Happy New Year, Sunny Colch.
Anyone fancy celebrating by reading a blog post all about the SEXY Local Plan Committee?
No worries. It’s not just the political intrigue within the Town Hall that has kept us on our toes throughout 2015.
We’ve found the time to appreciate some art, attend Arts Centre gigs and get sloshed in Castle Park whilst watching cricket.
It has been a largely positive year for the town with plenty of people showing enthusiasm and ideas as to what can be achieved for the future.
Sadly the workings of CBC have sometimes meant that these initiatives haven’t quite been able to meet their full potential.
We still have many issues to resolve if we want to be thought of as a genuinely ‘progressive’ town – whatever that might mean.
Vineyard Gate, the AWOL Cultural Quarter and yep, bloody Jumbo still dominate the local landscape.
But you can’t build Rome in a day, as our predecessors underneath those layers of High Street rubble eventually found out.
There have been some ACE micro local moves that have more than made up for the macro inertia.
The Big Screen at Castle Park over the summer was a huge success. Ditto the two day Free Festival and the continued ability of the Arts Centre, the Mercury and the Minories to continue to champion our town.
2015 for The Chronic was dominated by the local and general elections that took place in May. It will be a case of deja vu in less than five months time when the game of political musical chairs will be played out once again at the Charter Hall.
What follows is how The Chronic has been observing and documenting some of the events that have taken place around our town over the past twelve months.
As ever, this summary is far from exhaustive. We continue with our plea to develop an informal network of local blogs that can each find their own identity as they go about documenting our town.
Shoulders back, keep on walking towards the Sunny Colch sun…
January Street traders, strategic plans & public toilets
February firstsite folly, Wonderhouse & Magna Carta motion
March Free meals, farewells and revolutions
April Double dippers, runners and riders & Anthony Roberts at firstsite
May Mercury hustings, election counts & Cabinet with no Mandate
June firstsite re-launch, re-emergence of Sir Bob & AWOL poppies
July People’s Assembly, Will Quince at PMQ’s & Winter Wonderland
August Cricket at Castle Park, Free Festival & Sport For All
September Park and Ride, AWOL Creative Business Centre
October #daphnegate witch hunt, Wivenhoe Cycle Path & firstsite Open
November Sir Bob at Cabinet & costly Dedham and Langham by-election
December Tollgate trouble – oh dear…
We started the New Year with a look at the changes in employment status at the University. Our FoI showed that 51 staff were employed on an hourly rate in September 2013. This number jumped to 111 in September 2014. The University put this increase down to the change of the employment status of housekeepers from the University to Campus Services Ltd.
CBC then submitted a planning application to shift the market to the High Street. Key here was the use of the word market, rather than street traders. This issue would become politicised ahead of the election, eventually leading to a resolution come the close of 2015.
Meanwhile out in the parishes and we first got a whiff in January of the bad stench coming out of the CBC plan to flog off public toilets to local Councils. Poo. Wot a Stinker etc.
The financial settlement for the new local authority year confused us. We reported on how CBC would receive 0.42% MORE in central government funding for 2015 / 16 when compared to the previous year. The HIGHER! LOWER! analysis is all to do with how you interpret the figures. As ever, this is usually carried out under the analysis of a political agenda.
And then we went on a wander around the town to take some snaps. Which is a far better use of our time…
Sir Bob Russell [remember him?] took to his feet at PMQ’s back in January to ask the PM about improving the Greater Anglia rolling stock. His successor was asking the exact same Q almost 12 months later…
The Scrutiny Panel then scrutinised the 158 CBC document that made up the Strategic Plan for 2015 / 18.
We condensed it down to:
“Rich heritage, ambitious future.”
We still don’t know what it actually means, mind.
An interesting planning application then appeared, with boat building returning to the muddy banks of the Colne down at the Hythe. We weren’t the only ones to greet this news with a rather loud HURRAH!
The first Cabinet meeting of the New Year also saw the first Opposition performance from Conservative Cllr Dennis Willetts. It led to a rather long night in the Grand Jury Room…
We started our regular monitoring of the CBC Forward Plan in January. Of equal interest to the new projects, were the ones that seemed to have slipped down the back of the CBC settee. 2015 is when Vineyard Gate appeared to have gone AWOL.
We noticed that the University’s Knowledge Gateway appeared to have gone a little quiet, despite regular Full Council and Cabinet meets bigging up the recent addition to the Wivenhoe Park landscape. We slapped in an FoI, and found that only two units were in use.
Back in the chamber and Cllr Willetts was still finding his feet, if not his sense of timing. His Magna Carta motion was well intentioned, if in need of a little historical revisionism…
With the headlines elsewhere calling the END of firstsite, we instead looked at how there was no change whatsoever in the funding arrangement over the next twelve months following the Arts Council announcement. £2.4m was always going to be the figure ‘invested’ by the Arts Council in the Golden Goose over the next three years. It was a bloody good kick up the arse for firstsite though, following the CBC motion put forward by Cllr Will Quince.
We went out for a walk around the town with our BIG lens once again…
We spent the first of three charming, charming afternoons with Johnno Casson at the Arts Centre. The good news is that more Warm and Toasty afternoons are expected for 2016.
And then Woh. Wonderhouse. Where the chuffers did that come from? And what a …wonky name. For all the hype spunked out by CBC for the “new public facing facility“, the vision appears no nearer at the close of the year than it did at the start. We shall be watching those CBC Forward Plans throughout 2016…
More CBC Motions, more potato / potatoe: Cllr Tim Young wanted to rename the Hythe station Colchester Hythe station.
The February Full Council meeting that followed saw Andy Hamilton piss himself laughing through his firstsite Have Your Say rant. Plus the regular political bun fight between the Tories in Chelmsford and the WEIRD LibLab lot in Colchester.
Beware the IDES of March; beware the hit and miss photographer walking around town once again.
A Freedom of Information Request made by The Chronic then revealed that 2,864 free meals were snaffled by Cllr’s at Essex County Council during 2013/14.
A Twitter spat [arf!] followed later in the year with Cllr Tim Young, who claimed that his Comrades over in Chelmsford didn’t dine at the expense of the taxpayer. The timeline used by Tim was open to interpretation, but we gave him the benefit.
A lost evening was spent reading the Colchester Quarterly Economic Report. In summary: Sunny Colch appears to be emerging out of the economic downturn, but there are still some serious concerns about younger folk living in our patch.
— Tim Young (@Tim4Labour) March 7, 2015
A civic farewell for the three LibDem BIG hitters then followed. Sadly this was to be a final farewell for Cllr Martin Hunt, who died in December.
Cllr Hunt had one final attempt to overturn the ECC street lighting situation. Shark Eyes will be much missed at the Town Hall.
Cllr Will Quince then called an EGM of CBC to try and resolve the street traders situation. Some behind the scenes conversations took place between both sides, and the EGM was called off.
The Chronic attended a Revolutionary Festival up on campus – sorta… The Something Fierce exhibition was a reminder of the Essex radicalism. Five months later and that nice Jeremy Corbyn would make an appearance at Wivenhoe Park.
The March Cabinet meeting was dominated by the Culver Street traders ‘struggle’ – as articulated by the wannabe Tory MP. Funny old business, local politics.
The Local Government Boundary Commission finally published details of the changes for Sunny Colch. The headline news was a head cull of 60 to 51 Cllr’s, with all out elections in May 2016.
Back on the BIG TURN ON for our town and ECC was looking at gas lanterns on the first day of April.
Not so funny was a very carefully worded press release from firstsite announcing the departure of Director Matthew Rowe.
We returned to another of our FAVE themes: the CBC / ECC double dippers. We found that it can be quite a nice little earner if you are able to land a Cllr role on both Councils.
And then early April also brought the news that seasoned local election watchers had longed for: the publication of the runners and riders for the May local elections. FOUR CBC Cllr’s fancied their chances at being an MP. Only one was to be successful…
The tone for the forthcoming local and general election campaign was set when the Conservatives published details of their plans to withhold Council Tax benefit for anyone new to the town.
It was something of a confusing election campaign. With the local Tories trying to demonise any incomers, Will Quince focussed his campaign efforts on supporting the local street traders. The Comrades of the Colchester Labour party were left flat-footed.
And not for the first time.
— Colchester Chronicle (@ColchChronic) April 13, 2015
Meanwhile the Green campaign started to gather some momentum. We spent a Saturday afternoon at the Moot Hall, listening to the policies being put forward by March Goacher.
April also saw the ACE news that Anthony Roberts would be hot-footing it back and forth between the Arts Centre and firstsite, to take up his new role as Director. His mission was basically to save the arse of the Golden Goose, with the Arts Council demanding improvements.
We took some time out ahead of polling day to have a catch up with Cllr Nick Barlow before he stepped down as both a Cllr and a Cabinet member. It was a useful insight into the restrictions faced by CBC in trying to change things around the town.
The final hustings of the campaign took place on Worker’s Day at the Mercury Theatre. Sir Bob chose a Statesman of Sunny Colch approach. Will Quince argued the case for change. Mark Goacher of the Greens continued to grow in confidence.
And then there was Nu Labour’s Jordan.
The election count at Leisure World was pretty epic – in so much as a cold sports hall full of jostling local politicos watching pieces of paper being counted can ever be described as being epic.
You know how this one ended…
It was a WEIRD night to be honest. The TV screens kept on telling us of Tory successes throughout the country. But back in Sunny Colch and there was little indication of what was to come for the first four hours or so of the count.
And then around 2am, the LibDems just went AWOL and left the building. You knew then that the game was up. Will Quince arrived at the Charter Hall shortly after, with a well-staged guard of honour.
An incredibly deflated, and ultimately defeated Sir Bob made a dignified entrance just before Will Quince was declared the new MP for Sunny Colch. It was a tipping point in contemporary Colchester politics.
And then 10 hours later we headed back to the Charter Hall to do it all again, this time with the bit part players as the local election count took place.
Team Tory was in jubilant mood ahead of the first declaration. There was a sense that the Quince Factor might just push the local Conservative group over the line at the Town Hall.
The Tories gained four seats from the LibDems. Labour held their three seats, and the Highwoods Indie group held their one seat that was up for election.
Which left Cllr Willetts and his Conservative chums just four seats short of the magical 31 required to form an administration.
And guess who just happened to hold those magical four seats?
That would be the Highwood Indies, then.
It took a whole seven days for the WEIRD LibLabIndie coalition to divvy up the careerist Cabinet posts and run through the whole pantomime of a unified Cabinet once again.
And whaddya know – we do it all over again in May 2016.
Far more entertaining was the second Warm and Toasty Club over at the Arts Centre.
Back at the Town Hall and we found out that the new Leader of the local LibDems is NOT the new Leader of Colchester Borough Council. And neither is the Leader of the local Labour party, or even the Leader of the Highwoods and Stanway Independents.
The new Cabinet was then announced as Cllr Paul Smith, Cllr Annie Feltham, Cllr Bill Frame, Cllr Mark Cory and Cllr Dominic Graham.
Plus don’t forget the two careerist Comrades from the Colchester Labour Party in Cllr Tim Young and Cllr Tina Bourne.
And of course the Kingmaker in all of this, Cllr Beverley Oxford, taking up the Cabinet seat for the Highwoods indie lot after they failed to support the party with the largest number of Cllr’s.
With a new administration finally in place, we BOYCOTTED the hairy bollocks of Mayor Making [we were working…] but made it to the Town Hall in time to see which Cllr’s had blagged a Special Responsibility Allowance on the various committees.
The key policy for the Cabinet with No Mandate was then neatly summed up in a simple Microsoft Word venn diagram.
If only life was so simple…
Cabinet then considered holding Council meetings at the public transport unfriendly venue of the Community Stadium.
— Colchester Chronicle (@ColchChronic) June 3, 2015
Back at Rowan House and the first meeting of the Cabinet with No Mandate saw the poxy party politics resume. With Will Quince doing the MP thing over in Westminster, the Cabinet members took easy pot shots at the out of town MP.
Plus the Love Me I’m a Liberal lot tried to claim the credit for picking up on the Conservative initiative of bringing the Tower of London poppies to Castle Park.
— Will Quince MP (@willquince) June 3, 2015
The love for firstsite in the town surfaced once again on a gloriously balmy Sunny Colch Friday evening back in June. Truth be told, and it never really went away. It’s just that the Golden Goose sometimes played VERY hard to get.
— Esther Feltham (@eyespeakdesign) June 12, 2015
The grand re-opening under the guidance of Anthony Roberts saw more than 2,000 turning up to celebrate the future of firstsite. It was a slightly emotional Sunny Colch moment.
CBC then slipped out a new online platform for sharing open data. It appeared to be a Sunny Colch bolt on from… the London Borough of Redbridge.
Will Quince MP made a very magnanimous move in putting forward the name of Sir Bob as the new High Sheriff of Sunny Colch. The role is to advise, but not instruct the local politicians. It was a delicate piece of political reasoning…
The future of the South East Local Enterprise Partnership looked in doubt come late June. Cabinet was asked to make the decision to dissolve the fund sourcing collective, in favour of finding a more localised body in which to bid for various grants.
The Comms Team at CBC finally seemed to have found the perfect touch with a charming video bigging up our ever so slightly wonky little town.
The Colchester People’s Assembly had a strong showing at the July Cabinet meeting. The LibLabIndie Cabinet was falling over itself to sign up to the anti-austerity message.
Which was a little odd.
This level of anti-austerity talk didn't take place at Cabinet when we had a ConDem national coalition. Fancy that #Colchester
— Colchester Chronicle (@ColchChronic) July 8, 2015
Back in Westminster and Will Quince MP made his PMQ’s debut with a transport question – a theme that would define his first six months as the new MP for Sunny Colch.
27’25” for the Sunny Colch action:
We then went a little anal and bashed out some words for the recently re-launched Keep Colchester Cool on what we are trying to achieve at The Chronic.
A number of other Colchester based blogs have emerged throughout the year. Posting have been a little sporadic [ditto here…], but we are optimistic than an informal online Colchester network will form over the coming months.
July also saw the planning application for Winter Wonderland at Castle Park. July was also probably cooler than the month of December.
The final Warm and Toasty Club of the year at the Arts Centre was simply wonderful.
Sticking with the sporting theme and the Local Plan Committee looked at sporting provision around Sunny Colch. The conclusion was for a WHOPPING 1% increase in sports participation in the borough.
What was clearly growing however was the ACE Colchester Free Festival. It was a huge gamble for the local organisers to stretch this out over a two day period over the August Bank Holiday weekend. It clearly paid off with another fantastic festival for the town to celebrate.
We looked a little more detail at Park and Ride with a Freedom of Information request. The service appeared to be stacking up, without being a runaway success.
The long lost Queen Street Creative Business Centre was back on the agenda in September with the SEXY Revolving Investment Fund Committee. Work is now underway on the conversion.
CBC was converted itself into a Kangaroo Court during October. Facing a cooked up political ‘charge’ was Conservative Cllr Ben Locker. His Mile End LibDem rival Cllr Dominic Graham conspired with Cllr Jo Hayes to try and finger Cllr Locker.
The best thing that can be said about the Cabinet meeting for the month was that it provided us with our FAVE pic of the year.
— Colchester Chronicle (@ColchChronic) October 14, 2015
Full Council for October managed to politicise the Wivenhoe Cycle Path. As ever, it was the classic CBC LibDem Vs ECC Tory administration argument that got in the way of progress and useful debate.
Meanwhile the first firstsite Open exhibition was bloody brilliant.
The month started with Sir Bob of Sunny Colch speaking at Cabinet. We’re not entirely sure under what capacity – as the ‘apolitical’ High Sheriff, or as a bog-standard member of the public. We have to assume that it was the latter, as the ex-MP pleaded with his LibDem colleagues to dish out some dosh to one of his favourite charities.
— Colchester Chronicle (@ColchChronic) November 25, 2015
The Mayoralty was once again MESSY.
The Tories thought that it was their turn and put forward the name of Cllr Peter Chillingworth.
But wait! What’s this?
The WEIRD LibLab lot needed to reward the Highwood Indies for propping up the Cabinet with no Mandate. And so Cllr Gerrard Oxford got the nod instead.
Classic stitch up. Highwoods Indies propped up Cabinet with no Mandate. Now being rewarded with Mayoralty. Absolute TOSH #Colchester
— Colchester Chronicle (@ColchChronic) November 25, 2015
Winter Wonderland opened later in the month. We wish that it was still there…
November came to a close with another FoI from The Chronic showing that the Dedham and Langham by-election cost Colchester tax payers £3,695.56. The seat will be up for grabs once again in just five months time.
And so we reach the close of the civic year with the final Full Council for 2015. The geography of ballot boxes became politicised, the Chelmsford Q raised its ugly head once again, and a genuinely shit question was asked.
Serious sh*t going down at Full Council… Quite literally #dogmessissue
— Molly ✌️ (@molly_garlick) December 10, 2015
The Chronic tried to find out out how much Cllr Jo Hayes had to pay CBC as part of her FAILED attempt to stop the planning process at the High Court. Sadly we were blocked.
We skipped the Tollgate Planning farce. The fall out is likely to continue in the New Year.
And finally let’s finish with some more Sunny Colch Snaps.
And so that was 2015.
What can we expect for 2016?
The Chronic doesn’t really do predictions, but it would seem ‘highly likely’ that the political administration at the Town Hall will change come the local elections in May.
The Tories are just four seats short of taking control. It is an increasingly WEIRD and running out of steam LibLabIndie coalition of convenience that is keeping the Conservatives out.
Will Quince MP may put across the image of a modern day Tory wet, but we are far from convinced about some of the policies and attitudes of some of the shire Tories that make up the local group.
If the WEIRD LibLabIndie Cabinet is to fall, some big political hitters in our town will be looking for a new role (and a source of income…)
Many, many thanks for all of the very kind words and suggestions that have come our way throughout the past twelve months.
It is impossible for a *cough* one man show to fully do justice to a dedicated Colchester blog. We / I have demands of the day job, plus its no secret that *I* wear a blogging hat elsewhere.
It’s not “fashionable Hackney“, btw Jo.
But cheers, luv.
The many messages that come our way during CBC meetings genuinely keep us going through some of the tedium that we have to sit through.
Have a good one, Sunny Colch.