Category Archives: Fenland District Council
New Council At FDC
We have only had our first meeting today, so its very early days, but I do feel pretty excited about the way things have started.
With a lot of new faces and some old faces in different places, I really had no idea how it was going to go. Broadly, I think it went pretty well.
Almost all of the various opposition, Indies, Lib Dems, etc, have formed an opposition party/group called the Fenland Independent Alliance. Which isn’t a terrible name, particularly concerned with some that have gone before.
They put in a handful of motions and the motions were what you would expect, a mixture of ideas and political shots fired. But they were well put together and seemed to be well-intentioned. There were some amendments and some discussion, but it was all fairly good spirited. I enjoyed it, and I have the feeling that most other Councillors of all stripes did too. There was a feeling of change and of a fresh start and for the most part people seemed happy with that. Sure, we disagreed, debated and verbally jousted, but most of the bitterness was gone and it seemed like the Council was ready to move on in its new incarnation.
After quite a few years as a backbencher, I was appointed to a Cabinet post by the new Leader, Cllr. Chris Boden. I have been given the role of Cabinet Member for Communication and Transformation, which I think is a pretty good “fit” for me and I’m excited about the promotion. I am particularly pleased as I think Chris Boden is going to be a fantastic Leader and I want to be a part of this fresh start and new journey that I believe he will lead us on. I will, as ever, aim to do the absolute best I can do in the role, for the people of Fenland.
For anybody interested in knowing the whole of the new Cabinet (and what the roles entail), this is it:
Chairman: Kay Mayor. Vice-Chairman: Alex Miscandlon.
Chris Boden – Leader of the Council and Finance: Finance/Budgets (Financial & Performance Management); Benefits (strategic); Corporate Governance; Electoral Services; Business Rates; Policy & Resources; Capital Programme; IDBs (strategic)
Jan French – Deputy Leader of the Council: Benefits (operational); ARP; Parking; Member Services
Steve Tierney – Transformation & Communication: Customer Access; Marketing & Communications; ICT & Broadband; Waste & Recycling (strategic); Energy Conservation; Equalities; Emergency Planning
Sam Hoy – Housing: Housing Strategy; Regulated Providers (strategic); Private Sector Housing; Homelessness; Rough Sleeping; Environmental Health (incl enforcement)
Sam Clark – Social Housing and Leisure: Regulated Providers (operational); Licensing (incl. enforcement); Travellers; Sports Development; Leisure Services
Chris Seaton – Social Mobility and Heritage: Skills; Transport; Rural Affairs; Community Cohesion; Education; Children & Young People; Tourism; Conservation; Heritage; Dilapidated Buildings & Enforcement;
Peter Murphy – Environment: Waste & Recycling (operational); Cleansing; Grounds Maintenance; Parks & Open Spaces; Markets & Events; War Memorials;
Ian Benney – Economic Growth: Strategic Assets & Management; Growth; Inward Investment; Port & Marine Services; Job stimulation; Asset disposal; Renaissance; Emergency Planning Deputy.
Maureen Davis – Communities: Health Inequalities; Health & Wellbeing; Supporting Vulnerable People; Golden Age Fairs; Community Partnerships; Community Grants; Police Liaison; CCTV; Community Safety; Pride in Fenland
Dee Laws – Planning: Local Plan; Neighbourhood Planning; Building Control; Planning Policy; Planning Delivery; Planning (operational); Building Communities & Neighbourhood Management; Section 106 & CIL; Flooding & IDBs (operational)
Going forwards I expect a number of challenges, no doubt. To quote Captain Ahab <ahem>: “Nothing is plain sailing.” It is going to take some original and innovative thinking to make sure that we can deliver better services, better savings for the taxpayer and a modern Council that will be able to face the future boldly. But this is a team I’m proud to serve alongside and I’m excited to get started.
That Was Quite Something
Wow, that was an eventful campaign.
I was very sad to lose David Oliver and Garry Tibbs to FDC. It’s unfortunate for Walsoken and Peckover too, as they’ve replaced two hard-working, decent men for … well, you know. But, as my old pal Rollinson used to say if electorate who vote in people like this: “you get what you vote for.”
The mixup of Independents, Lib Dems and otherness that now form the FDC opposition isn’t a massive change from before really. Having opposition who were never really Conservatives move from being in your ranks to outside of them is really just the same people doing what they do a little more openly. I would not rule out one or two more “surprises” even after the elections are over. I think its actually quite healthy for individuals to be revealed for what they really are, rather than what they pretend to be. At least, when the dust settles, the picture is clear.
All in all, given the national trend delivered by the Brexit Fiasco, we did well compared to many areas. I was particularly pleased that Wisbech Town Council remains almost the same and actually had a slighter better result than four years ago. Then, the voters delivered us four opposition (two Independents and two ‘Kippers) and this time they delivered us three. It was nice to take a District Council seat from the opposition in Waterlees and to secure three Town Council seats there. The new Conservative Councillors will be a great team.
Hill Ward was brilliant. A great deal of effort was put in to take this from us, including the massively biased local press doing everything they could (as predicted) right up to the eve of election front page attack article (as predicted) and they must be absolutely fuming that the effort failed. In the current political climate that’s really quite a feat to have overcome such a gargantuan #Fakenews effort. Well done to all involved. Peter Freeman was the only opposition candidate who I noted was a gentleman about the whole thing. Fair play for that.
I rather enjoyed getting blamed by the opposition for everything (as usual). I don’t mind. I am the bogeyman of the opposition, who spend many hours in their tiny moist online hideyhole frothing about me and believing I am responsible for everything from the big bang to the end of time. As with many other events over the last few years, if they believe I am somehow behind everything that happens that makes them angry it’s no concern to me.
It’s a different local political landscape, for sure. Interestingly, an area where some people say they want “party politics out of local Government” have just elected probably the most political Council this area has ever seen. The speed with which an “Independent” “Group” forms and gives itself a leader and Special Responsibility Allowances will be a sight to see, I suspect. How long before the first “group meeting” is called for the party that isn’t a party? But I could be wrong. Maybe they’ll all stay true to their “Independent” claims and not form a group etc. We shall see.
A sad day to see some truly wonderful Councillors lost to our area. I suspect we will feel the consequences of those losses in the months and years to come. But onwards and upwards. Local Conservatives will now have to work even harder for our towns, for Fenland and for the people that live here. I feel confident that’s what we will all do.
I had one of the best canvassing days EVER today.
The sun was shining and literally every single person I spoke to door-to-door was supportive and friendly. I canvassed for six hours and covered over half of my ward and it was absolutely brilliant. I’d like to thank so many people that I spoke to that were all so nice.
When I got home I began to get word of the list of candidates that were standing in Fenland. I had wondered if we might get some “no contests” but I never thought there would be so many. All across Fenland, many of my colleagues will be elected unopposed.
In a way I am a little disappointed, as the unofficial news is that I will also be elected unopposed. I’m sad because I had been really hoping one of these so-called “Independents” was going to stand against me. I would have liked to see how that worked out for them.
I’m sorry to the people of Medworth that no other candidate has put their name in. You deserve a choice and that has been denied to you. I would have been happy to campaign for re-election on my record. Indeed I have already put out a newsletter, a letter and a leaflet across the ward, and canvassed about 75% of the ward, so I was certainly up for it. It appears that the various other parties and “independents” couldn’t find somebody willing to take me on. It appears they were all frit, as there’s no sign of them. Or perhaps they are just supportive of the work I do? :)
But I’m pleased for my Town Council colleague Michael Hill, who is Deputy Mayor and can now be as assured as you can be with such things that he will be the Mayor in May. I know he is going to be a great Mayor – again!
Once more, thanks to all the people who had said they were going to vote for me. It was truly humbling. There’s no need to do so now, but I will work hard every day for the next four years on your behalf. Thank you.
FENLAND DISTRICT COUNCIL
December 10, 2018
Wisbech play area improvements
Children and families in Wisbech are benefitting from new play equipment following more than £30,000 of investment in three of the town’s play areas.
Fenland District Council has delivered a number of improvements in Wisbech Park, and play areas in Jasmin Close and Burcroft Road, with new equipment installed to offer more activities for a wider range of children to enjoy.
The programme of works was developed in collaboration with Wisbech Town Council and funded by Section 106 monies given to Fenland as part of planning agreements.
The improvements include a new play frame at Jasmin Close play area, a new see-saw and swing at Burcroft Road play area and a new zip wire, play equipment and back board for the Multi-Use Games Area (MUGA) at Wisbech Park.
Cllr Peter Murphy, Fenland District Council’s Portfolio Holder for Parks and Open Spaces,said: “The Section 106 funding allows something to be given back to the local community
and provides some great additions to the existing play facilities in the area. I hope children enjoy playing with them for years to come.”
A Wisbech Town Council spokesman said: “The Town Council is really pleased to see these improvements to the play area provision in various areas of the town; they meet an identified
need. This situation has been achieved as result of a positive collaborative approach involving the District Council and the Town Council.
The Town Council hopes that the improved and new play facilities will be enjoyed and that there will be further opportunities for such partnership working between the two councils in the future.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.