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

Monday, October 27, 2008

Future fun and games in Great Waldingfield

Last week I went to see Harry Taylor, Great Waldingfield Parish Councillor, to find out about the plans to improve play facilities for children in the village.

Harry, with other members of the Parish Council, has been working hard on this issue for some time. I know that their first task was to ensure that the existing equipment meets safety standards, and in this connection, Colin Spence, as county councillor, has given some of his location budget to pay for some improvements. The play equipment is old however, and really needs replacing.

In the old days I suppose one just went along to a manufacturer and bought a swing, a slide etc. Times have certainly changed today however, and far more than this is involved in order to achieve the best result for the village.

The replacement of the equipment is really a major undertaking which needs a lot of detailed research and planning. Harry has clearly spent many hours of his time perusing brochures, meeting representatives of equipment manufacturers, drawing up plans for the site, seeking estimates, making sure that like is being compared with like etc. etc. etc.

Some of the possibilities are very exciting. Today it is possible to acquire innovative and attractive play equipment which, once installed, should give great pleasure to several generations of children. However, a good scheme does not come cheap, and the Parish Council will have to look beyond its own resources to fund the programme. Grants are of course available, and once an estimate has been accepted and a supplier chosen, accessing these will be the next step.

There is also the need for people in the village to get more involved with the project to ensure that what is planned is what is needed. A poster competition is being held at the school with the aim of finding out what the children would like to see. There is also likely to be a need for fundraising in the village. It is hoped that a meeting with parents and other interested parties will be held in early 2009. In the meantime members of the Parish Council will be happy to answer your questions.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

News on Gravel extraction

In today's Free Press there is an eye-wateringly ill-informed letter about Brett's application to extract gravel etc. at Chilton written by some character who lives in Colchester. He writes 'For this quarry to be abandoned and stopped by a small group of villagers is unthinkable.'

The letter is so bizarre that a suspicious mind might think that Bretts had a hand in it. Alternatively, I suppose, it could be a joke, but if so it is rather a bad one.

Anyway I will be responding to the Free Press to try to set the record straight, and with luck they will print the letter.

In the meantime, the hearing of the latest application by the County Development Committee has been postponed yet again and the latest date we have is 4th December.

The District and the downturn

The State of the District Debate was on the agenda at Tuesday's Council Meeting. This is held every year and is part of the policy and budget making framework of the Council.
This year we were asked to discuss the likely consequences of the downturn in the economic climate for Babergh with a view to seeing whether we can do anything directly or indirectly to mitigate its effect.
The most important impact on the Council’s plans is of course the fact that many housing developments, on which Babergh was relying to deliver its affordable housing targets, are now on hold. Chilton Woods is of course the largest of these, and it is worth noting that, despite the fact that the first planning application was supposed to be made in September, nothing has been seen to date. In addition Ashwood’s recently acquired partners in the scheme, Redrow, are known to be in financial difficulties. This is bad news for all those on Babergh’s housing list who were looking to this major scheme to provide them with much needed accommodation.
It is hard to see what Babergh can do about this apart from concentrating on, and perhaps accelerating, its own schemes with housing associations. This will not make a huge difference to the numbers of houses built however. There were differing opinions as to whether the Council could, or should, once again build its own council houses. On balance however I do not think that there is the political will, or funds available for this.
Councillors were well aware that the current situation is making life very difficult for poorer people in the District. It is they who are bearing the brunt of higher fuel and food bills. I took the opportunity to plead the case of Sudbury Citizens Advice Bureau, with which I have been associated for a number of years. I told the Council how a queue of some 19 people was waiting to see an advisor when the doors were opened on one day last week, and subsequently I have heard that 43 people were helped during the course of that day. The Sudbury Bureau, as I wrote recently, has severe capacity constraints due to the size of the offices, and it is hoped that funding may be forthcoming to allow some outreach activities.
This will all inevitably take time, but certainly Babergh Councillors appreciate the work that the Bureau does for people in the District. The Council is already the main funder for the organisation, and its support is much appreciated by the Trustees, employees and volunteers. It really is public money well spent.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Tea with the Mayor

People today often say that we don’t have the sense of community that we used to, and it certainly is true that it is increasingly hard to find people to serve on committees and even to be local councillors. However, since I have been taking a more active interest in such things, I have been amazed at how, from time to time, a real sense of community manifests itself .

The communal tree planting in Great Waldingfield in February was one such event, and the Mayor of Sudbury’s Civic Service that was held yesterday, followed by tea in the Town Hall, was certainly another. St. Gregory’s Church in Sudbury was absolutely packed, and there was standing room only for the delicious spread in the Town Hall!

John Sayers, the Mayor this year, looked very fine in his chain and robes of office. He was accompanied by Mayors from other towns in Suffolk, also wearing their robes , plus a couple of macebearers and the Town Clerk in full bewigged splendour. Some people don’t like this ‘dressing up’, but I for one am all for maintaining tradition. Without such displays it is easy to lose the special distinctiveness of life in England, and a sense of continuity with the past. I also enjoyed singing God Save the Queen...I can’t remember the last time I actually did that!

Colin was telling me that recently he attended an event that was the successor to the traditional Harvest Festival celebration. It is now called something completely unmemorable, dignitaries and officers no longer wear their robes and references to God and the spiritual were noticeable by their absence. How pointless is that? One may as well not bother to hold such an event in my view. I am not a particularly energetic churchgoer, but I find the propensity these days to concentrate on the purely secular (mainly I suspect for politically correct reasons) literally leaches the ‘spirit’ out of community events.

To my mind yesterday was memorable because members of the community all joined together and looked beyond themselves for spiritual help and support . I don’t think it matters whether one sees this as a direct appeal to God, or simply as an expression of a shared sense of community spirit, there was definitely some sort of spirit abroad in Sudbury yesterday.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A morning at the Development Committee

As I was sitting in the Council Chamber at Babergh yesterday listening to the Development Committee at work it suddenly dawned on me that I am becoming a local government anorak. As I write this I can hear my sons, and possibly some of you, saying ‘How sad is that!’ After all, I could have been at home enjoying the newspaper or reading a book . The fact is however that watching the Committee make decisions on planning matters becomes quite fascinating as one learns more and more about the subject.
I was at the meeting to speak against a proposed development in Great Waldingfield. The site is pictured above. The Parish Council had opposed the scheme which is yet another application for a new house in Folly Road. Sadly I was unable to persuade the Committee that it was not a good idea to shoehorn yet another property onto a tiny triangle of land where there is hardly room to turn a car, let alone build a house. In fairness, were the Committee to have refused to allow the development the decision would almost certainly have been overturned on appeal. The ruination of our villages continues however.
Other ward members were also unsuccessful in their protestations to the Committee with the exception of Bryn Hurren from Boxford who made a good case for a house extension which apparently was unacceptable because it overlooked another nearby. The ‘overlooked neighbours’ had actually written in support of the young family in question who really needed to extend their property. The officer however thought that the extension broke the rules. Fortunately the Committee took the route of common sense and allowed the scheme to go ahead.
The most interesting case concerned a mobile home for which retrospective planning permission was being sought. This is in the open countryside near Newton and under most circumstances would not be allowed. However, the applicant was a bona fide gypsy whose rights are protected by special legislation. In view of the fact that Babergh is going to be obliged shortly to find a number of pitches for travellers and gypsies, and the applicant had claims under human rights legislation, the pragmatic approach was taken and permission to stay was granted. I think that this was the right thing to do in this instance but the decision was not universally welcomed or thought to be fair. The case illustrates the difficulties that are caused by legislation which is in essence positive discrimination in favour of certain parts of the community. That resentment is caused by this is almost inevitable. My gut feeling is that in general such legislation is better avoided.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Lost in Tesco

Since returning from holiday it has taken me about ten minutes longer to do my shopping due to the fact that I am having trouble finding my way around newly expanded Tesco.
I have to say that I rather liked the old, compact version. It was certainly friendly in the vegetable department on a busy morning! Now I wander around like a lost soul in purgatory, feeling rather gloomy that the store now does really feel like a clone of every other Tesco in the country.
I shop in Tesco on a day to day basis because it is the closest store to my home north of Sudbury and is undeniably good value. I always feel rather guilty about this however since I am aware of the adverse impact that Tesco has on the town centre and on village shops. This is doubly true now that the store has a pharmacy and much expanded non food areas. I am also very suspicious of the company’s pricing policy. One has to be very alert to the actual cost of things; larger packs for example are not always the cheaper option as one would expect. Additionally I am aware of the squeeze that Tesco puts on its suppliers. The company’s high level of profitability does not come from no-where.
The car park has been much expanded, and regrettably some quite mature trees have been removed during the alterations. One of the reasons that I am inclined to be opposed to parking charges in Sudbury* is that I don’t think that it is fair that people should have to pay in the town centre when supermarket car parks are free. It simply gives the large stores an unfair advantage which they really don’t need. In this connection I was impressed by the idea recently suggested by Sudbury Chamber of Commerce that the Section 106 money provided by Tesco for the town should be spent on subsidising car parks in the town. I am not sure if this is possible under the rules, but I shall certainly be asking the question.

*subject to hearing alternative views in a debate of course!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Icelandic banks, Belle Vue and local government finance.

Well I am pleased to be able to report that Babergh doesn't have any deposits with Icelandic banks so for today at least Council Taxpayers can breathe a sigh of relief.

It does seem to me that it probably isn’t very sensible to put money into banks whose assets are worth several hundred percent of their home country’s GDP. However, the Government, ever the meddler, has put a lot of pressure on Councils to do lots of things in recent years, and seeking out the highest returns for spare funds has been one of them. Page one of the textbook for baby investment bankers is that higher returns do not come without commensurate higher risk, there being no such thing as a free lunch. It is a pity that this isn’t on page one of the text book for those engaged as advisers to local authorities.

This brings me onto the question of Belle Vue House, about which there has been considerable debate while I have been away.

I can speak with the voice of experience on this one since I spend quite a lot of time at Belle Vue House due to my association with Sudbury Citizens Advice. While I can understand to a certain extent the sentimental attachment that many in Sudbury seem to have for the property, which I suppose is quite attractive in its red-brick way, my enthusiasm is tempered both by the fact that it reminds me of my boarding school, and also, I can assure you, the house is not a great place in which to have to work. The CAB rooms are cramped, stuffy, too few, and the basement wringing wet. Little money appears to have been spent over the years on a good proportion of the building (the college part seems to be in quite good condition superficially however).

The CAB would serve its very deserving clients very much better if it had appropriate offices in a new purpose built community building and this might be the outcome if Babergh releases significant funds from the development of the site. Other community groups would also be beneficiaries. Incidentally, the threat to Belle Vue Park itself has, I believe, been much exaggerated.

Belle Vue House has been the victim, in my view, of the inevitable neglect that is suffered by many publicly owned assets, which rarely get the care and attention they deserve. This is due, it seems, to the barmy system of public finance which runs from year to year and hand to mouth and never seems to have any concept of depreciation, sinking funds or any of the other mechanisms that are used in the private sector to make sure that buildings and other assets are properly maintained. Hadleigh swimming pool is another case in point; were schools and swimmers to have been charged just a small percentage more per swim and were money to have been set aside over the years in a sinking fund then another pool may not have been unaffordable today.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Castles in Spain

We have been away in Spain for the last couple of weeks and this is why the blog has been so quiet!

I will be back in blogging mode and mood very shortly, but in the meantime am posting some photos. We had a really excellent time travelling around the ancient cities that surround Madrid. Pictured above are the castle in Segovia, the Walls of Avila, Statue of Cervantes in Toledo and a city view of Cuenca. All are worth a visit, and wine is still relatively cheap in Spain!