The musings of a liberal and an internationalist, living in Suffolk's Gipping Valley. There may be references to parish councils, bureaucracy and travel, amongst other things. And yes, I'm a Liberal Democrat.
Thursday, March 09, 2023
Creeting St Peter: might there be some tangible benefits from Gateway 14?
Wednesday, March 08, 2023
Enter bureaucrat stage left with the early morning call for a separate vote
So, with a bit of help from my colleagues, especially Nick da Costa, the ever helpful Chair of Federal Conference Committee, I’ve managed to navigate the Conference Standing Orders (note to self - might be worth reading them at some point) in pursuit of my proposed change to Business Motion F3.
It’s been agreed by FIRC and the current Liberal Democrat member of the ALDE Party Bureau that I am right to be concerned, and that they won’t object to my proposal, and Nick has advised that he’d prefer a separate vote. And so, I lodged the request using the surprisingly user friendly webform by the deadline and all appears well.
I am going to find out what is required of me next. My working presumption is that I ought at the very least to be in the hall for the motion, and that I ought to prepare a few words of explanation so that Hannah Bettsworth (FIRC Vice Chair) can accept it on behalf of the movers.
Now you might wonder why I’m so vague about this. Curiously, I don’t think that I’ve ever tried to amend a motion at a Liberal Democrat conference - I’m not a policy geek and, usually, not that organised. I’ve amended my name to amendments from time to time, but only as “fifth spear carrier” and not with any intention to intervene myself. So, it will be a new experience for this bureaucrat.
I will, at least, hopefully be fortified by a decent cooked breakfast…
Sunday, March 05, 2023
That'll teach me to read the Conference papers a bit earlier next time...
1. Our delegation to the ALDE Council shall comprise:
b) Any Liberal Democrat members of the ALDE Bureau, unless they already have their own place as Council members.
whilst the ALDE Party Internal Regulations say:
The following persons will be entitled to attend the meetings of the Council, with voting rights:
Now call me quirky and old fashioned, but that suggests that ALDE Party Bureau members can't vote on behalf of member parties, whilst the Business Motion puts any Liberal Democrat member of the Bureau in exactly that position. Doesn't it?
There is still time (just) to amend it, but I don't want to appear to be being awkward for the sake of it. Suggestions, Liberal Democrat hive mind?
Saturday, March 04, 2023
National Grid: bringing power lines to a village near you whether you like it or not
We get that, we really do. However, what we'd really like is that, if you're going to run overhead cables across the countryside, we'd like to be consulted and we'd like them not to run over the village. We aren't even a big village, so it wouldn't take an awful lot to meet our wishes.
I ought to admit that, when the East Anglia Green project was first mooted, I wasn't terribly engaged. In the absence of a Parish Clerk, I was rather more focussed on keeping the Parish Council show on the road and my "bandwidth" was somewhat limited as a result. But, now that I have taken a closer look at it, one thing stands out. Whilst, in the rest of the county, the preferred route for the new overhead transmission lines avoids villages, in our case, the graduated swathe (the purple stripe on the map) passes straight over us. And yes, the darker colours (where they would ideally route the pylons) are just to the east of the village, but they might well be very close to our small community.
So, because I'm curious like that, I rang the East Anglia Green consultation hotline three weeks ago. I reached a recorded message thanking me for my call but, at the end of that message, instead of encouragement to leave a message or, better still, a human being to talk to, there was silence. I waited for a while but nothing seemed to be happening. Perhaps there had been a glitch and I had been cut off so I rang again, only for the same thing to happen. This time though, I waited... and waited... and waited... for more than two minutes until, suddenly, another recorded voice invited me to leave a message.
A little bit later, I received a telephone call, apologising for the fact that I hadn't gotten through. A very polite woman listened as I explained the problem with their telephone line and assured me that someone would call me, either later that afternoon or on Monday, to answer my question and any others I might have.
Fair enough, I thought, and awaited a call. I'm still waiting for it.
My suspicions should have been aroused by what happened when I rang the hotline in the first place. It did seem as though, by accident or design, that it was a means of putting off potential questioners. And, if they hadn't noticed the problem already, it offers a sense that they don't really care.
I'm not opposed to having pylons. They've got to go somewhere, and the existing infrastructure means that a north-south route across Mid Suffolk is inevitable. But we'd like to talk about the type of pylons used - we'd quite like the more modern T-shaped ones - and we'd like to input our thoughts into the exact route.
But I have a nasty feeling that being reasonable is, in their eyes, the same as being a doormat. And they wonder why local communities are so opposed to major infrastructure projects on their doorsteps...
Thursday, February 02, 2023
Creeting St Peter - a little bit closer to McDonalds…
It would be fair to say that the Gateway 14 development has been a part of my life for the best part of five years now, with the initial controversy over the placement of a business and enterprise park on our doorstep succeeded by the long and wearying hybrid planning application phase during which a plucky parish council, working alongside a residents actions group, strove to improve the original proposals.
In the end, the District Council, the owners of Gateway 14, pretty much got their way, as was fairly inevitable. We did get some mitigations, with a bund to screen the site from the nearby group of properties at Clamp Farm, a promised electric bus service to transport workers to and from Stowmarket town centre and improvements to the lighting and ecosystem protection.
Last week saw a ceremony to mark the commencement of work on the new distribution centre for "The Range" and today we had the official opening of Gateway Boulevard, the spine road for the development.
So far, so meh. But, for residents of Creeting St Peter, it meant the final closure of our old road to Stowmarket, and its replacement with a new, more direct route to Tesco (our nearest supermarket), Stowmarket and the A14. And so, a few of us turned up for the opening ceremony.
Friday, January 27, 2023
Ros in the Lords: Net Zero
“there must be more place-based, locally led action on net zero. Our local areas and communities want to act on net zero, but too often government gets in the way. The Government must provide central leadership on net zero, but it must also empower people and places to deliver.”
Thursday, January 26, 2023
I am, for the first time in a long time, without a role within the Liberal Democrats. It feels... okay.
Wednesday, January 18, 2023
Ros in the Lords: Levelling Up Bill (Second Reading)
As has been noted by many, this Bill has been so gutted that the Conservatives are being told not to refer to "levelling up" any more. What that's going to do for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is anyone's guess. However, it does offer an opportunity to make some gains for the Town and Parish Council sector, ably represented in the Lords by the Honorary President of the National Association of Local Councils, one (checks notes) Baroness Scott of Needham Market...
My Lords, I wish to focus my remarks on what I regard as the crucial role played by parish and town councils throughout England—one which, I suggest, is essential if the aspirations of the White Paper and this Bill are to be met. I declare my interest as president of the National Association of Local Councils, which supports England’s 10,000 local councils, covering everything from my own tiny parish and its precept of a few thousand pounds to some of our largest towns with budgets of many millions.Local councils represent an existing, sustainable and accountable model of community leadership and service delivery. Crucially, they help to create that spirit of place which is so essential in building well-being and a strong civic society. They provide parks and open spaces, facilitate street markets, support high streets and organise community events. Part of their strength is that they are close to the people, but they are also part of the important fabric of the local area, alongside community groups, faith groups and voluntary organisations. Working alongside those partners, they are increasingly innovating in areas such as local climate change action, tackling loneliness and dealing with the cost-of-living crisis.It is in the area of housing—neighbourhood plans led by local councils, with the full involvement of residents—that local councils have proved themselves more than capable of adding to the stock, rather than diminishing it. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Stunell for introducing this. There were people who said, “Well, they’ll all just say no to everything”, but they do not. When local people have buy-in, we end up with more housing rather than less. In the last decade, 3,000 neighbourhood plans have been made; 1,300 referenda came about as part of that, and 88% of people voted yes. However, neighbourhood plans are not available in unparished areas, and it is fair to say that the attitude of the principal authorities is not always supportive. This Bill could contain measures to help deal with some of that, but it also contains some measures—we will return to this in Committee—which could adversely impact on the way neighbourhood plans are currently running.True devolution is not just about passing a bit of power down one level. The framework set out in the Bill says nothing about onward devolution; therefore, there is very little in it about devolution to local and community councils. The White Paper contained a commitment to carry out a review of neighbourhood governance. It is a shame that we have not yet had that, because the measures needed could have been part of this Bill. Can the Minister say when this review might take place? I ask her, please, not to say, “in due course”, because I have been told that about four times in Written Questions. The UK Social Fabric Index shows that areas with full coverage of local councils score higher in measures of community strength than those without.There are significant and sometimes ridiculous limitations on the financial powers of local councils, which are excluded from a whole raft of government funding streams. The result is either that a local area does not bid at all, or that it has to set up a whole new organisation and paraphernalia in order to bid and then run it. Reform is needed on this and in other areas, including extending the power of general competence, rights over community assets, clarity on funding for church halls, and parity with the rest of local government in order to be able to pay a carer’s allowance.The sector made good use of remote meetings, which were forced on all of us during the pandemic. There is lots of evidence to show how engagement—both people joining the council and people joining in with council meetings—increased during that time, so we would like to see that brought back.The Bill provides a really good opportunity for local councils to build on what is already an impressive record and to play their part in rebuilding and regenerating the social, as well as the economic, fabric of their areas. They do so with very little support and training. They do the best they can with what they have, but it would be good to see local councils have parity with principal councils when it comes to government funding. I know that the Minister has a good track record of working with the town and parish council sector, so I hope she will use the passage of the Bill to make some improvements and enable it to motor.