I thought it would be interesting to summarise the major issues as discussed at the Council meeting in January. To a large degree, Council consists of cabinet members reporting to the full council on their achievements over the preceding 4 weeks, and as such it can give a useful snapshot of what is going on, or at least what the cabinet want to report as going on. Councillors then have the opportunity to question cabinet ministers on their reports. This is followed by recommendations from Council bodies, which is an occasion for debate and then any motions may be presented by individual councillors for debate. All Councillors are expected to attend and most do!
The meetings are held in the Assembly room at the Town Hall and are formally opened and presided over by the mayor, who in Kings Lynn does not have an executive role. We have a cabinet system, which means decisions are taken by a cabinet made up of members of the ruling party and the cabinet is led by a leader, who is the executive leader of the council. These meetings are open to the public and are both informative and entertaining, although rarely as unruly as the House of Commons!
So what happened last month?
The Future High Street Fund. The Borough is in the process of submitting its application for funding for up to £25m to help in the regeneration of the High Street retail area and to this end has consulted widely and has heard the views of some 500 persons, discussing ideas for the regeneration of Kings Lynn as a retail centre. The conclusion was that biggest pulls into the town are Marks and Spencer, Debenhams and Primark. That said, traffic, parking and variety of shops was seen as barriers to the future growth of the town. So far so good. My own view is that the world is changing and traditional high street shops are at risk as we all go online. So, to my mind the future is more likely to be entertainment and shared experiences. So that is why the council has invested in a new “boutique” cinema (two screens to open in the Corn Exchange in May). Kings Lynn has a lot of historic buildings and a growing number of restaurants and it needs to “position” itself as a destination. I am encouraged by the example of Holt where there is a lot of support for smaller retailers and to my mind the council needs to encourage smaller retailers through addressing the issue of excess business rates and high rents. The latter is of course outside its control. Although it does have a number of retail premises. I would also like to look at the covered market in Norwich (or Cambridge). Kings Lynn has large amounts of relatively inexpensive parking (indeed, this is a source of much income for the Council) and I would like to see a chunk of this on the Saturday market place surrendered to a traditional all week market.
Also coming along is the Borough’s application for funding under the Towns Fund (another £25m?). The prospectus for this state “We want to see Town Deal Boards established, with investment priorities and project proposals then set out in a locally-owned Town Investment Plan. Proposals should drive long term economic and productivity growth through investment in connectivity, land use, economic assets including cultural assets, skills and enterprise infrastructure” Regeneration is in the air! My secret wish is to have a marina in Kings Lynn….Afterall Norfolk historically was a very important maritime centre and I would like to see this link restored.
Energy from Waste plant in Wisbech. A consultative process will soon be initiated. From the viewpoint of Norfolk County Council, this would allow them to honour their pledge to not incinerate in Norfolk after the shenanigans around the proposed Kings Lynn Incinerator of a few years back. At this stage, it would seem to me that the issues of a lot of extra lorry traffic in West Norfolk remain a threat to us as does the likely impact of particulate residue in this area from such an operation on our border. I am sure this is a subject to which I will return.
As controversial is the emergence of the Kings Lynn Transport Strategy. This has been rumbling along for a while now and in my opinion is a non-event. That is, it seems to be a shopping list of possible improvements to the traffic flow in Kings Lynn, from re-engineering the entrance to the Town at South gate to assorted traffic light installations. But it is not a strategy and whilst accepted by the cabinet it is seen as a living document., ie it will change. Whether it is worth the £300,000 it cost to produce is debateable. What has happened is that councillors in Kings Lynn naturally focus on suggestions in their ward ( eg should Harding Way be opened to traffic?) and there has been no discussion ( that I have heard) on introducing park n ride, on improving the rural bus service , on improving accessibility for the QEH, or most recently on introducing a boat service to/from Downham Market or expanding the Ferry service. So, really a list of possible plans but not a strategy.
Bubbling in the background are the new £250 million waste collection contract (very complex involving three Norfolk Authorities) and the Hunstanton Coast management plan, which has a 100-year horizon.
There are other ongoing initiates which I will cover in future reports, nb the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy, the imminent report to the Council on the lessons to be learnt from the KLIC investment, but I would like to finish off by considering the two climate change motions put forward to the Council by the Green party member, councillor de Whalley.
Without discussing the observable changes to our climate and the scientific basis for growing concern this issue will underly a lot of the politics of West Norfolk for quite a while. In this case I think councillors are actually leading public opinion and believe to varying degrees that there is a climate emergency and it is incumbent on this council to do its part to try to mitigate this. It is a fact that our Borough is one of the highest producers of CO2 in the UK, due to the activities of a number of large facilities ( e.g., British Sugar, RAF Marham, Palm Paper and the power station,) which are outside the councils control. It is also a fact that a rise in seas level will see much of our Borough disappear (which in itself might contradict with some of the other issues discussed above). Declaration of an emergency ( which was refused by our cabinet and which debate of which was denied to the full Council ) is important because it sets the scene for active measures this Council can take….not just in achieving carbon neutrality form its own operations but in educating the Borough in actions we can all individually take to reduce our carbon footprint, and ensuring that carbon neutrality is embedded in all policies which this Council adopts – nb the revised Local plan, the development of transport, the Town plan etc. So for example, NCC has agreed a plan to plant 1,000,000 trees – one for every inhabitant of Norfolk – and Kings Lynn has agreed to support this and “ to incorporate “ a separate motion to plant trees as part of its response to climate change agitation.
Its interesting (I hope ) setting out what this council, and by extension this councillor, does, and I hope anyone with views on the above and other Council matters will not be shy of contacting me with suggestions and criticisms of this work.