War Memorial Gary Trouton

Straight Talking

April 2008

The Grumpy Old man has a go at local governmet this month!

I have long been a critic of local government. Their inability to manage the local economy has always frustrated me. There are some councillors at Borough and County level who really shouldn't hold the positions they hold. Most are totally clueless about the people they purport to represent. From what I can see the Borough and County Council chambers are full of non local people who believe they can manage a multi million pound business with little or no idea on what they are doing.

Take the Borough Council of Kings Lynn and West Norfolk, although why they include West Norfolk in their name is a complete mystery to me. They take our money, through council tax, and then pretend to provide us with local services. These services are meant to include street cleaning, but you only have to walk up Wretton Road and see the build up of sand and grit against the kerb to know that we don't often see any evidence of street cleaning here. I have yet to go into Kings Lynn on a weekday and not see a road sweeper slowly driving along the road cleaning. Of course they do provide us with rubbish collection and they have encouraged us all to recycle as much as possible which has helped us to have a very high recycling rate. Other than that I don't really see what else they do for us.

I am sure most of us go shopping in Kings Lynn at the weekend, and most of us will jump in our cars and travel the 17 miles to the town centre, parking our cars in one of the many council run car parks, you may even park in the multi story car park as I do. Come next month we will all pay a little bit more for this privilege as car parking fee's are set to rise for everyone...except those who work for the council that is. The Borough council hands out over 500 free car park passes to employee's of the council, this is an incentive that effectively costs the council tax payer a staggering £ 1/4m in lost car park revenue every year. Ironically most of the employees of the council come from Kings Lynn and have the opportunity to use the frequent public transport service, as do most of the residents of Kings Lynn. The Borough council now want to introduce parking charges to blue badge holders; this decision has met with fierce local opposition from blue badge holders, some of who are outraged with this shock decision. I believe the council had planned this decision along time ago, in fact I would go as far to say they were thinking about it at least 4 years ago, about the time they were approving the plans for the multi story car park behind the swimming pool. Why else would they have provided a low level payment machine in the car park for wheelchair users if they had no intention of implementing charges for blue badge holders? I do find it a bit hypocritical of those disabled drivers who have complained at these charges. The disabled have long campaigned against discrimination and demanded equality with able bodied people; this desire for equality obviously doesn't apply to car park charges though.

The Borough council have made much in the press about their state of the art CCTV system that operates in the town centre, so much so that they now wish to install camera's in Downham Market and Hunstanton, perhaps this is why Norfolk Constabulary have reduced visible policing to the miserably low level it is today, although that doesn't explain why they have just increased their share of the council tax by 10%. The council seem to think that cameras are a deterrent to criminals and those who are anti social; I have yet to see a camera arrest anyone. Although try parking your car near a camera and not paying for a ticket, see how quickly you get a fine slapped on your windscreen!

Thankfully the Borough council has now disposed of their housing stock, so at least those living in the housing association accommodation should start to see some investment in their properties. I would, however, be interested to know how much it cost to upgrade these properties to current modern day standards in order for this transfer of housing stock to proceed, as I believe it would show just how much they had under invested in something that was owned by us.

The Borough Council are also responsible for deciding how our towns and villages should look through the planning department. They sit in the chamber and decide what is built and what is not. The Lynn News recently reported that councillors on the planning committee had refused planning permission for a wind turbine to be built in Tesco's car park, the main reason for refusal was on safety grounds. Since when did our Borough Council become experts on safety, this is another example of unqualified people making important decisions. If safety was at the forefront of their mind they would never have granted outline planning for a large housing development in Whittington with its only access off the main road! The Borough Council has also given no regard for the youth of the Borough. Where are our children going to live, with house prices still at a ridiculous level how will they ever afford to get on the housing ladder? The last 5 years has seen Downham Market expand with new houses springing up all over the place, how many of those houses are affordable to first time buyers, very few. As it is the housing market is being throttled by the buy to let market that has arisen in recent times. A hundred years ago when poverty was a way of life for most people, local landowners realised that if they wanted people to work the land they had to provide somewhere to house them. Tied cottages were built for this purpose, these are the same cottages that now sell for over £250,000. Our Borough Council and Parish Council has made no real effort to encourage low cost housing in Stoke Ferry, instead they opt for "executive" developments, in layman's terms this means boxy looking bungalows with no character, squeezed into someone's back garden. Of course the council don't get much out of social housing, most are going to be in the lower council tax bands, and under the governments current policy of 'those that work pay, those that are bone idle don't', the council would receive very little income in the way of council tax.

My criticism is not just aimed at the Borough Council, the County Council doesn't fair much better. The only real investment we have seen from them in Stoke Ferry is the resurfacing of Buckenham Drive. It was a long time coming but I now ask if it was worth it. They certainly did a budget job, cheap and cheerful. Low cost materials were used, with a poor level of workmanship, the end result is a road that looks like it hasn't been finished yet, when it rains the water just sits in the dips in the road instead of going into the drains, and they never took the opportunity to replace the 50 year old decaying kerbs. So now when they have to replace them it will cost three times as much. This is just another example of the poor uneconomic way they manage things.

What's the answer to all this? I have no idea to be honest, nothing will change, we will vote in new councillors when the local elections come around, but they will make the same mistakes as their predecessors. Perhaps our money would be better spent by those that actually live here. Would it be wise to give our Parish Council a budget of hundreds of thousands of pounds to make Stoke Ferry a better place? I actually think it would. As much as I have a go at them, I do believe they would make better decisions for us, I think that the pride they would get for serving their peers in this manner would encourage them to succeed where the Borough and County Council have failed. If they did get it wrong they would have to live with their decisions, and live right in the middle of it. I would like to see real local people making local decisions. Those of us who are over 35 years old will surely remember 'Citizen Smith' on the BBC, a great sit com of its day, yet now it seems like quite a good idea. It would be great to see a sign at the entrance to the village welcoming visitors to the People's Republic of Stoke Ferry.

And finally...

It's been a long time coming but the Residents Association have at long last published their accounts for all to see. That's all I was asking for, transparency. However, £500 for an hour of strange looking people playing strangle looking instruments is a bit steep don't you think?

Grumpy Old Man

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