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, December 20, 2015

Christmas Greetings

View over the Thames to St Paul's Cathedral, December 2015
A very happy Christmas to all readers of the website, and a prosperous and healthy 2016

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Lavenham Neighbourhood Plan approaches final hurdle

After months, if not years, of hard work, the process of developing a Neighbourhood Plan for Lavenham is reaching its final stages.

The latest version of the Plan has now been lodged with Babergh District Council, who will 'publicise' it over a six week period.  This is a last chance for the public to comment on the document, although, given the wide consultation that has already taken place. I doubt if much more needs to be said.

Developing the Plan has been a long and complex process, but there is a good reason for this.  Once the Plan is adopted it will stand alongside the Babergh Local Plan, and have real power to influence planning decisions in the village. There is also a financial benefit in that villages with an adopted plan will be able to keep a higher proportion of Community Infrastructure Levy, a tax on developers, than those without.

A new website has just been launched which has links to the complete version of the Plan and its supporting documents.  This can be found by clicking here.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Trial by Train

'Sudbury Flyer' waiting at Marks Tey

Our train service to and from London seems to be getting worse and worse. Returning from Liverpool Street last week I sat outside Stratford station for half an hour while signal problems were sorted out.  I was lucky because the Sudbury Flyer was held up until the London train arrived, and so I was not as late as I might have been. I suspect however that this meant that others were inconvenienced.

In November we suffered the total suspension of services (and their replacement with an unreliable and spasmodic bus service) between Sudbury and Marks Tey for over a week.  Apparently this chaos was due to damage to the track and to trains caused by autumn leaves on the line!  Those in the know believe that the train operator made no attempt to pre-empt this problem by using special equipment designed to clear the leaves.  In addition much of this can be avoided if trees close to the line are cut back and/or removed as part of general maintenance. Clearly this was not done.

At the council meeting last Thursday a motion was debated drawing attention to this state of affairs.  This was proposed by Guy McGregor and seconded by Graham Newman, both of whom know a huge amount about our railways.  Stating that the withdrawal of services in Suffolk last month was unacceptable, (the lines affected included trains between Ipswich and Felixstowe and Ipswich and Peterborough as well as the Sudbury line) they called for a Government inquiry into the situation and also for assurances that the problem would not recur.

During the debate I learned that rail passengers in Suffolk are getting a particularly raw deal.  Last month we experienced 106 train cancellations in one day due to ‘leaf damage’.  This compares with just 12 cancellations on South West Rail, for example, where there is far more track and far more trees too!

Our train operator, Abelio, seems to be a total disaster.  Apparently the company does not maintain the rolling stock properly, and do not invest in their business either.   I seem to remember that one of the reasons that they won the franchise in the first place was their promise of nice shiny new trains but these have simply not materialised.

The franchise is up for renewal in the next year or so.  Abelio it seems were intending to bid for a further term in partnership with Stagecoach.  Recently we heard that Stagecoach have withdrawn from the deal, a move which may reflect Abelio’s recent shortcomings.   Given the anger generated by their recent performance I would have thought that the likelihood of Abelio winning the bid for the next contract is not high.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Saudi elections.

Well it's a start.

Funding for Suffolk's arts and culture.

Gainsborough's House, worth your money?

At Thursday’s full council meeting we debated a motion about the funding of arts and culture.

For many years the County Council has supported a number of cultural organisations across the County, including Gainsborough’s House and the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds.  As money has become tighter however, and we have had to prioritise those activities which we are obliged to deliver, these grants have been gradually reduced, but not eliminated.

There are those who believe that the arts should fend for themselves and that no public money should be devoted to them.  I am not among their number.   Setting aside for a moment the undeniable soul enriching value of artistic endeavour, theatres, concert halls, museums and galleries attract visitors to the county.  These visitors spend money and boost the local economy.  In addition, many arts organisations engage in community activities that contribute to the work of the county council in the areas of education and Adult Social Care.

 At Gainsborough’s House, for example, we have an education officer who spends a great deal of time working with local schools and colleges.  Over the past year around 300 children have visited the House and participated in a wide range of art related activities,  We hope that we are creating the art lovers, and creative artists of the future.  We also have a weekly museum club for people with learning difficulties.

About 20,000 people visited Gainsborough’s House this year, and the museum is thought to stimulate around £600,000 for the local economy when one takes into account money spent by tourists plus the wages of employees and payments to local businesses.

The council motion, which was debated after some amendment, effectively asked the administration to confirm that financial support will continue to be offered to cultural organisations in Suffolk.   The cabinet member, Sarah Stamp, was able to do this, although no blanket guarantees were forthcoming as to what form this funding will take. In times of  financial uncertainty this is as it should be. 

I spoke in the debate, and in addition to commenting about the contribution made by Gainsborough’s House above, I did make the point that it is not healthy for arts organisations to become too dependent on public funding, or, indeed, on any one source of support.   It is important that they strive to become as self-sufficient as possible, building on links with supporter groups, charitable trusts and other sources of finance.

Commercial activities are also increasingly important.  At Gainsborough’s House we know that in the long term we will only survive if we increase our entry ticket sales, shop receipts and other similar payments.   It was an interesting coincidence that on the same day as the debate at Endeavour House we submitted a bid to the  Heritage Lottery Fund for funding to support a major expansion of the museum’s activities.  The aim is to attract more visitors to ensure the sustainability of the organisation for the long term.   We now have to wait until March to find out whether our bid will meet with first time success.   

I will report back when I know!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Broadband update

On the Today programme this morning there was a feature about a rural community in Kent that has decided to organise its own high speed broadband service.  The village is now enjoying speeds of around 100 mps. There was no information about how this had been funded, and, since they had run fibre cable into all the houses in the village, I cannot help thinking that it must have been a rather expensive exercise.  The village is 5 miles from Sevenoaks, a rather prosperous area, and the scheme included some small business premises, so perhaps this is a clue to affordability.

Meanwhile, back in Suffolk, I have  had an update on high speed broadband progress from our first rate delivery team at SCC.

We had hoped that additional information would be available around now with regard to the deployment of the second contract, which will extend coverage to over 95% of households in the county.  The scheme has been designed by BT and agreed by our officers, but is now with central Government and the European community to ‘sign off’.  Unsurprisingly this is taking longer than expected, but is likely to be completed within weeks.  After that the website will be updated, a newsletter will be issued and local briefings for communities will be held.

In the meantime a satellite pilot scheme is underway for those who cannot obtain speeds of 2 mps.

I will comment further when I have more information, which could be as early as next week.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Christmas events at Chilton Church

From Val Herbert:-
Christmas cracks off at St Mary’s, Chilton, with a weekend of nostalgia by candlelight. On Saturday, 12th December at 3pm, the talented Trinity Singers directed  by Stephen Hogger will present a programme of Christmas music. The event was so successful last year that this is a return visit. Tickets are £8 on the door or from the Tourist Office in Sudbury Library and include mulled wine and a mince pie. 

Come and enjoy the real spirit of Christmas the following day when St Mary’s stages its traditional Carols by Candlelight service, with the choir of St Gregory’s, Sudbury, and the church decked in holly and ivy. We will be serving punch and homemade mince pies, and collecting non-perishable food for the local Storehouse food bank to help make a happier Christmas for some of those in need. The service begins at 3pm but do come early because it is such a popular event.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Great Waldingfield School and the Big Gift

Children from Great Waldingfield School, along with other schools in the county, have contributed art work to the Big Gift exhibition which opened at St Edmundsbury Cathedral last weekend.

The school has, at the same time, also produced some lovely installations for Great Waldingfield Church.  These will be on show to visitors to the church from today on weekday afternoons until Friday 11th December between 1 and 4 p.m.

The installations, which are inspired by the work of Julian Opie, are constructed from cardboard boxes, painted paper and fabric, including some white woolly material for the shepherds' sheep. 

I went down to the church this afternoon to take a look, and, for this week only, in addition to the larger works, also on display are a wide selection of nativity cribs from all over the world.  Some of these, many of which are quite fascinating, are pictured below.