Problem, Cost, Consequences.

Problem, Cost, Consequences.

If the intention of your policy is to get some publicity and have something to say to the people who are demanding something must be done, then any policy will do.

But if the intention of your policy is actually to resolve or reduce a real issue then there are some necessary steps. I always try and think “PCC”; Problem, Cost, Consequences. (NOT Police and Crime Commissioner.)

(1) Know the problem
You need to be able to state exactly what problem you are trying to solve. If you can’t even get this starting point then any policy is extremely unlikely to work and quite likely to make things worse. This is not as easy as it appears. You may think you can state the problem you are trying to solve, but when you analyse it you will realise it is only part of the problem, or is a symptom of the problem.

(2) Know the cost
Will the cost of your proposed solution, both in money and other resources, actually be higher than the cost of the problem? If that is the case it might still be worth enacting the policy, but the source of funding should be clearly identified. Or it might be that the cost means a different solution would be more appropriate.

(3) Know the consequences
Consider what the consequences of your proposed solution will be. “Unforseen consequences” are less likely if a little time is taken to *try* and forsee them. Will the consequences be worse than the problem in some way?

There’s nothing “political” in this whatsoever. These simple precautions work for policy regardless of whether it is left- or right-wing. If only we’d spend a bit of honest time looking at new ideas for policy like this we’d make far fewer errors and many of our problems would be resolved or lessened.

The trouble is we seldom do. And the reason we seldom do is sometimes because we think we know the problem and don’t need to (incorrectly, in my opinion), sometimes because we don’t WANT to know the problem for various reasons we don’t like to admit to ourselves, and sometimes because a scary mob with pitchforks are urging less thought more action.

Christmas Diary Part 1

Christmas Diary Part 1

The first week of December marks the beginning of what, for many of us, is the most frantic month of the year.  Loads of Christmas things to do, but the normal day-to-day work doesn’t conveniently take a pause and so we often find ourselves overloaded.  I’m no different to most, so as the new Month rolled in I knew it was going to be hectic.

On Monday I was at work here in Wisbech, and in the evening I had a NECCA Officer’s Meeting to attend (something of an eye-opener, that one.)  Tuesday I was in Hertfordshire at my factory there, and in the evening I was at the Newton & Tydd Conservatives Christmas Meeting (and very pleasant it was too, as we have snacks and drinks alongside the regular business.)

On Wednesday I had several conflicting duties to attend and it was a challenge to decide which were more urgent than which.  The evening featured several visits to see constituents who had issues they needed help with in both Medworth and Peckover.

Thursday I had to travel to Kings Lynn for two meetings there as part of a project I’m working on (more about that in the New Year) but I did get the evening off to spend some time with the family and the only early night of the week.

Friday I spent the day working on the accounts of two of my businesses and chasing up debts, but had to rush off in the late afternoon to attend a meeting in March of the 20Twenty Productions group (with whom I am a trustee.)  I drove immediately from that to the Alexandra Road Conservative Club where I was the quizmaster for a Fundraising Christmas Quiz with supper and drinks.  That was a great evening and a big “Thank you!” to all the people who came along, participated, and made it such fun.  Commiserations to the Farmer Team – who almost always win quizzes but who were pipped at the post (literally on a tie breaker point) by the Brunton Collective.

On Saturday I had business as a DJ; first at a Child’s birthday party, then straight on to run the disco for the Newton Village Free Family Disco.  No rest for the wicked Tory because I was then straight on again to the King’s Head for my final gig there of the year – good turnouts at all the events and I enjoyed them though I was shattered by the time I finally got home.

I was up early this morning to get some household chores done and try and finish my December Councillor’s newsletter – which I hope to put out next week.  This afternoon I was invited to attend a Carol Service at St. Augustine’s Church on Lynn Road.  It was a lovely event, well attended and supported.  It has a beautiful atmosphere in that particular church, even more so on a dark December afternoon with dozens of Christmas Trees all around (they have a Christmas Tree Festival ongoing) and glitting Christmas Lights.  I enjoyed it very much and would like to thank Julie Mills who invited me.

This evening I have a meeting with a Town Councillor who shall not be named.  Yet.  The meeting is to finalise some paperwork.  There may be a surprise coming.  :)

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Light Extravaganza

Christmas Light Extravaganza

The Christmas Light Extravaganza had a lot of hype to live up to.  From the soundings on the street and on Facebook it did just that.  A truly phenomenal event, latest estimates have the crowd at three thousand strong – by far the largest ever for a Wisbech Christmas Lights event.  The atmosphere was really very special – older people and younger people, English people and Eastern Europeans, families and couples and individuals in a sea of excitement, good will and merriment.  If you weren’t there, then I’m sorry for you – because it was Wisbech at its truly finest.

We should remember that none of this happens on it’s own.  It takes a team of amazing volunteers and dedicated local people who put in many hours of very hard work.  It’s impossible to name them all but we must not forget Cllr Samantha Hoy (Chairman of the Festivals Committee), Cllr David Oliver, Cllr Jessica Oliver and Barbara Oliver (the Oliver Family are priceless and are behind the scenes on so much good that happens in town), Jonathan and Susanah Farmer, Angie from Tinfish who volunteered so much of her own time, money and resources (the Town has no greater supporter), Cllr Sam Clark who was around all day to help, the amazing team of stewards who sold tickets enthusiastically and handed out mince pies cheerily and helped lost children find their parents throughout the afternoon.  The Frozen Princesses and their entourage, who were like rock stars today.  The entire Tanfield family.  Aigars Balsevics (Landlord of The Angel, the Kings Head and The Three Tuns) and his team of Eastern European muscle men, who lifted and moved and leapt to help any time anything needed doing as though energy were something they had bottomless resources of.   David Gutteridge (aka The Viking) who single-handedly sold nearly 200 draw tickets before the event even began and who worked like a trooper all day.  Terry Jordan (Town Clerk) who provided such boundless good spirit and enthusiasm from dawn ’til dusk.   Cllr Stevo Brunton – who is always there to nurse wounds and treat injuries, should they occur.  The Lions who provided help, organisation and – Santa!  The Globe, Costa Coffee, Loafers and the other businesses who extended their opening hours and who decorated to add their own cheer to the town.  Particularly to Cats Pajamas and the lovely ladies who run it – who were part of the Festivals Committee and gave selflessly of their time and resources to help the event succeed.  I’m sure i’ve forgotten some people, but it wasn’t deliberate.  There are just so many great people.  The Mayor and Mayoress who brought joy to the Festival, the wonderful performers who shone on the stage, the pantomime people, Cllr Reg Mee and his excellent band, the sound and light crew, the electricians who installed all the light fixtures in such a short space of time, and the many Town Councillors who turned out to work with us today.  This town has such a great team.

But, as ever, the real thanks go to the people of Wisbech and district.  Who may occasionally be grumpy and may occasionally be demanding and are quite often cynical – but who never miss a chance like this to provide energy, enthusiasm and spirits bright enough to light up the dark Fen landscape, long may they continue to do so.  This is why this town is so very awesome.  Thank you all.  Merry Christmas!

View of the stage.

Another one.

The Christmas tree.  Cool, huh? :)

Massive Crowds.

More massive crowds.

The funfair area.

A legendary mythical creature.  The Jamie Edwards.

The Viking and Cllr Stephen Brunton

Tanfields and friends.

More Tanfields.  Cllr Michelle and Richard.

Cllr Sam Hoy and Cllr Sam Clark.

Aigars Balsevics, purveyor of mulled wine and strong volunteers.

Happy people.

Cllr Sam Hoy and Angie from Tinfish.

More Happy People.

Even More Happy People.

Even More Happy People.

Even More Happy People.

Even More Happy People.

Even More Happy People.

Even More Happy People.

Cllr Sam Clark, the Mayor and Mayoress, the wonderful Sandra Skinner.

Some colourful characters, with me.  :)

Sam Hoy & the Frozen Princesses.  Dreams can come true. :)

More happy people, of which I am one.

It’s That Time Again

It’s That Time Again

I’ve not blogged for a few days because it’s been one of those crazy busy weeks.  I’m busy on almost all fronts.  Work is hectic, my new enterprises are also quite demanding at the moment, I’ve got lots of Councillor casework to get my teeth into and this is the time of year when there are lots of events to attend also.

This week I’ve been all over the place what with a trip to London and another to Hertfordshire, helping Steve Barclay deliver surveys to my District Ward and trying to resolve some tricky problems in both Medworth and Peckover.

On Friday night I was in my old stomping grounds, Roman Bank, Gorefield to be specific – as the quizmaster for a fundraising quiz in support of the Fenrats.  It was nice to see all my old friends again and we had a giggle.  On Saturday evening I was at another fundraiser – also in Roman Bank – this time Newton.  A different bunch of old pals but just as enjoyable a time.

Of course tomorrow is the “big day” since it’s the Christmas Light Switch On in Wisbech.  I’ll be out from dawn ’til dusk, lugging stuff around, being a steward, putting stuff away, and helping make sure the event runs smoothly and hopefully successfully.  I’m excited about the new lights, which I haven’t seen “on” yet but which look promising in their “off” state.  Given that this is only Phase 1, it still looks like we’re going to get a significantly improved show.  It feels a little like a “legacy” – mostly because the opposition and their friends in the local press tried so hard to stop it happening but the people of Wisbech absolutely did not agree with them.  In the end, the vote was clear, the policy rushed forwards and goodness I hope it all works out well!  No doubt there will still be some folk who aren’t happy – there always is.  But we listened, to asked and we actioned.  What more can you do?

Christmas is just about here.  Have a very very merry one!  It’s that time again. :)


Something Of A Convenience

Something Of A Convenience

Normally, if you see two shifty blokes hanging around outside a public toilet you might be suspicious as to their motives.  But Dear Reader, there is no need for you to be concerned.  Sometimes, it is simply two local UKIP Councillors officially marking the opening of a public convenience.  Okay, it had already been officially opened some hours earlier and so the only way they were going to really be able to “open” it would be if they had handy access to a DeLorean and a Flux Capacitor, but you know what they say.  It’s the thought that counts.

But there is something terribly sad about a pair of Councillors, after apparently not being invited to the actual opening ceremony, mocking up a fake “opening ceremony” for a public toilet.  Apparently, both of them had “done a lot” to get it re-opened.  So the Wisbech Standard says and I have no reason to believe it is not true.  Some might suggest that all they did was write a letter to the ‘paper and claim to write a letter to the Health Secretary.  Some might even point out that the Horsefair had already said it had every intention of re-opening the toilets.  But it’s good news the loos are open again and if photo ops are your thing, what better place than outside the Gents on a sunny afternoon?

I hope they washed their hands.

Image Copyright Wisbech Standard, original article here.

Trojan Horse

Trojan Horse

In history, the Trojan Horse is a tale of trickery in which the Greeks managed to enter the city of Troy and win the war against their enemies.  After a long and fruitless siege they finally succeeded by constructing a huge wooden horse, in which they hid a select force of men.  The Greeks then pretended to leave and the residents of Troy haplessly wheeled the horse inside, thinking it was a parting gift or something from their defeated enemies.  That evening the force crept out of the horse and opened the gates for the rest of the Greek army and bob’s ‘yer uncle.

I’ve always thought it a pretty unlikely story.  You’d have to be pretty stupid to fall for it really.  But as a metaphor, it’s interesting.

The metaphor is that a Trojan Horse represents a trick or plan which managed to move an agent of one force into the territory of another, thereby allowing said agent to undermine and inflict damage upon the opponents.

The computer world adopted the same term to refer to a malicious piece of computer code which tricks a computer user into running it – whereupon it sets about opening a virtual door so that other software can come in and do damage.

In every respect though, the Trojan Horse is a ploy which can only work with the willing (if foolish) cooperation of the “enemy” or target.  Like the legend of the traditional Vampire, it can’t hurt you if you don’t invite it in.  But once you do invite it in, who knows what it might do?

reckless and carswell
Hat tip and (c) The Times for this image.
Original article can be viewed here.



I spent the morning at the Remembrance Service in Wisbech both at the War Memorial and then in the church.  Touching service, respectful crowd, a very moving day.

For the Fallen


With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.


Diary – 8th November

Diary – 8th November

It’s been another varied week full of strange happenings.  I continue to receive a surprisingly large number of calls from residents.  I think I am getting more now even than I did when I was a County Councillor.  Some are quite easy to deal with – like the disturbance in Tillery Fields the other night with a large group letting off fireworks at 11PM.  (I just walked down, explained why their behaviour was unreasonable, and asked them to leave.  And they left.)  Or the issue with the young man whose Council Tax bill had come in much higher than he’d expected (he was entitled to a discount.)  Others are more challenging – like the popular idea to reopen the closed road on the South Brink side of the top of Weasenham Lane.  I explain that one is a County Council issue, and worst of all, it’s Cllr Lagoda, who – even by UKIP standards – is the Scarlet Pimpernel of elected representatives.  We can but try.

Thursday, I attended my first Full Council meeting at FDC as an elected Member.  It was an eye opener for a variety of reasons even though this was far from a “normal” meeting due to the Estover debate, the presence of a large number of the public, activist Editor John Elworthy videoing the procedures (luckily, Alan Lay wasn’t there to shriek his disapproval of being put on video, and Gordon Gillick wasn’t there to demand his rights as a member of a Performer’s Union).  Even outside of that I was surprised by a number of things – it is entirely more informal that County Council ever was for a start.  The “Motion” that was put in regarding Estover was bizarre and I cannot imagine it ever would have made it to a Full Council meeting at County Council, but it had no problem at District Council because, apparently, there is no process by which proposed motions are vetted by Officers for appropriate procedure.  Seems very odd to me, but I guess different Councils have different styles.   The meeting lasted four or so hours, which seemed to be considered very long to most Members.  I didn’t find it too bad, but then when you’ve sat through an interminable, life-sucking Full Council on the annual budget at County, four hours seems tame. :I was advised by another Member to “stay quiet for a few months” before the meeting began.  I know that the advice was given in good spirit and I’m sure they meant well, but clearly they don’t know me at all.  :)  Sit quiet?  I don’t think so.  That said, there’s no danger of me being seen as the “one who speaks too much” with Cllr Gavin Booth in the same room.  I like Gavin very much, but goodness he can talk. :)

On Friday Morning I had a series of appointments with senior officers at FDC as part of my “Induction Training.”  I found them all to be knowledgeable, passionate and very friendly.  The Officers at County were also, but that organisation was so huge and employed so many people that it could never quite shake an atmosphere of bureaucracy that all huge organisations have.  FDC, on the other hand, feels more like a small (but very professional) business – a tight team who work well together, an apparently complete absence of “silos”, a dedicated bunch all reading from the same page.  I think I’m going to enjoy working with them very much.  It feels like a place where it’s possible to “get things done” and where people genuinely want challenge, scrutiny and input.  I don’t know what I expected, but I feel very positive about this indeed.

On Friday evening I was helping run a fundraising event for our local Conservative Association, but just before I left the phone rang.  I cannot, at this point, relate exactly what the contents of that conversation were.  But I was made an offer of a role that was simultaneously challenging, exciting and terrifying.  I hadn’t expected it at all and was a little shell-shocked.  I have me some thinking to do (but don’t worry, it doesn’t jeopardise my current roles at all.)

Friday Evening’s “That’s Entertainment” Dinner, the Annual “big fundraising event” for North-East Cambridgeshire Conservative Association went down a storm.  Formal dress, table magicians, a comedian/impressionist, a speech by our local MP, and then a disco until late run by yours truly was well-received by a sold-out crowd of local people.  I thoroughly enjoyed taking part.  The event was organised and run by our Organising Secretary Debbie Clark, who is (in my opinion) the very heart and soul of the local Association and who always excels at everything she sets her mind to.  I wanted to mention it here because I don’t think she is told anywhere near often enough how truly awesome she is.

The date for the end of our question at Wisbech Town Council about the new Christmas Lights has now been reached.  I have no idea what the results are as I haven’t had time to pop in and see, but the update I got earlier in the week sounded quite positive.  So fingers crossed.



My old friend Cllr Alan Lay (UKIP) back in the newspaper again this week, trying desperately to find whatever sounds the most “populist” thing as ever, makes the following interesting comment:

Buy hampers
Perhaps the cost of proposed Wisbech Christmas lights could be better spent by giving 200 needy families a £50 food hamper.  That will cost £10,000, far less than the estimate for lighting, and do far more good than pretty lights which is only a fleeting thing.  Christmas lights do not fill empty bellies.
County councillor, Roman Bank and Peckover
Via e-mail

I despair of this fellow, who makes these pronouncements with what appears to be zero understanding of the powers and functions of local Councillors – especially given his senior position in one of the highest tiers of government.

Let’s have a little think about his idea, shall we?  First of all, which Council is responsible for the care of vulnerable adults, like those who cannot afford to feed themselves?  Well, Cambridgeshire County Council are, the Council to which Alan Lay is the elected representative.  Councillor Lay’s dedication to his post is such that he manages to miss a meeting and fail to assign a substitute which nearly caused Wisbech to lose £178,000 of funding for those self-same vulnerable adults.  How many £50 Food Hampers does £178,000 buy, Alan?  Three thousand, five hundred and sixty.

I wonder what the cost to local Councils of frivolous (and failed) Standards Boards Complaints are?  Officer time, committee member expenses, room space and heating/lighting?  A few £50.00 Food Hampers worth, I bet.

For that matter, what are the cost to us of the actual County Councillors?  The yearly cost to us of Cllrs Lay, Clapp, Lagoda and Gillick start at £28,000 Annually before we begin to factor in their expenses and their Special Responsibility Allowances and could easily be £40,000 + on a bad year.  More than twice the cost of the proposed Christmas Lights Project.  I don’t know how much value people put on County Councillors but  do know that lacklustre and ill-informed Councillors don’t “fill bellies” any more than pretty lights do.  But at least “pretty lights” look nice.

Alan Lay describes Christmas Lights as “fleeting” – though their purchase will of course last many years.  Far longer than the food in a single Hamper would last, in fact.  And you don’t get much more “fleeting” than food.  Once eaten, it is gone.  But even if we accept Alan Lay’s reasoning, then why not sell all the existing Christmas Lights and use the money raised to buy Hampers with that too?  If, as he proposes, “pretty lights” are less important than food hampers.  Why not stop putting fresh flowers in the parks and gardens and use that money to buy hampers?  Flowers don’t fill hungry bellies as far as I know.  Why not stop putting on the Rock Festival?  Rock Music doesn’t fill hungry bellies either.  And just imagine the shrieks of horror, outrage and disgust that would come from your supporters if some of those hampers got into the hands of somebody who wasn’t English?  Darn foreigners, coming over here and eating our free Christmas Hampers! ;)

What you are seeing here is the consequences of electing ‘Kippers.  Populist pronouncements with zero thought for the actual depth and effect their ideas would have if actioned.  God forbid they ever get into actual power anywhere.  Dread the day.

All this aside, Alan Lay displays his usual complete lack of knowledge and understanding of the Councils that he has been a working part of for over a year now.  This sort of ignorance was acceptable when he first started, he could play the “I’m just a simple man” card back then.  But he’s been at this for plenty of time now and the excuses for not knowing pretty basic stuff are wearing a bit thin.  So let me fill him in.

Councils cannot give away money to individuals, either as cash or in the form of gifts, in the way he proposes with his Christmas Hampers.  It would almost certainly be illegal and even were you to find some way to avoid arrest doing so would certainly get the whole Council into hot water.   The Council who are best able to spend taxpayer’s money alleviating the effects of malnutrition and poverty are the County Council and to a lesser extent the District Council.  But Alan wants us to divert funds from our legitimate function – festivals – to an illegitimate and potentially illegal one.

True to form for a ‘Kipper his proposal also comes with no detail.  Who would administer it?  How would it be determined who would get a hamper and who would not?  How would you scrutinise for and prevent corrupt misallocations of the funds/food involved?  What food would you include – are we talking maximum quantities of white label discount brands, or luxury items?  What would the cost of implementing the scheme be?

I’ve got a proposal for you, Alan Lay.  Let’s start a Christmas Hamper Charity, whose aim is to provide needy folks with a food hamper at Christmas.  At least that method wouldn’t be illegal.  You can choose who we give the hampers to.  You could go say Veterans, Disabled People and Children in Care, if you want to really get the good will flowing.  (Though I expect your ‘Kipper colleague, Cllr Gillick, might have something to say about people who are then ‘takers from society’, huh?)  All I ask is that for every hour I put into our new charity, you match it.  For every pound I put into our new charity, you match it.  Every meeting I attend, you also attend.  And for every volunteer I bring in, you find one also.  We can work together to improve lives and help people get food at the most wonderful time of the year.  I know you’re always up for the challenge of the hard work that goes alongside the things you claim to propose.  So let’s get on with it.  When would you like to start?  I’m free next Wednesday if you’d like to pencil in the afternoon to put the ideas together.



I’ve spent several hours today studying the current local debate about the Estover Playing fields.  I’m coming to it completely fresh for a number of reasons.  (a)  I don’t live in March and tend to spend most of my time dealing with Wisbech issues.  (b)  I’m brand new to Fenland District Council and so wasn’t involved in the development or agreement of their Core Strategy, beneath whose mighty engines this issue labours.  This has enabled me to take a step back and look at it in a neutral way – something which I think others might have struggled with, simply by virtue of involvement prejudice.  In short, I have no skin in the game, as it were.

It’s a right old mess, to be fair.  But whose mess?  That is the question.  Because while this might seem to be a simple cut-and-dried case I don’t personally believe it is any such thing.  Sure, there are decent local people, angry about the facts as they perceive them.  Possibly rightly so.  But this issue is a veritable maze of personalities and views, agendas, plans, within multiple Councils and beyond.  It all creates some pretty misleading messages.  Meanwhile, ordinary March folk are caught up in it.

In the end, personalities, factions, groups, political parties, “Independents”, local interests, ex-leaders, future-leader-hopefuls, ex-cabinet members, future-cabinet-member-hopefuls, grandstanders, opportunist disparate oppositions, media manipulators and everything else aside – the actual issue here is quite simple.  We’ll get to that.

But first, let’s look at a few facts.  Please do not interpret any personal view about these – I’ll get to my view at the end – this is just for clarification.  I hope you will appreciate that I have helped many campaigners in many campaigns and so I do have some experience to offer here.  I can’t force anybody to read this or care what I say, but I offer my views purely in an attempt to be helpful to all concerned.

A number of residents have sent me interesting and helpful information about interpretations of what Windfall means, including other Council’s documents and some legal representation.  I really appreciate your taking the time to do that and they were useful, but i’m afraid it misses the point.  In my opinion the argument about what “windfall” means is a Red Herring.  This is because local Councils can define things and name them any way they choose (within the law) and so all that really matters is what the documents in the Core Strategy actually said.  And when you look at the wording of the document, I’m afraid it’s pretty clear that it is only developments of 250 houses or more that are considered “large scale housing proposals”.  Sites small than that which become available are considered “windfall” sites and should be considered on their merits. Even if “smaller” were to be “249 houses.”  Such is the danger of “cut-off points” like these.  Now look – I know some Councillors wish the words had not said that, or did not full understand what they were agreeing to.  But that simply suggests to me that – given the importance of this document – some people probably should have taken more time or asked for more advice before unanimously agreeing to it.
My advice to campaigners is: “Don’t try and out-legalese Council Officers.”  You can’t win.  People always try and do this, poring over documents and arguing with wording.  It doesn’t work, because Council Officers do this for a living, and they have legal advisers and barristers to help them.

Consider this extract of an official FDC Report:-

There were therefore no further changes made to Policy CS4 Part B – Housing i.e. the  windfall policy up until adoption in May 2014. This was in keeping with Members’  aspirations and strong steer to deliver a pro-growth and flexible plan for both the market towns and villages. The Policy was a key tool for ensuring that the Council adopted a flexible approach to new developments which might come forward in any location and was an integral part of the plan throughout its development from March 2011 until final adoption by Cabinet and Full Council on 8th May 2014.

At these two meetings Members also considered the Inspector’s Report of 9th April 2014 into the Examination of the Local Plan. The Inspector found the plan to be sound and recognised its radical approach and the importance of the “windfall” element as being an integral part of it. 2.23 In para 60 of her report (which was made public as part of the subsequent consultation)  she explained:
“…DABs that previously curtailed windfall development are no longer applicable. Large scale windfalls (up to 249 dwellings) can therefore come forward in and around the towns. This is a very different approach to that contained in the historic Local Plan and so past trends in relation to windfalls must be treated with some caution. Indeed, an application had been submitted for 249 dwellings at the time of the hearings (Showfields site in Whittlesey) and a number of sites, not included in the CSLP, have been referred to in representations which may support such windfall development.”

I don’t mean to be difficult, but that’s pretty clear isn’t it?  And this follows from the plan that was introduced and guided by previous leader Cllr Alan Melton and his cabinet long before the current Leader and cabinet had anything to do with it.  There was even a committee set up to review and guide the policy, called the Fenland Community Development (CDP) Steering Group.

The CDP Review Team consisting of Councillors M Archer (replaced by M Bucknor), Mrs J French, P Hatton and Mrs F S Newell, and chaired by Councillor K Owen, was an informal steering group of Members for the Core Strategy and associated matters, which did not have formal decision making powers, but was used as a forum to provide member direction on polices and their formulation.

There appear (as ever) to be various competing conspiracy theories.  Some relating to Cambridgeshire County Council, some to Fenland District Council, I even heard one relating to March Town Council.  I won’t give them oxygen by repeating them, since I don’t believe any of them are right.   There are no “Grand Conspiracies” in my opinion.  But there may well be a handful of little ones.  When I refer to a “little conspiracy” I do not mean some sinister plot in which a shady mastermind and his minions seek to develop some despicable Master Plan.  Nothing as Hollywood as that.  Rather, there are conflicting agendas and interests seeking to sway public opinion, in some cases not for any reasons which even relate to Estover.  Which is desperately sad, in my opinion, since it is doing a terrible disservice to the people of March North who care about this issue.
My advice to campaigners is: Cynicism is a useful tool when used sparingly, but don’t jump to dark conclusions.  They will seldom be the truth.

People have attempted to make this issue about individuals.  Cllr Steve Count, Cllr John Clark, and the like.    I can’t force anybody to believe what I say, but I will simply say that these two individuals are honest and sincere.  To cast them otherwise is to misunderstand their natures.  In fact, it appears that both are trying to handle what has become a complicated situation.  They are frustrated in their attempts to talk about the issue logically because the issue ceased being logical some time ago and became political (with a small ‘p’).  For instance, I don’t know why the “petition” was worded the way it was, but I propose that it was a poor decision.  It seems primarily to focus on trying to remove John Clark as Council Leader, while the actual issue of Estover Playing Fields falls into the background.  Perhaps that is why the petition closed with only 256 signatures, rather than the reported 750 signatures of the earlier petition?  I hope so, because that would suggest that people are wise to these sort of approaches.
My advice to campaigners is: Don’t get drawn into attacking individuals.  People who steer you this way invariably have their own reasons for doing so.  The vast majority of people you might be minded to attack are just people like you, trying to find solutions to difficult issues.  Instead, frame your case clearly and fairly and then present it eloquently and with heart.  That’s your best chance of achieving a good result.

My personal dislike for petitions is well-known.  I think they are a weak tool.  They have their place, but they really don’t tell you much.  If you actually care to know people’s opinions, give them the chance at multiple answers.  “Yes,” “No,” “Under Some Conditions,” “I don’t like the leading way your question was phrased” – that sort of thing.  Also, try not to allow people from hundreds of miles away to vote on a local issue.  How is that helpful or credible?
My advice to campaigners:  Instead of a petition, consider going with a letter-writing campaign and encourage people to express their views rather than parrot a prepared line.

What, in my personal opinion, is really behind all this is simply a series of unfortunate events that lead us to today. First, the Government have been pressing local Councils to speed up and be more flexible with housebuilding projects.  Secondly, the previous Council Leader was very supportive of growth and construction.  I don’t say this disrespectfully, Alan Melton probably had perfectly good reasons for his views.  But that view and his leadership did bring about the Core Strategy which underpins the difficulties here. A Core Strategy designed to streamline planning and to make it more “flexible.”  When you create a “power set to MAX” planning framework, then try and whack in a few last minute “brakes” you’re going to hit unforeseen policy bumps.   Just like this one.

It is therefore somewhat ironic that the people who led this direction for the Strategy are some of the people now crying foul about the outcomes, while those who came to it late are the ones getting the blame and having to deal with the fallout.  I’m sure there’s an anecdote there for posterity.  “When you follow in the footsteps of another, you will step in all their mess?”  Something like that. :)   I should also add that the previous motion which sought to limit development was very poorly worded.  Or, it was if it’s intention was as being claimed now, anyway.

But the new motion, submitted by Cllr. Tunley and to be considered tomorrow is even worse.  In fact, I’m not sure i’ve ever seen a Motion quite as flawed as this, and I’ve seen some shocking ones over the years.  In is factually incorrect in at least one place, it makes presumptive statements like “we all understand” and it is loaded with vague terms like “which appears to be supported.”  Worst of all is it’s conclusion: “I move that this Council reaffirms its decision … and holds to the spirit of its intention and Officers be so instructed.”  Good grief.  Cllr Tunley wants to “instruct Officers” to “hold to the spirit of our intention” as opposed to what it actually said?  What does he think they are?  Poltergeists?  Are they to leap into Cllr Tunley’s brain and immediately understand what he means rather than what he says?  And into the heads of all the other Councillors also?  Purely aside from the fact that I wouldn’t wish that on anybody, and that it is impossible, what would they do when the encountered the obvious disagreements as to what “the spirit of its intention” was?  That Motion is just plain silly and I sure hope he amends it to make more sense before the meeting.

So, earlier in this piece I said the question actually asked was a simple one.  And it is, although there are actually two questions.

(1)  Do the people of March want to allow building on some/all of Estover or not?
(2) do Fenland District Council have the powers to stop building, even if they are minded to?

I propose that you can’t know the answer to (1) until all the costs/options have been considered and people have been given the opportunity to understand them.  For instance, take one comment on the petition web page from a signatory: “March does not have any youth football club that has good facilities, it is embarrassing when all our local villages can provide better. Estover could easily accommodate these facilities if allowed – Rachel Wheatley.”  But what if the proposal included hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of investment in Football Facilities and a majority of the land guaranteed for that purpose in perpetuity?  Rachel doesn’t seem aware of that possibility or to have considered it, but given her comment you’d think it would give her pause wouldn’t you?  Or what about this one: ”  The Council should listen to the people, adhere to the strategy, build on the allocated land first, if that is insufficient then come back to the people for a new Plan – Pauline Frost” – but the Council are adhering to the Policy.  It’s just that people and Councillors are belatedly realising that what has been consulted, signed and agreed wasn’t quite what they thought.  Too often, this is the case.

I suspect the real question  is the second one.  Do FDC have the power to prevent CCC from building on that sight?  Ultimately, no, I doubt they do.  Because that land is owned by Cambs County Council and you can be sure that if they decide they want to build on it and commit their legion of lawyers to the task, FDC are unlikely to win.  It would, in fact, be unlawful to refuse all building in an area and doing so would invite legal challenge (with all the associated costs, and eventual loss.)  So if your ultimate goal is to protect the fields and the potential for sporting and recreational use for posterity, then maybe the right thing to do is look to a deal which finds common ground and writes protections in stone for the future?  But while the two sides are fronting up to each other and shouting, that’s not going to happen.

So my view, in short, is that the Playing Fields should be protected.  They are clearly a local valued asset and we really do need to protect our green spaces.  I’d like to think there could be a compromise which allowed a little building in return for a permanent guarantee that the majority of the land will never be further developed, particularly if that plan came along with a big pot of money for local sporting use.  But it’s March, not Wisbech, and I wouldn’t attempt to force that view on them as I don’t live there.  I do understand why some people are upset – if somebody was trying to develop some of the Wisbech Rugby Fields in Peckover I’d be fighting it tooth and nail.  So if the broad view was that there should be no building at all,fair enough.  But I don’t think people have fully understood the options available to them yet, nor the legal challenges they will face in trying to enforce a very hard line resolution.  In the end, that sort of hard line will probably lead to tears.