Suffolk’s education results fall under Conservatives

The fact that Suffolk’s GCSE results started to fall below the national average when the Conservatives took control of the council in 2005 is a sad indictment. For the 12 years in which Liberal Democrats jointly ran the County Council Suffolk was admired as one of the best education authorities in the country. So why has it all gone so badly wrong?  Someone writing to the East Anglian Daily Times yesterday

rightly identified that the Conservatives have created chaos and uncertainty in their mad dash to abolish Middle Schools. Instead they should have been directing their attention to deprived areas, where there is a huge gap in educational achievement for children in less well off families. The five worst performing secondary schools in Suffolk are all in deprived areas. Three are within the two tier education system in Ipswich and Felixstowe. The other two poorly performing schools are in the three tier areas of Haverhill and Lowestoft. This shows that poor performance is related to deprivation rather than school structure. 

Some of the best performing schools in the County are in 3 tier areas and the paper for the 12th January Cabinet meeting states that primary schools in the three tier system are doing better than those in the two tier system. Months ago we advised that the schools organisation review should be abandoned. Our advice fell on deaf ears.

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.

Another accident on the A12 at East Bergholt

Following my previous posting on the disappointing safety study by the Highways Agency I see there was another accident today on the A12 Southbound at East Bergholt, which caused delays as far back as Copdock Mill roundabout. How many more accidents will there need to be before they finally take action?

Here is the link to the EADT article on the A12 safety study:

http://www.eadt.co.uk/content/eadt/news/story.aspx?brand=EADOnline&category=News&tBrand=EADOnline&tCategory=xDefault&itemid=IPED08%20Nov%202009%2021%3A33%3A41%3A170

A12 safety study is a disappointment

The Highways Agency have now published the results of the safety study of the A12 between East Bergholt and Stratford St. Mary which they carried out at our request.  As a result of the study the Highways Agency has said it will not put in average speed cameras along the road, in spite of the high number of accidents. Nor will it lower the speed limit. It is intending, however, to close the gaps in the central reservation at Hughes Corner – the B1068 junction to Higham and at Squirrells Hall LaneThis will not find favour with Stratford St. Mary residents who live along the route of the diverted traffic. The road to Higham from Stratford is also very narrow.Earlier this year we surveyed around 400 households in the villages of Stratford St. Mary, Holton St. Mary and Higham. We received 140 replies. Here are the responses:

Question 1 Would you support a 50mph limit on the A12 from Stratford St. Mary to EastBergholt?Yes 70% No 25% No opinion 5%Question 2 Would you support a right turn ban at the B1068 Higham turning?Yes 81% No 6% No opinion 13%

Question 3 Would you support a ban on Heavy Goods Vehicles overtaking on this sectionof road?Yes 69% No 19% No opinion 12% 

How many accidents will it take for the Highways Agency to act here? There are so many parallels with the campaign for the A12 underpass at Capel St. Mary. Sue Carpendale and I were constantly being told that there hadn’t been enough accidents. In the end 6 people died before the underpass construction was complete.

Copdock Mill Roundabout proposed changes are barmy

I find it hard to believe that the Highways Agency are planning to put traffic lights on two of the slip roads at Copdock Mill Roundabout. If they want to increase the flow of traffic there they should be lengthening these slip roads instead of further slowing the passage of vehicles by installing lights.I objected strongly to their earlier redesign which would have forced Ipswich bound traffic into the outside line of the A12 on the southern approach to the roundabout. This would have led to even longer tailbacks. They have based their redesign on 2003 traffic data as they have nothing later than this.

Their current barmy idea is to put traffic lights on the Westbound slip road from the A12 to the A14 (Westbound) and from the A1214 to the A14 (Eastbound). So the battle to get some sensible improvements to this roundabout will continue.In the meantime many people avoid using the roundabout altogether and travel through the local villages, much to the inconvenience of the people who live there.

Incinerator site update

The County Council has now announced that all but one of the sites have been put forward as possibilities for waste treatment plants in the county.

As it stands, the potential sites for waste treatment plants will be;

  • Masons Quarry – Great Blakenham
  • Highways Depot – Great Blakenham (already selected as the site for the currently in tender, Energy from Waste Incinerator)
  • The former Sugar Refinery – Sproughton
  • Eye Airfield Industrial Estate – Eye/Brome

According to the Council, the Hepworth/Stanton site attracted the highest level of public opposition (reaching near 600 objections), and has therefore been removed from the proposals. The issue will be discussed at the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday 10th November and at the County Council meeting on December 11th.

The Liberal Democrats at the County Council remain opposed to the building of an Incinerator.

Next stages will be

·         Publication and consultation of the Submission Waste Core strategy in January 2010 and submission to the Planning Inspectorate in February 2010.

·         A Public Hearing during May/June 2010.

·         Publication of the Inspector’s Report to Suffolk County Council in October 2010.

·         Adoption of the Waste Core Strategy as planning policy by Suffolk County Council in December 2010.

Pylons update

Last Thursday I attended a public meeting in Bildeston. It was packed and the feeling of the vast majority was that the cables should be put underground. Tim Yeo chaired the meeting and I wasn’t really sure at the end what his view was.

I am most concerned that the County Council takes the views of local councillors into account and I have asked how this is to be achieved. The issue is to be discussed at the February Cabinet meeting at Endeavour House.

I was most impressed at the research that had already been done by members of the audience, who were drawn from a wide swathe of South Suffolk and North Essex. A number of people have looked into the cost of undergrounding. Whilst National Grid are telling us that it costs 12 to 17 times as much as overhead cables, evidence from other European countries contradicts this.When I enquired about costs in Denmark I was told that it was 5 to 7 times more expensive, but this may be a lower voltage than the 400kv required for the new route(s). I also came across this article dated April 2010 about a similar controversy in Germany:

http://www.wire.de/cipp/md_wiretube/custom/pub/content,lang,2/oid,7766/ticket,g_u_e_s_t/~/Transmission_system_expansion_in_Germany_Underground_cable_or_overhead_lines.htmlThere’s an interesting quote from someone in the industry there “If you consider not only manufacturing and excavation costs, but also maintenance costs, electricity losses and down time costs plus the shortened approval times, extra high voltage underground cables are only two to five times more expensive than overhead lines, depending on local conditions”.I am very keen that we co-ordinate efforts across South Suffolk and North Essex. The Groton Alliance are setting up a website soon and I hope this will be a repository and rallying point. Another website with very useful information is here:

www.stourvalleyunderground.org.uk

Waste incineration views sought

The public have until October 9th to comment on the latest controversial proposals for waste disposal in  Suffolk.  The plans include one or two waste incinerators at Great Blakenham, with further sites identified at Sproughton, Eye and Stanton.  Whilst the cost of sending waste to landfill is increasing, the volume of waste is reducing, due in no small measure to the excellent levels of recycling in the County.  This year the County Council has saved £1.4m due to reduced quantities of waste going to landfill. Instead of investing this in schemes like kitchen waste collection, it is squirreling the money away to invest in incineration.  Research has shown that incineration:

  1. Burns scarce resources
  2. Generates huge amounts of carbon dioxide
  3. Produces dangerous emissions which accumulate in the body
  4. Encourages us to continue with a “throwaway” mentality instead of encouraging recycling.

More environmentally friendly options are available – for example using anaerobic digestion to break down waste and produce soil improver.  As already stated incineration is a health hazard as well as being unpopular and environmentally unfriendly. If you are opposed to the building of an incinerator, please back our petition to make the County Council reconsider this decision.  Our petition can be found at http://suffolkcclibdems.org.uk 

Pylon consultation

Yesterday I went to an information event which gave details of the four options for new or upgraded electricity pylon routes in South Suffolk. The routes cross some stunning countryside and there is already huge opposition and calls to underground the whole route. However National Grid say this is 12 to 17 times more expensive. By comparison the cost of overhead cables is £1.5m per kilometre. You would think in the 21st century that the expectation would be that cables would be put underground instead of replacing one ugly set of pylons for another. I’d be interested in your views (see survey on left of web page).

The event was for District and County councillors and there was a full house. The parishes most affected in my own Division are Hintlesham and Burstall. Chattisham, Sproughton and Copdock and Washbrook are also being consulted. More details, including the four alternative “corridors” are available on National Grid’s website: http://www.nationalgrid.com/uk/electricity/MajorProjects/BramfordTwinstead  This website will also be updated with all the public consultation events. The consultation will end in February. 

So why does the network need upgrading? The probability of two new nuclear reactors at Sizewell, as well as gas fired plants at South Holland and Kings Lynn and the development of the offshore wind farm at Lowestoft (Greater Gabbard) mean that National Grid needs to not only provide a connection to these power stations, but also to ensure that there is enough capacity in the system. I feel a creeping cynicism that Corridors 1 or 2 are already the preferred options and that they will not bow to pressure to put the lines underground. So the current 132 Kv line will most likely be upgraded to 400 kv and the current 400 kv line will be rewired. For most of the route these would run in parallel. It would seem that the only section they would consider undergrounding at present is within the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Under the 2008 planning legislation local authorities planning powers are completely bypassed for projects like these. The ultimate decision will be made by the Infrastructure Planning Commission. It will be this body that will make the decision on this and, incidentally, on whether Sizewell C gets the go ahead. This is because they are infrastructure projects of “national importance”. The Secretary of State can require a hearing where local residents and councils are able to put their views. Whether the Inspector at the hearing takes any notice we wait to see. 

Background: Currently the winter peak demand for electricity is 60 Gigawatts. By 2020 it’s estimated that we will require a further 20 GW capacity. Sizewell C will generate 3.6 GW. Surprisingly the Greater Gabbard wind farm has the potential to generate even more than that, although of course its generation capacity will be wind dependent.  Timetable:Oct 09 to Feb 2010 Consultation on options March 2010 to Spring 2011 Consultation on route alignment (with landowners) and environmental studies Summer 2011 Submit application to the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC). At this stage the public and local authorities will have the opportunity to comment to the IPC and the Secretary of State can call a hearing.

Summer 2012 IPC decision 2012-16 Construction

Delays to Copdock Mill roundabout “improvements” welcomed

Improvements to the Copdock Mill roundabout have been put on hold after costs of the scheme escalated. The scheme was being paid for by Hutchison Ports as part of the planning conditions for the extension of Felixstowe Port.  This will give the Highways Agency an opportunity to reassess the scheme and carry out surveys on traffic flows at this junction. I have been warning for some time that the proposed changes would cause long delays on the Northbound A12 approach to the roundabout as well as an increase in accidents. This is in direct contradiction to the objectives of the scheme. 

The current plans are to move Ipswich bound traffic into the outside lane on the A12 approach to Copdock Mill roundabout. At present Ipswich bound traffic travels in the left hand lane. As a regular user of this road I know that the left lane always moves faster, and it is the outside lane which tends to have the longer and slower moving queue. The proposed change will cause major tailbacks and a great deal of lane switching as people try to bypass the queues in the outside lane. I first raised the issue with the Highways Agency earlier this year and now both Suffolk Police and Suffolk County Council have backed my concerns about delays and increased risk of accidents.  

I am also worried that these “improvements” will cause more traffic to divert through local villages to avoid queues at Copdock Mill. Both Snoasis and Hutchison Ports have commitments to fund junction improvements at the Copdock Interchange. However because of the old-fashioned way in which the Highways Agency is dealing with this project only works required and funded by Hutchison are being promoted. The Department for Transport has promoted the concept of a Ringmaster to draw together funding from more than one developer in order to spread costs and solve more than one junction issue. If the Highways Agency adopted this approach they could improve both East and West bound traffic flows. Currently they are in danger of making a bad situation worse in terms of congestion as well as increasing the number of accidents.  The Copdock Mill scheme includes full signalisation of the roundabout, as well as an extended off slip onto the A14 from the A1214.