John Field’s Report to Gipping Valley: April 2016

Devolution

Norfolk’s involvement is now not so certain and there appears to be considerable disquiet among our MP’s.  The benefits of greater local control of transport and planning still remain for those likely to exercise that control but are less obvious for the rest of us.

Councils will debate the issue in June and final ratification of the agreement that the Chancellor announced will then take place, or not depending on the make-up of the councils and the power of the whips.

Roads

A long meeting with Highways management yielded some useful information.  On the positive side, additional government money is allowing some work to proceed.

Re-surfacing of Bramford Road in Great Blakenham in June and removal of the normally mud obscured central bollards will eliminate a perpetual problem.  Two will return later as part of the Blakenham Fields work at the entrance junction.

Patching then surface dressing on Fitzgerald Road and part of Loraine Way in Bramford, Bulls Road, Lower Road and part of the B1078 in Hemingstone and Back Lane (Circular Road) in Baylham will be welcome improvements.

On the down side, the county team that translates our requirements into a scheme, agrees price and gets the work under way, will shrink.  Maintenance work will be under a government incentive scheme that relies on machine inspection of surfaces not local judgment.  That makes firm dates for the work you want even more difficult to get.  We did discuss a range of works you want but the dates and funding are just too uncertain to present as plans.

District Council

The Conservative group has changed leadership and the portfolio holders responsible for political control of the major elements of council work.  Meanwhile the chief executive is moving to Kingston Upon-Thames.  Charlie Adan has masterminded the amalgamation of the Babergh and Mid Suffolk employee teams and several rounds of management re-organisation and reduction.

A strategic plan refresh after the election has produced some change in emphasis but leaves much ambiguity.  We all want to deliver good services for Suffolk at a reasonable cost, but some just want the lowest possible cost.  What does the plan deliver?

Development Control

The replacement for the 1987 Local Plan is progressing but there have been more changes of senior staff.  The completion date is now 2019.  This plan must be finished and more land for housing allocated, a five-year supply, or we will have to tolerate developments wherever developers own land.

We need more housing if price rises are to be moderate so that young people have a chance to own their own home.  However, none of us wants an approach that destroys the aspects of Suffolk we value.

The impact of recent budget changes on the plan to build council housing and to invest the £25 million the council has given itself the authority to borrow is still not clear.

Police and Parking

The new safer neighbourhood team, partly based in Landmark House but controlled via a sergeant in Hadleigh is learning the territory.  They have responded to requests from residents and me to look at parking by schools but appear to find what is clearly obstruction, difficult to deal with.

Police and Crime Panel

After the Police and Crime Commissioner elections, which returned Tim Passmore for a second term, the Panel has looked for improvements in its approach to supporting and challenging him.  The Panel decided to examine his performance on domestic violence, fatalities on Suffolk roads, and the techniques he uses to monitor police performance.

Full Council.

The meeting opened with a petition presented by a firefighter and signed by some 3675 people asking that full council and not just the cabinet should vote on the Fire Service reductions.  The administration rejected that view.

We then debated at length a motion supported by all opposition members, to reverse the proposed reductions in the Fire and Rescue service that in the Ipswich area amounted to 50%. The vote was very close and losses from the Conservative ranks are making this more likely.

In Ipswich, which was to have three appliances, there are high-rise buildings that require four appliances in attendance before rescue work can begin.  In a fire, they are particularly hazardous structures.

We were also concerned that across the county resources will reduce to such an extent that risk to property and life will increase significantly.  The argument is that a reduction in call outs produced by the preventative work undertaken by the service, allows a reduction in staff and appliances. Improvements in building construction standards, materials and safety rules have also helped.

Improvements in vehicle safety features, seat belts, airbags, reduction in risk from materials and improvements to the basic strength of the passenger compartment have had similar effects..

The response to the consultation, which was overwhelmingly against the staff and appliance reductions, has been to reverse a number of the reductions.  In Ipswich four fire engines will remain, meeting the attendance standard for high-rise buildings, providing all are available.  However, the number of full time firefighters, who are able to respond 24/7 not just when they are not at work, will still drop by sixteen.