Thursday, 23 October 2008
Norfolk Tory group split widens SHAUN LOWTHORPE 21 October 2008 06:59 The split within Norfolk County Council's ruling Tory group appears to be widening as allies of leader Daniel Cox last night turned their ire on those trying to unseat him as more of his supporters face de-selection. Mr Cox failed to get re-selected for his Wymondham division last week along with allies John Gretton and Christopher Lloyd-Owen in what appeared to be an opening salvo against his leadership. The council leader insists he will stay on and is confident of finding another seat for next year's election. His angry supporters believe he has been treated shabbily. Last night, it emerged that another senior councillor, Stephen Bett, who is chairman of Norfolk Police Authority, is also being challenged for his North Coast seat in North West Norfolk. As police authority chairman, he followed the constabulary line in supporting a single super council, but he was keen to play down any suggestions that he was being targeted. Downham Market councillor Shelagh Hutson, who previously worked as agent for former cabinet minister Gillian Shephard, is also facing a battle to hang on to her seat. The coup is centred around Breckland Tories, with the Mid Norfolk Conservative Association chaired by Cliff Jordan, a thorn in the side of former leader Alison King, acting as key movers. Mr Jordan insists there is no vendetta against the leadership. But that cut no ice with cabinet member Chris Mowle, who said he was distraught at the way the leader had been treated. “This is a personal vendetta by Cliff Jordan and his cronies,” he said. “I don't think the public will have a good view of this.” Another cabinet member said: “We expected it to get nasty and it has.” Last night, Mr Bett said he was hopeful he can win through when the selection takes place on October 29. “What people forget is that the county council had no option but to respond to the Boundary Committee and the Tory Party hierarchy was quite happy with the way we responded,” he said. “I find it quite odd when we have had a county council leader who has done a good job in difficult circumstances. I think it's a great shame and it doesn't put the Tory Party in a very good light.” Another Tory insider said that opponents of Mr Cox would need to de-select around nine councillors to face a realistic chance of gaining control of the group. And with many associations already selecting their candidates, Mr Cox may need to rely on an existing councillor's willingness to step aside to stay on. The insider warned that the group was staring at a damaging split, and if the aim of the rebels was a coup, then Mr Jordan and his supporters should either put up or shut up. “There are elements within the group that have got ambitions the size of Mount Everest and brains the size of a pea,” the source said. “It if goes on like this I can see there being two split groups on the county. “It will be the end of the Tories at County Hall, the insider added. “There will be so much ill-feeling and bad blood. I hope Central Office steps in and bangs a few heads together.” Critics are moving against Mr Cox in the wake of his handling of the unitary council issue - and his role in promoting the option of a single super council with Lowestoft. Unhappiness at the cabinet's running of the county farms, and the Icelandic banking collapse, where the authority has £32.5m in frozen accounts, have added to the pressure. The EDP understands that opponents of Mr Cox believe his authority will be so weakened by his de-selection that he will be forced to fall on his sword as leader. Paul Morse, Lib Dem group leader, said the Tories had taken leave of their senses. “Clearly there is going to be an issue about his authority and it shows that a rump of the Conservative Party are prepared to de-stabilise the county council to protect their own fiefdoms,” he said. Labour group leader Sue Whitaker was surprised at the move but felt Mr Cox could carry on. The Greens said it was a shame the leader had been de-selected.
I'm no plotter - Norfolk Conservative SHAUN LOWTHORPE 22 October 2008 06:09 ANALYSIS: Norfolk Conservatives at war Cliff Jordan - considering running for Norfolk Conservative leadership The man accused of conspiring to oust Norfolk County Council leader Daniel Cox insisted yesterday he was no plotter. But Cliff Jordan said he was considering running for the leadership, after attacks from Mr Cox's supporters. The row within County Hall's Tories shows no sign of abating after a decision to de-select Mr Cox from his Wymondham seat last Wednes-day alongside cabinet member John Gretton and Christopher Lloyd-Owen. Other allies of Mr Cox also facing contests include Stephen Bett and Shelagh Hutson. Mr Gretton said last night he was launching an appeal against the de-selection move because he believed the process followed was open to challenge. The leader's supporters are angry at his treatment, while fellow cabinet member Chris Mowle claims the de-selection is a plot and personal vendetta against the leader by a cabal of Breckland Conservatives led by Mr Jordan because of the leader's handling of the unitary issue. John Gretton - 'Some of the questions were spat at me' Mr Jordan rubbished the claims and said the selection process was fair and proper. "There is no way it could be organised," he said. "I didn't know of any conspiracy, and that's the truth. "I certainly haven't been involved in any plot; I actually like Daniel Cox as a bloke and I have said so before." But he said he was considering throwing his hat into the ring when a leadership contest was due, after being baited to put up or shut up by Tories backing Mr Cox - while being inundated with calls from his own supporters to take things further. "I didn't think anything could make me change my mind and run, but I am rethinking now because it's obvious that those that are up there aren't up to it, because they are resorting to these kind of tactics," he said. "Ask Chris Mowle for evidence: he hasngot any. I am looking for an unequivocal apology from Mowle. It's almost hideous what he is doing. "They should run within the rules of the Conservative Party, that's what they should be doing. They are resorting to what I call 'low-life' tactics. "If I do go for this, there will be a radical shake-up there, that I can tell you, if I'm successful. There's a number of things I haven't been happy about." Mr Gretton, a Dereham councillor and a cabinet member for cultural services, said he believed he could act as a standard-bearer to have the decision overturned He added:"I walked into the Conservative Club that night and the only people there were other Breckland district councillors. "I certainly didn't perform well. I walked into the room and was aware of the hostile atmosphere from the start. Some of the questions weren't so much asked as spat at me. 'What do you think of unitary' was the first question. "De-selection was traditionally a very serious business in response to specific allegations or because you haven't attended meetings, or a constituent had made a complaint "They have been rather clever by trying to exploit the party constitution, but I think I can demonstrate that they have acted unconstitutionally." Mr Jordan said he was confident the rules had been properly adopted and followed. He added: "He obviously attended a different meeting to me. He was treated very courteously. The questions he was asked were put to everybody. "If it was the first question he was asked, then so was everybody else. He was treated no differently than anyone else, and that's the truth. "They can appeal and the whole thing can be gone through. It's a much fairer system; you can't run roughshod over this system, and that's what they do not like." ANALYSIS: Norfolk Conservatives at war
Norfolk Conservatives at war SHAUN LOWTHORPE 22 October 2008 08:18 There's nothing quite so heated and bitter as a family row. And Conservatives in Norfolk are going at it hammer and tongs in a very public way at the moment. Supporters of Daniel Cox point to a plot being launched against him, led by Breckland's Cliff Jordan, who is chairman of the Mid Norfolk Conservative constituency party. The cause? The leader's handling of the unitary issue, where the county council has successfully won favour (so far) with the Boundary Committee for plans for a single supercouncil including Lowestoft. In their view, the row is a revenge attack by those - and that means every other district council apart from Broadland - whose own unitary bids failed. Not so, says Mr Jordan, who from the outset has insisted there was no plot. What is happening, he says, is that the party in Mid Norfolk is making best use of rules to have a proper contest and a real debate - and the fallout is sour grapes from those who have lost out. His critics have told him to put up or shut up, and, stung by the criticisms, the signs are he is going to meet them head-on. So what is going on? There are two ideological wings among Norfolk's Tories - county and district. Relations have been strained for some time, with “district” Tories agitating for a tougher, leaner, more right-wing approach to running services - by which they mean cuts, charges, and sell-offs - to keep council tax down. County Tories, meanwhile, their eyes opened by the step up from running the parks and public toilets to the big-ticket services, ponder the savagery of such an approach and the consequences it might have on vulnerable children or older people. So, they have shied away from implementing such far-reaching measures - or gone native, as their critics might argue. Many try to straddle the two - serving as so-called “twin hatters”, as both district and county councillors (of which there are quite a lot, by the way) but at the end of the day you are ideologically in one camp or t'other. So far the “county” Tories have always been in the ascendant at County Hall. But is the balance about to change? The unitary issue appears to have concentrated the minds of wannabe county councillors who now feel that, if a new authority is on the cards, it might be time to sign up, when before they might have been happy to stay on the district councils. Several district Tories are vying for a seat at the county table, including Breckland leader William Nunn, his cabinet colleague Ann Steward and Broadland's Simon Woodbridge. West Norfolk borough leader Nick Daubney thought about it and changed his mind - but the signs are that an ideological shift could be on its way whether the unitary decision goes ahead or not. Knock out a couple of Mr Cox's supporters, whether by accident or design, and all of a sudden the sums start to shift. But divisions exist within all parties, and certainly on the unitary issue, so why are the Tories now reacting so badly? The local government review and the county's so-far-successful bid for a single supercouncil has quite definitely got up the noses of some. But the second simmering issue is a row over the cabinet's management of the County Farms, which, insiders report, sparked a heated exchange between Mr Cox and Mr Jordan when the Tories last held a group meeting. The third is ideology, and the battle for who really can lay claim to carry the torch for David Cameron's Conservatives, and just what that might mean. The Tory constitution allows for the option to challenge a sitting councillor; Mid Norfolk, where this row kicked off, has adopted that route. The fuss now centres on the technicalities of whether they did it properly and the precise details of what happened when the executive committee introduced the change at a meeting on June 18. All sides agree the meeting happened. That's about all they can agree on, so powers higher up will probably have to sort it out. Mean-time, the rest of us can only watch and wonder if this storm will blow over - or if the Tories are really hell- bent on tearing themselves to shreds.
Fears over Barnham Broom hotel site Barnham Brrom Hotel and Country Club - hopes for expansion ELAINE MASLIN 23 October 2008 06:46 Owners of a hotel and golf club who lease a site bought using £7m of council tax payer's cash have said their business will no longer be viable unless they can expand. The claim has been made by Barnham Broom Hotel and Golf Club in a renewed attempt to expand its facilities, potentially with £4.5m of council tax payer's money. In a planning application for a new 42-bedroom wing, link corridor and new car park, the club says it needs to expand in order to make the business viable in what it says is an increasingly competitive market in the greater Norwich area. And that “maintaining the status quo is leading towards a decline in business viability”. The application was lodged in the same week Breckland Council, which bought the freehold of the site for £7m in 2006, revealed it had earmarked £2.8m for upgrading its controversial asset in its proposed 2009/10 budget, with a further £750,000 in the years before and after - cash which looks likely to be put towards the planned expansion. When the council bought the site the deal included the council spending £4.5m on upgrading the facility. However, a previous attempt to get the go-ahead for the expansion last year was thrown out by South Norfolk Council over concerns about trees on the site. Last night Breckland had not responded to a request by the EDP to reveal how much cash it makes out of its £7million investment of council tax payer's money in the club. Previous statements by the council have said it would make them about 2pc more than having the cash in a bank account. The new planning application has been lodged with South Norfolk Council with a public consultation on the scheme due to end ob November 4. It says: “It has been apparent for some time that Barnham Broom needs to embark on a new phase of expansion and redevelopment if it is going to remain competitive in the greater Norwich marketplace and effective in the future. “Failure to do so will see the viability undermined.” It adds the club has “traded consistently well” over the last 18 years, “but 100pc of all the profit has had to be used to re-invest and support the facility. It goes on to say that their vision is to see Barnham Broom become Norfolk's flagship leisure hotel and a “destination facility of choice”. The improvements would also mean it could be upgraded from a three star to four star facility. Barnham Broom's finances had been called into question earlier this year when figures lodged with Companies House revealed a loss of £245,000 last year. The current three star hotel has 52 en-suite rooms, restaurant, sports bar, spa, health and fitness facilities, sports and function facilities next to two 18 hole golf courses over 300 acres and 175 car parking spaces. There is an existing consent for an additional 42 rooms, restaurant/function room with kitchen and car parking, first given in 1995 and renewed a number of times since.
Warring Tories set for face-to-face meet SHAUN LOWTHORPE 23 October 2008 06:48 Warring Tories in Norfolk will hold their first face to face meeting tomorrow but the damaging split between them is not on the agenda - officially at least. The EDP understands that the group has called a gathering at County Hall ostensibly to discuss the Icelandic banking crises, where the council has £32.5m tied up, and to brief members on the status of the controversial review of local government following speculation that the credit crunch will see the process kicked into touch. Anger over the review - which has seen the county council installed as front runner with a bid for a single super council including Lowestoft - has sparked the crises and blown apart a compromise brokered by Tory Central Office over supporting the status quo. But all eyes will be on whether council leader Daniel Cox will be challenged by Breckland's Cliff Jordan, who has been stung by claims that he is leading a coup against the cabinet, and says he is prepared to make a challenge after being goaded to put up or shut up. Last night it emerged that county councillors in West Norfolk are facing challenges to their seats including Janice Eells, David Rye, Tony Wright, and Heather Bolt. While the EDP has learned that several senior county councillors were told they would not be selected and pressurised to stand down from party posts. One West Norfolk councillor, who did not want to be named, said 20 candidates were fighting for 10 places. “I have never seen anything like this in my life as a Conservative Party member,” the councillor said. “The thing that amazes me is that on the selection committee there are five borough councillors, who are standing. It will wreck Norfolk County Council if it goes on like this.” Another said he was accused of “doing the devil's work” by towing the county council line on the unitary issue. Mr Cox was de-selected last week alongside cabinet colleague John Gretton, and Christopher Lloyd-Owen, in what is being perceived as a revenge attack and an attempt by district councillors to get their own supporters on the county council, after their unitary bids failed. Mr Gretton, who complained that the selection committee was loaded with Breckland councillors, is challenging the process with the battle expected to centre on whether party activists and agents have followed the correct selection processes. Critics of Mr Cox believe his position has been weakened after his failure to be re-selected for his Wymondham seat, and one source close to the selection process, said it was a case of “bruised personalities, trying to make the story fit the result”.
Saturday, 18 October 2008
Lottery cash boost for community project Published Date: 17 October 2008 By Lindsey Newton CHARLES Burrell, Thetford's engineering forefather, is to be commemorated in the town after a community project made a successful funding bid. The Charles Burrell Garden and Sculpture Project, aimed at teaching youngsters about the history of Mr Burrell and the impact his business had on Thetford, has been awarded £24,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The project will involve transforming a derelict piece of land in Staniforth Road, near to Charles Burrell Humanities School, into a community garden complete with a metal sculpture. Through a series of workshops taking place over the next six months, youngsters will be working with an artist to design and construct the sculpture and they will be given a budget for plants and materials. Terry Jermy, community arts co-ordinator of Keystone Development Trust, said: "There is already a statue in Thetford for both Thomas Paine and the Maharajah Duleep Singh and there are plans for a Captain Mainwaring sculpture for Dad's Army – I am delighted that there is also now going to be a piece of public artwork in tribute to the other pillar of Thetford's history, Charles Burrell." A number of organisations are involved with the project including Keystone, Charles Burrell and Rosemary Musker high schools, Barnham Action Group and Charles Burrell Museum. For more information, contact Mr Jermy on 01842 821643.