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.
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.
We know work to prevent problems always has a lower financial cost and better social return than efforts to pick up the pieces after the event. Children’s Centres provide the help and guidance young families need and a place where they can learn and swap experiences.
The single-minded focus on cuts as a solution to budget pressures in this area has caused the Lib Dem Green & Independent Grout and the Labour Group to withdraw their representatives from the PDP. What a sad decision to be forced into.
This year I managed to get work done to prevent the flooding that occurred regularly on Station Road at the bridge that carries the A14. Long term drainage issues were resolved and I have had very pleasant feedback that they are effective. Thanks to Highways for the work done and effective use of their budget to tackle flooding.
On the issue of the footway along Bramford Road I have received the following: “Further to your enquiry about the footway skirting along Bramford Road, the Winter and Cyclic team who oversee the list of potential future works have advised that this work will be undertaken later in the year. There is no date for this yet, but it is likely to be during the summer months.” Progress but not quite as quickly as I had hoped.
In Great Blakenham the work around Hackneys Corner and the low voltage (240 volt) connections for the street lights and the crossing are progressing well.
Problems in Baylham during our five week road closure were made less by the contractor keeping the village informed with a Facebook page. Learning from that the contractor in Great Blakenham has been feeding up to date progress data to the parish for their Facebook page.
Mary Evans appears convinced that this is a good thing to do so: after years of asking, we may have a communication breakthrough!
Not so good news is the fact that the budget carried, as a tactical saving, a little noticed reduction in the time for which streetlights are operational. They will be turned off at 11:30 rather than midnight. Not a problem for villages like mine that have no lights but more difficult in areas where there is antisocial behaviour and where there are significant numbers of workers returning home at that time.
The minutes of the January Cabinet meeting carried the following record:
“In response to a councillor’s concern regarding street lighting, particularly in certain areas of Ipswich, the Cabinet Member for Highways, Transport and Rural Affairs understood the importance to some communities of street lighting. She advised that over the years there had been many requests for lighting to be switched on, but these would now be reviewed by the Council together with the Police to consider if they were still needed and to ensure that any future requests for lights to be switched on came from more senior police officers.”
So it will be more difficult to get lights kept on but there was no sign of any pre decision consultation on the time reduction.
The “reference group” to liaise with the developer, modelled on the liaison group which I chair at the Suez EFW plant has yet to emerge. The importance of effective communication with residents and their ability to influence the way forward is paramount.
The group must be set up urgently as soon as the district election is over. It’s difficult to appoint local councillors until you know who they are.
Concern over energy projects
Suffolk County Council and Suffolk Coastal District Council are concerned about EDF Energy’s Sizewell C, and Scottish Power Renewables’ two offshore windfarms.
On Sizewell C, the councils feel the impact of the proposals on the environment and local communities would be major. It requires details of how EDF will reduce these impacts.
The off-shore windfarms raise concerns that the current proposals are too damaging to Suffolk. The impact on coastal landscape, the AONB, of onshore substations at Friston, HGV routes and traffic flows, and background noise levels are all issues to be addressed cooperatively.
Council declares “climate emergency”
My group proposed a motion calling on Suffolk County Council to recognise the imminent dangers of climate change and declare a climate emergency. Support was near-unanimous with 60 councillors voting in favour.
The Council will form a cross-party panel by September 2019, to develop policy ideas to help the authority cut carbon emissions on a spend to save basis. The Council has also agreed the ambition to be carbon neutral by 2030 and has committed to working with partners in Suffolk to help them achieve the same goal.