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

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Internet blues plus some photos on recent topics

We have been having terrible trouble with our internet connection over the past few days. I spent a frustrating afternoon today speaking to a very nice gentleman from Madras who patiently got me to pull out cables and then push them back in again to no avail whatsoever! Now, suddenly we have a connection but I have not had time to write the post that I had planned about the latest exhibition at Gainsborough's House. (Worth a look; remember that admission is free on Tuesday afternoons!)

Peter Clifford, the Chairman of Chilton Parish Council has been kind enough to send me these photos from which it can be seen that firstly, as anticipated earlier in January, a lot of work has now been done by BATS to dredge out the pond at Chilton Grove to preserve the local newt population, and that secondly despite continued efforts fly tipping continues to increase on the outskirts of Sudbury. The fridge pictured was dumped on the Chilton airfield, which inevitably gets more than its fair share of rubbish.

Does anyone have a solution to this problem? (apart from the improvement of people's general education on the matter, which would take a long time!)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Echoes of the past and ecos of the future

Eco-homes are looming large at present. I spent yesterday evening with Colin at All Saints Middle School hearing about Ashwell’s plans to build 14 eco-homes at the edge of the proposed Chilton Woods development (a subject to which I return below). Then, coincidentally, I received a letter this morning from my old school friend Pip, telling me that one of Gordon Brown’s eco-towns is to be built at the disused army base in Long Marston, the village in Warwickshire in which we both lived as children.

My mother and I lived in a cottage not totally unlike the one in which Nick and I live in Suffolk today, although it was rather newer having been built in 1685. Pip lived in the much grander and rather older establishment called King’s Lodge, (pictured above in a photo taken in around 1900), which I visited by walking across a very beautiful and ancient orchard. How idyllic those days were!

King’s Lodge’s main claim to fame is that Charles II took refuge there after the Battle of Worcester in September 1651. The King disguised himself as a scullery boy, and when we were children the house still contained an ancient spit which the King is supposed to have turned three hundred years or so earlier.

It seems that the good people of South Warwickshire are about as enthusiastic about the eco development that has suddenly been thrust upon them as the residents of Chilton who turned out to hear Ashwell’s merry men’s latest version of their ‘vision’ for the northern fringes of Sudbury. The green space in question will not,it seems, be developed without a fight. Many residents present at the meeting clearly purchased their homes having been led to believe that what is actually a potential building site was a public open space. Once again a community feels cheated because the way that planning policies work are only transparent to anoraks, planning officials and developers.

Since the land in question belongs to the County Council one might have thought that as a public body they had a public duty to make the true situation plain at an earlier stage.

Looking at the wider picture, it is impossible not to be staggered at the pace at which the plans for Chilton Woods seem to be changing. Looking closely at the maps displayed yesterday evening it is quite clear that the built-up area of the main Chilton Woods site is to be smaller than before, and yet the number of houses to be included creeps inexorably upwards. In my view the scale of the changes make it absolutely essential that Ashwell’s revisit the local community for further consultation, since the plans that were shown to us all last year are quite different from what we saw last night. (Where has the lovely circular cricket pitch gone?) Not to make the changes clear to a wider public would, I believe, amount to deception on a grand scale.

While happy to answer questions about the virtues and the building density of the politically correct, but as yet un-designed, eco-homes, Ashwell’s representatives would not be lead on the exact densities that will obtain in the rest of the development. A cynic might think that this first low-density development of houses, which are to be green in every sense of the word, is designed to lull us (the equally green?) into a sense of false security about what will be built later on.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Council Tax and Car Parks

Coming to a car park near you?

At the meeting of the Strategy Committee held last Thursday Councillors were given a sight of the budgets not only for the current financial year to March 2008, but also for the year to March 2009. The forward budget is important because its outcome dictates the size of the increase in Council Tax…a question that I am sure exercises most of the readers of this blog.

Babergh has done very well over recent years with regard to the level of Council Tax, the Council’s being the second lowest in Suffolk. In addition for five years the increase has been no higher than the rate of inflation. I understand that following public consultation some years ago the Council committed itself to keeping rises in the tax to the level of inflation, and this promise has, to date, been kept. However life is now becoming a lot more difficult.

The grant that the Government gives to District Council, having been quite good ahead of the elections in May 2007, will over the next three years be considerably lower than inflation. However, the services that Government expects to be delivered remain unchanged. The bottom line for Babergh therefore looking forward is that, although next year is likely to see an in-line with inflation outcome, 2009/10 will be much more problematical.

It is difficult not to come to the conclusion that the Government is well aware of the fact that the electorate is unlikely to welcome further increases in tax from the centre, but is vainly hoping that people may not notice that Council Tax is rising inexorably. To some extent this may be true, since many natural Labour voters do not pay the tax which is covered for those on benefits by Council Tax Benefit.

Be that as it many, it is against the background of a deteriorating financial position at Babergh that the revival of the debate about car parking charges in the District should be viewed.

At the same Strategy meeting we were asked to approve the payment of £89,000 for ticket machines to be installed in car parks in Hadleigh and Sudbury. These, we were assured would not be for charging purposes, but to improve the productivity of the phantom traffic warden who allegedly haunts the streets of both towns.(Yes! There has been a very occasional sighting!)

I decided to abstain from voting for this proposal.

My reasons for this were twofold; firstly I felt that no sensible financial case had been made for the erection of these non-paying machines to assist the virtually non appearing traffic warden, and secondly I do believe that a debate about car parking should be an in depth and holistic discussion that examines all the issues. Erecting these machines now is seen by most people as a sly little measure that represents the thin edge of a predictable wedge.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Stirrings in Chilton Woods

As part of the Biodiversity around Town Scheme (BATS) work is commencing tomorrow to improve the breeding conditions for the small colony of Great Crested Newts that live in the pond at the end of Chilton Grove. ( pictured above). The work will involve cutting down trees and also deepening the water.

A spokesman for BATS says that they regret having to cut down the trees, but they are doing their best to grow a lot more to plant elsewhere.

The pool is close to the site of the proposed Chilton Woods development. It is one of BATS’s aims to provide some of the trees that will populate the wooded edge that has been envisaged at the northern end of the development. I think that all who live near the site continue to hope that the development’s name Chilton Woods will reflect the wooded nature of the development, and not simply be a ‘developer’s puff’ designed to stifle opposition and lure the unsuspecting house purchaser.

In this connection, it seems that the developers, Ashwell, are gearing up to put in for planning permission for the first stage of the development shortly. A consultation on the first fourteen houses to be built adjacent to Aubrey Drive will take place on 17 January at 7.30 p.m. at All Saints Middle School. Why not come along? You may hear something about their further plans for the area.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

New Year - new mug-shot

To celebrate the start of 2008 I have decided to replace my picture on the blog with something rather more business like.

The previous picture, contrary to what many believed, was not taken in Ipswich docks, but in the city of Belem at the mouth of the Amazon river in November 2006. Nick and I had just partaken of a couple of glasses of the local cocktail after a tour of the town which accounts for the fact that the picture was rather out of focus.

Anyway I have a feeling in my bones that 2008 might be a more difficult year for us all, so a more restrained shot seems appropriate....

News about a new energy saving scheme!

I was really shocked last week when we got the bill for filling up the oil tank! Oil now costs about three times what it did a few years ago. I am sure everyone else is concerned about the soaring price of energy too, and so I thought I would pass on to you a message that I have just received from John Kilgannon, the Environmental Protection Manager at Babergh.

Pointing out that energy companies are obliged by law to contribute to energy saving measures in homes, John has drawn attention to a new scheme whereby any privately owned or privately rented home containing one person over the age of 70 can obtain cavity wall insulation and/or a loft insulation top up absolutely free of charge. Unlike the former ‘Warm Front’ scheme the offer is open to all and not confined to those on benefits.

In homes where no-one is over 70 the services will be provided at a competitive (subsidized) rate. For an average sized house this amounts to less than £170 for cavity wall insulation and less than £200 for a loft insulation top-up where there is currently less than 75mm of lagging.

Further information will be available to all households later in the month, but any over 70’s among you who want to get ahead of the game can call 0800 019 9090 and ask for the ‘Energy Care’ scheme to find out more.

Unfortunately Nick and I won’t be able to take the scheme up so it will continue to be a lower thermostat and an extra woolly for me! We live in a timber framed house which was surrounded by bricks in the 19th Century, and the ancient frame and plaster needs space to breathe. If you do live in an older house it is probably worth checking that cavity wall insulation is right for your home. Also if you do have the work done, don’t forget that you need to be extra careful properly to ventilate areas such as bathrooms and kitchens. Otherwise damp could be a problem.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Forward into 2008!

As the Christmas break draws to a close I have started to focus on what is likely to be important at Babergh in 2008.

At the back of everyone’s minds as we get down to business again next week will be the probability that, following Hazel Blears’s announcement about Local Government in Suffolk, Babergh is unlikely to exist in its current form in the medium term. This will serve to increase uncertainty and make decision making much more difficult. Various projects will now certainly be put on hold. A major problem is that, contrary to what has appeared in the press, the Government actually has said very little about the detail of what they expect from the Boundary Committee review, so any forecasts made about the future of Local Government in the County are completely speculative.

What is certain is that there is no consensus between the County Council and the six District Councils that currently exist in Suffolk. I understand that at a meeting held to discuss the matter preferred options from council leaders ranged from a unitary authority for the whole county to the retention of the status quo. Looking at what has happened elsewhere in England however, the Government does not seem particularly interested in the opinions of local politicians, and will impose its own solution. This, given the range of opinions expressed in Suffolk, is sure to correspond with some people’s preferred outcome!

One thing that is almost certain to be put on hold is the revision of Babergh’s Constitution. It was hoped that the council would move from its current system of committees to a Cabinet and Leader model. It is now likely that a Leader of the Council will be created within the current constitutional framework. A Leader (as opposed to the Chairman, which is a purely honorific position) will have delegated powers to take decisions without having to seek ratification from the council; necessary when decisions may have to be made at speed.

Largely unaffected by constitutional change will be the start of work on Babergh’s Local Development Framework. This will be created in discrete parts, unlike the major work that was the old style Local Plan. The aim of the framework is to set parameters for the planning process for the District going forward. It will be necessary to be alert to how the framework will affect the environment in Waldingfield Ward and take issue with those that are undesirable at an early stage. I will be writing about this in more detail at a later date.

I think that car parking charges will raise their ugly heads again this year, as pressure is put on the Council to ‘use its assets efficiently’. Expect some stormy sessions ahead on this subject!

As far as the Information Management Task Group, of which I am the Chair, is concerned, there is now likely to be less emphasis in the short term on trying to find schemes that we can do more cheaply and efficiently in partnership with other councils, particularly those outside the county. However, there is plenty still to be going on with in connection with projects that are already in hand. Work spent sorting out the information flows within Babergh will stand us in good stead when the time comes for merging with whoever we will be merging with down the road. At least we will know what we’ve got in all those black boxes!