Category Archives: Wisbech Town Council

Market Place Consultation

Wisbech Town Council have been looking at plans to refresh, rejuvenate and renew Wisbech Market Place for the last six months. This is our vision:

  • The first problem we wanted to resolve was that of poor or illegal parking. We propose to pedestrianise the majority of the Market Place using beautiful wrought metal gates to bar entry completely between10am and 4pm, however these times will be addressed as part of the consultation. Cars will be completely removed from the Market Place, including those of Market Traders (who will benefit from arranged parking elsewhere.) This will make the Market Place safer and look much more attractive. Although the High Street / Hill Street route will not be part of the pedestrianisation, it will feature bollards to prevent pavement and poor parking and the only parking allowed there will be disabled parking. There will be no reduction of the number of bays available for disabled use.
  • We wanted to introduce an open, light and enjoyable atmosphere to the area and we propose to do this in a number of ways: generous planters positioned around the market surrounding stylised seating, delightful water features and a redesign of the layout to give an airy and continental feel that can be enjoyed by shoppers and pedestrians.
  • We will also add a Tidal Clock, as a nod to our town’s historic nautical links and to the plans of designers years ago. This will be an attractive feature.
  • At one end of the Market Place we hope to introduce a small Children’s Play Area, nothing too grand, but fun for the youngsters and a chance for a break for busy parents with children in tow.
  • The statement piece of our proposed redesign is a high canopy which will cover nearly half of the Market Place. This will created a covered market where stall holders can trade without concern for bad weather, more comfortable and convenient for shoppers using their services.

The overall effect should be a car-free safe area, with a covered market and brightened by lush greenery, water features, a tidal clock and elegant seating. We hope it will look lovely.

This proposal has been the result of public consultation followed by a hard working task group of Councillors and members of the public. It has the support of the Wisbech Society, the Chamber of Commerce and the trustees of the Wisbech Museum.

Tha attached concepts (kindly provided by Peter Humphreys Associates) are now out for public consultation. We would welcome input and suggestions. You can make coments here, but there will be opportunities to meet and talk to councillors about the proposals – dates will be advertised.

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’.

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.

Aims
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.

Ideas
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.

Communication
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. 

Wisbech Town Council Budget 2018/19

Wisbech Town Council Budget 2018/19

At its meeting on 22 January 2018 Wisbech Town Council set its budget and associated parish precept for 2018/19.

In setting its budget, the council considered very carefully the cost of continuing to run its existing services, facilities and activities, as well as enhancing those and operating, delivering and managing additional ones.

Not surprisingly, the council will be increasing its estimated gross expenditure from 363,840.00 in the current financial year (2017/18) to £450,150.00 in 2018/19.

A consequence of increasing expenditure is a need to increase the parish precept. The parish precept is a form of taxation which a Town or Parish Council is able to levy upon each household in the Town or Parish area – and is collected by the District Council as part of the overall Council tax bill – to be able to a local council to fund the difference between its annual income and expenditure.

The level of Parish Precept in Wisbech for the current financial year is £265,374.00; this equates to a sum of £43.16 for the year for each Band D (for Council Tax) equivalent property. The figure for such a household in the financial year 2018/19, to cover a precept of £364,237.00, will increase to £57.87; this means an increase in cost for the year of £14.71 (or 34.0%) to the 2017/18 figure.

The additional cost to the occupiers of a Band D equivalent property (of which there are 6,294 in Wisbech) will be around £1.20 per month. More than half of the 8,156 properties in Wisbech are in Council Tax band A; those households will face an increase of approximately 80 pence per month.

It is worth noting that, according to research undertaken by the Department for Communities and Local Government, the national average Parish Precept set by a local council in 2017/18 is £61.03. In Wisbech it is £43.16 currently and will rise to £57.87. It is likely that the UK figure will rise to around £63.00.

So despite the misinformation spread by some, Wisbech is actually considerably lower than the average for the country and, I think, offers good value for money.  People can see what the Council does and hear what it would like to do, and I think people broadly understand that these things cannot be done without the necessary funds.

Councillor Miss Samantha Hoy, Leader of Wisbech Town Council, says “Given Wisbech Town Council’s increasing role in the delivery and enhancement of services – such as the operation, restoration and management of Wisbech Castle, enhancement of the Market Place, taking on an area of public car parking to the rear of the Queen Mary Centre, enhancements to public toilets etc – generates a need for additional money. The council also needs to collect additional revenue to compensate for the reduction (of around £12,000 in 2018/19) in the level of Council Tax Support Grant that it will receive from Fenland District Council and to replenish the Elections reserve, which has been depleted because of the number of unanticipated by-elections over the last 18 months or so.

Although the percentage increase in the precept may look high, the actual financial amount is not – what else is a household in Wisbech able to purchase for around £1.00 a month?

Over the last few years Wisbech Town Council has set very low levels of parish precept and there becomes a time at which such a situation can no longer be sustained; in fact, until the financial year 2016/17 Wisbech Town Council had not increased its parish precept since the financial year 2012/13; for the financial year 2015/16, the level of Precept was actually reduced by 1.2%.

Notice that regular critics weren’t cheering when the Council froze or cut the Council Tax over those years.    In the same way they they would have been quick to damn the Town Council if it had let the Castle go into private ownership.  Some folks want to find fault whatever happens, but the Councillors of WTC seek to do the best for the people of Wisbech at the most reasonable rates they can.

Wisbech Town Council, as the local authority which is closest to the people of Wisbech – and the money collected through the precept can only be spent for the benefit of people in Wisbech (not the case with the District Council, the County Council, the Police and Crime Commissioner and the Fire Authority) – has ambitions to make Wisbech a better place for people to live, work and visit; this cannot be done without investment of time and money at the appropriate levels.

When a rise goes to another authority – one of the huge ones – it can get lost in the levels of bureaucracy.  Not so Wisbech Town Council, where every penny can be tracked and every expenditure seen and often enjoyed by the people who live here.

Wisbech Town Council is hopeful that the people of the town will understand the council’s rationale in increasing the level of parish precept for Wisbech for 2018/19 and not be critical of action which is being taken to drive improvements through investment in services and facilities”.

In the coming months and years you will see the physical changes this £1.00 a month can bring when in the hands of a small but dedicated Council.  You will see the Castle remain in public use, the Market Place improved, toilets improved, and the wonderful town festivals grow bigger and better.  Watch this space.

Wisbech Castle vs Mrs Bucknor?

Wisbech Castle vs Mrs Bucknor?

Mrs Bucknor and the usual crowd seem to have been suggesting that Wisbech Town Council should not now save Wisbech Castle because the proposed Council Tax Rise (80p a month for Band A, just over a pound a month for Band D) is too great a price to pay. She is encouraging people to visit Town Council and protest it, it appears.

Putting aside for a moment the fact that she was still a Councillor at WTC when this was proposed:

Putting aside for a moment the spin that “34%” represents a huge sum of money for people, by suggesting its the whole Council Tax bill rather than the tiny Town Council portion of it.

Putting aside that she certainly enjoyed stoking the outrage back when Wisbech Castle first risked being sold off:

Putting aside that she has endlessly demanded that Town Council should have prevented the sale of the old Court House by stepping in and buying it, and whether that’s a little hypocritical given her recent complete about face:

Putting aside that Wisbech Town Council would have tens of thousands of pounds MORE money if it hadn’t had to pay for a series of by-elections caused by Mrs Bucknor and her friends:

Wisbech Castle is a centre-piece of our Town. It is a vital part of our history and heritage. If we do not take it over we will lose it. We cannot take it over, repair it and run it without some additional funds because money does not grow on trees.

I have never been a supporter of big Council Tax rises but I am and always have been a realist. Of course, as with every issue, some people will not agree. I genuinely believe that a majority of our Town support Wisbech Town Council stepping in to save Wisbech Castle. I believe that the majority of our town support the rise (once again 80p a month for Band A and a bit over a pound a month for a Band D) is a price worth paying to save Wisbech Castle.

Mrs Bucknor clearly believes that she and her friends can gain some political advantage by taking a firm line against our saving Wisbech Castle. I think she has misjudged the people of Wisbech, most of whom value our heritage, and understand the reality that things do cost money. I don’t believe her stance – no matter how she and her friends heckle – will gain traction. Because the people of Wisbech are not stupid and will not fall for this opportunistic and cynical attempt to manipulate them and cast a shadow on this important work.

In the same way that she is now struggling to claim she had something significant to do with the forthcoming Skate Park (she raised £30 in six years, the four new Town Councillors secured £70,000 in a few weeks) people will see through it, I feel confident.

If you agree that Wisbech Castle is worth saving and that scaremongering about Council Tax is not appropriate, please respond to the people making these claims when and if you see them. Tell them its not acceptable.

Christmas Lights

Christmas Lights

A few people have moaned a bit about the Christmas Lights and I thought I’d put down the background and facts to help people understand where we are and how we got here.

A few years ago we really DID have terrible lights. Basically, we had the bulbs along the river and some more bulbs in the Market Place, and that’s it. The Christmas Light Switch On was a handful of Councillors and a few dozen people watching a switch get pressed and some bulbs light up. It wasn’t ideal.

Every year people complained bitterly about them, but Christmas lights are a lot of money and Town Council didn’t want to commit that sort of budget to improving them. When I became a Town Councillor I put in a motion to spend a huge chunk on lights and managed to get support for it.

But we wanted to be sure the people of the Town supported it to0, so we did a vote in the local papers. Here’s a blog post from 2014 about it:http://www.stevetierney.org/the-great-wisbech-christmas-li…/

A majority voted for the improvements, but even then there were still a fair few who thought it was a waste of money and shouldn’t be done.

With a majority vote and support on the Council we pressed on and implemented the new lights, which took six months of getting competitive quotes, designing schemes etc.

Myth Buster 1: We did not spend loads of money on designing a scheme, that was all included in the quotation as the companies sought to win our business.

Although it was quite close and we weren’t sure we’d get the improvements in time we did manage to get them installed for Christmas 2014. That year the Christmas Light Switch on event broke all records. It has continued to break them each year since.

Myth Buster 2: You can’t just buy any old lights and string them up. Government authorities must purchase suitable, safe, durable, commercial lighting from reputable companies.

£20,000 does not go as far as you might think. We managed to secure the central piece in the Market Place, the lights and glowing stars on the trees, the light fixtures that adorn most exits from the Market Place, and the long channel of lights than run along High Street. Also some improvements elsewhere.

We did not spend all the money the first year and we did not install all the lights we had purchased. We have added a little each year since: lights on Hill Street. Lights on the Town Council Chambers. In response to calls from people for lights on the Freedom Bridge Roundabout, we did those.

Myth Buster 3: March have lovely Christmas Lights. They were donated by a very wealthy benefactor in a will. March are very lucky to have had such a generous donation. Wisbech has not had any large donations but would certainly welcome any if you have some funds you can spare, or know somebody who does.

Although spending £20,000 may seem like a lot, people do not realise that it costs a huge amount for a contractor to install the lights and to remove them, and this cost repeats every year. Every time we increase the amount of lights we put up, we increase the large installation and removal costs too. So when new lights are purchased that is not a one-off cost, but must also consider the additional costs every year for installation, runtime and removal.

Myth Buster 4: Lights do sometimes break down. This is outside of our control. When they break down the Council does everything it can to get the contractor to put the problem right as soon as possible. Sometimes this can be done quickly, sometimes it cannot. The North Brink lights were down for a few days and have now been repaired. Some of the lights on the Christmas Tree aren’t presenting working and that will be remedied as soon as possible.

All of this – the Switch On Event, the organisation of the lights, the planning, is done by a tiny team of dedicated volunteers and a handful of Town Council staff and Councillors. Anybody can volunteer to be a part of the Festivals Working Party, which organises and runs almost all of our town festivals. Please do volunteer if you can spare the time. It’s hard work, but mostly rewarding. The only time it’s not rewarding is when somebody sits on their couch and tells those volunteers how much better everything should be. If you want it to be better, come be a part of making it better.

Myth Buster 5: What can be done in the Market Place is quite limited. To install Christmas Lights requires special permanent fixtures to attach the lights to and to get power to them. All the buildings around the Market Place are privately owned and you cannot attach things to those buildings without securing permission from the owner. Owners are not always easy to contact and do not always say “yes.”

Personally, I like our town lights and would not want to see them gaudier, or too over the top. I think they are tasteful and lovely. But what I think doesn’t matter. If enough of you want the Council to spend another huge sum of money on more lights and more annual installation costs then let me know and I will go and make the case all over again. But bear in mind that this will almost certainly require a Council Tax rise over and above the demands that Town Council save the Museum, save and run The Castle, and invest large sums renovating the Market Place. It’s a debate that’s well worth having, if you think we need to.

Merry Christmas!

PCC Visit

PCC Visit

Police and Crime Commissioner, Jason Ablewhite is asking local residents to come along to a public meeting on Monday 27th November in Wisbech.

The Commissioner would like to discuss plans for a new Police Station in Wisbech with members of the local community before undertaking the formal application process.

Superintendent Andy Gipp from Cambridgeshire Constabulary will also be present.

The event will be held in Wisbech Town Hall Council Chamber between 7pm and 9pm on Monday 27th November and is open to all Wisbech residents.

New Wisbech skate park project launched

New Wisbech skate park project launched

Hopes for a new and improved skate park for Wisbech are gathering pace with the launch of a new project involving the local community.

Wisbech Town Council, Fenland District Council, Cambridgeshire County Council and local housing provider Clarion Futures will be working with residents and the Oasis Community Centre to develop and fund a new skate park in Bath Road on the Waterlees ward.

The old skate park had reached the end of its useful life, with all the old equipment being removed by Fenland District Council earlier this year due to safety concerns.

Project leaders said the move was disappointing for local youngsters, but represented a “real opportunity” to offer a new and improved facility for the whole community.

Wisbech Town Council has agreed Fenland District Council set aside £35,000 for the project from Section 106 funding, which will be used to attract further investment and funding from other sources. Fenland District Council will also contribute £5,000, along with ongoing skate park maintenance and safety assessment costs.

Fenland’s open spaces team will also provide its expertise to help deliver the new facility, alongside the engineering team once an agreed skate park build commences.

The project group has begun applying to various funders for support, and will be fundraising within the local community.
Wisbech Town Councillor Laura Cobb, who is leading the town council’s support for the project with fellow town councillors, said: “We have many young people living very close to this area and they tell me that an improved facility is necessary. This is a place where young people gather, enjoy themselves and help create the community that we enjoy. This project is crucial to the area, as well as wider Wisbech communities, and I hope that we can deliver a fantastic skate park by the summer holidays next year.”

A community group is also being set up to back the project, which has also been supported with £500 from Wisbech Town Council’s Mayor’s Fund.

Councillor Peter Murphy, Fenland District Council’s Portfolio Holder for Environment, said: “This project has considerable community backing and I am pleased that Fenland is getting a large group together to push this important community project along. We have seen the success of similar projects across Fenland and given the number of young people living in this area I expect that this new skate park will be the busiest yet.”

Local businesses are also being urged to support the project.

Skate Park, As Promised

Skate Park, As Promised

Wisbech Town Council Policy & Resources Committee met last night and one of the items on the agenda was the use of s106 funds for play equipment around town.

Several areas will benefit from updated and new playground equipment. I was very pleased that there was unanimous agreement on changes that different Town Councillors have been lobbying hard for.

Of particular interest was the agreement to provide a new and quality Skate Park for North Ward / Waterlees, likely to be before next Summer. This has been pushed hard by the four Town Councillors; Laura Cobb, Billy Rackley, Andrew Lynn and Andy Maul as it was a key pledge they made during their election campaign.

Laura, Chairman of the Skate Park Committee, has worked with the others to get some fantastic plans drawn up and they have – broadly – been agreed.

A decent skate park has long been something the ward and the town aspired to, but previous attempts have stuttered and faded, amounting to little.

But not this team!

The Town Councillors should be commended for the excellent work they have done. In very short order they have taken things from the drawing board to a real plan, and done exactly what they said they would do. A breath of fresh air, I think most would agree.

So some good news for young people around the town. The new Skate Park is now almost certainly coming. Get ready!

Halloween In Wisbech 2017

Halloween In Wisbech 2017