John Field’s Report to Gipping Valley: November 2016

Early Years Education

I have been discussing with County officers the plans to expand the pre-schools in Gipping Valley.  They need to cope with increased housing and the move from 15 to 30 hours of government-funded attendance that some families will receive.  There are funds available from new developments.

There is a clear need for a pre-school in Great Blakenham and we are exploring solutions that will provide both the indoor and the outdoor space required at the high standard expected.  The officer who organises this area has an excellent grasp of the requirements and will ensure that there are no problems.

Primary Schools

Claydon Primary still has places in some years despite attracting a number of out of catchment pupils.  However, Bramford and Henley are currently both full.  As house building progresses the schools must expand.

Claydon will need to increase to at least two and a half form entry and probably to three form if the Barham Church Lane development goes ahead.  Sketch plans exist and will be shared with residents as soon as architects have put some flesh on the bones.

Scrutiny: Highways

The Cabinet has extended the Highways contract for five years so that Kier are able to plan investments for efficiency over a longer period.  The alternative of taking the contract back in house would result in a long and expensive process.  If performance does not meet the County’s need, an annual review process will reduce the contract term.

We will cover these issues at Scrutiny but unfortunately, the most critical individual for the 3rd November meeting fell sick at the last moment and we will now meet on 20th December.

County Budget for 2017-18

On the 30th November, we will scrutinise the County’s budget proposals.  By then the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement will be just a few days old and there will be initial views on its likely effect.

Just to what extent the Government will back off austerity to stop the fall in GDP post- Brexit we do not yet know.  With Trump in the White House, the global economy too will be in for some shocks but they won’t emerge for months.

I find that it is easy to see the sums budgeted for inflation and demographic change, government funding reductions and the savings required to keep the books balanced.  It is much less easy to see where estimates of income are unduly pessimistic and where reserves are kept for activities that will never occur.

It is even more difficult to obtain any measure of the effect on people who need county services.

For roads: just how much pothole filling, yellow lining, speed signage or mini-roundabout construction will be delivered?  For the vulnerable what quantity and quality of care does the budget aim to provide?  Is it sufficient to meet the need?

Devolution.

Norfolk County Council remains in favour of devolution, provided there is not a Mayor.  That removes some uncertainty but the Government are adamant a Mayor is not negotiable.  Clearly, devolution gives us the right to do as we are told. Suffolk will make its final decision on 23rd November.

Roads

There is progress on the flooding issue at the Pest House Lane road junction in Barham, work starts next week.  As I reported before, there is now a highways budget specifically earmarked for flooding issues and this is the first impact it has had in Gipping Valley.

Chris Nix of Easton and Otley College is adamant that in September, he changed the routes of the buses that are a problem to Henley and Barham.  We had agreed they would change when the contract changed.  However, I did meet an Otley bus by the nursing home on the way to the meeting.  I have asked for route details.

Planning-SnOasis

The developer has now paid the planning fee, some £250k as well as the sums for work by an MSDC officer and SCC Fire Officer.  The next step is to validate the considerable input and determine if it meets the requirements to move ahead.

I understand that final plans for the railway station will not be forthcoming.  This was a critical component of the Secretary of State’s approval and the lack of a station would have a significant impact on the road traffic generated.  We must not overlook this.

District Council Issues

Mid Suffolk and Babergh have appointed a new Chief Executive.  He is a trained barrister and has been working in Suffolk Coastal.  His start date is not yet determined so it will be a while before we know or feel the impact of the change.

Move to Endeavour House.

We “twin hatters” will be taking district councillors on a tour of the County Headquarters to give them a feel of the place.  People are likely to be located in areas vacated by Concertus and Schools Choice who are moving to a building next to Landmark House, recently purchased by the County.  Car parking issues are yet to be resolved.

Hood Drive

District and County officers have agreed to take out some of the shrub beds on the left hand side of the road as you enter into Hood Drive.  These shrub beds, that were blocking