RAF Mildenhall Closure

RAF MildenhallOn Thursday we had the sad news that RAF Mildenhall was to close, and my first thoughts when I heard was for the 500 or so people who work there and the uncertainty the announcement makes for them.

A number of us were all geared up for the official USAF announcement embargoed until 3pm, however this quickly became a nonsense as the moment was entirely overtaken by social media in the morning because the Stars and Stripes carried the full story that morning in their on-line edition, someone somewhere does not quite understand the nature of an agreed embargo! For my part I watched the twitter feeds starting up and then took a call from Paul Geater of the EADT asking for a quote before speaking on BBC Radio Suffolk’s Mark Murphy Show. The following morning I was interviewed by Etholle George on her morning show at 6:30am at Mildenhall Market and a couple of times more up to 9am and finally I did a piece for BBC Look East that evening outside the base.

Of course the devil is in the detail and whilst this will be a blow to many it’s not quite as bad as if first appears. In the same announcement, it was confirmed that RAF Lakenheath will expand and take 2 squadrons of the new USAF F-35 fighter aircraft with new investment and an additional 1,200 personnel and their families. RAF Mildenhall will close over the next 5 – 7 years with the leaving of 3,200 personnel and their families. If you consider that it’s only a year or so ago that the numbers were added to by 1,200 personnel connected with the special forces and their very strange looking Osprey aircraft. So that means with all the various comings and goings the area will ultimately only down about 800 personnel from the position 2 years ago.

Of course alongside these departures 500 local people are employed in a variety of roles on the base and whilst some will no doubt get jobs at Lakenheath many will be made redundant, and this is the biggest challenge we face. But it is also the biggest opportunity we face. At Forest Heath District Council since we won the last election in 2011 we’ve refocused the Council on economic growth and so, assuming we win the election in May we are well placed to lead taking advantage of this opportunity. RAF Mildenhall is a busy World class airport with great community facilities and industrial potential to attract high value jobs into a spacious industrial park.

We have already hit the ground running, Matthew Hancock MP has announced that he is to chair a Westminster working party looking at the future of RAF Mildenhall, RAF Molesworth, and RAF Alconbury. And alongside Cllr. James Waters the Leader of Forest Heath District Council we are already discussing the askes we want to make of Government, key amongst them and to the MOD in particular is clarity so we can use the next period to plan the strategy, not merely replacing those jobs lost but to bring far more in so that on the far side of this closure it is viewed as an economic success storey for West Suffolk. The work has begun to make sure as the USAF close down their last security post, new businesses are moving in generating those high value jobs.

No small task, but one,Conservatives from our MP to us Councillors are entirely focused on.

Row Heath 2013

My Row Heath campaign 2013 and Conservaitve Pledge of 0%, 0%, 0%, 0% Council tax rises

My Row Heath campaign 2013 and Conservaitve Pledge of 0%, 0%, 0%, 0% Council tax rises

Out on the campaign trail in Undley

Out on the campaign trail in Undley

Out on the campaign trail in the Rows

Out on the campaign trail in the Rows

This is the first of a series of blog posts I’ll write about the County Council election results, as many of us involved in the wonderful and often weird world of politics reflect on the high political drama of an election and what people are telling us. But before I do all that my first is rightly about the opinion of the residents of Row Heath.Row Heath 2013 result was:

Me (Conservative):              1104   (43.43%)

Ian Smith (UKIP):                 881     (34.66%)

David Gathercole (Ind):       284     (11.17%)

Pam Brown (Labour):          197     (7.75%)

Elle Minshall (Lib Dem):     76        (2.3%)

On the Thursday night I sat for a couple of hours pondering if I was going to win or lose and I worked out from our returns that I would probably win and that the turn-out was about 33% it turned out to be 32.85% so that was not bad on both points.

Essentially UKIP did badly in my division only adding 39 votes to their 2009 total. Less people voted which is always a disappointment, in 2009 the turnout was 40%, albeit the same day as the last European Parliamentary elections. Row Heath’s result was in stark contrast to neighbouring Suffolk divisions, in one our excellent candidate James Waters just won by 9 votes and in the other we lost by some margin as Stephen Edwards, who would have been a great County Councillor, lost to the UKIP surge, it was for a reason that Nigel Farage held his recent eastern region rally in Brandon.

Firstly, I want to say congratulations to everyone who stood.  Whether a paper candidate or not, putting your name on a ballot paper is actually tougher than many might think and I do actually admire anyone who stands up and seeks to be counted.

It an interesting thing as you watch a count, a vote there and you’re lost and oh well never mind, suffer the slings and arrows and all that. Then comes a vote for you and you are rather humbled that people actually do want you to stand up for them.

Of course the day was UKIP’s across the Eastern Region and anyone who says it was not is just being too politically correct, I think I am known for holding a party line or two but it was their day and we need to listen.

It has been and continues to be a huge honour and privilege to represent the area I grew up in and know so well. I would like to thank everyone who voted for me and those who helped me so such much during the campaign but a special mention goes to my partner Lisa, part confidant, part motivator, but complete leaflet delivery machine. Not sure it was her desire to see me returned or the thought of me losing and being at home more that gets her out there.

I got into local politics because I was outraged that the previous Liberal/labour controlled County Council put up the council tax by 11.9% in one year and 18.5% in another. I am delighted to have played my part in the continued Conservative control of Suffolk County Council, and that we will deliver 0% Council tax rises for the whole of the next term, on the back of three years of 0% Council tax rises. Wow what a difference.

My final comment is that I am here to serve the whole of Row Heath, irrespective of whether you voted or whom you voted for. Please do not hesitate to contact me, I am here to help if I can.

Out on the campaign trail in Eriswell

Out on the campaign trail in Eriswell

Out on the campaign trail in Tuddenham St. Mary

Out on the campaign trail in Tuddenham St. Mary

Out on the campaign trail in Icklingham

Out on the campaign trail in Icklingham

Out on the campaign trail in Higham

Out on the campaign trail in Higham

Out on the campaign trail in Cavenham

Out on the campaign trail in Cavenham

Leadership at Forest Heath District Council

There was a definitely a sense of the changing of the guard at Forest Heath Conservative Group AGM last night when James Waters were elected Leader of the Group and as is the way of these things will be elected Leader of the Council next week at the Council’s AGM.

The former Leader Geoffrey Jaggard who has served the residents of Forest Heath with great distinction over many years was given a rousing round of applause and thanked by all. He can be rightly proud of his and the Council’s achievements and track record, not least the lowest council tax of any council in Suffolk and a well run and efficient set of services. 

Both James and his fellow leadership contender Robin Millar presented a clear vision of how they saw the next 4 years and either of them would make an excellent Leader but there can be only one. Nigel Roman was the only nomination for Deputy Leader and brings with him a wealth of experience and knowledge built up over many years of outstanding public service both to Forest heath District Council and the Conservative Party.

The challenge for the new leader is to lead the council through the unprecedented change that the Localism Bill will bring about and to deliver a vision of how the area we all live in is going to be shaped by the council’s deeds and actions over the next 4 years.

At my induction onto the Council last week I heard an officer say the area looked more to the Cambridge Economic Sub-region than to Ipswich, and whilst I entirely agree with this correct assessment; it struck me, so how does that shape the policies and actions of the Council?, in my opinion it currently does not to the extent it should.

If we look economically look  towards Cambridge then we should have incubator business parks where we can support fledgling businesses from the world class industries around Cambridge thus creating high value jobs. If we look towards Cambridge why are we not building more housing to provide a high quality of life for those who work in Cambridge, and what about having a transport strategy that supports this as well.

These are the core challenges facing the new Leader and I wish James all the very best and promise to support him in his endeavours to the best of my abilities.

Votes cast

So in the end I topped the poll for the Lakenheath Ward on Forest Heath District Council with 656 votes and the previous Conservative Councillor David Gathercole who decided to stand as an independant was also elected, my running mate Iain who worked so hard was a very respectable third and no doubt he will be back, we are going out canvassing and to say thank you for voting this Saturday morning.

The full result for Forest Heath District Council are as follows, (the star means elected):

All Saints Ward: *Geoffrey Jaggard (Conservative) 461, *Robin Millar (Conservative) 366, Hilary Radford (Lib Dem) 277, Christopher Turner (Lab) 313. Turnout 34%.

Brandon East Ward: *Bill Bishop (Conservative) 788, *Stephen Edwards (Conservative) 677, Annette Meadows (UKIP) 415, Peter Ridgwell (UKIP) 512, Reginald Silvester (UKIP) 460, *Eddie Stewart (Conservative) 585. Turnout 35%.

Brandon West Ward: Mark Allen (Lab) 263, *David Bimson (Conservative) 416, Lee Jacobs (Ind) 185, Abi Jones-Weetman (Ind) 193, Henry Kostecki (UKIP) 199, *Tony Simmons (Conservative) 296. Turnout 36%.

Eriswell and The Rows Ward: *David Bowman (Conservative) 582, David Chandler (Ind) 308, John Smith (Lib Dem) 358, *James Waters (Conservative) 667. Turnout 41%.

Exning Ward: Janet Anderson (Conservative) 291, *Ben Williams (Lib Dem) 372. Turnout 43%.

Great Heath Ward: Jason Alecock (Lib Dem) 254, Tom Caple (Lab) 233, Jim Lawrence (UKIP) 132, *Nigel Roman (Conservative) 435, *Tony Wheble (Conservative) 322, Dave Whitear (UKIP) 101. Turnout 33%.

Iceni Ward: Hilary Appleton (Lab) 217, *Rona Burt (Conservative) 485. Turnout 50%.

Lakenheath Ward: Iain Frost (Conservative) 416, *David Gathercole (Ind) 553, Carole Lucas (Ind) 326, *Colin Noble (Conservative) 656, Ian Smith (UKIP) 227, Richard Smith (UKIP) 116. Turnout 41%.

Manor Ward: Stephen Frost (Conservative) 308, *Tim Huggan (Lib Dem) 366. Turnout 54%.

Market Ward: Gill Caple (Lab) 261, Patrick Finn (Lab) 237, *John McGhee (Conservative) 615, Malcolm Smith (Conservative) 570. Turnout 34%.

Red Lodge (uncontested): *Roger Dicker (Conservative), *Andy Drummond (Conservative)

Severals: *Michael Anderson (Conservative) 663, *Warwick Hirst (Conservative) 637, *Rachel Hood (Conservative) 655, Ian Horner (Lib Dem) 237, Ian Radford (Lib Dem) 357, Joy Uney (Lab) 416. Turnout 28%.

South (uncontested): *Carol Lynch (Conservative)

St Marys: Ruth Allen (Ind) 451, *Chris Barker (Conservative) 540, Peter Clifton (Lab) 329, Dave Hudson (UKIP) 372, *Michael Jefferys (Lab) 473, *Bill Sadler (Conservative) 505, Sue Syvret (Conservative) 355. Turnout 33%.

So we conservatives increased our majority on the council from 20 to 22 out of 27, not bad and a testiment to how we run things with effeicent services and low council tax rises and the lowest actual Council tax element in Suffolk.

I am really pleased and honoured to represent the village where I live and the people I have grown up with on both the County Council and now the District Council as well.

In Norfolk 200,537 people cast a vote to say No2Av and 83,205 voted Yes2Av, that’s 70.7% saying no. In Suffolk 170,892 of us voted No2Av and 67,062 voted Yes2Av, in both counties that’s a very resounding NO!.

Across the Eastern region there was a 43.1% turn out which I thought was not bad and again across our region the final score was +34 Conservative Councillors, +73 Labour Councillors and -105 liberals, shame!

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