COUNTRYSIDE NOTES DECEMBER 2018 Review of Year and Thanks

What peculiar weather we’ve had throughout 2018! The so called jet stream did not behave according to the text book. It was cold right from the start of the year fluctuating between cold and frosty and cold and wet. The ‘Beast from the East’ arrived on February 24th bringing with it snow and temperatures as low as minus 7C. Similar weather persisted through most of March. The bitterly cold east winds continued well into April but then, all of a sudden, we had a brief taste of spring when temperatures for a few days got into the 20s. However, by the end of the month we were back to a very strong northerly wind and a high of only 7C! Throughout June and July we went to the other extreme with many days in the 30s although, surprisingly, night time temperatures in June were sometimes as low as 7 or 8 degrees. Gardens and the countryside were parched which affected crops already suffering from the cold, late spring. Predictably, for most of the school summer holidays, the weather was cool and changeable. Even though summer had returned by the end of September unusually there were a couple of frosts late in the month. Temperature reached 25C on October 13 and once again it had become very dry everywhere. The following day it rained and the thermometer dropped to 13C which came as a bit of a shock! Apart from a few odd days the mild weather continued well into November and the autumn colours were spectacular in the late autumn sunshine.
Apart from the extremes in temperatures and lack of rain another feature of 2018 was the number of windy days there were. It was interesting to see how summer flowering plants that had shut down in the drought conditions burst into life again in the autumn. In the vegetable garden tomatoes and runner beans, which normally would have been almost finished, were plentiful well into October. The rain in August seemed to give everything a new lease of life. I can’t help but wonder what sort of winter we’ll have. If there’s one thing we can be certain about with the British weather is that it’s unpredictable.
It’s coming up to that time of year when our thoughts most often turn to other people. Once again I’d like to remind everyone about the unseen band of voluntary workers in every village to whom we owe an awful lot. We shouldn’t ever take them for granted. There are those involved in producing and distributing our parish magazine providing information about everything that’s happening in our villages. There are those who keep our villages, churches and village halls neat and tidy and those who organise fund raising events, not forgetting all the ladies who make the cakes. It is these people who ensure that where we live is much more than just a group of houses – it’s a lively community.
Season’s Greetings to one and all.
Jill

CONSPIRACY THEORY

A lot of people enjoy a good detective story that involves a conspiracy theory. This may not be a good detective story, but it does involve many elements of fact mixed with conjecture in the manner that is so common with conspiracy theories. Even decades after the event many people are still debating about who killed JFK and why, was the death of Marilyn Monroe really a suicide or just convenient and what really happened to David Kelly, the UK scientist responsible for much of the assertion by Tony Blair that there were weapons of mass destruction to be destroyed in support of the absurd idea that we needed to go to war against Hussein’s Iraq.
The detective story part was started by a fairly innocent sounding question from a long term Stoke Ferry resident when she asked what had happened to the old garden that used to exist in front of the house. This simple question triggered a series of questions that produced different levels of positive and negative feedback. As the “old garden” was situated on what is now the verge of part of the roadway an early question was sent to Norfolk County Council’s Highways department in relation to land ownership, to which the response was, “Once Highways, always Highways.” This was not the most helpful of answers, but the NCC Highways engineer who made this statement refused to answer the other questions as to when the land title was transferred and if it is possible to see the evidence trail. Instantly, there was the suspicion of dubious tactics, as usually, public officials refuse to answer such simple and direct questions only when there is something to hide.
Another turning point followed an examination of some old photos of Stoke Ferry that showed the small garden in question with a road level significantly different from what it is today. As a consequence we endeavoured to discover when the road level was changed. A few local people told us that they could recall that changes were made to the road but could not remember exactly when, adding that there were a lot of roadworks at the time. The only time that there have been a lot of roadworks in the Stoke Ferry area during the lifetime of the inhabitants of Stoke Ferry was when the A134 bypass was constructed in 1985, at the time that Furlong Road was extended out along the route of Furlong Drove to the new A134 bypass with an upgraded structure to accommodate HGV traffic (presumably for the benefit of certain users). Somehow, a stretch of the Lynn Road in front of the Village Hall was upgraded at the same time to support HGVs, between Furlong Road and Wretton Road (perhaps for the same beneficial users). Prior to the alteration of Wretton Road between its junctions with the Lynn Road / Stoke Ferry High Street and Buckenham Drive its structure was not adequate to support regular and perpetual use by HGVs, but since it was altered the new road structure is of the same standard as on major arterial roads in order to take HGV traffic.
Further examinations of the old photos compared against what exists today shows that the modifications to the roadway were not only improvements for HGV use, but significant alterations to the roadway elevations, lifting parts of the road by a few feet. These alterations to the elevations of the roadway were made possible only by using adjacent structures as retaining walls. This analysis of the visual evidence was another turning point in the detective work. All of a sudden, there was another set of questions to fire off at NCC Highways. The official answer from NCC Highways was, “we have now finished searching through all the paper files, scanned files and microfilm for Stoke Ferry including road improvement files but unfortunately we have not found any reference to any road improvement or realignment in Wretton Road. If a road scheme affects an adjacent property to the highway, an agreement is drawn up and signed and sealed. A copy of the legal agreement is then lodged in our deeds strong room but there is no such deed for this property.”
At this point we realised that the Wretton Road modifications had never been sanctioned by NCC Highways and must have been paid for by another party as well, but we do not know who yet, although everyone has their suspicions. Also at this point, we joined up the dots as to why and how the defective Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) was introduced in 1992. A TRO is a local modification to the national legislation governing the use of roads and their signage. For Wretton Road its length had been defined as having a 7.5 ton weight limit. To quote official sources at NCC again, “…The original Traffic Regulation Order Prohibition of Commercial Vehicles of Over 3 tons 1976, was consolidated in 1989 to read ‘restrictions of vehicles with an unladed (sic) weight exceeding 3 tons is substituted a restriction of vehicles exceeding 7.5 tonnes Maximum Gross Weight’. Both orders are still in place and enforceable….” Obviously, whoever paid for the road alteration in 1985 wanted to be able to run HGVs on Wretton Road, but there was this existing and frustrating 7.5 ton weight limit restriction in place that prevented the use of HGVs; so someone was persuaded to insert a minor change to the 1992 TRO paperwork to permit HGVs to use this particular stretch of road in Stoke Ferry. The problem with underhand activity is that it is so often of an inferior quality because it is done to circumvent the correct ways of working as a subterfuge. Normally, TROs are drafted and then go through at least 2 cycles of review by lawyers or paralegals to ensure the road names in use match with the road numbers (a bit like comparing that the words on cheques match the figures). Evidently, this 2 step checking process for the Stoke Ferry entry into the TRO paperwork never happened, because there are 2 blatant errors where the road numbers fail to match the road definitions in text, with one of the road numbers being a road in Essex. The only way this sort of mistake is introduced is when someone slips in a change after the official reviewing process has completed and just before the paperwork is rubber stamped as approved. When one looks at the TRO paperwork it is easy to see how easy it was to insert a modified sheet into the documentation pack, as there were no page controls in place.
The next piece of the conspiracy theory is that it is a bit difficult to hide a significant change to a road’s height and structure from an engineer responsible for the roads in a part of the county, because these engineers and their staff patrol the roads regularly to identify where improvements are required and to check on the progress of agreed pieces of work. Similarly, a change of the type on Wretton Road is not like repairing a pot-hole that can be done overnight and will have taken several days and probably a small number of weeks to complete. One does not need to be Einstein to work out that these chaps in office at the time were incentivised to ignore the changes on Wretton Road. It is now nearly 35 years ago; so whoever was involved has retired most likely with his gold-plated public sector pension intact and it is highly unlikely that there is anyone in office today who was connected in any way; so even if this conspiracy theory is an accurate reflection of events there is no-one to prosecute. A consultation with a Police officer indicated that to attempt a prosecution for this type of corruption today is a waste of Police time.
While there are many pieces of factual evidence cited in this story, there is a fair amount of supposition that links elements together; so there is no guarantee that this particular conspiracy theory is 100% accurate. Regardless of the accuracy of all of the component parts, it is inconceivable that there was never any corruption. There is the possibility of a combination of corruption and incompetence. It is equally possible that some people in authority were duped and were not totally corrupt. Most likely, we shall never know, unless now that this story is in the open, a few folk who were around at the time come forward with the evidence to plug the gaps or rebuttals with their versions of the truth.
The downside for the taxpayer is now he and she must pay for the remedial actions that are required to make good this corruption or incompetence and it is unlikely that the authorities will be able to pursue anyone to recover the costs. It is not known if NCC has insurance cover in place to cover its costs resulting from corruption or employee incompetence, but it is believed this type of insurance cover does not exist, because it is the employer (NCC) that has the ultimate responsibility for ensuring its employees and subcontractors behave in a fit and proper manner at all times.

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News from Westminster

I think we can all say it has been an amazing summer, plenty of outdoor activities, fabulous Norfolk produce and lots of sunshine – however decidedly cooler and wetter now, though the Autumn colours are pretty spectacular. It was great to meet the junior footballers at Mundford Football Club – fund raising is well underway for the new dugout and the youngsters were certainly an enthusiastic lot. I also had the opportunity to work out on some excellent equipment at a new gym in Downham Market – Fitness Space. Opened this summer – the upper levels of the old cinema have been transformed into a boutique style gym offering a member focused workout experience – certainly helped me improve my stamina for Westminster!
Also had the opportunity to visit Local Flavours at the Norfolk Showground. The annual event is designed as a meet and greet for artisan producers from across East Anglia to showcase their food and drink to buyers from major supermarkets and leading department store Fortnum & Mason. This year there was a Dutch flavour with representatives from the Netherlands also in attendance. Exports in the East of England are worth a staggering £1.7billion; comments made by the Dutch delegation referred to the fact that traditional UK brands are extremely popular in the Netherlands and Made in Great Britain is a key selling point. We had great representations from South West Norfolk with Shires Christmas Fruit Cake from Downham Market, vodka from the Fens and White Knight from Beachamwell really illustrating our Great British brands.
It was standing room only in Marham as local residents filled the village hall to discuss with me and Councillor Graham Middleton the proposal for silica quarrying between Marham and Shouldham. This is the second public meeting in the space of a fortnight to discuss the proposal with in excess of 150 residents attending, many having to stand. Considerable concern has been raised about the proposal which if developed could see one of the largest quarrying sites in the UK. The sand in the area is of very good quality for clear glass making, and the proposal is for it to be pumped to an existing operation at Leiziate run by Sibelco. One of the points raised at the meeting is how such an operation sits with the government’s ambitions for the 25 year environment plan, improve recycling and the health and welfare of our nation. Another factor is a genuine concern for the impact this will have on the value of people’s homes in the area. There were some excellent points raised at the meeting and although this is still at the consultation phase and a planning application has still to be submitted, it is evident there is not the local support, so I believe it should not go ahead.
Elizabeth Truss MP
Member of Parliament for South West Norfolk, Chief Secretary to the Treasury