Sunday 28 February 2010

I predict a flood

I noticed a severe weather warning had been issued today for the North Bank and I have just run to Peterborugh and back along the embankment and it is looking like it is as close to flooding as it could be.

I know what a pain in the neck the trip to Peterborough can be when the North Bank is closed - and I have asked for a Highways Officer to come out and take a look for himself to see the problem first hand - but please, please obey the signs.  Taking a chance risks all sorts of tough outcomes.  It may be that your car would get through (but it may not), but how would you feel if someone followed you through and got stuck?

Thursday 25 February 2010

Lib Dems - twisting the truth

We recently had a call in by a number of Liberal Democrat Councillors about a decision to support the Governing bodies of Longsands and St Neots Community College who chose to look at a Federation to merge the two schools to help deal with St Neots being in special measures.

In proper English.  The Liberal Democrats questioned the Cabinet decision to support proposals for the schools to work closer together and thought we should have paid more attention to the Government's preferred solution.

Part of what they said had a point.  The Cabinet paper didn't pay enough attention to the other option.  That doesn't mean it wasn't considered, it was; there is a huge amount of work done before papers go to Cabinet and discussions and consideration of options took place then.  Rather than manufacture a political furore and create uncertainty amongst the Governing bodies, it would have been far more appropriate for them to have a private meeting with officers at the Council, which would have allayed their concerns - but their was no political mileage in that so they chose to go for the most expensive, most time-consuming and the one that caused most undertainty for the schools and the community.   That's the Liberal Democrats for you.

It was very clear through the meeting that the options had been well considered, that both schools were absolute behind the proposal to federate and that the reasons for not going with the Government's agenda were very clear.  The only thing the Liberal Democrats have to hang a hat on is that this is an untried solution (but so is the Government solution of a National Challenge Trust - and that did not have the support for the schools).

At one point in the debate, one of the Head Teachers at the meeting made this point - that the reasons were very well thought out and were sound, but that it was a "leap of faith" because it hadn't been tried before.  Councillor Peter Downes, the Lib Dem spokesperson for schools then chose to take that remark totally out of context in order to exaggerate the risk.  That may have been unintentional, but that's the way it looked - so I took him to task over the way he had taken those words out of context.  "Sorted", I thought.  Except shortly afterwards a  leaflet has been distributed by the Lib Dems doing exactly the same thing - taking the phrase "leap of faith" totally out of context. 

Peter Downes is a retired ex-Head Teacher, something he chooses to point out at appropriate times, yet when it comes to a serious education debate he could not use that experience to find anything wrong with the decision so, instead, chooses to take a Head Teacher's words out of context to make political capital.

This is a fairly typical example of Lib Dem behaviour.  People will get leaflets from them making what seems perfectly reasonable statements, but beneath them is often a maze of maipulation.   We have a number of elections coming up soon - just remember this when you come to vote.

Wednesday 24 February 2010

Cambs Times

My resignation has hit the Cambs Times.   Given that they have taken quotes almost directly from my blog post, you would have thought it was due a mention, but actually they have covered it pretty well:

Thursday 18 February 2010

My Resignation as Chairman of Planning

I submitted my resignation as chairman of Planning at Fenland today.

It was not a decision that I took lightly, but I have a number of really important things coming up - such as the need to focus on finishing my degree (I have four months left), the general election and my role at County Council which is going to take up increasing amounts of time.  

In light of this I did not feel I could give sufficient time to a number of serious planning issues that are on the near horizon.  Bearing in mind the new leader at Fenland’s wish that he did not want Councillors having responsibilities at Fenland when they have major roles at County, I felt that the best decision was to go now so he could appoint a new Chairman sooner rather than later.

Please don’t read anything else into my decision - these are the reasons.

I am very proud of my record over the past six years.   Planning committees need a chairman who is robust and I believe, when it has been needed, I have been exactly that, but when it has been needed I have also been robust and challenging behind the scenes.  My approach has seen an increase in performance, a user satisfaction rating of 70% and increasingly higher quality presentations at committee - something that has aided decision making.

I am also proud of the role I played in initiating the Fenland Design awards, which recognises the many positive aspects of planning which often gets lost amongst the controversy which inevitably fills up most of the media time with planning.

I am sure that there are those who will challenge these commetns - largely because they haven't liked particular decisions, or my role in those decisions and I respect that - it is an inevitable aspect of planning.  It is a system that can be hard on a Councillor, almost every decision has a loser and that means, inevitably, that people do get upset - something that goes against the grain.  

That has been made all the worse as the Government has become all the more controlling - where the rules that have to be followed become all the more uncomfortable, but where defying those rules does not change the outcome, but gives false hope, delays the inevitable and potentially adds significant cost to the Council.

I have always tried to provide guidance based on that thinking - something that has not been easy and has meant that, at times, I have had to be tough (but actually any Councillor worth his salt has to be tough at times).  

That said, I increasingly look forward to the post-election scenario;  the Conservatives have pledged to get rid of the top-down approach to planning, in particular I look forward to garden grabbing becomes a thing of the past and to the power of the Planning Inspectorate being reduced.

One benefit of standing down as Chairman is that I will not have the limitations placed on me when discussing planning issues, it means I will be freer to speak my mind on particular applications, and I will.