Monday 24 September 2012

Petition to End the Strasbourg Circus

I got this email through today and thought that those of you who, like me, are Eurosceptics would want the opportunity to sign it:

"You may know that as British Conservatives, we have been campaigning hard in Europe to end the two seat parliament, where once a month we all move to Strasbourg. 

After two years work, a significant majority of MEPs now agree that the situation should be changed.

However, in order to change it we require the unanimous support of the national governments from each of the 27 member countries.

My colleague, Ashley Fox MEP, has started a petition to force a debate in the House of Commons to compel the Government to push for the ending of the Strasbourg Circus at the next European Council.  Please can you consider showing your support and signing the petition?

Best regards


Vicky Ford MEP

Sunday 23 September 2012

Whittlesey Supermarkets: From success to disaster

I felt that I needed to post something over the weekend about supermarkets, but when I thought about what I needed to say, I realised that the comments would be absolute no-brainers, but they are statement that I needed to make just so people would know that I do understand the issues and that I am trying to deal with them. So if I am stating the obvious, I'm sorry.

Firstly, is is quite clear that the situation is a complete mess.  There is a debate about whether the decision last week had a legal basis to it and whether it is a good planning decision (a debate that I am better off not entering into publicly), but that is only part of the problem.  Morally there was no way that decision should have been made in the way it was last week - and that lack of moral judgement has completely undermined confidence in the planning system.  For Whittlesey that is a huge problem because we not only face having to sort this out, but the feedback I have received from the public exhibition about the proposed housing development in Delph in Whittlesey, is that people feel their voice will be ignored in that process as well.

That is the biggest disaster - after the initial decision a month ago, people were so upbeat about how it was arrived at. It is astonishing that the process could have gone from a resounding success to a disaster in such a short time.

Serious questions need to be asked about this whole thing - not just about the Whittlesey supermarket saga, but what it says about our planning system as a whole.  I have been working and thinking about this over the weekend and will be passing some thoughts and ideas to Fenland.

I have had many, many people contact me about this sorry saga.  On Thursday night I was literally just swapping between my mobile and my home phone taking phone call after phone call from District and Town Councillors and from local residents, all universally expressing their shock.  I repeat the message that I have been giving to everyone - and one that I often give out when people have complaints about Councils; please make your voice heard by using Fenland's comments,compliments and complaints process.

Ever since the first decisions on 29th August, I have challenged what was happening and I was continuously getting back reassurance that all was fine, so I was astonished by the events of last week.  That said, obviously, if you think there were areas where I did the wrong thing, don't be afraid to tell me.  I honestly don't think there are, I have been honest, robust and challenging throughout this process - which is what I am elected to do, but I am sure there are others who think otherwise. In particular, I keep going back and revisiting my decision to support Sainsbury, but I am convinced it was both the right planning decision and the one that Whittlesey residents supported, it also hurts me that I had to reveal the assurance all members were given by Fenland on 6th September.  That sort of action is not my style at all and it didn't come easy.

I don't believe we are close to the end of this saga yet, so expect a few more headlines in coming weeks.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Officers' Reassurance to Councillors

I have lost some sleep overnight mulling over an issue. I do not reveal contents of advice and guidance given to Councillors readily.  I could take the approach that others take - which is to leak correspondence when it suits me, but it is not my style.

However, I have decided that it is in the public interest to reveal that on 6th September officers sent an email reassuring Councillors about concerns that had been expressed (including by me) about the handling of the Whittlesey supermarket planning applications after the decisions of 29th August.

That advice included this specific quote:

" I would like to reassure Members that there is no intention to re-open the debate with regard to considering the principle of the applications."

The decision taken yesterday to accept the Tesco application when it had been refused on 29th August is clearly contrary to that advice.  Councillors were given no advance notice that the advice had changed nor was there any suggestion in the agenda papers that this was the case.  My view is that these items were not on the agenda for the issues to be reconsidered, rather to ratify the wording and/or detail surrounding previous decisions.

Tesco refusal overturned

I am going to keep this sort and sweet.   At today's meeting the planning committee revisited the decisions of last month and decided to overturn the decision to refuse the Tesco supermarket along Eastrea Road.  The Sainsbury decision and the heads of terms were ratified.

I am going to take a bit of time to calm down before I post anything else on the matter - but I have massive concerns about the process.

I would urge residents of Whittlesey that have concerns to make a complaint to Fenland District Council.  I would urge them to follow the advice on the Local Government Ombudsman's website.

The complaints form for Fenland District Council is here.  In particular you may wish to consider whether it was fair for members to revisit a decision without first notifying those that are affected and giving them opportunity to comment.

I myself will be taking advice tomorrow and will be making some requests for information and, hopefully, I will have calmed down by then.

Tuesday 18 September 2012

Tesco plea to planning committee

This article on the Cambs Times website is interesting. Earlier today I saw the letter from Tesco urging members to revisit the decision at planning committee tomorrow.  I have asked for some clarification on the issue it raises, but from what I can see there are no grounds for doing this.

The minutes of the planning committee of 29th August are quite clear that members refused the Tesco site. The agenda for tomorrow does not allow for a revisiting of that decision, it is there just for members to affirm the reasons not to reconsider the principle of refusal.

I am pretty sure that legally Fenland will be on very, very dodgy ground if the committee agree to Tesco's request.  I will be horrified if it is allowed.

Visit to Cemetery

As a result of a number of complaints, I met one of the officers from Fenland District Council at the cemetery today to show him a few things and to chat the issues over.

I am a bit happier that the grass is short and many of the overgrown trees and bushes are being cut back - in fact the contractors were there today doing some of this.  We also looked at some of the older gravestones that seem to have new chips and damage to the and Fenland have agreed to bring these to the attention of the contractor because people have been telling me that these have been caused by being knocked by the mower.

What I am really pleased about is that some excellent restoration work has been done to Sir Harry Smith's grave and it now looks like the grave of someone that deserves to be remembered.   Fenland are also considering putting some information boards at the entrance to the cemetery to let people know exactly who Sir Harry Smith was.

Monday 17 September 2012

Decision on Recycling Facility in Saxon Pit delayed

I have just had an email from the planning department at Cambridgeshire County Council advising that they have "received a holding objection from the Environment Agency who have requested more information."

I genuinely do not know exactly what this means - it certainly does not mean that they have formally objected.  However, it does mean that the decision will not be made at the County Council's planning meeting on 4th October and it does provide some asurance that the Environment Agency are taking the issues seriously.

When I get more information I will pass it on.

Sunday 16 September 2012

Music Night at Quinns

Last night I had the pleasure of going to a music night at Quinns which helped to raise money for the Epilepsy Society. It was organised by Dan and Joe, two young people from Whittlesey.

I had a chat with Dan and Joe a few months ago about this idea, I offered my support and said if there's anything I can do to help, please let me know.  But, the truth is, they have just got on and done it, and to their credit they created something that really worked -it was busy, lots of fun was had and there was some good music -I suspect it was probably the first time there has been a mosh pit in Quinns.

As well s giving credit to Dan and Joe, I would like to offer a word of thanks to Phil for allowing the event to happen at Quinns, and also to David Bailey who is always at the heart of music events in Whittlesey and who managed the sound last night.

Friday 14 September 2012

Vince Cable Gets it Right for Once

I am no fan of Vince Cable.  In a Liberal Democrat Party that is full of opportunists, Vince Cable is opportunist-in-chief.

However, I can't help thinking that his decision to wind in proposed the "no fault dismissals" policy and change it to a proposal that makes it easier for employees to sack underperforming staff is the right one.

A policy that reduces the burden on employers, but prevents the opportunity for exploitation is right - it makes the right balance between reducing business regulation to make UK PLC more competitive and the need to protect workers.

I suspect this will upset some in my party, but there you go.

Sunday 9 September 2012

Whittlesey Festival

What a great day today was.  I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed myself and I felt Whittesey did itself proud.
It was so good to see our Town Centre so vibrant.  It proves a lesson I learned during the supermarket debate, that Whittlesey people care about our Town Centre.

I want to put in a word of thanks to Penelope Walkinshaw, the High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire, for taking her time to open the festival today.  All too often when dignitaries come to open events like this, it is a fleeting visit.  That was absolutely not the case today, The High Sheriff spent a good few hours walking around the festival, speaking to people and showing a genuine interest in the Town.  It was a pleasure to accompany her.

Whittlesey Town Centre has an interesting future ahead. We need to make sure it thrives if and when our new supermarket is built.  I am sure there are lessons we can learn from today about how we bring people into the Town and that is something I m going to reflect on with others.  I wonder if there are was of having smaller events more often - events that have something unique about them, that will make people want to visit the Town.

But, for now, I will just reflect on a lovely day and express my thanks to the festival organisers and to everyone that participated in some way.

Wednesday 5 September 2012

About that reshuffle

Overall I think the reshuffle will serve a positive purpose, which is to enable the Conservative Party to establish its sense of uniqueness within the coalition and allow us to distance ourselves from the misguided priorities of the Lib Dems as we approach the next General Election, but there are some areas where I have concerns.

But first - the good stuff.  I think moving Kenneth Clarke away from the Justice Ministry is a good thing.  I always felt he was a bad fit.  I am not a right-winger in my party by any sense, but I think my views - that we should punish hard and rehabilitate hard - are similar to those of most people.  It was a notion that was alien to Ken Clarke and putting someone in with a slightly different ethos has to be a good thing.  But I think Cameron played a masterstroke by keeping Clarke on as a Minister without portfolio - it is a great way of making sure he still uses his many skills.

The two areas I have concerns about are Andrew Lansley and Tim Loughton.  I fear that Andrew Lansley has been used as a bit of a whipping boy (and the fact that he was moved rather than sacked suggests that David Cameron is aware of this).  Whilst I know there are many who have concerns about the NHS reforms there are things within it that have the potential to make huge differences in the medium to long term.   The problem with our NHS is that it is largely a treatment system; broadly speaking, we spend huge amounts reacting to illness rather than preventing it. As an example, hospitals are funded by activity - treating illness, when if some of that money was pushed upstream, it could be used to deal with the underlying causes of that illness - which would save money in the long term and be better for people's health.  The changes introduced by Andrew Lansley, such as the move of Public Health into local authorities and the creation of Health and Wellbeing Boards have huge potential to achieve those ends, to break down the funding silos that exist in the public sector and make our health system more affordable by making us a healthier Nation.  Time will tell, but whilst his fights with some (not all, not by a long long way) health professionals have left him and the process scarred, I suspect in three of four years time people will start to understand and see the benefits.

The decision to remove Tim Loughton as Minister for Children and Families is one that I just can't fathom.  I got to know Tim Loughton when I was Lead Member for Children at the County Council.  Tim consistently proved he understood the issues around Children - and he dug around and questioned so he could get a bottom up understanding of those issues (that need for bottom up understanding something that I bleat on about a great deal - it is vital for good delivery) and he had won the respect of the professionals in Children's Services as well as local politicians of all colours.  As a Minister he has done a huge amount to deliver - such as through his efforts to speed up adoption processes.  I hope David Cameron has thought long and hard about who he puts in this post, it is a role that is there to ensure that we improve the lives of our most vulnerable children, it takes someone with passion and understanding to deliver in this area.