What is it with young people today, jumping about and running around collecting shed loads of gold medals and things… It wouldn’t have happened in my day. Indeed it didn’t, so congratulations to all our Olympians for a most amazing effort and for all the hard work and dedication that preceded the events. Opportunities for, and encouragement of, sport have greatly increased in the last couple of decades – thanks to John Major for getting that particular ball rolling by dedicating part of the income from his National Lottery to sports development. Thanks also to Blair (and you’ve no idea how much it pains me to say that) for picking up that ball and running with it by making two hours per week of compulsory sport a part of the National Curriculum. No thanks however to Gove, to wring a bit more life out of this clapped-out metaphor, who promptly kicked the ball into touch by cutting £165 million of supposedly ring fenced funding for school sports and restarting the sell-off of school playing fields. The fact that the Curse of Cameron meant that every athlete he went to support immediately lost is an extra misfortune. Enjoy the post-Olympic euphoria – if this government has its way it won’t last.
Government parsimony is also responsible for the threat that hangs over our wonderful CoastHopper bus service. Like it or not, tourism is this area’s major industry and source, directly or indirectly of most local employment. An essential part of our tourism infrastructure is the half hourly bus service along the coast from Cromer to King’s Lynn. This service regularly carries in excess of 500,000 passengers a year. A little over half those passengers are card-carrying Old Fogies like me. And therein lies the problem – the County has to reimburse the bus company, Norfolk Green, and in turn it is supposed to receive money from the government. As has been stated here on previous occasions, the government under paid by about £4.5 million last year and the likelihood is there will be a similar underpayment this year too; thus the County has to salami slice its grant allocation to rural bus services to match the money available. Next year this is going to badly affect the CoastHopper service.
A meeting was held recently, called by our MP Norman Lamb, to look at possible remedies, predictably without coming to any useful conclusions. Options such as making people pay a flat rate fare, for pass-holders to pay half fare, for those whose pass was issued outside Norfolk (the majority) to pay half fare, and so on, were mooted but most of these ideas would be either difficult to operate or would require primary legislation to enact. Since the “problem” is mostly caused by people from outside Norfolk it seems only reasonable that the extra funding should largely come from outside Norfolk too: in other words from general taxation. The government should meet its obligation to refund the full cost of using passes – as required by the original legislation, or play the Nasty Party and abolish the passes altogether – and suffer the electoral consequences.
As if fighting the government was not bad enough, the Parish Council also has to fight residents of this village, or at least those greedy ones who seek to grab large chunks of parish land for their own exclusive use and, no doubt, to boost the value of their properties. The unregistered land at Hillside has been attacked in this way on more than one occasion by people who claim to own it, or who claimed to have squatted it for the required number of years. The land in question was ‘waste of the manor’ so long as that term had any legal meaning (essentially until the 1965 Registration of Commons Act) so only the Lord of the Manor had any claim. For an adjoining owner to claim his or her family has owned that land for “many years” is just plain fantasy.
Whoever was leading the Parish Council in the late 1960s must have been sleepwalking as they failed to register the common land within the parish boundaries, as required by the 1965 Act. They even failed to register the village green, leaving it to the District Council to push it through just before the deadline. We now have to try and pick up the pieces and make good the errors of our predecessors, in this case by ourselves registering all the unregistered land in the parish. The difference is that we will do it for the benefit of everyone, not for selfish personal motives.
Parish councils are treated by government agencies much as farmers treat mushrooms – keep ’em in the dark and every now and then throw a bucket of muck over them (OK, old gag, but apposite) – so it is only recently that it has dawned on us that most of the Police reports of “domestic” altercations, assaults, drunkenness and anti-social behaviour – not to mention the cannabis farm – all stemmed from a handful of houses in one road on the edge of the village. There is a perception, rightly or wrongly, that the NNDC is using the few remaining houses owned by Victory Housing Trust as a dumping ground for “problem” families. Placing people with need of support – whether from family or from Social Services – in rural villages a long way from either does no-one any favours, especially when things go wrong. Anyone still wondering why there was an Air-Sea Rescue helicopter clattering around early on a Sunday morning recently could no doubt put two and two together and realise that this was not unconnected with just such a family. Such matters are way outside the competence of a Parish Council to deal with, so the matter has been passed up the line.
Whatever happened to the good old Silly Season when newspapers were so desperate for something to fill their blank pages they would resort to frying eggs on the pavement? Having a normal Parish Council meeting, like the one on Tuesday 4 September will seem like an anticlimax after all this excitement.