Thursday, 17 December 2009

Planning Committee - Whittlesey Supermarket

As many of you will already be aware, the Planning Committee at Fenland have approved plans for  a supermarket at the Benwick Road site.  For various reasons I was not able to be part of the debate, however, it was one of the longest debates I can recall at planning committee and I totally respect the outcome.

My personal preference would have been to consider both of the applications at the same time.  There is a history of planning applications for supermarkets being ultimately decided in court.  Considering both together may have minimised the risk of this happening and could have helped to ensure a local decision.

However, even a decision made at a meeting where both were considered could have ended up in court - or be decided by the Secretary of State.  People need to be aware that the decision made yesterday may not be the end of this and there is a possibility of court action or that the Secretary of State will have something to say.

Just to make my point, these links are for supermarket applications that have court involvement and are fairly current:

Dawlish


Stourport

Friday, 11 December 2009

Xmas Extravaganza

It's when I have been to the extravaganza in Whittlesey that I start to realise that Xmas is just around the corner.  I had a day delivering leaflets today, got home a bit tired, but was soon re-energised by the extravaganza - especially seeing children smile when they are given a bag of sweets from the Town Council, it is a great thing for the Town Council to do, and I love being a part of it.  It is great to see the market square full of life and fun, it was also great to catch up with a few people and give a few pounds to some local charities in return for not winning raffles and tombolas.

As ever, the Xmas tree festival made me smile in so many ways.  I always love seeing the efforts of the schools and pre-school groups - probably because of my involvement in Children's Services.  But there were some great efforts from some of our voluntary groups as well.

I also managed to take a detour on the way home and have a pint in the Brickies (and it really was only a pint).

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Sir Harry Smith School Pantomime


Sir Harry has a reputation for doing good performances.  Tonight I went to see the school pantomime and had great fun.

There was a really good mix of students and teachers involved and quite a lot of great humour.  Everyone involved should be proud of what they put on and that they helped make people like me have a bit of a laugh.

As for me, I am a proud dad.  I watched my daughter in a chicken costume lay a golden egg.

UPDATE:   Someone has pointed out that the above comment is a bit ambiguous.  My daughter was wearing the chicken costume not me.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Fenland District Council Leadership

I have no comment to make about the goings on at Fenland tonight.

However, the major aspect of this is a leak to the media by someone associated with Fenland, something that happens too often.  It only serves to destabilise and means that the people of Fenland suffer because an individual chooses to feed information to the press, mainly because of some sort of selfish personal motive.

That sort of behaviour is potentially harmful to the people I serve; it takes focus away from service delivery while we deal with the issues the leaks create, thankfully officers and members at Fenland have the nouse to carry on in spite of such events.

I think it is time that the Cambs Times examined its conscience.  I have a great deal of time for them; John Elworthy is an excellent journalist and, whilst I am occasionally critical, I recognise that we are lucky to have a local paper that does its job in the way it does.   But at the heart of good journalism, must be, I believe, a strong element of public service.   It is time for the Cambs Times to examine its conscience, to recognise that it is in the public good to name the individual responsible for the leaks we have suffered.

I'm sure they won't, they will love it because leaks sell papers.  But some things are more important than that - and this particular leak has harmed people who have served Fenland for years.

What is a big shame is this is the story that should be grabbing the headlines.

Comprehensive Area Assessment

Comprehensive Area Assessments are published today.  These are assessments made by the Audit Commission pulling together reports and information about local authorities in order to make a judgement about their performance.

I am trying to link to the report, but the site is apparently overwhelmed so I can't get to it.  I will provide the links later.

Within the report the CAA uses red and green flags to highlight areas of concern or excellent practice.  Cambridgeshire has been allocated a Green Flag for its work in Waste Partnerships and no red flags.

I am pleased to say that the OFSTED judgement for Children's Services that fed into this report has Cambridgeshire "performing well.", which is our overall judgement too.

Fenland has also been graded as performing well.

UPDATE:  Cambridgeshire here.   Fenland here.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Live Music at the Youth Club

I went to Scaldgate Youth Club last night, where they had a live music night on.

This is something great for our young people - both musicians and audience.  The place was packed with people having a great time.  So good to see.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

OFSTED and the Lib Dems

I haven't commented on our Ofsted report of Safeguarding and Looked After Children in the County yet, because I wanted my response to the Lib Dems disgraceful letter to be published first.  This is the letter that the Lib Dems published, the most appropriate quote is:

"The report in fact contains a pretty damning analysis of the service provided by the Conservative county council to the county's most vulnerable children."

It is this language and this sort of behaviour that really winds me up about the Lib Dems.  They are quite right that we were graded overall as adequate.  However, this is adequate based on a raised bar (in response to the criticisms of them after the Baby Peter case), OFSTED themselves have admitted this.  In fact I wish OFSTED would get rid of the phrase "Adequate" it is misleading and invites this sort of manipulation.

My response to the Lib Dems' letter was published (at last) yesterday.  It sets out where I am on this perfectly.   I absolutely welcome challenge - it is a vital part of opposition and helps me to work with officers at the County Council to deliver better services, and I will always strive for the best.  However, inaccurate statements that deliberately paint the services we provide as black are bad for morale and is poor opposition.

My aim as Lead Member for Children, or indeed in anything else I do, is continuous improvement and no complacency.  I want to work with opposition to improve services, but when they make statements like this, they serve the County poorly and make it impossible.   I should stress, out of 34 judgements made by OFSTED, not a single area was judged as Inadequate and 8 within the Looked After Children area were judge as Good.

I have to say, I have a number of issues with Ofsted and the way they currently operate - and I am not the only one.   But, overall, I accept the report for Cambridgeshire as something we can learn and move forward from.

The OFSTED report can be found here.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Running in Hereward's Wake

I had the privilege to be part of a team of runners from Thorney Running Club in the Hereward Relay today.  It is a relay race from Peterborough to Ely, run in four legs.  The total distance is 38 miles.

I took part last year and had a really bad run - doing the same leg as today which is 10.3 miles (actually - I made it 10.9) from the George Campbell Leisure Centre to Welney Parish Hall.

It is quite a tough leg, with loads of running off-road on muddy tracks.  Today it was even more adventurous because of some rather interesting weather.  Half way round the rain started to really chuck it down and that, coupled with some real windy conditions heading into Welney, meant it could have been just as tough as last year, but I actually found myself enjoying the challenge today, and getting a bit of speed up during the on-road stretches (speed when running is, of course, all relative).  Running along the Old Nene, along the dykes and past Coldham Wind Farm and seeing the sights was actually far more fun than I thought it would be.

I am still waiting for my official time and the times for the Thorney teams - but I personally will be much, much faster than last year (by at least 15 minutes), which is a real confidence boost as I start increasing the miles ready for the London Marathon next year.

Hats off to March Athletic Club who organise the event.  I have a lot of time for March Club, they are a good bunch who I occasionally chat to at various events and they do a great job with the Hereward Relay.   Also thanks to my own running club, Thorney (who are of course based in Whittlesey and Thorney!) for letting me take part.

Special congratulations to Eamonn Dorling from Thorney RC who, I understand, was the first ultra runner home (which means he ran the whole 38 miles on his own).  Eamonn is quite an inspiration as a runner,and deserves loads of credit for a fantastic effort today.

Looked After Children Awards

Last night we held our annual Looked After Children Awards at the Maltings in Ely.

It is a special event, that is really important.  It is a way of recognising and giving a bit of a boost to children who both need and deserve recognition and praise.  Parts of the night are actually quite touching, not least at the end where the Children are allowed to nominate adults for awards, some of the citations are real tear-jerkers.

The truth about some of these young people is that, if we can instil them with confidence and self-belief, the recognition that they have coped with more in their short lives than most people deal with in a lifetime would mean that there could be no stopping them.  We have a few examples of this in Cambridgeshire - but ceremonies like this play a really important part.

The night also gives me a chance to catch up with a few people.  Some looked after children that I have had contact with, but also some of our LAC team at the County Council.

Congratulations to everyone in the Just Us group who organised the event.  As ever, they did themselves proud.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

School Visits

Last week I spent time at Alderman Jacobs School talking to the Head about the recent outstanding OFSTED inspection as well as visiting and talking about Safeguarding and Special Needs.

Yesterday I was at New Road School to record a short interview about Groomfields, the County Council's grounds maintenance contractor.

Yesterday I went to Neale Wade and had a conversation with the head about their issues and also had the opportunity to talk to some of the school parliament representatives about March and Neale Wade issues.  I always wonder what they think being dumped in front of a politician.  But they were really good and I left with a few ideas to discuss with the locality manager that could help what we do with young people in March.

Today I have been to Sir Harry Smith CC to discuss safeguarding and behavioural issues.

It is interesting that there are some similar themes emerging - the most important of which is probably concerns about future funding.  We are heading towards some very difficult times and there is some uncertainty about how this will impact on schools. Cambridgeshire schools are poorly funded (by the Government!), so any cuts are likely to have a disproportionate impact.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Sorry for smiling

There is an extraordinary letter in the Cambs Times this week which has something of a personal attack on me.    I am not convinced it is responsible journalism to print anonymous letters of that nature, but I’m a big boy and I can take it.  But it does deserve a response.

I seem to be criticised for:

a.   Smiling some time during the Tesco exhibition.  I must remember not to smile in future.  Actually - if that person had been watching properly, they would have also seen me asking a number of challenging questions to Tesco representatives about certain issues - mainly to do with highways.

b.  Going to a festival.  When I take holidays, one of the things I do is go to Rock Festivals, I make no apologies for that, being a big fan of hard rock music is part of who I am.  I have a right to be me.  This is the second time I have been criticised for taking a holiday, so here is an advanced warning - I am going to a rock festival in early December in Wales and another one next June in France.  Actually I plan these things well in advance and pay good money for them.  So being notified at short notice of a public exhibition doesn’t allow me to change those plans.

c.  Voting against the previous Station Road application.  Fair enough.  If some people think that I was wrong, so be it.  But I stand by my decision; I felt there were some serious short-comings about that application.   My understanding of the revised submission for the same site is that there has been some serious work done to try to deal with the problems raised.  Whether they are sufficient to overcome them I cannot comment on - I am not allowed to - but, if this application is approved (note the word if, this is not a statement of either opposition or support) - it will be all the better because of the previous refusal.

Planning is a complex matter.  We are governed by a number of National, Regional and local polices, arguably, the most important in this case is the Government’s Planning Policy Statement 6.  The decisions made at Planning Committee have to be decided based on those policies, but are also informed by local views.  However, if a decision is made that contravenes the policy framework, Fenland can be challenged either through appeal or through the Courts.  For that reason, whatever decisions are made at planning committee, have to have a solid policy foundation.  This is something that it is really difficult to get across, because the process undermines local democracy.  Indeed, Nationally, I have pushed the Conservative Party to change some of this after the General Election (which they have said they will do), but that doesn't change where we stand now and it is the current planning framework that has to inform any decision I make.  



One aspect of this is that I am not permitted to make up my mind until I have listened to the evidence at planning committee.  Any suggestion I have already made up my mind has no basis in fact.

Anti-Bullying Week

This week is Anti-Bullying Week.  So I thought I would link to the Connexions video about cyber-bullying that I mentioned a little while back.

http://www.youthoria.org/bullying

I would also like to pass on my thanks to the children from Bottisham and Soham Village Colleges who attended the Children and Young People's Scrutiny Committee at Shire Hall last week to talk about the work they were doing to deal with bullying and to give us their own views.  Hearing about issues like this from young people is so informative.

Bullying can have a huge impact on Young People's lives.  As adults we have a duty to treat it seriously.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Not JUNK at all

The marvellous traffic around Cambridge made me a little late tonight for a preview of a film made by JUNK Theatre Group called "WASTED" which was shown at the Cambridge Arts Theatre.  But I was lucky enough to see most of it and was hugely impressed.

The film is to be shown in Cambridgeshire schools as part of the PSHE curriculum, telling the story of a young girl and her friends in the events leading up to a road accident which results in one of the friends being critically injured.

JUNK Theatre group is an organisation for Cambridgeshire Young People and operates out of The Junction in Cambridge (which is also a great music venue btw).   Judging by the standard of acting in this film, they have a great deal to be proud of.  I am told there is a possibility of it being put online some time.  If it is I will link to it.

Donarbon Waste Treatment Facility


We had the meeting between the County Council Cabinet and the Senior Management team at the new Donarbon  Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) facility yesterday.  It is quite something.  The idea of the site is to take the waste out of our non-recyclables bin (the green one in Fenland!!) and extract as much as possible from there to minimise what we send to landfill.


It does not fulfill the role of getting rid of our recycling bins because the value of the recyclable material from there is nowhere near as good as what we get from a recycling bin, but it will really help us to move forwards and make sure we improve the level of recycling - which is important because it will minimise the amount the County has to pay in increasingly costly landfill taxes.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Remembrance Sunday in Whittlesey


Remembrance Sunday is very important to me.  Those of you that know my background will understand why.  I was brought up as the son of a soldier, my father served 37 years.  I was born in Aden during the conflict there, and also served 6 years in the Army.  My 3 brothers also served, including in Iraq and the Falklands (where one of my brothers was on HMS Antelope).

This year is even more poignant for me, because a number of Ammunition Technicians have been amongst the casualties in Afghanistan - and that was my profession as a soldier.

Whittlesey always does itself proud on Remembrance day and today was absolutely no exception.  As well as being greeted by lovely weather, we were met by a huge crowd at the market square when we reached it today.  Once again there were loads of wreaths and crosses laid and the behaviour during the minutes silence was exceptional.

Remembering the victims of war is so important, it is heartening to see that recognised by so many people in the Town.  Congratulations and thanks to everyone who organised and took part especially to the Royal British Legion and the Ivy Leaf club who hosted us before and after the parade.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Sometimes I'm nosey

Last week I went to Huntingdon to be nosey in and around Connexions where there were some Young People filming for a DVD about cyber-bullying.  Once again some great young people involved, all of whom go to Stageworks in Buckden.  It was interesting, not only to see the acting, but to develop my understanding of cyber-bullying and to meet such interesting young people (as well as the Connexions staff who were there).

I really don't think us old 'uns understand issues like this enough.   The difference between this and the bullying that we experienced and understood is that you can never turn off from it.  The idea that you don't want to turn on your computer or mobile for fear of what might be on it is something we should all understand.

I also went to the Youth Fair in Whittlesey.  Again it was a pleasure to be there. I met one organisation Stonham, that I hadn't dealt with before but also chatted to a number of people and organisations that provide support to Whittlesey. It was interesting to see Drinksense there, and then to see them at the Scaldgate Centre on Friday night showing some videos to some of our young people.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Ofsted Report on Safeguarding and Looked After Children

The Ofsted Report on Looked After Children and Safeguarding was published last Friday.


This followed a two week inspection of our services.   The report can be found here.


I could go on for ages about the report, but my comments are out in the public domain anyway, so you are just as well reading my views on the BBC website.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Visit to New Road and Whittlesey Locality Team

On Friday I had the privilege of visiting New Road School.  It is not in my County Council Division, but I asked to visit anyway.  I'm glad I did it, it is was really useful to talk about education from a Whittlesey perspective, but also to ssee the confident young people that were in their classrooms.   you always know you're on to a winner when the children are coming up to you in the classroom and showing off their work and it happened a couple of times with me in New Road School.

After I had been their I popped in to have a chat with the locality team in Whittlesey, who are located in the same building and also to have a bit of a nose around our Children's Centre.  It was a good chance to chat over a cup of tea and see how things are going.  The one thing I am always impressed with in our locality teams is commitment to their areas, and this is definitely true of the Whittlesey team.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Making Cambridgeshire Count

I spent the day today at the launch seminar for Making Cambridgeshire Count.

The idea of this initiative is to make sure that we are fully aware of how all the taxpayers money that is spent in Cambridgeshire and to provide focus so that we can make sure that we eliminate waste and duplication and make sure we are as streamlined and efficient as we can be.  there was a great deal of high level representation there, oincluding from all of the Councils across the County, the police, the Fire Service and the NHS.

One of the things I like about MCC is that it is totally driven from within the County.  So, although we have got external funding to run the programme, we are helping to work towards our own destiny.

As we move towards an agenda where we are facing cuts which are estimated between 20% and 35% - this sort of initiative is going to be essential if we are to improve the services we offer.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Supermarkets

We had a petition presented at Full Council today by a Fenland Lib Dem activist. Basically, it was in support of a supermarket in Chatteris, and he used the fact that the planning committee had turned down such an application in Chatteris as part of his case.

The truth is that, whilst the planning committee did indeed turned down applications for supermarkets in both Whittlesey and Chatteris, there was a very clear message sent at the same time that supermarkets were needed, but that the detail of the applications were not acceptable.

In the case of the Chatteris situation. I suspect that a petition suggesting that a supermarket with pedestrian access over the A141was needed would not have got anywhere near as many signatures!! That was the application that was in front of the planning committee.

A new application has come forward for Whittlesey recently, and I am fairly sure that one will come forward for Chatteris too. But, a yes decision should not be made simply because it is a supermarket, we should be looking at whatever comes forward and only saying yes if the planning issues are acceptable.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Tough Planning Decisions

It was my casting vote today that was responsible for the application for a homeless Hostel in Wisbech (on the site of the Queens Hotel) being approved. I suspect my name is mud amongst some, so I thought I would write an unusually long blog post to explain my motives.

Prior to committee I had decided that I would vote with the main committee rather than abstain and reserve my vote simply for a Chairman’s casting vote (which is what I normally do). I have said before that I would do this where I felt strongly about an application; it is something that, on occasion, I have done in the past. The nature of the previous debate and the huge press furore was what made up my mind to do this yesterday. I felt that, for such a sensitive, controversial and important application, the Chairman of the committee should stand up and be counted, in whatever direction - I cannot recall a decision of such controversy over recent years. That was my decision and one that I did not discuss with anyone prior to the committee meeting. As it happens I ended up voting in favour and then making a casting vote to support.

Whilst I understand some of the concerns that were expressed on the day, the debate today was not about revisiting a Cabinet policy decision to support the Ferry Project (who will run the hostel), it was about deciding whether this particular scheme was acceptable in planning terms. Part of my role as Chairman is to ensure that crucial aspects of that debate are brought out.

The first issue is conservation. The most important aspect of the building is the frontage and the interior. The major change was a conservatory/function room at the rear. I raised this issue about the important Conservation issues as part of the debate to allow challenge. But English Heritage had supported the application in writing and the Wisbech Society were broadly supportive when they spoke. In my view there was not sufficient argument to challenge the comment that the conservatory was not in a vital area in Conservation terms. There was some concern expressed by one speaker about the need for a lift in the interior but, to be fair, there are very few uses to which this building could be put that would not require a lift.

The next question is whether this building was suitable for the sort of mixed use proposed - especially given its location. There are a number of examples around the country where similar schemes operate in historic buildings in sensitive areas, Dartmouth, St Martin’s in the Field (Trafalgar Square) are a couple (but there are more). So, I felt someone would need to demonstrate why this location differed, why what was acceptable elsewhere was not acceptable on the Queens Hotel site - another point that I raised because I felt it was critical to the discussion. It is not enough just to say not here, the debate, in my view, needed to be about why this was unique compared to elsewhere. If there had been enough robust planning based challenge to that comment, it almost certainly would have made me vote differently because I felt this was the critical aspect of the debate. In my view that evidence was not offered at committee so, again, it was quite clear in my mind that the presumption was in favour.

Thirdly, there was an issue about the fear of anti-social behaviour. There was a great deal of evidence about problems with Mill Road, (the Ferry Project’s current location in Wisbech). But there was also evidence put forward that many reasons for this were because of the unsuitable nature of those premises, something that would be addressed by the use of this location. Furthermore, it was confirmed that the main entrance for residents of the hostel would be from the rear of the property - thus minimising problems at the front. Coupled with this, there will be a robust behaviour policy and Fenland and the police will have representation through the management board. Therefore I felt that the weight of evidence was in favour; especially given that the project is to be put forward for “Secured by Design” accreditation.

There were a number of other issues raised, one was the weight of opposition in an online newspaper survey, which had suggested that 87% were against the application. I am afraid I, personally, cannot offer that significant weight. Those surveys are great for creating news headlines, but it is easy to fix online surveys like this; by one individual voting on a number of computers, or by deleting cookies and re-voting. Secondly, letters to the authority have reasons for opposition on them - which allows weight to be given, not just to the number of letters, but also the nature of any opposition or support. Thirdly, whilst 87% was mentioned, there was no mention of exactly how many votes made up that 87%. For that reason I chose to give weight to representations to the authority, and again, in this instance, I felt there was a slight weight of evidence in favour.

I hope, this explains why I voted like I did, and indeed why I voted. It would have been easy for me to sit on my hands and watch a vital decision for Fenland go either way and then say “Not me guv - I didn’t vote”. I chose to do what I thought was right. I can say quite categorically that if I had considered that the weight of evidence had been against the application I would have voted against.

The rules around planning are such that it is permissible to enter a planning meeting with a predisposed view (“I think I will vote this way, but we’ll see), it is not permissible to enter with a predetermined view (I will definitely vote this way, whatever is said). I was definitely in the former camp not the latter, but in my view the crucial issues at the debate fell in favour.

I should add, it is up to planning committee members to come to their own independent decisions and I respect the views of all of the committee. This just explains my own thinking and is, in no way, a criticism of others.

I now look forward to this hostel opening, and being an asset to Wisbech and Fenland as well as helping some very vulnerable people to develop and improve their lives. We should be in no doubt that this is the intention of both Fenland and of the Ferry Project.

Aside from that decision, it was a tough meeting today, with a number of challenging issues. From a local perspective, an application in Market Street in Whittlesey was refused because the flats above the shop were considered to be over intensive. A tough decision this, but a good debate was had and, on balance, I think the right decision was made. Of course, the applicant now has the right to either appeal to the Planning Inspectorate or resubmit a revised application.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Ride for Ryder

My photograph is in the Evening Telegraph tonight as a result of taking part in the Ride for Ryder event in Peterborough yesterday. I can't link to it because I can't find the information on line.

But basically it was a cycle ride to raise funds for Thorpe Hall. Myself and Angela, also included in the photograph) chose to do the 55 mile route which ran to the north of Stamford, across toRutland Water and then south and East back to Thorpe Hall. The course was fantastic, we really enjoyed it (despite going the wrong way twice). I was a bit tired last night, but it was worth it.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Building Design Awards

One of my tasks last week was to attend the launch of Fenland's Building Design Awards which are sponsored by the Cambs Times and the Wisbech Standard. The event was held at the home of last year's winners who live near Welney and have an extension to their home with a spectacular platform at the top offering an amazing view of the Fens. What interested me was that everything about the building suggests it would be imposing. It says something for the design that it really can't be seen until you are right on top of it (which is my excuse for being late!!)

I'm a big fan of the Building Design Awards. Planning is a difficult process, one that inevitably creates bad publicity because the decisions are often controversial and inevitably upset either opponents of schemes or supporters. So to hold an event that shows positive outcomes of the planning process has to be a good thing.

Election Count in North East Cambridgeshire

The Cambs Times is reporting today that North East Cambridgeshire's election count will still be carried out on election night and not the day after - a change that other authorities have made.

I wrote Geoffrey Harper about this a few weeks back and I am delighted the response has been the right one. There is something very special about General Election night and we ruin that at our peril.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Stroking my own ego

This is very helpful the week before an OFSTED inspection of Children's Services. It is an extract from an article in "Children and young People Now" magazine:

"Out of 10 lead members for children's services contacted by CYP Now, five were unaware of what ContactPoint is or where they stand on the debate.

Shelagh Hutson, Conservative lead at Norfolk County Council, conceded she knew nothing about the database. Sheila Scott, Conservative lead in Peterborough, said she was unfamiliar with the term ContactPoint.

Tower Hamlets' Labour lead for children's services, Abdul Asad, said he would have to get information on the issue as he had "been away" and Labour lead in Bolton, Ebrahim Adia, said he would have to "go away and think about it".

Glynis Vince, an independent in Enfield, said she was unable to keep track of everything in her portfolio.

Five other lead members, covering Barnsley, Hartlepool, Portsmouth, Cambridgeshire and Darlington were able to outline their position on the debate."

It is nice to get confirmation that I know the issues in Children's Services in Cambridgeshire. To be fair, I spend as much time as I can visiting and asking questions to make sure I am informed, and I only had a very quick conversation with CYP Now about the civil liberties issues involved with contact point.

And to be fair to other Lead Members. There are many, many issues involved with the portfolio and Contact Point is not one they can necessarily influence because it is a National initiative.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Cambridgeshire Regiment Memorial


We had our Town Council meeting last night. At the start of the meeting we had a short presentation from the Cambridgeshire Regiment about their plans for a memorial showing the history of the regiment at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

They are trying to raise funds and I understand are talking to Town and Parish Councillors across the County. We will be considering a bid for funding round about April next year.

Personally, I hope we can support it, it is important we do everything we can to keep the memory of the Regiment alive.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Planning Summer School

I am off to Exeter this weekend to the Planning Summer School. It is a chance to get an external view of planning, see where National policy is heading and to discuss areas where we can improve planning in Fenland.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Celebrating achievements

Today is a day where I absolutely love what I do. This evening I went to an event to congratulate two of our Looked After Children who were successful in the interviews for Jamie Oliver's Fifteen restaurant.

I spent some time chatting to Marc and he is really something. He really was extremely focused and determined - as well as enjoying himself. Part of my job as Lead Member for Children is to be a champion to our young people, to make sure people are aware of how good they really are. With guys like Marc around it is really easy.

I wish him every success when he starts in London next week, I am sure he will do himself proud.

I should also say that our sixteen plus team in Cambridgeshire deserve recognition for the work they have done in supporting our people through the application process for Fifteen.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Meetings, Meetings, Meetings

I did my interview with BBC Radio Cambridgeshire this morning about Social Worker recruitment. It was the first time I have done a live interview in the studio. I actually preferred it to doing telephone interviews. I hope I got the message across that we need to value the Social Work profession.

The Cambridge Breakfast Show for today is available here (you probably need to sign up to the iPlayer to listen). The interview is about 40 minutes in.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Pavement - Eastrea Road

To those of you who have commented to me about the state of the pavement on Eastrea Road between Cemetery Road and Sir Harry Smith, it has been reported and I am awaiting an update. I have filmed this quickly just to provide a reminder as to how bad it is.
video

I will update when I know anything.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Radio Interview on Tuesday

I have just agreed to do an interview on Tuesday about recruitment of social workers. I am looking forward to it, it gives me a chance to say good things about social workers - something that doesn't happen enough.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Congratulations again

I have always tried to keep out of the debate about how many got XXXX at GCSE this time of year. It does nothing for the students whose personal results are so important. Ask me that question in a couple of months. Both of my children out performed me in their GCSEs (I did GCE's) - but both of them worked twice as hard as me - and we ignore and undermine that effort at our peril.

I would just like to congratulate everyone who has worked hard to achieve their results, as well as the teachers and parents who have supported them.


Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Planning Committee

Interesting planning committee today. Two compromise decisions, reducing a temporary use of a Silver Street from the recommended 6 months down to 3 (with the agreement of Anglian Water), and a change to allow some details for the new Anker's site in Eldernell Lane that would normally need to be submitted prior to beginning work on site to allowing them to be provided within two months of commencement of work (may have been 3).

We also deferred one application for a month so that we could discuss some details at committee with a Highways Officer. Planning is often difficult because you almost always make someone unhappy - but I think these were good decisions.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Help the Heroes Day at the Brickies

I have just had a call from The Bricklayers Arms in Whittlesey (one of my occasional watering holes). They have a "Help for Heroes" day on 12th September. I have agreed to turn up at some point - although I will have to behave because I am running a half marathon the day after.

I am from an Army family and served six years myself. I think Help for Heroes is a fantastic charity, Please go along if you can and provide some support.

Congratulations to Sir Harry Smith 6th Form

Congratulations to the 6th Form students at Sir Harry's, I am hearing about some great AS and A Level results today.

We should also recognise the effort teachers make at Sir Harry, we have some fantastic teachers who bust a gut to get the best out of our young people.

I am a proud dad again today.

UPDATE:

The Cambs Times Website has an article about results here. There are also reports from other Fenland Schools on their website and again it looks like really good results.


Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Whittlesey and the Fens featured in Country Walking

There is a lovely article about walking in the Whittlesey area in this month's Country Walking Magazine. Although it focuses mostly on Holme Fen, Whittlesey does get a few mentions and there is a great photo of the writer walking along Briggate.

The most important thing is the descriptions of the Fenland Landscape:

"They may be flat, man-made, featureless and agro-industrial, but they are also exceptional lands of vast horizons and thrilling skies"

It is great to see the Fens getting that sort of recognition. Our landscapes are exceptional and we should keep reminding the world of that.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Tesco interest in Whittlesey

The fact that Tesco are looking to develop a store in Whittlesey to the North of the New Queen Street Surgery has finally been made public. It makes life quite interesting, there are now two potential supermarket sites in the Town. They are quite different applications which potentially offer different benefits. I obviously cannot comment on what the final planning decision will be.

It is worth stressing that, despite rumours to the contrary, if this site is developed we will not end up without a Fire Station - Tesco have pledged to build a new one.

It is sad that this is announced at the same time that Costmill announce that they are to close. Costmill have been around for as long as I can remember and there are things about it that are unique - such as that it is the only place I know where you can still buy individual screws.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Cycle Path Resurfacing

I ran along the cycle path today as part of the training for my Half Marathons in September/October. It looks like the surface on the stretch of road between Stonald Road and the new football pitches is being hard surfaced. I know this was part of the planning conditions for the football pitches and creates another community benefit from what is a great project from Whittlesey United.

This now means that there is only one short stretch between Whittlesey and Peterborough that won't be hard surfaced. I feel an email to Sustrans coming along.

I have said it before, but it is worth repeating. It is now quicker to cycle into Peterborough than it is to catch the bus - and the cycle along the back of the brickyards and the river bank is an absolute pleasure. I even managed to enjoy watching a heron today while I was running.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Flooding

Thought some of you might be interested in this post by Steve Barclay, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for North East Cambridgeshire, about flooding. I have had discussions with him and fellow Councillor Kay Mayor as well as with officers at Fenland over the last few days.

Cambs Times - Wacken

Nice to see my blog makes the Cambs Times this week.

Not too disappointed with the article. The one piece of clarity that needs to be in there (and the Cambs Times didn't know this bit) is that I would have been at last month's Planning Committee if my flights hadn't been changed. I originally wanted to travel out on the Wednesday evening. I hope nobody begrudges me a holiday (in fact it is the first planning committee I have missed this year).

The self imposed quarantine was because of a sore throat - I wanted to make sure that it was only that and nothing worse (which it was).

They also don't do Wacken justice, it is a great festival. I could write for hours about its uniqueness and how it would never happen that way in Britain - but I'm sure you have better things to do.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

First Aid Training for our Young People

I popped in to the Scaldgate Youth Centre today to chat to Rebecca Hoy, our (relatively) new Youth Worker to talk about where we were in Whittlesey. Actually things have improved lately, especially as far as Friday night provision goes with sessions now being held both at the Manor and at the Youth Centre.

I also had a nose at some First Aid training that was going on with some of our Young People. It was quite refreshing to see 22 young people taking part. I managed to have a chat with a few of them, and they seemed to be having a good time as well as learning something.

Thanks to all who made this happen.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Lib Dems up to their old tricks

The Lib Dems are up to their usual tricks again. They made some sort of statement about calling for the Conservatives to look for funding to reopen the Bramley Line from March to Wisbech. I won't link to it because they don't merit it.

There is nothing wrong with the Bramley Line proposal, just that Conservatives have been examining it and looking at options for a long time, for the Lib Dems to then leap in and call for this is just jumping on the bandwagon for the sake of it.

This is the sort of stuff they do all the time, and it is why I have no time for them.

Soot Deposits

I am in self imposed quarantine today because of what I hope is just a sore throat. But I have been making a few phone calls. One of which is to the Environment Agency about complaints of soot deposits over the weekend.

I noticed a "taste" in the air when I was out running on Sunday, and then had complaints about soot on Monday - so I have followed up with the Environment Agency. If anything comes of it, I will update.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Neighbourhood Forum

I went to the Whittlesey Neighbourhood Forum last night.

They are always interesting and often challenging. But they do bring issues to light and it is always there to gauge opinion and listen to what is said.

It was nice to see that one of the priorities for the police was to focus on the parking problems outside of our schools. (I know schools are closed - but the priorities are set for three months).

The stars of the show last night were four youngsters who spoke about the need to expand our skate park - because of its success. Whether this can happen or not I don't know - but it is worth examining, but hats off to those young people. It must be really daunting to talk to an audience that, before they spoke to us,they had heard get quite animated and loud at times (no problem with a bit of passion), but despite this they were articulated and enthusiastic, if a but nervous.

We do have great Young People in Whittlesey.



Thursday, 6 August 2009

Ofsted unannounced inspection - Hunts and Fenland

The Ofsted report on the unannounced inspection of Children's Services in Hunts and Fenland was published today. A link to the report is here.

I have had concerns about Ofsted in the past - especially the outrageous report on Fenland Junction. But actually I think they got this right. The report is fair, recognises both strengths and weaknesses, but contained some areas for priority, largely based around recruitment and retention and capacity. We have focused a great deal on this area recently and have made in-roads - and the additional resources we have put in is mentioned in the strengths.

So we have reduced the number of vacancies - its just that not all are in post yet and, to be fair, recruitment and retention is an issue Nationally.

The most important phrase in the document, IMHO, is:

"The response to referrals of children at risk of significant harm is timely and appropriate, which helps children to remain safe. "

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Wisbech Park Adventure Playground

There is an event/exhibition on Saturday (8th August) all to do with the proposed (and potentially exciting) adventure playground in The Spinney at Waterlees. A link with more detail is here.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Looked After Children

One of my favourite meetings is our Children In Care Council in Cambridgeshire. They are representatives of our Looked After Children and they meet on a regular basis with me, Gordon Jeyes (Director of Children's Services) and senior officers.

They are a great bunch, who are not afraid to challenge and not afraid to tell you what you think. It is the sort of engagement with young people we need and they are genuinely aware of what the real needs of young people, such as boundaries and the need to learn and understand respect as well as how to improve the lives of Looked After Children.

We had a great meeting where we discussed a web project for them and some ideas to set down some principles of how it should be for Children in Care. It confirmed some of my own thoughts and taught me a few things.

So I should say just here to those involved (who I obviously can't name). 1. Thanks very much and I hope it's worth it and 2. Sorry for being late!!

Monday, 27 July 2009

Off to Germany

There will be a lack of posts this week. I am off to Germany at the Wacken Open Air festival.

As ever I will have my Blackberry with me and will be doing some work. But mostly I will be drinking Pils, eating Bratwursts and listening to some great music.

One big advantage of European festivals is that they have music on until 3am. Our archaic licencing laws mean that our over-priced festivals stop music at 11pm.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

London to Cambridge on a bike

Had a great time today doing the London to Cambridge bike ride. A great event. 56 miles of pleasure and 4 miles of pain (I found the stretch between 6 and 2 miles to go quite tough).

The event was incredibly well organised. It was a pleasure to cross the finishing line and see the students from Comberton Village College doing their samba stuff again (they performed for Seb Coe earlier in the week).

I was too tired to say anything to them. I toddled off for a beer instead.

Apparently I am being lined up for an 89 miler next!!!

Friday, 24 July 2009

Olympics Again

Have been to an olympics seminar today. Another very, very interesting event, that generated alot of thoughts and ideas about things we can do in Cambridgeshire. That said we are doing a pretty good job, and our programme for this weekend's Olympics open weekend is pretty good. If anyone gets a chance, please pop along to an event. I will be taking a look around Cambridge on Sunday, after I have finished the London to Cambridge bike ride.

I also got the news today that 1 in 5 Cambridgeshire schools have now signed up to the Olympics "Get Set" programme. I am really pleased with that, it is a programme that has a great deal of potential and I have been trying to promote it on my school visits. I haven't seen the detail of this numbers yet, but it certainly looks like good news.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Cambridgeshire Together

As well as a number of conversations and emails about Bassenhally Farm/Feldale Field reinforcing my wish for the exhibition to take place at a better time, I went to the Cambridgeshire Together meeting. CT is a body that pulls in all of the public services in Cambridgeshire into a single entity, creating a joined up approach to delivering services to Cambridgeshire. It is quite a bureaucratic set up which can be frustrating, but the intent is certainly right.

We had a discussion about the withdrawal of Housing Growth Fund funding. The strength of the animosity about this cannot be underestimated.

My main role at the meeting was to talk about the development of the Children's Trust, which is a new statutory board with a similar role as Cambridgeshire Together, but dedicated to Children's issues. My main concern about the Trust is that the expectations placed upon it are huge, and it may distract attention away from those with the genuine responsibility on the ground - but a joined up approach, if it can be made to work, must have a benefit for safeguarding children (which has to be our priority).

I spent ages examining my navel trying to see if there was a solution that was a bit simpler, but I eventually realised that "complicated but works" was the only way. Our officers have done a great job, along with the working party I have been part of, in putting, what I hope is our final structure, together.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Feldale Field Mk2

The Cambs Times article is here

Apparently the development is for 500 homes, a nursing home, shops etc.

The public exhibition is to be held on Tuesday 28th July from 2pm until 7pm at the Ivy Leaf Club.

Whilst I cannot comment on the merits of the application, I will say that I think giving less than one week's notice for an application involving a development that has such huge implications for Whittlesey is totally unacceptable. I have emailed Larkfleet Homes and requested that they rearrange the date so that residents can be given more notice and so it can be held outside of the holiday period.

It is much to my regret that I cannot attend because of a trip to Germany, but I would please urge everyone to attend and make their views known.

You can let me know what you think here.

Housing Growth Fund

One other aspect of yesterday's full Council meeting was an emergency motion about the Government's decision to withdraw half of Cambridgeshire's Housing Growth Fund from £13.8m to £7.8m. It seems they have diverted this funding to Labour areas.

Cambridgeshire is supposed to be going through a huge process of growth, but it now seems that we will not get the infrsastrucure needed to support it. This will impact all of Fenland and is yet another huge betrayal to sit alongside the COWA debacle.

It is a shame that the Labour Group (albeit there are only two of them) could not support the motion, the implications of that for the next year of the Council are worrying. I hope it does not suggest a change from the position pre-election where they always supported the needs of Cambridgeshire.

The Cambs Times article is here.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Feldale Field

I was advised by the Peterborough Evening Telegraph today that Larkfleet Homes will be shortly holding a public exhibition about a proposed development of 500 homes on Feldale Fields (aka Bassenhally Farm).

I cannot make a comment about the merits of the application because of my role as Chairman of Planning, but I would strongly urge everyone in Whittlesey to attend and make their views known. There are potentially huge implications for this development -you need to decide whether the implications are good or bad for the Town and make your opinions known.

I will publish more detail when I have it.

I am keen to get some leaflets out around Whittlesey urging people to attend the exhibition - if you would be interested in helping to put these out, please contact me

Missing the Point

The Lib Dems were up to their normal tricks again today.

For the second month on the trot they had a motion at Full Council about our Policy Development Groups, arguing that they should be held in public.

There is not an organisation in the world that does not have some sort of private meeting to discuss policy - indeed there are Lib Dem Councillors who sit on public boards that meet in private. The argument is a cheap attempt to score points, nothing more, nothing less. It is to our credit as a Conservative Group, that we have PDGs to allow them to input into the debate. Making them public would inhibit many of the suggestions and comments that need to be thrown into the melting pot, because Councillors would be fearful of press and voter reaction. Of course, all our policies are decided in public and opposition can have their say, through Scrutiny Committees, by speaking at Cabinet, or voting in Full Council. Our major policies go through huge consultation exercises.

Because they have lost the argument, the Lib Dems have thrown their toys out of the cot and have decided not to take part in PDGs. I presume this means the Lib Dems Nationally are intending to walk out of Parliament because they are not using Proportional Representation!

One of their Councillors had the nerve to stand up and suggest that this episode showed that the Conservatives hadn't learned from the expenses scandal. Strange that, they have withdrawn from a fairly large portion of their workload and, to my knowledge, have not yet requested a reduction in their allowances.

Seb Coe at Comberton VC




My role as Olympics Champion forced me to interrupt the Full Council meeting today to visit Comberton Village College who were hosting Lord Coe, in his capacity as Chairman of the London Olympic Games Organising Committee.

Seb Coe was an absolute star, answering questions and giving some great speeches to a couple of assemblies. He is a perfect example of a positive role model. He is a winner in everything he does. (oh - and he used to be a Conservative MP).

I also take my hat off to Comberton Village College, who are doing great things with the olympics - something that will undoubtedly benefit their students.

The visit was a real pleasure.