Monday, 7 February 2011

My letter to Thetford and Brandon re: Sweyn Close

Dear Editor, Following the article last week regarding the housing scheme at Sweyn Close on Barnham Cross, I should like to comment further and clarify some points. Particularly considering there has been much misinformation in this debate. A group of organisations have been working to improve the Barnham Cross community for several years, its loose title has been Barnham Cross Regeneration Steering Group. It has achieved some notable accomplishments, not least the redevelopment of redundant garage sites at Fir Road and Ash Close. Further improvements will take place this year in the form of increased parking and landscaping and further dwellings constructed at Mingay Road in the shape of much needed bungalows. The primary focus was always on the regeneration of Sweyn Close given the deterioration of those houses. Much consultation took place across the Barnham Cross community regarding Sweyn Close, many meetings were held and plans were drawn up – I was involved with this process and devoted many, many hours to it. At every step along the way, the regeneration at Sweyn Close was going to consist of a ‘mixed tenure’ – in other words, there would be a significant number of social housing units (what many people will know as ‘council houses’) and there would be several privately sold and some for shared ownership. For me, and others – this mixed tenure was crucial, for several reasons. 1. Primarily because all national guidelines state that a mixed tenure development is the right choice. Not compacting as many of one type together. 2) There were people that owned their house at Sweyn Close that had to move out for this scheme to go ahead, and expressed an interest in returning to the area if they could, and we do need more homes for sale in general towards the South-West of Thetford. 3) Shared ownership – I have had several people contact me, desperate to get onto the housing ladder and were keen for shared ownership properties to be incorporated into this development. I know from personal experience having just bought my own house (on the Barnham Cross Estate!) that it is incredibly difficult to get onto the housing ladder. Furthermore, the community consultation and the planning application to the Town Council and Breckland Planning Committee stated there would be a mixed tenure development. The planning application does not have to be looked at again because of this change. In many ways, this application was viewed under false pretences. Last Wednesday, I requested that Thetford Town Council put onto its Agenda a motion that, if agreed, would call for a letter to be sent to the Homes and Communities Agency (the national organisation that awards money for social housing, and the ones we were told that were insisting for entirely social housing in this development) I explained my reasoning for this at the council meeting, and explained that I thought it was unfair for a national organisation to be dictating to Thetford how this should proceed. We were told it was this way, or there would be no money, effectively scuppering the whole thing. I was delighted that 6 councillors supported me (2 did not, and 3 abstained). However, since then, the council and councillors have come under considerable pressure. Senior Breckland Council officers have told us that our actions may cost this entire re-development and the investment of £10 million pounds into Thetford. I have spoken with the HCA, they respect that Thetford Town Councillors have a democratic right to express the views of the people they represent. What sort of world do we live in where councillors cannot do this, in fear of national organisations acting like small children and taking away their toys? I am disappointed that 7 Thetford Councillors have now called for our original decision to be re-tracted. A special meeting of Thetford Town Council has been called, on Wednesday 9th February 2011 at 7pm in the Town Council Chambers. I thought on this issue Thetford Town Council may put the people of this town first. I hope after Wednesday night this remains to be the case. Yours sincerely, Terry Jermy Thetford Town Councillor – Saxon Ward Elm Road, Thetford

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

My letter to the Thetford and Brandon Times, 31.01.11

Dear Editor Following the correspondence recently concerning the ability of the Town Council to instigate change in Thetford, as someone who has now served as a Town Councillor for 3 years, I would make the following points. The Town Council has a yearly expenditure of nearly ¾ of a million pounds, it spends £750,000 per year, the majority of which (£500,000) comes from council tax payers in Thetford, with the remainder coming from different sources of income – particularly rental income from Town Council owned buildings. I do not think this level of expenditure is insignificant – if spent wisely and with due regard to value for money, that level of yearly expenditure could achieve a significant amount in our town – bear in mind of course that the Town Council is able to reclaim VAT, so that yearly expenditure is already worth more than many regard. Furthermore, the Town Council does own considerable assets; The Guildhall, Carnegie Room, Red Lion, Royal British Legion building, Rudlings and Wakelam building, the Shambles, London Road cemetery chapel and cottage and others. In addition, The Town Council has significant financial reserves – several hundreds of thousands of pounds in fact. And of course, all Town Councillors are Trustees of the Staniforth Trust, responsible for Kings House and Kings House gardens and with other financial reserves as well. The Town Council is also responsible for land, not least our Common Land – Barnham Common, Melford Common, plus all of the allotment land in Thetford, and it is responsible for Castle Park and the surrounding land – including Castle Hill. The Town Council has significant resources, not least our staff team with a whole range of skills at its disposal. So, far from being remote and irrelevant, the Town Council has a significant role to play in the life of our town. It does not have to sit back and moan about the shortcomings of Breckland Council (numerous as they are), but could work towards improving our town and the quality of life for residents – putting Thetford first. This all of course is what is possible. Despite some notable accomplishments, there remains so much more that the Town Council could be doing, not least providing a strong and passionate collective voice for our town. I have often felt in the past that our Town Council has ‘mumbled itself into insignificance’. Alas, all is not lost. Elections to Thetford Town Council are taking place on the 5th May 2011, and I urge everyone in Thetford not to disregard this, take an active interest and participate in your democratic right to vote. The Town Council could achieve so much more, and I sincerely hope that it does. Terry Jermy Elm Road, Thetford Thetford Town Council – Saxon Ward