Meanwhile on Planet Babergh

Just when you think that lessons have been learned, you realise that very few people pay attention to history, whether it is recent history or not.
Readers of this blog may recall that on May 3rd 2016 I posted a commentary on the then continuing saga of East House, which Suffolk County Council had handed back to Babergh who didn’t know what to do with it except to evict the tenants and leave it empty. The unfortunate history of East House is that whilst Babergh made up its mind, the market moved on and any rehabilitation/upgrading with a view to selling was rendered uneconomic.
This week’s news is that Babergh District Council are to increase the debt threshold for Babergh Growth Ltd., from £3,7 million to £7m to facilitate cash flow. The company is responsible for the redevelopment of Babergh’s former offices in Corks Lane We can assume that the cash will be flowing all one way for some time to come as the cash holdings of the company were only £61,433 at 31st March 2021.
The development is expected to realise 57 homes. Due to increased costs and impacts from Brexit, the war in Ukraine and inflation, the costs of the scheme have gone up by £680,000 over four years– which begs the question why is there an increase in borrowing powers of £3.3 million.
And now comes the prize-winning comment from the Great Leader of the Rainbow Coalitioned Council (John Ward) “Ultimately the development is still expected to break even or even show a modest profit”
Why are we undertaking a marginal project? You can almost hear echoes of “With a fair wind and a few sunny days, this time next year we could all be millionaires”
It’s time to go back to basics. The economic outlook is not good and the project needs to be reworked to bring the projections back to a reality which will give comfort to the residents that their leaders know what they are doing.

Not All News is Bad

This week’s local government elections in Babergh and Mid-Suffolk are not all bad news. Katherine Grandon was re-elected with only two votes less than 2015 but this time with a much reduced turnout.
Katherine ran as an Independent after quite surprisingly having found herself unadopted for a ward which she had loyally served for eight years as their Councillor.
So, definitely a case of rejoicing and champagne all round.
John Hinton was once a senior member of Babergh’s higher echelons until he fell out with the Council’s future direction. He also stood as an Independent and was resoundingly re-elected.
Elsewhere the Conservatives in East Cornard swept their board with three seats defeating two prominent Labour councillors.
The results for Babergh are not all milk and honey. The Conservatives have dropped from being the majority party to being merely the largest. Some decent people are no longer on the Council, but as always, some people will be gladly missed and hopefully soon forgotten.
It’s easy to blame Brexit for changes in fortune, but local personality and local loyalties also played a part. My friends who got re-elected understood that you must get out the votes if you want to be elected. Others, who rely upon the tides to lift them up, often find themselves beached when the tides go out.

Meanwhile on Planet Babergh – Job Losses Loom

Park and RideThe EADT recently carried a report that Headlam Flooring planned to build a distribution centre on land adjacent to the Anglia Retail Park (on the A14 opposite Asda). Headlam are investing £15million and the new facility will include a 125,000 sq ft warehouse with loading and customer collection areas, offices and out-buildings.  The construction and fit-out period is expected to take around a year and the new facility should be up and running by 2018. The building be built on green space adjacent to the former Park and Ride site. The new facility will support the development of Headlam’s regional floorcovering business which includes the Hadleigh-based Faithfull’s Flooring. The existing  80 employees in Hadleigh will be relocated to the new premises. For  Headlam Flooring it all makes good sense – a purpose built facility with access to the A14. For Babergh it is a potential disaster. A significant business and 80 jobs move out of Hadleigh. Headlam had previously sought to build in Hadleigh on land alongside the Persimmon housing development off of Lady Lane. The problem with that proposal was that it was cheek by jowl with housing and the 24/7 operation was unsuitable for that location – on sloping ground with noise that could have been heard across half of Hadleigh. The question we must ask is how have Babergh allowed this development to slip through its fingers. There are plenty of former airfield sites ripe for development. There is even one in Raydon almost within sight of the A12. Ipswich has its own questions to ask. Why are there no existing sites (like the former Park and Rides) which might be suitable? Why isn’t Headlam taking space on the Ransome’s Europark? Once again, I fear Hadleigh is being let down by the people who should be serving it. If local government is not looking after the people it serves and those who pay their wages, who are they looking after?


Meanwhile on Planet Babergh – East House

BureaucracyThe Hadleigh Community News in April contained the report of the Meeting of Hadleigh Town Council held on the 18th February 2016 which included the following gem: “The Clerk reported that an e-mail had been received from Babergh District Council asking who owned East House. The Officer was, of course, advised that they own it.”
The history of East House is simple: According to the Hadleigh Chamber of Commerce web site of 17th June 2013 East House and the Meadows were bought by the former Hadleigh Urban Council from the Styles family in 1960 for about £15,500. It was a straightforward sale with nothing to specify the building should be used for the benefit of Hadleigh people or anyone else. When local government was reorganised in 1974, council held assets had to be reallocated to the new bodies. To begin with the new councils agreed that the town council should take on ownership of East House. It was a town asset and would stay in the hands of the town’s administrators. However, when, under the rules of reorganisation, the district auditor investigated the division of assets it was discovered that because East House had been bought by the former urban council under Housing Act powers it would therefore have to be allocated to the new district council (Babergh) which was responsible for housing. It was thus transferred to ownership of Babergh.
In 1975 Babergh offered to sell East House (though not the meadows) to Hadleigh Town Council at market value. Hadleigh Town Council unanimously decided not to buy the property as they were already financing loans relating to Hadleigh’s Guildhall and was therefore unable to take on another financial commitment of that size.
East House was leased to Suffolk County Council who (in 2006) discovered that it was the second least efficient property on its books. Not surprising then that Suffolk didn’t renew its lease and handed the building back to Babergh paying for the assessed dilapidations. I campaigned in 2007 citing the emptiness of East House and blaming the Lib Dems for their lack of action.
East House was subsequently placed with Strutt Parker for them to market the property. Depending on whom you speak to market conditions were the reason for the lack of progress with potential buyers. So, ten years on it seems that Babergh would like someone else to be responsible for East House – possibly so that the blame game can be renewed! Why is it that the words “Twinings, a tea party, couldn’t organise at” come to mind.
And for this they raise Council Taxes!

Fuller details can be found on:

Meanwhile on Planet Babergh – Angel Court

BureaucracyI recently had a call from a constituent asking what was happening to Angel Court in Hadleigh. Angel Court was formerly a residential care home and subsequently became a temporary housing unit and more recently Suffolk County Council sold it to Babergh District Council. My usual sources at Babergh tell me that they are unable to throw any light on the situation – so the question remains why and what do Babergh intend to do with the property? I have looked over the agendas and minutes of Babergh’s Strategy Committee and I can only surmise that the authority to acquire the property was contained in their meeting of  4th February. The minutes record that The Committee  noted the action taken by the Chief Executive in consultation with the Chairman of the Committee, as set out in Paper R95. Paper R95 was discussed without the public being present as it was  likely that there would be the disclosure of exempt information. Moreover the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighed  the public interest in disclosing the information.
So what are the options for the property?

  • Turn it into a hotel? (After all Babergh is accruing an investment fund of £25 million – Paper R83)
  • Turn it into housing – since there is a constant demand for commercial or social housing.
  • Turn it into a state of the art e-commerce entrepreneurial centre.
  • Turn it into a new set of offices, thereby vacating Corks Lane and possibly leading to the consolidation of yet more services into Mid Suffolk’s offices at Needham Market.

You can guess where my suspicions lie. If it was good news why the secrecy. Once again the disinfectant of transparency is needed to dispel suspicions that the people of Hadleigh are to receive an unpleasant surprise. Meanwhile I have lodged a Freedom of Information Request to see if we can get some light on the subject.

Small Successes – Benton Street

Every now and then, there is an alignment of ambition and actuality.
One recent example of this is the provision of a disabled parking place in Benton Street, which for some time has been on Benton Streetmy list of things to be achieved. The need for the place is based upon the changed (health) circumstances of  one of the residents.
When I was in Hadleigh recently I heard that a Town Councillor (who is also a resident of Benton Street) had commented that the resident was not that disabled as he exercises a dog! What claptrap! Pure politics of envy! The dog is small and walking the dog is doubtless recommended exercise for the resident, who has good days and not so good days – hence the need for a disabled parking place.

Hadleigh Market

Hadleigh Market ConsultationThere are times when you see things that you wish you hadn’t. You dismiss them from your mind and then they come back in the early hours of the morning, when you should be dreaming of nice things.
I was visiting Hadleigh last month and noticed a poster in the Co-op inviting comments and suggestions on the future of Hadleigh Town Market. As a market town we have a long tradition of markets and fairs. Within recent years we have seen the market shrink from two days a week to one (Friday) and recently the key anchor merchandiser (the greengrocer) announced that he was retiring.
I’m all for consultation and accessing the community of knowledge and so I welcomed the outreach initiative. And then I saw what I rank as five of the worst words in the English language ever strung together. There at the bottom of the poster is the strap line “Managed by Babergh District Council”.
The disconnect between the reality and the ability to organise tea parties at Twinings is historical and self evident. Babergh are the Council who insisted on trying to foist a Tesco supermarket on Hadleigh despite the overwhelming evidence that it would be an economic disaster and destroy the High Street and the town. These are the people who have sat on East House leaving it empty since 2006 when it could have continued as a community asset. These are the people who gave us car parking charges in the face of overwhelming evidence that small towns need the support that free car parking gives them to continue their vibrancy and to enable small businesses to compete against supermarkets.
Babergh, for as long as I have known it, thinks of itself as the inheritor of the view that ‘the man in Whitehall knows best’. This socialist statist view came from Baron Jay who in 1937 wrote: “In the case of nutrition and health, just as in the case of education, the gentleman in Whitehall really does know better what is good for people than the people know themselves.” Babergh self inherited this arrogance which continues to manifest itself in their actions.
And what of Hadleigh Market. The Town already hosts monthly Farmers’ Markets and there is scope for people to enjoy more artisanal as well as more exotic products (I particularly liked the Nile Perch available from Crystal Waters). However at the risk of being a Cassandra, I can’t see the helping hand of Babergh being a significant plus factor in the Market’s future.

Benton Street

Benton Street 1108301610Recently I attended a meeting organised by Hadleigh Town Council for the residents of Benton Street to discuss the possibilities of alleviating some of the traffic problems. Quite early in the evening it became obvious that the residents rejected the idea of single lane traffic enforced by a build out and wished for more long term solutions. The build out equipment will now be trialled elsewhere to solve similar problems and we can then see if it is effective and possibly suitable for a revisit in the context of a pilot scheme for Benton Street. Suffolk Highways will be looking at other suggested options but initially this will probably be a desk exercise based on anticipated costs, ease of implementation, likely timescales and expected availability of funding. There are no quick fixes. The Beccles by-pass on the A145 has taken twenty five years to get planning permission. The expected building date for the Beccles by-pass is sometime after 2020. Currently Suffolk County Council are investigating the A12 four village bypass in connection with the new Sizewell C power station. Suffolk has allocated ₤450,000 for studies to support the scheme which would enable the Council to advance its understanding of the scheme’s costs, benefits and development constraints and ultimately to put a business case together for Government funding. So at this stage the alternatives to the build out look to be quite expensive.
The funds allocated from my Community Budget for the build out will now be applied elsewhere in Hadleigh. Well done to the Town Council staff for organising the evening.

Good News – St. Mary’s Primary School, Hadleigh

St Mary's SchoolThe Ofsted Report on St Mary’s C.E.V.A. Primary School has now been published. I’m pleased to report that the school has improved its rating from Requires Improvement to Good.
So many congratulations to the Governors, the Headmaster and his staff, the pupils and their parents.
Improvements of this nature are a result of hard work and leadership by everyone directly involved in the school and our congratulations are well deserved.


Take Care on the Road

Men at WorkTravelers who use the Station Road/Pond Hall Road/Duke Street route from Hadleigh to Hintlesham (& beyond) will be aware that at the junction of Pond Hall Road and Clay Lane there is a set of temporary traffic lights with no apparent connected road work visible.
Despite appearances this small, tricky and windy stretch of road has not been forgotten. Part of the road slipped/was washed out in the late summer.
It does not look much from the road but there is a considerable drop to the adjacent land and ditch which runs under the road via a culvert.
Corrective road repair is tentatively scheduled for the end of this month. A permanent repair is required to ensure that the road failure does not happen again. This will not be a shoddy temporary fix – instead it requires detailed design, thorough calculation and full adherence to the standard health and safety aspects of construction to ensure that the workforce is safe at all times.
Let’s hope that nothing untoward gets in the way of a speedy resolution of the problems.