Beware of charity bags through letterboxes

The Independent claims today that millions of householders are being duped when making donations to door-to-door charity bag collectors. The issue was also covered on Radio Suffolk.

The Independent says:

Only a third of items donated stand a chance of ending up in high-street charity shops, with most items sold abroad for private profit, according to research by the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

Many charities, often those without shops, do deals with commercial firms who collect for them with bags emblazoned with the charity logo. But the company keeps all the donated goods and then re-sells them for profit, mostly to overseas markets.

They then make a royalty payment to the charity, but as little as five per cent of the cash made goes back to good causes, according to the BHF.

In some cases, charities are getting as little as £50 to £100 per tonne of goods collected when, in fact, the goods can sell abroad for anything up to £1,800.

I frequently fill the charity bags that come through my door but instead of leaving them outside for collection I take them into one of the charity shops in Ipswich.

Visit Suffolk’s “Green” buildings 8th-11th Sep

The Suffolk Green Buildings Network are taking part in English Heritage’s Open Days 2011. A range of buildings are open to the public between 8th to 11th September and the brochure is attached: Heritage Open Day leaflet

You can visit a number of private homes including a 19th century cottage in Ipswich. Other venues include the HQ of Suffolk Wildlife Trust, the iconic waterfront building of University Campus Suffolk, West Suffolk House in Bury St. Edmunds  and the Mill Green Brewery in Edwardstone. Some need to be booked in advance and full details are in the attached brochure and on their website.

Bank charges: fraudulent companies claim to act for Ministry of Justice

Suffolk Trading Standards are warning about companies that are promising to get bank charges back by convincing consumers they are acting on behalf of the Ministry of Justice (MOJ).

Some consumers have been told that a cheque will be delivered to them, and upon delivery, they would need to pay a fee to receive the cheque.

The MOJ acts as a claims management regulator and does not approve, recommend or endorse businesses that handle claims on behalf of an individual. The MOJ has said its staff never call asking for personal bank details or offer money back on bank charges, credit card charges or mis-sold Payment Protection Insurance.

 Claims management firms must be authorised by the MOJ, whose rules do not allow cold calling of individuals. The website: www.claimsregulation.gov.uk features firms authorised by the regulator. The MOJ will investigate claims about unauthorised trading and take action if necessary, as the regulator of this industry.

People are being warned not to pass on personal or financial details to such callers. If people receive a call from an unknown firm, they are being advised to ask for the company name, phone number, address and registration number. These details may help to confirm its credentials or point to a fraudulent firm.

Anyone with any concerns can contact Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06 or visit the Claims Management Regulation website

If anyone believes they have been a victim of this kind of scam they should report the matter to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or via their website: www.actionfraud.org.uk

Pinewood parking restrictions – Rights of Way committee decision

Suffolk County Council’s Rights of Way committee met today to discuss the proposed parking restrictions within Pinewood Parish – or at least those being dealt with by the County Council. They were very unhappy with the restrictions on residential streets and suggested their deferral until Suffolk One has been up and running for some months. They did, however, suggest approval for the twenty four hour restrictions on Scrivener and Shepherd Drives, the A1071, Poplar Lane, Ward Road and Laburnum Close. They also approved the 8am to 6pm restriction on Cottingham Road.

These recommendations will now go to the Cabinet meeting on July 20th. Caroline Page, the Lib Dem councillor for Woodbridge and a member of the committee, pointed out that there was too little parking on site – this is what I and the parish council, and the vast majority of residents have been saying from the start. As an enthusiastic cyclist Caroline recognises that, although the aspiration may be that everyone comes by bus, bike or on foot, the reality will be far different.

There will be more than 2200 students and 350 staff when the college is fully operational. Yet there are only 155 car parking spaces for staff. 25% of staff are expected to arrive by means other than the car and the rest are to car share. There will be no car parking spaces for students, but there will be spaces for bikes and mopeds, as well as a drop off area for parents.

Ipswich residents are equally exercised about the parking restrictions on their streets. The consultation for that finishes tomorrow, but neither I nor the parish council have been consulted about the area they cover within Pinewood parish, which includes half of Sprites Lane and roads off Hawthorn Drive. As we are statutory consultees this surely makes their consultation invalid?

Whilst I am sure that Suffolk One will be an excellent educational facility, residents in the area are getting a very raw deal and the process of consultation on the parking restrictions has left a lot to be desired. We must now wait to see what happens at the Cabinet meeting in July.

Bramford to Twinstead pylons latest

Last week I attended a briefing for councillors who represent areas affected by the four possible corridors for £400kv overhead power lines. It is hard not to be cynical that the consultations don’t really make any difference. Cost is the main consideration, we keep being told. The environment is clearly a minor consideration. And this from a company which made £2.2 bn profit last year and is aiming to raise a further £3.2bn from shareholders to spend on “adapting the UK’s power networks for renewable sources of energy”. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/10129932.stm

Both here and in Somerset National Grid have been told they must give more details of the costings for options other than overhead lines. This means they will not be able to announce a preferred corridor until the Autumn of this year. If Corridor 2 is chosen then there will be further consultation on options 2a, 2b or 2c.

They told us that undergrounding through the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty would cost £52.75m for 2.4km. That, they said, is 14.6 times more expensive than overhead cables. By comparison they gave the total cost of the overhead line as £45m. This is approximately £1.5m per kilometre. I gained the distinct impression that undergrounding would only be considered under duress. For example they had a section of overhead line turned down in North Yorkshire by the planning inspector. They then had to underground that section. It seems unlikely therefore that they will only underground lines under duress, even in the most sensitive landscape areas.

They also gave details of costings for an undersea option. They had looked at a connection between Sizewell and Rayleigh. The maximum capacity cable is 1000 megawatts and they would need several of them. Converter stations would be required at each end at £800m each. These converter stations are apparently the same size as a B&Q store. The circuits themselves would each cost £200m. Also there are no circuit breakers yet in existence for High Voltage DC. These costs and technical constraints seem to rule out an undersea option in the short term. However no doubt costs will fall and technology will improve – but not in time for this upgrade, unfortunately.

When they asked if they were designing in enough capacity for the 7.2GW of offshore licences which have been granted they said they assumed that not all would go ahead. If they did all go ahead there would be insufficient capacity. So we could be looking at even more power lines within the next 10 to 20 years.

Details of upcoming events below:

Meeting for Parish Councils 9th June Hadleigh 

Public Information events  15th June Hadleigh, 16th June Bildeston, 7th July Hintlesham

Leaflets will be distributed by National Grid throughout the area.

Speeding in Belstead

The issue of speeding was raised again at Belstead’s Annual Parish Meeting last week. Unacceptable speeds coupled with increasing traffic volumes, no pedestrian footpaths and narrow roads make life difficult and dangerous for those who still like to walk or cycle in the area. It’s a tough problem to solve.

The parish council and the few local villagers present were told by the County Council officer, Brian Lomax, that the flashing “Slow Down” signs only work for a limited time. They have been used extensively in Norfolk where speeds reduced slightly at first, but then went back up again after a few months. Physical measures like speed humps are effective in slowing traffic but often produce unacceptable noise levels to local properties, especially at night.

Although speed  checks have been carried out in Belstead on various dates (and thanks to PC Gary Austin et al for this) they would specifically like speed checks at 8am and 5pm. The gateway treatment on the three main approaches to the village are not perceived as being effective in slowing down traffic.

More recently local people have been offered the opportunity to purchase and use their own speed gun, after training by the police. In the Mid Suffolk area this community speed watch initiative is being compared for its effectiveness with other methods like greater policing or vehicle activated signs. The outcomes will be monitored and reported back.

Pylons – the saga continues

My group is currently preparing our response to National Grid. I was very disappointed last week that the Conservatives at Suffolk County Council continued with their backing of the proposed route through the Dedham Vale AONB.

The public meeting with National Grid on Monday 15th Feb at Hintlesham Community Hall was packed. The most depressing part of the evening was hearing National Grid saying over and over that they had to consider cost first. They would therefore give no commitment to underground the wires through the AONB if Corridor 2 is their chosen route.

Better news is that the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) have advised National Grid that the company has provided insufficient information on the alternatives to pylons in Somerset. On their website they say that National Grid has failed to explain to local communities the environmental, cost and technical implications of undergrounding the line and/or the undersea route. the IPC also say “The approach (being taken by National Grid) could be seen as predetermining the choice of routes and cloud the approach to all subsequent consultation”.

The Dedham Vale Society has also put in a very robust response to National Grid:

http://www.dedhamvalestourvalley.org/uploads/Dedham%20Vale%20AONB%20and%20Stour%20Valley%20Partnership%20Response%20to%20National%20Grid%20proposals.pdf

Bramford to Twinstead pylons route

Yesterday I went to Hintlesham Community Hall for the exhibition of proposals for the four possible corridors. It was well attended. Local people had petition forms outside, calling for the electricity cables to be put underground. They only had a few refusals.

Today I went on a tour of the South Suffolk area with other County Councillors to look at the landscape issues for all the possible routes. What stands out most of all is how beautiful the countryside is. The current 400kv and 175kv pylons are a real scar on the landscape. Just because they have been there for forty odd years doesn’t make their appearance any more acceptable. The 400kv pylons are around 50 metres high and the 175 kv are 26.5 metres. The idea that there could be two parallel lines of 50 metre high pylons in such lovely countryside does not bear thinking about.

I cannot agree with Tim Yeo when he says:

“I am delighted that the main campaigners have now agreed on a single objective – opting for Option 2 as long as this opportunity is also used to bury underground all the cables, both existing and proposed. This is a sensible idea which I also strongly support.

Even if it eventually proves impossible to underground the cables along the whole of corridor 2 it is absolutely essential that cables in all the sensitive areas are undergrounded.”

This is not an acceptable position for those in corridor 2 as it leaves the door open for National Grid to only put cables underground in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is a cop out. All campaigners must get behind the idea that any route must not impact on the stunning countryside in South Suffolk.

I am very interested in the proposal for undergrounding being put forward by the Stour Valley Underground group (http://www.stourvalleyunderground.org.uk/). There is also a link to the Downing Street petition on the front page of their site. They are suggesting using concrete tunnels for the cables which would be much cheaper and would not require the wide exclusion zone which National Grid suggest.

Another alternative, of course, is to use high voltage DC cables around the coastline under the sea. It makes sense if we assume that the number of offshore wind farms is likely to increase around the UK and both the Labour and Conservative parties are proposing the expansion of nuclear reactors, which are on the coast. There is no loss of landscape and power can be directed easily to where it is required in the South East. I am increasingly taken with this solution.