To the Town Council office on Monday evening for the monthly meeting of the Wivenhoe Town Council.
Relax, m’South London Comrades – WTC is largely apolitical, comprising of locally elected representatives who have the best interests of the town at heart.
Democracy and representation appears to be alive and well within Wivenhoe. Eight of our fine councillors were in attendance, with apologies from the absent three.
Perhaps even more poignant was the appearance of seven locals in the public galley (random chairs scattered around the room) and a couple of local Colchester Borough Councillors to provide updates for their patch.
This was the first meeting of WTC since the blatant act of vandalism by the Environment Agency on the vegetatation of the banks of the Colne. Mr Mayor, Brian Sinclair, was aware of the public interest and moved this item to the top of the agenda.
Mr Mayor, explaining the position of WTC on the Colne clearance, read out a brief statement:
“We have had lots of phone calls and conversations since the work started. Wivenhoe Town Council empathises with the feelings of residents who are deeply angered and upset with the Environment Agency.
We were aware that the work was planned, but no actual start date was given. Local information was limited to A4 sized posters appearing by the site. We have made enquiries with the Environment Agency about the work. This is part of a national policy.
If any residents which to take the matter further, we have provided some information slips [reproduced below...] There is nothing else that we can do as a town council – we have done all that we can.”
The welcome information slip states:
WTC are aware and concerned about the distress caused by the rapid clearance of the sea walls. We are unable to stop this national policy but if you width to complain to the EA, the contact is 01473 706 100, firstname.lastname@example.org
A quick click and a rational email explaining your concerns, and hopefully the strength of local opposition regarding the destruction of our natural beauty will be registered.
But for some within the meeting, the statement from WTC didn’t go far enough. Up stepped a local resident to address the council, and to explain some revealing background information that has emerged through dealing with the EA staff on site.
“The notices put up by the EA were not specific to Wivenhoe. The same notices have been posted at scores of places all over East Anglia. In the case of Wivenhoe the reasons offered by the EA for the vegetation clearance turn out to be spurious. There’s no problem with rabbits, and the supposedly troublesome roots are still in the ground. There’s no problem with inspections – the inspectors have already graded the different sections of the seawall, in drawing up the Shoreline Management Plan. And there’s no risk to people and property upriver – that’s what the Barrier is for, to protect us from a repeat of the 1953 flood tide – and downriver, the possible future flooding of the grazing marsh has already been planned for, as part of the policy of managed retreat.
So, what’s the real reason for the vegetation clearance?
Nick Purdie [EA official] says: Our ultimate aim is to reduce all the vegetation to short grass – even long grasses are a problem because they mask bare earth – and it’s ‘bare earth’ which makes seawalls vulnerable in the event of over-topping by a tidal surge.
So this policy is all about planning for a worst-case scenario – which may be fine when there’s a risk to people and property – but doesn’t make sense downriver, in the event of a major flood, when flooding the grazing marsh would actually be necessary to absorb the pressure of the tide.
Mr Purdie also stressed how serious they are about achieving this objective of reducing the flora on seawalls to a monoculture. They’re currently experimenting at specific locations in Alresford, Brightlingsea and elsewhere with intensive regimes of repeated cutting: twice or three times a year. And they’re developing new technologies to do this, pioneering mechanical strimmers attached to diggers, which can do the job better than humans.
There’s a lot of controversy throughout East Anglia surrounding the Environment Agency’s policy on flood defences, (mainly to do with coastal erosion and managed retreat). One of the main complaints is the Agency’s repeated failure to notify and consult. Local Essex and Suffolk MPs like Therese Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) John Whittingdale (Maldon) and Priti Patel (Witham) are well aware of this. I think it’s worth people writing, if they feel strongly about this, to Bernard Jenkin.
Our case is a strong one:
It’s about the democratic deficit – the shocking lack of consultation.
It’s about bureaucratic arrogance – the policy being applied to Wivenhoe is inappropriate and incoherent.
And it’s about cost. The EA are spending £750,000 on this.
Where people and property are not at risk, it’s the needs of local residents and wildlife which should take precedence over the schemes of bureaucrats.”
This was a damning report to WTC, delivered with great passion and eloquence. It appears too late for any action to prevent this first wave of destruction. I would wager that the Environment Agency is not in for such an easy ride when they next return to the banks of the Colne, bent on yet further environmental destruction.
In support of WTC, Mr Mayor recognised the concerns of the local resident, and asked for a copy of the fine speech to fully take on the local concerns.
The rest of the WTC meeting was always then going to be routine, if indeed debate about Cook’s, the Wivenhoe Woodwork Party and Mr Mayor’s stolen civic bicycle (blimey) can ever be described as routine.
But first, here are some words from the big boys and girls of Colchester Borough Council. I rather liked the approach of Wivenhoe residents having speaking rights ahead of our CBC friends.
Councillor Cory of Wivenhoe Cross ward addressed the meeting first:
“I have mainly been dealing with parking complaints. Students are usually to blame. I approach this problem methodologically. If cars are parked illegally then I contact the police. If it is inconsiderate parking then I attach a small flyer.
Potholes [aha!] are currently the bain of my life. The large hole by The Flag has now been filled in. Sadly it has now opened up again. I will keep on reporting this to Highways until it is fixed. I have asked why the CBC gritting policy doesn’t include estates and pavements.
There was an ASBO issue in my ward. I have been working closely with PCSO Neville, who has carried out some wonderful work to help resolve this. There are some drainage issues up towards Broomgrove. Anglia Water has been informed.”
Taking a walk downtown (and depending on your geographical point of view, either going upmarket or slumming it…) and next up was Councillor Quarrie of Wivenhoe Quay ward:
“We have just had the full budget meeting at CBC. We [the Conservative group] wanted to reduce the annual £150,000 funding for local councils. Sadly this was voted out.”
A written report from Councillor Julie Young of Essex County Council (so many layers of the political onion to peel away here in Wivenhoe) was then read out by Mr Mayor:
“With the failure of the pedestrian crossing by the Co-op to reach any conclusion, I have successfully lobbied for a new bus shelter to be built with the funds.
I am happy to report that no libraries will be closing in Essex. There will be reduced opening hours for some libraries, although Wivenhoe doesn’t appear to be affected.
The transport subsidy for parents whose children attend Faith schools will be reduced. This will impact on Wivenhoe parents who send their children to the Catholic school in Colchester. Families on low income will still receive support.
The full budget for Essex County Council is being set this week. Women’s Refuge and Alcoholics Anonymous look like having funding being withdrawn. We are making slow progress [arf!] with the 20mph speed zone for Wivenhoe.”
With the WTC meeting now racing through the agenda, hopes were high of catching the second half of the West Ham match back at base. Feedback was then provided on the various sub-committees that comprise WTC. You’d be hard pressed to find a better named committee anywhere in the land that can compete with out very own Wivenhoe Woodwork Party – oh yes…
A report on public transport produced great excitement (steady the buffers) with news of the new bus stops in Colchester. Amazingly the Wivenhoe bus stops are actually correct for once.
Questions were raised about whom is liasing with the fine May Fair folk regarding the traffic flow on the big day. Mr Mayor confirmed that a meeting is planned for later this week.
Other transport issues were then discussed, but sadly the Fog of Politics got in the way. A bit of CBC politico gossiping between our borough council friends in-between WTC contributions, and I couldn’t catch all of the details (transport matters – *not* CBC chitter chatter.)
No worries. On to Planning.
Councillor Cyril Liddy updated WTC with recent applications. Changes to the front of the Royal British Legion have been submitted (supported by the good folk of WivSoc) as well as “various miscellaneous domestic applications.”
Of greater interest however is the continuing saga of Cook’s Shipyard. Councillor Liddy confirmed:
“The developer is now ready to move forward and wants to know when we can sign the lease. This is in the hands of the solicitors – we’re not actually ready yet.”
It seems that the developer has made a change to the original planning application regarding the five polyfunctional [urgh!] units. A change of use from A1 to A3 has been put forward. CBC has no objections. Once again the Fog of Politics prevented me from hearing further.
The Personnel Committee confirmed that WTC’s wonderful litter picker, Ray, has announced his plans for a well-deserved retirement. Mr Mayor praised Ray and his work with the highest regard, adding, “he will be impossible to replace.”
Hear, hear. It seems that everywhere I go around the town, Ray is always present. Has this man be cloned?
The Finance and Admin Committee reported that the WTC budget has been re-affirmed. Speaking of penny-pinching, with the imminent move of our local police team to the fire station, it was also confirmed that the WTC policy is to try and keep the old buildings in public use. Discussions are taking place as to how WTC can acquire them.
The Best Value Committee (not quite the best committee title, but close…) reported on the plan for WTC to purchase some basic IT equipment for planning purposes. This will allow submissions to be projected on to the wall, rather than shuffling around paper copies.
Still with us?
It was around this stage of the evening that I was in need of a comfort break. And with perfect timing, it’s only an update from the Working Party on the refurbishment of the ladies loos at the William Loveless Hall.
Pleased to report that the marbled halls of female sanitary (um…) are on time and budget. A grand opening is expected in time for Mr Mayor’s Charity Ball next month. Hurrah!
Trumping the Best Value and the toilet updates was of course the Wivenhoe Woodwork Party. Nope – not a late night carpentry lock in at The Station, but valuable updates regarding the upkeep of Wivenhoe Wood. The bark (ouch) is worse than the bite – all is well within Wivenhoe Wood.
It was then wonderful to hear the highest praise coming the way of Wivenhoe youth facilities, and in particular, the re-launched Hub down at the Phillip Road Centre.
Tuesday evenings were reported as being a tremendous success. WTC credited the individuals involved, for growing such a fantastic facility out of so few resources. It was also noted on record how pleased WTC is to see a return of the Wivenhoe Youth Council. Mr Mayor is keen to involve this body in more formal visits to the Town Council offices.
A request has been from members of the Hub to extend the skateboard facilities at KGV. This is currently being considered by WTC.
Community Safety reported that crime in Wivenhoe is currently on the up.
Sleep safely at night my friends – all crime is bad crime, but don’t believe the hard data. Mr Mayor’s proud civic bicycle (re-cycled from a council skip, donchta know….) was only half-inched right outside The Greyhound.
Councillor Penny Kraft fed back on the latest NAP meeting – more (much more over here...)
Finance then reported on the sale of some chairs from the William Loveless Hall. I think this is Dave’s #bigsociety in action, right on our Wivenhoe doorstep.
On Administration matters, plans are pressing ahead to abolish the Cross and Quay distinctions for WTC matters. This will not affect the CBC wards. With an increased workload, the plan is also to raise the number of (unpaid) WTC councillor’s from eleven to thirteen.
Did someone say an election is around the corner…?
And finally, back to Highways, which always seems to be something of a hot potato around Wivenhoe. Elmstead Road is due to close for essential gasworks for a period of five weeks. This will cover roughly the stretch from The Flag up to the football club.
The advance planning and publicity by the gas utility was praised by WTC as an example of how outside agencies *can* work successfully in partnership with local representatives and residents.
I think that’s the nearest that WTC will come to having a dig at the Environment Agency. Meanwhile, the diggers down at the Colne edge ever closer towards the old Crab ‘n Winkle line…