Thursday, March 09, 2023

Creeting St Peter: might there be some tangible benefits from Gateway 14?

Well, work on the infrastructure needed for Gateway 14 is pretty much complete, and construction of the first (and largest) building on the site is approved and underway.

The next issue for our community is the distribution of the Section 106 (Town and Country Planning Act 1990) funds associated with the project, something that we have little experience of. Being a countryside village, as defined by Mid Suffolk District Council, we don’t get much development, and thus we’ve never been assigned any such funds in the thirteen years since I first joined the Parish Council.

I’d attended a Town and Parish Council Liaison Meeting last month, hosted by the District Council, where they updated us on key issues that might impact our sector and communities, and part of that was a presentation by the Communities Team. Their role is to interact with us to improve our relationship and help us to achieve benefits for our towns and villages.

I thought that this might offer an opportunity to deal with some of our key issues - the playground and the Church Room - and so I stopped Simon Lanning, the dedicated team member covering our area, and had a few very polite words. That led to an agreement that a more structured conversation might be helpful. And so, on Tuesday, we met on Teams, accompanied by Josh Holmes, one of his colleagues who specialises in grant applications.

My first question was to confirm the size of the pot, which turned out to be £190,000. Now, that does have to be shared with Stowmarket, but it was noted that Stowmarket do have access to other pots of cash, which means that, whilst we shouldn’t be greedy, a simple division based on population shouldn’t limit our requests.

So, resetting our playground’s slide would be smiled upon, as well as some new equipment if needed. And, whilst the only community building belongs to the Parochial Church Council, as it is the key social hub for the village, funding may well be available to make it, say, accessible for disabled users. Some of the more desperately needed repairs might be covered too, which would be very welcome.

There was also news on the footpath which links the village to Gateway 14, in that funds have been set aside for a major upgrade. Simon and Josh have agreed to seek an update from the County Council in terms of what is happening and when, which is very kind of them.

So, we may see improvements to our village, which would be lovely, and a legacy to future residents.

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...

I'm a Liberal Democrat and I read constitutions. That makes me, it seems, slightly geeky, even by the standards of Liberal Democrats. However, occasionally, I spot something that makes me think and, having started the process of organising my diary for Spring Conference, I allowed myself to be distracted by the content.

That allowed me to spot agenda item F3: Business Motion - FIRC. It is, in the generality, a good thing, in that it tidies up the way in which the Party delegations to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and Liberal International are chosen and led, codifying what was done by custom and practice in the past. The problem is that I think that it contradicts the Internal Regulations of the ALDE Party. See what you think...

F3: Business Motion - FIRC

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:

b) Members of the ALDE Party Bureau. Each Bureau member carries an individual vote and cannot take an additional proxy vote, either on behalf of another member of the ALDE Party Bureau or of an ALDE Party member party.

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

One of the challenges of changing the energy mix is that you need infrastructure to support it. So, if you're going to build a swathe of new offshore wind power generation, you need to get that electricity onshore and to the places that it is desperately needed. And, in Suffolk, that means that we're a bit in the way. 

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...