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

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Stour Winds take a bow

Stour Winds take a bow with their conductor, Charlotte Blyth after their recent concert at St Mary's Church, Chilton.

Lavenham Neighbourhood Plan, consultation begins

Examining maps illustrating the Plan
Yesterday I went to the Guildhall in Lavenham to attend the first of three consultation events connected with the Lavenham Neighbourhood Plan that has been prepared by the Parish Council.

The right for a community to create a neighbourhood plan was established by the Localism Act 2011. The aim of the Act was stated as being to give 'communities the power to set the priorities for local development through neighbourhood planning'.  Unlike parish plans, which had a much wider brief, neighbourhood plans are solely concerned with development and planning, although when taken in the broadest sense this extends into other areas of local interest such as transport and education.

Lavenham, with its plethora of listed buildings and unique history, is a particularly special place and it is not surprising that the Parish Council wishes to have some influence over future growth.  One of the first parishes in Suffolk to embark on a plan, the authors have produced a very extensive study with proposals for the village which is well worth reading.

The proposals are based on the results of a questionnaire sent to all residents.  Their concerns centred on the need for more affordable housing, a resolution of the village's traffic problems and a desire to see small rather than large developments.  Safeguarding local facilities and the local enviroment were also priorities.

The preparation of a plan is a lengthy process.  Once the consultation has finished it will go to an external inspector to make sure that it is 'sound',  that is that it complies with local and national planning policies. 

Two further drop in meetings at which the Lavenham Neighbourhood Plan can be discussed with representatives from the Parish Council will be held in the next few days:

Sunday 2nd August in the village hall from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Tuesday 4th August in the Guildhall from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Any resident with an interest in the future of their unique community would be well advised to take the time to go along.

Lavenham, a special place.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A chance to spend your twilight years in Acton?

I don't know who were more shocked and surprised yesterday evening at the Acton Parish Council meeting, the 70 or so members of the public who turned out to learn about a potential new development in the field to the east of Barrow Hill, or the representatives from the owners and developers who came to present their ideas for the site.

The village clearly knew something was up since the turn out was greater than I have ever seen at a Parish Council meeting.   There was quite a buzz of excitement mixed with apprehension from those whose homes were likely to be affected by any development.  As the developers' ideas were revealed the temperature in the room seemed to drop several degrees, despite the fact that the evening sun was still bathing the playing field outside with summer warmth.

The land it seems is owned by a body called the Innominate Trust which, apparently, is a Quaker organisation.  A quick Google did not come up with much, although it is clear that the Trust is keen on funding aid projects and anti slavery campaigns largely focussed on the third world.

As the Trust's representative outlined his vision for the site it was clear that Acton was not being offered just another overcrowded characterless housing estate of the type springing up all over Suffolk.  It seems what is being proposed is a retirement complex that includes some 32 'special needs' bungalows and a 40 bed care home.  It might also include a hairdressing salon and a library. The Trust it seems is not intending to develop this themselves but will seek outline permission and then sell the land on to an appropriate development company.

Acton was not particularly impressed by this, rightly being concerned that the promised plans would not actually materialise as described.  It has to be said therefore that enthusiasm for the idea as proposed was somewhat muted.   Additionally concerns were expressed about the wildlife that frequents the site and which is adjacent to the village's wildlife reserve. The usual comments about lack of adequate drainage were also heard, along with concerns about traffic on Barrow Hill.  The high spot of the evening came when a member of the public asked where the entrance to the development would be situated.  The answer came that there might be a land swap so that this could be driven through the existing allotments.  The collective groan was palpable.  The allotments! Impossible....

Planned in concentric circles, apparently residents of the proposed establishment would move steadily closer to the centre (the care home) as they age and their needs become greater.  One wag was heard to remark that it might be best therefore to build the complex around a cemetery and thus provide a complete service.

I left the meeting with Colin Spence a little after most of the public had dispersed, but while the Parish Council was continuing to deliberate.  As we stood in the gathering gloom we were interested to see the representative of the Trust driving away in the most enormous black shiny Mercedes Benz.

No formal planning application has yet been lodged at Babergh and no approach has been made to Suffolk County Council to see if there is actually a need for such a facility in the area.   It will be interesting to see what happens next

Chilton Woods Feedback

There is an ominous silence from the County Council with regards to Chilton Woods.

I have no more news than anyone else, but a kind reader of the blog has pointed out to me that the County Council has posted up feedback from the consultation exercise that took place in January and February this year.

To read the comments that were made click here.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

New activities encourage a record turn out at Acton Fete

Vintage vehicle display
Judging by the number of cars in the vicinity of Acton Village Hall yesterday afternoon, record crowds were drawn to the annual fete.

In addition to the usual stalls, a car boot sale area proved popular as did the opportunity for dogs to participate in a full agility course.  The playgroup was well represented with a stall and there were opportunities to buy plants from Acton Garden Club.

County councillor Colin Spence recently donated locality money towards the creation of a proper Boules terrain on the playing fields.  Unfortunately this was not ready in time for the fete, but nonetheless the promoters of the new Acton club were on hand to introduce the game to beginners and to attract old hands.

A tense moment
I enjoyed having a go, playing a tense needle match with District Councillor for Acton Margaret Maybury.  I will not reveal the result since the uneven nature of the grass and the mutual ineptitude of the participants meant that the outcome was more indicative of the vagaries of chance than anything else!

It is hoped to start regular evening sessions once the new terrain is finished.  If you are interested in taking part you should contact the organiser, Sandy Ross, on 01787 379741, alex.g.ross@btopenworld.com.  Sandy lives in Vicarage Lane.
Colin and Jeannette Spence and Margaret and Peter Maybury enjoying the fete with  Rendle the Lurcher.

Canine agility course

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Twelfth Night at Lavenham Hall

Lavenham Hall

Yesterday evening a group of us attended the Lavenham Players' production of Twelfth Night, the second show that has been staged by the group in the lovely gardens of Lavenham Hall.

The production was well up to the standard of their 'World War 2 inspired' Much ado about Nothing that played at the same venue two years ago.

The cast was excellent across the piece.  There were outstanding performances from Katie Lummis who was a suitably androgenous Viola/Cesario, Malcolm Hollister, a thinner than usual and rather sinister Sir Toby Belch, and Robert Crighton a sadly believeable Malvolio.  Paul Vella and Annie Eddington made an elegant Duke Orsino and Countess Olivia.  In the spirit of the actor/manager, Anthony Faulkner, the owner of Lavenham Hall gave a good account of his roles as a sea captain and Fabian.  The line 'This is to give a dog, and in recompense desire my dog again' (5.i.5) was given additional resonance by the presence on the stage of one of the dogs of the house, who performed his part with great stage presence.

Updated to the 1920's, the many well known lyrics from the play (Hey Ho the wind and the rain, and Come Away, Come Away Death to name but two) were given appropriate jazz based settings. Cecil Qadir as Feste delivered his ballads with great aplomb.

All of the actors clearly understood every word of what they were saying, and the audience, perhaps due to this, equally clearly heard every word.  Sadly this is more than can be said for some of the Shakespeare that is put on in our professional theatres where one feels that misplaced concern about the attention span of the audience  all too often results in rushed speeches and poor diction.

In my view the acid test of a good Twelfth Night is whether the line from Antonio in the final act,  'An apple cleft in two is not more twin than these two creatures' (5.i.217) actually rings true.  Viola and Sebastian, the long separated twins, on whose likeness much of the plot hangs, were sufficiently similar on this occasion for the scene when all is revealed to be credible.  I rarely watch this reconciliation without a lump in my throat, and so it was on this occasion.

The play was produced by Robert Crighton and Joseph James and Directed by Gemma Leggett and Penny Mills.  Sponsorship was provided by Number 10 Wine Bar and Kitchen and Woodbridge School.

News from Chelsworth Community Woodland

Winter view
I was pleased the receive photographs from a committee member of Chelsworth Community Woodland that demonstrate the fact that the ancient oak tree which was subject to quite extensive and expensive tree surgery last year has survived the winter well and is now flourishing.

Regular readers will remember that I wrote about the barbecue I attended at the woodland in September last year, report here.

I am pleased that all is well at the woodland and look forward to visiting again before too long.
Recent view

Monday, July 13, 2015

Cockfield School rated good by Ofsted

 It's official: Cockfield CEVC Primary School is a 'good school'.

Congratulations to the Head, Trudie Harkin, and her hardworking team who in the last two years have moved the school forward from one that 'needs improvement' to one that is rated 'good'.  Well done also to the Board of Governors.

It must be great to be a pupil at Cockfield. The school, although of the 'older type' in part, is light and airy and has recently been extended.  It has a lovely playing field, and is adjacent to some wonderful countryside which is easily accessible.  I know that Mrs Harkin is keen that children spend as much time as possible outside,

The report from Ofsted. published today, makes very heartening reading, particular reference (among other things) being made to the high quality leadership from the Head and also the programme of extra curricular events  If you want to read the whole report you should click here.

Cockfield School has an excellent website where a picture gallery gives a good impression of daily life at  the school.
Head of Cockfield School, Mrs Trudie Harkin.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Friends' Garden Party at Gainsborough's House

Jack Owen, Mayor of Sudbury
The rain held off yesterday evening for the annual Friends' Garden Party at Gainsborough's House, the artist's birthplace museum in Sudbury.

A record turn out of 200 people enjoyed drinks and canapes in the garden, which, as usual, was looking stunning.  There was the opportunity for guests to view the current exhibition Great Art in Suffolk Museums.

The aim of the event was for Friends to bring their friends along in the hope that they too would join up, and, indeed I understand that several people obliged.

Among those who became a Friend yesterday was the guest of honour, Rupert Maas, of Antique Roadshow fame.  Rupert gave an amusing speech and also recited a poem about Thomas Gainsborough which sadly I am not clever enough to remember!

Other important guests were artist, Christopher Le Brun, the President of the Royal Academy of Arts, and of course the Mayor of Sudbury, Jack Owen.

Left to Right, Rupert Maas, Brian Moody Chairman of Trustees of the House,  and Christopher Le Brun.
To join the Friends costs from as little as £25.00, although there are different levels of membership. There is also the opportunity to become a Patron, or even a Mulberry Patron, depending on the level of support.  Friends enjoy free entry to the House, including to all exhibitions and also a programme of talks, excursions and events during the year.  Patrons have the opportunity to attend a dinner in London in November, which is often held in an interesting location and also have their own programme of special events.

Gainsborough's House has exciting expansion and development plans over the next few years and therefore there has never been a better time to think about becoming a supporter.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Three thoughts after the budget

The Chancellor yesterday said remarkably little about local government in his budget speech. We must assume therefore that little has changed and the need for cost savings remains as pressing as ever.

The budget, it seems to me, affects Suffolk County Council in three important ways.

Firstly there was no mention in the budget of a continuation of the council tax freeze that was in place during the last Parliament.  Many councils will therefore be looking to raise the tax to help to bridge potential budget deficits in years to come.  Suffolk County Council, for better or worse, has pledged not to increase council tax in the current council, so will need to find savings from elsewhere.

Secondly the 1% pay freeze on public sector pay going forward should help somewhat if it can be made to stick against a 2% inflation target.  Despite the fact that many of the council's activities have been outsourced, wages remain a large component of cost and a 1% rise will help to keep the inflation component of the forecast in check.

Finally, and possibly most importantly, the commitment to a compulsory living wage is, in the absence of compensatory government help,  likely to have a negative impact on SCC's finances.  This is not so much in relation to the council's own staff.   Recently the Council agreed to pay the current living wage to all staff at a cost of around £60,000, and future above inflation rises should be relatively easily accommodated.  Contractors however, particularly in the area of adult care, often do not pay the living wage, and it is generally thought that do so so would put unsustainable pressure on the care related costs.  Adult Care is an area that is already showing signs of stress, and is an area of high risk for budget savings going forward.

I cannot believe that the Government will ignore this position, and anticipate that further action to 'join up' heath and adult social care, to release efficiencies for both the NHS and local authorities, must be on the way.   I certainly hope that I am right.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Broadband alert for Little Waldingfield

A message from the Better Broadband Team

We have upgraded to give fibre broadband in:
Little Waldingfield (Fibre to the Premises)
This serves premises with postcodes beginning:
CO10 0
CO10 9
-Please note that not all premises in the postcodes above are guaranteed to be served by this new cabinet; please check with your internet service provider.
-For overall progress and detailed coverage, visit the website
Take-up of new broadband services is key to the success of our programme.  You can  now inform local residents and businesses in this area that they can contact their Internet Service Provider to see what kind of packages they could benefit from and we will provide you with some material which you could use to do this.
Please pass the message on!
Regards, Suffolk Better Broadband Programme Team

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Humankind cannot bear very much austerity, a comment on the Greek 'no' vote, (with apologies to T.S. Eliot.)

I am not at all surprised at the 'no to further austerity' vote that was the result of Sunday's referendum in Greece.

I do not think that the collective population of a country in financial distress is very different from a single human being in the same position.

When I worked at the Citizens Advice Bureau a good proportion of our clients were people who, through no fault of their own, had got into debt.   Sometimes this was the result of profligacy, but far more often it was due to some 'life accident' such as illness, bereavement or divorce.

As a matter of course we would sit down with our distressed client and work out a personal budget for them, seeking some relief from their creditors and mapping a way towards solvency once again.

What we learned very quickly however is that people can only 'economise' for a limited period.  For a while they can manage without things that, although not absolutely essential for survival, make life worth living.  Ask them to follow a regime of personal austerity for too long however, and failure to keep to the repayment plan was the inevitable outcome.  Experience taught us in fact that five years is generally the maximum time that people can 'do without'.

The corollory to this was that if the position was too hopeless, and the time of austerity necessary unreasonably long, then bankrupcy, and the relatively clean sheet that that offered, was the better option.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Celebrations in Naughton and Nedging

It was a beautiful summer day yesterday and a good one to celebrate the refurbishment of the village hall in Naughton and Nedging.

A hog roast barbecue was held to mark the event which was much enjoyed by everyone.

We enjoyed watching the games for children and also the 'welly wanging' competion, organised by the new District Councillor and local resident,  Alan Ferguson,  at which, not suprisingly, I did not excel!

How it should be done!

I was completely astonished to see the Hall's transformation.  Only a couple of months ago I attended the Annual Parish Meeting, and the only evidence that work was imminent were a few smears of paint on the wall where different options for the paintwork had been trialed.  Now the Hall has been completely made over, with air conditioning, an improved kitchen with new stove, a new ceiling and a very attractive colour scheme.

Hats off to Chairman of the Parish Council and  'project manager', Chris Harding, who not only spotted the funding opportunity offered by the (now exhausted) Community Empowerment Fund but also made sure that the work was completed in record time.

The transformed Village Hall.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Fairer funding for Suffolk schools at last?

For some time the Cabinet member for Schools at Suffolk County Council. Lisa Chambers,  has been campaigning alongside other similarly disadvantaged local authorities for fairer funding for our schools.

While money is not everything of course, the struggle to raise educational standards in the county is made more difficult when, due to an out of date national funding formula, Suffolk schools receive a good deal less than those in other parts of the country. The 10 best funded areas in the UK receive a grant of £6300 per pupil per annum, which compares with £4,200 in the worst funded areas; a 50% difference!

It is therefore good to read this week that on Wednesday David Cameron committed to incorporate additional funding that Suffolk received in the current financial year, that was intended to go some way to redress the balance, into the base budget for future years.

There is a need for the Government to go further however. The whole system needs to be overhauled and a new funding formula created.  In a report published this week the National Audit Office called for this to be done, adding that 'school funding has become more and more unfair over time....As it sets core funding for schools in the future, the Department should use a fairer formula so that pupils across England receive similar funding, reated more closely to their needs and less affected by where they live'.

One of the reasons I stood for Suffolk County Council two years ago was that I am keen to see our children's education improve.  In this connection I was very pleased to be asked this week to join the Schools Improvement Accountability Board which encourages schools across the county in their efforts to raise standards.  Fairer funding should make the task a little easier.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Still no highspeed broadband? Don't make a rash decision.

The first contract for the provision of high speed broadband for Suffolk is coming to an end, ahead of schedule and on budget.  This was the message that we heard at our meeting for members with 'remote communities' that took place this afternoon.

This was cheering for us as County Councillors, but less cheering in that many of the communities that we represent did not participate in the first round, and there is still a measure of uncertainty with regard to when the magic fibre will arrive.

All should become much clearer in around November this year when BT will be able to communicate the results of its scoping exercise for the second contract which will reach around 50,000 further premises across the county.  These are in general more remote than the c. 100,000 homes that fell under the first contract, and it will cost roughly twice per house to connect them. 

Once the second contract is complete in 2017 around 95% of the county will be covered, with only 15.000 particularly hard to reach homes still needing a high speed/fibre solution.  To some extent we are now waiting on the Government to state how this last 5% will be accommodated.  It is likely  that no one solution will be appropriate for all, and indeed much of the second contract will be delivered on a case by case 'bespoke' basis.   Additionally when the second contract is scoped later this year however it is likely that the solution for the last 5% will become clearer.

Some people in remote areas may be in despair, believing that improved broadband will never reach them.  They may be tempted to take the situation into their own hands and sign up with an expensive satellite provider.  I would suggest that, if they can bear to, they wait  to see what further information about future coverage they receive later this year.

The commitment to provide a solution to anyone in Suffolk unable to receive a signal of 2 mbps or more at the end of this year still stands, and the mechanism for arranging this will also be made public in the autumn/early winter.