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, September 28, 2014

Brettenham Apple Day

Feeding the press
A good time was clearly being had by all at the Brettenham Apple Day.

We went along this morning and were very impressed at the active production line that was already up and running.   People had been encouraged to book a slot and then to bring along their apples to turn into delicious juice.  This year's crop has been fantastic, so there was no shortage of raw material.

In addition to the production tent, there were some interesting stalls.  Additionally there was an apple bobbing competition, and some other testing events, including a very difficult apple related quiz.  I had a go at this, but have to say, am not confident of success.
Apple bobbing competition
 The weather was fantastic, and I expect that many people will have joined in before the close of the event. Proceeds from the day will go to the Church and also to the Gardening Club. Congratulations to Carrie Dye and her team of helpers for organising a great day out.

Apple preparation line

Friday, September 26, 2014

Happiness in South Suffolk...a spot check.

Well it’s official!  Babergh has the happiest residents in the United Kingdom.

According to a survey published yesterday by National Statistics, not only is Suffolk the place in the East of England where people were most ‘satisfied’ with their lot in 2013/14, but the South Suffolk area scored 8.2 for the happiness of its residents….the highest in the country.

As I had a relatively quiet day yesterday I decided that I would try to test this out.  I called in to the South Suffolk Conservative Association offices to see how happy the Agent, Peter Burgoyne and the lovely Fenella were feeling. Unfortunately, they were both a little glum since they were having problems finding a venue for our forthcoming dinner with Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth.  Additionally, Peter was somewhat unimpressed, as indeed am I, by the fact that Babergh has decided that 5 30 p.m. on a Friday afternoon (today) is a good time to have a full council meeting.  Discouraged somewhat I left and drove home.

Here I found my husband Nick decidedly unhappy.  Contractors had just, without warning, closed the road and turned off the electricity supply to re-furbish the electrical wiring along Newmans Green.  No power is expected until 4 p.m. at the earliest.  Rendle the Lurcher was not very happy either, since he doesn’t like the noises that the burglar alarm makes when the power is down, and is even less happy that the burglar alarm has a tendency to go off when the battery runs flat.  He spent most of yesterday lurking down the garden with a very hang dog expression.

Then I turned to the latest edition of the Suffolk Free Press, and what do I find?  Nothing but tales of local misery, and complaints about the council. Until then I had been feeling pretty chipper, quite looking forward to a few hours when, in the absence of electricity and an internet connection,  I did not have to check my e mails.  Having dipped into the local newspaper however, I do wonder where all these happy South Suffolk people are hiding!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Gritting advice 2014/15

Rather depressingly as the September sun shines down I have had details from Sue Herne, Emergency Planning Officer at the County Council, promoting a series of winter gritting workshops around the County.

The workshops is for Parish and Town councils, and indeed anyone else who is interested in getting involved in championing winter gritting in their community.    They will inform people how, with support of the County Council, they can create local partnerships to help with snow clearance and gritting in those areas that the County Council's operatives cannot reach.

There will be presentations from Suffolk County Council who will advise on various aspects of gritting, including where to locate grit bins and how to use safety equipment.  Sudbury Town Council, who were featured on the BBC some time ago as an example of good gritting practice will also be there.  Further infomation will be available from John Hammond from the Met office, who will speak about the different levels of weather warnings, and also from the Environment Agency who will be talking about flood warnings (presumably for when the thaw comes.)

District Emergency Planning officers will also be on hand to advise you on all aspects of emergency planning.

The workshops will be held in Forest Heath on 10th October (a.m.), at Needham Market on 14th October (evening) and somewhere yet to be determined in Suffolk Coastal on 26th November (a.m.)

Places on all 3 workshops can be booked by contacting

Sue Herne 07776 481787 or by emailing emergencyplanning@midsuffolk.gov.uk

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Living Wage Debate

At the Suffolk County Council meeting on Thursday the Labour Party put down a motion that, in essence, would have meant the council committing itself to impose payment of the Living Wage on all our contractors.

The Living Wage is, like the minimum wage, a calculated wage per hour.  At present it amounts to £7.65. This compares with £6.50 (from October) for the minimum wage, which, of course is the lowest level at which it is legal to employ anyone over the age of 25.  The Living Wage has been described by the BBC as the minimum amount necessary for a worker to live ‘a decent life’.  Its payment has much political support, but many employers are against it, arguing that it will cause job losses and damage competitiveness.

Who would not, all things being equal, not wish to improve the lot of the poorest workers in our society? In June Suffolk County Council agreed to pay the Living Wage to all directly employed staff, costing us £113,000 and affecting the wage packets of 90 people.   However, in the debate on Thursday, I was obliged to argue that to extend this requirement to our contractors would in current financially constrained times be unaffordable, potentially costing us millions, if not over ten million pounds, in additional contracting costs.

Our social care activities would be put under most pressure. This area, which is largely delivered through contractors, is already in difficulty due to the constantly increasing demand for services for the elderly.  Recognising this, the Government some time ago decreed that a solution could be achieved if the National Health Service worked with us to cut costs by closer co-operation.  Funds, belonging to the Health Service,(The Better Care Fund), were earmarked for this purpose, but, due to cost pressures within the NHS, it has been very difficult to access these.  It should be added here that, somewhat disingenuously, the Government made no new funding available, hoping that a cash strapped health service would see the cost benefits to them and simply hand over the money.

Unsurprisingly this hope has not, by and large, been fulfilled.  Cuts to our own budgets means that we have no additional resources to contribute to this area, and there is a real danger that spending on care, which we are obliged by statute to deliver, will start to devour resources committed to all our other services.  These are services which are already being reorganised to avoid further cutbacks in funding.  Libraries, children’s services, transport all come to mind.

There are other, more ideologically based, reasons for not wishing to comply.

As I said in the debate: to agree to the motion would result in the addition of another uncontrollable externally imposed commitment to the already enormous, burden of red tape and regulation that we put up with on a daily basis,   It would also represent unwarranted meddling in the businesses and competitive positions of the independent companies on whom we rely for service delivery.

In the event the motion was defeated by, I believe, 41 to 21 with 2 abstentions.  All the Conservatives voted against and, I think, most of the independents and the Liberal Democrats.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Red Hill blues

Residents in the south east of the Cosford Division, especially those living in Aldham and Elmsett, will be pleased to know that the works on Red Hill are scheduled to finish today.  This means that the road should be reopened by the weekend and journeys to Hadleigh much simplified.

The burst water main that closed the road almost two months ago developed into a series of further problems which meant that works continued much longer than anticipated.  Alternative routes took drivers along very narrow roads, or almost to Ipswich and back,  so a good deal of traffic chaos, and some damage to verges and field edges, ensued.  The problems were not helped by the fact that the leaks arose in the holiday period. It did seem to casual observers that there was something of a shortage of workmen present on site, although local residents tell me that those that were there worked really hard!

There is little that the County Council can do legally to speed matters like this along.  The utilities have a statutory right to road closures, and all we can do is chivvy them along.  The letter sent from Aldham Parish Council to the Managing Director of Anglian Water probably did more good than our officers' nagging in the background.  There was, apparently, a marked increase in activity shortly after the letter was sent, and a reply was received from the company quite speedily.

Suffolk County Council Highways did take the opportunity to do some of its own repairs to damaged crash barriers while the road was closed, and, I understand that the programme to  lay cables for the Better Broadband programme has not been delayed by the road closure.

I believe that there will need to be a further closure of Cosford Lane in due course to deal with further leakage problems there, but the worst now seems to be over in Red Hill...thank goodness!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Six weeks to catch the Rembrandts

The Hundred Guilder Print, Rembrandt
There are just six weeks left to catch the current temporary exhibition at Gainsborough's House in Sudbury.

The show features a wonderful collection of etchings by Dutch Master, Rembrandt van Rijn (1606 - 1669).  The prints are on loan from both the British Museum and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.  They have been brought together in Sudbury to illustrate the art of this master printmaker who inspired many artists including Gainsborough himself.

Rembrandt was a very passionate and prolific maker of prints, and  many aspects of his genius can be discerned in these works. As the Gainsborough's House website puts it: 'All the hallmarks of his work are visible in his etchings- dramatic subjects, sympathetic expressions, and the characteristic contrast of light and dark that remains unparallelled within printmaking'.

A visit to the Sudbury dispay would be a good introduction to the major exhibition of Rembrandt's work at the National Gallery that is opening this autumn.

While at Gainsborough's House visitors can also currently view the last self portrait of Gainsborough, painted in 1787, a year before his death.  It is hanging in the Upper Bow Room, alongside Gainsborough's portrait of his great friend and drinking companion, the composer and musical impresario Karl Friedrich Abel. A small exhibition examines the relationship between the two men. The paintings are on loan from the Royal Academy and the National Gallery respectively and will be returned at the end of the year.

The Museum recently started to open every Sunday, and it is now open every day of the week between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.   The on site shop has also recently been extended and re-stocked.

Rembrandt the Printmaker runs until 26th October 2014.

Summer Reading Challenge 2014

It must be the end of the summer when the time comes round again to go to Lavenham Library to present  certificates to the children who have completed the Summer Reading Challenge.

Here are some of those who succeeded with their reading assignments, along with Rita, who has spent a good deal of time helping many of the participants  along by listening and offering encouragement.

It is good that books and reading seem to be alive an well in South Suffolk!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Time to plan a visit to Great Blakenham.

I understand that all is proceeding relatively smoothly at the new Energy from Waste facility at Great Blakenham.  By the end of the year the plant should be ready to receive its first visitors, and if you are interested in being among the first to see it, the time has come to plan a visit.

The facility is now in its commissioning stage, and despite one or two inevitable glitches, all is on track to be ready on time.   The two waste processing lines, each capable of handling 380 tonnes a day, are being tested, which involves steam cleaning the boiler.  I understand that this has resulted in some interesting pink steam emerging from the plant.

This week the first waste from Norfolk has been processed.  Recently Suffolk County Council signed an agreement with our northern neighbours to process some 40,000 tons per annum on their behalf.  This is a good deal for both sides, with Suffolk gaining through increased economies of scale, and Norfolk saving money by avoiding landfill charges.

The visitor centre is currently being planned, and the interactive and other displays will be installed in the autumn.  The centre will be open to visiting groups of all kinds.  If you know of  a school or adult group,  who would be interested in enjoying what promises to be a most interesting experience, you should contact suffolkefw@sita.co.uk

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A meeting in Semer

Semer Church

Yesterday evening I took a stroll along Ash Street with two members of Semer Parish Council. 

We looked at one or two signage issues and discussed speeding on the Bildeston to Hadleigh Road.

Semer is a very dispersed community and the parish has no real centre. It has been one of the least troublesome of my 18 parishes, and, indeed, I was unaware of the existence of a Parish Council in the village until relatively recently, having been mininformed that it 'never met', which is, it turns out, not true. 

Semer is the home of  the excellent Hollow Trees Farm Shop, which is a regular stopping place for me on the way home from Ipswich or Hadleigh.  I understand that quite a few other businesses operate from homes in the parish, which means that everyone is hoping that high speed, or even just improved, broadband will arrive in the area soon.  I understand more news on this may be forthcoming in October.  I have learned however not to get too excited about such promises.

The Parish owns around 4 acres of open land close to the very attractive parish church.  The church, which is in a lovely setting,  is very well written up on the Suffolk Churches Website,  click here  and I am hoping to find time to go back to take a look inside before too long.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Rights of way under threat

Some of Suffolk’s rights of way are under threat due to the planned closure by Network Rail of level crossings that carry footpaths and bridle paths.  The closures are a reaction to what is seen as an unacceptably high number of deaths of pedestrians who have been hit by trains when crossing the rails.

At Suffolk County Council Cabinet meeting this morning we received a report from the Suffolk Local Access Forum (SLAF), a body that develops and supports access to the countryside for walkers, cyclists and horse riders.  The Forum is very concerned about Network Rail’s plans, which it believes will threaten rights of way across the county, many of which have been in existence for centuries.

At Needham Market it is planned to replace the rail crossing with a stepped footbridge.  This will not be a good outcome for cyclists, or for less able walkers.  SLAF is working hard to persuade Network Rail to install an underpass rather than a footbridge at the site, but I find it difficult to see how they will manage to force the railway company to do this.  Other, more remote, rights of way could well be severed for good.

SLAF have a good record of fighting battles to preserve footpaths.    The group won a famous victory over the Highways Authority in securing the construction of an underpass to accommodate a bridleway which passes under the newly ‘dualled’ A11.  Network Rail may however prove a tougher nut to crack.  Despite funding being available, and an understanding being reached with Babergh, they ultimately refused some years ago to install a new station in Great Cornard on the Sudbury to Marks Tey line on the grounds that the timetables could not cope with an additional stop on the line.

The rest of SLAF’s report made for interesting reading. In addition to the struggle with Network Rail, the group is working with EDF to ensure that rights of way at Sizewell are not too disrupted when and if work gets underway on the construction of Sizewell 3.