Friday 31 August 2012

A Night of Rock and Metal - Quinns 15th September

Those that know me, are fully aware of my awesome musical taste.  So, of course I am interested in this.  But,more importantly, the two young lads who have organised it deserve huge, huge credit. Please attend.

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Sainsbury win the day

What an interesting experience today was.  The more I sat in the audience, the more I realised that, for this meeting, I belonged there rather than on the committee.   I would really have struggled to remain objective through that meeting.

Anyway Sainsbury won the day today, after numerous hours of people presenting evidence and lots of arguments on both sides. So we have a decision to develop a country park, a new Sainsbury and a business park along Eastrea Road, the Tesco application along Eastrea Road was refused.

I would add a word of caution, even though I believe a strong and robust decision was made today (and thanks to the planning committee for that) there are still the possibilities of either an appeal or a judicial review of the decisions.

I hope that doesn’t happen.  It became quite clear today that Tesco have totally failed to endear themselves to Whittlesey people.  Whoever made the decision to flypost “support Tesco” posters around Town when there are already comments about bullying and monopolisation being made seriously needs to ask themselves some questions.   I made the point at the start of the meeting today that you do not endear yourselves to Whittlesey people by spoiling our Town in this way.

Whenever I presented today, I tried to be objective, giving the planning committee good, solid planning issues to think about, rather than just going for a “support Sainsbury” mantra.

I did go for a quick beer with the Sainsbury Team today after the meeting.  A chance for me to chat to them and get their views about the day, about the way forward as well as to give them a few ideas about the hopper bus. I stress this was after the event, not before, but I did enjoy it.

Whist it was clear to me that I was on the right side of the table today, I want to add a word of support for the planning committee.  Planning is really, really tough at times; I have had to make decisions in the past that have flown in the face of public opinion because it was clear to me that the planning evidence meant it was the right thing to do.  People should understand that to make or support an unpopular proposition on planning can be a real sign of personal strength. I would also add that it is just as tough for members of the public to sit at committee and speak against popular opinion, and is an act that should be respected.

I also want to put in a word for Cllr Dee Laws who spoke on behalf of Whittlesey Town Council and did a great job of representing the views of the Town.

I have now agreed to join the friends of the country park group for Sainsbury, and I hope we can  look forward to common sense prevailing and a country park and Sainsbury store being delivered to serve our Town as soon as as possible.

Monday 27 August 2012

Whittlesey Supermarkets - The Sequential Test

One of the critical aspects of the decision on Wednesday is what is called the sequential test.   This is, basically, an assessment of sites for retail development that is required under the National Planning Policy Framework and was a crucial part of PPS4, which is the policy predecessor of the NPPF for retail sites.   It is important people understand that the sequential test is there to protect town centres, and there is some evidence that it has had some success in that.

The sequential test is about finding the best location for supermarkets, it requires that developers and policies look at town centre locations first, edge of town next and then locations out of town.

As far as Whittlesey is concerned, the only potential edge of centre location was the Syers Lane site – which was refused planning permission, and it is difficult to see how the issues which were used to refuse permission could be overcome (although the decision was, surprisingly, never tested at appeal).  So when the Sainsbury and Tesco supermarkets along Eastrea Road came forward (let’s ignore Station Road for now!!) an assessment would have been needed around the sequential test.

In the current situation, it seems that the Tesco site along Eastrea Road passes the sequential test, whilst the Sainsbury site fails; this is where I am struggling a bit.  The access to these two sites is from virtually the same point on the A605.  Having re-examined the plans this afternoon I realised that, because of the way the two schemes are laid out there is a difference of about 70m between the pedestrian accesses for Sainsbury and Tesco (this is crudely measured – but effectively, the distance from Cemetery Road roundabout to the front door of the proposed Tesco is about 1.36km via the pedestrian route, and for Sainsbury it is 1.43km).  That is based on the access plans submitted by Tesco – if the Larkfleet access is used then Tesco will be slightly further away than that 1.36km (as I said this is very crudely measured – but whatever the detailed measurements, the difference is minimal).

Whilst I have always said that the impact on the Town Centre is important, I am struggling to see how that difference of just 70m makes any meaningful difference. Then think about the benefits I talked about yesterday and about how Sainsbury and the Country Park could draw people into the Town with the right sort of link advertising and a package to encourage Town Centre shopping (which they are offering).  From what I can see it is only Sainsbury that are offering a half hourly bus service from Whittlesey Town Centre to their store – that in itself will provide an incentive for people to visit the Town Centre on their way to shopping at Sainsbury.  Which do you think is more important – 70metres, or a better package to protect the Town Centre?

Here is what Para 27 of the National Planning Policy Framework says about the sequential test:  “When considering edge of centre and out of centre proposals, preference should be given to accessible sites that are well connected to the town centre.  Applicants and local planning authorities should demonstrate flexibility on issues such as format an scale”

The more I look at these two proposed sites the more the recommendation about the sequential test confuse me; the requirement for the test is laid out under a section of the NPPF called “ensuring the vitality of town centres”. In my opinion, the question that needs to be asked on Wednesday, is which of the applications is most likely to ensure the vitality of Whittlesey Town Centre, I’m pretty sure that’s what the courts will look at.

Sunday 26 August 2012

Tesco, monopolies and planning

One of the things that surprised me with the supermarketsurvey was the level of dislike expressed about Tesco; the words “monopoly” and “bullies” were used by many respondents.  I have had some involvement with Tesco in the past when I worked with an organisation called “The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transportation (UK)” (my previous career was as a logistician).  During that time I worked with Tesco in a number of forums.  There was no doubt that at the time they had a reputation as having the foremost logistics set up in the world (they probably still do), but I also respected and liked them because they were quite open in discussing what they did and why, which allowed the development of logistics as a whole in the country.  It was certainly true that a number of companies kept their policies and processes behind closed doors, so you can imagine why I grew to admire Tesco.

You can perhaps also understand why it came as a bit of  shock to me to read people’s views about Tesco and their application. Then you read about Tesco delivering lower profits and having lower market share and it makes you think that they have some consolidation and learning to do.

But these sorts of comment make it very difficult for the planning committee.  In general, monopoly or a preference for one company over another are not planning issues – planning debates have to be about the merits of sites and applications, not about individuals or companies.  However, there is one aspect of this that I think needs further consideration in the planning meeting next week.

It is certainly true that Tesco have a huge presence in the area around Whittlesey (Ramsey, March, Wisbech, Hampton, Stanground) so a Whittlesey store could only serve Whittlesey people and would not attract others in.  It is just possible that Sainsbury, which has  smaller presence) will attract others – in fact I would argue that with the added value of the country park it definitely would. If that were coupled with a condition for link advertising (meaning they would have to provide space in store to advertise the town centre) and a scheme to encourage town centre shopping we might do something to protect our town.  Here are two points her that come to mind:

1.       The survey I carried out showed that the town centre was the number one concern of residents, even though they supported a supermarket.
2.       The National Planning Policy Framework places great importance on the vitality of town centres.  As an example the first bullet of Para 23 talks of the need for local planning authorities to recognise “town centres as the heart of their communities and pursue policies to support their viability an vitality”

The flip side of this is that we need to ask where the Tesco option fits alongside this issue of viability and vitality of the town centre.  I suspect that Officers would say they have achieved this through the sequential test; I am going to write something about this tomorrow.

Saturday 25 August 2012

Supermarket Survey Results

I have now had a chance to double-check the formulae that underpin the spreadsheet I created to analyse the results of my supermarket survey.  I am confident that they are right, and therefore I think it is probably about time that I published the results.

Response Rate.  There are 3260 houses on the electoral roll in Whittlesey North Division.  I delivered to every house and received 471 replies.  That is a response rate of 14.45 percent. It is higher than many local authorities get for their surveys, so given that there was no freepost reply and residents either had to put the returns though my door or post their replies to me, I think that is a fantastic result; it clearly shows how important this issue is to Whittlesey.

Q1.  Which is your preferred option for a supermarket in Whittlesey?

Tesco - 17.1%
Sainsbury - 62.2%
Both - 12.1%
Neither - 5.2%
Other (including Aldi/Lidl/Morrisons/Asda) - 3.3%

One of the reasons I decided to do the survey was because the first committee report showed a high proportion of support for Tesco in the responses sent to the planning department.  That was totally at odds with what I was being told informally on Facebook, Twitter and in day-to-day contact with people.  The survey allowed me to test this in an open and transparent way.  I think we can quite safely say that the vast majority of residents favour Sainsbury.

Q2.  Which is your preferred location?

Eastrea Road - 86.8%
Station Road - 9.4%
Other - 3.9%

The railway crossing gates on Station Road were mentioned many, many times as the reason for Eastrea Road being a preferred option.  A few people who answered "other" and, indeed some who answered "Eastrea Road" referred to the previous Syers Lane application as the best one because of its location to the Town Centre - although there was also some criticism of the previous Syers Lane application.

Q3. Do you think Whittlesey would benefit from a Country Park?

Yes - 85.2%
No - 14.8%

I was surprised by the number who said no. Many of these were supporters of the Tesco application, but certainly not all - and many supporters of Tesco also supported a Country Park.  The main reason against was that we already have the Manor Field.

Q4.  If there was a supermarket on Station Road and a supermarket on Eastrea Road, which would you use?

Station Road - 4.8%
Eastrea Road - 69.8%
Both - 19.6%
Neither - 5.9%

This was the most surprising result to me.  I didn't expect the Station Road response to be as low as this.  Some of those that said "both" said so because they wanted to shop around and look for value.  There is some correlation between those that answered "Both" to Q1 and those that said "Both" to this question.  Sainsbury have made some representation over the last few days that even if Tesco built a loss making superstore on Station Road it would not have an impact on the Town Centre because of the low numbers who would use it. The response to this question suggests that this is a line of thinking that needs further consideration.

Q5.  Please explain your choices for Questions 1-4.

I deliberately asked this question so I could separate planning and non-planning reasons.  It has to be said that the majority of reasons were non-planning, such as a dislike of Tesco, Tesco monopoly, a feeling that Tesco offered better value and a wider range, or a preference for Sainsbury quality; criticism of Co-op's pricing in their Town Centre store was also a factor.  There were however, a number of fascinating comments and one idea around monopoly in particular that I have already asked officers to consider. A separate analysis of this will follow.

Q6.  What do you think is the biggest issue facing Whittlesey today?

The responses to this were intriguing.  Even though there is a very, very clear wish for a supermarket in Whittlesey, the clear priority for residents is the Town Centre.  This shows how important protection and enhancement of the Town Centre is.  The 3 biggest issues, in order were; 1. Town Centre; 2. A605; 3. Kings Dyke.  This is very useful to me as a representative of Whittlesey.  I am currently organising a summit of Senior officers and councillors with Stephen Barclay MP to discuss Whittlesey issues, this was at Stephen Barclay's request when I met him a few weeks ago.  Interestingly, the three items we drew up to discuss were the town centre, the A605 and Kings Dyke crossing.

Q7.  What National Political Issue is the most important to you?

The reason I asked this question was because I often make representation to National politicians about issues, having a better understanding of the views of residents will help me to do this.  The biggest issue was immigration and it's impact on infrastructure.  I am going to do a deeper analysis of the response to this question and send it to Stephen Barclay MP.

Voting Intention Questions.

There has been some comment about my decision to include questions about Voting Intention (VI), but I stand by my decision.  There are a couple of reasons for that.  Firstly, it allows me to compare responses to political background and to make sure that I have a spread of views from across the political spectrum.  I also shouldn't hide from the fact that it is useful as a politician to measure mid-term support.  It also became fascinating to look at the responses to Q7 - and especially the comments about immigration to see if it was reflected in any sort of support for racist political parties.  I am proud to say that, even though there is genuine concern about immigration, I represent a Division where just one person said they would support the BNP at a General Election.

Of course if people didn't like the questions about VI, they were perfectly entitled to respond and not answer them, in the same way that people often decline to tell us when we knock on doors during elections.  Asking these questions mid-term is pretty common practice - and the fact that people expressed concern about this is an indication to me of how sheltered Whittlesey is from the levels of political activism that are seen elsewhere (largely because the Liberal Democrats and Labour Party do absolutely no work mid-term).  I am not going to publish the results of the VI questions, but I will say that I have no concerns and the Lib Dems should be worried.

What didn't the survey bring out?

In the covering letter for the survey I purposely mentioned that the Tesco store was "just on the edge of Whittlesey" and that Sainsbury was "slightly further away." I did this because I thought it would bring out some thoughts around whether the closer location of the proposed Tesco to Whittlesey would protect the Town Centre.  It surprised me that this did not feature in the replies at all.  It may be that the fact there is, in truth, very little distance between the two proposed sites meant that residents didn't consider it an option.  More thinking needs to go into this because protection of Town Centres is a critical part of the National Planning Policy Framework.

I am going to do some deeper analysis of the results over the next few days, and will use them to examine and publish a few thoughts between now and Wednesday.

Withdrawal from voting at supermarket planning committee

After reading the committee report for the planning meeting next week I have made the decision not to take part as a voting committee member.  The reason is that, whilst there were always circumstances in which I could support the Tesco application for Whittlesey, it became absolutely clear that there is no way I could support the reasons officers give for supporting Tesco, something that would be quite clear to anyone who witnessed the previous supermarket meeting.  That means there is a strong element of predetermination in my thinking, which, as I have explained before, is something that is an issue as far as planning is concerned.  I will however be attending and speaking at that meeting, representing the people I serve.

Whilst I respect the officers at Fenland, I have to express some surprise at the recommendation.  I proposed a deferral at the last meeting in order that the viability of the Station Road site can be assessed.  That assessment, carried out by Roger Tym and Partners (RTP), quite clearly in my view, shows that if any supermarket is developed along Eastrea Road, the application which has approval in Station Road would be unviable – and we have to accept that if it is unviable, it will not be built.  It does say that a smaller supermarket – such as an Aldi or a Lidl might prove viable – but that would require new planning applications.  In my Supermarket survey (the results of which which will be published tomorrow), in response to the question “If there was a Supermarket on Station Road and a supermarket on Eastrea Road, which would you use?” only 5% of respondents said they would use Station Road – many, many people cited the railway crossing as the reason; Whittlesey people know what I know, Station Road is not sufficiently accessible to make it able to compete with an Eastrea Road site.  So, whilst it would not have surprised me to see the Tesco store recommended for approval by officers, given the contents of the Roger Tym report, my expectation was that this would be based on the location of the proposed Tesco store – which would have been a genuine point for debate.  As far as I can see, the debate over Station Road ended with the publication of the Roger Tym report; next week should have been a genuine discussion about the comparative merits of the two Eastrea Road sites.

I want to stress very, very strongly that this was my decision, made after reading the officer report for next week and reflecting on how that sits alongside my clear views about Station Road and having taken advice from Officers.  Part of the reasoning is that the rules around predetermination changed somewhat in the Localism Act and there is very little case law around the recent changes;  developers will be looking to test exactly what the new rules around predetermination mean.  Given that it has been clear to me for some time that the supermarket battle in Whittlesey is going to court – I want the debate to be about supermarkets, not about whether I was predetermined or not.

I repeat that I will be speaking at the planning committee as a ward member and hope to get the results of my survey published in the next 24 hours.  Not being a voting member of the committee also allows me more freedom to speak my mind.  So in the days running up to the planning committee I will be publishing a few thoughts.

Sunday 12 August 2012

What's Your Personal Gold?

London Marathon 2009
The massive success of the Olympics and the fantastic achievements of Team GB means that there is, quite rightly, a huge debate around at the moment about legacy - something I have been working on for some time in my lead role for the Olympics in Cambridgeshire.

At the moment much of that debate focuses on what Government are going to do and what they aren't going to do.  Quite right too, but I would argue that Government have responded:

  • Announcing plans to guarantee competitive sports in primary schools.  This is very positive.  But, alongside this Government have to show how sport will fit into the bigger picture - they have to show where the space to provide this is in the National curriculum.  They also have to recognise that a regime that only evaluates schools based on academic achievement will never deliver the sort of sporting legacy we need.  Ofsted need to focus on how schools are delivering the adults of the future; ones that, yes, have a high level of academic knowledge, but that have a good sense of morals, who contribute to society and who love physical activity.  The current OFSTED regime fails in that - a system that looks at academic data and pretty much has its mind made up before it even walks through a school's door is not the right one.
    The end of the (84 Mile) Dales Way
  • Announced continued funding for elite sport until 2016.  Here they are spot on.  Ed Milliband has taken an opportunist stance and suggested that a ten year programme is needed (he really should consider joining the Lib Dems!!).  He is wrong, sports organisations need to be challenged, they need to be held accountable for their achievements - a ten year deal will encourage complacency, a four year deal will provide the funding that is needed  to move towards Rio in 2016 whilst keep people on their toes.
However, legacy is not just something for Government to think about - it is for all  us both as individuals and parents.  Most of us know we will never be olympic medalists, but we can all aim for our own personal golds. It is something that is very important to me. 

Finishing the Edinburgh Marathon 2012
In October 2005 I sat with my wife watching the Great North Run on television and, despite the fact that I had not run since I left the Army some 20 years before and Angela had never been a runner, we decided to enter.  I lost a huge amount of weight and in the process of 8 months, ran my first half marathon.  I didn't get a great time - but I finished.  Since then I have run five marathons and  more half marathons than I care to mention. Again, none of them have been great times - but every time I have crossed the finishing line I have felt great because I have trained  and strained towards a goal - crossing the line in these events is my personal Gold.  I would say the same about finishing the London to Cambridge bike ride or completing the two long distance walks I have done (Hadrian's Wall next week!!). I have to say that setting these targets has become really important to me and, whenever I look back on a year, those events are always well up there amongst my highlights. 

That to me is how we should think about what the Olympics mean to us peronally. Of course we also have a responsibility to make sure our children are active and are given the ability to show their potential and to learn to enjoy being active - but what better example can we provide than aspiring for and achieving our own personal Golds - whether it is a 3 mile run or a half marathon, walking 5 miles or 85?  I promise, if you do this, you'll feel great about yourself and the feeling of achieving your personal Gold will make it worthwhile.

(Sorry if some of this seems a bit self-indulgent - it seems the best way of getting a message across).

Thursday 9 August 2012

Proposed new plans by Fenland District Council to control dog fouling.

This is a cut and paste from the Fenland District Council website:  

"New measures are being proposed to help counter dog fouling and ensure that unruly pets are kept under proper control.

They are aimed at protecting all Fenland District Council's parks and open spaces and come in response to residents' frequently voiced concerns.

The plans are set out in a set of new Dog Control Orders drawn up by the council. Residents are now being asked for their comments.

The proposals include:

  •  Increased fines (from £50 to £75) for not picking up after a dog has fouled.
  •  Making it clear that dogs are not allowed in gated children's play areas and some cemeteries.
  •  Requiring dogs to be kept on the lead in designated places where it is not suitable for them to be allowed to roam.
  •  Requesting dogs be put on a lead and properly supervised if they are causing a nuisance.

Councillor Peter Murphy, FDC's portfolio holder responsible for the environment, said: "We receive about 800 reports each year of dog-related problems. Most dog owners are very responsible - they look after their pets properly and don't let them spoil everyone else's enjoyment of our open spaces.

"But a small minority don't and it is something that upsets a lot of people, particularly those with young children.

"These proposals will help to tackle the issues. We've already had some very positive and helpful comments, so please do take this opportunity to tell us what you think."

More details on the proposals can be found on FDC's website at, together with maps of specific sites where the controls will apply.

The consultation will run until August 22. Final proposals will be then go to FDC's Cabinet for approval in the next couple of months.

To comment, go online  at, e-mail, or visit your local Fenland @ your service shop."

Monday 6 August 2012

What makes a good festival?

By pure coincidence this weekend I was at Wacken Open Air - a very large hard rock and metal festival held very close to the town of Wacken in Germany.  I'm a big fan of festivals and of Wacken in particular  One of the reasons for that is because it completes and compliments the Town and works with its local residents.  (Wacken Open Air has 80,000 attendees and the Town has a population of about 2,000 - the festival itself is located much closer to the centre of Wacken than the Organic Festival was to Whittlesey).

I have been to enough festivals to know that to make one like the Organic Festival work locally, it has to work with the local people rather then in spite of them.  The Organic Festival in Whittlesey this weekend, rode off the back of a Licence issued in 2005, effectively over-riding and ignoring the need to work with Whittlesey residents, listen to their concerns and react to them in a way that a new Licence would have ensured.

Someone has to listen and to learn.  Of course, as the Cambs Times reports, those that went had a great time - but that does not make a great festival = that comes about from getting the whole picture right.  The Organic Festival failed in that.

(NB: I was really, really saddened to read that one of the festival goers at Wacken died last weekend. Nobody expects anyone to go to a festival and not come home.  My heart goes out to his friends and  relatives.)