Post mortem time. Not literally – except perhaps in the case of the Blakeney Freshes – but time for an analysis of what has been an all too eventful winter. District Councillor David Young reported that the NNDC was budgeting for a surplus of over half a million pounds despite a reduction of 2.7% in central government funding. He did not divulge just how many sacred cows would have to be slaughtered to achieve this end. Presumably flood defence work would not be one of them especially in the light of Cameron’s recent “money is no object” claim, though that might only apply to the Thames Valley where, for once, it’s the affluent in the effluent. Claim forms for EDP Flood Appeal money are available with claims for homes possibly up to £2,000 and businesses up to £1,000, with elderly residents and young families given priority. Second homes, vehicles and insured items excluded.
Councillor Young had had meetings with Steve Hayman of the Environment Agency who, not entirely by chance, had agreed to address our Parish Council meeting. His presence was likely the reason why we ran out of chairs. He reported that the breaches in the shingle bank near Salthouse had, as expected, sealed themselves; the breaches in the Cley West bank had been repaired but there remained some score or so breaches between Cley and Blakeney that have not been touched pending a policy review. Repairs would cost about £1 million. Various EU Habitat Directives and the fact that the bank is also part of the Long Distance Footpath might help persuade the Treasury to cough up, but don’t hold your breath. Do, however, support the Blakeney PC campaign to save the Freshes by signing petitions, ‘liking’ on Facebook, ‘favouriting’ on Twitter, or by the age-old method of tying a note around a brick and heaving it through a window in Downing Street.
Mr Hayman was reminded that, though the main Cley bank held, it came perilously close to being overtopped on its west flank by Marsh Lane. The EA’s priority is the protection of people and their homes and that money may be found for flood proofing vulnerable properties on a house-by-house basis. On the subject of funding, we trust NNDC won’t adopt the policy of a Tory council in Dorset which has been charging residents £7.50 each for sandbags. That’s £7.50 for each sandbag. It’s cheaper at B&Q, or indeed Bakers.
We also had a talk by Flt Lt Pettit from RAF Marham who brought us up to date on the helicopter crash aftermath. He was at pains to assure us that all the ammunition had been recovered, most of the fuel likewise, and that it was expected that the site will have fully recovered in eighteen months; progress would be monitored by a USAF environment team. By that time the enquiry into the cause of the crash should have reached a proper conclusion – I say ‘proper’ because, back in the day, the default position with the UK Air Ministry, unless there was overwhelming evidence to the contrary, was to cry “pilot error” – many fine, but conveniently dead, pilots had their reputations traduced that way. No doubt the USAF is more enlightened. Flt Lt Pettit thanked the residents of Cley for their support and their patience during the tricky recovery period. In the unlikely event anyone needs to claim for damage to property they should contact Paul Smith on 01480 452451 ext 3183. Claims for loss of earnings should be addressed to Sarah Richards or Anita Eastlake on 0207 218 1842 ext 3545.
The thorny problem of getting the C306 Holt Road gritted on cold nights came up again. Councillor High has been collating the statistics: in 2010 there were three accidents, in 2011 there were five, in 2012 seven and in 2013 there were six. So far in 2014, despite an almost total lack of ice, there have been two. It’s a dangerous road and people should drive accordingly. The County Council has had its budget squeezed by an eye-watering £189 million so is in no position to extent its road gritting programme – indeed it is having to fight to keep doing what it does do. So, if you can, take a detour via the gritted Glandford-Letheringsett road; if you can’t then drive very carefully. If, despite all your care, you should still find yourself in the ditch, remember it was the Bankers that put you there.
An item for discussion at the next meeting is the provision of a Portaloo toilet in the Village Hall car park over the summer holiday period. We did this a couple of times about six years ago and it proved to be a well-used facility so we are minded to do it again this summer. In the meantime the Village Hall committee has floated the idea of making its toilets available to the public. Obviously the kitchen and hall doors would have to be kept locked, and there would be the possibility of vandalism as there are some funny people around in the summer. Another worry is that it would add to the burden of the lady who cleans the hall. Your views would be welcomed.
Sometimes I find myself at loggerheads with some or all of my fellow councillors. Recently one of our number took it upon himself to destroy several inoffensive shrubs growing in the Old Post Office Loke on the spurious grounds that there was nothing growing there when he took that route on his way to school and so there should be nothing there now. That loke is, or was, a delightful blaze of colour in the summer and much loved by the tourists who are our lifeblood and I will do my best to maintain that attraction. Otherwise I may have to reconsider my position on the council. It’s that serious.