Category Archives: Wisbech Town Council
Wisbech Castle Project – 10th May 2018
A team of Working Party and other volunteers spent several hours at Wisbech Castle today. We had determined to work on the ground floor and since we had a good turnout we were able to work on several rooms at once.
The Old Kitchen, which was absolutely full to the brim of furniture and stored stuff was the focus of much activity. Everything was removed from the room so that it could be given a very thorough clean. Items of value and interest were put in safe storage and other stuff removed to the waste area. The fireplace was also cleared and all the antique implements cleaned and displayed. Piles of chairs and other things that had been just dumped in there for storage were organised and stored in an accessible and tidy way in a more suitable location.
The Utility / Room was also completely emptied and deep cleaned – which is really, really needed. Cupboards and drawers were cleared of rubbish and made ready for new use.
Furniture that needed repair or refurbishment was identified and kept separate for the work to take place at a later date.
The downstairs storage room, which was so full of junk that you couldn’t even open the door, was completely emptied and the contents evaluated and stored / reused / removed depending on its nature. We were pleased to find a jet washer buried under the pile of fold-up tables in there, which is great as it was one of the things we had thought we would need to buy.
While the team were working we had visits from the Fire Safety Officer (to check the building was safe and to make any recommendations). We also had a plumber who has offered the Castle Project a discount service, to quote on some of the things we would like to see done. And a local electrician who had offered to check the electrics for us for safety (and whose report is broadly that all is well!) and who kindly fixed some broken electrics while he was there.
All in all a really good few hours work. There’s a lot to do, but focusing on the building a room at a time, and with a large team of volunteers, means that things get done quickly. It is really useful that our volunteers have a range of skills and knowledge.
I’d like to thank the many volunteers who came today. The Wisbech Castle Project is coming on really well and it can only happen because you are giving your time and talent to help it.
Photos (c) Roger Rawson
Word reaches me that the usual fellows have been grumbling (incorrectly) that the plans for improvements to Spider Park in Kirkgate Ward have been something that was only mentioned as there is an election. Apparently, one of the tiny group has even promised to “go back through Town Council minutes.”
In order to save them some time, the minutes they are looking for can be found on the Wisbech Town Council website here from the November meeting of the Policy & Resources Committee.
I am quite used to a certain local newspaper regularly using inaccuracy and lies to attack me. It is with a sense of resignation that they have chosen to do it once again.
You will notice that the newspaper has chosen a “headline” for Mr Smith’s letter which suggests that I have not responded to Mr. Smith. Now if I were being generous I would say that this is a mistake brought about by them not being bothered to read the content of Mr. Smiths’s letter. But I have no generosity left for the Wisbech Standard and so I can only presume that it’s purpose is to once again try and have a pop at my reputation by suggesting I have not responded to Mr. Smith in a timely fashion.
In fact, this is completely false. The issue that concerns Mr Smith is actually not something I am directly responsible for – it is a matter for the Assets Committee, which I do not sit on. But nevertheless I have responded to Mr Smith on multiple occasions; by email, on social media, and on this very blog. I did so as soon as he asked about the issue, back in January, and on several occasions since. Mr Smith has also received a response from Susanah Farmer, the Operations Manager at Wisbech Town Council, back in January.
Mr Smith may not be happy with the answers he has been given and that is his prerogative, but it is false for the newspaper to suggest that he has not had a response. In fact, Mr Smith does not claim that I have not responded to him. The content of his letter makes clear that he is waiting for a response from the Chairman of the Assets Committee. My suggestion that he write to the Chairman was only made a couple of weeks ago and I am sure he will get a response in due course. Wisbech Town Councillors are volunteers, many of whom have full time jobs, and so cannot respond in 24 hours. I would expect that the Chairman will give an answer, as Mr Smith has already been given answers, and that he will still not be happy with the answer.
Kirkgate Campaign 27-4-18
Although we were campaigning yesterday, it was mostly envelope stuffing. Today was the real official start of our campaign for the Town Council By-Election.
Introducing our new local Conservative candidate and getting out on the doorstep talking to people was, as ever, a lot of fun. I always enjoy campaigning but it is even more fun with such a strong team. Everybody we met was very nice and conversations were broadly positive. What was helpful is that the issues that were raised are all things that are being tackled through current policies so there was solid answers to give. Better still, residents seemed informed about what was going on and so our conversations were useful and fruitful.
Roll on June 7th.
Public Private Partnerships for WCs
As is absolutely normal, the Wisbech Standard posted a ham-fisted, poor and ill-researched article online about my motion going to Town Council tomorrow. And also, as is absolutely normal, it came along with the obligatory nasty quote from Virginia Bucknor, which was also incorrect in a number of ways.
The proposal going to Wisbech Town Council tomorrow is that the Town Council explore the idea of a partnership with local businesses to see if they will offer their WCs for public use. There are a number of protections for the businesses built into the motion, and the scheme would be entirely voluntary. Nor would it, in any way, mean that the Town Council would not continue to offer the facilities that it offers currently.
Mrs. Bucknors Comments and the factual responses to them:
“The suggestion that shopkeepers should offer their toilets is, as usual, not thought out ((LIBELOUS SECTION REMOVED BY NEWSPAPER, SO REMOVED FROM HERE ALSO)),” said Cllr Bucknor.
Putting aside the snide, nasty, libelous defamatory lies about my working career that were later removed after I wrote a legal complaint to the newspaper, of course I have thought the idea through. I always think ideas through. But the nature of ideas, is that sometimes you have to try them and see if they work. And sometimes they do. And sometimes they don’t. But I’d rather try solutions than spend my time attacking people who have ideas I didn’t think of.
She urged the Mayor to go and speak with shopkeepers to get their views “before you come up with such ideas”.
Not only have I spoken to some shopkeepers but I already have five local businesses who have, in principle, said “yes.” I have not spoken to “all of them” because the first thing to do is to make sure the Town Council support the idea – which, by the way, is working successfully in other towns all over the country. Had I just marched on and approached every business, my colleagues would have rightly asked why I had not consulted them, and Mrs Bucknor might well have been giving the obligatory comment in the Wisbech Standard saying: “I urge the Mayor to speak to his fellow Councillors before he forces through with such ideas.”
She offered to work with the mayor to persuade the management of the Horsefair shopping centre to re-open their toilets after they were closed because of vandalism.
Now, Ladies and Gentlemen, I try not to hold onto things too much. I cut people some slack. But why would I work with somebody who has literally (one sentence earlier) attacked my personal and professional reputation in such a nasty, vindictive and libelous way? Town Council are already talking to the Horsefair Shopping Centre and I’ve also talked to them (although you wouldn’t know it from the newspaper article) but even if we can get the Horsefair to re-open them, that still wouldn’t stop this being a potentially good idea.
St Georges Day
Today was the first of our Town Council -organised festivals. This is the baby of the bunch, the family fun that is St. Georges day. The weather didn’t let us down and was gorgeous. The event went smoothly with no problems and the turnout, after a slow start, was really good. Lots of families had great fun and the “Live Dragon Hunt” proved as popular as last year. Whoever thought of that silly but hilarious game was a bright spark <ahem>.
Thanks must go to the team of Councillors and volunteers who organised, manned and delivered the whole thing. The Market Place was busy and the event popular and enjoyed. Not a single moan about any aspect of it so far, which must be a record! :)
We also used the opportunity to set up a public consultation booth for the Market Place Project, letting the public look at our ideas for the possible future of the Market Place and to suggest their own. There was a lot of interest, and while different people had different views on some of the individual aspects – we did not encounter a single person who said “no” to the over plan, direction and scheme. This is particularly of note for me because these people who came to the booth are the people who actually use the Market Place. Some work will have to be done before proceeding with any part of the plans to make sure the Market Traders aren’t negatively affected. All in all this project looks popular and innovative – well down to the team of Councillors and members of the public who helped put the ideas together.
I spent most of the morning as DJ. St George is an odd one since it is the Deputy Mayor who has the big role to play. That of The Dragon. Cllr Andew Lynn donned his St George outfit to lead a horde of childen and parents to hunt the dragon, beat it into submission with foam swords, and bring it back to the DJ booth to apologise for trying to eat sections of Wisbech. First they saved Medworth Ward. Then they saved Walsoken. Then those might children saved North Ward (aka Waterlees, but seldom) and the people of those fine areas could sleep soundly in their beds knowing they weren’t going to be a tasty snack for a hungry monster. All in all, a fine days work in Wisbech, the finest town on Earth ™.
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.
- Market Place refurbishment image 1 (PDF, 1 Mb)
Draft proposals illustrated by Peter Humphrey Associates image 1
- Market Place refurbishment image 2 (PDF, 4 Mb)
Draft proposals illustrated by Peter Humphrey Associates image 2
- Market Place refurbishment image 3 (PDF, 1.2 Mb)
Draft proposals illustrated by Peter Humphrey Associates image 3
- Market Place refurbishment image 4 (PDF, 1.3 Mb)
Draft proposals illustrated by Peter Humphrey Associates image 4
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
I have been asked by the Leader of Wisbech Town Council if I will Chair the new Castle Committee, whose job will be to handle the oversight of Wisbech Castle once the Town Council has it under its control. Since my time as Mayor comes to an end in May, freeing up a lot of time, I have accepted the role. Being the Chairman does not mean I am “in charge” of Wisbech Castle, it simply means I will be Chairman of the Committee and Working Party. Running the Castle will be very much a team effort. I’d like to talk a little about my initial ideas for the running structure of Wisbech Castle. These are just ideas, subject to discussion and agreement of everybody else involved.
I think it appropriate for there to be three platforms to running the Castle. The Castle Committee, the Castle Working Party and the Friends Of Wisbech Castle group. The way the Committee and the Working Party will interact will run on a similar basis to the Town Council’s Festivals’ Committee and Working Party, which has proved to be a successful model over recent years.
The Castle Committee will be a constituted Committee of Wisbech Town Council, made up of seven Town Councillors, whose primary role will be to maintain the Council’s control of the project and scrutinise the spending on it and to oversee the work done by the Working Party. I would guess the Castle Committee will meet three or four times a year.
The Castle Working Party – who will do most of the work and organisation of the day-to-day running of the Castle – will be a group made up of Councillors, representatives of interested local groups, and knowledgeable volunteers who bring skills to the table. I hope that this Working Party will be a dynamic and imaginative bunch, with a mixture of skills and backgrounds, able to press on with multiple projects, income streams and public offers. I would welcome communication from anybody who might like to be on the Castle Working Party. But please bear in mind that members of the Working Party will be expected to put time and effort into the project on a voluntary basis, and so should be sure they are able to handle the commitment that something as important as this will take. I would expect the Castle Working Party to have monthly meetings, and for members to touch base with each other and the Chairman and Vice-Chairman, often.
The Friends Of Wisbech Castle will be a completely free voluntary organisation made up of anybody who values Wisbech Castle and want to join. People who become “friends” will receive regular direct updates, early notifications of plans and events and possibly special opportunities and offers to enjoy all that I hope Wisbech Castle will come to offer. Once this launches, I hope we will get hundreds, or even thousands, of people join in and become a part of the future of Wisbech Castle.
I see the aims of the project to be threefold. First, to maintain Wisbech Castle as a public resource and asset, regularly accessible to the people of Wisbech and its guests to enjoy and make use of. Second, to maintain and preserve the historic building in good order for current and future generations. Third, to work towards making sure the building is not an undue burden on taxpayers of the Town and to aim towards cost neutrality, or profitability as early as feasibly possible. I should add that cooperation and partnership with other Wisbech features like Wisbech Museum and Peckover House will not only be desirable, but crucial.
First Things First
What we can do in the very short term is limited by the work needing to be done in the building. First priority will be to get urgent repairs done so that the building is in a fit state to be used. To clean up the gardens and get the whole site ready for further use. If this is planned well and the work goes without too many issues, then the Castle should be usable for at least some activities in the next few months. After that we can pick and choose what to renovate and work on as the Committees decide on what the various uses will be, so that we can roll out activities and ideas in phases.
There are so many ideas for what the Castle could be used for and how its access and usefulness could grow. Both for things that have gone before like school visits and weddings, heritage open days, fetes, art fairs and garden tours – to many brand new ideas for the future. While I am Chairman I will encourage creativity, imagination and fresh thinking. The door will be open to anybody with a great suggestion or proposal. If everything goes according to plan, Wisbech Castle will take its rightful place as a centre-piece and an incredible community asset for now and for the future.
All Committee Meetings will be open to the public. Discussions, ideas and decisions will be published transparently. I hope that Wisbech Castle will have a Facebook Page and a Twitter Feed. I hope to have a website for Wisbech Castle set up. These things will all be free and operated by volunteers. It will be my aim to encourage engagement, support and volunteering throughout the Wisbech Castle Project – to welcome anybody who loves the Castle and the Town to be a part of it and to contribute to it. I would welcome participation, even from critics of the project, as long as those critics come to the table with an open mind and a desire to help. I would hope that people who have something to say will come and be a part of the project and say it on record so that it can be thought about and addressed, rather than just snipe from afar on social media or elsewhere.
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.