Further Thoughts Wisbech Castle 

Further Thoughts Wisbech Castle 

The first meeting of the committees that will run the Castle have been scheduled for 3rd April.
Myself and a handful of Councillors, along with the Town Clerk, did a walkaround of the Castle this week, and we will be arranging the same opportunity for members of the Committee and Working Party very soon.
So having done the walkaround these are my observations:
Yes, it needs a lot of work. There are some areas which will need builders and craftsmen in fairly soon to address structural issues before they spread problems elsewhere in the buiding. But the the majority of the building really just needs what it appears to have lacked for some time – some tender loving care.
There are quite a lot of nooks and crannies that just need a LOT of elbow grease. Rooms and alcoves which are filled with junk, dirt and rubble – which need clearing, cleaning and painting. We can get on with this fairly quickly using volunteers while professionals are working on the more urgent and serious things that need addressing elsewhere in the building.
We were told “the keys aren’t very well labelled.” This was quite funny. There is a huge box of keys with no labels at all and loads of locked doors. It is going to take quite some time to work out which keys fit which locks and probably to replace locks in rooms where the keys are permanently adrift. But many rooms have more than one point of access so it’s not that we can’t get into them, only that routes in and out are presently a bit of a trek.
This is a truly incredible building. Walking around it, despite the fact that it has been allowed to fall into a poor condition, the opportunities and possibilities spring out at you from every side. It is really quite remarkable and I am very very excited about the potential to bring it back into full use.
My expectation is that the Working Party will be running with quite a few different ideas at once, and that different individuals will lead on different projects. Ideas are already flooding in and we’ve not even met yet.
It is absolutely vital that we get the urgent repairs done soon, both to protect the building from further deterioration and to bring parts of it back into use as soon as feasible.
It’s also vital that we don’t sneer at any ideas, no matter how wild, because this place is incredible and it can (and will) incorporate many different functions and services and interesting facets for the people of Wisbech long into the future. The Working Party will need to consider, work through and be creative at every turn. It will also need to be cost-effective, of course, and I make no apology for saying we hope that we will get lots of volunteers for the graft and for the planning and that we will rely on the goodwill of the people of the Town to help the whole project grow and prosper.
I don’t know where all this will lead. But I anticipate that it is going to eat my life for the next couple of years, and probably the lives of other people who are as passionate and excited about the project as I am. Do I think it will be a huge money-spinner? No. My first aim is to try and get it so that it’s able to stand on its own two feet, physically and financially. I know that’s not easy and previous folk who have run it have failed to do so. But that’s not a reason to be utterly negative.
To this day people are sad that we lost the Octagon, and the Canal and any number of other past assets. Without wanting to enter into that debate, the Castle Committee and Wisbech Town Council have acted to prevent the Castle joining that lost list.
Because what this is about, first and foremost, is protecting one of the Town’s most loved and memorable assets for future generations. I don’t think we could just stand by and let it go. I hope you agree.

An Incinerator In Wisbech?

An Incinerator In Wisbech?

My personal feeling about the idea of putting an incinerator in Wisbech is that I will oppose any plan that comes forwards.

I do intend to ask the voters in Medworth, since that seems to be where they might want to site it. And if they all say “no problem” then I will need to have a rethink, as I am first and foremost an elected representative who must try and reflect the views of my constituents.

But my gut says that the majority of voters will take the same view I do – that it is something we don’t want, don’t need and should say “no” to as clearly as possible.

I will shortly be sending a letter to all the Medworth voters, asking for their views and I will report back once I have an idea of the majority position.

Rob McLaren

Rob McLaren

Yesterday, Cllr Rob McLaren was removed from the Conservative group on Wisbech Town Council.

Almost immediately, the usual suspects begin frothing at the mouth and making nasty comments, pretty much as they always do.

I like Rob McLaren.  I think he’s a nice guy and I’ve always got on pretty well with him.  I am sorry to see him go.

But there are a few things wrong both with what the Hatefest crowd are saying and also with the newspaper article in the Wisbech Standard.

First, calling Rob McLaren “lazy” is wrong.  He isn’t lazy, and that is not what the Leader of Town Council said at all.  Rob has been removed from the group because of ongoing poor attendance and poor conduct – the latter being related to poor attendance.

In the last six months Cllr McLaren has not attended a single Town Council meeting of the Full Council or of any Town Council Committee.  Even in the six months before that he was barely seen at all.  He has not helped at any festival or Town Council organised event in the last year.  He has not turned up at any of the civic functions which Councillors are supposed to attend.

Rob has been given every chance to amend this.  He has been asked to be sure to turn up on multiple occasions and has not done so.  Just before the last meeting of Full Council the Leader of Wisbech Town Council contacted Rob and reminded him that this was his last chance to attend; she contacted him by email, by Facebook messenger and by post.  Rob did not turn up.

This means that Cllr McLaren will imminently fall foul of the six month rule.  This isn’t a decision of Town Council, it is the law.  If a Councillor fails to attend any meeting for six months they cease to be a Councillor.  Cllr McLaren cannot now fix this, because there is no further meetings before the deadline of his six months.  In view of this repeated failure to meet the minimum standards required of a Councillor, of course the Conservative group had no option but to remove him.

At the moment, he is still a Councillor, but now he is an Independent Councillor.  Once the six month rule reaches its limit, he won’t be a Councillor anymore.

Now Rob has been quite clear about the fact that this was his decision.  He has said today that he “sacked himself” at Christmas, and I think that’s broadly correct.  It isn’t as though the Conservative group have not tried to give him every opportunity to return.  If he no longer wished to be in the Conservative group he could have simply announced he was “crossing the floor” and been an Independent, or any other party he chose, and continued to attend meetings and do his own thing.  He didn’t.

Again I’d like to stress that I like Rob and I have a lot of time for him.  He is a nice man and he is often willing to help others.  He has a big heart.  But I am disappointed by his comment that he was being “suppressed” on Town Council, simply because not only is this not true – it’s not even possible.

There is nothing to stop any Councillor saying whatever they want to say in a Town Council meeting.  No group or member has the power to “sack” them as a Councillor.  They can remove them from a political group, but they still continue to be a Councillor.  So there is no physical way at Town Council level for anybody to be coerced into anything they don’t want to do.  It is particularly difficult for it to happen to Rob McLaren simply because none of us ever saw him.   He didn’t turn up for meetings or functions or group meetings – or at all, really.

It seems to me as though Rob has gotten very busy since he went self-employed and – this is just my personal opinion – he has been focusing on developing his business more.  All power to him, he’s great at what he does and seems to be doing very well.  I really do wish him all the best and I wish that he’d been able to turn up to recent meetings in order to prevent his falling foul of the six month rule.  Unfortunately, he chose not to.  But that was entirely his choice and nobody elses’.

Time For A Cuppa

Time For A Cuppa

On Monday morning I visited Rosebank Centre in Edina Court to enjoy their “Time For A Cuppa” morning, raising funds for sufferers of dementia and their families.

I always enjoy visiting Edina Court where the residents and staff and so welcoming and friendly, and where they make one of the best cups of tea for a hundred miles.
I even jointly-won the “guess the weight of the cake” competition. But since I have to lose weight for my parachute jump in May, I let the other winner have the honours of devouring that massive feast :)

New Camsight Shop

New Camsight Shop

Last week it was a great pleasure to open the new Camsight shop in Wisbech.
I was amazed by some of the new technology coming out to help the blind and partially-sighted and the team at the shop seem both knowledgable and caring.
A real asset to the town!

Gritting In North Ward / Waterlees

Gritting In North Ward / Waterlees

In response to the Councillor who, speaking about the North Ward / Waterlees yesterday, declared that “none of the primary routes had been done – at all.”

I thought this very likely to be untrue, and so I asked County Council officers to clarify. This is the response from yesterday:

Good afternoon Cllr,

I can confirm the following that primary routes in Wisbech were gritted as follows.

Friday 23rd 18:30
Saturday 24th 18:30
Sunday 25th 18:30
Monday 26th 03:00 and 18:00
Tuesday 27th 19:00
Wednesday 28th 03:00 and 13:00

I have attached a screen shot from one of the vehicles tracking devices that is fitted to every vehicle of the fleet. We can follow them live or investigate afterwards. The records are kept for twenty one years for insurance purposes. They show where the vehicle was what speed it was travelling and the spread rate of salt.

Any salt we do spread will need traffic to make it ”work” so you will typically see a white road then, black tram lines and eventually an all-black road.
Road surface temperatures have been very low all day not really rising above -2.0 c and this obviously slows the melting process.
I have spoken with the two drivers with the Skanska Operation Manager and they were giving good feedback on what they had done, for example upping the spread rate from 15 to 20 grams according to the road conditions.

I hope this is of use to you, if you need any further information please let me know.


As you can see, her claim was completely false. Now that could have been an accidental mistake, based on not having much of a clue what is going on. But if so, it might be an idea to avoid making people worried and angry, before you’ve taken the time to find out the actual facts.

Please everybody – drive carefully out there. Grit is great, but its not magic. Take it easy and be safe.

New Wickes In Wisbech Opens

New Wickes In Wisbech Opens

This morning I was invited to the new Wickes store in Wisbech to cut the ribbon and officially open it.

The Store Manager said they were keen to get involved with projects around the Town and offered support and help with the Wisbech Castle Project as well as other activities.

They have a great team there and the staff all seem very helpful, knowledgeable and keen to help. I hope the store goes from strength to strength, supplying local people, employing local people and being another integral retail outlet for Wisbech.


Wisbech Castle Project

Wisbech Castle Project

I have been asked by the Leader of Wisbech Town Council if I will Chair the new Castle Committee, whose job will be to handle the oversight of Wisbech Castle once the Town Council has it under its control.  Since my time as Mayor comes to an end in May, freeing up a lot of time, I have accepted the role.  Being the Chairman does not mean I am “in charge” of Wisbech Castle, it simply means I will be Chairman of the Committee and Working Party.  Running the Castle will be very much a team effort.  I’d like to talk a little about my initial ideas for the running structure of Wisbech Castle.  These are just ideas, subject to discussion and agreement of everybody else involved.

I think it appropriate for there to be three platforms to running the Castle.  The Castle Committee, the Castle Working Party and the Friends Of Wisbech Castle group.  The way the Committee and the Working Party will interact will run on a similar basis to the Town Council’s Festivals’ Committee and Working Party, which has proved to be a successful model over recent years.

The Castle Committee will be a constituted Committee of Wisbech Town Council, made up of seven Town Councillors, whose primary role will be to maintain the Council’s control of the project and scrutinise the spending on it and to oversee the work done by the Working Party.   I would guess the Castle Committee will meet three or four times a year.

The Castle Working Party – who will do most of the work and organisation of the day-to-day running of the Castle – will be a group made up of Councillors, representatives of interested local groups, and knowledgeable volunteers who bring skills to the table.  I hope that this Working Party will be a dynamic and imaginative bunch, with a mixture of skills and backgrounds, able to press on with multiple projects, income streams and public offers.  I would welcome communication from anybody who might like to be on the Castle Working Party.  But please bear in mind that members of the Working Party will be expected to put time and effort into the project on a voluntary basis, and so should be sure they are able to handle the commitment that something as important as this will take.  I would expect the Castle Working Party to have monthly meetings, and for members to touch base with each other and the Chairman and Vice-Chairman, often.

The Friends Of Wisbech Castle  will be a completely free voluntary organisation made up of anybody who values Wisbech Castle and want to join.  People who become “friends” will receive regular direct updates, early notifications of plans and events and possibly special opportunities and offers to enjoy all that I hope Wisbech Castle will come to offer.  Once this launches, I hope we will get hundreds, or even thousands, of people join in and become a part of the future of Wisbech Castle.

I see the aims of the project to be threefold.  First, to maintain Wisbech Castle as a public resource and asset, regularly accessible to the people of Wisbech and its guests to enjoy and make use of.  Second, to maintain and preserve the historic building in good order for current and future generations.  Third, to work towards making sure the building is not an undue burden on taxpayers of the Town and to aim towards cost neutrality, or profitability as early as feasibly possible.  I should add that cooperation and partnership with other Wisbech features like Wisbech Museum and Peckover House will not only be desirable, but crucial.

First Things First
What we can do in the very short term is limited by the work needing to be done in the building.  First priority will be to get urgent repairs done so that the building is in a fit state to be used.  To clean up the gardens and get the whole site ready for further use.  If this is planned well and the work goes without too many issues, then the Castle should be usable for at least some activities in the next few months.  After that we can pick and choose what to renovate and work on as the Committees decide on what the various uses will be, so that we can roll out activities and ideas in phases.

There are so many ideas for what the Castle could be used for and how its access and usefulness could grow.  Both for things that have gone before like school visits and weddings, heritage open days, fetes, art fairs and garden tours – to many brand new ideas for the future.  While I am Chairman I will encourage creativity, imagination and fresh thinking.  The door will be open to anybody with a great suggestion or proposal.  If everything goes according to plan, Wisbech Castle will take its rightful place as a centre-piece and an incredible community asset for now and for the future.

All Committee Meetings will be open to the public.  Discussions, ideas and decisions will be published transparently.  I hope that Wisbech Castle will have a Facebook Page and a Twitter Feed.  I hope to have a website for Wisbech Castle set up.  These things will all be free and operated by volunteers.  It will be my aim to encourage engagement, support and volunteering throughout the Wisbech Castle Project – to welcome anybody who loves the Castle and the Town to be a part of it and to contribute to it.  I would welcome participation, even from critics of the project, as long as those critics come to the table with an open mind and a desire to help.  I would hope that people who have something to say will come and be a part of the project and say it on record so that it can be thought about and addressed, rather than just snipe from afar on social media or elsewhere.

And Finally…
Once again, these are just my initial ideas.  They are all subject to discussion, to debate and to challenge by those people who are part of the Project.  I wanted to put my ideas down so that people could see where I’m coming from, but that should not be taken to mean the whole thing isn’t open to the great ideas and suggestions of everybody else.  In fact I know that several of my Town Council colleagues are overflowing with ideas, as are members of local organisations and also many individuals.  There is nothing easy about this project and I will not claim there is.  It’s a real challenge and also carries some risk.  No doubt about it.  But is it worth trying?  Is it worth doing?  I believe so.  Wisbech Castle is part of the fibre of the Town, built into its DNA, a long-standing historic monument both in its current form and for what has gone before.

A Committee of Councillors can’t do this alone.  Wisbech Town Council can’t do this alone.  But together, I really believe we have a great opportunity here to deliver something absolutely incredible for Wisbech and everybody who lives here.  If you are excited about Wisbech Castle, if you think you have something to offer or can help – please get in touch. 

New Leadership Team At FDC

New Leadership Team At FDC

I’ve been away for a week and in my absence the new leader of Fenland District has been announced and his choice of top positions laid out by the Wisbech Standard here.

This is interesting, since it takes a meeting of Full Council to elect a new Leader and that hasn’t happened yet.  But I guess what the Wisbech Standard is saying is that its got wind of what new Leader the Conservative Group has chosen and is presuming a foregone conclusion.  So, not entirely accurate, but still probably a fair assumption.

The “New Leader” (to be confirmed at Full Council) of FDC is the veteran Councillor, Chris Seaton and the newspaper goes into some depth about the people he has chosen as his leadership team.

I feel cautiously optimistic with the news as reported.  I’ll be honest, I’d expected Chris Seaton as Leader would be just the same as John Clark as Leader, with broadly the same faces and broadly the same choices.  I have nothing against John Clark, who I always found to be a genuine man with honest intentions, but I am certainly one of the Conservative group who has hoped for some fresh ideas and a new approach.

It would appear that I have underestimated Cllr. Seaton.  Because, against all expectations (on my part, anyway) he has made some fairly radical changes.  Cllr. Mark Buckton in for the Leisure and Young People portfolio is a good choice, I think.  Cllr Buckton has long been an underused individual whose talents were crying out for a bigger role.  Tourism, in particular, needs a shot in the arm urgently and I think he may well be able to gain some ground in this area.

Even more importantly, Cllr Dee Laws is taking on the Planning portfolio.  In my opinion this is an inspirational choice.  Planning is an area which FDC has really struggled with in the last couple of years and given how important it is for our communities that the correct forward-thinking decisions are taken, getting the right innovative person in place is a key consideration.

Cllr. Ann Hay takes on the Finance portfolio.  I don’t know Cllr Hay very well and I think she probably sits on a different “wing” of Conservatism to me, but her reputation is of somebody whose skills would be well-suited to this role and I am sure she will excel.  I’d like to see a lot more challenge of figures presented by Officers and I hope she will lead on this.

I would have liked to see Chris Boden in a Cabinet role.  Nevertheless, by making him Chairman of Overview & Scrutiny, Cllr Seaton has made a very smart placement.  Cllr. Boden is an analytical thinker of the first order and under his guidance I would expect O&S to take on a sharp, focused and insightful direction.  The purpose of any O&S committee is to challenge, review and act as a critical friend.  Run properly, a strong O&S Committee will catch poor policy early and put it right or stop it outright, amend, suggest, propose and consider in such a way as to make decisions more robust, more accurate and more likely to deliver decent outcomes.  A strong O&S Committee can make life uncomfortable for a weak Leader and it shows a strength of character to put somebody like Cllr Boden in charge of it – it represents a real desire to see the job done well and done right.  Very commendable, in my view.

I was away during the week this all happened and my information is gleaned from reading the Wisbech Standard – which may yet turn out not to be 100% correct.  But if it all pans out as the newspaper claims then I would think that a very positive outcome.  Cllr Seaton appears to have understood what needed changing as a priority and what did not, and has taken decisions that will earn him some grumpiness in some quarters, but in my opinion are pretty good choices as a starting point for a new direction of healthy travel*.



*I should stress that you should read no implicit criticism of previous office-holders in my writing.  Each Councillor serves as best they can, in the positions as assigned by the Council Leader.  I have no doubt that the previous office holders worked hard and did the best they could.  Nevertheless, I reserve the right to the opinion that these are positive changes for the Council and for Fenland as a whole.  There remains a lot of work to be done, of course.  And this new team will be tested by challenges and circumstances.  I wish them all the best.

On Momentum

On Momentum

Isn’t the whole Momentum thing interesting?  It has almost become a metaphor for change of certain kinds and the word is bandied around only loosely in context, often by people who don’t actually have much of an understanding of politics.

But what is Momentum actually doing?

Well, from an external point of view they are a bunch of left-wing radicals who think the Labour party should be more left-wing radical, and have set about trying to change the Labour party from within to effect that change.  They’ve done it by encouraging true believers to join the party, by getting themselves into positions of authority within the Labour party, by talking to others in the Labour party and encouraging them to support their view of things.  They believe in the ideological strength of their arguments and think that the Labour party has strayed too far from its roots and needs to get back to its core message.  Some of them don’t even recognise the New Labour lot as part of the same movement as them, so great are their differences.

“Moderates” in the Labour party see it differently.  They see a bunch of people who would make the Labour party unelectable, who want to tear apart existing structures and remove old players who have been around a long time.  Some maintain that they are the wise old heads who should be in charge and not these  new whipper-snappers.

Both sides make accusations against the other.  With “Moderates” saying that Momentum are bullying them, and Momentum saying those people are simply sore losers in a fair and democratic battle.

Who is right?

Probably none of them.  Each is seeing the events from their own lens, and each sees their cause as the heroic one.  Because everybody is the hero of their own story. I don’t know where it will all end when the dust settles – and as a lifelong Conservative its really none of my business – but its interesting to watch.  And it’s nothing that hasn’t happened on many levels a thousand times before.

Now if Momentum were to “win” and mold the Labour Party in their image, what then?  How long would it be before they became the “establishment?”  How long before some new group, who thought they were completely off track, came and did precisely the same to them?  This is often the cycle of things – with each fresh new event eventually becoming older and more stale and more tired and less hungry – until it eventually crumbles away from sheer entropy.

What is most interesting about this cycle is how quickly the new players forget how they toppled the old and begin to see themselves as the solid establishment which deserve to stay in control forever.  How quickly they abandon the positions they took when they came to power.  How, in denial, they continue to blame any other bogeyman that allows them to alleviate any sense that they could possibly be the architects of their own problems.

Momentum may win and take control of the Labour party.  Or they may not.  But whatever the outcome, it will only be the status quo for as long as they new leaders retain their focus, drive and energy.  Let it slip, and there’s always some new force eager to step in and relieve them of the burden.

I really don’t care which lot wins, but more popcorn is definitely a requirement for viewing.