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, August 31, 2008

Where to draw the line? Your feedback.

Thank you to those of you who took the time to write to me with your opinions about the proposals for local government reorganisation. It is always great to get some feedback.

No one who wrote was particularly keen on the proposals. In fact everyone appears to think that the case for unitary councils in Suffolk has not really been made, and would prefer to see the status quo remain. One major problem is that no financial facts are as yet available, and, rightly, people are wary of reaching an opinion in the absence of such fundamental evidence. Once again one wonders about the sincerity of those who claim to be ‘consulting’ the public when such vital key facts are unavailable.

One correspondent wrote about the financial difficulties that have been encountered in another part of England, where the unitary council is now close to bankruptcy, insufficient attention having been paid to the size of the tax base of the new authority. This sort of story really frightens me and increases my uncertainty about going wholeheartedly for the ‘two unitary’ solution. Although I think it hangs together conceptually, and is an attractive scheme, I instinctively feel that it could be a ‘Rolls Royce solution’ with a Rolls Royce price tag!

Another resident is worried about the remoteness of the new authority, writing, ‘I have felt for sometime that governance is getting out of human scale with ever-larger and more distant authorities divorced from the people they serve.’ She in particular is worried that planning will fail to stay in touch with local needs.

People have been surprisingly complementary about Babergh’s performance, and have expressed concerns that I share with regard to the willingness and capacity for Parish and Town Councils to shoulder more responsibility for the delivery of local services.

I will certainly bear all your views in mind when considering my own response. The Council meets on Tuesday and we are being asked at that meeting to support the Boundary Committee’s views with some boundary alternations related to Hadleigh. This will be subject (I think) to receiving further information with regard to affordability that is due on 12th September. There will then be just about enough time for an additional Council Meeting on 23rd September to finalise the submission.

I am curious to see what happens if, as is very possible, if the numbers for two unitaries simply do not stack up!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Old photos of Sudbury

Steamrollers testing the bridge at Ballingdon in 1910.

When I was at the public meeting held in Sudbury Town Hall a week or so ago, I was reminded about the marvellous Sudbury Heritage Centre and Museum. It seems that since I first visited there is now a new display cabinet, which I only had time to look at in passing, but which I believe was concerned with brewing in the town.

In addition I noticed a computer console that is linked to the ‘Caught on Camera’ website. Here you can browse through more than 400 photographs of the town dating from around 1870. In fact you do not have to visit the museum to access this archive. You can look at the photographs in the comfort of your own home by clicking on www.sudburysuffolk.co.uk/photoarchive.

If you haven’t visited the Museum you really should take the time to do so. There are many fascinating displays crammed into a surprisingly small space. All are worth a look and the displays relating to the area during both World Wars are particularly evocative and poignant.

The Museum is situated in the Town Hall, through the Tourist Information Office and is open between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday to Saturday.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Annual Art Show at Acton

Once again it is time to get on down to Acton Church to see this year's art exhibition.

As usual the pictures on show, which represent the work of artists from all over East Anglia, are very varied in both style and content. I believe that the number of unframed works set out along the pews, which tend to turn out more economical, are more numerous than ever. All the works are for sale and I am sure that almost everyone will find something to their taste.

There is also the opportunity to win a the lovely landscape, pictured above, in a prize draw.

The show continues until 7th September and is open from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. daily.

Following the Historical exhibition, and the Art Show, activities at the Church continue in November with a paperback book sale. If you have any paperbacks (in reasonable condition!) they can be left at the vicarage, or at the church after 14th September.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Cream Teas for Branchlines

To Bantocks Road this afternoon for delicious Cream Teas in aid of Branchlines, the Great Waldingfield Community Woodland Project. We all sat in the pleasant garden of Chris and Ann Frances and scoffed large plates of scones, cream and jam. Now we will all have to sign up for one of the regular working parties at the woodland site in order to burn off the calories!

On the whole all is going well at the woodland site. The trees are thriving due to the above average rainfall that we have been ‘enjoying’.

One problem has been that the site has been the target of ubiquitous fly-tippers, a large pile of waste having been removed by Babergh recently. If you are walking in the area and see anything suspicious do let the Council know. If you can (safely) take the registration number of any cars/vans that seem to be up to no good, even better! There is a spot on the website where you can make an e mail report, or alternatively there is a dedicated phone number to call.

I understand that around £150 was made at the event. I was lucky enough to win a raffle prize...the Christmas tablecloth and napkins will certainly be useful in time.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A democratic dilemma

On Thursday, while I was sunning myself at the seaside, the Strategy Committee was debating its recommendation to Council with regard to Local Government Reorganisation. They have decided to recommend that Babergh support two unitaries rather than ‘One Suffolk’, and also, in a frolic of our own, they are recommending that the boundary of the North Haven (Ipswich and Felixstowe) unitary is extended to include Hadleigh and its environs.

It seems that unlike many of my fellow councillors I am still wavering and prevaricating with regard to what I think about the Boundary Committee’s proposals. I am actually astonished that most people have been able to come to a firm view without the benefit of the all important financial facts and figures to support one or other of the two options. Luckily Hazel Blears will not be labouring under this disadvantage.

The more I think about it, and the closer that I look at the Boundary Committee’s recommendations, the more I feel that perhaps I have been too quickly seduced by the superficial charms of ‘rural’ versus ‘urban’ in tending to prefer the Boundary Committee’s first option of two unitary councils for Suffolk rather than one.

In order to be viable financially each council will need to have a reasonably large population and because of this it has been necessary to include areas that are undeniably rural in the ‘urban’ North Haven area. This rather undermines the basic premise. The inclusion of Hadleigh, which I happen to believe is ill advised given that areas such as Woodbridge are to be excluded, does nothing to resolve this dilemma. In addition, as has been acutely pointed out by Colin, what is to be done about Lowestoft? If one argues that this should be a part of Suffolk, and not hived off into the proposed vast Norfolk unitary, then unless it is to be some remote ‘sputnik’ of Ipswich geography dictates that it must fall into Rural Suffolk. Hardly appropriate I think!

In addition to these concerns, it is hard to ignore the inconvenient truth that One Suffolk is likely to be a cheaper option for Council Tax payers. It is probable that many of the economies of scale that would be achieved by One Suffolk will be lost with two councils due to the need to duplicate services that are currently run as one unit by the County Council.

I have been persuaded that to avoid an unacceptable ‘democratic deficit’ the smaller the council the better. However even with two councils the number of electors per councillor is going to be very large, and strong, and as yet unspecified, local arrangements will have to be put in place in any event.

While I wobble backwards and forwards, unable to come to a firm view, can I look to the people in my Ward to guide me? Well not really. Most people that I have spoken to are either indifferent to the issue, or in general would prefer the arrangements to be left as they are.

The truth has to be faced that I am fast coming to the view that NEITHER of the options on the table are particularly attractive. This view is shared, incidentally, by the Conservative Party centrally, which believes that the status quo should be maintained. Babergh has for some years now firmly set itself against this view, feeling that public services can only be efficiently and economically delivered by larger, unitary bodies. Perhaps this is true from the perspective of a small council with a limited tax base. I cannot help feeling however that, taking a broader view, the current proposals, whichever alternative one chooses, are not the right answer for the county as a whole.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Garbage at Glyndebourne!

I was lucky enough last weekend to see the opera ‘Hansel and Gretel’ at Glyndebourne. Written by the strangely named Englebert Humperdinck (not the singer from the 1980’s!), this late 19th Century work retells the old fairy story about two children from a very poor family who get lost in the woods. They are nearly eaten by a wicked witch, having been tempted into her clutches by a delicious gingerbread house. As they escape Hansel and Gretel release from captivity a large number of other children whom the witch had stored in her larder for future consumption.

The production was an absolute joy for anyone concerned with the problem of litter, or indeed anyone worried about the eating habits of the nation. The children’s home was a cardboard box (pictured above, courtesy of the Glyndebourne website), and the ‘enchanted forest’ was littered with plastic bags and fast food containers! The gingerbread house had been transformed into the interior of Tescos, where the hungry children were tempted by shelves piled high with biscuits and sweets. The liberated children, not altogether surprisingly, were hugely overweight...just one aspect of the production that was criticised by those who felt that fun was being poked at the ‘working classes.’

I think that this rather humourless and politically correct criticism was totally misguided. Sometimes it is good to see an opera presented as originally intended by its composer, but when it is well done, a more socially relevant presentation can convey a strong message. The contemporary evils that were under attack are very real ones, as those of us who despair at the state of the verges around Sudbury well know, and I was delighted to see that the producer cared enough to make a point about our throw away, fast food, society.

The following night the company were presenting Carmen, sponsored by British American Tobacco. I very much doubt if any supermarkets would be up for sponsoring this version of Hansel and Gretel!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Skateboarding in Great Waldingfield

A lot of fun was had by all at Great Waldingfield School yesterday morning.

Babergh arranged the provision of its portable skateboarding park and refreshments for participants and lookers on. A good number of children came along, some of whom were already practised skateboarders, and some of whom were able to learn a new skill from the coaches.

The police took the opportunity to site a community van close by. This is also shown above, although somewhat obscured by Colin and me. It is a pity that no one told me that my cardigan was buttoned up wrongly ! Also pictured at the event is our excellent Community Support Officer, Lucy, who I gather may well be destined for a positive, and well deserved, upward career move quite shortly!

Babergh is organising a lot of other activities for children during the Summer holidays. Full details are available on the website.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Chilton Quarry - write in and object!

On a rainy August evening around 140 people packed into Sudbury Town Hall to protest against the renewed application by Brett Aggregates to create a quarry with other related activities on land between Chilton and Great Waldingfield.

To remind readers, this is a second application by the company. Their first was thrown out by the County Development Committee last year, and that application is now subject to an appeal. It is important that this second application is also rejected so that the Public Inquiry that has been promised to discuss the first can go ahead, and the matter can be given a full airing.

Tim Yeo, the Member of Parliament for South Suffolk, came all the way from London to express his support for the campaign of opposition. He made the point that he rarely gets involved in planning matters, in general believing that they should be left to local people and local authorities, but in this case he believes that it is very important to oppose the plans.

This application differs from the last only to the extent that Bretts has tried to meet objections related to traffic safety by including a roundabout on the A134 in their plans. In my view this is simply a fig-leaf to conceal an inappropriate application which would result in a scheme that would be very detrimental for people well beyond Waldingfield Ward.

It is important that everyone, and everyone you know, writes to the County Council in order to object to these plans. This can be achieved electronically by going to the Suffolk County Council website: (http://www.suffolk.gov.uk), (click on Planning and Building and then scroll down the page for the appropriate link). Alternatively, a letter can be sent to the Council. I often think that ‘snail mail’ can be more effective, but perhaps I am old fashioned.

It is important to give good reasons for your objection. The last plan was rejected on the grounds of road safety and environmental factors. It would be a good idea to comment on these matters when you write.

Further information can be obtained from me, from Colin Spence, or from the campaign co-ordinator, Peter Clifford, Chairman of Chilton Parish Council, who chaired last night’s meeting very gracefully.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Friend of the People?

This week I have been in Norwich taking part in the annual Russian Summer School. Norwich is a new venue for the event, which until this year was held at Essex University. All was well, apart from noisy and dark sleeping accommodation. Over the years I have put up with some pretty dreadful conditions in order to keep my Russian language going. One expects this in Russia, but not in Norwich! It will be a Bed and Breakfast for me next year I think!

One of the teachers, a Russian woman, was keen to counter the bad impression that we currently receive from the media with regard to the Medved'ev/Putin government. People in Russia, she claimed are much better off than they were in the Yeltsin years, and money is now being spent on new social measures such as encouraging mothers to have more children to try to counter the poor demographic outlook for the country. The Government continues to be very popular. Western Style Democracy, she argues, may not necessarily be ‘right’ for Russia where the people have always been used to autocratic government . (The Russians call this ‘silnyi ruki’ or ‘firm hands’)

In the short term she may be right. People in Russia are currently more cheerful and on the whole better off than they were. All the same I cannot help feeling that a huge opportunity is being lost in the country. Government finances have been massively enhanced by the increase in revenue from oil and also to some extent agricultural products. However the lack of a proper rule of law in the country continues to be a fatal flaw. Corruption is widespread and so life continues for most Russians as it always has- bribes must be paid for everything.

Additionally what passes for a democratic system is in fact a complete sham. It is almost impossible for any party other than Putin’s to get into power. This is more or less alright while things are going well and the government is relatively benign. It would be naive however to believe that this can last forever.

The language and culture of the country remain fascinating, despite the fact that the current situation is not particularly attractive. I do sometimes wonder however whether I should give up on the Russians and concentrate on my French instead.