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, February 22, 2008

When is a consultation a real one?

Today on You and Yours an expert on contemporary art stated that every year members of the public are ‘consulted’ about what art works should be considered by the judges of the Turner Prize. However, he then went on to say that their suggestions almost certainly go straight into the waste paper basket. The actual decision is then made by a panel of the great and the good. (Recent winners of the prize are pictured above).

This type of so called ‘consultation’ is pretty typical today. Bodies do not carry out real consultations, but virtual ones. People may be ‘consulted’ but the decision maker goes on to do what he was going to do anyway, having ticked the public consultation box along the way. The recent ‘consultation’ on the closure of local post offices was a typical, and shameful, example.

Well readers I have to tell you that this is not what happened at All Saints Middle School yesterday evening, when Ashwells, the developers of Chilton Woods, brought back revised plans for the very first part of the scheme. Following a rather stormy meeting some weeks ago (reported on the blog in January under the title 'Echoes of the past and ecos of the future'), the developers, and (probably) the County Council, have clearly listened to what was being said to them and have come back with a scheme that, on the face of it, is far more acceptable to local residents.

The thing, you may remember, that had really upset people was the loss of almost all of what is currently a pleasant green open space behind their homes. Many had not even realised that this area was in fact designated for development, and were understandably very upset at this loss of amenity. Ashwell’s presentation of the revised plans was amusingly disingenuous. Three options were shown. The original plan with 14 houses and hardly any green space, a plan B with 13 houses and a bit more open space, and a plan C with 11 (smaller) houses and a lot more open space. Which one did the public prefer? Well I don’t think I have to tell you!

But criticism is ungenerous. Ashwells certainly demonstrated that they had listened to what was being said to them, and had taken action accordingly. I look forward to seeing the final plans when the application comes in to Babergh.

I hope that the same degree of sensitivity to local opinion will be demonstrated by the developers going forward. The only thing that worries me is that if it takes this long to get 11 houses sorted, how long will it take to consult on the other approximately 700 – 800? I’m not sure how many more evenings at All Saints Middle School I can take!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Growth in the East

Since election to Babergh I have become aware of the Haven Gateway. This is the name that has been given to a region that incorporates parts of Essex and Suffolk that are grouped around the Orwell Estuary. The phenomenon was first brought to my attention when we went on a bus tour of the eastern part of the District within weeks of last May’s elections. I have to say that at that time I was enthused by the idea of a series of vibrant towns linked by ferries, rather like Boston harbour in the USA.

I am writing about this now since the area was one topic at Tuesday’s Members’ Seminar, and I was struck once again by how much impact this region, designated a ‘Growth Point’ by the Government, could have on us here in and around Sudbury.

Concentrating on Ipswich and Colchester, but incorporating some eastern parts of Babergh and the ports of Felixstowe and Harwich, the aim is to provide 50,000 additional homes and 50,000 additional jobs in the area by 2021. Scarce Government money will be poured in, in part to provide infrastructure (of which of course there is never enough). The area will enjoy what have been described as ‘green transportation ‘policies, which largely seemed to mean making sure that containers from the docks go by train rather than road.

This ‘green’ emphasis sits rather uncomfortably with the wish of the Haven Gateway Development Group to attract a vast amount of tourism to the area, which of course includes some of the beautiful Suffolk heritage coast. Looking at the Haven Gateway website I note that it is anticipated that some of this tourism will be represented by passengers from cruise ships docking at Harwich. Potential visitors are being urged to visit Suffolk villages of pink washed cottages, and to embark on a Constable and Gainsborough Tour taking in Dedham Vale and Sudbury. As a Trustee of Gainsborough’s House I await the tour buses with great enthusiasm. However, having been on small Caribbean Islands when the monster cruise ships come into port I am filled with misgivings. Perhaps most of the punters will make their way to the bright lights and shops of Colchester or Ipswich instead?

The impact on Sudbury is hard to assess, and a question must be to what extent involvement with the project should be sought? Money for much needed infrastructure might of course be forthcoming, but with money inevitably comes an obligation to accept even more development. Ultimately the very character of the area could be compromised.

Questioning how far Sudbury should actively engage with The Gateway reminds me of the pros and cons of membership of the European Union. Europhiles argue that we must take an active part in Europe so as to be able to influence the decisions that are made there. Europhobes, and I have to confess that I am among them, are happy to give up this influence if it means being left in relative peace to paddle ones own canoe.

I expect to be writing about this at more length in the future.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Mosquitos - a necessary evil.

I set out below the text of a letter that I have written today to the SudburyFree Press who have been asking for readers' opinions on the use of Mosquito 'youth crowd dispersal devices'.

I think that if different people's human rights are in conflict, the innocent rather than the troublesome should get the benefit of the doubt! Of course Liberty (the Human Rights organisation) would argue that the devices impact on innocent children and troublemakers indiscriminately. I would reply that the authorities are very careful to place these devices in areas where trouble is known to have occurred. If kids are innocent, they would do well to stay away from these spots so that their innocence is preserved!

I wrote:-

It would be a mistake to believe that mosquito devices are installed without careful thought. When residents in my Ward were constantly disturbed at night by groups of young people car-racing at speed, playing loud music, and doing significant damage to private property nearby, the Police, officers from Babergh District Council and others spent considerable time (some might argue too much time) discussing and implementing a series of measures, including a mosquito device. This broadly based and considered approach has, by and large, resolved the problems.

It is difficult to understate the distress that was caused to the elderly and innocent residents affected while the noise and disturbance continued, and the feeling of general impotence felt by those in the community who were trying to help them.

Of course the use of mosquito devices and other measures can only treat the symptoms and not the cause of anti social behaviour. However, while we fail to value self-discipline and do not promote respect for the rights of all members of society, shorter term measures such as these must be the necessary and appropriate response.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Reorganisation paralysis

Uncertainties relating to proposed Local Government reorganisation have already impacted on life in South Suffolk, not only at Babergh, but also at the Citizens Advice Bureau. I cannot help but be very irritated that the Government’s action has already caused paralysis, particularly since their reforms are very piecemeal and blatantly politically motivated. Essex for example will continue to have some District Councils, but Cornwall has one unitary for 500,000 people – what a mess!

While we were away on holiday the Terms of Reference were announced for the review by the Boundary Committee of Local Government in Suffolk, and the timetable that accompanied them was very tight indeed. The Committee is supposed to report by the end of the year with implementation is planned to take place in 2010. It is thought likely that the status quo will not be maintained, and that a unitary authority for West Suffolk as a whole, plus an enlarged Greater Ipswich authority will replace the current two tier system. This means that Babergh District Council, along with the other six District Councils in the County will be no more.

It is already becoming impossible to make sensible plans in areas such as the Babergh Customer Access Programme, of which I am a Board Member. Capital Expenditure is likely to be deferred until the outlook becomes clearer, and this means that improvements to customer service, plus related cost savings from increased use of computer technology, could be delayed.

The forward budget at the CAB is also being prepared without a clear view ahead. At present the Bureau is funded by both the County and by Babergh, but in future who knows what will happen? The needs of the Bureau for funds will not diminish, but it has to be questioned whether one authority will be as generous in its grants as two have been. The Bureau saves Government a great deal of money by generally helping out the most disadvantaged in society. Babergh, recognising this, has over recent years been hugely supportive. Let’s hope that a new authority, whatever form it takes, proves to be as generous.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A brilliant afternoon for Branchlines

Tree planting is a virtuous pursuit and the sun certainly shone on the righteous yesterday afternoon.

As can be seen from the pictures above, the people of Great Waldingfield turned out in force to help to plant the first thousand or so trees in Old School Wood, the new community woodland.

I have to admit that my contribution to the event was not particularly virtuous or energetic, being confined to some gentle mulching, plus planting a tree with Colin’s help, (in the wrong place as it turned out). I did however learn how to dig a hole without breaking my back, or the spade.

Old School Wood is to be a mixed broad leaf wood using species native to Britain (principally oak, hornbeam, hazel, field maple and wild cherry). Features of the three and a half acre site will include a wild flower meadow, paths and wider tracks, an outdoor classroom and a pond or bog area. Further details will be displayed shortly in the Parish Rooms at the back of Bures Business Centre.

If you wish to support the ongoing development of the woodland, and be kept in touch with fundraising events and other news, you can become a Member of Branchlines, Great Waldingfield’s Community Woodland. For details contact the Membership Secretary, Phil Howlett, at 34 Folly Road, Great Waldingfield. Telephone 01787 310246.

How green is Cape Verde?

Nick and I have just come back from spending some time in the Cape Verde Islands. Although this is billed by some as a ‘hot new destination’ I have to say that, with the exception of the resort island of Sal, most of the islands are not a destination for the faint hearted. We visited Sao Vicente, Sao Antau and Boa Vista. On these islands tourists are few and far between, people are very poor and the landscapes are harsh and dry. However the climate is wonderful, not varying much from 25 degrees at any time of the year, there is only one hour’s time difference from England. Additionally silence in general prevails, and although not conventionally scenic, the islands each have their own unique beauty.

The capital of Sao Vicente, Mindelo, is quite vibrant with a strong musical culture reminiscent of Brazil, Africa and Portugal reflecting the racial make up of the islands.

One cannot help but be a little concerned about the environmental impact of what is clearly planned as the Cape Verde government attempts to attract international tourism with golf courses and swimming pools. There is barely any rainfall, and in the past years have gone by without any rain at all. This means that water for resorts must be produced using desalination plants which in themselves are very energy intensive.

I was also concerned for the local people, particularly in Boa Vista, which only has a population of 7000. It is clear that much of the money from development is being made overseas, or by government employees from the capital, Santiago. In addition to workers from other Cape Verde islands, many from West Africa are coming to man the construction sites and staff the hotels. A number of locals that I spoke to expressed grave reservations about the changes that are happening to this special island which, as a distant extension of the Sahara has 55kms of sand dunes and pristine beach on which turtles lay their eggs.

Pictures above show one of the fantastic beaches on Boa Vista, musicians, the fruit market and a street scene in Mindelo, and the north coast of San Antau.