Category Archives: March
March Mayor’s Ball
Today has been a mammoth day for Mayoral things.
Race Night In March
Tonight I attended a fundraising Race Night in March, hosted by by friend and colleague Cllr Kim French, the Mayor Of March.
It was a great event and a lot of fun was had by all there. The food was delicious and even though I did not win a single race, I did manage to do quite well on the raffle!
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.
Counting On Count
I’m sorry. I know its a terrible cliche title. But who can resist such a perfect name?
Results of March North By-Election
Con 616 (52.4%)
Lab 282 (24.0%)
LD 277 (23.6%)
Good result for Steve Count, who thoroughly deserves it. In my opinion, Cllr Count is one of the best current Fenland councillors and will be a fantastic addition to the ranks at Shire Hall. I very much look forward to working with him in the future.
Local Conservative Developments
This post is really just for those who have an interest in local Conservatism. Others who have visited expecting the usual politically-partisan comment and ironic pseudo-journalism move along please. Nothing to see here.
It’s been a busy couple of days. On Tuesday night the Gorefield Conservative Branch AGM, on Wednesday the Fens Conservative Future AGM and on Thursday the executive selection meeting to select candidates for the seat vacated by the much-missed and legendary Cllr. John West.
No major upheaval at Gorefield – ever a solid, dependable and hard-working branch, the officers were all re-elected for another year with the wonderful Rosemary Peggs remaining as chairman. Having had a wonderful 2010 of campaigning and fundraising they are already making plans for their next activities.
The Fens Conservative future AGM did have some significant changes. The chairman, Stevo Brunton, has now hit the dreaded thirty age limit and so has had to stand down. He gave an inspirational speech which was in keeping with his memorable year as a great chairman. My good friend and county council colleague Samantha Hoy was elected as the new chairman. Those knowledgable in all things locally-Conservative (a small group, I accept) will know that Sam was one of the three founders of the successful Fens Conservative Future branch and so has returned to the role that started it all. She almost immediately started bossing everybody around (in the nicest possible way) and the sense of nostalgia was quite profound (particularly for those few of us who were also in the founding group, I expect). The excellent Elliott Johnson (also a member of Wisbech Youth Council) was elected as this year’s vice-chairman and secretary. Relentless campaigner and perennial gentleman Gary Tibbs became treasurer. FensCF have grown in size and confidence in recent years and are now a vital and vibrant part of the local Conservative party. Long may they continue to grow and thrive!
Tonight the NE Cambs Conservative Executive (of which I am proud to be a member) and the Conservative members for the division in question met to select the candidate for the forthcoming By-Election (March 3rd, mark your calendars!). Five aspiring members stood for selection and each gave an excellent speech and answered questions from the floor well. It is particularly exciting that so many candidates are now putting themselves forward for selection – it wasn’t always this way! This is the mark of a healthy local party and I hope that we’ll see it prosper further in 2011. The winner was Steve Count, who will stand for John West’s March seat. Those are some enormous shoes to try to fill and I am sure that Steve will realise that his predecessor casts a long and imposing shadow. There is no doubt that Steve Count will campaign hard for that seat and should the electorate choose him that he will be a wonderful representative for them at County Hall.
Tomorrow – I’m off to London on business.
Then on Saturday –
NEWTON “MEET YOUR COUNTY COUNCILLOR / SURGERY”
Newton Village Hall. 11AM – 2PM
Come along – drop in – no appointment necessary.
Even cake. As long as you don’t throw it at me!
Cllr John West – Rest In Peace
It was with great sadness that I read this morning of the passing of Councillor John West.
The Wisbech Standard has this to say:-
Mr West, 66, a town, district and county councillor had been feeling unwell after a severe bout of flu but had managed to attend a meeting of March Town Council on Monday evening.
Carol, his wife of 41 years, said he had spent most of yesterday sleeping and she thought he was unwell and tired.
Mr West was born and brought up in March and had represented March North on Fenland District and March Town Council for 10 years and had been a county councillor since 2005. He was mayor in 2009-10.
Mrs West said: “He was terribly hard working as a councillor and was so well-known in the town. He loved getting results for people when they came to him with a problem.”
Clive Lemmon, clerk to March Town Council, said: “He was a larger than life character and will be sadly missed.
“He was the kind of person that if there was a job to do he would always be one of the first to volunteer.”
As a fellow Conservative and County Councillor I have come to know John quite well in the last couple of years. He was always ready with some advice when it was needed, he always had time to discuss issues and he was forthright and frank with his opinions. He did not beat around the bush or play political games – he just told you what he thought. On the one hand he was a tough character – ready to go to battle over an issue he believed in or on behalf of somebody who needed defending. On the other hand he wore his heart on his sleeve – and it was a big heart and a generous heart.
Cllr John West was a formidable politician and a remarkable man. I had enormous respect for him. He will be very much-missed.
I’d like to pass my condolences to his wife and family.
I am pleased to announce that this website has recruited four ‘roving reporters’ and a photographer to act as its eyes and ears at the big hustings event tonight in March. What the newspaper calls “All The Main Candidates” for the NE Cambs Seat will be appearing in a head-to-head Q&A / Debate.
We’ll have comments, opinion, discussion and debate concerning the Wisbech Standard / Cambs Times organised hustings here long before anything hits the dead tree press. Yes, it’ll be coloured with some bias (this being a Conservative-flavoured blog and all) but some might suggest you’ll get an element of bias in anything you read. Here at Getting The Message Out, I’m quite brazen and open about it. Plus – it’s usually countered effectively by the reader’s comments.
For the full and comprehensive rundown, analysis and coverage of tonight’s hustings – rush back to Getting The Message Out tomorrow.
Remember – Local media is more than just the press.
What Sort Of Person?
You have to wonder what sort of person walks into a beautiful old church and deliberately sets it on fire? Today, St. Mary’s Church, in March, was vandalised and then set alight – the arsonists apparently setting several fires inside the building.
The official report, I should stress, has not come out and said “arson” yet. But all reports so far seem to suggest that was precisely what it was.
This is terribly wrong on so many levels; the potential danger of such a huge blaze, the criminal damage involved, the destruction of an historic piece of architecture, the burning of a place of worship and a blow to the heart of a community.
As reported in the Cambs Times. Click here for full story.
Already local politicians and residents are promising that the people of March and Fenland will rally together to rebuild the church.
Local people are united in their sadness. One local councillor told me: “We are not angry. We are very sad and extremely disappointed.”
This shows a kind nature which I personally cannot match. I’m damn angry. I hope they catch whoever was responsible and lock them up for an extremely long time in an extremely dark cell. If these sort of people are lurking around Fenland they need to be apprehended – before they do something like this again.
Following the sad death of Peter Skoulding, the March West District Council Seat will shortly become a political battleground during the necessary by-election that is triggered when a seat becomes vacant.
So far we know the Conservative candidate will be Steve Count. I’ve never met Mr. Count but I do know that he beat off stiff competition to be selected as the Conservative candidate and that he did this despite something of a history of causing the Conservative-run District Council headaches in the past. The Wisbech Standard columnist Breakespeare had to admit that the fact that our party were so quick to forgive and forget was an interesting and encouraging development. Of course, those of us who are active Conservatives know that the party doesn’t deserve half the criticism that opponents sometimes throw our way. The right man for the job (in the view of those selecting) will usually be chosen because that’s the correct thing to do.
Meanwhile, local independent Reg Kemp has also thrown his hat into the ring. I’ve seen his comments plenty of times since he’s not at all shy at making his opinions known (much the same can be said about me – I’m aware!) He has recently been a member of the political ‘party’ called “Jury Team” (I’m not sure if he still is) – you might remember them, they were beaten by just about everybody except maybe Animals Count, mostly due to the fact that the only thing they seem to stand for is that they don’t want to stand for anything. He lost the County elections in June, beaten fairly resoundingly by Cllr. John Clark. He’s also well-known for his disdain for Freemasons and his attempts to have them removed from any office they might hold at the District council. An interesting character who will be entertaining during the short campaign, I’m sure.
Among those who are interested in local politics there is a lot of discussion about who might win this. Some previous by-elections have been unopposed and so the fact that this might be more of a battle is causing some excitable folk to salivate.
Some commentators think that Labour have a chance here but I doubt that very much. Labour, in my opinion, are a dead duck right now. I don’t see them as a major threat this year in Fenland. But UKIP are a fly in the ointment. If they have a candidate in, that makes things more uncertain. As for the Lib Dems? Who knows with those guys? Sometimes they come out all guns blazing and other times they fizzle out like damp sponge (do damp sponges ‘fizzle’? I suppose not. Oops. Bad adjective. It’s been a long day!)
Whatever the case it’ll sure be an interesting one and it’s just a terrible shame that it has come about through such tragic circumstances.
If I were a betting man I’d be betting Conservative. But, of course, you know that.
5th In the United Kingdom
54th In the United Kingdom