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

Monday, April 30, 2007

Rounding up the issues

We have concentrated on local issues during the campaign. As the election on Thursday approaches I think it is worth refocusing on those matters that people have told us are important to them. Some of these have been dealt with at greater length in previous posts, but to summarise:-

Development: People are not only concerned about the way in which new construction will be delivered, but are also asking the related question ‘is there really enough infrastructure in place to support the plans?’ The Piggeries site at Great Waldingfield and the Chilton Woods development will have an impact on all of us. Traffic management and the overall impact of development are the questions that will need close attention. It is possible that changes in central government guidelines on housing density could result in a more appropriate number of homes being built on the Piggeries site. The number of homes planned at Chilton Woods however seem to be creeping upwards. It will be a priority for me, if elected to Babergh, to keep a close eye on the detailed plans as they evolve, keep up to date with government guidelines, and check that conditions and restrictions placed on developers are complied with.

Then we come to the plans to extract gravel at Chilton (with related industrial activities). Colin and I certainly believe that development of this site at this time is a step too far for the area. Colin spoke against the proposals at Babergh earlier in the month, and intends to do so again in the summer when the final decision is made at Suffolk County Council.

Healthcare: As some of you know I had to travel to A & E at the West Suffolk Hospital on Friday. I was lucky. The unit was quiet and I was in and out in under two hours. However, it was fortunate that my husband was around to drive me to Bury. For others the need to travel so far would have been a serious inconvenience. Colin has been at the forefront of the fight both to save our local hospitals and the facilities that we have and also to secure adequate provision of health care for all in the future. I will do all I can to support him in this area.

The Environment: Some voters have become much more aware of 'green issues' and are interested in the Council’s initiatives to increase the level of recycling and encourage other policies that conserve the Earth's resources. As we have gone round the ward we have seen some encouraging examples of pioneering householders investing in new technology such as solar panels which not only save energy but reduce carbon emissions too.

Related to the environment in general, many people are concerned about the amount of litter to be seen lying around the district. Living on the edge of a town where fast food outlets have proliferated in recent years has definitely meant more rubbish. My husband Nick watched amazed recently as a couple sitting in a car on the Airfield completed their Big Macs and cokes, wound down both the windows, calmly chucked out their rubbish and drove off. Education is one answer, and in my view more should be done by the fast food outlets themselves to resolve the problem. (Perhaps VAT should be charged on take away food (it is currently exempt). The money raised might be used to clean up.)

Finally there is the ever increasing level of Council Tax . This is of particular concern for those who earn just a little more than the level at which Council Tax Benefit kicks in, childless below-average earners, young workers under 25 and Pensioners with a small occupational pension. Gordon Brown’s removal of the 10% income tax band has hit these groups, who are among the hardest pressed people in our society.

It is a manifesto commitment of the Conservative Group at Babergh to be business-like and to provide cost effective services. If elected I am very much looking forward to rising to this particular challenge. I am encouraged by the fact that Conservative members at Babergh have unwaveringly supported recent initiatives to invest in systems aimed at keeping Council Tax down without compromising the quality of services delivered.

While I do not think that party politics are particularly relevant in the sphere of local government:-

Figures show that Conservative Councils have the cleanest streets with lower levels of litter, graffiti and fly posting.

It is also a fact that Conservative Councils have a much better record of keeping Council Tax increases down than other political parties. In 2007/8, averaged across the different tiers of local government, they charged £55 a year less on Band D Council Tax than Labour councils and £84 a year less than Liberal Democrat councils.

If any reader wants the source of these claims with supporting evidence please e
mail me.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Battle scars

Following the frenetic activity of the first two weeks of the campaign, we are now enjoying a few quieter days before the ‘last push’ ahead of polling day. In my case the rest is somewhat enforced due to a couple of war wounds sustained since Sunday.

While canvassing at the weekend I was unlucky enough to walk straight into the side of an unexpectedly open garage door which had been closed when I had approached the adjacent doorstep. A gash on the head and bruising resulted! Then on Tuesday I was so excited by the arrival of the postal voting list from Babergh (yes I know that many will find this reaction rather eccentric) that I fell down the stairs and am now nursing a cut lip and sprained wrist. I now look nothing like the picture on the front of our election leaflet and feel quite sorry for myself! Colin on the other hand is looking browner and fitter every day!

I suppose that’s why it’s called a ‘campaign’.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The value of Democracy

There are 3284 electors in Waldingfield Ward and they live in 1636 houses.

On Saturday morning we knocked on the door of the 1636th house and were happy to find that its owner was a supporter which added to the feeling of satisfaction of having completed the first round! Canvassing the ward over the last two weeks has been far more enjoyable than I expected. The weather has been kind to us, we have met (and drunk tea and coffee with) some very pleasant people and have engaged in a number of interesting discussions on a wide range of topics.

What has been depressing however is the lack of engagement with local politics and related community issues that one meets on many doorsteps. For every person who takes an interest there are at least two who regard the whole electoral process with indifference, if not hostility. This is reflected in the turn out figures. The percentage of electors in Waldingfield who came out to vote at the last election for Babergh was a paltry 34.15%.

In the Times on Saturday a grandmother wrote about the difficulty she was experiencing in persuading her 18 year old grand-daughter to go out and vote for the first time. When the older woman reminded the girl about the fight of the Suffragettes for votes for women it transpired that despite being at a good school she had never even heard of the Suffragettes!

In recent months I have been revisiting a number of 19th Century novels, such as Felix Holt by George Eliot and the Palliser Novels by Trollope. The excitement and vibrancy that surrounded elections in earlier days is clear from the etching above that depicts the Middlesex elections of 1806. At that time the vote was regarded as a privilege and something that people were struggling to achieve. Nowadays it seems we take it for granted.

What can be done to stimulate in politics again? People seem increasingly unwilling to get involved with their local communities, and lack of interest in local politics is part of this unwillingness. Is it something to do with education? When I was at school we held mock elections and regularly discussed contemporary political issues. To what extent does this happen today? As I have discovered over the last two weeks engaging with people in the community is very enjoyable and life enhancing. It is in my view sad that many people seem to prefer to live their lives vicariously through soap operas instead of connecting with the real world.

To some extent it is up to politicians to try to reach out to people to encourage them to participate. If I am elected to Babergh on 3rd May I will certainly try to get involved in any initiatives that raise awareness and interest in the democratic process and the way that our communities are run.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Babergh objects to gravel plan.

As a pleasant change from canvassing this morning Colin and I went to a meeting of the Development Committee at Babergh. The issue of the proposed gravel extraction plant at Chilton was due to be discussed. The morning proved to be very interesting, if rather protracted.

The plan to extract gravel and build associated industrial plant at the site that runs parallel with Valley Road, has been a real worry for people not only in Chilton, but also in Great Waldingfield, Great Cornard and Newton. Even those residents living some distance from the site are naturally concerned about the increased traffic flows and potential pollution that are likely to result. Of particular concern is the proposed exit road onto a notoriously dangerous stretch of the A134. A horrendous 120 lorry movements a day are expected to be generated by the site, some of which be routed through the already over-congested centre of Sudbury.

The ultimate decision maker is Suffolk County Council, but Babergh had been asked to give their opinion as a contribution to the decision making process. Representations were made by Peter Clifford, the Chairman of Chilton Parish Council, by the Clerk of Newton Parish Council and by Vince Humphries the Chairman of Great Waldingfield Parish Council. No-one said a word in favour of the enterprise.

Colin in his capacity as Ward Member was able to speak persuasively and at some length about the issue. He pointed out that he was opposed to the scheme when it was included in the County Council Minerals Plan some years ago and he has not changed his mind in the intervening period! The project’s scope has greatly expanded and in addition to gravel extraction permission is being sought for associated waste recycling and cement bagging activities. In addition development, past and future in the area, has meant that traffic levels, current and anticipated, are very much higher than they were when the plan was originally mooted. Colin urged the Committee to object to the scheme, and in the debate that followed it was clear that the Members agreed with him.

Many arguments were made against the project. However, Babergh is to object on the following grounds:

There will be an adverse impact on residential amenity due to noise, dust, traffic etc. and the visual impact of the development

There will be an adverse impact on the landscape.

Highway safety will be compromised

The ten year time limit is unrealistic.

The nature of the industrial structures would be better suited to a permanent location.

The question now goes to the County Council sometime in the summer for final decision. Colin intends to repeat the representations made today at that time. It is clear in my view that the gravel extraction project is by no means a ‘done deal’, and that there is now a real possibility that it will not go ahead.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A rural ride

Now that nominations are in we have started actively to campaign and to 'leaflet' around Acton, Chilton, Great Waldingfield and Little Waldingfield.
I am really very lucky that my running mate Colin Spence, who is embarking on his eleventh campaign trail, knows his way around the Ward so well. Yesterday we went out beyond Lavenham in one direction and almost to Boxford in another to seek out the outlying voters that fall into our area. It was quite a trip down lots of winding lanes. I am pleased to say that we were well received by all the dogs and geese that we met, and almost all of the human beings!

As we went around I was really struck by what a wonderful area this is and how lucky we are to live here. The countryside is looking really lovely at present with the bright green corn, the white blossom and the yellow rape flowers. The day really inspired me to fight to keep it as unchanged as possible!

During the excursion my attempts to add more names to my e mail and blog update list proved rather frustrating. A number of people complained that, living some distance from the Sudbury exchange, they are unable to get an adequate signal for Broadband. Slow or intermittent reception means that they do not use their e mails and access the internet as much as they could and are generally rather bored with the whole process. This is obviously something to work to change!

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Europe, a diversion?

Yesterday nominations closed for the Elections on May 3rd.

The two seats at Babergh for Waldingfield Ward will, we now know, be contested by four candidates, Colin Spence and myself for the Conservatives, a Liberal Democrat and a representative of the UK Independence Party

Although not having a particularly well thought through manifesto, UKIP has some policies which at first sight may appeal to natural Conservative supporters, (although it is hard to see what most of them have to do with Babergh District Council!) Of particular attraction is their pledge to withdraw from the EU. But a euro-sceptic vote for UKIP on May 3rd may have unintended consequences. One less vote for the Conservatives could allow the Liberal Democrats, an overtly pro European party, into power!

Like many Conservatives I’m not particularly keen on the European Community. It is undemocratic, bureaucratic and almost certainly corrupt. However, I do not believe that total withdrawal from the Union is really feasible, despite the fact that I would like to see the UK freed from some of its diktats.

In my view the best way to fight loopy loo rules emanating from the Brussels bureaucrats is to struggle from within, as many Conservative MEP's are currently doing. The same goes for the trend towards Federalism. Enlargement of the EU in recent years means that there are several countries, such as Poland and the Czech Republic that are taking the same approach.

Whether we like it or not in the UK we are becoming more and more affected by events taking place in other parts of the world. Global warming is one example and the recently resolved hostage crisis in Iran is another. There is little doubt that pressure from other EU members, notably Angela Merkel in Germany, was to some degree instrumental in bringing about a settlement. Total independence for the UK would, in my view, make us very vulnerable in today’s world.

Law and order

I was surprised to learn that all three major parties a couple of days ago, launched their campaigns for the Local Government Elections with comments about law and order.

My first reaction was that the party leaders were aiming their comments at an urban rather than a rural audience. I have only done a limited amount of canvassing up to now, but the issue of crime has not loomed large among the concerns of those to whom I have spoken. Moreover, I have been impressed at the Parish Council meetings that I have attended by the relatively low levels of crime reported when members of the police have been in attendance.

However over the past two weeks both Colin and I, or at least our families, have been the victims of crime! A member of Colin’s family had a wallet stolen when being distracted by a thief’s accomplice in a shop in Sudbury. (This is apparently a growing phenomenon in the town so be warned! Don’t get distracted by a stranger when approaching the till). Then on Tuesday, while Nick and I were trying out a hostelry in Lavenham some kind soul took a hammer to one of the windows of our car. Nothing was stolen and the damage was relatively minor but nonetheless it was unexpected, irritating and unsettling.

Perhaps I have been too complacent about this issue. It was tempting not to bother to report the damage to the car since we will not be claiming on our insurance policy. I wonder how many other people feel like this and how much petty crime therefore goes unreported? This would go some way to explaining the low levels of crime that are actually recorded by the police.

At the Great Waldingfield Annual Parish Meeting last week we met the first of three Community Support Officers who will be responsible for patrolling an area that includes Acton, Chilton, Great and Little Waldingfield. Although these people will be rather thinly spread, and their number has been cut back by central Government before they even started recruitment, their arrival on the scene must be welcomed.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Woodland plans tangled in red tape

This morning I took some rather weedy saplings down to the allotments at Great Waldingfield as a small addition to the 600 plus small trees that are being grown on as part of the Branchlines scheme which aims to create a community woodland for the village.

As the picture above shows David Taylor, Tree Warden and the Chairman of the project, with a number of brawny volunteers were hard at work preparing the ground for more contributions. It was good to see them in such good spirits.

Unfortunately at present plans at Branchlines are on hold because the land that had been identified as suitable for the wood is concealing beneath its turf a plethora of archaeological remains from Roman and Anglo Saxon times, and, most importantly, the Bronze Age. There are other possible sites, but access to most of these is also being blocked by rules and red tape. As a result grants won to develop the wood have been regretfully turned down.

Were Branchlines to be a cash rich developer, or government backed roadbuilder, the archaeological survey that is now required before further work can proceed would be easily funded. As a small charity however Branchlines is unable to proceed. The survey costs several thousand pounds, and its results may mean that in any case no trees can be planted on the site.

The claims of the past are competing with the opportunities of the future. The mind boggles when faced with this sort of conflict.

My feeling is that some sort of compromise should be possible to enable the woodland to go ahead. Planting part of the site for example is a possibility. After all, the archaeological community do not appear to be desperate to investigate the site. Perhaps this is because they feel that it is unlikely to throw up anything new and exciting about the Bronze Age. It is all rather unclear!

What is clear however is that a definite public benefit would be derived from the planting of the woodland, with its planned additional educational features. However ‘the powers that be’ seem, as usual, determined to enforce ‘one size fits all’ rules designed for bodies with huge budgets. Whatever happened to pragmatism, goodwill and common sense?