There'll be tears and falling out

WE'RE now more than a week into the brave new world at Civic Centre - but we're still waiting to see any significant changes in policy from the new Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition.

WE'RE now more than a week into the brave new world at Civic Centre - but we're still waiting to see any significant changes in policy from the new Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition.

But what their senior members have said over the last few days have made me scratch my head - and I can't help thinking there's going to be some tears and falling-out over the next few months.

And frankly the new administration is falling into exactly the same trap as we became familiar with during the previous regime.

Put bluntly they say one thing but mean another.

I was at the meeting earlier this week when the future of the Corn Exchange and other leisure venues was discussed.

New leisure portfolio holder Judy Terry stressed that the new administration hadn't formulated its policies yet - but then gave a pledge that the Corn Exchange would remain under council control.

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That's not approaching the question with an open mind.

What is the difference between saying "We'll look at all the options but retaining the Corn Exchange is sacrosanct," and "We'll look at all the options but the Regent must remain open?"

What on earth is the point in looking at a report into the future of arts and leisure in the town if you've already decided what you're going to do?

When the Regent was discussed, all we seem to hear about is the amount it costs council tax payers - albeit prefaced by a comment that no one wants to see it closed.

There seems to be a belief that there are commercial businesses out there who would be happy to come in, maintain the building and present hundreds of shows a year at a reasonable price for customers.

I'm sorry, but that's just not realistic. Look at the Spa Pavilion in Felixstowe which is run by Clear Channel Entertainment.

Clear Channel is paid an annual fee by Suffolk Coastal to promote shows there - and the fabric of the building is still the responsibility of the council.

There are many sound reasons for getting a commercial company to come in and run the Regent - but no one should be in any doubt that there will still be a cost for council taxpayers . . . unless it is closed altogether.

I can't help feeling that the new administration's arts and leisure strategy must be provoking a lot of arguments - we've been promised a sight of it "within two or three weeks" ever since the June elections, and that's still the reply we get!

I'm also waiting to see how the new administration gets to grips with the equally thorny subject of Ipswich's roads and in particular access to the dock and Waterfront.

The Conservative leadership has never made any secret of the fact that it favours the construction of the hugely-controversial east bank link.

They've been keen to tell us how wonderful it is that a private developer would be happy to build the road - even if the pay-off is that we'd also get a huge new retail park overlooking the River Orwell.

But the Conservatives don't control the two portfolios involved: environment and transport; economic development and planning.

They are in the hands of Liberal Democrats Inga Lockington and Richard Atkins.

They're very circumspect about the question of new roads - saying all the options will have to be investigated and there will need to be talks with everyone concerned.

But I really can't see the Liberal Democrats, who have built a reputation as the greenest of the main parties, being happy about giving the go-ahead to a new road which is opposed by most people in the environmental lobby.

It's also a project which is opposed by Mrs Lockington and her colleagues at County Hall.

How on earth can the Conservative and Liberal Democrat positions on this issue be reconciled?

Will new council leader Dale Jackson be prepared to accept the LibDem policy on roads? Or will he try to use his party's numerical strength to back an east bank link?

If that happened would the LibDems be able to stay in the coalition - especially if the question alienates their environmentally-minded voters?

My own suspicion is that the question will be kicked into the long grass and we'll hear as little as possible about the subject over the next 18 months before the next borough elections.