Sometimes ‘boring’ is good. Following an uneventful meeting I was facing the prospect of having to write a thousand words on nothing very much at all – how unusual – when Mother Nature decided to throw a wobbly and gave us the worst surge tide for sixty years. A deep depression over the North Sea allowed the sea level to rise while the gale force northerly winds associated with it pushed the water inexorably southwards. As it was already a spring tide the combined effect was a surge of about 5 metres height. That’s higher than the West and Wiveton banks which were duly overtopped converting the Blakeney freshes and the Cley Reserve into washlands. At its peak the water was lapping against the houses on the Coast Road – and will have flooded any that were not protected by flood boards and sandbags – but no physical damage to buildings seems to have been done this time. The main part of the village was, as expected, totally unaffected thanks to our wonderful new(ish) bank and tide gate which is designed to withstand an onslaught even worse than 1953. The big new sluices installed when the Environment Agency stopped bulldozing the beach seem to have done their trick and most of the water is now off the Reserve; the Blakeney side will take rather longer I expect. But they will have to get their bulldozers out again this time as half of the beach is currently in the carpark.
The East Coast was all set for its 15 minutes of fame as journalists and politicians crawled all over the place, some of them even asking sensible questions about flood defences, but then Nelson Mandela died and suddenly we were back on page 20 fighting for space with adverts for laxatives. Fickle Fate. Not that Mandela didn’t richly deserve the fuss that was made of him in death, of course.
For several days the only traffic on the A149 was a seal heading back to Blakeney Point via the scenic route; reports say that most of the seal pups survived the onslaught without human intervention. It is good the way these wild animals are cherished here, a stark contrast to the Canadian Arctic where pups are clubbed to death because some vain idiot wants to wear white fur.
All right, so there was a Parish Council meeting a couple of days before. At the meeting we formally adopted Louise Stevens as our Clerk and Responsible Financial Officer which is good news indeed, not least for me. As all our projects seem to be in temporary limbo it was convenient that our District and County councillors had something to say – without them it would have been a very short report indeed.
David Young, our District councillor, announced that the NNDC was joining the exodus from the Coop Bank. What was hitherto a worthy and ethical mutual bank has fallen into the clutches of toxic US hedge funds and account holders are heading for the door in droves. There has been much criticism lately (though not from Cllr Young) of the alleged failings of the bank’s inexperienced exChairman but when you think of the damage that has been caused by experienced bankers… Councillor Young also said that the NNDC has decided to keep car park charges the same for another year; so that’s still just an arm and half a leg then.
The NNDC’s new Housing Allocation policy was introduced as from 18 October. This has reduced the waiting list to around one thousand by the simple expedient of throwing off three quarters of the old list. Smart move. Do it again and you’ve solved the housing problem – if you ignore the thousands of inadequately housed people in North Norfolk. One of the selling points of the new policy was that it would somehow strengthen local links, except that priority would be given, not unreasonably, to those in most urgent need of housing regardless of their connections. As around half of the people on the list are in this priority band – and as there are only around 400 vacancies a year – the local element in allocations will not be very noticeable. The government has stated that it wants to see a new home replacing every one sold under the right-to-buy: they can’t want it very much as currently the national ratio is 1:7.
County Councillor Mike Baker reported that the new regime at Norwich was about to replace the ‘cabinet’ system with a more traditional committee based system which is arguably more democratic. He gave us an update on the King’s Lynn incinerator project the plans for which have been called in by the Minister – none other than old Humpty Numpty himself – who might well reverse the refusal of the County Council. This whole matter is a mess. The previous regime were so keen to push the project through – in the teeth of fierce opposition from a clear majority of the local population – that they allowed some idiot to sign a contract with the private contractor which included the payment of £20 million in penalties in the event of cancellation – and this long before planning consent had even been sought.
Apart from the fact that it is idiotic to expect profit-driven corner cutters to deliver the first class public services that taxpayers want, the disparity in resources between the contracting parties means that the public invariably ends up being shafted. Another example of this is the negotiation of franchise agreements on our fragmented and privatised railway system where third rate civil servants from the Department for Transport have to do battle with squadrons of highly paid corporate lawyers – a David and Goliath battle which Goliath always wins. Anybody who still believes that privatisation and outsourcing are a good idea has clearly been spending too much time with the fairies.
No fairies at the next meeting of Cley Parish Council which will be held on Tuesday 7 January 2014 at 7.30pm in the Village Hall Club Room. That should give enough time to recover from the seasonal hangover.
News has just come in that our wonderful local bus company, Norfolk Green, operators of the CoastHopper service, has been taken over. The new owner is the “vampire squid” of public transport, Stagecoach. Change is afoot and I very much doubt it will be change for the better.