Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally


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Better late than never

Finally: Council begins paving the Gladstone-Foxhall Road footpath

Breaking News. Hold the front page. Well, it wouldn’t be such a big deal if Ipswich Borough Council hadn’t taken three years and two months to implement a councillor decision.

That’s how long ago it was that my Committee agreed to spend what in the grand scheme of things is a tiny amount of money paving the remainder of the heavily used footpath between Gladstone Road and Foxhall Road alongside the Co-op store.  If planners at the Borough had half a brain between them they would have got the Co-op to pay for the WHOLE path and not just the bit alongside their premises out of their Section 106 money when they built their new shop on Foxhall Road back in the boom year of 2005. But I guess civil servants only pretend to care about the public part of public sector when they are trying to cream even more money off the State into their own pockets.

So after my Community Improvements Committee approved the paving of this urban dirt track back in August 2009, after the Executive Committee approved it, after all 48 councillors at a full meeting of the Council approved it, after two questions at Full Council, after extensive lobbying by Cllr Liz Harsant and newly elected Cllr Pam Stewart, and of course after my persistent blogging, Ipswich Borough Council’s workmen finally turned up this week to start laying the concrete slabs!

Marvellous.


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The dark ages: Ipswich Borough Council

As I posted several months ago, Ipswich Borough Council under the direction of Suffolk County Council (isn’t local government simple?) switched off your street lights after midnight. The acceptable excuse put out was the Council needed to save money because of the recession, blah, blah, blah. When in fact the reason is to meet the EU’s carbon reduction targets as a result of non-existent anthropological global warming (the UK under Tony Blair actually increased the target by more than the EUSSR demanded).

Of course, even the money argument is nonsense. As a former councillor, I know how much money was wasted on pointless five-a-day coordinators and diversity officers (aka heavily unionised professional trouble makers). Paving footpaths and providing lighting on our streets are the basics. This country brought mechanisation to the world back in the 18th and 19th century and look at us now: no better than a third world country.

After a tremendous Olympics Opening Ceremony Party on Friday night, my wife and I with a couple of friends walked back to our place. We only found our way back with the aid of a torch! I live off a main road!

Now, instead of just inconveniencing residents like myself a far more sinister event has occurred. It appears that because the street lights are switched off on Rosehill Road some criminal has taken advantage and slashed the tyres of multiple vehicles parked in the street overnight. My local councillor, Liz Harsant, tells me she has brought this to the attention of civil servants at the Borough Council who responded by sending her this “decision flow chart” used to decide if the lights should be turned back on and hopefully stop the criminal vandalism and upset caused to car owners living in Rosehill Road. The consultation process is so large that the next ice age may have arrived by the time the bureaucrats at Grafton House think it is a good idea to turn the lights back on!

This is another example of the civil servants running the country not the politicians. Sometimes I completely get what Winston Churchill meant when he said:

“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

I sometimes think a bit of dictatorship in local government at least wouldn’t be such a bad thing. We could get rid of half the officers at Ipswich Borough Council, give the councillors a decent wage and let them make executive decisions for the benefit of the town. Instead of councillors being treated as just conduits to consultation with local residents and nothing more.
Of course, Ipswich Borough Council are used to being in charge as Labour prior to the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition of 2004-2010 just let the officers run the town anyway they liked. Labour didn’t care as Socialists were running the Council.


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Sir Humphrey’s contempt for elected representatives: Part VII

On Sunday I blogged that the third consultation period for the path expired on 29th June and, as Holywells Councillor Liz Harsant told me, there were no objections by residents.

Newly elected Holywells Councillor Pam Stewart contacted the officer in charge of the footpath creation scheme for an update.

His reply is re-produced below:

Now that the date of 29/06 has come and gone, I have requested that the final design for the footpath be undertaken as a matter of urgency to enable programming by Highway Services team for construction.

have copied the officer dealing with this scheme into this email so you can contact him directly.  I will also request that he keeps you informed of scheme progress

So we still have no clear date when the works, approved by elected representatives from all political parties at my Committee in August 2009, will take place.

This is becoming a bit of a joke. This dirt track was approved for paving by elected representatives of the appropriate Ipswich Borough Council committee, was approved by all 48 elected representatives of the Full Council, was legally cleared for progression on 18th May this year and has completed three consultation periods and still we have no idea when the first paving slab will be laid.


The contempt for democracy by officers at Ipswich Borough Council is quite disgraceful. I wonder if the 
path was in Gipping Ward or Gainsborugh Ward we would have had such foot-dragging behaviour from the mandarins at Grafton House.


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Sir Humphrey’s contempt for elected representatives: Part VI

As you know from the last time I wrote about this, the issue of the still unpaved pathway between Gladstone Road and Foxhall Road is my pet project on this blog. Unsurprisingly, the dirt track is still not paved.

The weeds and the dirt still remain three years on

The latest and third consultation period, after the footpath creation order was published in May, ended last Friday 29th June. I spoke with my ward councillor, Liz Harsant, yesterday who advised “there were no objections” to the footpath being created. Shock, horror – you mean local residents want a well-used passageway paved rather than have to tackle the dirt and the weeds every time we go and get a pint (sorry litre!) of milk from the Co-op.

According to the email sent to Holywells Conservative Councillor Liz Harsant by the Borough Council’s community improvements officer John Clements back in May, as there have been no objections, the Council should now be getting on with planning the paving work.

I have today written to Cllr Liz Harsant and newly elected Holywells Conservative Councillor Pam Stewart asking for an update on when the paving works will begin. Cllr Stewart is aware of the Council’s intransigence on this issue and she asked Labour’s transport chief a question about it at the Full Council meeting in March. As soon as I hear any more news from my councillors, I shall let you know.

Next month, it will be three years since my Committee approved funding for the footpath. During this time, my wife has completed a degree, we got married and also had our first wedding anniversary. I do hope the path is paved before our second wedding anniversary next year!


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Sir Humphrey’s contempt for elected representatives: Part V

The saga continues. As I reported back in March, Ipswich Borough Council finally got round to publishing the Order to create a paved footpath for the entire alleyway between Gladstone Road and Foxhall Road. The deadline for objections was 19th April. Or so we thought.

Dirt track between Gladstone Road and Foxhall Road is still not paved

It seems the Sir Humphreys down at Grafton House have found another way of extending the “consultation” period even further. The following email was sent to Holywells Conservative Councillor Liz Harsant yesterday from a mandarin down at the Council:

“The legal process required to enable work to be undertaken to surface the alley way in question is underway.

The legal advertisement of the desire of the Council to create a footpath was undertaken in April.  The consultation period for this has now closed.

The order of confirmation now needs to be circulated to residents who have access rights over the land and copies placed on-site.

There is a further 6 week period where anyone can question the validity of the order and for residents to claim compensation for depreciation or damage for disturbance associated with making the footpath a public right of way.

Once all the above has been completed, without objection, then the Council will be in a place to programme the surfacing of the alley way.” [my emphasis]

Oh terrific. So after three years since I approved the footpath scheme at my Committee, after the scheme was approved at the Executive committee and after all 48 councillors on Ipswich Borough Council approved the scheme, Sir Humphrey is still stopping the first slab from being laid. The only reason the Order was even advertised in March is because a) Cllr Harsant and myself put pressure on the civil servants at the Borough in writing and in person at a public meeting, and b) because newly elected Councillor Pam Stewart (when she was the Conservative candidate for Holywells ward) also asked Labour’s transport chief Phil Smart what the hold-up was at the Full Council meeting in March.

When Douglas Carswell complains the bureaucrats are really running the Coalition Government, they are obviously learning the dark arts of obfuscation and intransigence from the civil servants in Ipswich.

I am trying to find out the exact date when the next round of consultation finishes to help us best guess when the paving work might actually begin…

UPDATE – 25th May: The next round of consultation should end on 29th June according to the new public notice at either end of the dirt track:


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Locking Ipswich parks is wasting my money

Peaceful Holywells Park

When I was a backbench Conservative councillor on Ipswich Borough Council back in 2010, the ruling Executive ordered a report to be written on the practicalities of leaving the parks, owned by the people of Ipswich and run by the Borough Council, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

This was being taken very seriously by both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in the Borough Council coalition as a way of reducing significant costs and by allowing the taxpayer to enjoy their parks during the low light periods of early morning and late evening. It had my full support on both the economic and quality of life aspects of the policy: a win-win idea which surely would get implemented?

But then the nimbys got going. Some leafy St Margaret’s residents got it into their paranoid heads that Christchurch Park would be overrun by ‘undesirables’ late at night spoiling the tranquillity in their extensive gardens which back on to the public park. This immediately got Liberal Democrat Cllr Inga Lockington, who represents St Margaret’s Residents’ Association Ward, very excited and she decided it wasn’t such a great idea after all to leave the parks unlocked for the enjoyment of the taxpayer at a time of their choosing. As she was a member of the all-powerful Executive committee, it mattered that Cllr Lockington disagreed but she only had one vote.

However, freedom to use our parks ran up against a far bigger obstacle when the Friends of Holywells Park managed to find 2000 people to sign a petition saying they were against the public park being closed. It did not matter these 2000 people a) probably didn’t all live close by to the park and b) they would not all have been voters in Holywells ward (the ward would be a strong Green Party consituency if they were!),  Holywells Conservative Cllr Liz Harsant, and Leader of the Council at the time, decided it was enough to kill the policy to unlock the parks and reduce the Council’s bill in employing men to drive round in vans locking all the gates two hours before the light disappears.

When the policy report finally got to Executive a deal had been done behind closed doors between the Conservative and Liberal Democrats Executive members to drop the policy. As a backbencher it was raised in our Group meeting and I voiced my disquiet at being dictated to by a minority at the expense of the majority who would like to walk their dog whilst it is still light within the grounds of beautiful Holywells or Alexandra Park instead of being chased out like an alien by a jumped-up, whistle-blowing park ranger in his 4X4 transit van.

There was one dissenting voice – in public, at the Executive meeting: Executive-member Cllr Richard Pope. From the steely look on the face of Cllr Harsant I don’t think Cllr Pope had got the memo. Instead, he told the assembled public gallery he and other parents should be able to take their children to the park before school during the low light period between sunrise and when the park is opened by the ranger an hour or an hour and half later.

Not being an early bird, I look at it from the other end of the day, but nonetheless just as relevant to what Cllr Pope said at the Executive Committee. I was always for the park being left open 24 hours a day for the reasons outlined above but now I have a dog and have become a dog walker I am angry that when I take my dog out for his walk upon an evening – in broad daylight – that I have to walk past a locked Holywells Park which I own as a taxpayer and instead I have to walk my dog along pavements buffeted by passing noisy cars, trucks, lorries, motorbikes and vans. All because a few nimbys don’t like other people using ‘their’ park and had the time to organise a petition whilst it seems the majority of taxpayers were out working.

Now we have a new broom at Grafton House, I would be interested to hear the policy of the Labour administration. Perhaps, Deputy Portfolio Holder for Culture & Leisure and fan of this blog, Cllr Alasdair Ross, could offer his thoughts?


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Sir Humphrey’s contempt for elected representatives: Part III

As Paul Norton of the Ipswich Spy parish advised, I attended the South East Area Committee last night.  The acronym for this Ipswich Borough Council committee is SEAC, which could have been devised by Armando Iannucci for the BBC’s The Thick of It. There was also a distinctive Orwellian feel to the meeting with one of the agenda items called ‘Community Intelligence’.

The reason for me attending SEAC was to raise the ongoing saga of the incomplete footpath between Gladstone Road and Foxhall Road, despite being approved by councillors (on my committee) in August 2009!

I won’t rehearse the story of council incompetence again, it can be read here. At SEAC, Cllr Liz Harsant raised the absent footpath under Agenda item ‘6. Responses to Public Questions Received and Open Discussion on Local Issues’ and explained that the footpath creation had been approved three times by councillors but still civil servants at the Borough Council are saying they need also to get Secretary of State approval.

After Cllr Harsant introduced the issue, I was given the opportunity to speak by Cllr Keith Rawlingson, who it has to be said did a very good job at chairing the meeting last night. I added meat to the bone by outlining the precise dates when councillors made a decision on the path and then asked two questions to officers present:

1. Is the Scheme with the IBC Legal department or not?

2. When will the Footpath Creation order be advertised at either end of the current dirt track?

Mr Mark Wedgwood from the Borough Council’s Highways department said the scheme is with the Legal department and that they are drawing up a Footpath Creation order. Mr Wedgwood then said the order will be advertised “shortly”. When pressed by me for a precise time scale he said he would provide it to Cllr Harsant and myself.

Lo and behold, this morning my wife in her capacity as a councillor received an email from Charlotte Meadows of the Council’s legal department stating the footpath creation order will advertised on 20th March, including at each end of the path. I am sure Cllr Harsant’s and my intervention at last night’s SEAC meeting was purely coincidental…

The following new time scale has also been released by Mr Wedgwood:

20 March 2012
·         Seal order
·         Post notice on site
·         Place notice and plan on deposit
·         Circulate notice to all consultees
·         Provide all adjoining owners with copy notice, plan and extract from Highways Act.

17 April – deadline expires.  (extended this by a couple of days to take account of Easter).

On the assumption that we do not receive any objections:

19 April 2012 – (allowed a couple of extra days to allow for late objections)
·         Advertise notice of confirmation
·         Circulate confirmation notice to all interested parties
·         Serve separate notice on adjoining owners referring to compensation
·         Send copy to Ordnance Survey

On the assumption that we do not receive any objections, the footpath creation order will come into full operation on 19 April.

Works can then be programmed. 

It is of some concern that during Mr Wedgwood’s answers to me at the meeting last night he said two things which could still scupper the whole process. Firstly, if there are objections by residents bordering the path, then the scheme will need to passed to the Secretary of State for Transport for a decision and, secondly, Suffolk County Council would still need to adopt the footpath before any works could take place. Why did officers not start the adoption process with the county council when the path was approved on 6th August 2009?

So we are not out of the woods yet. Could we reach the third year anniversary of the first approval by councillors before the first paving slab is laid?