Thursday, 29 August 2013

Local residents taking action

A mother of four recently contacted me to enquire how she can get a play-area re-instated next to the river on the Abbey Estate. I've been advising this person for some weeks now and it is so encouraging to see the progress that is being made. This particular person, Lacey Walls, has rallied her friends and neighbours and got a petition under-way - it now has over 400 signatures. The Bury Free Press and Thetford and Brandon Times has covered the story and Lacey attended and spoke at the last meeting of the Abbey Tenants and Residents Association. 

I'm hopefully going to get Lacey along to speak at the next meeting of the Town Council's Amenities Committee. We need more community ambassadors in Thetford, to fight for things that matter to the local community and to take positive action, I'm hoping that Lacey will be the start of many more to come.

Foul mouthed rants continue from UKIP supporters

Not for the first time since the Thetford -West by-election I have endured some unpleasant exchanges with UKIP supporters. Often these exchanges have been through the comments section of this blog, or on Twitter, or Facebook. This week I have been in receipt of some unpleasant text messages to my personal mobile phone. Some Councillors do not make their home phone or their personal mobile number available to residents, but I have always made myself as open and as contactable as possible. It is disappointing that people choose to abuse this. It is also very disappointing that I have addressed absolutely loads of casework issues this week, some really quite difficult issues, but the person that has been texting me recently still feels that I "do nothing" and all I care about is "foreigners". Of all the casework issues that I've dealt with recently not a single one has been on behalf of somebody that's not a British citizen - but hey, it's not like UKIP supporters to let a few hard facts get in their way of making a misleading point?

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Icknield Way / Dane Close Garage Block

Dear Flagship, I am very disappointed that 8 days after I made you aware of the fly-tipped rubbish in your garage block at Dane Close / Icknield Way - it still remains (plus, it had been present for sometime before it was reported to me). I appreciate that you are investigating a more medium / long-term solution but this should not prevent the immediate removal of the debris, particularly when there is a very real danger with the fire brigade and police having been called to the site already. It is not acceptable that residents have to live looking at this sort of mess and the fear that comes when there is stuff piled against your property / fence etc. I will be writing a formal complaint letter to Flagship regarding garage blocks today, in the meantime, I ask that you remove this rubbish within the next 24 hours. Thank-you, Councillor Terry Jermy

Discussing the state of St Johns Way play area

Comment from Redcastle resident on Facebook re: the state of the St Johns Way play area: "

"Took my little'un to the park on Redcastle estate today... Disgraceful excuse of a play area. Instead of spending money on silly statues of tedious TV show characters, that moolah would be better spend on giving the kids of that estate something decent to use! Disappointed! That was my old stomping ground as a kid and it used to be ace!"

Follow-up comments: "They do nothing for the kids and they wonder why !!"

Other comment: "They could always use the expensive skate park near boots"

and... "We had one park on Admirals estate at the end of Ramsey Close, which closed years ago and was supposedly being reinstated, but nothing has happened. Would rather have had that than the water feature outside Boots!!!!"

and "just be glad you dont live on the ladies estate which once had 12 parks all dotted around the estate all but 1 taken were taken away, which is usually littered with broken bottles or 

and... "The slippery steps, awful benches and men's urinals that cost £600,000+ that were part of moving Thetford forward supposedly!!!! And don't forget the clock.
Abbey Farm estate used to have several parks back in the day, but as always, then as well as now, an incompetent council that's nowhere near Thetford has always thought they know what's best for Thetford, rather than the people who live here!"

My response;

 Hi folks, thanks for the tag Gina. I don't disagree with what Paul said in his original post - the St Johns Way play area is a disgrace, that's why we've been working to address it. This play area is one of 8 owned by Breckland Council (the other 7 being Fairfields, Elm Road, Pine Close, Edinburgh Way, Guildford Way, Bergamont Close & Harriet Martineau). Breckland has long neglected these play areas and they have all become very run down - in fact, calling them play areas is a bit much for some of them! Breckland want to transfer these play areas to Thetford Town Council so that the Town Council can pick up the cost of improving them and then ongoing running costs. Obviously the Town Council is very reluctant to do this as it would cost a lot of money - the Town does not have much money, Breckland is a much bigger authority and in most areas the District Councils pick up the cost of things such as play areas. Breckland have already offloaded public toilets to the Town Council and these cost approx £50,000 a year to run (Breckland's share of the Council Tax didn't go down when this occur, but the Towns share had to increase) - the same will happen with play areas. At some point soon, i.e. before the end of this year I would imagine, the Town Council will have to decide one way or another whether or not it will take on the 8 play areas. The Town Council has been running a consultation on play areas - partly online viaThetford Play Areas but also through meetings and there was an article in the About Thetford magazine. All of this has been led by the Town Councils Amenities Committee which is Chaired by the excellent Corinne Fulford. Running alongside this consultation, many local groups have been campaigning to improve play areas - the Redcastle Action Group (RAGs) is probably the best example. They have made sorting out the St Johns Way play area their top priority and have been raising funds themselves to contribute to a new play areas - I believe they have over £1,000 so far! (mainly thanks to Shirley HurrDonna Donz WarnockBarbara Davies and others) when you apply to the Lottery for funding etc. it is far more likely that you will be successful if you can demonstrate that the local community support the project and are prepared to contribute a bit towards it, even if only 10% of the total cost. Just to clear a couple of things up - the Captain Mainwaring statue was paid for by voluntary fundraising, not a penny of 'Council money' - I'm not the biggest Dad's Army fan but the link with Dad's Army brings in a LOT of money to Thetford through tourists and the statue helps with that. I'm also not the biggest fan of the Kings Street Square development (in fact it has been a total disaster), but, it used money from Moving Thetford Forward that could only be spent on that sort of thing, so again, it couldn't have been spent on play areas (although it could have been spent on regeneration of our estates but that's a whole different argument). Our play areas have suffered because of Breckland Council choosing not to invest in them and because children and young people are not a priority for either Brecklnad or the Town Council historically, so money is not spent on them in any great measure....

So... the state of the play areas is well known, Councillors are aware and trying to sort it out (albeit slowly as the process is difficult), and there is an opportunity to make these play areas improve quicker, and make it even better, if the local community get involved and support RAGs with their fundraising efforts - so if you can do anything to help, please get in touch with your local residents group (I can supply contact details if necessary)

Thursday, 15 August 2013

St Mary The Less Church still in ruin

On Thursday I visited the site of St Mary The Less Church on Bury Road with the Breckland Council Historic Buildings Officer (Mr Andrew Gayton) and Stuart Wilson of the Thetford Society. The Church is still in an appalling condition and continues to deteriorate - this has been the case for a number of years now. Much of this deterioration is due to no maintenance and a lack of care on behalf of the owner, Mr Ron Collins of East Finchley, London, but sad to say some of the damage is due to vandalism, including damage to some of the tombs and graves - a heinous act. 

The obstacles in the way of doing anything about St Marys Church are fairly substantial, but something surely has got to be done, or at the very least - tried to be done! In the near future I hope to help initiate a local campaign to Save St Mary's Church - please let me know if you would like to be involved.

Summer holiday activities for young people

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

New full time position at Thetford Town Council

I'm really pleased that Thetford Town Council has created a new position of Deputy Guildhall Complex Co-ordinator / Markets Administrator. Some time ago I led on convincing fellow Councillors of the need for an initial full-time Guildhall Co-ordinator position as Chairman of the Councils Personnel Committee. Up to that point, all bookings / admin tasks were co-ordinated internally by office staff who had other responsibilities and all caretaking was done by the Councils existing maintenance staff. No single person had ultimate responsibility for the complex and service users often had a mixed experience when hiring the building. Maintenance and repairs were not picked up promptly and opportunities to develop new bookings and look for opportunities were often missed. This is despite the fact that the building costs Thetford taxpayers approx £100,000 per year to keep open - although thankfully this has continued to go down in recent years. The initial full-time role has proved so successful that this new full-time deputy position has been created and will incorporate the role of looking after the towns market traders - again, a really important task that had been undertaken by an external agent in the past, but now - it will be provided by staff employed direct by the Council. A really significant step forward in the right direction for the Town Council and a good result for Thetford. If you want to apply for this new position, you have until 13th September 2013.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Concerns about Castle Park play area

Hi Terry, just to say I'm a little concerned by Castle Park. This is a very well used area and there is no toilet seat on the girls toilet - very unhygienic The bins don't appear to get emptied daily and a young child of just 2 was swarmed by wasps -  not nice to watch the parent frantically trying to drag her child away x

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

My focus for the next six months

I have been giving quite a lot of thought to what my focus will be on now that I have been elected to Norfolk County council. Several people have asked "so what are you going to do now?" So, I wanted to compile a list of priorities so that I can keep on track and also so that those that I represent can shape that focus, so here goes - add any thoughts to the comments section or drop me an email (

1. Open and transparent; It was clear during the election campaign that most people were unaware of which Council is responsible for what service and what people got up to as their Councillor. To help with this;
  • I will be producing a monthly report of what meetings I attend and link the report to any speeches or comments that I make in meetings. This report will form the basis of my monthly Norfolk County Councillor report to Thetford Town Council and it will be shared on my blog, and possibly via the Town Council website (authorisation permitting)
  • I will also produce an annual hard copy newsletter that will be delivered to every house on the Thetford-West division 
2. Hard-working Councillor that addresses local issues; I always love campaigning and I love getting out on the doorstep talking to people. But, as ever, my heart sunk when walking around much of the Thetford-West division. The rubbish and fly-tipping strewn everywhere around the Abbey Estate, the over-grown shrub beds and filthy garage blocks on the Ladies Estate, unkempt blocks around St Johns Way and the scratchy pavements and messy gardens of Barnham Cross. For me, this is simply not acceptable. This is not the sort of community that I want to live in and I am know that many local residents feel the same, something has got to be done!

  • I will, make dealing with reporting of street-scene issues a priority and work on a bigger solution that encourages all residents to more actively report things in their area to keep things tidy. Where action is not undertaken by the relevant authority or organisation - they will be named and shamed - leaving this area left behind is no longer acceptable. Linked to this I want to initiate more regular community litter picks and work to generate a sense of pride once more amongst local residents
  • I will be organising regular surgeries on each of the 4 main housing areas that I represent. These will be for residents to come along and discuss specific issues that they have. Other Councillors will be invited to attend, should they so wish.
  • I will attend the monthly residents group meetings for my area, namely; Barnham Action Group, Redcastle Action Group, Abbey Tenants and Residents Association and Croxton Road Community Association.

3. Education; I said that education will be a priority, and it most definitely will be;

  • I will, seek to become a Governor at Thetford Academy at the earliest opportunity
  • I will visit schools in my area to better understand what the issues are and then lobby Norfolk County Council to provide that support (investment such as this is definitely a step in the right direction: ( )
  • I will continue to support alternative learning opportunities such as the Football Coaching and Gardening Club work that is led by the Thetford Community Association and seek to support other groups providing such activities - as part of this, I will push for greater funding to be made available to community and youth projects so that local groups, who are often best placed to provide these services, can be more sustainable
  • I will continue to support the Thetford Free School
4. Charles Burrell High School; This will undoubtedly be one my initial main focuses. Thetford Town Council have established a specific task and finish group to take this forward - I am a member of this group, as is fellow Thetford & Norfolk County Councillor - Denis Crawford, whom I hope to work with to ensure that CBHS remains available to the community. I have already requested from NCC data about running costs and there will be a meeting this coming Friday.

5. The immigration debate; It was alarming to listen to so many concerns about migrant workers during the recent election campaign. This cannot be ignored.
  • I will, seek to establish facts regarding the extent to which migrant workers are affecting local services to better highlight that the issue is predominantly service provision itself, rather than simply blaming migrant workers for issues such as housing
  • I will, seek to address concerns related to migrant workers, including street drinking, public urination and gathering in large numbers.
  • I will, work towards better community cohesion between the migrant worker community and local residents
6. Housing; This remains a significant concern and demand is increasing, not reducing, for more social and affordable housing.
  • I will continue to press Breckland Council to address this problem, including the possibility of them building their own housing stock using the Councils capital reserves
7. Thetford Bus Station;
  • I will push for the new 'bus interchange' (bus station to you and I!) to include the facilities that we all expect from a £3.5million pound project, including an inside waiting area and ticket facilities. Making use of the former Cosy Carpets building has got to be achieved. I will continue to highlight the very many safety aspects and flaws with the project, such as the lack of parking facilities.
I may well add some other matters, but for now, can you think of anymore? or wish to comment on the ones above?

Sunday, 4 August 2013

My thoughts on the 1st August Thetford-West by-election

Wow. What a few weeks and months. I have gone from feeling really rather sad on the 3rd May, having not won the Thetford West Division on Norfolk County Council by a single vote, then onto fighting one of the most (if not the most) exciting and inspiring election campaigns that I have been involved in, and now of course having won; a fantastic feeling of pride and accomplishment. 

I was naturally disappointed to not win in May, not because of any personal achievement or gain, but because I genuinely wanted to be able to work for Thetford and address some of the many issues that we know exist. Many issues can be resolved through community work, but all too often local Councils can provide the key to changing things, or unlocking that potential. Having not won in May I felt genuinely disappointed that so many of the issues that I wanted to address may not have come to fruition as a result of the poll. Issues that I knew that local people cared about, but because of the UKIP surge nationally, people did not vote for as many became caught up in the UKIP 'protest'.

It was all the more frustrating that the eventual winner had no real sense of what to do, or how to achieve what the community wanted. Myself and other residents had no particular idea what his priorities would be should he win. Losing an election must be easier to appreciate if the person that beats you is able to fulfill the requirements of the role well?

I still feel genuinely sad for the UKIP candidate that did win in May, whom I know personally. He had no idea what he was getting himself into, and did not expect to win, and did not anticipate the scrutiny that you come under when you are successful with an election. I hope that things have moved on for him now and that he is well. 

The campaign over the past few weeks unfortunately in many ways became a battle about immigration. We had to constantly fight that message that UKIP was putting out both locally and nationally that they were the party that would put an end to immigration. There is unfortunately a widespread belief that many of our problems locally are down to immigration and that by electing UKIP, these problems would be resolved. This is simply not true. 

Take housing for example - there is a belief locally that we have a shortage of social / council housing due to migrants getting preferential treatment over the local population for housing. This is not true - in fact, a very small percentage of the existing housing stock is occupied by 'non-UK' born people. We have a housing problem as we have not been investing enough in social housing for many years and the housing stock that we do have cannot cope with the demand. In Breckland, approximately 500 houses belonging to registered social landlords (i.e. 'Council houses') become available per year to re-let, there's approximately 5,000 people on the housing waiting list - doesn't take too long to spot the problem here. Most migrants locally are in buy-to-let properties, often in houses of multiple occupation, living in some very squalid conditions. They are often paying considerable sums of money to unscrupulous landlords who are exploiting their situation - these landlords are sometimes foreign nationals themselves, or, UK citizens exploiting the migrant workforce and their lack of understanding.

Don't get me wrong - there are issues to do with migrants that need addressing - take street drinking for example. There are very real concerns about the amount of street drinking and public urination that takes place, very often (but not entirely) committed by migrants. This has got to be addressed, and it is something that I have been addressing through my role as the Vice Chairman of the Safer Thetford Action Group, and will continue to address in my new role as a Norfolk County Councillor.

However, voting UKIP is not the answer to this issue.

I won't dwell too much on UKIP now, as I intend to write a report on my thoughts about this and how UKIP needs to be tackled, and how it can be tackled, at a later date.

One of the most interesting aspects of the result on Thursday however was the Conservative vote. I thought May 2nd could have been a blip, or that it had hit rock bottom in terms of their core vote - but I guess not. Getting just 353 votes in May was an awful result for the Conservatives in a seat where just 4 years earlier they had got 882 votes. But this time around their share of the vote went down 3% further, and they got just 282 votes, this is despite their candidate being endorsed by Carl Clark this time around, who was the Christian Peoples Alliance candidate in May, and obtained 134 votes then. So surely some of his votes this time would have gone over to the Conservatives? perhaps masking that even more Tory voters had gone over to UKIP? They are the party with the most resources, both financially, and in terms of foot soldiers, and they are normally the ones contesting whatever seat is up for election with one or another party - so it was amusing to see them as mere spectators in this contest (Sorry Ian and Tristan!).

I want to say thank-you to every-body that voted for me, I really do appreciate it, and will work to further earn that support over the next few years. Many people voted for me personally, people who do not normally support Labour, and I am grateful for that.

I also want to say a massive thank-you to the amazing team of helpers over the past few weeks. Particularly thanks to my Agent - Ciaran, to local party members including Peter, Colin, Sylvia, Brenda, Albert, Vic & Joanne, Ray, Gerald, Dennis, Heather, Jim, Phil, Jake, Lorna & Michael, and Chris. To friends and family that assisted including Alan, Michelle, Jane, Corinne. And particular thanks to Angus, who kept me sane and relaxed and much more. Plus, the numerous helpers from neighbouring CLPs - it was a real team effort, a fantastic effort from Labour supporters both near and far - thank-you!!!

My particular memories from the campaign;

1. Talking to previous UKIP voters, often at length, and eventually helping them to understand that voting UKIP was not the answer to their concerns - many UKIP votes from May came back to Labour in this election 

2. Campaigning outside my First & Junior School (Queensway) with the Labour MEP Richard Howitt, who was stood outside the gate explaining to parents why they should vote for me

3. Turning Barnham Cross red - thanks to Bert and Chris for erecting numerous 'Vote Labour' boards around the area - no doubt that there was an election on!

4. One of the campaign helpers, encountering an entirely naked man that opened the door whilst we were canvassing - and worse than that, he actually wanted to talk, whilst he was stood there naked.

5. Knocking on thousands of doors ! We covered so much ground and spoke to so many people, something that would not have been possible without such fantastic support from so many people.

6. The campaign day itself, and the campaign centre at Fulmerston Church - amazing!