Category Archives: Bury St Edmunds

Bury St Edmunds town centre masterplan questionnaire


questionnaire

I was rather looking forward to completing this. As a former representative of the area I hoped I might have something to offer. I logged on enthusiastically. Sadly, it soon became obvious that not only would I find the questionnaire hard to complete, but so would others. I know it is easy to carp, and I do try to be positive, but my honest immediate impressions are as follows.

Q.1 asks which key issues you think are the most important to address within the town centre, adding “you can tick more than one”. The trouble is that all eleven are important, and it is very difficult to pick out any to the exclusion of the rest. Q.2 is a useful blank space to fill with your own ideas.

Q.3 asks you to agree or not (or “don’t know”) with a statement about the town which could not be faulted. Q.4 asks you to choose which of eleven things you would like to see more of in the town; again you can tick more than one. Just as well, as I could tick almost all – not very helpful to the questionnaire’s analysers!

Q.5 is a statement of the historical importance of the town, and asks for agreement or not (or don’t know). It would be hard to justify a “disagree”. Q.6 is open-ended and may well bring up some new ways of protecting the town’s heritage.

Q.7 deals with key sites on the edge of town, such as Tayfen Rd and Station Hill. It asks you to agree or not that these and other locations should be considered “as an interlinked arc of opportunity both within and closely related to the town centre masterplan area”. I am tempted to mutter: “well dur!” Q.8 asks if you agree with the principle of redeveloping potentially underused sites around the town centre, assuming existing facilities are retained. Surely the same reaction is justified. I hope that Q.9’s request for additional comments is more helpful to respondents and analysers.

Q.10 asks you to agree or not with supporting “thriving mixed-use neighbourhoods”. Again, how can you disagree? Q.11 asks you to prioritise housing needs within six types of accommodation and type of client, e.g., housing for single people, flats for older people, etc. This might seem useful, but what the respondents think is not necessarily where the demand actually comes from. Q.12/13 asks for further additional local facilities and services that could support residential neighbourhoods within the town.

Q.14-17 deal with “providing welcoming gateways and approaches”, along similar lines, and again there is the opportunity to contribute your ideas, as there is in Q.18/19, relating to the street scene, and Q.20/21.

Q.22/23 mark the return of the bland statement, this time about green spaces, with which no one could really disagree – despite the invitation to do so. You can then tick any of the seven cited improvements; but I fear you will want to tick all. As with so much of this document, the various suggestions and ideas are simply not mutually exclusive.

Q.24-33 are about you, the respondent. Here the authors lay out their polished credentials in political correctness. As well as more useful information to guide their analysis (gender, age, relative location, reasons for your visits to town and frequency) you are asked if you have a disability, including the option don’t know (sic). There follow no fewer than nineteen ethnic categories you are invited to associate yourself with, eight religions and five sexual orientations. I do not know whether it makes any difference that my own answers come from my having a White: British or White: English background, nor whether one being of the Jain faith, or any other or none, would have a bearing on one’s views on improved signage and information boards. The authors must think so.

Perhaps I should have read the full report before tackling the questionnaire, as it sets out issues, objectives and possible directions with much more contrast than the latter does. But I wanted to air my views first, as I think will some of you. I hope you won’t give up as soon as I did.

So will the results of this exercise be of any real use? Despite my misgivings, I genuinely hope so. But they need to be more than just going through the motions of public consultation, especially if the cost is to have been worthwhile – badges and all.

 

 

 

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Still browned off…and now a double-whammy!


bin lid

 

So it’s happening: brown bins will no longer automatically be emptied nor compostable waste collected by St Edmundsbury borough council. Instead a new service will be available at an annual charge of £40, with provision for future increases up to £50. (It will be interesting to see how the new scheme will be policed – watch out for bin men/ladies with lists?)

I found it fairly simple to sign up to this service, although some will baulk at the 70p admin charge for credit card payment – perhaps already dropped, as it was not taken in my case. It’s harder completely to withdraw from it, as brown bins currently being used will not be collected by the council. (This led one wag to seek £40 compensation for looking after what is, after all, council property.)

My own complaint is about the substantial reduction in the way brown bins may now be used. It will no longer be permissible to include kitchen waste, food, plate scrapings, tea bags, coffee grounds, cardboard, newspaper or shredded paper. For most people this will surely be a serious drawback to the service.

In reply to my tweets, the council claims that ‘changes to legislation over how food waste is treated’ prevent kitchen waste being included, even ‘fruit peelings’. It also says that what has previously been acceptable waste is not suitable for the ‘wind row’ type of composting that will process the contents of our brown bins in future. No doubt there is a good reason for this, but it does seem unfortunate that a contractor who would accept the existing brown bin waste could not again be engaged, especially now that the service is no longer ‘free’.

I can understand that animal waste and real kitchen waste might be treated differently from garden waste; indeed the former has only been accepted in recent years. But I find it hard to believe that whilst fruit and vegetables ‘from your garden’ can be put in the bin, those bits of it that are peeled before consumption (e.g. from apples, bananas, oranges) are apparently banned.

I tweeted that I paid my £40 ‘with a heavy heart’. It would have been a lot lighter if I were paying for the full existing service rather than a markedly inferior one. Something of a double-whammy.

 

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Browned off?


I am taking the unusual step of adding to this rarely used site, since Twitter’s 140 characters have defeated me. It’s the first time I have put ink to paper (so to speak) since ceasing to be a St Edmundsbury (SEBC) borough councillor, and so I do so with some caution.

It was via a Bury Free Press tweet that I learned of the council’s plans to consider an annual charge for emptying brown bins. My immediate reaction was mild outrage: after about 12 years of fortnightly collections, the notion of paying £35-50 per year just seemed a retrograde step. (NB It’s only the lower limit that has been widely quoted, since SEBC’s own release said “around £35” – getting worried?). I am lucky that I can afford to pay this, so the issue for me becomes one of principle. However, some would find the cost a burden, and those same people might well not have access to their local waste recycling centre.

I have read the council’s cabinet paper, explaining why the service will cost the two West Suffolk councils £500,000 a year, because of various changes in funding and other factors. To be honest, as a non-waste expert I found it somewhat esoteric, but its conclusions were clear: maintain a free service but find the cost elsewhere; scrap the service; or make a charge. It recommends the latter, along with a ban on the inclusion of non-meat food waste in brown bins.

I don’t think this ‘decision’ necessarily makes sense given some of the report’s own findings. It warns that there is a “high risk”, both of organic waste being put in black bins (which would add to costs) and of the charge being considered “inequitable” and branded a “stealth tax”. Furthermore, it accepts that a free service “maximises” composting and minimises disposal of garden waste.

But there are other arguments or concerns. How exactly will the service be organised and administered when collections are no longer universal – won’t this be very complex? What if only a minority take up the charged service; and how many households have to subscribe for it to remain at the estimated level? Surely if only a small minority pay, then it could cost the council even more, which would have to be absorbed in an increased charge, further savings or complete disbandment of the service.

Since tweeting about this issue it has been pointed out to me that charging may encourage back garden bonfires, with all the pollution that these can cause.  An increase in fly-tipping has also been cited as a possible consequence of this policy.

The report mentions ways in which the charge can be mitigated, notably by composting. That may be viable in a large garden, but not in a modest one like mine – which nevertheless produces enough for the brown bin to be emptied on almost every collection. Sharing a bin with neighbours has also been suggested. I like my neighbours and am lucky to have them, but I want to keep it that way please!

I have on Twitter suggested that the ward locality budget for each SEBC councillor would in total meet nearly half of SEBC’s share of the estimated cost. (That scheme only started last year, and in my opinion does not always amount to money well spent nor aimed at a wide enough section of the borough’s population.) This is only one example of possible funding. Both West Suffolk councils have made very effective savings year on year, but do not seem keen on absorbing this particular amount. Certainly there are no savings options outlined in the report.

Does any of this matter? I think it does, if only because most voters will not digest nor accept the reasons why the councils face this situation, and may therefore perceive a charge for, or withdrawal of, brown bins wholly negatively. It is possible that this resentment may even surface at the 2019 elections, after the council tax bill that arrives in April includes an extra £50. Charging could also be seen as a green light for introducing charges for other services that have previously been subsidised – blue bins next?

I am not in principle against charging for what only some residents use (far from it), but the use of the brown bin service must rank among the most used of all council services other than the black and blue ones. It is part of the household waste collection service, something that all council tax payers benefit from – some would say it’s the only thing!

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My “pianathon”…the result!


at piano

A big thank you to all who helped me raise the total of 5p over £100 for St Nicholas’ Hospice and Parkinson’s UK on 15th March. 

 

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