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:  September 2018

Road Works

The road at Hackneys Corner is usable but not to a good standard.  The footways have still to be finished.  The county is fully aware of the issues and doing what it can to move the work by the developers forward.

Last month saw a great deal of poor communication and confusion and for some reason Anglian Water were allowed to re-start work in Claydon before the Bramford Road work was complete.  Utilities and developers MUST do better and so must the county.

Mary Evans, cabinet member for Highways, will be visiting Great Blakenham Parish Council to be informed of their and your views directly.

On a more positive note, the persistent flooding just the Claydon side of the A14 bridge will be fixed this month by a new pipe and soakaways.  The work is planned to start on the 10 September 2018 and continue for 3 weeks.  The County believe the flooding was due to damage done when the A14 was constructed.  I have been trying to get it solved for some years, so it is good to have Highways finally realise they need to finance a solution.

I have written to Highways asking for information on the issues on Chapel Lane and should get an update on the bus gate proposals which I can pass to you next month.

I have a letter from the County to MSDC pointing out County reservation about the cumulative effect of development in the area and proposing a meeting involving the county council, the applicants and Mid Suffolk to discuss options.

I have been asking for months for a professional attempt to propose actions that would address the problems we all believe the developments will cause.  I hope we are getting somewhere at last.

Suffolk County Council’s budget challenge

Last week, the council released its view of the scale of the financial challenge it is facing this year. They are projecting an overspend of £8.6 million this year.  Based on the first quarter results 1.7%.  of its £501 million budget.

Children and Young People’s Services, account for £5 million of the total.  This includes services for looked-after children, specialist social care for children and home-to-school transport.

Work is in progress to reduce spending and find new sources of income, including:

  • Adult and Community Services is strengthening its contract management
  • The Children and Young People department is cutting budgets that have historically underspent
  • The Passenger Transport team is optimising routes and renegotiating transport contracts which transport hundreds of children to school
  • Corporate Services are reviewing budgets line-by-line
  • Suffolk’s ten Transformation Programmes are continuing to develop savings through reducing demand and changing the way we work
  • Suffolk Fire and Rescue has begun a project to improve levels of staff absence
  • The council’s major projects programme is being reviewed
  • The council continues to lobby Central Government for more funding as part of its Fairer Funding Review.

These are actions long necessary and reflect issues we have examined in Scrutiny and recommended for action.   The crucial issue will be as always to produce real increases in efficiency not just service cuts to the most vulnerable, particularly where cuts produce increases in the budgets of other public bodies, such as the health service.

“Staying Close” scheme launched

The Department of Education is funding a three-year pilot “Staying Close” scheme to support young people leaving care in Suffolk.

The aim is to help young people at 15 to start planning for independent living with the assistance and support of residential care workers. This planning too often occurs close to the time a young person is due to move to independent living, causing unnecessary anxiety and distress.

Young people will also continue to receive emotional and practical support from their children’s home and residential workers after they have moved out.

District Council Issues

This month we looked at the programme to reduce the delay between a council house becoming vacant or “void” and the time it has been refurbished and is again occupied.

The delay, that has been up to 71 days, costs the council rent and people a home.  It is now down to about 20 days and should improve further.

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.

Scrutiny

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.

Planning

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.

Planning

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.

John Field’s Report to Gipping Valley:   May 2018

Leadership Change

The leadership of the Conservative administration has changed from Colin Noble to Matthew Hicks.  We may see a less nakedly combative approach, but it would be naive to expect a major change in direction.  We could hope that some of the persistent problems, such as education performance, will be resolved or that more notice is taken of the wishes of a wider selection of the electorate.

Integrated Transport Strategy

A transport strategy for Norfolk and Suffolk has been produced by the Local Enterprise Partnership.  It gives a view of likely developments to the 2040’s  for transport, public and private and communication infrastructure.   It features the need to reduce congestion on the A14 and for an Ipswich northern bypass but also for improved public transport.

Pothole repairs

It was recently reported that Suffolk County Council had repaired 6500 potholes since the start of the year. However, there are still a number of 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. Does this give value for money?

Suffolk Highways are also “blitzing” whole areas of the road at once, rather than making multiple trips to the same area. However, they will only repair potholes that meet their intervention criteria as defined in the Suffolk Highway Maintenance Operational Plan.

National Lottery funding for “The Hold”

The Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded an additional £10.3m towards “The Hold” project, a heritage centre to be built on the Ipswich Waterfront.  Building work will begin this spring, with The Hold scheduled to open by the end of 2019.

The total cost of the project is expected to be £20m. Suffolk County Council has pledged £5m for the building, and the University of Suffolk £1m.  The Heritage Lottery Fund had previously awarded £538,000, bringing their total to £10.8m.  The Wolfson Foundation and the charity “Suffolk Archives Foundation” will also contribute.

As well as providing public facilities and teaching spaces for the University of Suffolk, The Hold is expected to house the majority of Suffolk’s archival collections. This has been criticised by residents of Lowestoft and the surrounding area, who face losing their local Records Office.

There is currently no suggestion that this project will affect the Bury St Edmunds Records Office.

Chilton Woods development moves forward

The Cabinet has agreed to proceed with the Chilton Woods development near Sudbury as an “upfront land sale”, meaning land will be sold to developers, either in lots or as a whole, who will then work on the development over a 10 year period.

The development is expected to deliver 1150 homes, 25% “affordable” and supporting infrastructure, including highways improvements and a new primary school.

Suffolk Coasts & Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

The Cabinet welcomed proposals by Natural England to extend the boundaries of the Suffolk Coasts & Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Within an AONB and there is no restriction on how land is farmed and there is no presumption against development.

Planning

The Planning Referrals Committee decided it was “minded to refuse” the application for 300 houses on Barham Church Lane.  There were issues that it found concerning including the highways proposals, where the closure of Barham Church Lane appeared far less than certain, the impact on the church and on wildlife.

Changes have been proposed to address the concerns, including a reduction in the number of houses, certainty about the spine road and the possibility that the layout will be substantially as the outline.

The modified application will return.

If you have any queries, please phone me on 01473 831306 (you will need to say your name and press #) or 07545423808 or Email me at john.field@suffolk.gov.uk.

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

Expansion at Claydon Primary

The plans to expand Claydon Primary to 2.5 form intake to cope with children from Blakenham Fields are almost ready to discuss with local residents.

The main resident concern will I am sure be parking and safety at the school entrance.  Busy parents or carers need to drop children off on their way to work, so they dont have time to walk to school despite the benefits the exercise brings.

If we could find money to resurface the car park at the recreation ground it would be more attractive.  The footway to the school would make it a safe option but the cost would be high.  We must get an estimate to see how big the task would be.

Unfortunately there is no space for a drop off point, a drive through school, where children could be handed to staff!

Bramford Today

Lots of people to talk to in Acton Road today, detailed views to soak up and tasks to do.  Potholes were the main complaint.  How is that they are repaired but fail in days or at best a few weeks?  Highways claim they are doing far more repairs as planed work with much less reactive temporary fixes but people are not seeing an improvement.

Gipping Valley News from John Field