Friday, July 31, 2020

Creeting St Peter: a question of vision and accountability

Pretty much ever since I arrived in the village in 2008, the fate of the land bordering our side of the A1120 slip road has haunted us. It is, I freely acknowledge, a perfect location for development, sandwiched between the East Anglian Main Line railway and the A14 with its link between the container port at Felixstowe and the Midlands.

But, up until recently, whilst there was a lot of talk about first a lorry park, and later a business and enterprise zone, nothing had actually happened, except that the site had been transferred from Creeting St Peter to Stowmarket courtesy of a change to the parish boundary. In fairness, given that such a change would enhance the financial benefit to the locality, I couldn't really complain.

However, the land was recently purchased by Mid Suffolk District Council, who now rather need to create an income stream to achieve value from their investment, and things are beginning to move rather faster.

Naturally, as the Chair of the Parish Council most affected, I am taking an interest. I'm keen, for obvious reasons, to establish a dialogue with the developers at as early a stage as possible - raising our issues at an early stage increases the likelihood that we can achieve some positive outcomes for the community, and allows for better engagement for residents.

And so, I looked to establish where I might start. The project is led by a company called Gateway14 Ltd, working in conjunction with its development partner, Jaynic Ltd. Gateway14 Ltd is in turn wholly owned by MSDC (Suffolk Holdings) Ltd, which is 100% owned by Mid Suffolk District Council. It seemed to me, therefore, that I should seek a response from the senior director of the holding company, Cllr Gerard Brewster. Cllr Brewster is the sole independent councillor in Mid Suffolk, but is Deputy Leader of the Council, having been co-opted into the Conservative-led administration - his vote gives them control of the Council on the casting vote of the Chair. He's also the Portfolio Holder for Economic Growth. 

And so, I sent him a very polite e-mail;
Dear Cllr Brewster,
In my capacity as Chair of the Parish Council most seriously impacted by the Gateway 14 project, I note the information supplied in the District Council's latest press release on the subject.
I wonder if the Council is intending to consult with local residents prior to seeking planning permission, and would be grateful for your thoughts on how this might be achieved in the near future.
I would be happy to arrange opportunities for the District Council to meet (physically or virtually) with residents to outline development plans and to discuss what opportunities might arise in terms of facilities or opportunities for our village.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Ros in the Lords: Written Question - Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body

Asked by: Lord Hylton
Asked on: 6 July 2020
To ask the Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body whether the Strategic Review of the Restoration and Renewal Programme will be conducted by one person, or corporately by the Sponsor Body.

Answered by: Baroness Scott of Needham Market
Answered on: 7 July 2020
The strategic review is being led by the chief executives of the Sponsor Body and Delivery Authority, Sarah Johnson and David Goldstone, with support from infrastructure and programme management experts drawn from both organisations. The chairs of the Sponsor Body and Delivery Authority, Liz Peace and Mike Brown, will also provide input.

As the review progresses input and challenge will also be sought from a challenge group including representatives from both Houses and externally.

The review is expected to conclude in the autumn and its findings will be considered by the Sponsor Body Board and the Commissions of both Houses in the first instance.

Ros in the Lords: Agriculture Bill - Committee Stage

When Ros first went to the Lords, twenty years ago, one of the first pieces of legislation that she was involved in was the Countryside and Rights of Ways Act. But, with the Government now obliged to establish some sort of UK replacement for the Common Agricultural Policy in order to subsidise British farmers, the terms of that support are being debated...

Baroness Scott of Needham Market (LD) [V]
My Lords, like some other noble Lords, I fell victim to the Second Reading cull. Had I been able to speak at Second Reading, I would have focused entirely on the question of public access, so I am very pleased to have the opportunity this evening of supporting my noble friend Lord Addington’s amendments and saying a few words.

We are all agreed that the principle of reward for public good is the right one, and it feels to me as if public access is one of the most important public goods that we can put in the Bill. We know that open-air activity in the countryside—not just walking but all sorts of activity—has a huge contribution to make to individual health and well-being. I think it should sit alongside access to good-quality food as an important outcome of the Bill. I was very heartened to hear the Minister’s response to the last group amendments, when he talked about the importance of projects for well-being and partnership working with other departments.

But it goes much further. There is, of course, an economic development argument, with people coming to visit farm shops, caf├ęs and pubs, but it is even more fundamental than that. One thing that has troubled ​many of us is the real disconnect between people, the food they eat and the way that it is produced. Noble Lords have tabled a number of amendments later in the Bill to deal with that. Regular access to the countryside is one important way of helping to stimulate this interest in and understanding of the way that our food is produced. It is also a way of exciting young people into thinking, potentially, about careers in agriculture, land management or forestry—individuals who come from towns, not necessarily just country dwellers. The same can be said about biodiversity, landscape, animal welfare—the more access people have to the countryside, the more committed they will be to those things.

For a decade, I chaired a rights of way committee in Suffolk. I know that some landowners are more accommodating than others and that some users do not behave in ways that we might like them to, but this stand-off really does need to end, because going forward, the link between individual taxpayers and farmers will be much clearer than it was in the days of the CAP. If people have a perception that they are somehow not welcome in the countryside, they will ask, “Why should my tax money support you?” I think that it would be in everyone’s interests to begin to think much more carefully about public access.

In the interests of time, I will not go through the amendments, but there are two categories. There are the ones that seek to make sure that nothing in the Bill makes the situation any worse. An example is the important question of cross-compliance: making sure that we do not pay for farmers and landowners who do not even comply with their duties under the Highways Act. Nor should we be using taxpayers’ money to help them to do what they should be doing anyway. So we have one set of amendments that are negative in focus, but then the much more positive ones which talk about enhancement and all the things we do to improve public access—not just public footpaths and rights of way, but access more generally, and particularly how we should think about getting people from towns and cities out into the countryside that we all enjoy. I look forward to the Minister’s response.