Some days are long, and some days are very long. Yesterdays meeting started with a visit to planning at about 8.30 and then a pre meeting briefing at 9.00 then the LPWG from 10.00 to 4.00 and we did not finish the agenda, so will be continued……
This is really what being a councillor is all about. We are consulting with the public and listening to submissions, often on both sides of a complicated matter, and then we have the privilege and responsibility of taking decisions which will affect lives for years, and in respect of yesterday decades. Yesterdays agenda was almost 700 pages long with detail reports. Some of these are really interesting, others are deep and impenetrable (almost) and we have to pay attention – thank goodness we have officers and specialists on hand for each section, but we, on the panel have to read and absorb the implications to the area of the technical details, that’s what the politicians do in this process. Yesterdays 6 hours of meetings had also taken some 5 hours of briefings, some 18 hours of reading and many hours of consideration and discussions.
Spent all day yesterday listening to the public commenting and lobbying about the Local Plan which is now entering its final stages before going to the inspector in the summer. This was the eighth public meeting of the Local Plan Working Group in six months which in addition to numerous roadshow events and single parish meetings held throughout Breckland mean that it must be the most commented on piece of work undertaken in the district. It is the culmination of thousands of hours of work by council members and officers over several years and is set to draw a path for development for the next twenty years. For those interested there will be two further LPWG meetings then Cabinet, OSC and Council then yet another consultation of the facts then to the inspector for validation. Thank you to all who took part yesterday, your comments are invaluable to the district in shaping the future.
Attended the 130 years celebration of the Salvation Army in Thetford on Sunday. I was invited as a representative of Breckland Council.
This was just part of a very full weekend for the Corps and had included a concert in the local Anglican church on the Saturday (I did not attend that) which was apparently packed out and the full day on Sunday in the Citadel.
Apart from meeting local, regional and national leaders of the SA with subsequent discussions on their interests in politics, especially nationally and in Peterborough, as it turned out. I also met with a number of organisations within Thetford and the people who run them.
Thetford is the biggest town in Breckland so it is always good to make new or renew old contacts within the town, so thank you Chris Mulryne for your kind invitation and hospitality for the day.
Whilst in Thetford I took a walk around the town centre, including the new Riverside Development which Breckland has recently built. Down to Button Island and the Sikh memorial statue, where despite the slow drizzle people still walked. Even on a wet Sunday afternoon the town still buzzed with people walking around. I must visit more often.
Attended the consultation launch of the Swanton Morley Neighbourhood Plan yesterday. Well done for the village for getting started on this, and for the quality of all the questions you are asking your residents and others. I did not fill a questionnaire in as that would be quite inappropriate, but I was asked twice, so people on duty were up to the task they had.
I now look forward to seeing the plan go through the system over time. A number of communities have decided to go along this route, and I hope that many more of our larger and medium size villages will do their own plans. You can get a grant from Central Government and this can be topped up by Breckland to help defray the costs. On the other end of the process Yaxham have completed much of the work on their plan and will be having a hearing before the Inspector at the end of this month.
As a councillor I am always coming across people who either are just too glad to have come out of school or, on the other hand, regret the opportunities they have ‘lost’. My advice is it is never too late to start again.
During my whole life I have sought to be as well informed and educated as is possible. Education was slightly different in the late 1950’s when I reached the age of 15, and one week later left school permanently, even though my head master had commended further education and university this was not deemed possible. Within one year I had enrolled in part time college spending one or up to three days per week in class and the remainder at work, sponsored by my then employer. This continued for more than four years, and whilst my paper qualifications are far from being officially recognised today they opened doors into a career in commerce which has been interesting and enjoyable. From that start I have always taken the opportunity to learn more. Hundreds of day courses, many week schools, part time and full time sessions plus one three year, part time university course, in my thirties all contributed to what QI would call ‘my level of general ignorance’.
On becoming a councillor I have continued this policy style and take advantage of all training opportunities I can.
Education never stops. We can obtain it free or at least very cheaply from various government providers, often with grants for those unable to pay. by being sponsored by an employer or other body, or by simply paying for the course. It can be work related or for your hobby or interest, and most importantly it can be nothing to do with any previous or current work.
Do check it out with your local schools or college, with your Council or trade body/union, or your local U3A. Google local clubs and societies where a small joining fee will open the doors to many experts. Did you know you can be an apprentice at any age? Join the library, get involved……..you will not regret it
I wrote this some time ago, but only recently came across it and publish today
Coming from a humble background I first joined the conservative party in 1960 as I could then see that despite the views of my friends and colleagues they did more to enable any rural ‘working class’ boy to get on than the labour party who seemed bent on only supporting the big unions in industrial areas. Even the local agricultural unions did not really support the farm workers in Norfolk. When MacMillan said you have never had it so good he was in fact right. Two world wars and a dedicated population had indeed meant that most of us were better fed, better educated and better cared for that ever in the past.
I became a practising Christian in 1972 after living as an agnostic for all of my conscious life to that point, although to be fair I had flirted with the church as a young teenager. How that happened is to long a story for here, but I feel it gives me a right to comment on this issue.
I want to say that within the general run of political parties in Britain there seems to me to be no exclusivity when if comes to the right to claim faith. Individuals in all parties display elements of being a Practicing Christian, and indeed the vast majority of the citizens do claim to be Christians in one form or another. In addition there are a host of other religions in our increasingly mixed society. Set against this is the fact that we are a declared Christian country with the Anglican or Church of England denomination being the State Church with the head of state also being the head of that church, and I believe she actually practices Christianity.
As a politician I feel that Faith gives a good and true basis for how you act in your political life. As a christian I can apply the values of that faith to all my political decisions. This has a long and honourable tradition in English politics and especially during the 18th and 19th centuries where the protestant faith of this country enabled it to carve its place in the modern world. Equally as a christian I feel that politics is essential to my life of faith within the church. In the model of life we live in the 21st century politics has a greater influence that ever before in our history, our health, social systems, work systems, housing systems as well as national security, taxation and laws are all increasingly controlled by politics. Those politics are based on Democracy which in turn, at least in the UK are based on both of the freedom paths started with Magna Carta and the Reformation. England and later the UK and Empire/Commonwealth and wider were freed from the tyranny of kings and the oppressions of Rome and into democracy with freedom first to the lords, then the wealthy, then to men, and finally to women. It may have taken several 100’s of years but it is a clear path and one which we should covet and protect.
Had an interesting meeting last week with local MP George Freeman to discuss planning matters.
Since I took over as Cabinet member for Growth, (planning and housing) in November I felt the need to establish a working relationship with other levels of government in the area. Breckland is in the latter stages of producing a new Local Plan. We have been in discussion with our parishes for a long while to establish just where and how we fit in our expected allocation of an additional 15,000 homes over the next 20 years. Mostly we have it right it seems. Well over 100 communities have agreed, or at least are satisfied we have made good decisions in their communities, only a handful are really not happy with some aspects. I hope we can satisfy them that we are treating all areas fairly in the light of pressures placed upon the district by Central Government. By and large we have unity with our County Council colleagues, but I felt a disparity with our MP for Mid Norfolk. After a long session I feel we now can have a good working relationship on planning matters as we go forward.
Immediately after the George Freeman meeting I had a session with Capita and Breckland officers to set the programme for finalising the plan and setting the last public meeting for 3rd February 2017. This will be an all day session which will be open for the public to attend. Between now and then I will be meeting with some communities who have asked for a private session. I have to caution that this will be for me, and colleagues, to listen and will not be for making decisions, none the less they are valuable on both sides.
The plan has been in progress for several years, but especially during 2016. I have personally attended over 20 public consultation meetings since April around the district. Each of the over 110 communities have been invited to meet Breckland members and officers, and contribute. There has been two, six week, consultations during the year on this last part of the plan. People have taken part by letter, email, telephone, directly, social media, and by letting parish councils and others pass on their views. It has been reported in the press and local radio, and yet I still come across people who say they have not heard about it. Please help by telling your neighbours that Breckland Council is planning for the growth in the district for the next 20 years. I cannot guarantee to fit in any more meetings, but will certainly respond to emails sent to my Breckland Council email before the end of January.
2017 is shaping up to be an exciting year. New position in Breckland as EM for Planning and Housing is a big job and promises an interesting time as we see the mainly very well received Local Plan through its last stages before presentation to the inspectorate. Equally as interesting will be getting my head around Housing in all its many disguises. This is the area of the council I have had least to do with in my 14 years as a District Councillor so its a strong learning curve.
Talking about learning, I start the first module of a LGA leadership academy next week, so its back to some form of formal learning for me. I have always taken every opportunity to expand my horizons and am really looking forward to this over next three months.
Life in Upper Wensum Ward is looking increasingly challenging for this year. Some major planning applications are being revived or revisited and there are lots of conflicting opinions about them. It is important that we get these things right, for the local community, who I have to represent, but also for the wider interests. I was asked this week “how do you put both sides on a story” Well as a councillor you have to look at all and then be absolutely honest in everything you say to all sides. Whilst I have personal opinions, it is my job to ensure that all of my constituents are able to voice their opinion in the public forum , whether I agree with them of not. When I stop doing this them please stop voting for me.
On Thursday I attended the 79th annual conference of the Association of Drainage Boards in my role as Breckland Representative on Norfolk Rivers IDB.
Attending events like this gives me the unique opportunity to question directly political leaders including this year Dr Therese Coffey MP. I raised with her matters of demaining which do affect areas of the district in this IDB and in fact others also. We also, heard from, Emma Howard Chairman of the EA, Minette Batters from the NFU, John Curtin from the EA, Steve Willis from Lincolnshire CC, David Cooper from DEFRA, Neil Parish MP representing ERFA and others. From earlier reports you will be aware that I have been pressing the EA for some years on the matter of demaining, mainly because of their lack of attention to maintenance of our local rivers. NRIDB has been actively seeking to take over some 1500 kilometres of main river for four years or so. This would be at a minimum cost and would assist with the duties which are placed upon it. The IDB is engaged in protecting communities as well as agricultural land. Dr Coffey has promised me action, we will have to wait and see.
It is an interesting fact that the last so called 100 year storm was in August 1912 when over 12 inches of rain fell in a single 24 hour period in the North of Breckland, the one before that was in August 1797. On both these occasions towns and villages in our District and the city of Norwich flooded to many feet. With lack on maintenance when we get the next one, it will happen again.
As always this was an interesting and lively conference and apart from asking questions to the Minister I was able to give some assistance to some Yorkshire IDB’s, renew contacts with Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire IDB’s and hopefully get an invitation to visit the Bedfordshire group of IDB’s in the New Year, as they are the leading practitioners of SUDS in the UK in cooperation with the planning authority. This will be particularly useful in my new role at Breckland. Water is a resource which we find each summer is increasingly difficult to find enough of, but also, during each year we find that we have too much. Seasonal flooding plus that from extreme weather is a constant fear for many of our residents. It is also a fact that our farmers are facing increasing fees for extraction for crops and livestock. Norfolk Rivers IDB , working with our partners in the WMA is constantly seeking to balance these factors. We are also among the leading conservation bodies doing work not just on our own catchment but also for such as the EA, NE, local authorities and private individuals with watercourses whether or not they are ‘our’ drains, and on a recharge basis.
As always I attend early and visit the trade show connected to the AGM, whilst there I saw the new Rain Activ-Sustainable Drainage Solution which is suitable for smaller schemes starting at just over £2000 and with a minimal discharge rate would be acceptable for use in discharging to most IDB systems local to here. Information on this is in the latest ADA Gazette which I will place in St Georges room on Tuesday for members to refer to. If any member wants further information or a sight of the annual report and accounts please do ask
Cabinet change over yesterday. I am no longer holder for people and information ( public safety and IT) but moved to Growth (planning and housing) which includes the new Local Plan which is well on it’s way through already so only final stages and last consultations before submission to go. Will find out this week just how long that will take.
Like many councillors I first came on to the council with an urge to tackle planning, soon learning that it is not actually broken (at least too much) and after thirteen and a half years I am relatively comfortable in the new role. It will certainly be a challenge alongside everything else going on in Breckland at the moment.
Picking up the reins today and tomorrow, handing over old job Thursday and Friday so will be making reports then
This is one of those weeks where I am not too busy, at least during the day, on council business, so hoping to get a few other things done. I do however have meetings for the council on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday evenings and Friday lunchtime.
Last night was a Parish Council meeting in Bisley. Interesting as always and good to see a really positive attitude to running an efficient parish. There is a new Clerk who has only had a few months in office, but is really getting to grips with her post.
Tonight I will be at the Licensing of a new vicar in part of the ward. This will be off the Ward as it is in Weston Longville church. It is always good to be able to welcome new people into the leadership of the ward in whatever capacity and those with a moral and spiritual responsibility particularly so. There is actually another similar event in Bawdeswell on Thursday next week. This is caused by the formation of two new “super benefices” across the area. The Church of England does do this sort of thing well and is is a privilege to be asked as a District Councillor to attend.
Thursday will be training in Breckland – we can never really get enough of this as councillors have such a wide brief we can only keep on top if we spend time learning
Friday will be meeting some of the departments in Breckland who have achieved much during our transformation programme. This is our way of finding out exactly what differing departments have done and to say thank you. Transformation is something which will save our taxpayers around 10%+ as we move into the future.
Saturday will be for family. I will be in charge at my daughters shop in Elm Hill Norwich for the day. Its called Stoned and Hammered but has nothing to do with drink and drugs – its all about high end, unique hand made jewellery, so drop in and buy something so I can prove I am more than a stop-gap.