The planning meeting this month considered the application to increase the number of houses to be built at Blakenham Fields by using the land once set aside for employment and a school. This increase allowed the District and County Councils to negotiate developer funding for the shop, education and early years and sports facilities overcoming the “viability” issues the developer claims to have with the original agreement. As this occurred the minister, Brendan Lewis, appears to have backtracked on his decisions to allow developers to escape from commitments using the viability argument under pressure from London authorities.
I opened my presentation to the committee by saying “I am convinced we are dumping developments in Gt Blakenham to the detriment of the population. We appear to have made a lot of concessions to get the site completed but there are a lot of unfinished issues.
The local residents are incensed that they have gained little to mitigate their problems. They face crowded doctor’s surgeries, oversubscribed pre-school provision, lack of primary school capacity, no village centre shop, daytime only public transport, congested roads and lack of local community facilities.”
And finished “The development has got too large for this location. I believe we should not grant planning permission until Early Years, Primary School, Highways and Primary Care issues are resolved to the state where they can be clearly communicated and agreed by the community and until the heads of agreement leave a minimum opportunity for future confusion and failed delivery.” (The full text is on my www site)
Although many councillors appeared to accept my arguments and those of Michael Blakenham, the majority eventually voted to approve the plans.
After the planning decision, I initiated and attended a meeting between the Headteacher at Claydon Primary and the County Officers responsible for school place planning and the negotiation of developer contributions. I believe there is now an initial understanding of the funds available and the education need in the area.
The officers will also tackle the early years needs.
County Council Meeting
The March Full Council meeting considered formal documents on executive pay that must be considered annually, changes to the constitution and the setting up of a pensions board to improve the governance of the pension fund.
There was also a long debate on a proposal that County contracts should rule out organisations that “encourage” employees to waive their rights, under the Working Time Directive, not to be forced to work on average more than 48 hour per week. We heard examples of people being coerced to work the long hours that leave the people they serve at risk of catastrophic mistakes. The administration did not agree.
Scrutiny, Forward Planning
I reported on March scrutiny last month but we have planned the next year’s activity.
One significant organisation we will be looking at again is the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). This is a business led body with a secretariat supplied by the county. Its mission is to boost growth in the economy in Suffolk and Norfolk in various ways, distributing Government and European funding for infrastructure, organisations and initiatives. The Superfast Broadband plan is a good example, as is the Job Centre in Ipswich for Young people. City Deals for Norwich and Ipswich, an Enterprise Zone covering Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft are worth around £120M. This needs another democratic checkover.
Housing needs survey
The results from this Suffolk wide survey are just available but Mid Suffolk officers are at a very early stage in their analysis of its data. I hope to be able to keep you informed as a clear understanding emerges. This is important data that will determine the locations, numbers and types of housing the district encourages developers to provide. As an area that has absorbed high growth we must keep a close watch.