Is our house building out of control under the Conservatives ?

We all agree that house building must match the growing population, and the government insist upon it. People are living longer, living on their own and emigrating to and within the UK to do vital jobs. However, new housing must be distributed in a way that does not destroy the Suffolk environment we all enjoy.

After much delay the new Mid Suffolk District Council Local Plan is at last nearing completion but just when will it be delivered? . It should have been produced much earlier to guide developers to locations that villages could tolerate.

Continue reading Is our house building out of control under the Conservatives ?

Report to Gipping Valley: April 2019

The turmoil and chaos around national politics and the Brexit disaster coupled with the need to focus on the District Council elections have been a significant distraction this month.  However, there is news from the County, a mixture of good and bad to report.

Investment for Special Educational Needs

In February I reported that the cross-party Policy Development Panel had recommended that the County invests £45.1m in SEND.  This will develop new Special Educational Needs & Disability schools and specialist units in Suffolk. 

I am pleased to say that this plan is going to Cabinet during April with a recommendation to proceed.  Some 800 places in the county to provide pupils the support they need locally will be a leap forward.

Children’s Centres

Less welcome is the news emerging from the cross party Policy Development Panel on the Family Services.  Regrettably this panel appears to be pushed in the direction of significant cuts.  The proposals are secret at the moment, and I can’t report how accurate the leaks in the press are.  However, this looks like an attack on a successful service that has great value.

Continue reading Report to Gipping Valley: April 2019

Snoasis

Last week at Mid Suffolk Planning

The “Reserved Matters ” for the Snoasis planning application were agreed Wednesday last week. That’s all the details that were not covered when the Secretary of State agreed the application after the public inquiry in 2007. In fact a number of items in the legal agreement, the “section 106” document were changed to planning conditions, a process the government likes as it usually reduces the delay between application and the start of work. However in this case the district council and the developer have taken 10+ years to ge to this point so I wonder just how speedily things will develop from now on. The problem with conditions is that they are agreed at officers discretion so local people have little input.

We were promised that the “Local Reference Group” rather like the Liaison Group that I chair at the Suez EFW plant. I hope that will help to keep residents and the parish group in touch and get the local voice heard.

My input to the meeting as Ward Member

Is this a wonderful opportunity to gain a world class winter sport facility or just a chance to spend further years being assured with little supporting evidence that “finance is in place” while wilfully blind optimism drives a project that is just not viable.  If it were a good business project would we now be 13 years down the road with little to show?

Continue reading Snoasis

Report to Gipping Valley: March 2019


Opt-in for funded school transport

From September 2019, you will need to apply each year if your child is eligible for free school transport.  You must “opt-in”: you will no longer be automatically signed up. There will no longer be empty places reserved for eligible children who don’t want them. 

New mental health strategies for Suffolk

Since Spring 2018, the Suffolk and Norfolk Clinical Commissioning
Groups have been leading work to develop new mental health strategies for Suffolk.  Not before time you might say.

The strategies describe the vision for mental health and
emotional wellbeing in an integrated physical, mental and social care system.  There is a strong emphasis on prevention, wellbeing and expanding community and primary care mental health services.

The next phase will focus delivery plans, a programme of work and
timetable.

SEND inspection revisit

Inspectors from Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission returned
to Suffolk in January to see how SEND services had progressed since their inspection in December 2016. 

Inspectors have acknowledged that some improvements have been
made but say children and young people relying on SEND services have not yet felt the benefit.  They concluded that sufficient progress had been made regarding governance and leadership of the
strategic planning and delivery of the 2014 national SEND reforms.  However, improvement is still required in:

  • the poor timeliness, integration and quality of SEND statutory assessments and plans and the delivery of subsequent individual
    packages of support
  • the lack of understanding among parents and carers of the support available and the inadequate quality of the local offer,
    including access to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), and
  • the lack of joint working to monitor, quality assure and maximise the effectiveness of work undertaken to improve outcomes
    for children 

Ipswich Northern Route.

SCC have given the timescale for work on the feasibility of the
Ipswich Northern Route and outlined the next steps in producing the Strategic Outline Business Case. 

The stage one study and report into possible highways options was
completed in 2017.  The options assessment, commissioned in May 2018, is required to look at all viable transport and traffic mitigation options.  It will confirm whether the road alignments published in 2017 are indeed the best solution for the county.

Public consultation on the route details, alignment, and junction
options with the A14 and A12 will begin in Summer 2019.  The completed document will be shared with Government, local MPs and the public in Autumn 2019. 

Roads

I have reported the condition of the footway on Chapel Lane again to try to get some of the £6m extra Government funding that must be spent by April.  I received a promise that some of the footway will be improved now and the remainder is in the plan.

SnOasis

The “reserved matters” for this much delayed project will be at MSDC planning on 13th March.  They should have been delivered in October 2016.  Notice of the formal appearance at Planning to your councillors and the Parish Alliance was short, just a few days.  

Is this a great project for a world class winter sport complex in Suffolk or just a project going nowhere that blights our villages?

2019/20 budget agreed

Suffolk County Council’s 2019/20 budget was agreed on Thursday 14 February. This will see an increase in council tax of 3.99%, and savings across the council’s directorates totalling £10.1m. 
I am concerned by a number of the cuts, in particular:

  • Removal over two years of all grant funding from Citizens Advice.
  • Reducing the amount spent on Housing Related Support, for those at risk of homelessness (£0.45m)
  • Reduced funding for sponsored bus services (£0.34m) and eliminate roadside bus timetables (£0.1m)
  • Reduction in highways maintenance (£0.23m): no cleaning of road signs, maintenance of mandatory road markings only and less frequentn weed treatments in rural areas
  • Staffing reductions across all directorates (£2.968m).

Reduction in 2018/19 predicted overspend

The latest budget monitoring report suggests the County’s 2018/19
budget will be overspent by £5.9m. This is a reduction since quarter 2, when they were predicting an overspend of £7.5m.

Although it is positive to hear the overspend is reducing, I am
concerned that the majority of these savings are due to ongoing staff vacancies, particularly in social work teams. 
Just who is not getting the service these people would provide and what is the unintended consequence of that?

Continue reading Report to Gipping Valley: March 2019

Report to Gipping Valley:       February 2019

Cabinet approve cuts to Citizens Advice

A consultation was held and an Equality Impact Assessment produced over the Christmas period to assess the impact cuts to County Council funding of Citizens Advice. However, neither were available prior to the Cabinet meeting, so the County plan remains cuts by 50% to £184,000 in 2019/20 and to zero in 2020/21. Continue reading Report to Gipping Valley:       February 2019

Road Closure in Baylham

 

Just to warn those of you who visit relatives or friends in Baylham, the main way in to the village will be closed for seven weeks from Monday. The Care Centre is connecting its dysfunctional sewage system to the village drains by putting a pipe in a trench up the road.

They won’t use any of the shorter routes across the fields or round the field boundary. The contractor is using “traditional” methods, not fast trenching machines, so seven weeks not two. Thanks guys!

Highways of course just agreed-like in Barham, Claydon and at Hackneys Corner. Trying to get them to look after the residents is up hill all the way. The diversion routes are through Little Blakenham or along Circular Road (Back Street) from B1113. Both 4.3km with few passing places.

We are asking people to come in via Back Street and out via Little Blakenham but not all will do that, its not official, please be careful. Highways have promised to try to grit the road if it’s necessary.
The Care Home is still accessible from the B1113

 

Report to Gipping Valley:        January 2019

Full Council

At the 6th December Council meeting three proposals were put to members.  My group called on Suffolk County Council to do more to tackle single-use plastic waste in the county.  All councillors agreed to use sustainable or re-useable plastics in all council buildings, and to create a “plastic-free Suffolk network” of councils, businesses and other organisations.

Later, the administration refused to set an annual “carbon budget” and create targets for reducing carbon emissions.  This seemed strange as the County Council already checks its carbon emissions.  We proposed the council makes this process open, transparent and accountable.

Cooperation returned when we unanimously agreed to commit Suffolk County Council to follow the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and do all it can to eradicate modern slavery and human trafficking in Suffolk.

In addition, the Council will review its procurement processes to see where they can be strengthened to fully comply with the Modern Slavery Act

Cuts to Citizens Advice

After budget scrutiny it was decided to phase the cut to CAB funding over 2 years.  It will be reduced by £184 000 in 2019/20, before being removed entirely in 2020/21.

I remain concerned by these proposals, which will have a huge impact on a service that is great value for money and supports our most vulnerable residents.

Roads

I have been trying yet again to get Highways Network Assurance to take account of residents’ views as well as the interests of the businesses concerned when road closures are proposed.  Unfortunately, the total resistance I get to any attempt to minimise disruption to people’s lives is in line with the problems other councillors suffer.

The renewed effort was encouraged by a proposed closure of the road into Baylham village for seven weeks to enable the Care Centre to lay a pipe to connect its sewage processing plant to the village mains drains.  Seven weeks of a single-track diversion route with few passing places appeared unreasonable.  Other routes for the pipe exist.

New equipment, that heats the road surface and melts the material surrounding a repair, is being used to try to produce longer lasting pothole repairs.  It is too early to report the impact, but I will keep you informed.

Hackneys Corner

Work appears to be progressing again with new contractors.  Mary Evans, the Cabinet member, visited Great Blakenham Parish Council and issued a series of apologies for the contractor’s delays and poor county council communication.  What we need is improvement – apologies don’t do a lot of good.

Scrutiny

At Scrutiny last month when reviewing the quarterly performance report, we found wide variations in spend on temporary staff and contractors across the Council. We shall be investigating this in in detail.`.

Information about Suffolk Highways performance did not include comparison data for the same season last year.  It will next time together with the time taken to respond to residents’ issues.

The Cabinet Member for Highways, after some grilling about delays to highways works particularly in Gipping Valley, was asked to review the Highways Reporting Tool and make it easier for residents to report problems.

As we reviewed the Highways Annual Customer Satisfaction Survey Results, we were told that Suffolk’s approach to highways management has received national recognition and the Assistant Director is clearly deeply engaged with governmental and national organisations on behalf of Suffolk.

MSDC draft Budget

MSDC’s Cabinet is recommending a 2% Council tax increase this year, generating an added £185k and expects a growth in the tax-base (the number of dwellings) of 1.3% per yielding £83k.

It is surprising that the tax rise is necessary given next year’s estimated surplus of £1.6m.  However, there are considerable uncertainties in the economy.

A new £1.6m Commercial Risk Management reserve will be created to mitigate risks associated with the commercial investment and development that the Council is undertaking.   The investment is £25m in commercial property and £6m in the Gateway 14 project.

Despite concerns about this form of investment, Cabinet is now recommending a further £25m investment by 2021/22, to generate another £435k per year income.

County Council Election

County Council Election tomorrow, don’t forget to vote it’s vital for democracy. I am the Liberal Democrat Candidate. I enjoy representing you and I hope you will vote for me.
I have kept you informed through “In Touch” over the last four years letting you know what I have delivered, what the challenges are and what the County is trying to do.
Do you feel I have worked hard enough for you to select me again? I hope so and look forward to a tough four years as the UK changes its position and influence in the world and the County makes its contribution.

For the next four years, My targets will be:

  • To continue to deliver on local issues and needs, tackling problems that impact directly on your life.
  • To organise a Gipping Valley effort to develop a plan for our highways that will allow the housing expansion necessary to meet local needs without creating road chaos.
  • To continue to insist Highways respond to your needs effectively and maintain out roads well.
  • To make sure public transport and park and ride schemes are not further damaged,
  • To ensure the County makes the maximum commitment it can afford to social care, reducing the impact on the NHS of unfulfilled need and using, not hoarding in reserves, the funds it has.
  • To help local groups support and construct new facilities in the area.
  • To remain deeply involved with improvements to the efficiency and effectiveness of County services.
  • Advocating investment where it will cut long-term costs, improving quality of life and reduce demand for services.

John Field

Question I Just Received on Highway Signs.

For several years it has concerned me, and many others I speak to, that trees, hedges and general dirt are being allowed to obscure road signs.  A while ago I searched for any rules that may apply as directed by the Department For Transport and found the attached from the Traffic Signs Manual (1982 Amended 2004).  I would bring your attention in particular to 1. Introductory, paragraph 1.2 and 5. The Design & Use of Signs, paragraph 1.31 (b) and 9. Maintenance of Signs.  All common sense, you would think?

Quite obviously these conditions are not being met.  For example: the road sign coming up to the Hadleigh Road mini roundabout at Sproughton from the Washbrook direction.  It is so obscured by the hedge that you cannot read the sign until you’re virtually next to it and nearly at the roundabout!!  Similarly, now the leaves are coming out on trees, other signs are disappearing behind them.  I cannot believe that this problem is not the subject of more of an outcry as with the pot hole debacle.  Being unable to read road signs from a safe distance is as dangerous as having to be more vigilant in avoiding potholes.

My Answer

Suffolk Highways needs to meet its obligations under these rules which are made for good reason.  I think you will have seen from my leaflets and “In Touch” contributions that I have been active in pressing for improved performance across the board although the key focus has been potholes .

I believe that the outsourcing of the highways contract has not worked and, despite the Conservatives rolling it on for another five years, it must either perform in short order or the work must be taken back in-house.  Suffolk people just can’t continue to put up with the issues you raise or the potholes.

We must have the management talent to guide the workforce to high performance.   As the government has been giving some relatively small but significant grants for such work and we could use a sensible amount, £2 million, from the £150 million reserves to make one-off improvements.  We should be able to do better!

You will get this if you ensure there is a strong opposition after Thursday to make sure that the mantra that everything must be privatised does not result in self-deception about the level of performance achieved.

 

John Field

Gipping Valley News from John Field