Category Archives: LibDem Green & Independent Group

Woodbridge: Whats happening, February 2021

COVID-19 in Suffolk.

In Woodbridge itself there were 4 new infections in the week to 16 February. At 48.6 infections per 100,000  we are now below the national average, having been above last month.

For up-to-date data go to https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/ where you can search by postcode.

Head shot of person in blues sheepskin hat with earflaps. Her face is covered with a blue mask with white stars on it. Her eyes look apprehensive
Waiting for my jab. I had the Pfizer vaccination on Tuesday 16th

After a slow start  vaccinations in Suffolk are going very well. By Sunday 7th more than 1 in 4 residents had received at least one jab. This is a testament to the hard work and efficiency of our wonderful local healthcare teams and volunteers.

Last month I asked Public Health whether carers could not be vaccinated at the same time as the person they care for, and got what I felt to be a rather non-committal answer. Wonderfully this was not the end of the matter and, anecdotally at least, vaccination of carers along with those they care for is now beginning to happen which is very good news for community health in general.

Although the bad weather briefly closed the Woodbridge centre it was  up and running again. The latest news is that Woodbridge is opening a lateral flow testing site sjhortly.

Suffolk County Council Budget  The Suffolk County Council Budget was presented to Full Council last Thursday,  February 11th. Key points included:

  • This year’s budget strategy focuses on responding to COVID-19, delivering transformation savings, making use of the risk reserve for this year only to deal with one-off pressures, and looking ahead while continuing to adapt.
  • The net expenditure budget is £597.877m.
  • Basic council tax will be raised by 1.99%, the maximum amount allowable without a referendum.
  • The Social Care Precept will be raised by 2%, rather than the full 3% allowed.
  • £16.702m from risk reserves will be used to balance the budget.

CHart of Council Tax Band increases 21-22 SuffolkThe full detail can be found in the Cabinet papers from January 26th 2021. Link:

https://committeeminutes.suffolk.gov.uk/DocSetPage.aspx?MeetingTitle=(26-01-2021),%20The%20Cabinet

LDGI Group Budget Amendment My group constructed a Budget Amendment which was submitted alongside the administration’s Budget. Costingd and workings out were done after seeking advice from the SCC financial officers the The key change proposed by the LDGI Groupwould be to authorise the use of the full 3% social care precept, unlocking the maximum available funding without impacting SCC’s reserves. This would generate an extra £3.452m for social care at a cost of only £13.41 per year to a Band D household, freeing up general council tax funds to be spent on other projects and investments including:

  • £700k for establishing a COVID-19 grant scheme for Suffolk charities and arts & culture venues.
  • £500k for a solar energy scheme for Suffolk businesses.
  • £200k for creating an electric bike rental scheme for Ipswich and Lowestoft.
  • £500k to re-enable the use of concessionary bus passes on community transport and demand responsive transport across Suffolk.
  • £1m for a 30mph scheme to convert residential 30mph zones to a default speed limit of 20mph over four years.
  • £15k for a citizen’s assembly on how Suffolk can build back better while recovering from the pandemic.
  • £75k to enable community reviews of highways signage in the local area.
  • £50k to expand the flood management team to ensure SCC is applying for all flooding grants it is eligible for.
  • A demand-scoping exercise on where demand is for bus routes, a priority list for where future routes need to be, and a feasibility study on establishing an SCC-owned bus company to serve rural areas if commercial bus companies cannot.

The Conservative administration their budget through by a healthy margin, Labour abstaining on both the amendment and the budget vote.

WOman with earphones looking serious in front of shelves and shelves of books
Speaking on Zoom at the Budget meeting

By opting not to take the full 3% social care precept, the administration is voluntarily giving up £3.452m of funding for adult social care that must be made up from the general council tax fund, meaning that worthwhile projects such as those above cannot be pursued. I spoke specifically on the subject of bus pass usage and the inability of those entitled to them to use them on community and demand responsive transport due to a specific £300,000 cut in 2019. (The details for this are on my blog).

For full details you can watch the entire debate online on the County Council’s Youtube channel.

Dark figure of a woman holdong a red snow scraper with which she has scraped the pathe through the snow in the forground. Behind her is all white: a fairyland tunnel of snow covered branches with a little blue wheelbarrow in the distance
Clearing a path in the snow

Woodbridge Gritting: Although I started and funded the Woodbridge pavement gritting scheme 11 years ago and continued adding bins in subsequent years, the last few years have given us such mild winters that  people have dropped their guard a little.

In this last cold spell there were magnificent efforts from councillors of all parties plus a number of volunteers to make key pedestrian routes less lethal but I suggest that we need to feed in immediately all the areas people noticed as having a significant problem, a lack or bins or volunteers or all three. We also need to alert people as to the purpose of these bins. I was told off by one woman for taking sand from a bin because it was for ‘our hill’.

A12 scheme proposal: Seven Hills to Woods Lane Consultation The county is consulting on whether to spend £60million on various improvements to the We A12 between the A14 at Seven Hills and the A1152 at Woods Lane which will include dualling the section between the Seckford and Dobbies roundabouts and adding traffic lights at most roundabouts. This is a scheme which will have a great deal of local impact and on which there are likely to be many views so I would be grateful if to ensure as many residents as possible respond.

The consultation started on 9th February and will l continue until Friday 19 March.  All details are  available at  www.suffolk.gov.uk/A12improvements  During the consultation there will be two public virtual events to be held where people can hear a presentation on the proposals and then ask questions – details and link on the webpage.

Census 2021- next month The Office for National Statistics (ONS) have confirmed that the 2021 Census will go ahead as planned on Sunday 21st March 2021.

This is the first “digital-first” census, with people being encouraged to respond online on mobile phones, laptops, PCs or tablets. People can also complete the census over the phone, with the help of ONS trained staff, or by using the traditional paper form.

As  some individuals and communities may need support with the ‘digital-first’ approach, field officers will give help and encouragement to those who have not yet filled in their census questionnaire online or on paper after Census Day. They will be operating in the same way as a postal or food delivery visit. Field staff will never need to enter people’s houses; they will always be socially distanced, wear PPE and work in line with all government guidance.

The information the census collects is vital –  it helps plan and fund services in Suffolk:  transport, education and healthcare amongst other things. Charities also use census information to help get the funding they need. Businesses use it to decide where to set up, which creates job opportunities. It is important to take part.

A total of 94% of people took part in the last census in 2011, helping each county receive its share of public funding. Please help us beat that figure in 2021

Please see attached a Census Handbook designed specifically for Councillors. Links to this and other information are below:

Census 2021 and coronavirus – Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)

https://www.suffolk.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/consultations-petitions-and-elections/census-2021

About the census – Census 2021

https://www.suffolkobservatory.info/

 

 

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.

LibDems Greens and Independents slam the timing of ‘undemocratic’ Sizewell C consultation

Suffolk Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group Press Release

For immediate release: Wednesday 28 May 2020

LibDems Greens and Independents slam the timing of ‘undemocratic’ Sizewell C consultation

Suffolk LibDems Greens and Independents strongly criticise the timing of EDF’s application for a Development Consent Order to build a new nuclear power station at Sizewell.

Cllr Penny Otton, Leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group, said:

“We are adamant that no consultation can take place whilst the council and the public are still under strict coronavirus rules.

It must not be used as an excuse for EDF to try to sideline the democratic process .

We fully support the statement by the leaders of Suffolk and Norfolk county council in calling for the government to delay the process. The council and the public must feel that they have the most transparent and inclusive opportunities to be able to comment on this application – which will have a devastating and very long-lasting effect to a large swathe of East Suffolk.

As a group we will continue to fiercely oppose the building of Sizewell C . We strongly believe it would be a disaster for the local area, and have a lasting and adverse  impact on the surrounding Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, on Suffolk businesses and the Suffolk tourism sector”.