Saturday 30 August 2014

UKIP To Replace Chairman of Adults Committee

Let me make a few things clear before I get to the crux of this blog:

  1. I do not doubt for one second that Paul Clapp has been diagnosed with dyslexia and I wish him nothing but success in learning how to deal with it.
  2. This blog is not about Paul Clapp – the proposal to remove him as Chairman of the Adults Committee at Cambridgeshire County Council has been made and it is for Paul to reflect on that and deal with it. It is true I am not a fan of his, but I will give him the credit for trying as a Councillor and I hope he uses his willingness to work to deal with and overcome this situation.

What this blog is about is the way the UKIP leadership dealt with Paul Clapp’s removal; the way they attempted to soften the blow to UKIP by using Paul’s dyslexia. If I thought for one second that the reasons for Paul's removal was because of a diagnosis of dyslexia, I would be absolutely horrified. Politics at every level needs more people that have struggled in life, whether it be from illness, financial hardship, from disadvantaged background or for any other reason, and it needs those people in positions of leadership – provided they have the talent to deal with it.

It is, however, quite clear that Paul was struggling, and that struggle was IMHO down to a range of factors, including inexperience and a lack of support from the UKIP leadership at the County Council. If you look at the reasons that were put to the Council's Chief Executive in a letter by four group leaders, a few of them could be put down to dyslexia, but the biggest reasons could not – there are plenty of dyslexics with good strategic brains, who can cope with with complex political responsibility (Michael Heseltine is a good example).

It is also true that people often find a way of softening the impact of difficult political decisions and I suspect that this is what the UKIP Group Leader, Paul Bullen, was trying to do. But in my view it was a serious misjudgement. My guess is that the decision to blame it on dyslexia and the resultant press release will be widely read by dyslexics and dyslexia organisations and they will be horrified. The message it sends to dyslexics is clear – politics isn’t for you. It’s the wrong message and it is flawed thinking that went in to it – it is a decision that protects the UKIP group in Cambridgeshire but harms the improvement of politics.
I have asked the Council what support has been offered to Paul Clapp – we must make sure that if he wants it, it is there. Finding a way of dealing with his diagnosis will make him a better Councillor and will help the people of Wisbech. I wish him well.

I also want to say that the proposal to put UKIP’s Sandra Rylance in as Chair of the Adults committee is a good one – Sandra will do well.

Thursday 28 August 2014

Not Seeking Re-Election to Fenland District Council

Someone has kindly leaked to the media something that I was going to publicise over the weekend, but that I told some of my fellow Councillors last night - which is that I have decided not to stand for re-election to Fenland District Council next year.

When I took up my new job in May I said I would give that my total focus for three months and then see where I was at- something that was right for my employer, but which also gave me a period to reflect about the extent of my Council commitments.

At the forefront of my thinking has always been Whittlesey - the one thing I will never do is let Whittlesey down.  It is clear that I cannot work full time and serve my Town in the same way I have in the past - something has to give, so I have decided to stand down from Fenland District Council at next year's elections.

I am proud of my record at Fenland District Council and especially the way I have stood up for Whittlesey residents there when I have needed to and I can guarantee that this does not mean I won't make my voice heard there - I most certainly will, but it will be in a different way.

Saturday 23 August 2014

Snowley Park/Glenfields Planning Permission – a few questions

I am still really confused by the decision to grant planning permission at the Glenfields/Snowley Park site. I could ask questions about almost every aspect of it. But, the area I am most unhappy about is highways. I have been putting in some challenge since the planning decision and have not got satisfactory answers.  So, I have decided to ask some questions publicly.

The first issue that really, really concerns me is that it was specifically stated at planning committee that the current approval that is being built out to the rear of 148 Stonald Road was not factored into the highways assessments. This is worrying, not just because of that issue, but because it then begs the question what else hasn’t been factored in.  Residents deserve answers to this and they need confidence that the application was properly considered. So my first question is:

1.       1. What existing planning consents were factored into the traffic statistics?   Specifically what consideration was given to:
a.      The existing approval for 460 homes at Bassenhally Field.
b.      The Sainsbury Supermarket and country park at Station Road
c.       The business park that has approval on Eastrea Road.
d.      The development to the rear of 148 Stonald Road
e.      The old nursery site along Peterborough Road which has now got permission

The second issue, which I am wrestling with is the issue of sustainability.  That is, the expressed need for the planning system to work to make communities more sustainable in public transport terms.  The National Planning Policy Framework has extensive things to say about sustainability and it is clear to me that, from a public transport perspective, Whittlesey is not a sustainable Town.  This is what paragraph 50 of the Framework says:

“Encouragement should be given to solutions which support reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and reduce congestion. In preparing Local Plans, local planning authorities should therefore support a pattern of development which, where reasonable to do so, facilitates the use of sustainable modes of transport.”

Let’s be clear where Whittlesey is; our rail service is dreadful, despite our Town being within commutable distance to London; our bus service offers nothing outside of normal working hours; and the green wheel cycle route into Peterborough is not safe at night. It is also true that 80% of Whittlesey residents commute out of the town to work.

The committee report about the Snowley Park/Glenfield development recognised this when it said this:

"It is anticipated that 70% of the trips generated will be by the car driver, 3% public transport, 3% walking and 3% bicycle.”

That clearly states that this development is not a sustainable development – less than 10% of the journeys from this site will be by sustainable methods.  The reason for this is clear, if you live in Whittlesey and work out of Town, unless you can guarantee you will never work outside of normal hours you have to use a car to get to work. For a Market Town the size of Whittlesey that sits within commutable distance of Peterborough and within commutable distance of Cambridge and London - two economic powerhouses. This situation is totally unacceptable, yet we are having development  forced upon us that is clearly unsustainable and adds to our woes.

So, my next questions are these:

2.      2. Do Fenland District Council and Cambridgeshire County Council accept that, in terms of transport, Whittlesey is an unsutainable location. If not where is the evidence it is?

3.      The committee report for Snowley Park/Glemfields mentions a tiny contribution to the Market Town Transport Strategy,, a questionable scheme of offering new residents a few free bus tickets and a contribution to Station improvements.  Where is the evidence that this will work and what evidence that proves this will work was presented to committee?  Do they accept that it is not good enough to accept money without evidencing what it will be used for and how it will make the Town more sustainable.

4.      4. What public consultation was carried out that specifically described the proposed contributions so residents had an opportunity to challenge and make alternative suggestions?

5.     5.  Do officers accept that Snowley Park/Glenfields development will put more traffic along Stonald Road on the route into Whittlesey Town Centre (which is the recognised cycle route that extends the green wheel into Whittlesey). Do they accept that putting more traffic along a route which does not segregate bicycles makes that route less sustainable! Not more?

My next point is about consultation with Peterborough City Council. I am glad to say we are moving towards a situation where Kings Dyke crossing is going to be sorted. That is great news.  However, that is increasingly becoming only part of the story. Whittlesey people know what happens when more cars are forced onto the A605- we see the results every year when the North Bank and Wash Road close – and one thing we must do is make sure that we don’t force more cars to use the North Bank – the deaths and serious incidents of last year are all the evidence you need for that.  What we, as residents, know is that the problem is increasingly about both Kings Dyke and Stanground.

Given that we know Whittlesey residents are likely to work in Peterborough and that, for the most, they are going to drive, it goes without saying that more housing in Whittlesey means more queues at Stanground, making the commute from Whittlesey increasingly impractical and making life for Stanground residents increasingly difficult, and more importantly adding to, not reducing, greenhouse gas emissions – a specific requirement of the NPPF as outlined above.

6.     6. What consultation was carried out with Peterborough City council about the impact of this application on Stanground?

7.      7.  What discussions have taken place about improving the cycle route along the North Bank to make it navigable at night?

My final point is about housing. Fenland’s draft Core Strategy identified that Whittlesey should have only 1,000 new homes in the period to 2031, largely because of our poor transport infrastructure – a decision that was supported by an inspector.  We are already reaching that limit and the last time I challenged about it, I was told there was nothing they could do to enforce that 1,000 limit.  They have to find a way.

8.      8.  What method are Fenland going to use to make that housing limit enforceable?  If they can’t what are they going to do to give us a sustainable transport system.

I am pretty sure if I thought longer, I could ask more questions, but I think the responses to these will ensure we get the gist of whether there was adequate thought about the impact of this application on Whittlesey or whether our current unsustainable transport position has been properly considered.  I will make sure both senior planners at Fenland, and officers at Cambridgeshire County Council are aware of this blog and I will publish the responses.