Category Archives: Fenland District Council

Wisbech Bowls Club

Wisbech Bowls Club

There are some problems with the current situation regarding Wisbech Bowls Club and the recent newspaper article in the Wisbech Standard highlights them.

For me, what this boils down to is what a Council-run Leisure Centre is actually for, and how the decision was taken that got us to where we are.

Now if a Council-run Leisure centre is exactly the same as any other private Leisure Centre, to deliver sports and leisure services that will make money and be popular, then its quite hard to argue against the current plan to remove the Bowls’ Hall from the club that has used it successfully.  After all, the claim is that this change will not only get an additional half-million pounds in investment, but will save the Council £140,000.  There are about 140 members of the Bowls’ Club, I am told, so the cost of “keeping” the Bowls Club is £1000 a head.  In a time of budget difficulties, that is not easy to ignore.

The problem is, I don’t think that a council Leisure Centre DOES have the same role as a private one.

After all – if you want to do exercise, spinning or whatever else the new investment is buying, there are already private institutions in the Town where these sort of activities are available.  Is it really the Council’s job to compete with private enterprise in this way?

I think that the job of a Council Leisure Centre is to fill in the gaps.  To provide exercise and activity for people whose needs are not likely to be met by the private sector.  If you are looking at running a club purely on a financial basis then you’d probably do away with the swimming club too.  Probably also the swimming pool, actually.  But we wouldn’t want to do those things because we value a local place for our kids to learn to swim and a pool for everybody to enjoy.  We see a public good which has value above and beyond the immediate commercial gains of a private institution.

Now Bowls is a sport for all ages, but I don’t think its a great secret that the demographic that is more common in the sport is older than the one which indulges in some other sports and activities.  The place offers light exercise for people who might not otherwise get enough light exercise, a place to meet friends and have fun.  Given the regular importance placed on keeping fit and combating loneliness and social isolation, the hugely successful bowls club is an example of a service whose value is far greater than the price tag might suggest.  Things like the gym are a useful way to subsidise the less profitable activities and I support them fully, but should not become the sole focus.

When the Council makes the claim that it will “ensure the club survive” that’s all well and good.  But if they are taking away their hall, what does that promise actually mean?  To the best of my knowledge there isn’t another local indoor bowl’s facility anywhere nearby, so what’s the plan?  Try and relocate them to some distant town?  Build a new Bowls Hall (and thereby make the current “savings” pointless?)  No answers are given, leaving us all a little unsure what is meant.

And how did it come to this anyway?

When the Council broadly supported investigating if a private firm could run a leisure centre more cost-effectively for us, nobody ever said “but it’ll mean closing the Bowls Club.”  Of course they didn’t, because on that basis it would never have been supported.  This stuff was all discussed around the same time as the Bowls’ Club was saved previously, so there would have been an enormous kickback against such a proposal.

Some of the other comments in the newspaper article are sad to see, also.  Don’t get me wrong, I know that you can’t trust what you read in the press and some of this story could be misleading or wrong.  But on the subject alone I was sorry to see the silly comment about how “it’s always Wisbech Wisbech Wisbech.”  This kind of attempt to pit one town against another is childish game-playing and should be avoided.  All Councillors do their best to highlight the areas they were elected to represent.  Why wouldn’t we?  Of course it is not always “Wisbech Wisbech Wisbech.”  Which is why other towns and villages have had investment, new facilities and endless discussion about the streetlights and other local issues.  To try and deflect from a damaging policy decision by making the discussion parochial is unhelpful and incorrect.  This is not something new that Wisbech seeks to secure from FDC funds, but something existing and valuable that FDC’s decision will remove from the town.  We are not all different countries, we are close Fenland neighbours and friends.  This is not a competition.  A little perspective?

I fully accept we have to save money and I fully accept that we all have a responsibility to help meet our difficult budget demands.  But if this matter had been through the political groups and through the council as a whole, and the issues of the Bowls Club discussed earlier, it may have been possible to seek a different “deal” with the private provider.  Those who have made the decision will of course say: “We investigated all avenues” or “this is the best deal we could get.”  Maybe so.  Maybe not.  But since the rest of us weren’t involved, we can’t ever know, can we?

Last I heard the deal had not been signed.  My advice would be to go back to Freedom Leisure and say: “Let’s have another look at this and see what we can do” and then involve the whole Council and all the elected Councillors in the discussion.  This is how you avoid a massive and unnecessary ding-dong with a lot of finger-pointing and wagging.  It’s not too late to have a rethink, even at the 11th hour.

Some Shouting & Swearing

Some Shouting & Swearing

Older readers of this blog will know that we’ve discussed Sue Marshall before back when we mentioned that she was a Momentum activist and she seemed to be insisting she was not.  You will remember how that one ended.

Well, Sue Marshall is back.   She turned up with a gentleman companion and a petition at a Full Council meeting of Fenland District Council this week.

I disagree with much of what Sue Marshall says, but I usually rather like her spirit and obvious political passion.  I can’t say the same about the foul-mouthed bad-tempered fellow she was with, sadly.

It all got a bit hot and bothered what with Sue’s gentleman friend (I use the term “gentleman” in the loosest possible sense) going on a sweary rant, disrupting the meeting and referring to the Councillors in a derogatory way, as well as making some vague threats.    Sue got a little shouty too.  It was all very dramatic.

Of course, it was meant to be dramatic.  The purpose probably being to generate some press coverage and to frame an issue for the elections next year.  Although Sue has since insisted she is no longer a member or activist of the Labour party (an issue which her ex-colleagues confirm.)  The NE Cambs Labour website still has a big picture of her with the words “meet your team” naming her the Chairman, so its not a surprise there was some confusion.  Apparently, the main NE Cambs Labour website is “a bit out of date.”  Or “a couple of years out of date” depending on which left-winger is talking to you.

I don’t expect it was any coincidence that the protestors were seen having lunch with a certain Truly Truly Truly Independent lady a few days prior to the meeting.   The Truly Truly Truly Independent Party group has so far refused to condemn the aggressive and rude actions of their fellow left-wingers, but again nobody is very surprised.  The suggestion that this was a collaboration does not seem immensely far-fetched to me, but what do I know?

All this “he said she said” aside, it was a pretty sad spectacle.  The motion was asking for the council to not do a thing that it was already not doing.  A joke of a motion really, which is precisely why I abstained.  How can you vote on a motion that is asking for something not to happen which is already not happening?  I did ask if they meant to use the word “ever” but that was a step too far.  God forbid their motion actually made logical sense?  A real shame, as the petition itself was not unhelpful and most of us had sympathy with its aims.

Anyway, all’s well that ends well.  There’s no additional charge being applied at this time and if the issue comes back against next year it will come to Full Council to discuss.  Seems a pretty good result to me.  With a better worded motion and a little less “f*ck this” and “f*ck you all” from the bloke in the hat we probably could have had a consensus.  But that wouldn’t have been any good for their 2019 election leaflets, now would it? #sigh

The Retreat

The Retreat

I went to FDC Planning Committee today to speak in support of The Retreat, a local business that wants to protect itself from vandalism with railing on its windows and wants to keep the uPVC Windows that were installed a few years ago (by a company who had assured them the proper permissions have been obtained.)

I wanted to support The Retreat because they are a great local business.  Real community supports, local employers, doing their best to bring a great service to our town.

I also wanted to support them because we should support entrepreneurs and businesses in our area.  As a Conservative, I believe in supporting local business.  I think we should be removing obstacles, not putting them in the way.

I also also wanted to support them because the rules are just plain stupid.  They serve nobody.  They are a paradise for bureaucrats, penpushers and over-promoted box tickers.  They are supposed to protect our “heritage” but they don’t even do that.  They are so woefully out-of-date and poorly-structured, that they are little more than a joke.

And so we have it that this business, sandwiched between two nightclubs, a vandalised public toilet and a car wash, is considered to be in a zone of such beauty that it requires protection.  The form this “protection” takes is to load it with such archaic conditions and rules and associated costs that it is crippled.  Oh well done, FDC.  Slow clap for you.

I pointed out to the committee that the vast majority of the public support The Retreat.  It’s not that we don’t love our heritage – we do!  It’s that we recognise the common sense observation that some very nice uPVC windows are better than a burnt-out old ruin or a crumbling structure that nobody can afford to repair.

I pointed out that Wisbech Town Council almost-unanimously supported a motion to support The Retreat on this issue.  They didn’t give a stuff. They don’t care what the local Councillors think about it, or what the local people think about it.

How does this look to the people of Wisbech?  Everybody I’ve spoken to wants the Retreat to be able to get on with their business.  They support the right of local businesses to protect themselves from vandalism.  They think this crazy uPVC / Conservation Zone rule can be considered on a case-by-case basis so that it can be applied on areas of real interest, but not used to scupper and harm small traders who are just trying to improve the town and make ends meet.

I’ve long thought that being a Councillor for too long leads to people “going native.”  They become unable to think outside the box, they look only to the guidance of officers, who in turn can only make decisions to the precise letter of the law.  Common sense is the sacrifice to the altar of the petty bureaucrat.

All in all I am left very disappointed.  I am disappointed with a Planning Committee that has been shaky for a number of years in my opinion, but seems to have now entirely lose its heart and soul.  I am disappointed at a committee of people claiming to know what is best for Wisbech, none of whom are from Wisbech.  Most of all I am disappointed that the views of the people, the business owners, the Town Council, and the Mayor of Wisbech were essentially sneered at.

I hope The Retreat will get through this and go on to prosper.  I am very sorry for the decision which was taken, which I believe was utterly and profoundly the wrong decision.

Sarah Bligh

Sarah Bligh

So today’s news is that my colleague, Cllr Sarah Bligh, has crossed the floor to join the Liberal Democrats.  To be honest, I think Sarah probably is more of a Liberal Democrat than a Conservative so I cannot say I am surprised.

Obviously, its disappointing, as I’ve known Sarah since she first became interested in local politics.  But people have to do what they think is best and I have no doubt Sarah will continue to be a strong Councillor on the opposition benches.

She joins Gavin Booth and Stephen Court, both of whom are very nice fellows, even if I don’t always agree with them politically.  I’d like to wish her all the best.

Church Terrace Toilets

Church Terrace Toilets

People were asking why the Church Terrace toilets are all closed.

This is the answer I have received from Officers at FDC:

“Just to update everyone, I have spoken to service engineer who was called to church terrace toilets wisbech regarding coin and door locking mechanism to one of the toilets, on his inspection all of the mechanism on the doors have been condemned with the doors not opening or not locking and a high chance of  persons  being locked in which is why engineer was called, to safe guard the public  I have made the decision to close the block  to eliminate any chance of anyone being locked in till this has been rectified.”

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*.

Bravo.

 

*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.

John Clark Resigns

John Clark Resigns

Last week, somewhat out of the blue, Cllr John Clark – the Leader of Fenland District Council and its Conservative group, resigned his post as Leader.

Some of the things he said in his resignation speech I didn’t agree with, but there’s nothing wrong with that.  People don’t always agree.

John and I have not always seen eye-to-eye on policy (I once stood against him in order to prevent Paid Parking being introduced in Wisbech.)

But all in all John has been an honest Leader who has worked hard to unite an often-difficult bunch of Councillors (myself included.)  I think he can be proud of his time as Leader and I respect his decision to step aside now as an honourable one.

There was some rumours I might stand.  I’m not going to do any such thing.

But I wish all the best to whoever does take over the position.   It’s an important one that will only become more important as things change across the country in the future.

I’d like to thank John for his work and dedication to the role of Leader and I look forward to working with him on the back benches – or wherever he ends up.

Manic Thursday

Manic Thursday

I was off this morning delivering leaflets across North Ward / Waterlees to remind residents of our Councillor’s Coffee Morning at the Oasis Center.  I was joined by most of the Conservative North Ward team and a bunch of residents with issues they’d like resolved, and ideas they’d like to share.  We drank quite a lot of coffee and it was a useful way to meet with residents and get their views and concerns.

Then, on with my “Mayor hat.”

This afternoon I visited the St. Augustines Day Care Centre for their Christmas Carols and Afternoon Tea. We were entertained by some excellent singers from the Walsoken Church and a very nice time was had. I always enjoy spending time with the St Augustine’s gang, lots of laughs and merriment.

I had to leave before the end in order to make the Magdalene House Christmas Service at St. Peters’, where the children were responsible for most of the singing and bible readings. Proud parents watched on and, I am sure, had just as lovely a time as I did.

There is always so much happening in Wisbech, but never more so than Christmas!

A quick drive to March followed, where I switched hats again and attended the last FDC Full Council meeting of the year.  A fairly straightforward agenda was cleared in short order and that’s it for FDC for 2017!  Since CCC had its last Full Council meeting on Tuesday that means we only have next Monday’s Town Council meeting to go and then it’s holiday time!  For a few days anyway.

Extra funding to support vulnerable residents

FENLAND DISTRICT COUNCIL

PRESS RELEASE

December 13, 2017

Extra funding to support vulnerable residents

More disabled people living in Fenland will be able to get help they need to continue living in their own homes thanks to almost £84,000 of additional Government funding.

Fenland District Council has received an extra £83,600 of Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) funding to help people make adaptations to their homes and live independently for longer.

The funding tops up the district’s 2017/18 DFG allocation of £944,000 which has been spent making more than 100 households more accessible since April. The extra cash means other people will be able to get the support they need now rather than have to wait until next year when the 2018/19 funding becomes available.

The funding provides grants to disabled people and their families to help them make changes to their homes. Adaptations could include widening doors and installing ramps and handrails to improving access to rooms and facilities with a stair lift or downstairs bathroom. It could also adapt heating or light controls to make them easier to use.

Councillor Will Sutton, Fenland District Council’s Cabinet member responsible for building communities, said he was pleased the needs of Fenland’s more vulnerable residents were considered when the additional DFG funding was allocated.

Neighbouring authority Cambridge City Council was awarded £66,000 of extra funding, with South Cambs District Council receiving £61,000 and East Cambs District Council £51,000.

“This extra funding means we can help more residents get the help they need to live independently and safely in their own homes and also get help more quickly,” said Cllr Sutton. “Enabling people to stay in their own homes for as long as they want and are able to do so is not only better for them, but it also reduces the pressure on our healthcare services.”

Energy saving improvements

Energy saving improvements make a splash at Fenland leisure centres

Fenland’s leisure centres have been given an energy efficiency makeover as part of Fenland District Council’s work to cut energy use, reduce carbon emissions, and tackle climate change.

New energy systems and energy saving measures have been rolled-out across the district’s four leisure centres to save energy and cut energy costs in order to protect leisure services and reduce the Council’s carbon footprint.

The £800,000 upgrade will reduce the leisure centres’ carbon emissions by 281 tonnes a year, a reduction of 21% across the four sites, and cut the Council’s annual leisure energy costs by a third – around £100,000 a year – on top of significant operational maintenance savings.

With popular facilities including three large swimming pools, and early to late opening seven days a week, the leisure centres represent the Council’s largest energy consumer by some margin. And with some plant equipment reaching the end of its life, a different approach to managing maintenance costs, as well as their energy consumption, was needed.

Research identified the RE:FIT framework, an award-winning initiative championed by Cambridgeshire County Council and other partners which supports public sector organisations with energy conservation.

Working closely with appointed delivery partner Bouygues E&S FM UK Ltd, a retrofit scheme was developed to reduce carbon emissions, cut energy costs and upgrade the leisure centres’ facilities through a combination of low-cost energy saving measures, renewable energy measures and new energy efficient systems.

The new systems, including combined heat and power, plant equipment and energy management systems, will improve service reliability for users who may also notice the addition of solar panels on the roofs of the buildings and new LED lighting within the centres.

The works have taken place over the last nine months and been completed on time and in budget.

Councillor Michelle Tanfield, Fenland District Council’s Portfolio Holder for Leisure, said: “The RE:FIT programme is the largest energy conservation project ever to be undertaken by the Council, demonstrating our commitment to the environment and signalling a new approach to reducing both our energy use and energy bills.

“The retrofit will help protect us against rising energy costs, reduce maintenance costs and improve our energy efficiency rating while also ensuring our residents can enjoy efficient, reliable leisure services on their doorstep.”

“The project is a great example of what is possible when several bodies from the public sector work together with a key supplier from the private sector.”

Miles Messenger, Energy Engineering Manager at Bouygues, said: “We are really pleased to work with Fenland District Council in delivering their strategic goals to reduce carbon, save money and improve their leisure centre assets. This ambitious project combined low-carbon and renewable energy generation with energy efficiency technology to deliver a significant improvement in energy performance.”