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

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Local Government Reorganisation; Sudbury Town Council deliberates

The temperature in the great Local Government reorganisation debate is rising as the ‘consultation period’ continues.

The County is certainly working hard to promote its idea of ‘One Suffolk’, holding meetings and issuing pamphlets around the County. The ‘Two Suffolk’ party, which comprises those who prefer the Boundary Committee’s proposal of a Rural Unitary plus a Fast Growth Unitary based on Ipswich (‘North Haven’), is crying ‘foul’, and accusing the County of issuing propaganda. This is a pity, because the merits of each case are becoming obscured and drowned out in the heat that is being generated.

The matter will be on the agenda at Babergh at the Council Meeting on 2nd September, so there is time for those of us who want to give the matter careful thought to continue to ruminate. Last week Colin and I took ourselves down to Sudbury Town Hall to hear the deliberations of Sudbury Town Council on the issue.

The Council found itself somewhat perplexed and this is not altogether surprising. Views on the proposals are being sought without the benefit of any financial costing of the alternatives, which in my view is fairly crucial material when it comes to decision making. The County is claiming that the ‘One Suffolk’ alternative will save everyone £100 Council Tax a year....but, even if this turns out to be accurate, perhaps people would be willing to pay an extra £100 or so per annum for services from a council whose culture is more closely aligned to their needs? Cheaper is not always best value, as anyone who has ever had their home decorated by a cowboy builder will tell you!

Sudbury Town Council found the second task allotted to them by the Boundary Committee somewhat easier. In addition to their views on the main proposal and the alternative, the Council was asked to consider what devolved arrangements for service delivery might be put in place in the event of a unitary council being established.

The answer of the Council was quite clear: if offered the chance, and the resources, to take on more responsibilities, it would certainly do so. The Town Council has some 17 members and a paid staff working in the Town Hall. I wonder if Parish Councils, that have difficulty filling the vacancies for councillors when election time comes around, will be as enthusiastic?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Acton through the Ages; still time to see the show!

There is still time to visit the excellent local history exhibition, Acton through the ages, currently running in Acton Church. The exhibition is open between 11a.m. and 3 p.m. every day until 5th August. You may well have spotted the little signposts that point the way to the exhibition. These are based on Acton’s outstanding mediaeval brass of Sir Robert de Bures.

Sir Robert was a knight who served as a soldier in the reign of Edward I. In fact he was probably born in about 1265 and is known to have died in 1331 at his manor in Acton. For any history lover it is worth visiting Acton Church to see the brass alone. It was described some years ago at an exhibition about the mediaeval world at the British Museum as the most outstanding military brass in the country.

The exhibition is really excellent, being based on work done for regular exhibitions that have been staged in the past, but containing some new features including a time-line in which, if you are an Acton resident, you can enter notes about your own life in the Parish.

So get down to Acton Church before August 5th, and become part of history!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Two Great Houses

On Thursday my friend Gladys Nott (pictured above) and I went on a trip organised by Gainsborough’s House to Kenwood House in London and Copped Hall, which is close to Epping Forest , just off the M25.

The two houses offered great contrast. Kenwood of course is fantastically opulent, with many of the rooms decorated by Robert Adam and hung with absolutely top draw paintings. There are several stunning Gainsborough’s, including a wonderful picture that was found in his studio after his death of hounds hunting a fox. Gladys, it must be said, was more excited by the works by Joshua Reynolds, thinking that they demonstrated more variety of mood and technique. As a volunteer at Gainsborough’s House I cannot of course agree and thus support Thomas’s old rival. Anyway Reynolds, unlike Gainsborough who was an absolute perfectionist, didn’t mix his paints properly, which means that some of his paintings are now showing the effects of time.

Copped Hall is something completely different, and yet, despite the fact that it remains very much ‘restoration work in progress’ the sense of the skeleton of a fine stately home remains. A burnt out ruin in the mid 1980’s the Palladian Mansion (which is Grade II listed) was thought to be a lost cause. Alan Cox, the architect responsible for the recent renovation of Gainsborough’s House, has moved heaven and earth to rescue the mansion and part of its 800 acre park from the depredations of developers and the elements. It has been slow work, and has involved a good deal of lobbying of heritage groups, but thirteen years on it is now possible to discern the room plan of the original house. I last visited some four years ago, and initially thought that little progress had been made. Once inside, however, it is clear that a lot of work has been done, although there is nothing that yet resembles a finished room!

The Gardens have been massively improved, and it is alone worth a trip to Copped Hall to see the fantastic herbaceous border that stretches along the outer margin of a beautiful walled garden complete with fish pond.

Copped Hall is open to the public from time to time. For details visit the website: www.coppedhalltrust.org.uk.

Other pictures: The front of Copped Hall. Alan Cox in the main bedroom. Much work still to be done! The roof of the 'Grand Saloon'.

Friday, July 18, 2008

You too can connect with Babergh!

On the day that many Local Government workers across Britain were on strike, the officers at Babergh were working overtime to stage a fair for Tenants in the District. There were several interesting stalls, including displays about affordable housing, customer access and the Local Plan. There was also a delicious cake stall (shown above) and refreshments. No wonder there was a queue at the door at the off!

I was particularly impressed by the new poster (also shown above) aimed at encouraging people to access Council services on line!

I have been charged with the job of encouraging councillors to open on line accounts for Council Tax payments. So far this has met with a rather mixed response. There are advantages in doing this even if they already pay by Direct Debit. They can view their payment details at any time online, and will receive notification of changes etc. electronically. If people decide to open on-line accounts with Babergh it will save the taxpayer money (no paper, no postage), and may save time-wasting phone calls to the council in the event of a query. It is possible to print out one’s account if a paper copy is needed for any reason.

If you have internet access it is worth thinking about!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Pictures from Acton Fete

Pictured below at Saturday's fete, (which goes from strength to strength); Chris Moss, Chairman of the Parish Council for such a long time that he cannot remember when he started, with raffle prizes; Setting up the Community Tent; The Community Tent in action; A General View of the Fete; Villagers looking at the plans for Local Government Reorganisation in Suffolk, and also at old photographs of the village supplied by Zoe Murray, which they possibly found more interesting!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Learn about the environment with B.A.T.S.!

On the radio this morning someone was suggesting that we should limit the number of children that we have as an ‘environmental gesture’. His argument was that man is creating many of the environmental problems that are emerging on the planet and therefore it is an environmentally responsible act to think before we procreate.

This struck a chord with me because yesterday evening I went to the AGM of Sudbury based B.A.T.S (Biodiversity around Town Scheme). In the excellent talk given by Peter Beales on wildlife conservation after the business of the meeting had been concluded, we heard that one particular butterfly can only breed on wild honeysuckle, growing in shade in woodland. This really brought home to me how vulnerable many species are to the destruction of countryside, and how important it is that people support organisations like B.A.T.S. whose aim is to take active measures to promote biodiversity around Sudbury in the face of pressure from building and other development.

It was gratifying therefore to hear that over the past year membership of the organisation has doubled and that at present it is on a sound financial footing. The group organises work parties in its thriving tree nursery at Chilton,( which are not compulsory!), social events and also excursions to environmentally interesting places.

This was the second B.A.T.S.AGM that I have attended, and once again I came away feeling that I had learnt a good deal. In future for example I will be stopping Nick from removing ivy from trees. It does no damage to the tree, and by removing it one is destroying important habitat for birds and insects. I also learnt how to tell the difference between a dragonfly and a damselfly (both illustrated above). The damselfly apparently folds its wings above its back when resting, whereas the dragonfly rests with its wings outstretched.

Let me know if you want information on how to get involved with B.A.T.S.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Two speed Suffolk

It is always a bit of a shock when you think that you have considered all the options, and then another possibility presents itself.

Well that is what is happening today to local councillors all over Suffolk. At around 7 a.m. this morning Babergh received the report from the Boundary Committee with regard to Local Government reorganisation in Suffolk. The Committee's preferred option for the county did not reflect any of the possibilities envisaged by most local authorities, being closest in nature to the route preferred by the Liberal Democrat opposition at the County Council!

What is proposed is two unitary authorities for the county. The first is essentially a ‘Greater Ipswich’ council, including Felixstowe and much of the Shotley Peninsula, but stopping short of Hadleigh in the West and Woodbridge to the North. This essentially urban high growth area will focus on the Haven Gateway and may well end up being called ‘North Haven’, or something similar. The population covered by this will be roughly 200,000.

The second is basically the rest of rural Suffolk. Around 400,000 people will be involved. What is planned is

‘An authority that would provide a focus for the majority of the county that would reflect the historic identity of Suffolk’. It is envisaged that ‘ the focus of this new authority would centre around its historic market towns and rural hinterlands.’

So we have fast growth urban/ vs. More pedestrian rural. Two speed Suffolk perhaps? Basically the Committee have decided to split the county on the basis of what amounts to ‘cultural’ distinctions.

The plans have been met with hostility from most fellow councillors to whom I have spoken so far. Many now think we should back the One Suffolk option, which remains on the table as a possible (but not the preferred) alternative.

In my opinion this would be a mistake. Just because our preferred option has not been accepted, we do not need immediately to jump to support what we formerly considered to be second best. I believe, having read the document carefully, that there is much merit in the arguments of the Committee, which I think has shown originality and logic in reaching its conclusions. People should give their preferred option, which represents new territory for most people, fair consideration before reaching a conclusion.

Friday, July 4, 2008

A Roundabout approach

Strangely I mentioned to Nick as we drove along the A134 out of Sudbury on Wednesday that nothing had been heard from Brett Aggregates with regard to the failure of their planning application to extract aggregates at Chilton. Surely an appeal must be forthcoming shortly?

Within hours we heard the news that the company have put in for permission to build a roundabout on the road. This cannot be regarded as good news, since such investment is expensive and implies, in my view, that they have no intention of reducing the amount of activity that they are ultimately planning for the site.

The fact that Brett have chosen to take this particular step makes me suspicious that the landowner, the County Council, who happen also to be the highway authority, are working closely with Brett behind the scenes to maximise the value of their property despite the loudly expressed views of all interested local parties.

So the fight continues.

Speaking to a resident who lives close to the area yesterday I was told that a Community Support Officer, who was appalled at the amount of traffic on the road and the speed at which it was travelling, offered to come along with her speed gun with a view to catching a few motorists at the scene. Unfortunately when she made the required 'prior inspection' of the site she concluded that she could do nothing because the road was far too dangerous, there was too much traffic and it was all going too fast. Honestly, I ask you!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A conference on Rural Life

The silence from Babergh is deafening! Today I didn’t receive one e mail from Hadleigh, which is, I think, a first on a weekday.

With luck things may hot up on Monday when we are due to hear from the Boundary Committee with regard to its preferred options for Local Government reorganisation in Norfolk and Suffolk. I hope to have information up on the blog by early afternoon on that day subject to the lifting of press embargoes.

I have not however been totally idle.

Having confessed to having some time on my hands, I have become more involved with the South Suffolk Conservatives Womens’ Committee, taking up the role of Chairman last month. I have to say that I did this with some misgivings, but so far have found the experience interesting and rewarding. While the group is run by women, the events are open to all, and the aim is to be a politically oriented group rather than simply a fund raising organisation.

In this capacity I drove over to Haughley Park yesterday to attend an Eastern Region Conservative Womens’ event, the theme of which was ‘A Rural Way of Life’. There were three excellent speakers, including Jim Paice, MP for South Cambridgeshire and the Opposition spokesman on Agriculture. (Both the MP and the venue are pictured above).

Paice spoke for almost an hour without a note. It is clear that if the Conservatives get into power they will review the red tape that currently burdens farmers. This, given the need for the UK to grow more food, must be a good thing. I questioned whether such de-bureaucratisation was possible given the number of directives that come from Brussels, but was told that there is plenty of scope to reverse the embellishment and gold-plating that has become the norm in Whitehall.

Paice told us that 25 percent of the population of the UK still live in rural or semi-rural areas. This significant minority have been very badly treated by the Labour Government, which has transferred resources away from rural areas, and as we know here in Suffolk, has undermined local services, post offices etc. etc.