News from the Woodbridge County Councillor for June 2020

COVID-19 Update

Latest Government advice is available here: www.gov.uk/coronavirus 

Latest SCC information is available here: https://www.suffolk.gov.uk/coronavirus-covid-19/

As of 17 June, confirmed Covid deaths in Suffolk are:

Ipswich 351 255.2 per 100,000 resident
East Suffolk 623 251.0 per 100,000 resident
Mid Suffolk 183 178.5 per 100,000 resident
Babergh 153 167.4 per 100,000 resident
West Suffolk 235 131.4 per 100,000 resident
Suffolk 1,545 203.7 per 100,000 resident

This puts deaths in East Suffolk  significantly above the Suffolk average. It has the highest Covid death rate of any Suffolk  rural district.

Further opening of schools  From 1 June it was expected that school s would gradually begin to reopen to more pupils, in addition to accommodating children of key workers and vulnerable pupils.

The phased opening of schools was to start with pupils in nurseries, reception, year one and year six. Secondary schools and other schools such as pupil referral units and special schools will also gradually increase the number of children and young people they can accommodate. For secondary schools this will start with year 10 and year 12.

Suffolk County Council has been supporting schools in preparing for the possibility of increased pupil numbers and have provided all schools with a risk assessment checklist.  Schools did not uniformly open for more pupils from the first of June. The council has been clear from the outset that it supports school leaders in making their best endeavours to meet the government’s ambitions for wider opening, based on robust local risk assessment. Schools in Suffolk are very diverse and for some, opening to more pupils will be dependent upon staff availability, physical space and the logistics of social distancing and other issues that might emerge from school leaders’ risk assessments. Some schools have also chosen to delay opening to more pupils based upon their local interpretation of the SAGE advice and the position of some unions.

In Woodbridge, as of 20 June, Kyson, Woodbridge and St Mary’s Primaries have a bespoke offer for eligible pupils, as has Farlingaye High School. Contact the schools for details. The Caterpillar Childrens Centre remains closed but the clinic is being run at Framfield. As regards Childrens Centres in general, Cabinet will be looking at  their future on 6 July.

As I may remind you, they looked bleak in thre consultation, which gave no option except for closure.

Important: It is not compulsory for parents to send their children to school at this time and there will be no penalties for families who choose to keep children at home.

More information is available at: https://www.suffolk.gov.uk/coronavirus-covid-19/parent-guidance-about-schools-during-covid-19-pandemic/

Mask wearing which I’ve been promoting from the start, despite some opposition, is becoming more and more de rigeur in public places, as people finally realise it was never about infection, but about transmission.. Essential on public transport, it is becoming an issue on school transport I have asked particularly what the county’s responsibilities are to the drivers of this transport – bearing in mind the London bus-driver mortality rate – but was told this was an issue for the contractors who provide the service.

Cycling and Pedestrian schemes This brings us on to cycling and pedestrian schemes. Country realises that it cannot afford the impact of the single use car usage that is is the outcome of the likely post-lockdown reduction in both public transport and public transport usage. In particular, having done their sums, county realises it is going to have significant problems with covid-secure school transport and is promoting walking and cycling as the way forward. Unfortunately not easy options in the countryside unless better provision is made for cyclists (and pedestrians, come to that). Yet currently the emphasis on spending the government’s cycling & pedestrian funding is on town schemes. I was on the cycling policy development panel and made a plea for rural dwellers and the need for inter small-town cycling. In Cabinet we were told that the programme is rolling and ears are open to new schemes.

My group have also been encouraging the county council to make more radical changes to the road layout to support cycling and walking. The Department for Transport has announced a £2bn package to boost cycling and walking capacity in the UK, and this is an opportunity for councils to tackle historic congestion problems by encouraging a change in the behaviours of their residents by giving a fairer share of road space to walkers and cyclists. I recommend that Woodbridge proposes the 20mph and calming  scheme  which is ready, agreed, designed, , supports both the towns pedestrians and cyclists, will take pressure off school transport if issues  occur later in the year, and may help take illegal cyclists off footpaths https://suffolklibdems.org/carolinepage/20mph-woodbridge/.

I am urging  Woodbridge Town Council to put forward the existing designed  20mph and calming scheme for Woodbridge if it has not already done so. Not only does it support pedestrians and cyclists within town, to school and to shops, but it will improve air quality: helpful, as air pollution is proven to be a factor in higher rates of covid deaths. As such, it will tick a lot of funding boxes.

I have just also put in a call for the A12 pedestrian/cycle path from near Ufford to join up with the new Woods Lane crossing.

Changes to pavements/roads to aid social distancing    Suffolk County Council has confirmed that local councils and communities can make some small-scale temporary changes to pavements without needing to seek consent from the county council. These will be local safety measures on pavements that outline queuing areas, social distancing reminders or simple painted markings on pavement surfaces for pedestrians. I congratulate Woodbridge Town Council on its work to provide a temporary closure in the Thoroughfare.

This will bridge the short gap until the long-delayed TRO agreed by the community two years ago but held up by CPE is put in place, as an emergency TRO. This will prevent all vehicular access to the Thoroughfare except for access to resident parking or delivery. Delivery  is limited to 15 minutes. As it is an emergency TRO we will have some months to decide whether this still fits the bill  for businesses, residents and shoppers -and to tweak it if it does not.

EDF submits application for Sizewell C DCO  On 27 May, EDF submitted an application for a development consent order for Sizewell C to the Planning Inspectorate. My group had written to Alok Sharma MP (Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), urging him to delay EDF Energy’s application for development consent for Sizewell C until after the Covid-19 crisis. We were very concerned over the ability of stakeholders to fully engage in consultations during the current crisis: professional bodies are coping with staff sickness and redeployment; members of the public are preoccupied with looking after ill friends and relatives and/or grieving; and local authorities are rightly focusing on keeping residents safe. It therefore does not seem appropriate to start a consultation on Sizewell C until social distancing restrictions are lifted.

And indeed, EDF’s decision to go ahead with an application during the current crisis, will be much more difficult for the public and stakeholders to fully scrutinise the plans and participate in the consultation process. 

I am particularly concerned in view of last minute changes made to Suffolk Coastal Local Plan which appear to make it significantly easier for the large energy companies to  develop our countryside with significantly smaller penalty or hindrance. There is still time to consult on these changes to the local plan. They are being consulted on, I believe, until  the first week of July. I urge both the council and individuals to read them and respond.

Suffolk coast  just before sunrise on midsummers day black foreshore and a blush of peach in the sky over the sea. in the distance you can see Thorpeness on a spur sticking out into the sea, and behind it, to the left, SizewellThe development of Sizewell C will have a catastrophic impact on the Suffolk countryside, particularly the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB (seen here at sunrise, on midsummers day. Sizewell can be seen to the left) . As well as the environmental damage, there are countless other problems with nuclear power as an energy source, including the risks of storing waste material. It is deeply disappointing that the Planning Inspectorate have approved EDF’s plans for Sizewell C and progressed them to the next stage. Given the current situation with coronavirus, it will be difficult to ensure proper engagement with local residents and stakeholders.”

The Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group will be submitting a motion for the 9th July Council meeting, calling on Suffolk County Council to publicly oppose the development of Sizewell C and retract any ‘in principle’ support for nuclear power. Suffolk County Council agreed to support the principle of nuclear power back in 2007 and hasn’t reconsidered its position since. We are calling on the current Council members to recognise that the world has changed since then – and its time our position changed too.”

Carers Week 2020. Carers week, two weeks back came and went with absolutely no interest from either county, the media or the public, with the sole – and noble – exception of BBC Radio Suffolk , who gave me a 10 minute interview on the subject.  I cannot tell you how shocking this is. There are at least 100,000 unpaid carers in Suffolk – 13% of the population. Looking after another 13%. It is clear  that most people, from our PM down are  either unaware or plain uncaring of the void of of difference between care workers (staunch, hardworking, poorly paid – but, crucially, paid) and unpaid carers , whose invisible lives are poorer, bleaker and seven times lonelier than other people’s.The lockdown has given the rest of the country a small taste of the isolation and sheer despair that is many carers’ lives for literally years on end.  Yet every unpaid carer becomes one in a heartbeat:  by a roadside, in a bedroom,  in a hospital – me as i was baking a cake. Carers are not other people. Thy could be you – at any moment.

Black Lives Matter: after a disturbing video shot in the centre of Woodbridge went viral, became  aware that  racism was well esconced in its midst and that it needed to change. More details here  https://suffolklibdems.org/carolinepage/2020/06/24/black-lives-matter/

Track & Trace Testing in Suffolk  The national failure to provide a service is a problem as our local service was planning on piggy-backing on the back of it.

However, for individual tests, there’s a regional testing centre for Suffolk and surrounding areas at the London Road Park and Ride, Copdock, Ipswich. It is open from 8am to 7pm, every day. I have had personal experience of being tested there and can assure you it is efficient – even if they are surprised if somebody turns up in a 2cv (no electric windows). There are also various mobile testing units across Suffolk. In addition, home testing kits can be requested. We have yet to hear however of any improvement on the 20- 25% false negative results.

More information on how to access a test in Suffolk is available at  https://www.suffolk.gov.uk/coronavirus-covid-19/covid-19-testing-in-suffolk/

Domestic Abuse helpline available 24/7    The existing Domestic Abuse Outreach Service, run by Suffolk County Council and Anglia Care Trust, has extended its 0800 977 5690 freephone number to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Anyone with concerns including professionals who may be supporting clients, as well as friends and families who are concerned for loved ones, can access this local support.

Registrars & Coroners It has turned out that while County has made provision for providing both birth and death certification during lockdown, unfortunate wording on the website has left people under the impression they will have to wait 10 months to get a ‘Notice of Marriage’ for a civil marriage. I have investigated, and although these have been on hold for three months because each certificate requires a face-to-face meeting with both parties, all should now be (shortly) back on track. The minimum time is four weeks of working days, not 10 months.

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