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.
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”.