Saturday, 7 February 2009

Look what they done to my town Ma...

I am beginning to feel despair that my home town of Halesworth, and the county of Suffolk in general, has taken a turn for the worse. Until recently I was very positive about its potential. Things like The New Cut arts centre opening and the Latitude Festival and even the Prime Minister's holiday were seen by me as signs of an improvement in the quality of life locally and that the prospects for my children were getting brighter. Even though reports state that extreme rural poverty exists in north east Suffolk, evidence abounded that Halesworth's charms were being discovered by others attracting investment. I even cheered the thought that Waitrose would be coming to nearby Saxmundham since John Lewis has bought the Somerfield store there.

Now, after too many assaults on my sensibilities, with several issues needing urgent opposition all at once and competing with each other for public protest and vigilance, I am despondent that elected officials of every stripe appear to be letting me down. Waveney is an
under performing council and I fear if this all comes to pass, Halesworth could soon become a prime contender for The Idler's 'Crap Towns'.

Not in any particular order:

Plans for 340,000 chickens to be
intensively farmed at Thorington have been approved. Nobody can tell me these birds won't stink. My own chickens stink. Chicken farms account for 17% of environmental complaints resulting from agriculture. I regularly travel past several poultry farms and they all stink, even from miles away. The smell will probably reach me when the wind is from that direction. Then there's the threat to surface and ground water from chicken manure and litter. Of course precautions will be taken and systems put in place to manage and treat the effluent, blah de bloody blah, but, as we have seen many times, inspection and certification systems can fail. These risks can be managed by complex and expensive methods but not totally eradicated. With millions of Bernard Matthews birds nearby (see below) we only increase the chances of this area becoming a avian flu factory. I know indirectly the people behind this plan and although they are what you would call "good people"; the court proceedings from the very small proportion who have been prosecuted for agricultural pollution (rather more indicating lax enforcement than fewer perpetrators) shows that waste management compliance decreases as cost pressures increase.

closure of Middle Schools. This is a complete upheaval of my children's education. The best teachers are already leaving the affected schools and the County Council is rather tight lipped about the fate of the Halesworth Middle School playing field. This concerns the town council but they are powerless on education matters. It's obvious to a blind bat that this open space will be sold off to a developer to pay for this wicked plan. The only acceptable use of that open space is one the County Council can't raise money with. It's idiotic to increase the hundreds of children travelling every day to Bungay High when there are more children in Halesworth than Bungay. If Suffolk wants to be green about transport, surely the smaller population of Bungay children should be coming to Halesworth.

Besides, I don't recall any parents ever complaining about the three-tier system either. Throughout the whole process the council have promised consultations yet those consultations haven't made a jot of difference. Those in the know that I know tell me it's a foregone conclusion. It has to be by now if its going to be implemented according to the promised schedule. Parents are fatigued enough and although there have been protests, this kind of protester is easy to divide and conquer and dis-courage. But fight on we will! If the credit crunch thwarts this it will be a blessing in disguise.

Bernard Matthews' Wind Farm. I am all for wind power but 400 foot high wind turbines to power turkey sheds brings no benefit to the community. It's not power for the people but to warm a lot of intensively reared meat that I don't want to buy or eat. Bernie's PR machine is using green arguments to ensure he can continue with a totally unsustainable practise. I find it galling he brands his turkey fillets 'Big Green Tick'. There's nothing green about them unless you keep them past their sell by date.

As for the ongoing effluent problems and smells from intensive poultry farming and processing and the risks of another bird flu outbreak see above. Around here, lazy children get told that if they don't apply themselves to their lessons they'll end up at Bernies. People in Halesworth are very leery of openly criticizing Bernard Matthews as local jobs used to depend on him (and with a net worth somewhere around £300M his lawyer can beat up your lawyer) but if he shut up shop in Holton tomorrow, I doubt anyone would really care except Lowestoft's buy-to-let landlords, the pound shops and the Portuguese workers bussed in every day who now make up 30% of his 6000 person workforce. I'll miss their coffee shops and pasteis de nata but that's a small price I'll pay.

There have been long running complaints to the Holton Parish Council about smells from Bernies but I gather that if you complain to Environmental Health, you have to declare that or it becomes public record when you sell your house which has made sure a lot of people remain silent. Bernie can buy friends in one parish by letting a museum use a building and the only opposing voice in another parish was a councillor who believes a nuclear power station at Holton over a wind farm is a rational alternative!

Bernie recently ran an ad campaign claiming his staff were proud all his turkeys were 100% British born and bred, unlike his staff of course.I'll spare discourse on what that actually means in product marketing terms, not a lot really, and so what does he grow at his Hungarian and Brazilian farms then? His website has revolving banner ads of his employees saying "I'm proud to work at Bernard Matthews". None of the workers making that claim were named Joao or Costanca though and there were also many testimonials by African-Americans during the civil rights era that they were perfectly happy with Jim Crow too. Bernie's PR campaigns are style without substance and designed to diffuse, deflect and obfuscate.

My opposition is nothing personal or directed at Bernard Matthews in particular, it's just that intensive meat production and processing is not the way forward. Why don't they grow some tomatoes there instead and put them on trains instead of trucks, like when London's food markets were supplied by the East Suffolk line with fish from Lowestoft docks and milk from Halesworth dairy.

Nuclear Power: First there was Sizewell A, then B,
now plans are afoot for C. Then D and....? Do we really have to sell out future generations for tens of thousands of years for the sake of five hundred jobs? I reluctantly agree there is some role for nuclear power but we must do everything we can to improve efficiency and exhaust every alternative first. And, if it's so safe as 'they' claim, nuclear power stations should be in the middle of cities so the population that depends on them lives with the consequences in a fair proportion of use and responsibility.

flooding of Blythburgh. There's a lot of bad karma in the river and sea defences arising from the actions taken during their building centuries ago by selfish landowners - detailed in Rachel Lawrence's 'Southwold River' - which have been maintained by the public purse until recently. But there is very important infrastructure there now and letting the sea flood the marshland around Walberswick and Dunwich will also have a devastating impact further inland. Now we are being promised improvements to the A12 to prevent the flooding closing it but this money will probably come at the expense of something else. Several villages desperately need bypasses and there should be more cycle routes.

The Tesco Battle. If not Tesco, then ASDA or something worse like Budgens or Lidl will eventually arrive in Halesworth. Despite a recent makeover, the Co-operative store still needs to up its game. Its failure creates the demand its rivals are keen to fulfil. Locals want an alternative which is why I support the idea of a Waitrose nearby. At the top of my ethical supermarket scale (I realise it is an oxymoron) is the Co-operative Society, then John Lewis. Running in the middle of the pack is Sainsburys. At the bottom sits Tesco and ASDA aka Wal-Mart whose low prices come at high costs.

The Beccles Loop: Enabling more than one train every two hours in each direction between Saxmundham and Lowestoft. We had a dual track railway line until 1984 but to save money one track was torn up. Now it will take over £12M to reinstate just one mile at Beccles so trains can pass and double the line's capacity. It's long promised but I'll give four to one we soon hear it's a victim of the credit crunch.

Anyone with news of any positive signs is welcome to post here. I am looking for them, believe me.

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