Tunnel vision for planners

AS 2003 starts, isn't it depressing to see that an imaginative idea for Ipswich seems to have got bogged down in a bureaucratic mire.The proposal to develop a new home for Whitton United FC seems to have got stuck in the long grass.

AS 2003 starts, isn't it depressing to see that an imaginative idea for Ipswich seems to have got bogged down in a bureaucratic mire.

The proposal to develop a new home for Whitton United FC seems to have got stuck in the long grass. It's almost as if "joined up government" doesn't exist!

If you've missed the story so far, here's a resumé: Whitton United wants to move from its current home beside Bury Road to a new site a few hundred yards away on the opposite side of the Old Norwich Road.

Frankly it looks like a win-win situation. Ipswich, which badly needs space for more new homes, gets another 13 acres.

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The football club sells its 13-acre site and is able to buy another 23-acre site, develop more pitches and still have some money put away in the bank.

And we're constantly being told about how we're overproducing in agriculture – here's some agricultural land being put to a new, green, use providing more leisure facilities on the edge of town.

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But planners in both Civic Centre and Mid Suffolk council offices don't see it like that.

At Civic Centre they're worried that developing the existing pitch will lead to the loss of a local amenity – the new site will be too far away for people from Whitehouse to walk to.

How out of touch can you get! Virtually no one walks to the ground from the Whitehouse estate now anyway – and if anyone does fancy a stroll there, they're unlikely to be put off by having to walk an extra 400 metres or so.

They also worry that development will destroy an "attractive" gateway into Ipswich.

Attractive? I really can't see drivers and passengers sitting in the queues waiting to get into Norwich Road looking through the high chain-link fence thinking: "Gosh, what an attractive football pitch; we're so glad we were held up here by the lights to marvel at its beauty!"

And then, of course, there's the argument that because the new site would be the wrong side of the borough boundary, effectively Ipswich would be losing a playing field and not gaining anything.

To be able to sustain that argument is like suggesting that there's an iron curtain surrounding Ipswich – either that or you have to have really strong blinkers.

The fact is that the proposal would see a larger sports field with better facilities come to the edge of the town – and the vast majority of people who go there will still drive whichever side of the Old Norwich Road the field is.

Mid Suffolk planners, too, need to look at their blinkers.

Apparently they're worried about the loss of agricultural land and the "urbanisation" of a rural area.

That's daft! It's not a rural area, it's on the edge of Ipswich – the site is next to the Whitton Sports Centre.

What is needed is for the planners from both authorities to get their heads together and look at both proposals together – one is dependent on the other, after all.

Surely these people must have enough common sense to see that taken in the round these applications are worth a good look – and should not just be dismissed because they can't see past their own boundaries.

WILL 2003 be the year it all changes at County Hall in Suffolk?

My spies tell me that it's going to be make-or-break time for the Lib Dems as part of the ruling coalition.

The local elections in May, when district and borough councillors across Suffolk, could be the catalyst for a hiatus at County Hall.

If the Lib Dems do well in Babergh, where they have ambitions of forming an administration without the need to worry about independents or any other parties, then they could put pressure on their colleagues on the County Council.

A growing number of party members in South Suffolk feel that is their best chance of winning a parliamentary seat in the county – but that can only happen if they cease to be part of the ruling coalition in County Hall.

With just two members on the executive there, they feel it would be better to pull out of the coalition, while still supporting the Labour administration in most votes in full council meetings.

That way, when the next general election campaign starts, the Lib Dems will be able to turn their fire on Labour in South Suffolk without being accused of being "in bed" with them at County Hall.

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