Thursday, May 29, 2008
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
On the left is the interior of my garden shed. The picture was taken yesterday morning. I am rather proud of the shed this year since it really is very full! It is, of course, that time of the year when all the little plants are getting pot-bound, but I hesitate to put them out into the garden before the magic date of 1 June, when frosts really should be a thing of the past. Gardening has become more of a preoccupation in recent days because, with the exception of a bit of a row at the Development Committee today, life at Babergh has gone rather quiet.
The Council Meeting due to be held on 3nd June has been cancelled due to lack of business, and even the agenda for the Development Committee, at which I was a substitute this morning, was rather a short one. Members did get rather excited towards the end of the meeting, however, when they were invited to discuss a draft report about the activities of the Committee over the past twelve months.
The report by and large showed that the Committee had been doing a good job, making decisions which were on the whole sensible and not taking too long about it. It seems that we are in the top quartile when it comes to having our decisions upheld on appeal, which means that by and large we follow the guidelines that we have set ourselves.
There was a good deal of heated discussion however about what has happened to the money already received by the Council as a result of Section 106 agreements. This is rather a technical subject, but concerns funds that developers agree to pay into the community when they receive planning permission for their schemes. Councillors are of course eager to get their hands on the loot on behalf of the electorate, but it seems that the failure to produce an appropriate protocol for the distribution of the money is holding up the process.
We are promised a report on the matter soon, but I have to say that I am constantly amazed at the slow pace of activity in matters such as this. At this rate Babergh will be dead and gone before the community gets its hands on the money, which in some cases runs into thousands of pounds.
I will be returning to this subject at a later date, but as I said in the meeting, I really do think that the failure to sort this matter out in a timely fashion is very disappointing, and actually rather shocking.
Saturday, May 24, 2008
Inevitably the Local Government Reorganisation Review currently being carried out by the Boundary Committee was one of the topics discussed at the Seminar for Babergh Members held on Thursday.
The date for the preliminary announcement with regard to unitary arrangements for Suffolk will be 7th July. The Committee will come up with just ‘one option with a possible variation’. This means that some of the Councils in Suffolk, who have already been asked to express their preference, are likely to be disappointed, since there is little or no consensus across the county with regard to the ‘right’ way ahead.
In contrast to Babergh, which true to form did what they were asked to do by the Committee and then got on with the day job, many other local authorities (notably the County) invested a good deal of time and taxpayers money on working up and publicising quite detailed schemes.
Their action has meant that the Committee has been obliged to go back to a number of Councils for clarification. Our Chief Executive, hearing about this, and having heard not a peep from the Committee herself, became rather concerned that our submission had not been of much interest to them. (You will remember that Babergh argued for an East/West split, but submitted a paper to the Committee which ranked the various possibilities in accordance with the criteria set by them. The paper is available on the Babergh website for those who are interested)
We were gratified to hear that Pat Rockall, Babergh’s Chief Executive, was told that far from being uninteresting, Babergh’s efforts have in fact been very useful to the Committee and our comparative thinking on the question has saved them some time and effort.
Let’s hope this means that they will settle on our suggestion for two unitary authorities for the county. The more I think about it, the more I feel that the One Suffolk Unitary idea would be a really bad for local democracy. Cheapest isn’t always best, and it is arguable that it wouldn’t even be the cheapest.
Monday, May 19, 2008
During this morning's site inspection, on our way to view the trees from the road, we noticed the butterfly pictured here.
It is a male 'orange tip', (anthocaris cardamines) which is apparently a species which is on the increase in the UK. It lives in ditches, and indeed that was where this one was spotted!
A relatively early start this morning to go along to observe a meeting of Babergh’s Licensing and Appeals Committee (Trees), which involved a 9 am site inspection on Chilton Airfield, followed by the meeting proper which took place in the Stephenson Centre in Cornard.
Recently, Babergh imposed Tree Preservation Orders on a number of trees on and around the proposed Chilton Woods Development. This seemed to me to be an encouraging move. A small number of these orders was objected to by the County Council, the Landowner, and Ashwells , the developer, and as a result the orders had to be reconsidered.
The notice in the picture above caused some amusement among the assembled party; unfortunately the airfield has become somewhat notorious as a target for fly-tippers, but Councillors had not appreciated that the problem had reached such a scale! The unsightly heap did however go some way towards convincing the Committee that the airfield has some areas that are sorely in need of screening.
I’m not actually sure if this was a contributory factor, but the trees themselves were looking in fine form and the Committee decided to leave the orders unchanged. In fact the tree preservation orders will not of themselves prevent development, but they will offer some element of control since they will have to be actively taken into account when plans are submitted.
I don’t think that there was anything sinister in Ashwell and the County’s objections. It would have been administratively easier for them in the future had the orders not been in place. I do however find it a little ironic that the first official encounter between the landowner, the developer and the Babergh was on the face of it an attempt to take some of the ‘woods’ out of Chilton Woods.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
We have just come back from a short trip to France. We stayed at St. Valery sur Somme, an attractive ancient town on the Somme estuary an hour or so South of Calais. It was from here that William the Conqueror set out to sail to England in 1066. A picture of the view from the battlements of the old town over the salt marshes of the estuary is shown above
Saturday, May 10, 2008
When taking a break I have very much enjoyed taking time off to take another look at the current exhibition celebrating the purchase of the House by the Society fifty years ago. It is very much worth a visit, but hurry, you only have three weeks or so left. (Don’t forget that on Tuesday afternoons admission to the House is free.)
Rather than presenting a traditional history of the property, the focus of the show is on the life of the House from the early decades of the 20th Century to the present day.
A good deal of archival material has been unearthed and this has enabled the exhibition’s curators to create a display that illustrates Gainsborough’s House when it was used as a hotel and tea room prior to its acquisition in 1958. According to the memoirs of guests visiting the House seems to have been a positive experience on the whole. It seems that the garden, always an important feature of the property, was larger than it is today, incorporating two hard tennis courts. Watching the tennis was much enjoyed by guests on summer evenings.
Another section of the exhibition is devoted to the original appeal for funds. When the House came up for sale in the 1950’s, the campaign launched to buy it reached well beyond the borders of Suffolk. The most active response for help came from the artistic community, and a number of exhibitions were held to support the project. A vital contribution to the funds was the donation and sale of the painting of the Queen’s horse, Aureole by Sir Alfred Munnings
Since its opening in 1962 the House has inspired several artists to produce works in which it is represented, and some of these will be on display. The House has also the subject of constant restoration, piecemeal at first, but culminating in the major works that were completed recently.
Gainsborough’s House today continues to be a focus for artistic endeavour. To complement the historical aspects of the exhibition, several contemporary artists have been invited to record their response to the House as it stands today. Their original works, which will include photographs, prints and paintings, will be displayed as part of the exhibition, alongside reactions from schoolchildren and other visitors to the House.
Stephen Jones the Curator of the house between 1979 and 1981 once described people associated with Gainsborough’s House as ‘a gathering of kindred spirits, apparently divers, but united in the devotion to the House which made it such a very happy place to be’. In general his words ring as true today as they did over 25 years ago!
Sunday, May 4, 2008
I suppose that some people will think that this is the behaviour of a real nerd, but I have always had a high level of tolerance for watching election broadcasts. Perhaps this year the whole performance had additional resonance due to the fact that today it is exactly one year since my own election to the Council.
I don’t think that now I will ever be able to look at ballot boxes being upturned in a school gym or town hall again without a terrible lurching feeling in the pit of my stomach. In fact I sometimes wonder if I will ever be able to go through a ‘count’ in the capacity of a candidate again. I feel that I can now reveal that last year I was in such an awful state of exhaustion and terror that I had to suppress the urge to flee from the hall, call a taxi and go home. It was made even worse by the fact that not one of the first few voting slips that emerged from the first ballot box appeared to have a cross by my name. ‘Impossible!’ I thought ‘Surely some of those people I spoke to must have voted for me?....Perhaps not’. I left the hall, phoned my husband Nick to say that I had obviously lost and went for a walk. When I returned Colin was very agitated, insisting that I had to stay to watch the count, oh, and that by the way that very large pile of slips to the right were votes for us!
As readers of the blog know my first year has not been without its ups and downs. On the whole however I am pleased that I decided to become a councillor, and have very much enjoyed getting more involved in the local community.
I think that the (now) immortal words of Boris Johnson, when ejected from the Shadow Cabinet, are particularly appropriate:-
“I have no regrets. Remember there are no disasters, only new opportunities.And, of course, new opportunities for fresh disasters."
Saturday, May 3, 2008
The weather was not very clement, and I have to say that although not many people attended, it was encouraging to see that a few people over and above the Parish Council were interested enough in what goes on in the village to come and have their say on a number of different matters. I thought that the level of debate was well above average, and that the evening was interesting for all concerned.
As usual there was a crime report. The attendance of a ‘proper’ police officer at these events seems to be a thing of the past, their place being taken by the almost universally female and pretty Community Support Officers. These people are trying very hard and seem to do a good job within the constraints of their rather limited brief. It is however frustrating at times to watch them at work since achieving tangible solutions to problems often remains elusive.
A theme that I fear will recur at other Parish Meetings was that of problems with ‘youth’. Large groups of young people seem to spend their evenings hanging around the village making a lot of noise, and being generally anti-social. This is particularly troublesome for those who live near the spots at which they gather. It is to be hoped that the police will be able to work with Babergh, in the way that they successfully (so far) have done at Shawlands Business Park to resolve Acton’s problems. It was however pointed out by the Chairman of the Parish Council, Chris Moss, who has many many years experience in the role, that these problems are not new. We do seem to hear more about them however.
Colin Spence, who as a County Councillor sits as a Representative on the Police Authority, tells me that there is to be a change in the way that community policing is carried out in the Sudbury area which should lead to improvements. Perhaps I will be able to obtain some details from him and make this the subject of a later post.
Another source of debate was the forthcoming Local Government Review. The prospect of having more work thrust upon them did not seem to greatly excite the Parish Council. Earlier in the evening it had been decided by them to look at co-operating with adjacent parishes in order to purchase a speed gun to combat speeding through the village. If more services have to be delivered locally, as seems probable, this co-operative attitude must be the way ahead.
I was pleased to learn that most people agreed with me with regard to the retention of telephone boxes, particularly in respect of the one in Newmans Green. The Parish Council is to look into the level of useage for the box in the centre of the village, but it is thought that this in not now much used due to the fact that it does not take cash.
Looking forward to the summer, it was announced at the Meeting that, following the success of the Parish Council stall at the Village Fete, the idea is to be repeated this year. I hope lots of people will come along to chat at the stall, which is a good opportunity to congratulate and /or complain at those who are working to make the community a better place. The Fete takes place on July 12th.