Nervous times in Russell Road

I HAVE never seen so many nervous wrecks in my life, as there have been around the borough's headquarters at Grafton House over the last few days.Everyone in the building has been on tenterhooks, waiting to hear whether Ipswich had been shortlisted for unitary status by the Department of Communities and Local Government.

I HAVE never seen so many nervous wrecks in my life, as there have been around the borough's headquarters at Grafton House over the last few days.

Everyone in the building has been on tenterhooks, waiting to hear whether Ipswich had been shortlisted for unitary status by the Department of Communities and Local Government.

And no one was finding the waiting more difficult than chief executive James Hehir who, by his own admission, “can't take much more of this!”

He told me: “I've been unable to sleep at night worrying about this. I thought we would get an announcement last Thursday, then on Friday.


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“Then we were told it would come at the beginning of the week. Then on Monday it all changed again. It's doing my head in!”

Mr Hehir has taken such a close interest in the battle for unitary status that it has become a personal crusade for him. Every twist and turn had him sweating - and by Monday afternoon I was getting very concerned about his health!

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On Friday I was having a coffee with a councillor and his phone went of in the middle of it; “Yes, Jim. No, Jim. Just relax over the weekend, Jim!” was all I heard. I got the gist of the conversation!

I understand he was also on the phone several times to Chris Mole desperately trying to get an indication of what the decision might be.

When the news did come through Mr Hehir couldn't keep a lid on his enthusiasm: “This is the best thing to happen to Ipswich since we won the UEFA Cup!” he told me.

I just hope that he is now really enjoying the moment, that he has been able to relax over the last couple of days and reflect on a job well done.

Of course the final decision has not been made and there could well be many more anxious days and hours between now and the final decision in July.

But for those of us who believe it is right for Ipswich to run its own affairs, it is good to know that the campaign is being led from the front by someone who is really passionate about what could be a fairly dry subject.

His enthusiasm for the project might not be good for Mr Hehir's health, but I can't help feeling that it has had a big part to play in this week's great news.

WHILE there have been great celebrations at Grafton House, across Russell Road county council bosses in Endeavour House were left licking their wounds.

They immediately started talking about how much reorganisation might cost - even though the borough has done its sums and worked out how to pay for the change - and started behaving like Eeyore with a sore head.

But why on earth do they persist in rubbishing the borough bid? Why do they continue to insist that no one else could run services in the town as well as them?

Why on earth are the leading councillors at the county (representing divisions in Kersey, Hoxne, Euston, fields around Stowmarket, Felixstowe, more fields around Stowmarket, Martlesham, and Debenham) so desperate to retain power in Ipswich?

If the administration doesn't think the town is important enough to have a councillor from Ipswich on the executive, why is it so important to run services here?

I was asked recently by a county councillor: “Why are you and others in Ipswich so desperate to break away from the county council?”

I was tempted to reply: “If you have to ask, you just don't get it!”

Having been born and brought up in rural Suffolk and having lived in Ipswich for the last 22 years, I have to say there is a great difference between living in the town and countryside.

You can come to the town every day to work, but until you actually live in the place you cannot really understand how different the needs of Ipswich are to those of Leiston, Stowmarket, or Woodbridge.

I have no doubt that members of the current cabinet genuinely believe they are doing their best for the town. I can't believe they have a desperate need to cling on to power.

The best option for everyone would be for the county to accept the situation with grace and start talking to the borough about separating the services.

The county has done a good job for Ipswich over the years, but the town is now expanding so fast in a way that is totally different to the rest of the county that it needs to have its own focus.

Rather than just dismissing the district's bid, it would have advisable for those with their hands on the levers of power at Endeavour House to talk to those who represent the people of Ipswich and find out why every single one of them wanted the borough to breakaway.

Every county councillor from the town wanted the borough's unitary bid to succeed - whether they were Labour, Liberal Democrat or Tory.

Before the county's leaders were quite so negative about the proposal it would have been wise for them to talk to their colleagues and find out why the town feels the need to break away.

It's all very good to look in from the outside and say: “We can do better than you could,” but there comes a time when you just have to stand back and let the town plough its own furrow.

It was my birthday on Tuesday and colleagues surprised me with a cake - which was soon devoured by all! Poor Neil Puffett who delivered the cake had to walk so slowly to save the many candles from blowing out and the editor made a little speech.

I was lost for words for once!

So much for any diet I thought I was on, but at least I can channel my good intentions from Friday when Spring Into Summer 2007 starts, with a host of new recruits.

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