Parish councils do stop development

OVER the Christmas period, I had to check the date when I read about reports that the government is planning to give more power to parish and town councils.

OVER the Christmas period, I had to check the date when I read about reports that the government is planning to give more power to parish and town councils.

Could they really be suggesting more power is given to parishes - or was it an early April Fool joke?

Everything this government has ever done suggests it is more interested in taking power into larger organisations rather than smaller ones - and frankly most parish councils don't have the expertise to decide anything more taxing than when to cut the grass on the village bowling green!

I know I have upset organisations by my comments over parish councils in the past - and only a week ago I was accused of having a “metropolitan-mind” over my criticisms of the delaying tactics often employed by parish councils to prevent development.

As someone who was born on a farm and spent the first 27 years of my life living in small towns and villages in Suffolk before moving to the “metropolis” of Ipswich, I do feel that I have some knowledge of rural life.

I've come across many parish and town councillors over the years, and almost without exception they've been very nice people whose motivation is what they see as the best interest of their community.

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Unfortunately far too many of them don't really understand the communities they try to represent.

When I was born my home village had a school, two shops, two pubs, a church and a chapel.

Now there is one pub - kept alive by summer visitors and some nearby holiday homes - no shops, no school, the chapel has been converted into a house and the church now shares its vicar with four other parishes.

Back in the 1950s a group of 12 council houses was built. All but one of these have since been sold to their tenants, some of whom have sold them on to other people prepared to pay huge prices to live in rural Suffolk.

Attempts to build more small homes have been frustrated by local planners, led by parish councillors who didn't want to see 25-home development which might “swamp” the village.

The parish council is dominated by retired people who have moved into the area and want it to stay the same as it was when they paid huge sums for their pretty homes.

I would love to see Suffolk's villages become places where everyone can live - not just solicitors commuting to Ipswich and retired company directors who have moved out of Surrey.

But to do that they have to be allowed to evolve into the 21st century - and I don't think parish councils are the best organisations to drive their communities into the future.

I'M not a great fan of “whole life” tariffs for even the most serious of crimes - if you remove the hope of release for a prisoner, you remove a major incentive for them to behave.

Put bluntly, if there is no hope of release anyway, what incentive is there not to attack a prison officer or another inmate?

However there are a few people whose crimes are so horrendous that society needs to be protected from them for the rest of their lives. Surely David McGreavy fits into that category. He was jailed 31 years ago for the brutal murder of three young children in Worcester.

McGreavy was babysitting the children when he killed them and impaled them on an iron railing.

Now he has been allowed out of prison on unescorted trips to his home city of Liverpool. McGreavy's actions were so appalling and irrational that there can be no guarantee he will not re-offend.

In that circumstance people like him should never be released to wander free in society.

If society feels psychopaths like McGreavy have completed their punishment then there is no reason why they should not enjoy a comfortable life - but that comfortable life must remain in a secure environment to ensure that they never again pose a threat to children or anyone else.

TODAY Suffolk County Council is starting to tell its staff about the cost-cutting plans it is preparing to implement to meet government spending targets.

There has been talk of job losses stretching into three figures - but opposition leaders are convinced that the administration is “over-cooking” the problem.

One senior Labour councillor told me: “The new administration wants to be seen to be acting tough, and we fear that they have been going around making all these comments about job losses for that reason.

“We haven't seen the figures so we can't say that for sure - but if there are 150 posts declared surplus there shouldn't be any problem in dispersing people to similar posts in the organisation given that there are hundreds of people leaving the county council every year.”

The problem for the county council, of course, is that whatever happens its staff will become anxious - it's not just those who lose their own jobs who worry when employment changes are on the agenda.

It will be interesting to see just how many people leave the council compulsorily as a result of budget changes - if the opposition is right that number could well turn out to zero.

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