Thursday, February 26, 2015
With a packed programme of over 90 guided walks, this year's Suffolk Walking Festival which takes place 9th - 31st May 2015, is set to be the biggest yet with an eclectic mix of walks around medieval villages, market towns, along the coast and through the gentle landscapes of Suffolk.
The festival is a partnership project organised by Suffolk's local authorities with the aim of encouraging residents and visitors to get out into the countryside and explore the county:
“The festival is a great opportunity for people to learn about Suffolk's wildlife and history while at the same time enjoying the health benefits of walking, in a sociable setting” says Lesley Dolphin from BBC Radio Suffolk, who is the new patron of the festival. “We spend so much time driving in our cars to get from A to B and this is a wonderful chance to slow the pace a little and to see, hear and smell some of the delights of Suffolk”
Many of the walks include refreshments such as home-made cake or afternoon tea, some include entry to a visitor attraction and all are led by knowledgeable walks leaders to guide people along the route.
The programme includes themed walks such as Sketch Book Strolls with a local artist around Brandon Country Park; a seven mile hike called Food Glorious Food through Thetford Forest to the award-winning restaurant at the Elvedon Hall Estate for lunch; A Scottish Visionary and His Fairytale Village, which starts from Thorpeness on the coast and Beachcombing for Beginners on Felixstowe beach.
You can follow in Benjamin Britten's footsteps along 'Curlew River' and learn about the composer, his music and the wildlife that inspired him; walk the Horseshoe Trail and learn about horse racing in Newmarket; explore the Ponds of Helmingham Hall and walk in the footsteps of Thomas Gainsborough around Sudbury or learn about John Constable as you amble through 'Constable Country'.
Since many of the walks sold out last year, early booking is recommended to avoid disappointment.
To view the full programme and book tickets, visit the festival website here . You can also pick up a brochure from a Suffolk tourist information centre.
Recently one of the parishes in the Cosford Division that I represent failed to receive funding for a project. The funding guidelines were not read closely enough and as a result the application did not represent the nature of the project in the best way. This was disappointing, but all is not lost; I understand there is still some funding in the pot and we can resubmit the form. However, the omission has so far cost several phone calls, quite a lot of repeated fact finding and writing up, and the need for an additional meeting in the village to revisit the application. Much of this could have been avoided if I had got things right the first time around.
Getting things right the first time is a theme that you hear quite a lot about these days. It has long been an important tenet in the commercial world, but increasingly it is becoming a mantra in government as well.
It is the basis of the thinking behind a number of the transformation programmes that are being launched by the county council in an attempt to redesign services and deliver better services for less. There are two aspects to the idea, the first being to designate just one lead person to a problem. The aim of this is to avoid duplication of effort and also minimise ‘hand offs’ where the problem is transferred from one agency to another and gets lost in translation. The basis of this is good partnership working from the start, when one partner, such as the police or social services, is assured that others involved can be trusted.
The second important thing is to make sure that any intervention is considered, effective and appropriate so that whatever is done works first time. Having to revisit situations where a mistake has been made is very time consuming and expensive.
A good example is the appropriately named ‘Making Every Intervention Count’ programme which aims to transform Children’s Services. The project it is hoped will provide a better front line service, by avoiding the waste and inefficiency of multiple visits to families by different agencies such as probation and social services. Valuable resources should be saved too.
Of course this is not a new idea, but is, I suppose is just a new take on the old saw that a stitch in time saves nine!
Sunday, February 22, 2015
I cannot comment at present on the reactions to the latest plans for a major development to the north of Sudbury which has been designated ‘Chilton Woods’. The County Council is the principal landowner, and as such, will be seeking planning permission later in the year.
I have however received the words below from Brian Tora, local writer and broadcaster, and formerly the Chairman of Little Waldingfield Parish Council. This was part of an article that was published in the Box River News recently and Brian has given permission for me to reproduce it here.
I think that many of the points he makes represent the views of others who attended one of the community engagement events over recent weeks. These were all very well attended, and officers will be sifting and assessing the feedback received in advance of finalizing the plans for an application.
I have had cause to visit the new Sudbury Health Centre close to Homebase on Chilton industrial estate. Very smart it is too, though I gather it has had its share of teething problems. Its location makes it most convenient for the proposed Chilton Woods development, should it ever go ahead. With such a major building programme on the cards, I thought it sensible to take myself to one of the exhibitions setting out the County Council’s plans.
Building between Tescos and the old Chilton aerodrome has been on the cards for some time. The last developer to get involved, Redrow – a very large national housebuilder, withdrew on the basis that it would be difficult to make money from it. But the County Council is anxious to realise value for an asset it largely owns (about a third of the proposed site is in private hands), while Babergh are under pressure to deliver more homes in the District. The 1250 houses mooted for Chilton Woods would provide over a fifth of the number they need.
It is hard to find supporters for the scheme, though. In a way, this is a pity. Clearly much thought has gone into determining the nature of the development, with a proper village centre planned for Chilton, including a village green and a pub – and there aren’t many new pubs being built these days. Ancillary services include a new school, employment opportunities through new industrial units, maybe a hotel (badly needed in Sudbury) and the possible re-siting of the Sandy Lane recycling plant on the edge of the development, beyond the Tesco store. Having spent too much time queuing to dispose of rubbish in the narrow approach to our existing plant, I view that as a plus.
But the principal objection appears to be the added burden this development would place on our already crowded roads. Sudbury can be a nightmare for drivers, particularly on market days. The heavy lorries that plough through our narrow streets must be damaging some of the historic houses, which Sudbury is fortunate to possess, as well as providing a hazard for drivers and pedestrians alike. While overall I believe the Chilton Woods development should be a plus for our area, I can only hope that the authorities plough back the money they receive into road improvements that make life better for those living and visiting Sudbury, rather than just coping with any extra traffic created by the new homes.
Thanks to Andy Sheppard for the report below from Little Waldingfield History Society, which I have had to shorten a little.
Little Waldingfield History Society was delighted to welcome Pip Wright back to the Parish Room once again. As anticipated, the packed Parish Room was enthralled with his account of the dissolution of the monasteries and with the nuggets of information he always manages to unearth.
There were around 800 religious houses in England during the 15th/16th centuries, some 260 for monks, 300 for regular canons, 142 nunneries and 183 friaries. Nearly 10% of these were in Suffolk! Pip noted that the dissolution of the monasteries everyone associates with Henry VIII around 1540 was actually the second dissolution as royal action to suppress religious houses then had a history stretching back more than 200 years.
After the Norman Conquest many French religious orders held substantial property through daughter monasteries in England; some were merely agricultural estates with a single foreign monk in residence but others were rich foundations in their own right (e.g. Lewes Priory was a daughter priory answerable to the abbot of Cluny monastery). Arising from the near constant state of war between England and France in the Late Middle Ages, successive English governments objected to money going overseas (as the French king might get hold of it), they also objected to foreign prelates having jurisdiction over English monasteries.
King's officers first sequestrated assets of so called ‘Alien Priories’, belonging to French orders from 1295–1303 under Edward I. This continued to happen for long periods during the course of the 14th century, particularly in the reign of Edward III.
When Henry VIII failed to receive a declaration of nullity regarding his marriage from the Pope, he declared himself Supreme Head of the Church in England (in February 1531), instigating a programme of legislation to establish his Royal Supremacy in law. We then heard that in 1534, Thomas Cromwell undertook an inventory of the endowments, liabilities and income of the entire ecclesiastical estate of England and Wales (the Valor Ecclesiasticus), including monasteries, on behalf of Henry to assess the Church's taxable value; Pip advised that larger monasteries could have an income of around £2,000, which equates to millions in todays money.
Henry also had Cromwell “visit” all monasteries to purify them in their religious life and to instruct them in their duty to obey him and to reject Papal authority. Although an objective assessment of monastic observance in the 1530s would have been largely negative, Cromwell did not leave matters to chance - the timetable was tight and inquiries concentrated on gross faults and laxity. Where reports of misbehaviour returned by ‘visitors’ can be checked against other sources, they appear to have been greatly exaggerated, often recalling events and scandals from years before; also, from correspondence with Cromwell it seems that visitors knew that findings of impropriety were both expected and desired - they put the worst construction possible on whatever they were told, though do not appear to have fabricated allegations of wrongdoing.
Everyone had a fantastic evening, hearing an incredible story from a most gifted and natural narrator who both knows his stuff and puts it across in so entertaining a manner. We also learnt one fact that we are sure to remember for all times - Pip told us that Friar Tuck, of Robin Hood fame, could never have existed because there were no Friars in England at the time of Richard the Lionheart, when the stories were set - another myth dashed then!
Our next event will be on 18th March at 7.30 in The Parish Room Little Waldingfield, when James Hayward will regale us with his talk on 'The Ship of Dreams' - the story of East Anglians caught up in the most famous maritime disaster in history.
A lawyer by profession, James was educated at Ipswich and St. John's College Oxford; he has long been involved in the performing arts and when working on a Broadway production of the musical Titanic, his fascination with the "Ship of dreams" developed and led him to research the stories of the passengers and crew with local connections.
We look forward to welcoming guests new and old to the Parish Room for what is sure to be a fascinating evenings entertainment.
Andy Sheppard 19th February 2015
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
Last year BBC 1 broadcast a series of programmes about the work of housing officers across the country. The show, called Housing Enforcers, was fronted by consumer champion, Matt Allwright.
Allwright was filmed working alongside council officers as they went about their daily work, seeking out rogue landlords and tenants, resolving housing issues, organising pest control, and dealing with neighbours from hell.
Well it seems that the programme was a success and that another series is planned. This time some of the action is taking place close to home.
Employees and councillors have been told not to be alarmed if film crews are spotted in and around the council offices in coming weeks. It seems that housing staff from Babergh and Mid Suffolk are to feature in the programme and will be filmed as they go about their duties.
The housing team do a good job, and I am looking forward to seeing them starring in the second series of Housing Enforcers later in the year.
Sunday, February 15, 2015
I have now caught up with everything else sufficiently to write a few words about last week’s budget.
As the Cabinet Member for Resource Management it fell to me to start the debate on Thursday afternoon and also to bring it to a close.
It is well known to readers of this website that the Conservative administration at the County Council has to prepare a budget in the face of unprecedented cuts from the Government. This is not easy, but we have managed to produce a plan for 2015/16 which makes savings of £38m or so without seriously damaging front line services. If you are interested in knowing how we expect to do this, you can do no better than read the budget paper on the County Council’s website.
Suffice it to say that we are embarking on a series of transformation programmes which will redesign services and at the same time save costs and that council tax will be frozen for the fifth year in a row..
Inevitably the various opposition parties did not agree with our proposals, but their reasons differed somewhat.
Labour tabled an amendment which suggested that we should not try fully to bridge the budget gap at all. We should reverse what they called ‘cuts’ (but what we see as ‘savings’) and should make up the £12m resulting shortfall in the finances by raiding the council’s reserves. This idea might have had some merit were we to have sufficient free reserves to cover not just next year’s deficit, but the next several years. The thing is however that we do not. Free reserves of around £30m can be compared with an expected budget shortfall of £120m or so in the next three years, and of course, once the reserves are spent they are gone.
A lazy and financially illiterate response then, but Labour is not in an easy position. Arguably the financial woes of the country can be laid at their door, and they know as well as we do that, given the council’s statutory obligations, there is little room to manoeuvre. It would have been more honest perhaps to shrug off their reputation for inflation busting council tax increases and fund their suggestions from an increase in council tax. An alternative might have been to try to find some other area of the council’s activity to cut back instead
The wording of the amendment, combined with their opening rhetoric, revealed some confusion about the concept of what actually constitutes a reserve, and it was plain that Labour has no real grasp of what they were suggesting. For a party intent on restoring its reputation for financial competence ahead of the General Election in May, this was not a good way to proceed.
The Liberal Democrats’ reasons for opposing the proposals were, as usual, as varied as the number of Liberal Democrats in the chamber.
UKIP stated that they would oppose the budget because it believed that we are the lackeys of Westminster, and ought to ‘fight back’ against cuts more robustly. They seem to have failed to notice that we are actually Conservatives, and, with George Osborne, the Chancellor, believe that financial restraint is essential if Britain’s economy is to have a sustainable future.
Only one of our two Green Members turned up. He said he felt that Labour’s amendment did not go far enough and that he would not vote for it. I suspect that he did vote against the budget as a whole however. Presumably the Greens think that we should take the first steps towards insolvency by ignoring the fact that, without action, expenditure will exceed our income next year by £38.2m. But then, in what is gradually being revealed as their green on the outside and red in the middle ‘watermelon world’, all property is in any case theft, and all government will ultimately wither away.
The long shadow of the General Election was never very far away. At one stage the Leader of the Labour Party suggested that all ex bankers on the Conservative benches were ‘multi millionaires’ and a UKipper suggested that all the Council’s problems would be solved if we left the EU.
The budget was passed relatively easily in the end. Members on our own side made some well-considered speeches and demonstrated a level of sanity that was sadly lacking across the way.