the Ages of Man. There will be excerpts from a wide range of writers and poets from Shakespeare to Wilfred Owen. There will also be musical interludes from Classical Guitarist Christopher Northall who will play pieces by Bach and Dowland among others.

On 7th November there will be a lecture/entertainment about British women explorers of the 19th century presented by the actor/lecturer duo The Scholar and the Star. Those who have seen their presentations have told us that they are really excellent, full of interesting insights and ‘local colour’!

On 14th November Gordon Rushmere, an official War Artist who has worked in the Gulf and Afghanistan for the Ministry of Defence, will talk about his work. He is expected to bring some of his drawings and paintings with him so that people can see what he is talking about!

Any profit made from these events goes directly to help the work of Gainsborough’s House, which is increasingly broadening the scope of its endeavours to include not only its traditional audience and schools, but also the disabled and elderly in the community. New visitors to the House are always surprised at the friendly welcome they receive, and very often become regulars.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Tomorrow the World?

I am sure that you will all be interested to know that your District Councillor is an intuitive introvert !* On another parameter it seems that I am a ‘rationalist’ rather than an artist, a guardian or an idealist! The reason that I know these things is that I have just returned from the first two days of a course at the I&DeA Leadership Academy, where, along with fifteen other councillors from local authorities of all types, I have been put through some personality profiling exercises, and have been given all sorts of interesting tools with which to hone my leadership skills!

Although some of the material was familiar to me since I attended a similar course towards the end of my career in the City, the local authority rather than private sector context meant that I learned a lot.

Delegates had the opportunity to discuss personal challenges in small groups. It was fascinating to hear the variety of anxieties that were uppermost in councillors’ minds. A county councillor was fretting about the delivery of a huge PFI schools project for example. The potential leader of the opposition in a Borough Council was worried about having to form an administration if his group does well at the next elections. One of the people in our group was the Leader of a District Council who claimed to have so much difficulty trusting his cabinet that he found it impossible to stop himself adding his two-pennyworth to their speeches in the Council Chamber. I bet they really love him!

By the evening of the first day, as often happens, the course began to feel like a little world of its own. In the bar after dinner, hours of innocent fun were spent discussing the relative merits of plastic bags and wheely bins. It is incredible how strongly some elected representatives feel about the advantages and disadvantages of their various refuse collection systems. I had quite a good ding-dong with a gentleman who claimed that it was not just the right of everyone to have a roof over their head (with which of course I agree) but that it was their right to be an owner occupier (an idea with which I could not concur). Midnight found four survivors (or insomniacs) writing down what they meant by Conservatism on paper napkins to prove that the Party still has an ideology!

Happy days! We all reconvene again in November for more of the same. In the meantime it’s back to the real world.

*Being told that I am an introvert was a bit of a blow…Aren’t introverts gloomy brooding types? Is this really me? However I was very borderline only a few points away from the spot where the extraverts begin!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Branchlines; first plans take shape.

Branchlines, the Community Woodland Group in Great Waldingfield, held its 6th Annual General Meeting yesterday. Regular readers of the blog will know that after many frustrations, the Group is tantalisingly close to acquiring a 1.3 hectare (3.33 acres) piece of land close to the Church from Suffolk County Council. When purchased this will be laid out and planted up over a three year period as a woodland for the whole community.

After the formal part of the meeting, Grenville Clark from the Green Light Trust, which has been helping and supporting the Group, gave a presentation. Slides were shown to demonstrate what has been achieved elsewhere, and to enable people to envisage what might be possible in Great Waldingfield. Then we all walked the hundred yards or so down the road from the Church to view the virgin territory. Pictured above is Grenville, with David Taylor, Chairman of Branchlines, and others inspecting the site.

All then repaired to the Church for a spontaneous design session, where four groups had a go at thinking up a possible name for the wood, considering what features they would like to see there and, finally, having a go at making a preliminary design on a blank map of the field. (This process is to be repeated by children at Great Waldingfield Primary School on Monday).

Two things rapidly became clear: firstly the possibilities are enormous and secondly, a community woodland is not really the same as what one might call a ‘natural’ wood since by its very nature it will contain features for the use of, and dictated by, the community. Many suggestions were made; bird hides, ponds, a tree top walk (eventually), viewing mounds, rides, an amphitheatre (yes!), outdoor classrooms, paths suitable for wheelchairs, willow structures etc. etc. Potential activities on the site included picnics, entertainments, lessons for schools and dog walks, not to mention the learning of rural crafts, nature study, the coppicing and harvesting of wood plus the encouragement of biodiversity with water and wood piles.

Although the site is not particularly large it represents a start for the village. There may be the possibility of buying further land at a later stage with the aim of creating a green link-way of woodland for posterity. In my opinion community action of this type, which effectively seizes back the initiative from the developers and planners, is one of the best ways to try to resist the relentless encroachment of building in rural areas

It is now possible for people in the village to get formally involved in the project by joining a membership scheme which was inaugurated at the AGM. Contact Shirley Rose on 376499 for details.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The last post? Acton Post Office closure.

It has not come as a great surprise to me that Acton Post Office is among those earmarked for closure by the Government. Bob and Gill took up the challenge when the former Post Office was forced to close, and have been doing a great job during a very difficult period for them. Unfortunately however, for a number of reasons, their efforts, which were considerable, have not been sufficient to stave off what is effectively an assault on the rural post office system.

One problem is that Acton Post Office is simply too close to other outlets that can be reached by public transport from the village. Another is that having been open for a little less than a year, business had not built up sufficiently for financial viability to be proved. Of course you could argue (and I would) that there should be some concept of public service over and above financial considerations in the provision of rural postal services. Additionally, bearing in mind the need to save the world’s resources, walking to a local outlet must be better even than taking the bus. These are not arguments that weigh much in the minds of the Government however.

There is to be a period of so called public consultation. However, it was recently made clear to Councillors that it is to be the sort of ‘consultation’ that we are becoming increasingly used to (i.e. you say what you think and then we do what we like). There is to be a meeting at Babergh on Tuesday to which I will be going with a representative of Acton Parish Council, but I am not very hopeful of anything positive coming out of this for Acton.

If all goes accordingly to plan the Post Office is likely to close in December…just ahead of Christmas.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Goings on at Gainsborough's House

An exhausting morning for all concerned took place on Saturday morning at Gainsborough’s House. The event was the opening of a retrospective exhibition by local artist Richard Bawden, pictured here in front of one of his distinctive works. The enthusiasm of visitors was such that at one stage I volunteered to take over the task of ‘clicking people in’, so that the Reception desk could get on with the job of taking money for gift shop items and selling paintings.

Well over 200 people came into the House to see the paintings, prints and ceramics on display. I do recommend that people go in and take a look. If you want to buy a souvenir there are some great works still unsold and if you can’t stretch to an original there are some great tea towels in the shop decorated with Bawden woodcuts.

Richard Bawden was born in Braintree in 1936 and has spent his working life in East Anglia. Regularly shown at the Royal Academy Summer exhibition, his works can be found in the collections of the Tate and the Victoria and Albert Museum and also in the Government Art Collection. He has exhibited widely throughout East Anglia and also in Germany. The artist has had a long-standing relationship with Gainsborough’s House, being Chairman of the Print Workshop between 1984 and 1990, and participating in exhibitions in 1974 and 1996. He also created a mural and designed china for Ford’s Bistro, situated adjacent to Gainsborough’s House, in the 1980s.

The exhibition continues until just before Christmas, and entry to the Museum is free on Tuesdays (although donations, however small, are gratefully received!)

There is a good deal of activity at Gainsborough’s House at present. November 1st marks the beginning of Autumn Arts, a series of evening events including a Musical Evening, with actress Liz Norman and lectures on Victorian lady explorers and the experiences of a war artist. These are open to the public once Friends and volunteers have had the chance to book (which they now have!). Details from Reception in Weavers Lane, or on 01787 372958. Entry costs £8 per head per event.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Valuing our soldiers (and others)

I was pleased to see that the Government , after a lot of procrastination, is putting arrangements in hand to ensure that Iraqi interpreters, looking after our troops in Basra, are able to seek refuge in Great Britain at the end of their duties. I increasingly believe that we do not sufficiently recognise the efforts of our troops (and those who support and assist them).

This belief was reinforced on our recent trip to the US. On the last morning we visited Arlington Cemetery (pictured above).

Since the cemetery is so large and the weather was hot we opted to take the ‘tourmobile’, which drops one off at different spots and then comes round again 15 to 20 minutes later to take one on again. At the end of the tour the driver pointed out across a sea of white soldiers’ graves and told us that what we were looking at was the ‘price of freedom’. He then went on to invite a round of applause for anyone on the tourmobile who was either a veteran, in the military or related to a military family. Everyone responded enthusiastically.

Maybe you think this was a bit over the top, but can you imagine anything approximate happening here? Why only last week it was reported on the news that those trying to arrange events for Remembrance Sunday in November are finding official red tape increasingly difficult to negotiate, and the attitude of local authorities and other bodies obstructive. I find this very depressing, and am not surprised that the army is having difficultly attracting recruits.

( Travel notes! I have to say the main reason that I wanted to visit this area was to see Arlington House, the family home of the great Confederate General, Robert E Lee.

When Lee resigned from the Federal army at the beginning of the Civil War in order to fight on the Confederate side, the Yankees took their revenge by requisitioning his beautiful home and turning the garden into a military cemetery. Lee never saw his home in Arlington again. The military cemetery has greatly grown in size since the 1860’s and now incorporates thousands of graves, including those of the Kennedy brothers. Arlington House, which overlooks the Potomac River and Washington beyond, is currently being restored to its ante-bellum appearance)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Development in Queensway under the spotlight

Yesterday Mrs. Johnson, the Clerk of Acton Parish Council, and I went to the Development Committee at Babergh to argue against proposed building in Queensway in Acton (pictured above) I am happy to say that our efforts paid off and the application was rejected unanimously. We both felt that this was a victory for local democracy since, in addition to the opposition of the Parish Council, a number of people in the village had objected directly to Babergh.

There were a number of good reasons for resisting this particular application. Mrs. Johnson pointed out that access to the street is very restricted, the roadway being only 3.6 metres wide outside the proposed site (for cars to pass safely one needs 4.8 metres). I argued that infilling of this type would spoil the street scene, since what one has in Queensway is a planned estate of identical semi-detached homes, designed to stand harmoniously together with reasonable gaps between them. Filling in the gaps would destroy the street’s architectural integrity, and, frankly, result in something of a pig’s breakfast.

The officer from Babergh was rather dubious about arguing that the street scene would be damaged since the road is not of ‘historic interest’. Well, I would strongly argue that this is not the case! The estate was originally planned in 1948 apparently, was completed in time for the coronation of Her Majesty the Queen, and named accordingly. It has been almost untouched since the 1950’s, although what was originally a council estate is now a mixture of owner occupied and tenanted homes.

In rejecting this application the Committee was consciously taking something of a stand, since given current pressures there are bound to be other similar planned estates outside conservaton area that come under threat.

Building in gardens and filling in every gap in street frontages has become very popular, driven by Government housebuilding targets.

There has been some resistance at Westminster however. Caroline Spelman, the Conservative MP for Meriden has introduced a Private Members Bill to try to prevent what she describes as ‘garden grabbing’, and potential general election uncertainties aside, the second reading of this is due on 19th October.

To learn more about Mrs. Spelman’s Bill go to


Oh, by the way…a disclaimer just in case I ever find myself actually voting on a similar issue…The views expressed in this post relate exclusively to this development in Queensway. I would of course judge any similar application on its merits at the time!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Pitcures from Great Waldingfield Flower Festival

A little known fact about Great Waldingfield is that the village can claim at least four florists or ex-florists among its residents! Their fantastic arrangements are all on show at St. Lawrence’s Church this weekend, together with contributions from several gifted amateurs. Some of the displays are shown above.

Included above is the contribution from Branchlines, the community woodland organisation. (It is the one with the suspended vegetables). I understand that fund-raising (or strictly speaking re-fund-raising) for the woodland is going according to plan.

Tea and coffee are available in the Church, and there is also a raffle and other stalls. Well worth a detour!

Friday, September 28, 2007

A green week at Babergh

This week at Babergh has been particularly ‘green’. In addition to the ‘Switch it off’ campaign at the Council Offices in Hadleigh, on Wednesday evening there was a seminar entitled Climate Change. How will we respond in Babergh?

A Group of Councillors and officers sat down in Polstead Village Hall to watch Al Gore’s film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ and there were then presentations, both from Babergh officers and also from local organisations who, in the absence of serious initiatives from central government, are trying to make a difference from the bottom up. There was then time for discussion during which it became clear that not everyone is yet completely convinced about the need for behaviour to change.

However, the evening was very interesting, and I am hoping to investigate some of the local initiatives further in the weeks to come. One of the most fascinating developments is the burgeoning green movement in the village of Sproughton, something that could well be replicated in Waldingfield Ward. Go to www.greensproughton.org.uk for a flavour of what is going on!

The Al Gore film made some good points, but I have to confess that I was most affected by the part that showed very clearly how ghastly it must have been to have been cheated out of becoming President of the US. So near and yet so far! My heart bled for him.

And talking about the US, whatever one thinks about the country’s green credentials, there is one green aspect of US society that one cannot knock and that is the very fine National Park Service. The picture above was taken in the Shenandoah Valley National Park a couple of weeks ago.