Sunday, 16 December 2012

2012 Christmas Newsletter (pages 6-10)

Christmas Newsletter 2012 (page 1 - 5)

Use the link below to view a copy of my 2012 Christmas Newsletter;

Friday, 7 December 2012

Sale of Breckland land at MacKenzie Road - notes from Overview & Scrutiny Commission meeting; 29th November 2012

This item has been called-in at the request of the Ward Representative on the grounds that it is a controversial matter and it is important that the proposal to take the matter forward is carefully considered - further scrutiny of the options would hopefully confirm that this proposal from Council officers is the best solution for the problem and that the authority would be acting with the wider interests of the local community at the forefront of its considerations.

The following documents are attached for information:

Copy of the Executive Decision Notice as published and called-in
Copy of the report

The Chairman asked the Vice-Chairman to introduce this matter as he had ‘called in’ the decision. A note outlining the reasons for the call-in had been tabled. The Vice-Chairman advised that Councillor Armes had been dealing with the issue as Ward Member and he asked her to speak on behalf of residents.

Mrs Armes explained that the problem had commenced in 2010 and she had become involved following her election as one of the Ward Members for Saxon Ward in 2011.

As no Commission Members had visited the site she passed round photographs to give a sense of the area of dispute. This formed part of a piece of wooded land belonging to Breckland Council on which ‘Mr R’ had been parking his cars. At times access to two footpaths had been blocked.

Mrs Armes asked why enforcement action had not been taken at an early stage. She considered that the Authority had not been sufficiently strong in preventing misuse of its land. If that land was now sold at auction she believed it would set a dangerous precedent. There was little amenity space in the area and the woodland was much used by residents. If the land was sold she thought other residents might apply to purchase parts of the land to extend their gardens.

She reiterated that it would be wrong to auction the land and to continue to allow its use for parking. She suggested a site visit.

The Vice-Chairman said that it was clear that there were a number of issues in the area which were complicated by neighbour disputes. There were two principle issues:

had the misuse of the land been addressed robustly enough; and
was an auction the fair way to deal with disputed land?

He had called the matter in because he thought it would set a precedent and because he knew that residents did not feel that it had been enforced properly and that the sale was just to resolve the dispute. On the contrary, he thought that the sale would escalate the problem and be a tacit endorsement of the misuse if sold to the person flouting the law. It was also unfair as there was no regard to the ability to pay.

If it was the Council’s approach to dealing with members of the public who abused Council land not to protect that land, what was to stop abuse of further areas of land? Would future enforcement action be compromised? He thought it was important to debate the Council’s responsibility for protecting public land.

The Chairman noted that the Council did not get involved in neighbour disputes and that it was the issue of selling the land that was to be debated.

The Executive Member for Assets & Strategic Development sought to put the matter into context. He said that the Council owned over 5000 pieces of land in Breckland. The unfortunate Land Management Officer had the onerous job of controlling those 5000 pieces of land.

The Active Land Management exercise had identified a lot of encroachment which had not always been known about before. The piece of land under discussion was designated open space. It could not be sold for any other purpose, so any applications for extensions to gardens would not receive planning permission for change of use.

The Land Management Officer gave some background information. The encroachment was on a small part of a relatively large area of land. When a complaint had been received the internal encroachment procedure had been initiated and external legal advice had been sought.

The recommendation by officers to Members had been to dispose of the small piece of encroached land as it had no strategic importance to the Council and was protected as open space. It had minimal value and its sale would relieve the Council of management and maintenance responsibilities. Under the Active Land Management scheme the Council was seeking to dispose of land identified as having no strategic value.

The Asset & Property Manager confirmed that the enforcement option had been considered but would have been a very costly route both in management time and cost resources. It was a small piece of land with nominal market value, designated as open space and with no strategic value but high management cost. He urged the Commission to consider carefully that if it was retained and enforcement action taken that would come at a price. The pragmatic and business like solution was to dispose of the liability giving equal opportunities to bidders to purchase it.

The Executive Member for Assets & Strategic Development noted that in paragraph 1.3 of the report it referred to an easement by prescription which meant that even if enforcement action was taken Mr R might retain the right to park on the land.

Mr Bambridge sought confirmation that if the land was sold public access to footpaths could not be blocked and the land could not be fenced. It was confirmed that without planning permission for change of use fencing could not be erected.

Mr Carter thought that the land did have a value and that selling it would just shift the responsibility and cost.

Councillor Bowes asked if it would set a precedent if the land was sold and asked if other pieces of land had been sold by auction. The Executive Member for Assets & Strategic Development said that some land was being sold as people made applications. Other land had been transferred to Parish Councils at nil consideration. Some people had attempted to register land with the Land Registry because they had fenced it. It was a very difficult job for the Land Management Officer.

The Chairman was concerned that even if the land was sold, the Council might be required to take enforcement action if Mr R continued to park on it as it would be a breach of planning law. The Executive Member disagreed, saying Mr R would not require planning permission to park his cars if he had a prescriptive right. He went on to say that he made a lot of delegated decisions and he considered each one carefully. He had thought that selling the land was the best option in this case.

The Vice-Chairman sympathised about the number of pieces of land and the problems associated with them. However, in this case the residents had approached the Council for support in protecting the land and had not received it. The lack of action had increased the cost.

He was saddened by the language used; saying the land had no strategic value when it was obviously valuable to the residents. The Council had a duty to protect Public Open Space. The prescriptive right had not been determined. The real issue was that there had been encroachment onto Council land and nothing had been done about it.

Mr Bambridge was concerned that the purchaser of the land could apply to move the Rights of Way but it was confirmed that the footpaths did not actually cross the land.

Mrs Jolly noted that although the land to be sold was very small it formed part of a much larger area which might have future strategic value as a ransom strip.

Mrs Matthews wondered why the problem had only come to light now if the parking had been taking place for 20 years.

The Chairman thought that the nub of the issue was that the recommendation was based on there being a ‘likely’ prescriptive easement. He did not think a decision should be taken without unequivocal evidence. It was clear that the land did have importance to the people in that part of Thetford. If there was no prescriptive right and the land was sold and the owner stopped public use it would be a problem for the Council.

Mr Kybird agreed and said that the factory site to the rear had potential as a redevelopment site which enhanced the land’s strategic value in terms of providing additional access to that site possibly by a cycle way in future.

Mr R Richmond completely agreed. Mr Joel asked what alternatives were available.

The Scrutiny Officer advised that the Commission could recommend that the decision maker reconsidered their decision or refer the matter to Council.

The Land Management Officer advised that the correct process had been followed regarding enforcement and legal advice had been sought. She could only give advice on the information she had been sent. That information was limited and had been supplied by the complainant. The amount of years that the land had been used as a car park was not known. The Solicitors acting for Mr R said that they believed he had a prescribed right. They had not provided any evidence.

The Chairman asked the two Ward Members what evidence they had and Mrs Armes advised that Mr R had lived in the house for 13 years but she could not say how long he had used the land.

Mr Rogers proposed that the matter be deferred and Mr R asked to produce evidence. Mr Kybird said that Mr R would have to prove that he had encroached on every piece of the land.

The Executive Member explained that the Council had no legal right to ask Mr R to prove his prescriptive right.

Members debated the possibility of taking enforcement action or of putting in posts to restrict access to the land. It was pointed out that they were likely to lead to costs for the Council. Another suggestion was to offer the land to the Town Council, but the Land Management Officer advised that the Town Council were unwilling to assume responsibility for land with any encumbrances.

The Vice-Chairman seconded Mr Roger’s proposal to defer the application and the Executive Member was happy with that and hoped that the necessary information would be forthcoming.

RESOLVED to defer the decision and delay the sale until the matter could be reconsidered with more evidence on the period of time that the land had been used by Mr R at the next meeting of the Commission.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Radio Norfolk interview on young people in Thetford - 4th December 2012

Problems along Elm Road thanks to work by BT

Dear Norfolk County Council Officer

I hope you are well.

As you will be aware I have been complaining about the state of the pathways around Elm Road for sometime. Imagine my suprise therefore when lorries turned up to work on the pavement along Elm Road. I enquired and found out however that they were from BT and would be digging up the area for pipework to be installed/replaced.

Do they need to notify NCC in advance of such action? what arrangements are in place to notify residents in advance?

Whilst the confusion that ensued at the start of the work receeded, myself and other residents are particularly disappointed at the finished pathway - see attached photographs.

The area looks a complete mess, with the pathway looking very messy, loose chippings, and the road itself still with loose bits of tarmac and the road not adequately cleaned in my opinion (Sand that was used for the works was just dumped straight onto the road).

Does NCC have a view in relation to this? and to what extent can you request that they come back to tidy the area sufficiently?


Thursday, 29 November 2012

Land dispute at MacKenzie Road

There have been disputes between neighbours regarding the plantation near to MacKenzie Road for a number of years. Various Councillors have been involved at one stage or another and the issue has seen many twists and turns.

For me, there are two principle issues that should concern Councillors, and in particular members of the Overview & Scrutiny Commission.

These two issues are;

1. Was the approach by officers to addressing the misuse of the land sufficiently robust? And naturally linked to this, is the Breckland policy on enforcement in relation to misuse of public land adequate?

2. Is it correct that where there is disputed land of this nature; is a sale by auction the most appropriate, and fair way to deal with the issue?

To many people, certainly in the minds of residents of MacKenzie Road, this situation will appear as if it is a case of Breckland Council “washing its hands” of its responsibility to protect publicly owned land from misuse. This belief is further compounded by the seeming desire of the Council to pass on the ownership of the land, and therefore transfer the issues, to the highest bidder in an auction.

Should the land be sold, the disputes between the neighbours would not be resolved. Should either one of them be the winning the bidder – the issues would surely escalate?

Is there not a tacit endorsement of the misuse that’s occurred by not only failing to address the misuse, but also potentially formalising that misuse should the land be sold to the person that has been flouting the law thus far. There is seemingly no regard for either party’s ability to pay, and therefore the unfairness of the action that has been proposed.

The most concerning aspect of this whole situation, and approach to dealing with it, would surely be the precedent that it sets. I.e. A member of the public misuses a piece of publicly owned land and the Council tasked with protecting it chooses not to address this. What’s to stop that resident from acquiring that particular section of land, and then repeating the misuse further along, potentially acquiring further portions of land. To what extent would future enforcement action in this area be undermined by the approach that has been adopted?

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Flagship Housing letter re: garage issues

To, Chief Executive, Flagship Housing Group

Increasingly, I am being forced to contact Flagship staff to report concerns relating to Flagship owned garage blocks across Thetford.

Recently I reported concerns regarding a garage in the Fir Road block that was once more full of rubbish – after only recently being set on fire, and also reported the presence of a gas cylinder on the roof of one garage further along – photographs attached of both examples.

Whilst I can commend the response of your officers when dealing with specifically reported matters, this should not need to occur with such frequency. Surely there should be a more pro-active plan in place to ensure that garage blocks that you are responsible for are regularly checked and any concerns addressed?

There is also a much wider issue here however, and that concerns the long term future of these garage blocks as there has been a very evident decline in their condition over the past 12 months.

Whilst I can appreciate that in many cases the garage blocks are destined to become housing developments, (having myself been involved in the Barnham Cross Regeneration Steering Group for the past 6 years), there is little prospect that anything will change in the short-term due to budget cuts, particularly with regard to cuts at the Homes & Communities Agency. Leaving the garages to fester for this length of time is simply not an option.

I would urge Flagship to look very seriously at the issue of garage blocks across Thetford and work with the local community and to think outside the box to establish a solution to help keep them cleaner, tidier, and safer for all local residents.

Yours sincerely,

Councillor Terry Jermy

Monday, 12 November 2012

Redcastle School fence saga - letter to County Hall

To, Director of Education, Norfolk County Council

I wish to write and formally complain regarding the recent actions of Redcastle Family School and its Headmaster – Dr Andrew Sheppard.

For many years a section of the school field that has been unused by the school has been enjoyed by local residents – partly as an area for residents to walk their dogs and partly used by young people from the Redcastle community as recreational land. There is a distinct lack of green space available locally due to the high density of housing around Redcastle so this piece of land has been greatly valued and appreciated.

In addition to this, the land in question surrounds the Thetford Community Ballpark and therefore it is important strategically to gain access to the site for things such as grass cutting equipment, emergency access and a route for other vehicles needing to service the site.

The School recently installed a new fence to block off access to the top half of the field (the side closest to the school). Although there was no consultation with the community, or the Ballpark committee this action seemed somewhat logical and many people just went along with it.

Local people then became aware that the school intended to fence off the lower half of the field as well and prevent access entirely. Myself and several other Councillors raised concerns directly with the school about this having been contacted by numerous local residents expressing concerns.

Councillors asked for a meeting with Dr Sheppard to discuss the proposals and asked for more community consultation to occur. Despite our objections, the school rapidly progressed with these proposals and the fence was erected within days.

This has created considerable upset and anger around the wider community and does little to improve the school’s reputation in the community. The erection of the fence has also caused users of the Ballpark considerable challenges as there is now no way to retrieve footballs that go out of the Ballpark enclosure – the schools suggestion of collecting stray footballs the morning after by visiting the caretaker is completely unworkable.
The three community football coaching sessions delivered by the Thetford Community Association have been totally undermined by this action and their request for a key to the new gate to enable football collection to occur during the sessions has been denied. Further, at times when sessions occur the coaches are able to prevent young people from attempting to climb the fence, but at all other times, young people are left with a choice of attempting to climb the fence or likely to lose their football – many naturally attempt to climb the fence which creates a very real health and safety issue. In addition to this, our volunteers who keep the Ballpark site clear of rubbish etc. are now no longer able to access the field area to pick up any litter that may blow onto the field and the area will inevitably deteriorate visually. We are currently not sure how maintenance machinery, including grass cutters etc will be able to access the site – presumably a key will be granted, or we will be “let-in” when convenient.

From a Ballpark Management Committee point of view, they were not informed that fences that were erected by and paid for by the charity would be removed by the school and replaced with alternatives that they felt were more appropriate.

All of this results in a very bad feeling. There is no burning need for the school for this piece of land and there is ample space for the school, Ballpark and wider community to work alongside each other. The lack of respect and courtesy afforded to the schools’ neighbours – both the Ballpark committee and the wider community has been deplorable. At a time when schools are being encouraged to be more engaged with their community, when the ‘extended schools’ concept is being promoted, and when this aspect of school life is increasingly a part of Ofsted considerations, this action is clearly a retrograde step for the school.

I have invited local residents to view this letter and sign to say if they support its content. Names of those supporting the letter and therefore the complaint have been attached.

Yours sincerely,

Councillor Terry Jermy
Saxon Ward Councillor & Member of Thetford Community Association

Monday, 5 November 2012

Planning Meeting report re: Supermarkets


It was of course inevitable that at some time there would be a major planning application in relation to my ward that I needed to attend the planning committee for. Had I not been at a conference in Manchester I would have attended the earlier October planning meeting to speak on behalf of residents about the proposals for Riverside Walk (bus station moving,new hotel & shops etc). After having registered to speak at the planning meeting on Monday in relation to the Asda development for the old Tulip site it turned out that I needed to attend as a Committee member – I’m the ‘substitute’ for Councillor Sylvia Armes who was unable to be present (there’s 12 members of the Committee which is politically balanced to reflect the same composition of the whole Council, so there are 10 Conservative members of the
Committee, 1 Labour and 1 Independent. Sylvia is the Labour member, and I’m her
substitute if for any reason she is unable to attend).

I prepared in advance what I wished to say as one of the three Saxon Ward representatives on Breckland Council – my speech can be found online for those that wish to read it;
I thought long and hard about whether or not to support the proposal and spent many hours researching and deliberating - I am sure the majority of Councillors up and down the Country do the same when faced with similar issues. Do you support something that would potentially bring jobs and investment to your community and bring back into life a currently unused area or do you hold out for what you believe to be right – sticking to adopted policies, supporting the high street and raising concerns re: road infrastructure, public transport, the environment etc....?

I ultimately spoke against the development, and voted against both supermarket proposals. So why did I come to the conclusion that I did? Firstly, both supermarket applications have been floating around for some time. I believe one of them was submitted around February this year. Large applications contain big piles of
background paperwork and information which is a lot to discuss and weigh up so with two combined – this was even more so the case. As is often the case, the devil is in the detail! Let’s be clear; the role of the Planning Committee is not to decide if Thetford should get another supermarket or not, or, whether that supermarket should be an Asda or a Morrisons or a Lidl or anything else for that matter. Their role is to decide if the application in front of them conforms to adopted Council policies and whether or not the proposal would enhance or deteriorate the area where it is to be built, whether or not there are safety concerns or environmental considerations and to be aware of economic benefits and risks. With both supermarket applications there are, in my opinion, two fundamental issues and a number of other important considerations. With the Asda development for the old Tulip site – the proposal would see the loss of land designated for manufacturing and industry. Thetford has developed as a manufacturing town and we have seen the gradual erosion of such land over the years. Nearby businesses objected to this proposal and one of the documents that I read on the Sunday before the meeting was this one:

(Link doesn’t appear to work every time so go to – click Planning Application search on the right hand side, click ‘search for planning applications’ – use planning reference number - 3PL/2012/0213/O. Open up the documents section. Click next at the bottom – and then click ‘view’ on the local representations link under the Trox UK representation – this will take you to the Indigo report for Two Sisters). The nearby ‘Two Sisters Foodgroup’ objected very strongly to the Asda proposal as they have wanted to acquire the Tulip site to enable their business to expand – their submission details how they applied to purchase the site but were unsuccessful, and they reaffirmed their desire to purchase in their letter although it should perhaps be noted that the Agent for Asda (Location 3 Properties) said at the meeting that the Two Sisters offer for the site was not nearly enough - large supermarket chains can of course afford to pay more and the
owners of any land will inevitably want to get the most amount of money for their land or perhaps Two Sisters were offering too little money deliberately – I am not in a position to judge either way. Now, it is also not the job of the Planning Committee, or indeed the Council to favour one business over another. But, this is a manufacturing business wishing to expand in Thetford – so in a broader sense this should be welcomed. But also, it is a manufacturing business concerned with poultry meat processing which is important to the wider Breckland economy so there are likely to be wider benefits. The Two Sisters submission states that should they be allowed to expand, they would create 250-300 more jobs on the site (they already employ approx 500 people after having invested £30 million in coming to Thetford) So, the number of jobs that they could create is the same as the Asda development, but, considering that should Asda proceed, then Lidl have said that they would not proceed with their plans for a new store just along the road (re-stated at the meeting) and therefore the 60+ jobs that this development would have created would be lost. It should of course be noted that these job totals are estimates, and are not full-time equivalents – many of the jobs will be part-time and of course in both examples the majority would be low paid. However, in short, using the land for manufacturing as intended would have created more jobs than a new supermarket. It is also very important to consider how the proposals could impact on Thetford High Street – the report by NLP that was submitted as part of this application revealed that each supermarket (Asda and Morrisons) would take away approximately 20% of expenditure from Thetford High Street, i.e. millions of pounds. Therefore, it is quite conceivable that the store would result in even more job losses in the High Street and further vacant shop units (Thetford shop vacancy rate is approx 16% currently). The reason that the two new supermarkets would not be permitted is due to the massive impact it would have on Thetford high street – apparently one store (20% loss of revenue) is permissible – but two is not – I am sure there are many that would feel a 20% loss would on its own be disastrous for many retailers. With regard to the Planning Committee meeting itself, and the Councillors concerned – many people have been deeply critical of them – unfairly so in my opinion. I was struck on Monday
by how many Planning Committee members were genuinely interested to know how
Thetford residents felt about the two proposals. Several committee members asked me “how does the town feel about this?” and “what are local peoples thoughts?” and “how does this relate to Thetford growth strategies?” That was very encouraging. One panel member also asked during the debate for the views of Thetford Town Council and expressed surprise that no body from Thetford Town Council (either a Councillor or member of staff) was present to speak on behalf of the town – there were of course 3 members of Thetford Town Council on the Planning Committee as they happen to be also Breckland Council members (myself included), this also included our current Mayor, who also happens to be Chairman of the Town Council Planning Committee, but he did not feel the need presumably to speak separately in this capacity about the proposals, which is somewhat unfortunate. Nevertheless, the fact that local views and the views of the locally elected Town Council were sought is somewhat heartening.
It should also be noted of course that no residents from Thetford attended the meeting to witness proceedings or to speak, either in favour or against the two proposals and only the Thetford Society through Stuart Wilson submitted anything in writing – a couple of local businesses wrote in, as did Thetford Grammar School – but nothing from Thetford residents or retailers – is our town really so apathetic? Clearly not judging by the comments that have flowed in after the meeting, but people really do need to get engaged and get active in things like this in advance, rather than criticising once it’s all a bit late. With regards to the Mundford Road development, which was confirmed at the meeting to be for a Morrisons store – this was recommended for refusal by the officers (they had recommended the Asda one for approval). This is land that is designated as the Thetford Enterprise Park (TEP) – I’m told that it was once planned as a Science Park. The theory has been that this location could take advantage of its excellent location next to the dual carriageway and Thetford’s geographical position close to Cambridge, Snetterton and the Hethel Engineering centre and become a hub for high tech industry creating high tech jobs –
something that we really need to aspire to in Thetford. We must try to advance and create more high paid, high skilled jobs. The site however needs considerable infrastructure investment to become usable – particularly infrastructure in relation to power. Now I am really not an expert in these matters, but I believe that in order for the TEP site to become usable, investment of some £9million is required – basically to ensure that the site has sufficient power as we are reaching the point in Thetford where investment in power really is needed before any further growth can occur – the new houses to the North of Thetford have similar issues. The argument to allow a supermarket to go ahead in this location – again on manufacturing/employment land – was because allowing this to happen would provide the much needed infrastructure to “open up” the remaining site. The supermarket would consume 22% of the enterprise park but the investment would act as a catalyst to promote further usage. There are fundamental flaws with this however; The infrastructure investment
is nowhere near what is required – the proposal included a new access road and roundabout – but did not substantially address the power issue and there would also be no guarantee that the remaining site would be used for the purpose that it was intended. Indeed, if 22% of the site was to be used for retail, then what would stop the remaining 78% of the site being used for such a purpose? Precedent can be a very dangerous thing. Could we see the creation of a further out of town retail centre that could massively undermine the high street. With the final stretch of the A11 to be dualled shortly there now stands a more realistic chance than ever that the dream of the Enterprise Park could finally be realised. But, in a similar situation to that of the manufacturing land, we could find ourselves without any land for these proposals to happen, and be a town of supermarkets on the periphery and charity
shop land in the town centre with the population restricted to primarily low paid, low skilled jobs or commute out of town – or worse, leave the town altogether, So the outcome?: 9 of the 12 strong committee members voted to against both supermarkets – 3 did not vote – including the Chairman, who does not tend to vote unless he needs to use his casting vote. A fairly clear verdict. The reason given? An unacceptable
loss of employment land. Step forward Planning Officers.... reason not robust enough = nervous committee members. One of which proposed to ‘un-do’ that decision – within
minutes of making it, and a majority supported this (I did not, as did a number of others). Step forward a proposal to ‘defer’ post applications, rather than reject – again, a majority supported this (I did not, as did a number of others). So now we have two deferred applications, that will be debated over at a future date. Hopefully by which time some of the other issues will have hopefully been addressed, but surely neither application will be able to address the fundamental issue that they will be building on designated employment land?

Monday, 29 October 2012

Thetford Fireworks 2012

Advertising has been a bit sparse, but I am told that publicity will be going out with the About Thetford magazine this week - but just to confirm, the annual Thetford Fireworks Spectacular is this Sunday (4th November) with the first display at 5pm and the second display at 7.45pm. The fairground rides etc will be open from 3pm and there will be various other activities taking place, e.g. Zumba dancing. The link to the Facebook 'event' is here;

My comments re: Asda to Breckland Council Planning Committee - 29th October 2012

Breckland Council: Planning Committee – 29th October 2012

Over the past few years we have seen the redevelopment of several areas along this particular stretch of the London Road in Thetford. The aesthetic improvements are of course welcomed as are the obvious economic benefits. But whilst there are many that support another supermarket for Thetford, somewhat fewer residents would agree that putting a further large supermarket in this particular location would be ideal. The former Tulip site is within close proximity to the existing Sainsbury’s store, and it will be very close to the Lidl store that has already been granted planning permission. The Forest Retail Park is also just along the road. There is a distinct difference with this proposal and what was agreed with the Lidl store as the percentage of food retailing is much greater with Lidl, and therefore the affect on comparable goods (i.e. non food) would be significantly reduced. The Tulip site is also some distance from the main Thetford Town Centre. Positioning a further supermarket at this end of the town would only make worse the traffic problems along the London Road and at key junctions, particularly the Bury Road / Brandon Road junction and the junction with Burrell Way / Kimms Belt. In theory this store could service many of the new residents for the town linked with the Sustainable Urban Extension (SUE), but with growth almost exclusively planned for the North, it would seem illogical to build a further supermarket in the South; residents travelling across town to access either the Sainsbury’s store or the proposed new store would create traffic issues across the town, and this is not a step towards the sustainable Thetford that we seek. I am not an expert in planning matters, but I read with interest the sequential test submitted as part of this application and I did not consider this to be particularly thorough or convincing. I also read with note page 3 of the Effective Transport Solutions report which highlights the problems with accessing the site by foot and how despite being physically close to the site, residents of the Barnham Cross Estate are hampered from accessing the site easily, or safely as they need to negotiate through the Burrell Way industrial estate – an existing issue not just for shoppers, but future employees – many of which would be likely to live in this area.
It perhaps goes without saying that many people also have concerns about this proposals potential impact on Thetford Town Centre – a point conceded by NLP in the report submitted. Whereas competition in relation to food and petrol would be welcomed by many in Thetford to help drive down prices, there is very real concern that if planning permission is granted this supermarket could further undermine Thetford’s high street that is already experiencing a shop vacancy rate of around 16%. It is obvious of course that the lower the percentage of non-food goods that this store sells the less of an impact its construction would have on the high street. I am also unconvinced as to what extent this application would stop leakage out of the town in expenditure terms and I note that there is a question mark hanging over the analysis of the current situation in this regard.
My primary concern however is in relation to the loss of manufacturing land. We’ve gradually seen land in Thetford designated for manufacturing consumed over time by retail – I believe it is important that as a town we have a mix of employment types. Committee members may not have noted the correspondence by Indigo on behalf of the Two Sisters Food Group which amongst other things stated their requests to purchase the site on three occasions and their continued interest in the site. The fact that a major manufacturing employer is keen to expand in Thetford in this current economic climate is to be welcomed. It would be highly unfortunate if we were to find ourselves in a situation where we had manufacturing businesses wishing to expand, or relocate to Thetford in the future and we suddenly find that we do not have the land for them to do so.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

My comments to Breckland Council meeting, Thursday 25th October 2012

BRECKLAND COUNCIL; Thursday 25th October 2012

Full Council Minutes – Page 3: In relation to the comments at the top of page 3 – the figures quoted in relation to right to buy income were historic in that they covered a 10 year period, but included income this council received up to the end of March this year. This Council received £300,000 in right to buy income in the last financial year – so it is not all that historical. The two Cabinet members stated that “the Council no longer received any funding” in this regard. This Council is likely to receive right to buy income this current financial year. The point remains, Breckland has still taken £1.5 million away from affordable housing in the district, and it not ring-fencing this income and therefore not reinvesting it in a like for like manner. Isn’t it about time that this Council became serious about affordable housing - I spoke last time about South Norfolk Council achieving a far better result than Breckland in delivery terms. More recently of course we’ve learnt that West Norfolk Council is looking to build up to 700 homes and has pledged funding to get this project going, this will no doubt be a much welcomed boost for that area. Will Breckland continue to watch others, or will it start to address the clear demand in its own District?

Here's the figures again:

Cabinet Minutes – Page 12: Having been involved in the housing task and finish group I do support the recommendation to accept the revised allocations policy. However, if I may, I would like to offer a brief word of caution. By revising the eligibility criteria, the number of people sat on the housing waiting list will inevitably be decreased. But these people do not simply disappear, they still exist and are forced to find alternative accommodation. In many situations this accommodation is sub-standard – this places a much greater responsibility on the Councils private sector housing team to ensure that people are not suffering at the hands of unscrupulous landlords and those that take advantage of peoples unfortunate circumstances. In addition to this, one aspect that we did not touch upon to any great extent during the task and finish group was in relation to shared ownership. I believe the ambition to own ones own home is a good one, and as a Council I’d like to see greater commitment to getting people onto the property ladder and to consider what else Breckland could do to enable this.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

TJs report on 2012 Labour Party Conference

I arrived in Manchester on Friday 28th September 2012. I booked to stay at the Britannia Country House on the outskirts of Manchester City Centre in West Didsbury. It was a lot cheaper than the accommodation in the City Centre and was a 45 minute journey on the bus each morning. Incidentally, the public transport system in Manchester is simply fantastic, and you can get a 7 day bus pass and travel as much as you like for just £12 – I didn’t need to wait any longer than 15 minutes at any of the bus stops I was at, and they ran until 3.30am.

Saturday: Our first gathering was the Delegates Welcome Reception at 7pm in Central 1. This was for all official delegates – strictly by invitation only (several MPs including Stephen Twigg who had not brought along their invite were refused entry). The gathering was sponsored by Tesco and a representative from Tesco (a Labour supporter) gave a brief speech and introduced Iain McNichol (General Secretary), Harriet Harman and Ed Milliband. After the speeches I was introduced to Harriet by Eastern Region staff and we discussed briefly the importance that Labour has representatives all over the country and that there should be “No, no go areas”. She asked me how many Labour Councillors we had on Breckland Council and wished us well for the future.

Sunday: I attended the Eastern Region delegates reception at 12pm. We received our delegate voting cards and were addressed by Gavin Shuker MP (Luton South), David Jermy from Eastern Region and Tom Watson MP visited briefly. We then had an opportunity to meet other delegates from the Eastern Region. I spoke with Cllr Dave Harris, a formidable campaigner that I’ve been following on Facebook from Colchester for some time but never met, and I also spoke with Cllr Emma Toal, a 22 year old newly elected Cabinet support member in Harlow. The food available was exactly the same menu as the night before – Mini quiche, sandwhiches and sushi – these were served at practically every function and as the week progressed less and less was being eaten. We were then taken to the main conference hall for the opening debates which included a brief discussion on what contemporary motions had gone forward to the ballot. This prompted some intense debate, which I’d imagine always occurs, and the question of what is ‘contemporary’ was raised as many delegates were unhappy that their contemporary motions were ruled out of order.

I voted for Housing as the most important issue, closely followed by Employment Rights, Economic Alternative and Heath & Social Care.

A debate was then led by Professor Michael Sandell from Harvard University who gave the Reith Lectures in 2009. The lecture focused on “What should the role of money and markets have in our society?” Members of the audience were engaged in the debate, with views sought and then challenged. Quentin Letts (journalist) wrote a very negative analysis of the session, which amongst other things said that “delegates were left scratching their heads”. That was the whole point of the exercise – to get people thinking and considering alternative viewpoints. I thought it was very brave of Ed to try such an idea, and all credit to him.

I attended the Eastern Region reception on Sunday evening. There had clearly been a lot more effort than usual put into it and the East is certainly getting more national focus than in previous years. The East apparently contains the 2nd most marginal seats out of any region in the UK. There were many Prospective Parliamentary Candidates in attendance including Clive Lewis (Norwich South), Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge), Bob Blizzard (Waveney), Lisa Forbes (Peterborough) plus a whole number of Police & Crime Commissioner Candidates including Jane Basham (Suffolk), plus Richard Howitt MEP, Gavin Shuker MP and Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) and former Great Yarmouth MP Tony Wright. Throughout the evening we were treated to a whole number of high profile visits including Ed Balls, Iain McNichol, Harriet Harman and Ed Milliband. All spoke about the importance of regaining seats in the East. Richard Howitt mentioned how 1/3 of all local Council by-election gains had occurred in the East in the past 12 months, including of course our Thetford-Abbey District gain and the Clenchwarton & Kings Lynn South County seat gain.

Monday: The focus today was on the economy with speeches with Chukka Umunna MP and the big speech from Ed Balls MP – which was very powerfully delivered and very well received. Several delegates around me were muttering “did we get the right Ed?” The commitment to delivering 100,000 new affordable homes from revenue generated from the 4G network sale was a popular proposal and well covered in the press.
The afternoon focused on an environment theme, with contributions from Maria Eagle MP, Caroline Flint MP and Mary Creagh MP – Shadow Secretary of State for Rural Affairs.

I was impressed with all of them, particularly Carline Flint MP who spoke well without notes for some time. The Party’s proposals on SwitchTogether for energy supplies is a fantastic idea and a great example of what can still be achieved even when Labour is not in power nationally – a theme that continued throughout the week and something that I found to be incredibly pro-active and motivating. I shall be signing up to the SwitchTogether scheme and I hope many other people do as well. I think this is certainly something that we can campaign on locally. There was also a discussion about Foodbanks and their growing importance nationally as families continue to struggle as a result of this Government’s policies.

On Monday evening I attended a Fringe meeting entitled; “What can Labour do to help small businesses?” – there definitely seemed to be a big focus this year from the Party on supporting businesses and working with businesses to ensure policy is correct. This is very encouraging. The fringe itself was quite dry, and not entirely what I was hoping for with a focus on small manufacturing businesses whereas my focus lately has been on developing services to help small independent retailers, but it is pleasing that the Party is giving this focus.
I attended a second fringe meeting organised by LGBT Labour regarding Labours commitment to equality, and how the party is working to promote equality. It was very well attended with speakers including Ben Summerskill (Stonewall), Stephen Twigg MP and Kate Green MP – Shadow Minister for Equality.

Tuesday: This was the big day! - The Leaders speech. I have been asked the day before if I would be prepared to sit on the stage in the audience behind Ed, which I agreed to. There were 60 of us that would be on stage, including 5 from the Eastern Region – selected by Regional Office staff. We met at 1pm in a special area and crew worked out who the tallest people were to ensure they sat at the back. We then filed onto the stage and I realised that by chance I was sat right in the very centre of the pack – I asked two people nearby if they wanted to swap but neither did! It was an incredibly nerve wracking experience, but also very enjoyable and all of us that were on the stage had good fun and kept each other’s spirits up.

The whole speech is available online;

It was very well delivered, and very well received in the hall – there wasn’t an empty seat in the room. From where I was sat I could see and hear clearly the photographer scrum at the base of the stage no more than 1 or 2 metres in front of Ed. The clicking, and scuffling for the best view was constant, throughout the whole speech, not just at the start or end – this must be incredibly distracting, but Ed was not phased – clearly quite used to it. The speech was very open, and engaging. It was delivered without notes and lasted for over an hour.
There has been a focus on explaining the background to Ed – a focus on his comprehensive education, his parents and his family. There is a video about him available online, this was shown to attendees prior to his speech;
A video of the speech is also on YouTube:

On Tuesday evening I attended a fringe meeting on Crime, with the Labour Home Affairs team including Gloria DePeiro, Stella Creasy, Andy Slaughter, Chris Bryant and Diana Johnson.
Unfortunately I wasn’t called to ask my question, but I wanted to know if the team would be reinventing the “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” slogan that had worked so well a decade ago. The slogan was even more relevant now given cuts to so many services that would help prevent crime from occurring initially, or address the consequences once it had occurred.

On Wednesday morning I was stopped by a journalist on the way into the Conference hall, who asked me what I thought of Eds speech – I gave the response below which appeared on the BBC website along with a number of others:

Wednesday evening I attended the Young Labour Reception and then the Labour Students reception – I’m too old for both categories, but I snuck in anyway!

Thursday: This was the last day of conference and everybody was feeling a little sad. You just get to know a few people and find out how things work and then it’s time to go home! The morning debates focused on Local Government and Young people / Education. I had prepared a speech that I hoped to deliver but did not get called.
This was very frustrating. A number of delegates were unhappy about a lack of speakers being called full stop – with long set speeches from ministers and invited guests. Even more so the lack of speakers from the East was noticeable, plus to focus on making sure PPCs were called and Union reps. A point that I will be making to party officials when I write to them on this subject. Speakers were called in 3’s, and got to speak for no more than 3 minutes, but the set speeches and invited guests speeches took up huge chunks of time leaving very little time for floor speakers. I came to the conclusion that my main role as a delegate was to provide a receptive audience to other speakers rather than feel engaged in a ‘conference’ of views, opinions and debate.
Conference closed with a traditionally humorous speech from Harriet Harman as Deputy Leader.

I found the whole conference experience to be very motivational and encouraging. I had supported Ed Milliband over David in the Leadership election but had never heard him speak live. I was unsure about Ed in the lead up to the conference and had begun to listen to the media narrative about him perhaps lacking in gravitas to become Prime Minister one day. I was however greatly encouraged by his own performance but even more so by the changes that he is clearly making to the party. He seems determined to create a ‘movement’ and to make the party inclusive, vibrant, democratic and engaged. There was a clear emphasis on the need to be proactive as a party, through the provision of training such as Community Organising and the use by the party of American organiser extraordinaire Arnie Graf (who assisted Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008) – whilst the party may not be in power nationally, the thousands of Labour members, supporters and Councillors can still affect change in this country, even more so the many Labour Councils up and down the land. Ed Milliband is clearly prepared to listen and has a very engaging approach – for me this is much different to the Blair years where the party was very ‘top-heavy’ and to a large extent authoritarian. I got the genuine sense that Ed Milliband really does care and is passionate about the issues he talks about. I felt that there was clearly a lot of talent across Labours Ministerial team and many Ministers gave excellent speeches to the conference. I got the genuine sense that each Ministerial ‘team’ were really working together, to refine policies and positions, to engage whoever necessary and to provide a credible opposition.

My prepared speech for the Local Government, Young people and Edcuation section;

Good morning Conference, my name is Councillor Terry Jermy, Leader of the Breckland Labour Group and Delegate from South West Norfolk CLP.

That’s right conference, I’m a Councillor – and I wear a hoody. But No, Mr Cameron. I do not want a hug. But I will tell you what I do want – I want you to end this national assault on young people.

I also want you to have a word with the Conservatives from my area, in Norfolk. My Tory County Council “deleted’ our youth service – “’deleted” – their words, not mine. They wrecked the Connexions service, cut back on sexual health support for young people and closed the pupil referral unit that was based on my ward – a service that supported some of the most vulnerable and socially excluded young people. They’ve closed services supporting volunteer youth workers whilst bleating on about the ‘big society’. This assault on young people continues nationally with the end of the EMA, rises in tuition fees and over 1 million young people out of work. What hope does this give young people? And conference, we know the danger of disappearing hope, young people can too easily go onto the wrong path. A path that all too often can lead to crime and anti-social behaviour.

Conference, this Government, and Conservative Councils up and down this country are not empowering communities, they’re not enabling them, they’re dismantling the very infrastructure that binds them together and helps to make them thrive.

Communities up and down this country, young people up and down this country need Labour members and supporters to speak up for them. They need Labour Councillors and Councils to fight for the services that are required, they need a Labour Government. A Government that understands the value of ‘community’ a Government that understands young people, and a Government that is prepared to invest in the infrastructure that is required

Friday, 12 October 2012

Ed Milliband 2012 Conference Speech

Click here to see Ed Millibands speech to the 2012 Labour Party conference in full:

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Speech to first formal gathering of Sort It membership


Sort it began informally in February 2012, after a small group of people got together to discuss whether or not Thetford should apply to become a ‘Portas Pilot’. The Government came up with the pilots concepts in response to the Portas Review that was published on the 12th December 2011. The review contained 28 recommendations that in theory would help revitalise high streets and each pilot needed to ‘test’ at least one of the 28 recommendations.

The Sort It Facebook page was created as a quick and easy way to canvass the views of local residents and businesses so that this information could feed into the application itself. However, the membership of the Sort It Facebook page grew rapidly and within a very short period of time hundreds of people were engaging with the site and sharing ideas and views. Many views were incredibly positive and actually very thought provoking, other comments revealed how much work would needed to be done to engage many highly sceptical and apathetic sections of the wider community.

The bid was submitted at the end of March, and we were informed about a month later that we were unsuccessful. 371 bids in total were submitted and 12 were selected. During the initial bidding phase we met with Grant Shapps, the Minister responsible and presented our case. Our MP – Elizabeth Truss arranged the visit and accompanied us. After the initial application process we tweaked the bid slightly, and resubmitted in July, but again we were unsuccessful, with 450 bids being submitted the second time.

What was clear from the analysis of those areas that were successful was that it wasn’t our ideas or concepts that were wrong, many areas were proposing almost identical projects to ours. But the figures surrounding shop vacancy rates for other areas were much higher than ours, and frankly many of the areas were in far worst position than Thetford. There were also several ‘test’ areas, for example there was an inner London ‘Town’, a seaside Town, a rural Town and others. The ‘pilot’ aspect clearly was key and the Government wanted to see if the pilots worked and therefore whether they could be rolled out elsewhere. Many bids were also far more aggressively led by their local Council or established Town Centre teams and probably included a much higher level of match funding than our bid. Our bid started from scratch, and had limited match funding available and less ‘buy in’ from local retailers than some other areas.

Despite the disappointment of the application being unsuccessful, it was of course not entirely surprising. What has genuinely been a surprise is the level of engagement from the wider public with Sort It and the momentum that it has generated.

We can obtain the aims and objectives of Sort It without a large flood of funding, the Portas money would have served as a catalyst and everything would have happened very quickly, but even without that money progress can be made, and indeed it is already being made.

Sort’ED – What became clear very quickly was that there were quite a number of people who were interested in trading locally, whether it be from a market stall or from a shop unit. Many lacked the initial capital to get their business off the ground and were unaware about what support services did exist. Whilst others had jitters about rental prices or business rates. There was a lot of confusion and misinformation out there, and the Sort It Facebook page gradually addressed this. We were fortunate that so many members of the Sort It Team were avid Facebook users so could address the points that were raised quickly and with factual information although inevitably some people doubted what was being presented to them. There were people many that had a good idea, but lacked the skills to take their concept to the next step. Sort’Ed aims to address that. It is basically the educational part of Sort It. The idea would be to provide training for people wanting to establish a new business or provide an opportunity for existing businesses to improve up on skills. For example, skills around customer service. This is not a new concept, but support of this nature is somewhat lacking locally at the current time. Dartford, who were successful with their bid, focused on a ‘school for shopkeepers’ concept where experts from nearby Bluewater would assist traders in Dartford with merchandising tips for example. This tied in nicely with the Portas concept that high streets need to be experts in their field to compete with supermarkets who were more focused in stacking things high, and selling them cheap, with little product knowledge. High streets need to be able to provide a more quality shopping experience. There is room for improvement in this regard in Thetford.

Importantly, the Sort’Ed aspect also offers practical support through the Night Markets concept, allowing traders to test their idea, and build a customer base before committing further. Additional practical support opportunities can be developed over time, but may include for example the sharing of equipment – Town Council purchased gazebos being a good practical example of support.

The Sort It Pledge – this is co-ordinated by Sort It, but the success of the idea is very much dependent on the established business community. By committing to the Pledge, businesses agree to help other businesses, or new businesses with guidance or expertise that they have. This came about through the Facebook page where people were saying that they would like to start a business, but wasn’t sure on a particular aspect. Suddenly there was a whole variety of people with a mix of skills offering to help. Sort It’s role would have a match-making role, linking businesses that are prepared to help with people in search of guidance and mentoring.

The Sort It Challenge – again, this is something that initiated through the Facebook group. A number of members commented that they would like to support the high street shops more, but could not afford to. On a number of occasions other members would post examples of high street prices, versus supermarket prices. Members branded this themselves, and called it the Sort It Challenge. Soon people were undertaking a whole shop in the high street and sharing their surprise at the availability of goods, plus the quality and price in many examples.

Marketing & Communications – this is clearly an important aspect of Sort It and an area where progress has been made. As well as encouraging new business it is important that we embrace and support what businesses already exist. Many have limited or no advertising budgets and cannot compete with the glossy promos coming from the supermarkets. Things need to be done differently, embracing the usage of the internet and social media and clubbing together to achieve economies of scale. This is where Sort It can really assist.

Share scheme – this is perhaps one of the more quirky ideas and certainly one that has grabbed people’s attention. You don’t need to look too far along Thetford’s high street until you find a shop unit that is owned by a company based overseas or owned by a private investor. This is common across many high streets, and there is nothing wrong with this. However, in some examples landlords do little to invest in the town, but take the rental income away. Some units have sat empty for some time and it would that the units have not been proactively marketed, think Riverside Walk, or the former Aunty Pams Sweet Shop. The Sort It scheme would enable local residents to buy shares of £25 each, up to a maximum of £1,000, if enough people commit to the scheme the freehold of certain properties could then be purchased. The concept needs careful consideration, as you would be dealing with people’s personal finances, but there are many examples around the country where this has worked successfully, often through what’s known as an Industrial and Provident Society’s. See Plunkett Foundation website for more info. Shareholders would get an annual return on their investment, assuming a profit is made, and anything over and above that could be reinvested back into Sort It to help it achieve its aims and objectives.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

A better place, a brighter future...? Not for housing tenants & small businesses


31.07.12 - Cabinet minutes; Page 12
Mr Chairman, I would like to pick up on one of the points on page 12 please regarding Breckland’s affordable housing figures. As detailed in the annual monitoring report, just 66 affordable homes have been built in the district in the last financial year. This is very disappointing. South Norfolk Council on the other hand, as mentioned in the minutes exceeded its target in the last year and other Councils are doing much better than Breckland. Why are we lagging so far behind? There was a fairly typical reply given when I raised this previously – which I shall paraphrase as “it’s the economy stupid” – but surely Breckland should be looking at its own record and what it is doing to address this issue. The minutes state that the policies are correct. Are they? One example of note; In the last 10 years, Breckland Council has received £3.5million in income from ‘right to buy receipts’. As tenants buy their houses, this council receives income. But each time it occurs there becomes one less house available for social rent. This Council chooses to not ring-fence this income, and therefore it does not have to be reinvested back into housing. In the same period that it received £3.5 million, Breckland has invested £2 million into affordable housing. Notice the difference? There’s £1.5 million less has gone back into new affordable housing over that period. No wonder there’s a decline in units available when this Council is taking the money from the demise of social housing, but not reinvesting in a like for like manner. The motto of this council is; “a better place, a brighter future”.

Well, there’s certainly one particular section of the population of Breckland who are wondering if that motto applies to them. A brighter future? Not for the people who have been sat on Breckland’s housing waiting list for years in the hope of getting a property, only to now be thrown off the list entirely. For those that remain, they must surely be wondering if they will ever get the property they need, in the knowledge that the pool of housing available is growing at a slower rate than the demand is increasing. What future remains for them?

04.09.12 – Cabinet minutes; Page 20

Mr Chairman, if our social housing tenants and those on the housing waiting list are feeling un-loved by this Council, spare a thought for our business community. Not only are they contending with the national economic doom and gloom of a double dip recession they’re fighting locally to safeguard their livelihoods and are ever fearful of the implications that charging for our public car parks may bring as well. On top of all that, our Cabinet has refused a request from our economic development team for £15,000 to support business start-ups and refused to match a generous contribution from County Council that would have seen ongoing support provided to businesses. At a time when this Council should be doing all that it can to support local businesses it is dragging its feet. A better place, a brighter future? Our local businesses will surely be thinking that this motto similarly does not apply to them either.

Friday, 14 September 2012

By-election success for Brenda Canham on Thetford Abbey Ward

The last time I posted a blog I ended by saying that I looked forward to the day when our efforts in elections locally resulted in success. This followed three losses at the other Breckland by-elections held over the Summer, including the disappointingly close result in Attleborough. That elusive success came yesterday when Brenda Canham topped the poll for the Thetford Abbey District seat securing a fantastic 334 votes. This compared to just 128 for the Conservatives, closely followed by UKIP with 117 who were in turn closely followed by the LibDems with 99. That's a majority of 206 for Brenda and nearly 50% of all votes cast, a 27% increase in the share of the vote. Brenda managed to secure more votes yesterday, than 2011 despite a near 10% less turnout from voters. Just 681 ballots were cast yesterday, compared to 965 in 2011. That result in 2011 was the lowest turnout figure for all Breckland Council seats.

Brenda will make an excellent Councillor. Having lived within the ward for as long as she has, and been involved with local community life for as long as she has, she thoroughly understands the issues that local people face and she will work to address these issues. She has earned the success after decades after hard work and determination.

Without taking anything away from Brenda, this was also a success for Labour. We ran a campaign that I am thoroughly proud off. We knocked on virtually every door on the Ladies Estate and ever door on the Abbey Estate - that's approx 1500 homes. Not everybody was home, and not everyone wanted to talk, but we put in a lot of effort and talked to a lot of people about their concerns. This is rarely easy, but it has got to be done. This was the first step in rebuilding a connection with voters and earning their trust and respect. In the same way that I have worked to build up the turnout for Thetford Saxon Ward (18% rising to 32& last May) we must now work to do the same for Thetford Abbey.

Labours members helped fantasticly with the campaign with the Leader of Suffolk County Council Labour Group - Sandy Martin attending on 3 occasions to assist, plus Peter Smith as Chair of SW Norfolk CLP, and Harry Clarke a member from Dereham, and Alex Mayer.

Onwards to future victories????