A step forward

Last year I think a lot of Lakenheath residents were shocked and saddened to see the British Legion Club close its doors. As it has played a significant part in village life for as long as I can remember.

At the time I was asked to meet with members of the local British Legion to see what could be done. It became clear that the premises in its current form could not pay the lease costs to the national Royal British Legion and so had to close. I spoke with the national team about would it be possible to reopen under a community banner but they were very hard-nosed about it being a Legion asset and their duty was to maximise that asset, so eventually the ‘For Sale’ board was put up.

So imagine my delight to be contacted by the Lakenheath Peace Memorial Hall Trustee’s Chairman Brendan Fulham to see if I could register it under the community right to buy scheme essentially a scheme which gives local communities breathing space to put together fund raising and a business plan. And if I know of any sources of finance.

Since then the committee has been working hard raising money and a number of people in the village have given generously towards the target.

For my part I have been in discussions with officers at both the District Council and the County Council to see what funding might be available and in parallel, I have been lobbying FHDC and my fellow Conservative Councillors in the Council’s cabinet with a simple premise of forward spending some of the future Section 106 monies that will be flowing from future housing i.e. a loan to be repaid to take up this golden opportunity to create a village centre and not to miss this golden opportunity.

All the behind the scenes work has culminated in the following letter:

 

‘Dear Cllr Millar,

RE:        Community Right to Bid – The People’s Project, Lakenheath

I understand that you will be considering an options paper in relation to assistance Forest Heath District Council could give to The People’s Project, in terms of purchasing the Royal British Legion site with Lakenheath.  In my dual role as both County Councillor and District Councillor for the village of Lakenheath I have been aware of the community wishes from the outset.

The closure of the Royal British Legion club facility was a significant blow to the village and since then a number of community groups and residents have approached me to see if it were possible to keep the facility.

I have been fully supportive and championed The People’s Project and equally supportive of the Village Hall committee proposals and the way in which they have engaged with the wider community as they seek funding to make this happen.  Since the community meeting in October 2013 which attracted over a 100 villagers, the group have been working hard to gain support and have attracted a proportion of the funding (in the region of £40,000).

Lakenheath is going to grow and an important part of that growth must be community facilities alongside to allow the village to continue to be a successful and pleasant place to live.  The community spirit and activities in the village are something I talk about across Suffolk and they simply need more facilities in which to function.

The pressure on the Sports Pavilion and the Village Hall has recently been brought home to me as I have need to host a public meeting and had to wait for 6 weeks for the first available booking.

The People’s Project have approached the project in a very business-like manner and I firmly believe that the whole village is supportive of this bid.  Of course in an ideal world such funding is provided by developers seeking to build housing but as we know housing growth is coming and this once in a lifetime opportunity should not be lost.

As you will be aware the current bid is in the region of £120,000 which is over the estimate of £60,000 – £120,000, however if we could provide the loan funding to facilitate a bid and hopefully make the purchase happen, the village with see that Forest Heath District Council understands and backs the need for facilities to support housing growth.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr Colin Noble

Lakenheath District Councillor’

The great news is that at Tuesday’s FHDC Cabinet forward planning meeting my letter and the representations from the People Project has resulting in the Cabinet agreeing to ask officers to prepare an options paper and they will formally discuss this at their next Cabinet Meeting.

We’ve not there yet but with the generosity of Lakenheath people, the hard work of the Trustee’s and the foresightedness of the FHDC cabinet we are a step closer. So roll on that Cabinet meeting and hopefully the bid will be successful and the Trustees can, in advance of the new housing, make this purchase to significantly enhance the facilities in the middle of the village.

Lakenheath Library discussion at the Parish Council

On Monday I attended the monthly Lakenheath Parish Council meeting, having rushed back from a meeting in London with Suffolk’s MPs, to give my monthly report as Lakenheath’s Suffolk County Councillor.

In addition to my usual report I was extra keen to be there as they had kindly agreed to have a debate about the Lakenheath Library Consultation; and whilst it was tight getting back in time I particularly wanted to be in attendance as I had asked them to table the discussion.

At the start of the meeting the Chairman calls for representation from the public and a number of people spoke about the Library and were none too kind about Suffolk County Council. When we got to the discussion on the agenda I took on board what was said by the people who had come along to hear our discussion, in my comments.  

In opening I talked about the Government’s Comprehensive Spending revue and the 28% cuts to the county council’s overall funding the government has told us we must save over the next four years as our contribution to deal with the national budget deficit. I have also talked about the incredibly difficult decisions and indeed sleepless night many of the officers and councillors have had as we’ve wrestled with the implications and where we are going to have to make cuts.

I said it’s fair to say that cuts are never ever going to be popular but as we worked through the options before us, our priority has been to protect the vulnerable in our communities and seek to make savings that do not hurt the vital services. We are also driving through fundamentally changes to the Council and have proposed over 1400 job cuts this coming year; for that is what 28% less means, a fundamental change and in many respects what we have come to expect, what we have come to enjoy, is no longer financially available to us.

I went on to say the cuts have finally arrived on our door steps here in Lakenheath and on the 19th January it was announced that our great little library is under threat of closure. I informed the Council that on the afternoon of the 19th I visited Chris, our librarian to discuss what was very worrying news to him and we chatted through what I was going to try to do in response.

As they knew that evening I emailed the Parish Council and asked for the future of our library to be discussed at the next meeting and sent details of where Parish Councillors could find all the information they needed ahead of that debate.

I also informed them that I have hired the Peace Memorial Hall for a public meeting at 7:30pm on Thursday 10th March, I then handed out copied of the posters I am going to put up around the village and I said I hoped that as many of them and the residents of Lakenheath as possible would be able to come along.

I told them that I have arranged for staff from the Library service to be there to present the issues and explain the costs of running our Library.

Whilst they knew where to find the information because I had advised the Clerk, for the benefit of the public present, I said that they could read about the scale of the challenge before us and find all the details at: http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/

I said the questions before us as a community are: Are we prepared to volunteer to run it? Are we prepared as a community to take on the building? Can we find ways to lower the running cost and possibly even make it pay for itself? How about a community coffee shop and cyber café? Can the local charities offer financial support?

I then informed the Council that for my part I am happy to facility the meeting on the 10th and to be involved in an action group and if we are able to come up with a robust business plan; I would be willing to help set up a community interest company and be pleased to be a Trustee. I had already confirmed with fellow Trustees of the Jabez and Selah Bennett Charity that we could offer £1,000 per year towards the running costs, which is a start.

I finished my contribution and members of the Parish Council then discussed some of their thoughts and a good and lively discussion was had, with some thoughts proposed that I am currently exploring as to what we might be able to achieve.

I finished my final thoughts by thanking them for their contribution and said I would be delighted to see them on Thursday 10th of March at 7:30pm at the Peace Memorial Hall and I would be delighted to see you there too!

Lakenheath Library – Dates for your Diary

Following on from the initial work to get the community behind a bid to keep our local Library open, there are two dates for your diary firstly the Lakenheath Parish Council will discuss the matter at the Parish Council meeting on Monday 7th February at the Lakenheath Methodist Church Hall from 7:00pm and then I have booked the Lakenheath Peace Memorial Hall for Thursday March 10th from 7:30pm for a village meeting, Poster will be going up shortly.

I have been able to get the area libraries Officer Lisa Elmer to attend the Parish Council meeting and she and the Head of Suffolk Library Services Roger McMaster will be there on the 10th March to help explain the challenge before us.

If you want to read about the scale of the challenge before us have a look at the various consultation papers at

http://colin.suffolkcc.gov.uk/Communicating/News/LibrariesConsultation2011.htm

This meeting is not about protesting at the proposed closure but about how much we as a village value our Library and if we do, what, are we going to collectively do to keep it open.

Are we prepared to volunteer to run it? Are we prepared as a community to take on the building? Can we find ways lower the running cost and possibly even make it pay for itself? How about a community coffee shop and cyber café? Can the local charities offer financial support?

For my part I am happy to facility the meeting on the 10th March and to be involved in an action group and if we are able to come up with a solution; I would be delighted to be on a future management board, I am also talking with the Charities I am involved in to see what tangible support we could offer.

So please come along to both meetings and lets discuss how we work together to keep our library open.

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