News from the County Councillor: July 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

Suffolk Local Outbreak Control Plan published   Suffolk County Council has published a Local Outbreak Control Plan which sets out how Suffolk would prevent and respond to a localised outbreak of COVID-19 should one occur. A copy of the full plan and an executive summary can be viewed here: https://www.suffolk.gov.uk/coronavirus-covid-19/suffolks-response/

Suffolk has received £2.79m from the Government to support the delivery of the plan. The plan focuses on:

  • Preventing and managing outbreaks in ‘complex settings and groups’ e.g. care homes, schools, health settings, workplaces, public spaces, BAME communities and those that are shielded;
  • Strategic and coordinated approach to COVID-19 testing in Suffolk, with a focus on care home testing, hospital testing, lab capacity and workforce for swabbing;
  • Suffolk COVID-19 Data Centre, which will continue to monitor the local situation;
  • Providing clear guidance on NHS Test and Trace and what to do in the event of a local outbreak.

Suffolk’s concessionary travel pass rules now reintroduced on public transport   Concessionary travel rules, which had been relaxed during lockdown, were reintroduced from July 6. As from Monday 6 July, concessionary bus passes in Suffolk are only valid Monday to Fridays 9:30am to 9pm, and all day on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays. (‘9pm’ is a joke considering the time of the last buses to Woodbridge and beyond which leave Ipswich before 6pm)

The council says this is necessary to support social distancing on peak bus services, as more people return to work and school. I travelled from Ipswich to Woodbridge on Saturday 11th July and noticed that a maximum 12 passengers are allowed on a regular single decker bus.

All passengers are now required to wear a face covering on public transport.

Sizewell C: Planning Inspectorate accepts plans for Sizewell C; Suffolk County Council votes down motion opposing it   On 24 June, the Planning Inspectorate agreed that EDF Energy’s DCO application for Sizewell C could proceed to the examination stage.

The formal pre-examination stage of the process (Section 56 Notification Stage) began on 8 July running to 30 September. If you wish to be involved in the examination process, you need to register on the Planning Inspectorate website to become an ‘Interested Party’ and provide a written summary of your views on the DCO application.

All registered Interested Parties will be kept informed of progress and about opportunities to participate in the next examination stage.

More information about the application and how to register as an Interested Party is available here: https://infrastructure.planninginspectorate.gov.uk/projects/eastern/the-sizewell-c-project/?ipcsection=overview

The LDGI Stop Sizewellc speakers: Cllrs Caroline Page, David Wood (Proposer), Andrew Stringer (Seconder, replacing Elfrede Brambley Crawshaw), Penny Otton, Robert Lindsey, Inga Lockington Note their names & faces.Together with
@JohnFieldjd
they made a stand for our future

Both Suffolk County Council and East Suffolk Council have raised concerns about the adequacy of EDF’s consultations so far, particularly with regards to the level and quality of information that has been made available throughout the consultation exercises.

On 9 July, my LibDem Green and Independent Group proposed a motion to Suffolk County Council asking the Council to oppose the development of Sizewell C. Astonishingly and sadly, both the Suffolk County Conservative and Suffolk County Labour councillors joined forces to vote this motion down: 50- 12 (with 4 abstentions). You will find details on my blog: https://suffolklibdems.org/carolinepage/2020/07/10/libdem-green-sizewell-vote-lost-suffolk-tories-and-labour-join-forces-to-vote-it-down/.

If you are interested in watching the full debate, the Council meeting is available to watch on Suffolk County Council’s YouTube channel https://youtu.be/Nt_s4jAjvPM

County Cabinet approves 5-year cycling plan for Suffolk   On 16 June the Cabinet approved a 5-year cycling plan for Suffolk, which identified 148 potential routes to be prioritised. This is as a result of a motion proposed by my group in July 2018, which called on the council to produce a strategic costed 5-year cycling plan.

Funding has not been secured for these routes, but county maintains the cycling plan will provide a strong basis to bid for funding as and when it becomes available.

The 148 routes identified by the plan are intended to be starting point, rather than a fixed programme of works. The Cabinet’s approval of the plan means that discussions can begin with district and borough councils on developing the five-year-plan further. I know that Woodbridge/Martlesham has known routes in the area it would like to see improved or created via the 20mph calming scheme, and I am feeding this into the process.

Road closures to support cycling and walkingAs part of the Covid-19 recovery and to support social distancing, the Department for Transport has told local authorities that they are    expected to make significant changes to road layouts to support cycling and walking, with all measures implemented within the coming weeks. The Government has also asked that evaluation is included in the emergency interventions put in place so that authorities can make temporary measures permanent where possible, enabling a long-term shift to active travel.

Suffolk County Council plans include closing off sections of roads to motorised vehicles, widening existing footpaths and cycle lanes, providing temporary footpaths and cycle lanes and changing traffic signal timings to reduce waiting times at puffin and toucan crossings. The Council has been allocated £337k from the Department of Transport, with the potential for further funding if the measures they put in place are successful.

Details about the various schemes are available here: https://www.suffolk.gov.uk/coronavirus-covid-19/active-travel-improvements-for-cycling-and-walking/

Alert: No spare seats will be offered on Home-to-School buses County Council normally allows families who are ineligible for free school transport to purchase a spare seat on the council’s school buses should there be space. However, due to social distancing requirements, school buses will only be able to transport a smaller group of children. The council have therefore stated that they are not in a position to be able to offer spare seats for September.

All affected families will be emailed directly to inform them of this change. If changes are made to social distancing rules, the council will review the guidance to see if they can safely offer spare seats.

Individual family circumstances will be considered under the usual review and appeal procedures, and we are told the council will use its discretionary power to offer transport arrangements where it is clear that this is absolutely essential to enable a non-eligible child to attend school. The usual cost of a spare seat will apply where a discretionary seat can be provided exceptionally.

Any parents who are concerned by this change can call 0345 606 6173.

Woodbridge Resident Ashley Meyer and County Councillor
Caroline Page are deeply concerned about the threatened closure of Woodbridge’s Caterpillar Children’s centre

will also be available on www.suffolkonboard.com

Children’s Centres Report delayed again The controversial and long-awaited report on the fate of Suffolk’s Children’s centres was due to be discussed in Cabinet on 14 July. Astonishingly, this 522pp report was withdrawn literally at the start of the meeting and will now be discussed in the August cabinet

To remind you, Woodbridge Caterpillar centre was to be closed because, according to the (pulled) report there were ample other venues in Woodbridge. The Caterpillar will remain open, as planned, to the end of its lease (2022), however no venues in Woodbridge had been identified beyond the GP surgery and the Library.

Suffolk County Council prevents likely FGM deportation I asked the following question about FGM  at last full council (9th July 2020).

I’m sure you will join me and all councillors in congratulating our social work team and the lawyers in their last-minute success in preventing the home secretary ,Priti Patel, from having an 11year girl deported , with the extreme risk of being subject to Female Genital Mutilation in her home country. FGM is illegal in this country. Please can you tell us what processes the council has in place to make sure any girl in Suffolk threatened with FGM will be protected.”

Although the answer was reassuring, the understanding of the chasm between the immigration courts (who consider children merely as dependents) and the family courts (who look at the human rights of the child) is disturbing.

ASB meeting I attended this on Thursday 16th, and brought two particular concerns to the meeting. One was the vandalism occurring in local parks, and the other was the concerns about dog theft and the anxieties of local residents.

Both of these were mirrored by surrounding parishes.

However, there was also the concern that anxieties were being amplified and increased by the ‘chinese whisper’ effect of unmoderated social media platforms such as NextDoor. For example, one parish representative pointed out that a description circulating of a particular van and two men, matched exactly the profile of a local gardening team who would naturally be visiting a number of properties. Similarly the police pointed out that chalk marks on the pavement ( which were being described as thieves marks) could as easily be marks used by utilities companies.

The general consensus was, while it is wise to take sensible precautions – as ever – it would be unfortunate if older or vulnerable residents become became worried by problems which had been amplified by social media.

Jetty Lane is delighted to announce it has been fortunate to have been gifted two classrooms by Eric Reynolds owner of the Woodbridge Boatyard. These generous gifts – until recently part of Trinity Wharf – were put in place last week as a temporary solution to Woodbridge unmet needs. All permissions are, or have been applied for, but it had to be a fast operation.

You can see a charming short showing the cabins’ installation, speeded up and set to music on the Jetty Lane YouTube channel https://youtu.be/HAEPyR41Sy8 ).

These ‘Activity Spaces’ will be cleaned and made ready to meet Woodbridge’s unmet needs – in a covid-compliant fashion – as soon as possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Toothless? Is Suffolk’s heritage coast still protected?

 

Southwold beach with little children playing. Behind them is the sea, in the distance, SizewellSizewell
Southwold beach, looking towards Sizewell

As the County Councillor for Woodbridge I raised following significant concerns about East Suffolk’s final modifications to the wording -and in my opinion, the intentions – of the  Suffolk Coastal Local Plan.  The two most concerning points are:

1 Weakening of conditions concerning Major Infrastructure Projects in Suffolk Coastal
First and foremost, I am deeply concerned about the nature of several of these last-minute changes – which lead to the clear weakening of local powers in relation to Major Infrastructure Projects, and a consequent negative impact on local communities and the Suffolk coastal countryside.

 Worryingly, in terms of the recent Sizewell C submission and the Scottish Power application, the community benefits which in the previous document the SCPL stated “will need to be delivered” from major energy development projects now only “may be required.” This is a very concerning reduction in emphasis and leaves many local communities at significant risk.

Previously the Local Plan called for packages “ to offset and compensate” “ the burden and disturbance” experienced by local communities. These words have now been watered down to merely express an ambition that these companies should “mitigate the impacts.” This is milquetoast wording and again is letting down local communities who will significantly disbenefit from major energy infrastructure projects.

 

Again,the rewording of this policy (SCLP3.5) now reduces the obligation of developers, so they only contribute to infrastructure “as necessary.” Who defines what is necessary? What if the developers choose to disagree? This change must not be made if this plan is to benefit the residents of Suffolk rather than the developers.

I am told that the explanation East Suffolk has given for these changes “ is to better align the policy with the National Planning Policy Framework, which the plan needs to be compatible with.” I am afraid I do not believe this is the case, especially as this lack of alignment seems only to have been discovered at the eleventh hour.

It is clear that the interests of the people of Suffolk Coastal would require that the original wording was retained.

Woodbridge Shire Hall in the nineteenth century

2 In “Areas to be protected from development”: I notice with concern that an entire policy (Policy SLP11.9 Areas to be Protected from Development, and supporting text) has simply been deleted.

Within modifications doc, Modifications MM49, it simply says “Delete Policy SLP11.9 Areas to be Protected from Development, and supporting text.” To refresh failing memories:

Policy SCLP11.9 was : Areas to be Protected from Development Areas to be protected from development as identified on the Policies Map comprise local scale sites, gaps, gardens and spaces that make an important contribution to the character and setting of a settlement in their unaltered form. In some locations these areas maintain settlement separation. Accordingly, development within these areas will be severely restricted to maintain the character of the area and ensure settlement coalescence is not compromised.

Martlesham creek: people have lived along this stretch of the Deben for many thousands of years

My question is Why has Policy SCLP11.9 been deleted? My concern is, Why should it be deleted? It is concerning for residents thoughout Suffolk Coastal , and for me as Woodbridge County Councillor as of course a lot of Woodbridge consists of areas to be protected from development. When read in relation to point 1 above, it is particularly concerning

I am told that this deletion is is because the inspector wished to be given greater evidence of the need to have a specific designation on these areas of land. East Suffolk did not elect to provide this evidence – which is extremely worrying.

I have been assured the protection remains, covered by other documents. I wish I could be certain. By the time one says ‘Ooops’ – it is generally too late. This is particularly the case with the heritage coast.

I raised other significant issues -especially in relation to reduction in 1 and 2 person housing numbers, and the need for more teeth in asserting public transport needs which I am happy to share.

However these two points above are crucial in terms of the long-term survival, wellbeing – indeed the very existence of our heritage coast.  That these major modifications to the wording and intention of this document should  occur so late and in such an opaque fashion should concern everyone.

Staverton Thicks – – an emblem of the unchanging nature of our Suffolk Coastal countryside

I hope my District Council colleagues will pick this one up and hold the council to account.

 

 

Suffolk fights FGM

I asked the following question about FGM  at last full council (9th July 2020).

“I’m sure you will join me and all councillors in congratulating our social work team and the lawyers in their last-minute success in preventing the home secretary, Priti Patel, from having an 11year girl deported , with the risk of being subject to Female Genital Mutilation in her home country. FGM is illegal in this country. Please can you tell us what processes the council has in place to make sure any girl in Suffolk threatened with FGM will be protected.”

Plenty, it seems.

And just as as well. The situation is scandalous. As  Cllr Penny Otton, LDGI Group Spokesperson for Children and Young People, said:

It was shameful that the home secretary Priti Patel was intending to deport a very young girl who risked FGM if sent back to Sudan. This child has been thriving at school in Suffolk and speaks no other language than English.  It was only due to the fantastic work of Suffolk County Council’s care team and lawyers that this girl was able to stay in the UK and the home secretary was forced to back down. We congratulate them all for their urgent actions to stop the deportation, which would have put this girl at extreme risk.”

FGM is a crime in the UK and the home secretary’s attempt to deport this child would fly in the face of this. Suffolk County Council officers were only just in time: one day later and the child would have been on the plane. 97.7% of girls and women in the part of Sudan she comes from suffer FGM: the judge considered the risk to be extreme. After a series of hearings , Justice Newton concluded: “It is difficult to think of a more serious case where the risk to [the girl] of FGM is so high.”

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/jul/03/priti-patel-accused-of-shameful-bid-to-deport-girl-at-risk-of-fgm

Suffolk County Council has shown that its officers are alert, aware,  and effective in crisis – and that it takes FGM protection extremely seriously. I am very proud of my colleagues, and I think they have set an superb example to other councils to take similar action in order to protect young girls from a practice that is inhumane, unnecessary and  causes lifelong damage.

The issue  the child’s mother,  herself a victim of type 3  FGM -infibulation: the most serious variation of the mutilation – had her asylum claim rejected  when citing fears that her child would face the same mutilation if returned to Sudan or Bahrain. As her barrister put it: “They don’t have children’s guardians in the immigration courts and this girl’s vulnerabilities were not properly considered. If it weren’t for Suffolk county council she would have been on a plane.

She added: “I work on a lot of these cases and not all local authorities are this proactive. This case shows how dangerous it is relying on the immigration courts to make decisions about the risk of FGM.”

The child was later granted an FGM protection order via the family court  which ruled that  the 11-year-old  should be prevented from being deported to a location where she is deemed at risk of FGM. (In fact, the family court judge ruled that the child would be at an extremely high risk of suffering the abusive practice if deported because her wider family support FGM although her mother opposes it.)

It is clear that asylum applications need to be more aware of  the impact of a deportation on the physical wellbeing of children.

The child’s mother “has PTSD and has been in and out of courts for eight years, she should not be put through the gruelling process of making a further application for asylum on behalf of her daughter. And Xxxx, at the age of 11, should not be compelled to make her own asylum claim, a daunting prospect for any child,” reads an  open letter signed by prominent lawmakers including  Ed Davey and Jeremy Corbyn.

There is overwhelming evidence to support this child being granted refugee status. In the case of Fornah in 2006, it was established that risk of FGM is a sufficient ground to grant refugee status.

If this at-risk child is not granted refugee status, then what child would meet such a high test?

Which leaves us with the worrying question: is she yet safe?