Fiveways Bypass?

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On Friday, the Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling MP visited Suffolk where I met with him to talk primarily as Leader of the County Council and as Holder of the Economic Development brief, about the rail upgrades needed for the Port of Felixstowe to move more freight off the A14 and onto Rail and what increased traffic on the rail line they would mean for communities up and down the line.  More freight on the railways and we can open up the A14 route for economic growth and higher value jobs – all part of the Economic Growth Strategy for Suffolk.

I also took the opportunity to introduce my fellow Candidate Louis Busuttil for Mildenhall in 4th May elections, together we thanked him for the £400,000 to install Traffic Lights at Fiveways but stressed that this must be a stop gap to a new bypass to keep the traffic moving at this, the busiest spot in West Suffolk.  He entirely took on board what we were saying and said he has discussed this with Matt Hancock MP and was aware that Suffolk County Council, FHDC, the New Anglia LEP and our local communities have and will present a strong case to Government for the investment we need for the works.

In my role as Local Councillor and more recently as Leader of Suffolk County Council I have sat in many, many, meetings with Highways England about the dualling and the roundabout.  And have lobbied successive Transport Ministers about the importance of the investment in Fiveways and the need for that to continue. Thinking back, I have, in one form or another, been involved in the lobbying for the A11 dualling since 2005, firstly alongside the then MP Richard Spring, now Lord Risby, in that time we have seen it pushed back in favour of the Cambridge guided bus system winning £100M investment pot from the old East of England Regional Assembly.  Then we saw it scaled back from a grade separation junction, that’s a fly over to you and me, to what was eventually built and I have in that time argued and lost to see far more spending on it than was eventually achieved.  I use the roundabout just about twice a day almost every day of my life and always argued that if we could not have the grade separation then Traffic Lights would very quickly be needed.  Highways England disagreed but by working with the SCC Cabinet member for Highways and our Highways team at the County Council alongside James Waters the Leader of FHDC and Matt Hancock our MP we put pressure on Highways England to install the piping for Traffic Lights with SCC data that showed the lights would be needed far sooner than HE was predicting, glad we did as the installation will be a lot quicker and easier than if they had to dig up the roads.  The £400,000 for the next phase being Traffic lights, is a step in the right direction. But as I said to Chris Grayling it’s a ‘stop-gap’ not the long or medium term solution.

I also lobbied hard for the eventual changes in the Tuddenham cross over which again, I, like many others use almost daily.  I even arranged for the County Council to agree to pay for a speed camera to keep the speed of traffic going past the petrol station at 50 mph to give us all a safer crossing but Highways England have thus far refused.  Before, during and since the dualling of the last section to Thetford I lobbied for a grade separation at Fiveways and promised that once it was built I would lobby firstly for traffic lights which contrary to some people’s opinion are how you make sure that traffic is regulated onto a busy junction. And now lobby for the by-passing, this will take time, but with the County Council, FHDC, our MP and local community groups all pulling in the same direction we create a strong unified position to put to Ministers. And I did just that Friday, saying thank you to Chris Grayling for getting the traffic lights into the latest round of upgrades but stressing how important it was to now get a by-pass.

How important are these upgrades to Fiveways? – please take my survey.

http://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/RowHeath

SCC Conservative Manifesto 2017

SCCCG Campaign 2017 - Manifesto Front PageToday Suffolk Conservative’s launch our Manifesto for the Suffolk County Council elections on 4th May.

It’s been 12 months in the planning and every single pledge is costed and has been debates by our candidates going back across a series of meetings starting last September.

Its build on literally thousands of doorstep conversations and online surveys where people have over the past couple of years told us their priorities for Suffolk and what they want us to continue to do and build on.

  • Residents tell us they want us to continue to keep the Council tax as low as possible building on our outstanding 7 years of delivering a 0% rise in the base Council Tax.
  • Residents tell us they want us to spend more of our roads, investing to prevent pot holes from happening and where they inevitably do, be quicker about repairing them.
  • Residents tell us they want us to continue to look after the vulnerable adults and children in our communities and protect the budgets for doing so, just as we have been.
  • Residents tell us that we need to put Suffolk at the forefront of infrastructure spending and I hope last week’s announcements on the two new bridges for Suffolk show that we are.
  • Residents tell us we need to work with Business across Suffolk to provide higher paying Jobs and new homes at the same time as protecting our unique countryside that makes Suffolk such a wonderful place to live, work, raise our families and have a long and enjoyable life in.

Our Manifesto sets this vision out.

https://www.suffolkconservatives.org.uk/news/suffolk-conservatives-launch-may-2017-manifesto

Vote Conservative on May 4th.

 

Two Bridges, One Suffolk

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On Friday I walked along the Ipswich Marina dockside and the sun was shining as I headed for the press announcement of the Architectural Practice we have appointed to Design the Upper Orwell Crossing in Ipswich…Foster + Partners who are one of the world’s foremost practices.  Who also have a wonderful track record in Ipswich having already designed the iconic Willis Building in 1975 that looks as if it was completed yesterday.

Earlier in the day I was ready about the press launch of the Lake Loathing Bridge announcement which was led by my colleague Guy McGregor.

These press events follow years of lobbying and hard work by Councillors and our great Local MPs Peter Aldous and Ben Gummer. The County has provided all the technical answers to the various questions and loops you must go through when obtaining funding and this has resulted in £73.39M from central Government for the Lowestoft bridge and £77.546M for the Ipswich bridges.  The County Council took a paper to Cabinet in May 2016 pledging the reminder of the monies £18.3M for the Lowestoft Bridge and about £19.1M for the Ipswich bridges.  Which demonstrated our commitment to these two exciting projects, both have different aims but both demonstrate Conservatives are committed to investing in our county’s infrastructure across Suffolk.

As you can see from the visuals the bridges will address the difficulty in getting about in Lowestoft and in Ipswich the bridges will open up significant high value employment land in a beautiful part of our County Town.

In the recent Annual Budget the Labour party proposed the spending of the general reserve over the next two years and then they would be eating into the very money allocated for these Bridge projects, their manifesto would cost so much that by the time the Council needed to contribute the sum we have promised there would be no money left with which to do so and we would have to borrow it!

So, imagine the irony when last week when Labour said the money is not there to build the Lake Loathing crossing in Lowestoft.  While I would not go as far to suggest this is “Fake News’, it would be fair to say the claim is entirely false. The funding required to complete Lake Loathing Third crossing is there and we are committed to ensuring the projects are completed. The shamelessness of the Corbynistas is just staggering.

My response to Labour’s comments was simple “The bridges will be build”.

And what I mean by that is, back in the real world, we have made a financial commitment to these two important projects in our County and if elected they will be built by a Conservative County Council.

Vote Conservative on 4th May.

“Homes have to be built for people”

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I have lived in the village of Lakenheath for most of my life and as I am now 52, no that can’t be right 2017 minus 1965 is…oh I am.  I have seen many of the fields I played in as a child built on, some by my family. I recall complaining bitterly when the company my father worked for brought a field where me and my friends used to play in and on the roof of the two barns on it. He said “homes have to be built for people”, if only we accepted this theory of life today, and “I told you to stop running along the roof of the barn one of you will get killed” so he brought the field and pulled down the barns – we did not speak for days!  Thinking about it, it was extremely dangerous as they were quite high.

Lots of new homes are proposed for our village over the next 10-year period and 250 to 300 of those will be given to Affordable Housing Providers who will rent them not sell them at below market rents to our young people and families not able to afford the rocketing cost of homes.  I have watched our village grow over 50 years but have despaired that in the past 18 years there has not be one major new estate built since an estate called Biscoe Way and hardly any socially rented homes built.  And in my time as a Councillor countless young people have complained to me they can’t afford to rent a home here and have moved away against their wishes or been forced to live at home with their parents for years after they want to leave home.  Shockingly the average age of the first-time buyer in this country and in my lifetime, has risen from 21 to 37.

Last week I had the chance to look at the Housing White Paper with the Prime Minster Theresa May and whilst a quick chat as she is an extremely busy person I thanked her for what she is doing and how her government is setting about tackling some of the biggest problems our country faces and one of those is housing.

There are those that simply don’t want new housing near them, they cite traffic congestion, they talk about the difficulty of getting a Doctor’s appointment and that housing changes a place.  All of these are important and we must work hard to address the infrastructure needs of our communities.  In my home village, I have secured the funding to build a much need second Primary school some £6M but we await the outcome of planning decisions to decide where it will be built.  We work hard to ensure development brings road improvement and engage with the NHS to improve primary care provision, that’s more Doctors to you and me.

The planning process is complex and the local Councils are blamed for its complexity yet it is laid down by government statue and it would be sheer folly for any Council not to follow it to the letter of the law, as they would lose Appeal after Appeal in the courts. It’s a long running process where numbers and allocation of numbers of homes is one part of the process that rarely, despite efforts by councils, engages many residents, but once the sites are proposed and applications start coming in people react.  The challenge for councils and Councillors is to listen to everyone from the vocal and angry about new homes being built in ‘their’ community to those residents struggling to afford a private rent or get on the property ladder or worse still have been made homeless for various reasons and are trying to get their lives back together in a bed sit accommodation. Across this country, here in Suffolk and in the communities I represent, far too many people are struggling to get a decent home and we have to address this.

This country has to build more homes, this county has to build more homes, this District has to build more homes, my Division has to built more homes and so does my home village of Lakenheath, it simply is not a solution to these serious problems to then say ‘ah yes but obviously not here’.  Do new homes bring challenges, of course they do, but what my dear old father said to me 45 years ago still rings true “homes have to be built for people.”

Please take my survey www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/RowHeath

 

On the campaign trail – Beck Row

0% County Council Tax rises for Beck Row

Out on the campaign trail in Beck Row

So, we have voted in the 2017/18 Suffolk County Council Budget having defeated Labour’s financially dangerous spend, spend, spend plans and delivered on our key 2013 Manifesto pledge of 0% base Council Tax increases, making 7 year at 0% since 2010.

Our manifesto has been a year in the making and is completed, a mixture of innovation and careful financial planning ever mindful of the need to protect the most vulnerable in our communities and ever mindful it’s your hard-earned money.  We will launch it on 17th March both in paper form and on our web site http://www.suffolkconservatives.org.uk/

So, our regular survey and canvass work steps up on the streets talking to resident about our track record and plans for the future.  They say all politics is local and of course that is true so as I start my campaign off as I always do in Beck Row there are a mixture of concerns from a highways parking problem at the local convenience store which I am getting sorted out, to the bigger picture of what is going to happen with Mildenhall Air Base, (its really RAF Beck Row as you can see in the picture on the left) which we are working on but will take a bit longer!

As I am out and about I am asking residents to fill in my survey or do it on line as we now have our surveys up to make it easier for residents.  The one for Beck Row is http://www.surveymonkey.com/r/beckrow

It’s going to be an interesting few months as we set out our vision for Suffolk County Council’s Future and Labour and the Liberals promise as they do, everything your heart’s desire, just one small problem they never ever tell you that they can’t deliver it.  Same old Labour always spending your hard-earned money and same old Lib Dems always…well that depends what you want them to say. As for UKIP… we are leaving the EU so move on.

The battle lines are drawn and now to the campaign.

 

Absent Lib Dems or Financially Dangerous Labour?

Last Thursday was Budget Day at Suffolk County Council, it’s the most important meeting of the year as well its sets the Council Tax and the budget for the coming year and so it’s also the highpoint of the year’s debates. In an election year, its also one of the final formal meeting before we go to the polls.

As I sat there during the debate I pondered the choices in May and the state of the opposition. So let’s take a look firstly the Lib Dems, no doubt their election material will say ‘only the Lib Dems can win here’, as they always do.  But their woeful performance in the chamber was typified by their Leader who could not be bothered to turn up.  The dates of the Budget day meeting are set about a year in advance so he could hardly say it was not in his diary, he was on holiday, says it all really, in 12 years of opposition they have never tabled a budget amendment, not one.

So, what about Labour, you have to say their budget amendment was one of two things either the typical Corbinista fiscal denial, or shameless pure political showboating.  Possibly denial? after all their shadow Finance chap at the county is quoted as saying that the financial outlook for the Council is better in the next 4 years!, trouble is there is not one single report or independent commentator who agrees with him.  Presumably he is banking or gambling on a Labour Victory in 2020’s General Election and the Corbin Money tree would bail them out, or frankly is it it’s just political showboating.  As my Cabinet member for finance pointed out, they are saying spend, spend, spend at the county when we hold a general reserve of 10% and a total, for all future projects such as new schools, planned bridges and IT projects, allocated reserves at 39% of our total revenue budget but across the road where many of the same Councillors are part of the controlling Labour group, they put up the Council Tax every year but hold 54% in their general reserve and 84% in their allocated reserves based on its total revenue budget, I leave you to draw your own conclusions but it isn’t pretty either way.

In May, Suffolk Conservatives will stand on our track record of delivering 7 years of 0% raises in the base Council Tax and carefully applied the National Adult Social Care Precept to give our lowest paid, mainly care workers, a welcome pay increase and rightly so.

Suffolk Conservatives will stand on how we have radically changed the Council saving £200M since 2010 with much more to be saving to be made, given the diminishing Government grants, yet have protected front line services, such as our libraries.

Suffolk Conservatives will stand on our plans for the future where we will be innovative in our approaches and have lots of new ideas about how we go about things over the next 4 years building on the work these past 4 years but we will always, always be prudent and carefully with the budget and our reserves, ever mindful of the need to protect the most vulnerable in our communities and ever mindful it’s your hard-earned money.

So people have a choice in May, us, the Lib Dems if they can be bothered to show up, or the financially dangerous Labour Party.

Budget Day

Budget

This Thursday is Suffolk County Council’s Budget Day. It’s important for two reasons, it’s when we set the bulk of your, and my, Council Tax bill and we set the money each service will get to provide frontline services for the year ahead.

Budgets are important to Councils because until like the La, La, Land of the NHS finances where massive deficits mean little, in Local Government if you run out of money, wages are not paid and services shut down.

Every year the Conservative administration pour over the figures in the £500M budget starting almost as soon as the last budget is set. And whilst the figures are huge and services are vital such as protecting vulnerable children from abuse, the process is little different from how we budget at home.  We save money for big projects like a house extension or in the council’s case the two new Bridge projects. We have some money set aside for emergencies and the unexpected (reserves) and we plan for renewing smaller items like the computer, (major IT system changes) all of which is based on assumptions of our income in the coming years.

That may sound a bit simplistic but it’s essentially it’s the same process we go through at home.  For Local Government, as to future prospects all the future income indicators are poor as we face less money over the next few years’ from Government. So we maintain reserves to ensure we can sustain services and deal with the unexpected. It may at times be a little bit boring but we are prudent and careful with your money.

Just as in life then there are the neighbours or in our case the opposition Labour and Lib Dems.  Like the neighbour’s flash new car, always out there promising the world, spend, spend, spend for tomorrow never comes, we’ll get more money from somewhere, why have reserves, live for today. The Jeremy Corbin view of the world, it all look like fun and of course the sun will come out tomorrow, Happy Days.  But then again the last time they were allowed to be in control in Suffolk we all know how that ended, budgets not keep to, failing services and finally booted out of power, for raising the Council tax by 11.9% in one year and 18.5% in the next trying to keep the show on the road – ‘What rubbish’ I am told that was then this is now, but you see I don’t think it is rubbish, I think it’s a mind-set that has not changed one bit.

So we may be a bit cautious, we may be a bit tough in how we negotiate but, we have delivered 7 years of 0% raises in the base Council Tax and carefully applied the National Adult Social Care Precept to give our lowest paid, mainly care workers, a welcome pay increase and rightly so.  I hope in May people will allow us to carry on running the council, we will be innovative in our approaches and have lots of new ideas about how we go about things over the next 4 years building on the work these past 4 years but we will always, always be prudent and carefully with the budget and our reserves, ever mindful of the need to protect the most vulnerable in our communities and ever mindful it’s your hard earned money.

But remember those flash neighbours (and apologies to my neighbours who are all lovely people and not part of this reference!), if Labour and the Liberal were in power when they run out of the council’s money, guess who’s money they’ll come after, yours!

Thursday’s meeting is web cast so please log-in and have a watch.

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