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 31, 2011

Dog days in Suffolk

Rendle watches the hunt

Rendle, Nick and I all enjoyed our day at Suffolk Dog Day at Helmingham Hall yesterday.  Held in aid of the Suffolk Foundation, which supports many good causes across the county,  the event was well organised and very entertaining.  I don't think I have seen so many dogs collected in one place ever before.

Some 700 dogs were entered in the dog show alone.  However, the majority of mutts and their owners were not taking life that seriously, and were there to enjoy a day out.  Rendle had a go on the agility equipment, and managed to negotiate most of the obstacles with just a little encouragement. He also won a prize in the Colchester Owl Rescue raffle.

 All dog owners present observed the poop and scoop rules, and the day was, I think, a testimony to the fact that the vast majority of dogs are well behaved and do far less damage than their owners.  The owners of the Hall seemed quite relaxed about allowing dogs in their beautiful formal gardens and in the tea room.

Some of Rendle's distant relations at Greyhound Rescue

 I was very disappointed to read recently that, in contrast to this dog friendly attitude,  the organisers of the Suffolk Show have decided to ban dogs in future.   In my view this means that the show has lost touch with its country roots and has just become another commercially oriented extravaganza.

We will not be going to the Suffolk Show again, but intend making Suffolk Dog Day a regular fixture in our summer calendar.
A cockerpoo and Goldendoodle by the moat

Nick and Rendle enjoying the knot garden

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Plans for local school expansion

 I was sorry that I was unable to make it down to Acton School last Tuesday to have a look at their expansion plans.  I will be sure to take a look when the plans are registered with Babergh planners in due course.

There was quite a lot of interest in the plans for the expansion of Great Waldingfield School, which it is planned will take in two extra year groups.    Pictured above is Suffolk County Council's designer of the scheme with Great Waldingfield resident, Pam Eggby, who lives close to the school, and below she is shown with Colin Spence, our County councillor.

The designer told me that she has tried to make the building look 'less of a box' by designing an interesting hipped porch at one end, and cladding the building. This should mean that it blends in well with the play group building next door.  One new classroom and an improved staff room will be provided by the scheme together with a better lay out for the school as a whole.

I understand that several people made comments to the County Council's designer with regard to parking problems at the school.  These will only be exacerbated by the increased number of children.  She promised to take these concerns back to the relevant officers.  However, the message from the County Council in the past has always been that funds should be spent on education rather than car parking; other, more green solutions, must be found to resolve the traffic problems.

Your comments on this would be welcome!

Defying gravity!

Local hero, John Phillips, of Go Start fame, is planning to abseil down the lighthouse in Southwold on 14th August.

He is raising money on behalf of the RNLI, which is a charity close to my heart because I was was regularly fished out of the water in my youth (although admittedly usually by the yacht club's tender).

When we are at the seaside in Felixstowe we often see the volunteer crews practising, and many people are unaware that the charity gets no public funding.

To donate to this very worthwhile cause go to:-


The RNLI has given the following information about itself on the appeal site:

The RNLI’s volunteer lifeboat crews rescue an average of 22 people every day around the coasts and waterways of Britain and Ireland. From 235 lifeboat stations, they are well trained and equipped to put to sea in the most fearsome conditions when the call comes. RNLI lifeguards patrol more than 140 beaches in England and Wales. As well as rescuing people from the water, they are also on hand for first aid and safety advice, making sure everyone can make the most of their day at the beach. Are you passionate about the water? Do you want to be part of a lifesaving team? Whatever the reason for your interest in our work, we’d love to have you onboard. The RNLI is an independent charity and receives no government funding. We rely on public support.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


I have been shocked an upset by the recent news from Norway.

We travelled in the country recently and everywhere we went were met with friendly faces.  Theirs is a small, cohesive, mutually supportive, society which is quite unused to this sort of community tragedy.

I hope that the country will take heart from the international concern and support being shown

Friday, July 22, 2011

I am not surprised that the County Council and the Suffolk Police Authority is thinking about turning on its speed cameras once again.  Statistics show that deaths from road accidents in Suffolk have risen this year from a relatively low level in 2010. It is hard to escape the view that this is due, in part, to the fact that the cameras have not been operating due to budget constraints.

The speeding problem is not confined to the major roads and urban areas however.

At yesterday evening’s Safer Neighbourhood Team Meeting in Stanstead almost every complaint from the public was about speeding cars in their villages.  Additionally speeding along Valley Road, Chilton, continues to be a problem (although according to the police not enough of a problem for a camera to be sited on the road since the volume of traffic, when compared to other areas, does not justify it).

The meeting resolved that speeding will be a priority for the Safer Neighbourhood Teams for the next two months.  The other priority will be the monitoring of schools in the evenings during the school holidays to deter anti social behaviour.

The next Babergh West Safer Neighbourhood meeting will be in Groton on 22nd September at 7 p.m.  If you have concerns about any aspect of safety in the community come along and voice them directly to the police.

Closer to home, the Speedwatch scheme in Waldingfield Ward has been successful in catching a good number of motorists breaking the speed limit in our villages, but could still do with more volunteers to enable the teams to go out on a more regular basis.  After training it only takes an hour or so a month to participate and those who do it find it rewarding and, at times, entertaining.

If you are interested in volunteering please get in touch with me, or with the Parish Council, who will put you in touch with the scheme’s co-ordinator.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Behind the scenes at Babergh

Tuesday’s Council meeting has been cancelled due to ‘lack of business’.

This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot going on at Babergh at present.  It’s just that nothing has been finalised sufficiently such that it can be voted on by Members.  A good deal of activity is happening behind the scenes  to press on with the integration of Babergh’s officer structure with that of Mid Suffolk.  Protocols for selection of the joint senior management team are being put in place, and the new joint HR board will be looking at the harmonisation of the two councils’ terms and conditions of employment.

At an internal briefing yesterday it was made clear to Members that, even with the savings projected from the integration plan, we will still need to find several hundred thousand pounds from somewhere to balance the budget in 2011/12.   One problem is that uncertainties abound with regard to the implications of government policy.   

For example the ‘New Homes Bonus’ , a new contribution from the centre,  is very welcome, but should we spend it all this year?  What about the announcement from Eric Pickles earlier in the week that implies that we may be able to hold onto business rates instead of handing them over to the centre?  The implications of this could mean that ideas for money raising that look like a good idea now could have a negative outcome in the future.....increased car parking charges in town centres spring immediately to mind.

What a pity that the referendum in respect to a full merger resulted in a 'no' vote.  Those councillors who campaigned against it should by now be aware that, had the extra savings involved been achieved, balancing next year’s budget would have been very much easier and hard choices largely avoided.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Coping with travellers.

A travellers' site in Norfolk
Yesterday morning I entered the Alice in Wonderland world that surrounds the phenomenon of Gypsies and Travellers who set up unauthorised sites in the UK.

As many will know, a growing number of travellers have been encamped on Chilton Grain’s land on Chilton Airfield for over two weeks now, having been in the Sudbury area for over six.    It is my understanding that a notice of eviction has, or shortly will be, served, and the travellers must move on by Monday or risk prosecution.

However, since there is a real danger that instead of leaving the airfield the travellers will move immediately onto adjacent Suffolk County Council land, the County Council decided to pre-empt further problems. Accordingly a Stakeholder Meeting was called yesterday with a view to making a decision as to whether the County should tolerate any future encampment, or whether to start the process of evicting the group.

I have to say that I was impressed by the clear headed professionalism of Suffolk County Council’s Gypsy and Traveller liaison team, who are clearly keen to keep ahead of the game, and who are acutely aware that additional issues may occur later in the year following the eviction of travellers from Dale Farm in Essex.

The protocol that is used in these circumstances makes interesting reading and I am happy to forward an electronic copy to anyone that is interested.  The bottom line is that, by law, a great many hoops must be jumped through to ensure that the travellers’ and local residents’ rights are given equal weight. 

In my opinion it is proper that all people’s rights are protected, and the official process makes a good stab at this, but we are not really operating on a level playing field.   Unlike the settled community, the travellers are effectively trespassers, often cause environmental problems, and do not have planning permission for their activities. It is hard to be 'blind' to these factors when weighing the ‘rights’ of one group against another.

Some people think that providing more permanent sites would resolve the problem and I shared this view.  However, among the many fascinating things I learnt yesterday, it appears that that many travellers actually have been allocated permanent sites, but still feel the need to travel to congregate with friends and family during the summer months.  

Yesterday’s  meeting was attended by no fewer than 18 people  including an Inspector of Police, two County Council Cabinet members, one District Councillor (me),  four senior County Council officers, representatives of Great Waldingfield and Chilton Parish Councils, Bradley (the community warden),  and three members of Babergh’s enforcement team. This represents an unusually large number for such meetings, but, nonetheless, I dread to think what the total cost to the public purse was, taking into account salaries being paid, legal costs and mileage travelled to attend the meeting.  

It might be worth it if a permanent solution was being achieved, but presumably, the whole roundabout will start once again when our travellers move on to pastures new.  What is to be done?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Press release about National Grid's preferred pylon route from the Groton Pylon Alliance

I circulated blog readers in Little and Great Waldingfield on the day of the announcement with regard to National Grid's decision on the route for the new line of pylons across Suffolk.

I now publish below the press release I have just received from the campaigning group, The Groton Pylon Alliance.

The bottom line is that the edge of Great and Little Waldingfield have been spared from these blots on the landscape.

'As many in south Suffolk will now be aware, National Grid announced on 12th July that it is proposing to build a new overhead power line from Bramford to Twinstead along Corridor 2. This option involves the taking down of the 132,000 volt line from Burstall Bridge to Twinstead Tee and building a new 400,000 volt line in its place.

The Groton Pylon Alliance welcomes the news that the unspoilt landscape and environment of south Suffolk will not be blighted by the introduction of new power lines and pylons where none currently exist. However, as the GPA has consistently stated, it calls on National Grid to embrace new technologies and underground as much of the new route as possible. In this respect the GPA is pleased to see that National Grid have announced that they “will be giving detailed consideration to areas where placing cables underground would be appropriate”.

In the coming weeks, the GPA will be reviewing National Grid’s “Feedback Report on Stage 1 Consultation” in detail with its advisers and also contacting other campaign groups to explore ways in which the GPA can assist them in Stage 2 of National Grid’s process.

The GPA also intends to remain vigilant and keep a watching brief with other local groups over the coming years to meet any future threats to the landscape and environment of south Suffolk.

Finally, the GPA would like to thank the many hundreds of people across south Suffolk and beyond who have supported its campaign over the last two years and who have together put in a tremendous amount of work to protect our countryside.'

 Notes: The GPA is a conservation group formally representing the interests of 19 villages in south Suffolk in relation to National Grid’s proposed infrastructure project for a new 400kV overhead power line from Bramford near Ipswich to Twinstead near Sudbury. The GPA includes the villages of Groton, Kersey, Boxford, Edwardstone, Aldham, Milden, Chelsworth, Whatfield, Semer, Lindsey, Little Waldingfield, Elmsett, Nedging-with-Naughton, Monks Eleigh, Great Waldingfield, Bildeston, Lavenham, Flowton and Brent Eleigh.

Great Waldingfield Open Gardens

 I enjoyed  the Great Waldingfield Open Gardens event on Sunday, although it was not possible to get round all of the gardens in the three hours I had available, which was a pity.

The garden above is near the Church, and had some lovely clematis, as can be seen.

I was impressed that our ex next door neighbour Pam was brave enough to open her garden despite only having moved at the end of last year!  I was too busy chatting however to take a picture of her great view of the school pond.

I was interested to see the meadow area left for the benefit of wildlife in one garden, pictured below.  The grass is cut in two stages, one side in July and the other in October, and the result is that different varieties of plant colonise each area.  Apparently it is very important to pick up the cut grass so that the soil does not become too rich.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Interested in the future of our primary schools?

Both Acton and Great Waldingfield Primary Schools are to be extended to allow two further year groups to be accommodated.

This is part of the School Organisation Review that has been undertaken by the County Council in the Sudbury area.

A pre-planning public consultation is to be held at Acton Primary School on Tuesday 19th July and at Great Waldingfield Primary School on Thursday 21st July .  Both events run from 3 p.m. until 7 p.m.

Representatives from the School, Suffolk County Council, and the design team will be on hand to answer questions from residents and other interested parties,  and will be able to discuss aspects of the plan and take comments.  There will be an opportunity to comment informally, or to complete comment slips that will be available on the day.

Formal plans for the expansion will then be submitted.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Tesco in Hadleigh, a national problem.

Hadleigh High Street, under threat?

The Daily Mail has a big splash today about the refusal of planning permission for Tesco’s plans for a supermarket in Hadleigh. (See: Trolley Wars: How one market town (population 7239) saw off Tesco) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2012429/Trolley-wars-How-market-town-Hadleigh-saw-Tesco.html

 In the paper the event is being portrayed as a great victory for ‘local’ Davids over the nationwide ‘Goliath’.

The committee vote was very close; 8 against, 7 in favour.  This result reflects the view of the town, which in a poll some time ago were pretty evenly divided about the proposals.  

My heart, and my natural conservatism with a small ‘c’, agrees with the anti-Tesco brigade.  I deplore the homogenisation of the High Street that has taken place all over the UK in the last 20 years of so, and badly miss some of the smaller, more individual, shops that we used to enjoy.

However, my head says something different.  I set aside the ‘jobs’ issue, since I am pretty sure that jobs created by Tesco could well be offset by job losses elsewhere in the town.  However I do think that taking too conservative a stance here does not take into account the interests of those people in Hadleigh who would benefit from the lower prices that Tesco often offers (provided you take a calculator with you).  There is also the convenience offered by longer opening times, and the ease of being able to do a ‘big shop’ with the aid of a trolley.  This is invaluable for those who work, and also for those with large families and caring responsibilities.

Many people who believe in the ability of free markets to resolve any problem would say that if the small shops in Hadleigh can’t compete, then they do not deserve to survive.  However the big question really is how fair is the competition offered by the large supermarket chains?   And if unfair (which objectively I believe it must be) what can in practice be done to mitigate its impact on the smaller independents?  Perhaps as part of a Section 106 agreement Tesco should be forced to pay Babergh to revert to free car parking, and to perpetually retain it, not just in Hadleigh, but in Sudbury too!

This is not a subject that is amenable to easy solutions.  Certainly it is not in the power of Babergh to find them through the planning process as it stands, and is a matter for central government to address.

The one thing that does really concern me is the cost to Babergh ratepayers if a protracted and complex appeal process now ensues.  And will it, probably subconsciously, deter the Development Committee from taking proper decisions in other cases, which might result in a costly appeal?

Some views of our holiday

St Basil's Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow, June 2011
We did have a marvellous holiday in Russia and Norway.

We went first to Moscow, and then up to the Russian north, visiting Archangel, the Solovetsky Islands and Murmansk, before sailing round the Kola Peninsular and the North Cape, the most northernmost point of Europe.
Cathedral of the Transfiguration, Great Solovetsky Monastery
The North Cape, Norway, June 2011

Changes to the Long Term Parking rules

In response to feedback from residents, including the readers of this blog, yesterday members of Babergh’s Strategy Committee approved some changes to the Long Term Car Parking charging regime.

For some time it has become clear that it is too restrictive to allow people only to park in the Long Term areas for 24 hours.  People like to go up to London overnight, and as it stands at present those who do so must get back before around 11 a.m. the next morning to avoid a fine.  This is now being changed, and it will now be possible to pay for up to three days parking in advance.

In another move, it is now going to be possible for season ticket holders to park wherever they like in the Long Term areas, rather than being restricted to a fixed area. 

On the subject of season tickets, I have been surprised at the low take-up of these.  I know that there are many who work all day in Sudbury who find ‘somewhere else’ to park rather than pay for parking, but nonetheless I would have thought that more would have been attracted by the convenience of a permit to park in a proper car park at a much reduced rate.

Less palatable for residents will be the fact that parking fines will be increased from their current levels to £55, (or £25 if payment is made within 14 days)

I am not sure when these measures will take effect since they have to be approved both by the County Council and the Police.

It has been widely reported that the council has ‘lost’ over £60,000 since the payment for Long Term Parking scheme commenced.  This is inaccurate.   What has happened is that receipts are £60,000 below forecast.  This is not surprising really given the impact on behaviour of removing a free good, particularly since other areas in the town still offer cost free parking all day.  However even after monitoring expenses, some £110,000 has been collected towards the council’s annual budget.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Gypsies and travellers, then and now.

‘One cannot live without champagne and gypsies’.  So goes the well known Russian proverb, which is quoted to great effect in the pre-revolutionary version of the song ‘Dark Eyes’, or ‘Ochi chernye’. The arrival of a gypsy troupe at a party is an essential feature of any historical Russian film, and throughout Russian literature they symbolise a heady mix of exoticism, sexual danger and romance.

Even today no trip down the Volga is complete without a concert from a gypsy band (see above).

Unfortunately In Suffolk these days the arrival of gypsies and travellers is not met with the same level of enthusiasm.  Indeed two encampments over the past month on Chilton Airfield, and one on Friar’s Meadow in Sudbury have elicited some angry letters to the press, and a number of phone calls to me from worried residents.

Babergh has come in for some criticism for ‘inaction’ with regard to this issue, and so when I was in Hadleigh today I thought it might be useful to try to learn more about our obligations with respect to gypsies and travellers.

The bottom line is that, unless they actually trespass on land belonging to Babergh, the council has no immediate obligation to move them on.  This is the role of the landowner, who is expected to do something about trespassers on their property.  Babergh is however obliged to liaise with the County Council’s officers when it is made aware of the presence of travellers in the District.  The County Council, in turn, is obliged to visit the new arrivals to check on their welfare and educational needs.   

However, if the travellers cause an environmental nuisance, Babergh need to take the necessary action. Also, when the travellers stay for long enough for their presence to be considered a breach of planning laws, appropriate enforcement action will be taken.  An example of this is the well publicised action taken by Basildon Council to evict travellers who effectively set up permanent homes on the Dale Farm site in Essex.  As can be seen from this case however, the process of eviction can be very lengthy.  It should be added that this latter case is unusual.  Travellers are generally just that, and it is rare for them to stay in one place for too long.

The police are likely to become involved with travellers sites when the number of vehicles exceed 9, and they have reason to believe that some crime is likely to be committed.

This is my understanding of what I learnt from officers today.  I hope it clarifies the situation somewhat.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Home from the frozen north!

We have just returned from a holiday in northern Russia and Norway.

I hope to have time in the next day or so to post some more pictures of the trip, and also recommence the usual flow of comment on other matters.

In the meantime here is a shot of the (almost)  midnight sun!