Category Archives: Uncategorised

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.

It will define the areas for development selecting from those currently proposed to accommodate the predicted expansion in the population. It will also define up to date criteria based policies to control development.

In the meantime our district has received a large number of speculative planning applications in our villages from developers. Until the last couple of months the Conservative- run District Council had failed to show it had a five year supply of land for new homes. After a lot of detailed investigation it has now estimated and agreed with government a 5.24 year land supply but that is too late for many villages.

Liberal Democrats will take action to ensure the Local Plan is delivered without further delay. We will fight for the appropriate infrastructure – roads, schools, medical facilities and community open spaces.

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.

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!

Street Lighting

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.

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

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. 


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.


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?

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.


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.


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.

Report to Gipping Valley: December 2018

Happy New Year to you all.  I hope that you and the Suffolk economy prosper in 2019 despite the challenge of whatever occurs on 29th March.

Locality Funds

Just a reminder: your district councillors, John Whitehead, James Caston, Kevin Welsby and me all get a “Locality Budget” of around £6k to help community groups to deliver projects.  I get a further similar sum from the County.   If there are further things you want to do could you let us know before the end of January.

Increase in insurance pay-outs

Between 1 January and 16 October this year, Suffolk Highways have already paid out £67,819.07 for vehicle damage including costs and legal fees. This is a dramatic increase from the £26,004.63 for the whole of 2017.

The number of claims has also more than doubled, from 598 in 2017 to 1,265 so far in 2018.  This shows the cost of not getting potholes fixed quickly and the problems that Suffolk residents suffer. The County must do better.

Pension Fund

The local government pension fund has performed well and is now worth almost £3,000 million.  It covers county and district staff, many academies and town and parish council staff and is now 92% to 97% funded.  The level changes day to day as Brexit and other economic news drives the £ and share values up and down.

It does have some funds in companies that produce fossil fuels and supply tobacco.  It will look again at this around March to decide if it is proper.  Is it reasonable to consider just the financial duty to the pensioners and their employers, or should the damage to the environment and people’s health count as well?

The Incinerator

As I type this Suffolk County Council is considering a further re-financing of the incinerator.  Currently the money is borrowed by Suez as part of the contract that saw them finance, build and run the plant.

The county can borrow through the Public Works Loan Board at a fixed rate lower that Suez can.  So, there is a significant cost saving if County take on a bit more of the risk of plant ownership.  The SCC investment will increase by another £10.2m, and the council will own 28.4% of the plant value in total.  The net present value of the saving will be £5.1m.



The top level view of the budget proposals for next year were scrutinised on 22nd November.

The basic assumptions on income are:

  • Council tax will be increased by 2.99% and the Social Care Precept by 1%. The council tax base will increase by 1%.
  • No estimates have been made for the value of the chancellors’ recent announcements of extra funding


Inflation Cost


Transfor-mation Tactical




Adult & Community Services 234.5 6.9 11.2 -11.0 -2.1 239.5
Health, Wellbeing & Children’s Services 138.0 2.0 14.1 -1.8 -2.6 149.7
Fire & Rescue and Public Safety 24.4 0.5 0.1   -0.7 24.3
Growth, Highways & Infrastructure 49.6 1.2 0.4 -0.2 -4.2 46.8
Corporate Services 26.6 0.8 0.5   -1.5 26.4
Central Resources 27.4 0.1 0.7   -0.1 28.1
TOTAL 500.5 11.5 27.0 -13.0 -11.2 514.8

The inflation assumptions are 2% on wages or 3% on purchased materials and services

The cost pressures in ACS include the ageing population and the increasing complexity of need. In CYP we are seeing increasing numbers of children with learning or behavioural difficulties.

The “Transformation Programmes” are targeting considerable savings at £13m and, in addition there will be a need for “tactical savings”. Tactical savings will total £11.2m, and proposals include:

  • Phased removal of Citizens Advice Grant.
  • Staffing reduction (totalling £3m) across all directorates
  • Reduce Housing Related Support and hostel beds
  • Negotiate care pricing
  • Stop displaying bus timetables at the roadside
  • Reduce spend on sponsored bus services
  • Reduce Suffolk Highways out-of-hours stand-by service and winter support fleet for
  • Stop road sign cleaning and only maintain mandatory road markings
  • Turn more streetlights off overnight
  • Cease accreditation of the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme (the scheme will continue, however organisations will license themselves directly with the charity rather than through SCC)

The “saving” on the CAB grant is particularly difficult to understand.  This is a charity that delivers high value at low cost as much advice is given by volunteers.

Report to Gipping Valley: November 2018

New approach to pothole repairs

A Highways Improvement and Innovations Board has announced that Suffolk Highways, at the Phoenix House depot, will be piloting a new approach to prioritising pothole repairs over the winter.

It aims to tackle more potholes during a visit, potholes down to 200mm width and to reduce the number of temporary repairs.  The travelling time of maintenance crews will be reduced, and more potholes will be filled. Improvement at last!

The Board has also been looking into improving the coordination of road closures, reducing the number of roadworks which overrun, and exploring ways for Suffolk Highways to work closer with town and parish councils.  I hope the lessons of Hackneys Corner will be learnt.

I expect a progress report from the Board at Scrutiny in December.

Second Suffolk children’s home judged “inadequate”

A children’s home run by Suffolk County Council has been judged “inadequate” by Ofsted, following an inspection.  This is the second council-run children’s home to receive an inadequate rating in the past 2 months.

Ofsted were particularly concerned over unsafe behaviour management techniques used.  They found a significant increase in the number of physical interventions.

Council signs up to 100% nuclear energy deal

At the Council meeting on 18 October, members of my political group called on the Council to recognise the benefits of renewable energy.  This is now low cost as well as low carbon.  We asked them to commission a report into a smart grid for Suffolk.  This would allow the array of renewable, top up and storage facilities for electricity supply to be managed optimally.

We also asked for a commitment to ensuring that at least 50% of the Council’s energy comes from renewable sources by 2025. Unfortunately, the Conservative administration amended the motion to remove any clear actions or targets.

It was also revealed that the Council have recently signed off on a 100% nuclear energy deal for the next three years, to commence in March 2019.  This represents a major step backwards, since the current energy contract includes 18.7% renewables.

No funding to help end “period poverty”

The Labour Group asked council for a budget commitment of £15,000 to help tackle “period poverty”.  Many girls suffer embarrassment and frequently miss school because they are unable to afford sanitary products.  We asked the Council to fund products for such girls in all local authority-maintained schools in Suffolk, and to encourage academies to implement similar measures.

Unfortunately, the Conservative administration once again amended the motion, removing all funding.

New Home Care operating model

Cabinet has agreed the new Home Care operating model.  It was acknowledged that the previous model had been a failure.  Smaller care providers were expected to give up their contracts and residents receiving home care wereexpected to change provider.

We were assured that “lessons had been learned” and that greater care had been taken to develop the new operating model in partnership with stakeholders.

The funding to providers will be set by the County and will vary dependent on the availability of care in each parish.  There will be five steps from £16.49 to £ 22.24 per hour of care.

That sounds quite reasonable, but the County does not pay for travel time and providers frequently do, together with a small allowance for travel expenses.  There is also a need to fund holidays and sickness so the £ per hour a carer receives is substantially lower.

I fear that the rate paid to carers remains too low to attract the number of people required.

Report to Gipping Valley: October 2018

Highways, flooding

The flooding issue at the A14 bridge on Station Road has been fixed at last!  Years of emails have paid off.

Scrutiny in September

The County performance report indicated that the review of highways currently underway will include “How utility companies cop-ordinate roadworks and are held to account for their actions”.  A subject dear to our hearts.  It said: “this will now have to be taken forward with the Secretary of State for Transport expectation that a permit scheme is in place in Suffolk by March 2019”.  At Scrutiny we decided permits should improve control significantly, so this is good news!

Scrutiny of Absence

The County Council has a high level of absence due to physical and mental health issues, far higher than other comparable authorities, particularly in the Fire and Rescue service.

I was concerned the issues could be due to the turmoil and stress caused by the many re-organisations that have occurred, the job losses driven by reducing budgets or just a lax management attitude.

In the Fire and Rescue Service in 2017-18 9,260 days were lost in total, 85% to long term sickness. Nottinghamshire loses 2.6 % days to sickness, Suffolk 9.73% and Warwickshire 14.55%.  Why the difference?

In Highways the absence rate was much lower at 4.52%.  This is in an area which has suffered much re-organisation and therefore a lot of employment related stress but absence is lower than average.

Across the County the average is 5.38% days lost, a total of 55,014 days.  With staff costs at around £144m the cost of lost time must be around £7.75m.

A more rigorous regime is being introduced to ensure that all sickness is genuine.  It will also ensure that issues are picked up early.  Staff will be supported when they have either physical or mental health problems and any underlying causes are addressed.

More specialist education placements

The projection is that there will be an 18% rise in the number of children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) between 2018 and 2020, compared to only a 4% rise in the overall number of children. These will mostly be moderate learning difficulties, ASD and speech and language needs.

Suffolk cannot meet current or future demand.  Many children have a long wait for specialist education or are placed far from home in expensive out-of-county placements.  Suffolk will need to develop a further 300-400 places using new specialist support centres attached to mainstream schools, with some new special schools.

New “care at home” model

Three years ago, the County got the design of its Support to Live at Home contract very wrong.  The problems mean it provides only 29% of home care.  It is developing a new “model of home care” and a new contract.  This appears better but I have doubts that the new rates offered will attract providers and people into the system.  They look attractive but don’t address travelling time separately.  It can be a large % of the task.

There will be three main elements:

Responsive: will help when people urgently need a response.  For example, a frail older person living at home has called the GP or an ambulance but is not very coherent and it is difficult to determine a diagnosis.

Care may involve medication, ensuring fluids and food are taken and assessment of on-going condition.  Later It will offer rehabilitation or reablement to maximise independence.

Bespoke – For people with long term conditions, brain injury, recovering from a stroke, or a condition such as Parkinson’s and may require live-in-care to be able to remain in their own home.

Locality – The main service for planned long term care.  It will allow local community-based solutions to be developed

The County will work with the 85 care providers in Suffolk.  It will not seek to move people between providers or reduce the budget.

District Council Issues

MSDC lost an appeal to a developer who claimed that they had not applied the new version of the Government’s Planning Framework properly and had mis calculated the number of approved deliverable sites.  The inspector agreed so it appears our 5 Year Land Supply was short lived.  Development is again less constrained.

Report to Gipping Valley:  August 2018

Major review of Suffolk Highways

The major review of the way highways in Suffolk are maintained, that I reported last month, is underway.

The problems in Claydon and Great Blakenham this month have shown just how important this is, particularly:

  • How utility companies coordinate roadworks and are held to account for their actions;
  • How residents, councillors and businesses are informed about road repairs;
  • Contract management;

People living in Masons Drive in Blakenham Fields, on Chapel Lane and in the centre of Claydon have all suffered from the vast numbers of vehicles that normally use Bramford Road routing through their streets.  The works by Anglian Water on Ipswich Road in Claydon have caused tail backs of 25+ vehicles off peak.

I did ask at full council, just what was being done to improve coordination of works, to ensure teams are on site for 5 or 6 days a week and how about extended hours of work for critical tasks.

I and other councillors, including the new cabinet member for Highways, have asked for solutions many times at the Scrutiny Committee. We must get answers now.  I will tell you what changes are made.

Road Works

Surely Hackneys Corner and Claydon will be complete by the time you read this!

Costed five-year cycling plan

At the Council meeting on 19 July, the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group asked for a commitment to investing in Suffolk’s cycling infrastructure. We wanted a cross-party group to draw up a costed five-year cycling plan, and then a commitment to ring-fence at least 5% of the Integrated Transport budget for cycling infrastructure.

The administration supported the drawing up of a cycling plan but would not commit funding.  Without the minor funding commitment, future bids to the Department for Transport are likely to be unsuccessful.  This has been the case for the past seven years.

Additional £6m for recycling centres

The Cabinet has agreed to borrow an additional £6m to fund improvement works for four of Suffolk’s recycling centres.  It intends to deliver £3 million of urgent improvements at Foxhall and £1 million at Haverhill.

It will, for £ 1 million each, secure two sites for replacement of recycling centres for Ipswich and Stowmarket.

I wonder how much of this expenditure would have been necessary if other centres, which had shared the load, had not been closed.

Police and Crime Panel

The report on the trial of an APNR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) camera in speed enforcement is still underway.  The laptop involved was I understand stolen!

We will now get a report in January, rather a long delay but at least it is progressing.  I believe that if this technology is used carefully, it could give good control of the few drivers who push their skills to the limit or beyond on village streets.

The current trial works the same way as Community Speedwatch but on a 24/7 basis.  However, it could do much more.

District Council Issues

The fact that Mid Suffolk now has a five-year land supply did make a difference at the one planning meeting I have attended since it was calculated.  We must now look at the emerging Babergh/Mid Suffolk development plan as it goes through its final stages and influence the allocation of land for housing.

There are still at least five applications for substantial numbers of dwellings to be determined: Whitton, Barham Church Lane, Ely Road, and one either end of Bramford.

In all cases you are, I am aware, very concerned about the infrastructure needed to support the plans if your quality of life is not to be destroyed.

John Field’s Report to Gipping Valley: July 2018

Suffolk County Council’s school transport plans

In June, Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet voted to change the Home to School Transport policy so that only children travelling to their nearest school would receive free transport. The changes are due to be phased in from September 2019 so existing students will see no change unless their families move.  Post 16 transport (to One?) will stay as it is and rising fives will be included.

We believe that the impact on families who do not drive their children to school will be high. There has also been very vocal opposition from schools, parents, and carers across Suffolk.  Schools are concerned that there will be large changes to the number of pupils they attract, and hence their viability, based on cost of transport, not quality and breadth of education.

Following the Cabinet meeting, opposition councillors from all parties united to “call-in” the decision to scrutiny.

On July 9th the Conservative members of the Scrutiny Committee were not convinced the clear overestimate of future cost increases represented a failure to present to Cabinet an accurate view of the issue that required another look.  They rejected the call in and the phased introduction of the change will go ahead.


After the changes in the Conservative administration, Mark Bee is now Chair and I remain Vice Chair.

This month we reviewed the Council’s response to our 2016 recommendations on The County Council’s role in working with partners to tackle domestic abuse in Suffolk.

Progress had been made with the County and police people present clearly focused on improving our response to this critical issue.  There are more refuges available and groups set up to work with perpetrators, but we have had to ask for evidence of successful outcomes.

Major review of Suffolk Highways announced

The new Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Highways, Cllr Mary Evans, has launched a major review of the way highways in Suffolk are maintained including:

  • Suffolk Highway Maintenance Operational Plan which determines how resources are deployed;
  • How the location of potholes is considered with their width and the impact they can have on cyclists;
  • How utility companies coordinate roadworks and are held to account for their actions;
  • How residents, councillors and businesses are informed about road repairs;
  • Financial control and contract management;
  • How town and parish councils can work closer with Suffolk Highways to make the best use of their local knowledge, skills, money, and time.

Road Works

At long last Hackney’s Corner is beginning to look as though it is nearing completion.  However, the down side is that the replacement of the gas main on Bramford Road has started.  The road will be closed for about six weeks with signed diversions along the B1113 through Needham Market to Stowmarket, but many will rat run through Claydon or Blakenham Fields.

I have raised the congestion issues created with the County Network Assurance team and the cabinet member but am told there is no alternative.  Work I am told, will be organised to minimise inconvenience and duration.

District Council Issues

District Scrutiny has looked at the organisation that provides a repair and improvement service for council housing.  The business case appeared totally unrealistic and Cabinet had clearly failed to check it thoroughly.  Although money has not been “lost,” the organisation failed to deliver the work anticipated despite spending to budget.

The scheme to invest £25 million in commercial property, for a rental return some 4% ahead of borrowing costs, is ahead of schedule and yielding slightly less than target.  The risk from the current high street problems has not had an effect so far. The management organisation we judged to be up to scratch.


The development near Ely Road was referred to the full Planning Committee to be heard at the same time as the revised Barham Church Lane application.

The potential highways congestion issues that worry so many residents are receiving serious attention by your parish councils and by the District Council.  However, they only prevent development if their effect is “serious”, a high threshold.

Mid Suffolk has calculated that they now have a five-year land supply.  There are now enough approved development proposals, that will be delivered, to meet the estimated need for houses over the next five years.

This should bring all Mid Suffolk’s housing policies back into play and reduce the pressure to approve anything “sustainable”.

John Field’s Report to Gipping Valley: June 2018

Suffolk County Council’s school transport plans

Of the 3,600 responses to Suffolk County Council’s home-to-school transport consultation, 85% “strongly oppose” the proposals.  Clearly parents, teachers and communities have very serious concerns.

My Group has opposed the changes since they were first announced. We are concerned that, as demonstrated in Essex, savings produced will be way short of expectations and not warrant the damage caused to families and schools.

New Council Leader elected

At the Annual Council Meeting Cllr. Matthew Hicks was elected Leader of Suffolk County Council.  His Deputy will be Cllr. Mary Evans, the former Chair of Scrutiny who will be replaced in that role by Cllr. Mark Bee.   Cllr. Hicks emphasised that he has strong Conservative beliefs but has promised a “new era” of politics at the Council with a focus on mutual respect, collaboration, and co-operation.

‘Outstanding’ schools in Suffolk have not had Ofsted inspections for years

In Suffolk, 23 schools – almost half of those rated ‘outstanding’ – have not been inspected for at least 6 years.  For 6 of these schools, their last inspection was over a decade ago.

There is no certainty that standards will have been maintained over such a period.   Cllr. Penny Otton, raised her concerns with the Cabinet Member for Children’s Services and Education, Gordon Jones, who assured her that he shared her views and would raise it with the head of Ofsted.

Road Issues-30mph Roundels in Barham

The current delay to the roundel project is I am afraid down to me.   I failed to notice a request for authorisation in November last year at the time when I was pushing the Bells Cross Junction signage improvements.

The task is now underway again but there will be a delay while the work is ordered.

Diversion Routes

I assume many of you will have suffered when the A14 has been closed.  I spent two hours getting home from a council meeting recently so I experienced the issues at first hand.

There are of course no real alternatives to routing traffic through Claydon and Great Blakenham under such circumstances.  However, clearer information on just what is closed and where there is congestion, would allow us to decide if an alternative route would be beneficial.

Pothole repairs

It was recently reported that Suffolk County Council had repaired 6,500 potholes since the start of the year. However, there are still issues with the way Highways carry out their repairs, and this headline figure does not paint an accurate picture.

The Highways team are currently struggling to keep up and are resorting to temporary repairs which are quicker to complete. They have recently introduced a more expensive temporary repair material that lasts longer. However, it damages the surrounding road material and will need to be replaced within about 18 months.


The Planning Referrals Committee decided it was “minded to refuse” the application for 300 houses on Barham Church Lane.

The developers have proposed changes they think will address the concerns, including a reduction in the number of houses, reduced impact on the church and on wildlife.   Certainty about the spine road has been given and the possibility that the layout will be substantially as the outline.   We must judge these changes when the application returns.