Wednesday 30 January 2013

Missing Mother and Child - Charlotte and Ethan Nash

No messing about with this, this is from the police.  If you know absolutely anything that will help the police find these two please, please contact the police immdiately:

"POLICE are appealing for the public’s help in tracing a missing mother and her child.

Charlotte Nash,  24, and Ethan Nash, 4, have been missing from their home in Whittlesey since Friday (January 25).

Despite numerous police enquiries officers have been unable to trace them.
Charlotte is described as white, around 5’4” with long dark hair.  Ethan is described as white, with cropped dark brown hair and brown eyes.  He wears glasses and has a squint in one eye.

Insp Robin Sissons said: "We are concerned for Charlotte and Ethan’s welfare and would urge anyone who has any information about their whereabouts to contact police.

"I’d also like to appeal directly to Charlotte to get in touch with officers.
"We believe they are together and likely to be in the local area, either Whittlesey or Peterborough.”

Anyone with information should contact police on 101 or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111."

Saturday 26 January 2013

Progress on our relationship with the EU

I thought David Cameron's speech earlier this week where he made a pledge for an In/Out referendum on our EU membership was a good one.  It has come a few years too late - but at last we seem to be moving in the right direction.

It fascinates me the way that the National media described the Conservative Party as divided on the EU.  Actually the vast majority of Conservative Party members are, like me, Eurosceptic. The only division is the extent of that scepticism.

My personal view about Europe is that I would like to see an end to the whole EU political structure and see us return to what we agreed to join back in the early 70s - but if that can't be achieved then we must get out.  My hope is that the In/Out referendum will force the EU into change and that we will end up with a choice of staying IN a reformed and less controlling EU or to get OUT.  I genuinely don't know how I would vote, except that if we don't get close to the 1970s model I would vote to get out - aside from that I would want to see the final model.

My only concern about David Cameron's speech was that he dodged the question about what he would campaign for if Europe refused to change - he should have said he would campaign to get out, it would have given some extra impetus to the EU to get on with reform.

A Simpler Straw Bear

Over the last few weeks I have been reflecting on the Straw Bear Festival. I am a huge fan of what the organisers have achieved with the festival, but, over the last year I have also become increasingly aware of a feeling from the organisers that the festival is becoming increasingly difficult to organise.  A large part of the responsibility for that is being put on increasing bureaucracy from local authorities and, to a certain extent, policing.

If we are to guarantee the future of the Straw Bear and create an environment that encourages volunteers and helps the festival to thrive, we need to listen to this message. For that reason I will be writing this week to the Police and Crime Commissioner, Fenland District Council and the Highways Department at the County Council to ask for senior managers to sit around the table with the Straw Bear organisers and some of our landlords so that some frank discussions can take place about how the public sector can reduce bureaucracy and make life easier for everyone.

I am sure this bureaucracy is all well intended and much of it will revolvs around concerns about alcohol - but that doesn't mean to say that we can't try to simplify things.

Of course the problem in the evening that was reported at the Ivy Leaf Club don't help to find solutions to this problem.

The organisers of the straw bear are always looking for willing volunteers - if you would like to play a part in making this amazing festival happen, please drop me a note and I'll put you in touch.

Thursday 24 January 2013

Whittlesey Supermarkets - Frequently Asked Questions

For those that attended yesterday, I hope you enjoyed what I thought was a great piece of democracy. The planning committee did themselves proud, they were challenging of all parties, enquiring of officers and worked hard to find the right way forwards.  For them to stay that focused for seven hours was an achievement in itself, the audience too were great  and for those that stayed until the end – great effort.

The result was, in some ways, a ratification of the decision of 29th August – that is to say, they approved the Sainsbury store with country park, to approve the business park and to refuse the Tesco on Eastrea Road.  However, unlike 29th August, some essential but frustrating work was done at the end of the meeting to make sure the decision was robust, making the final decision stronger and eliminating the need for a follow-up meeting. 

I thought I would do a bit of a “Frequently Asked Questions” to try and provide clarty.

1.        Will any more decisions be made on this locally?   The answer to that is no.  One of the reasons the end of the meeting dragged on a bit last night was that officers were rigorous and worked with councillors to get strong decisions confirmed and ratified and to agree the conditions for the application so they can send them off to the next stage ASAP.

2.       So what is the next stage?  Because the decision is technically a departure from policy, it will have to go to the Secretary of State for Local Government for ratification.   In reality it goes to an organisation called the National Planning Casework Unit.  At this stage, Harrier (the developers who are behind the Tesco application) are likely to make a case to have the  decision called-in.  As soon as I have a reference for this case I will publish the details so those that want to can make their own representation.

3.       Can Tesco appeal the decisions?  If the NPCU agree the decision then Harrier could, technically, appeal the decision to refuse the store along Eastrea Road – but there is no right of appeal for decisions that were approved, so from what I can see they cannot put an appeal to the planning inspectorate against Sainsbury and the country park approvals. Personally, I think an appeal is unlikely because the evidence against two approved Supermarkets on Eastrea Road is strong.

4.       So what about the Tesco store that is approved on Station Road?  This is the complex bit.  Technically there is still an approval on Station Road for a supermarket – which Tesco are contracted to occupy.  However, the committee were also aware of the report by Roger Tym and Partners (RTP) which said that any supermarket approval on Eastrea Road would make the Station Road site unviable.   Harrier submitted a legal statement to the committee yesterday, and whilst it challenged certain aspects of the RTP report, the most telling aspect of it, to me, was that it did not once challenge the basic premise about the unviability of the Station Road store.  There can only be one conclusion from that – the Station Road site is  not viable if Sainsbury deliver.  So now Tesco have a choice – to carry on with an agreement that means a 25 year commitment to an unviable store, or find a way out of the agreement (which is always an option with any contract).  If they are going to build, they better get on with it because the planning permission runs out soon. 

5.       When will we get our supermarket and country park?    This is the ten million dollar question, and one I can’t answer.   There is still the possibility/likelihood of a legal challenge to the decision and that could take a long, long time if it happens.  My personal plea to Tesco would be to recognise where there reputation is at the moment.   

Even if Tesco think they might win a court case, is it the right thing to do?  Nationally there is a growing anti-Tesco feeling and across Fenland there is growing frustration about the planning permissions they have which are not being built. In Whittlesey some of the tactics used have done nothing but huge reputational harm; even yesterday, they caused annoyance through yet another last minute S106 offer and by manipulating the rules around public speaking to get an extra speaker; last time they also fly-posted around Whittlesey.  I think it’s time for Tesco to do some thinking.  Nationally, Whittlesey is pretty small beer – maybe it is the right place and the right time to try a different approach – to make a public statement to say that the public have spoken and they have listened.

In finishing this blog, I want to reflect on the previous paragraph.  I genuinely hope that what we have seen locally from Tesco is not a reflection of them as a National organisation – if it is, they are heading to a problem.  If they are looking at Whittlesey and are genuinely interested in learning lessons that would help them elsewhere I would love to have a serious chat about what a public relations disaster this has been – and could continue to be.

Friday 18 January 2013

Wisbech murder: appeal for information

Police are appealing for information in relation to the murder of Una Crown, who was found dead at her home in Magazine Lane, Wisbech on Sunday morning (January 13).

She was stabbed several times in the neck and chest before her clothing was set alight.

Police are urging anyone who knows anything about this brutal crime to come forward and tell them immediately.

Were you in the Magazine  Lane area over the weekend and did you see anything suspicious?

Are you aware of someone who smelt of smoke on Saturday night or Sunday afternoon?

Is someone you know acting suspiciously or have you overheard anything that may be significant?

Did you notice anyone hanging about in the general area?

Anyone with any information (it doesn’t matter how small) should call the Major Crime Unit on 101, pop into any police station or tell any police officer they see about.

Alternatively, they can call Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.

Thursday 10 January 2013

Councillors' Allowances (Into the fire!!)

A bit of a spat seems to have broken out today, not helped by Grant Shapps MP politicising an interesting piece of work by a commons select committee about Councillor's Allowances

It is a shame that once again the debate's focus has shifted to levels of allowances, when the best and most important part of that report is the recommendation that Councils should be given the ability to transfer decision-making about levels of allowances to an independent body rather than make the final call themselves.

It is something I, and many of my Councillor colleagues, have argued for for many-a-year.  It is wrong for Councillors to be forced to set their own allowances.  Interestingly, MPs used to set their own salaries, but recognised that was wrong a few years ago and changed the mechanism so they no longer did so. Rather than beat up Councillors maybe some Parliamentarians should take a more objective look at the most important part of this debate.

Sunday 6 January 2013

Do We Need a Country Park?

One of the things that I have found strange about the whole supermarkets business are the officer reports suggesting that there is no recognised need for a country park in Whittlesey. In my view that message is contrary to the current planning policy - a point I made and which was accepted by the planning committee on 29th August.

But, having listened to the voice of members, the most recent draft report for the supermarket applications (and it was a draft - so subject to change) has made the same observation - that there is no recognised need for open space in Whittlesey.

A few years ago Fenland carried out an audit of open space in the District as part of its first attempt at updating planning policy.  I managed to get a copy of that report a few weeks ago and made reading it of my Christmas tasks.  The contents of that report, in my view, have to be give some weight in the planning considerations, not least because it is far more up to date than the District Wide Local Plan we are currently working to (and that also recognises a need for more open space).

Having read that report, I remain baffled about the lack of weight given to the opportunity for a country park.  Here is the most telling line from that audit:
"Whittlesey has a shortfall of 1.82ha of Public Open Space representing a 6% deficit of
what should ideally be provided according to policy recommendations.
The report also makes the case that Whittlesey is the only one of the four Fenland Market Towns that has a deficit in terms of children's play areas (although all of the other market Towns have a green space deficit).

The audit also makes an attempt to look forwards and predicts, based on a future population growth of just 790, that the deficit will rise to 3.71 Hectares (the current core strategy suggests 1100 houses which means that the open space deficit will increase to a much higher figure).

I am going to suggest that Fenland District Council revisit this audit as part of their work on the Core Strategy (the updated planning policy for the District) because it makes some very hard-hitting points about the need for more green space across the whole of Fenland (for example March has a deficit for outdoor sport of some 19.61 Hectares, rising to 26.60 Hectares in 2021). It is clear to me that we need to be given more thought to the fact that open space is yet another important infrastructure issue for the area.

But, in terms of Whittlesey, this report provides even more evidence to support the fact that there is a need for a Country Park.