So much money down the drain! – Update on SK Leisure facilities – May 2020

My last update regarding the new Deepings leisure centre was published on March 12th. Obviously, the world has changed since then, due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, I am pleased to report that, despite the lockdown, there appears to be some evidence of progress with the plans.

The Deputy Leader of the Council has promised that some detailed proposals will be shared with the Deepings ward councillors before the end of June. It appears that plans for a new leisure centre at Stamford have been abandoned and investigations into whether Grantham’s facilities should be relocated from the Meres to the town centre have concluded that this would not be feasible (The latter decision shouldn’t have taken more than ten seconds of informed research). Instead, the facilities at Bourne, Grantham and Stamford will receive facelifts and refurbishment of varying extent while the Deepings Leisure Centre remains firmly on the table as a new-build project.

Meanwhile, Independent Councillors who represent Deepings wards continue to ask questions about the lack of progress made so far. Cllr Ashley Baxter (Ind, Market and West Deeping and author of this blog) has discovered the Council has squandered £284,000 on paying consultancy firm ‘Mace’ to evaluate options for leisure centres across the District. A heavy tome has been produced by Mace but it is apparently of little use. I have recently asked for a copy of the report to see what ‘magic beans’ it prescribes but I fear I might have to wait a while and, if I ever do see it, the content will be commercially confidential.

The commisioning of the consultants’ report was approved by the SKDC Full Council of 2019. During the meeting, the then newly-elected Cllr Virginia Moran prophesied that it would be a waste of money declaring ““We shouldn’t need to spend more than 6p to determine the business case for a leisure centre for the Deepings.”.

The expenditure was proposed by Cllr Helen Goral (Con) who has since resigned from the Cabinet during the leadership of Cllr Matthew Lee (Con) who has since resigned as Council Leader. The Chief Executive at the time was Aidan Rave but he has now left the Council altogether.

Before authorising the expenditure, the Council was told that Mace would be used as the preferred supplier because the Council already had a working relationship with them and consequently there was no need to shop around. It was also stated that the £250,000 additional funding allocation would “allow for the detailed business cases to be developed for Stamford, Market Deeping and Bourne”. Now here we are, a year later, £284,000 poorer and it seems that no detailed business cases emerged from the consultant. I am not altogether surprised as it was rumoured at the time that the supposed leisure centre experts didn’t appear to know that modern swimming pools can have movable floors.

Broken promises

It was the aforementioned Cllr Lee who, in 2017, made the bold promises of:

  • a new leisure centre in the Deepings
  • a new leisure centre in Stamford
  • 10,000 ft2 of new office accommodation in the Deepings;
  • a 300-seat ‘digital hub’ in Stamford,
  • a serviced office facility for micro-businesses in Bourne.

Three years later and none of this has been delivered, furthermore it seems the Deepings Leisure Centre is the only item on the shopping list which currently shows any sign of intent or progress. I hope that my next ‘leisure centre update’ post will have some far more positive news.

Concerns over income

At the Finance Committee earlier this week it was revealed that the incumbent manager of the SKDC Leisure Centres, 1Life, has submitted a legal claim to the Council for financial losses resulting from the Covid crisis. The claim is being reviewed and challenged so it is not possible to specify the financial impact at this time.

Confusion over decision-making

As a Ward Councillor, it has always been quite difficult to keep up-to-date with what’s happening regarding the Leisure Transformation programme, and especially to find information which can be shared ‘on the record’. The Council Officers have been very good at answering questions as honestly as they can and as transparently as they are allowed. The recently appointed Head of Leisure has been very clear with me about the challenges she faces in terms of the existing leisure centres and the new-build and refurbishment projects and I am very grateful for her candour.

However, the ‘proper democratic process’ has been far more difficult to navigate. Independent Councillors for the Deepings, namely Cllr Virginia Moran, Cllr Phil Dilks and myself, have asked publicly for updates regarding the Deepings facilities at every appropriate opportunity. For three years now we have received patronising ‘all in good time’ and ‘wait and see’ responses. We have been subjected to phoney consultations and genuine consultations and have tried throughout to keep local sports clubs informed.

The most recent formal decision of the Council was to create a ‘Members Working Group’ or possibly a number of ‘Members Working Groups’, either concerning the Leisure Transformation plans across the District or relevant to each town, depending on which meeting minutes you read and whether or not you were in the room when the Group(s) were formed.

Regardless of the remit and the membership, no meeting of any formally established Members Working Groups have been convened. However, it is hoped that the Deepings will be the first to have a serious conversation about the available options for a new Leisure Centre and that conversation will start next month, hopefully!

If you have comments, suggestions or concerns about the impact of the new Leisure Centre you can respond to this post, contact me or, if you prefer, e-mail SKDC officers directly using enhancingleisure@southkesteven.gov.uk

Meanwhile, why not ‘like’ or ‘share’ this post?

Detailed breakdown of SKDC Ward Member grants for the Bourne area

The following table lists the grants allocated from the Members Ward Budget of South Kesteven District Council during financial year 2019/20. Each Councillor can allocate up to £1,000 each year.

I do not currently have specific project details for each award but I have written a more general overview of the scheme.

Recipient OrganisationCouncillorWardAmount
Haconby Tree FundCllr Dr Peter MoseleyAveland£250.00
Haconby & Stainfield Parish CouncilCllr Dr Peter MoseleyAveland£462.00
Rippingale Parish CouncilCllr Dr Peter MoseleyAveland£216.90
ToolbarCllr Robert ReidBourne Austerby£200.00
ToolbarCllr Jane KingmanBourne Austerby£200.00
The Butterfield CentreCllr Jane KingmanBourne Austerby£800.00
The Butterfield CentreCllr Robert ReidBourne Austerby£500.00
Bourne Town CouncilCllr Paul FellowsBourne Austerby£1,000.00
Bourne Town CouncilCllr Robert ReidBourne Austerby£300.00
The Butterfield CentreCllr Judith SmithBourne East£1,000.00
Dyke Village HallCllr Philip KnowlesBourne East£350.00
Little Miracles BourneCllr Philip KnowlesBourne East£350.00
Don’t Lose HopeCllr Philip KnowlesBourne East£300.00
The Butterfield CentreCllr Helen CrawfordBourne West£333.00
Dyke Village HallCllr Helen CrawfordBourne West£667.00
Bourne FoodbankCllr Anna KellyBourne West£250.00
Rotary Club of Bourne Trust FundCllr Anna KellyBourne West£50.00
Bourne Town CouncilCllr Anna KellyBourne West£200.00
Lincolnshire 4×4 Response LtdCllr Anna KellyBourne West£500.00
Swayfield Village HallCllr Nick RobinsCastle£269.98
Irnham Parish CouncilCllr Nick RobinsCastle£300.00
Braceborough Village Hall CommitteeCllr Barry DobsonDole Wood£1,000.00
Glenside NewsCllr Chris BennGlen£300.00
Carlby Playing Field CommitteeCllr Chris BennGlen£475.00
The Spinney AccountCllr Chris BennGlen£225.00
New Day Baptist ChurchCllr Sue WoolleyMorton£250.00
Morton PCCCllr Sue WoolleyMorton£250.00
Lincoln Anglican Academy Trust (Morton CE Primary School)Cllr Sue WoolleyMorton£250.00
Lincoln Anglican Academy Trust (Little Owls Nursery)Cllr Sue WoolleyMorton£250.00
Springwells Surgery Medical Equipment FundCllr Jan HansenToller£900.00

Detailed breakdown of SKDC Ward Member grants for Stamford

During the financial year 2019/20, four out of the eight Stamford district councillors allocated the whole £1,000 to good causes. Cllr Susan Sandall (unaligned) awarded £500 and Cllr Matthew Lee (Con) only £250. Cllr John Dawson (Con) chose not award any grants at all.

I do not currently have specific project details for each award but I have written a more general overview of the scheme.

Recipient OrganisationCouncillorWardAmount
Stamford Town CouncilCllr Amanda WheelerSt George’s£350.00
Mindspace (Stamford)Cllr Amanda WheelerSt George’s£650.00
Stamford Detachment 2 Squadron Lincs ACFCllr Breda-Rae GriffinAll Saints£300.00
Mindspace (Stamford)Cllr Breda-Rae GriffinAll Saints£250.00
Stamford Welland Academy CCFCllr Breda-Rae GriffinAll Saints£325.00
Britsh Legion Stamford & DistrictCllr Breda-Rae GriffinAll Saints£125.00
Stamford Town CouncilCllr Gloria JohnsonSt George’s£350.00
College PlayersCllr Gloria JohnsonSt George’s£325.00
Friends of Stamford & Rutland TheatreCllr Gloria JohnsonSt George’s£325.00
Stamford Branch RBLCllr Harrish BisnauthsingSt Mary’s£200.00
Stamford FoodbankCllr Harrish BisnauthsingSt Mary’s£300.00
Mindspace (Stamford)Cllr Harrish BisnauthsingSt Mary’s£500.00
Stamford Town CouncilCllr Matthew LeeSt Mary’s£250.00
Stamford Detachment 2 Squadron Lincs ACFCllr Mike ExtonAll Saints£300.00
Mindspace (Stamford)Cllr Mike ExtonAll Saints£250.00
Stamford Welland Academy CCFCllr Mike ExtonAll Saints£325.00
Britsh Legion Stamford & DistrictCllr Mike ExtonAll Saints£125.00
Stamford in BloomCllr Susan SandallSt John’s£500.00

Detailed breakdown of SKDC Ward Member grants for the Deepings

Cllr Virginia Moran (Ind, centre of photo) with members of the Deeeping Cares group.

In the Deepings, all 6 councillors, and the 2 from Casewick, spent all but £4 of their grant pots during the financial year 2019/20.

Recipient OrganisationCouncillorWardAmount
Deeping United FCCllr Ashley BaxterMarket & West Deeping£250.00
Deepings Churches TogetherCllr Ashley BaxterMarket & West Deeping£216.00
Bourne Deeping Hockey ClubCllr Ashley BaxterMarket & West Deeping£334.00
Rotary Club of the DeepingsCllr Ashley BaxterMarket & West Deeping£200.00
Deeping United FCCllr Bob BroughtonMarket & West Deeping£700.00
Deepings Youth GroupCllr Bob BroughtonMarket & West Deeping£300.00
Lives (Deepings First Responders)Cllr Jill ThomasDeeping St James£333.00
Exotic Pet RefugeCllr Jill ThomasDeeping St James£330.00
DSJ Priory Church HallCllr Jill ThomasDeeping St James£333.00
Lives (Deepings First Responders)Cllr Judy StevensDeeping St James£330.00
Exotic Pet RefugeCllr Judy StevensDeeping St James£330.00
DSJ Priory Church HallCllr Judy StevensDeeping St James£340.00
Uffington Village HallCllr Kelham CookeCasewick£200.00
Baston Parish CouncilCllr Kelham CookeCasewick£200.00
Langtoft FestivalCllr Kelham CookeCasewick£600.00
Bourne Deeping Hockey ClubCllr Philip DilksDeeping St James£333.00
Deepings Youth GroupCllr Philip DilksDeeping St James£134.00
Deeping United Football ClubCllr Philip DilksDeeping St James£200.00
DSJ Priory Church HallCllr Philip DilksDeeping St James£333.00
Uffington Village HallCllr Rosemary Trollope-BellewCasewick£200.00
Baston Parish CouncilCllr Rosemary Trollope-BellewCasewick£200.00
Langtoft FestivalCllr Rosemary Trollope-BellewCasewick£600.00
Deeping CaresCllr Virginia MoranMarket & West Deeping£250.00
Deepings First RespondersCllr Virginia MoranMarket & West Deeping£250.00
Deeping United FCCllr Virginia MoranMarket & West Deeping£280.00
Bourne Deeping Hockey ClubCllr Virginia MoranMarket & West Deeping£220.00

Detailed breakdown of SKDC Ward Member grants for the Grantham area

During the financial year 2019/20, four out of the eight Stamford district councillors allocated the whole £1,000 to good causes. Cllr David Bellamy (Con) and Cllr John Cottier (Con) both chose not award any grants at all.

I do not currently have specific project details for each award but I have written a more general overview of the scheme.

Recipient OrganisationCouncillorWardAmount
St John’s AmbulanceCllr Adam StokesSpringfield£1,000.00
Grantham FoodbankCllr Annie MasonSt Vincent’s£500.00
Grantham Ark (St Wulfram’s Church)Cllr Annie MasonSt Vincent’s£500.00
Colsterworth Parochial ChurchCllr Bob AdamsIsaac Newton£1,000.00
Grantham Lions ClubCllr Charmaine MorganSt Vincent’s£1,000.00
Grantham Food BankCllr Dean WardArnoldfield£1,000.00
Grantham Disabled Children SocietyCllr George ChiversBelmont£500.00
Grantham FoodbankCllr George ChiversBelmont£250.00
St Wulfram’s Church (Grantham Ark)Cllr George ChiversBelmont£250.00
United Parish of the TrinityCllr Graham JealSt Vincent’s£1,000.00
Barrowby Open DoorCllr Hannah WestroppBelvoir£400.00
Friends of Sandon & AmbergateCllr Helen GoralArnoldfield£1,000.00
St Wulfram’s Church (Choir)Cllr Hilary WestroppHarrowby£1,000.00
South Kesteven District Council (SK Charity Cup printing)Cllr Ian SelbyHarrowby£80.40
Harrowby Football ClubCllr Ian SelbyHarrowby£200.00
Grantham Town FCCllr Ian SelbyHarrowby£100.00
Bourne Town Football ClubCllr Ian SelbyHarrowby£100.00
South Kesteven Charity CupCllr Ian SelbyHarrowby£309.96
Grantham Journal Children’s FundCllr Ian SelbyHarrowby£209.64
Great Gonerby Parish CouncilCllr Ian StokesPeascliffe & Ridgeway£250.00
Belton & Manthorpe Parish CouncilCllr Ian StokesPeascliffe & Ridgeway£500.00
Dr Friers Children’s Holiday FundCllr Jacky SmithSt Wulfram’s£500.00
Commemorative Tree & Plaque Wyndham Park – Frank NorthingCllr Jacky SmithSt Wulfram’s£186.75
Commemorative Tree & Plaque Wyndham Park – Nora EnglishCllr Jacky SmithSt Wulfram’s£186.75
Grantham Senior Citizen Club LtdCllr Jacky SmithSt Wulfram’s£126.50
Foston Parish CouncilCllr Jane WoodViking£600.00
Long Bennington Pre-SchoolCllr Jane WoodViking£400.00
Grantham West Community CentreCllr Lee SteptoeEarlesfield£1,000.00
Londonthorpe & Harrowby Without Parish CouncilCllr Linda WoottenBelmont£500.00
Wyndham Park ForumCllr Linda WoottenBelmont£100.00
Grantham MuseumCllr Linda WoottenBelmont£100.00
Earlesfield Community ChurchCllr Louise ClackEarlesfield£1,000.00
Grantham FoodbankCllr Mark WhittingtonBarrowby Gate£500.00
Grantham Water Polo ClubCllr Mark WhittingtonBarrowby Gate£500.00
Grantham Food BankCllr Nikki ManterfieldSpringfield£1,000.00
Barrowby Open DoorCllr Pam BosworthBelvoir£250.00
St Lawrence Church (Sedgebrook PCC)Cllr Pam BosworthBelvoir£250.00
Barrowby NewsCllr Pam BosworthBelvoir£500.00
Claypole Parish CouncilCllr Paul WoodViking£600.00
Hougham Parish CouncilCllr Paul WoodViking£400.00
Hough on the Hill Parish CouncilCllr Penny MilnesLoveden Heath£200.00
Stubton Parish CouncilCllr Penny MilnesLoveden Heath£200.00
Caythorpe & Frieston Parish CouncilCllr Penny MilnesLoveden Heath£200.00
Fulbeck Parish CouncilCllr Penny MilnesLoveden Heath£200.00
Fenton Parish MeetingCllr Penny MilnesLoveden Heath£200.00
Parkinsons Disease Charity GranthamCllr Ray WoottenSt Wulfram’s£700.00
Grantham Community Heritage AssociationCllr Ray WoottenSt Wulfram’s£300.00
Sudbrook & West Willoughby Village HallCllr Rosemary Kaberry-BrownPeascliffe & Ridgeway£429.99
Caythorpe & Ancaster Medical Equipment TrustCllr Rosemary Kaberry-BrownPeascliffe & Ridgeway£500.00
The Grantham Music ClubCllr Sarah TrotterLincrest£400.00
Welby Parish CouncilCllr Sarah TrotterLincrest£87.15
Ingoldsby Parish CouncilCllr Sarah TrotterLincrest£150.00
Ropsley & District Parish CouncilCllr Sarah TrotterLincrest£150.00
Heydour Parish CouncilCllr Sarah TrotterLincrest£170.00

Update on the proposed new Deepings Leisure facilities – March 2020

People keep asking me ‘what’s happening with the leisure centre?’ and I would love to be able to answer the question with dates and specifics but, unfortunately, there isn’t yet much tangible progress. Along with the Deepings other Independent councillors I continue to ask questions and sometimes I get useful progress reports.

There are now at least two different aspects to the fundamental questions of what’s happening and when? The first concerns the proposed new Deepings Leisure Centre promised by Coun Matthew Lee (Con), back in October 2017 and the second concerns the much needed replacement for the all-weather pitch which was condemned in December.

The two issues are inextricably linked in terms of planning and funding although it is hoped that the new all-weather pitch will arrive sooner than the new leisure centre.

All Weather Pitch

At its budget meeting last week (Mon 2nd March) the issue was discussed by the Council who agreed to put aside £200,000 towards the cost of replacing the pitch. Unfortunately, the cost of an all-weather pitch is likely to cost a minimum of £400,000 and the figure is likely to be even higher, possibly £850,000, depending on the preferred playing surface.

The discussion was reported by the Stamford Mercury as “Deepings football teams to benefit from new playing surface” but, as ever, don’t believe everything you read in the papers;
[DeepingDo editor’s note: Since first publishing this blogpost, the online story in the Mercury has been adapted after ‘clarification’ from SKDC].

There are at least three aspects of the Mercury’s report which are inaccurate or give a false impression. (For the benefit of the tape, the errors are not necessarily the fault of the journalists who are, after all, just trying to record what politicians say at public meetings.

The first mistake is the assertion that an agreement has been reached with the Football Foundation (FF) in which the Council will contribute £200,000 and the FF will give a grant of £650,000. This sounds great and if it happens I will be the first to take back everything I said about the disproportionate amount of money sloshing around the football community, from corporate sponsorships and TV rights, compared to almost every other kind of sport. However, after the meeting a spokesperson said: “SKDC is in the early stages of discussions with the Football Foundation regarding a funding application to provide a 3G pitch in Deeping St James. The council has set aside £200,000 in matched funding, should an application be successful.”

Obviously, if the FF provides the lions’ share (you could say the three lions’ share?) of the funding then the pitch will be designed predominantly for footballers and therefore the potential use of the pitch for other sports including hockey will be very limited. Competitive hockey will be impossible although it is plausible that some hockey training be possible depending on the specification of the pitch.

Deeping Ladies top the league!

The Mercury reports that “England Hockey did not want to contribute to the cost as another pitch was available less than two miles away”. This, I believe, is a correct report of what was said by a Conservative cabinet member at the budget meeting; unfortunately it isn’t true. Firstly, England Hockey would be delighted to contribute to the cost but unfortunately they don’t have any money to contribute. Hockey matches are rarely televised, England Hockey receives no sponsorship from bookmakers and consequently the sport doesn’t have as much money as football. Secondly, no-one from England Hockey suggested funding would be withheld because “as another pitch was available less than two miles away” because there is no such pitch! The Bourne Deeping Hockey Club (which has been established since the 1920s) currently trains in exile in Peterborough, mostly at Arthur Mellows College which is four miles from Deeping and occasionally at pitches even further from Bourne and the Deepings. The pitch at Arthur Mellows is in a school and therefore has limited availability, especially during school holidays which would otherwise be a great time to run junior hockey coaching sessions.

It would be great for footballers in the Deepings, especially the very successful Deepings United FC, if the football foundation came forward with sufficient funding to provide a pitch. However, when deciding how, where and when to provide a pitch (or pitches) the council must take on board the needs of other sports including hockey and rugby. A standard 3G football pitch is only suitable for football, light rugby training and, bizarrely, lacrosse. A standard sand-based hockey pitch can also be used to play netball, football, rugby training, cricket, tennis etc (I’m not sure about lacrosse!). Given the facility will, presumably, continue to serve the 1,500+ pupils at the Deepings School, it would be good to have facilities for more than one sport. NB In case you’re wondering, I understand the school has no funding for enhancing outdoor leisure facilities at the moment.

During yesterday’s Budget Speech, Charncellor Rishi Sunak announced he was allocating “£30m a year to improve PE teaching… along with £8m for the Football Foundation’s scheme to build new pitches for around 300,000 people to play on”. If each pitch costs £800,000 then that’s enough funding for only 10 pitches nationwide. Big deal!

The location of the new Deepings pitch(es) will depend partly on the design and location of the new leisure centre. It would be daft to spend half a million pounds on a new pitch only to find that has to be removed to make way for a a new leisure centre so, at the very least, we need agreement of where, on the agreed site, the leisure is going to be built….

The New Leisure Centre

The lastest news from SKDC on the leisure centre is as follows:

“As part of the council’s wider feasibility work into enhancing leisure facilities across the district, the Linchfield Road site has previously been identified as the preferred site for a new development. Negotiations are, therefore, progressing with the various landowners in a bid to secure the site.

“The negotiations will need to be finalised, and the results of the feasibility work assessed, before any firm proposals can be put forward, either in respect of the leisure centre or the artificial pitch.

“It will then be important that local residents and stakeholders are fully consulted on proposals before any firm decisions can be made.”

So, to put it another way, the new leisure centre will be ready when:

  • Negotiations with the landowners (and land users) need to be finalised. They have been going on for over 8 years but the opportunity of a new leisure centre has focused attention and I believe the necessary formal documents are almost ready to be signed.
  • Feasibility work has been completed and assessed (for sites across South Kesteven)
  • Firm proposals have been put forward
  • Local residents and stakeholders have been consulted
  • A business plan has been agreed
  • Capital funding has been allocated (approx £15m is said to be required)
  • Planning permission has been applied for, consulted on and agreed
  • At least one procurement exercise has been completed
  • The building has been constructed.

I have some experience of local authority building procurement and construction projects but I will let you make your own guesses about how long this will take!

The agenda for next week’s SKDC Cabinet meeting suggests that in just a month’s time there will be a meaningful decision relating to the “detailed business plans” relating to leisure centres.

Don’t get too excited about this. The Cabinet workplan for September had similar aspirations but as with scrutiny group workplans, the ‘due dates’ bear no relation to actual progress.

On the bright side, there is still genuine commitment by most, probably all, Councillors to improving leisure facilities across SKDC. Furthermore council officers are also very committed and have been candid in conversations with me about the hurdles and the opportunities surrounding our leisure facilities. For example, it is pretty clear now that the promised new Stamford Leisure Centre will not happen in the foreseeable but the Deepings Leisure Centre is near the top of everyone’s priority list.

Rome wasn’t built in a day!

Deepings School Fields
Sunset over the Deepings School Fields.

If you have comments, suggestions or concerns about the impact of the new Leisure Centre you can respond to this post, contact me or, if you prefer, e-mail SKDC officers directly using enhancingleisure@southkesteven.gov.uk

Meanwhile, why not ‘like’ or ‘share’ this post?

Report to Market Deeping Town Council – February 2020

Report to MDTC Full Council 12th February, 2020
from ASHLEY BAXTER, SKDC Councillor for Market & West Deeping.

Deeping Shorts – Film Festival

‘Deeping Shorts’ – a short festival of short films – has held two Saturday evening cinema screenings with two more to go (15th and 22nd February). The screenings have been well attended and well received. Tickets are £5 from Stamford Arts Centre or at Open Door Baptist Church on the night.

Leisure Centre / All Weather Pitch

News about the proposed Deepings Leisure Centre and the future of the condemned All Weather Pitch has failed to yield any concrete proposals (nor proposals for concrete). At Full Council, the new Portfolio Holder, Cllr Barry Dobson stated that a Working Party would be formed with representation from the 3 Deepings Independent Councillors. By the time of the Finance Committee a week later, this Working Party had been extended to include two Deeping Conservatives. A few minutes later, it was explained that the Working Party would be an overarching group for all Leisure Facilities in South Kesteven. When I asked for clarification, the Finance Committee was told there will be more than one Working Party. I later asked Cllr Dobson for written clarification of the roles, purpose and composition of the working party (or parties). A week later and I am still waiting.

Cllr Dobson also mentioned that nothing would be decided about Leisure Centres until he had visited the sites personally to see what was needed. This is slightly confusing given that the council has commissioned leisure professionals an architects to conduct feasibility studies at a cost of more than £250,000.

14/01/2020         Budget – Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committee            

Lots of talk about the Conservative’s Pie-in-the-Sky thinking for next year’s expenditure.

16/01/2020   Rural and Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee

I am pleased to say the Communities Committee agreed to implement some of the measures recommended by the ‘Stop the Knock’ campaign which I had brought to their attention.

I am less pleased to say that they rubber-stamped proposals to ‘rationalise the face-to-face customer service provision’ in Stamford and the Deepings. This effectively means closing the SKDC offices at the Deepings Community Centre and at Maiden Lane in Stamford.

There is a consultation about the plans to close the Stamford and Deeping SKDC offices. The deadline is 20th February.

30/01/2020   Council

The Council meeting began with a silence in respectful memory of former Chair of SKDC, Cllr Peter Speigl and former Chair of the world’s longest running radio panel show and much-loved Grantham born entertainer, Nicholas Parsons CBE. The silence was, suitably, just a minute. It would have been great if all the afternoon’s debate could have been conducted without hesitation, repetition or deviation but this was unlikely from the outset.

Grantham favourite child – Nicholas Parsons
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DeliverSK: Joint venture idea fails to deliver for South Kesteven.

Eighteen months ago, South Kesteven organised a meeting in the middle of the summer holidays to discuss the Conservative’s latest bright idea, namely “DeliverSK”. Despite scepticism and reservations from me and other opposition members, it was decreed that DeliverSK would be essential to delivering investment opportunities for the council. In a nutshell, the council would enter into a strategic partnership with an investment company and then form subsidiary companies, aka Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs), for each of the council’s bold ambitions. These might include LeisureSK, HomesSK, OfficeSpaceSK, EmptyTheBinsSK etc.

When I say that the opposition offered scepticism and reservations, I am not being fair to myself. What we actually brought was scrutiny and constructive criticism. I literally prepared 20 questions which were circulated prior to the meeting and effectively became the agenda when the committee met. The questions were along the lines of “What is DeliverSK?”, “How will it work?”, “Is it legal?” etc.

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Report to Market Deeping Town Council – January 2020

Report to MDTC Full Council  15th January 2020
from ASHLEY BAXTER, SKDC Councillor for Market & West Deeping.

Happy New Year to all Town and Parish Councillors, residents of the Deepings anyone else who is takin the time to read this. I hope your 2020 is splendid!

Climate Emergency

Regular readers will know that the Council (SKDC) declared a climate emergency in September 2019. SKDC has now appointed a Climate Change Officer and have also begun a set of ‘Task and Finish’ workshops and engaged the Carbon Trust to assist with compiling baseline data to ensure a meaningful Action Plan is delivered.

Saturday Market

The market which was launched with much fanfare by InvestSK at Easter last year has struggled against inclement weather and lack of budget which has led to a spiral of decline with few stalls leading to few customers and vice versa. The last stall threw in the towel just before Christmas (and hats off to the Brown Bread stall for sticking it out for so long) and, in light of the lack of any traders, SKDC have decided to cease trading until later this year. It is not clear whether the Spring will bring a revived Saturday market or a relocation of the ongoing Wednesday market, or neither, or both.

Deeping Shorts – Film Festival

The Open Door Baptist Church is hosting ‘Deeping Shorts’ – a short festival of short films – on the first four Saturday evenings in February. It has been organised in association with the help and support of InvestSK/SKDC and will make use of the cinema screen originally purchased for the Deepings Arts Group. The films have been collated from 17 different countries and include a range of comedies, animations and thought provoking works. Many have won awards. Tickets are £5 from Stamford Arts Centre or at ODBC on the night. Here’s an excerpt from one of the films…

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“Heroes? We were just doing our job!”

On my regular journey from the Deepings to my parents’ home in Norfolk, I pass a brown tourist sign indicating the ‘Fenland Aviation Museum‘. For over a decade I have been meaning to visit and on a recent rainy Saturday afternoon I finally visited with my sixteen year-old daughter.

On arrival it is clear that this small museum is not in the same league as the IWM at Duxford. The museum is set back from the road behind a pet-shop and various other small independent retail outlets.

A shingle track full of puddles leads to the entrance gate where the suggested donations are listed on a laminated card. The museum consists of a few modular buildings behind a grassed area probably not much bigger than a badminton court and crowded with aircraft in various stages of reconstruction. These include a Lighting T5 training jet and the fuselage of a recently donated spitfire awaiting the reattachment of its wings, somewhat reminiscent of a half-finished Air-Fix kit.

From the outside, I was not entirely convinced the museum was open as I gently pushed the PVC door but, sure enough, a volunteer named Steve was at the desk awaiting visitors. At almost 11am he was delighted to welcome us as the first visitors of the day. He briefly explained the layout of the museum and called across to another volunteer, Henry, who he said would be pleased to answer any questions.

The museum has a wide range of exhibits from many periods of aviation history including models of early airships through to the cockpit of a jumbo jet and memorabilia from the first gulf war. However, the raison d’etre appears to be a place to show the findings of many archaeological digs which have recovered parts of aeroplanes which crash-landed in and around fens during the Second World War.

Henry began our introduction by showing us an illuminated map of various crash sites which had been excavated, and then pointed to two engines which had been recovered from the same plane. The first was smashed and damaged almost beyond recognition while the second had been partially restored. Further into the museum were many similar examples of smashed propeller, landing gear and other scrap metal illustrating Fenland’s aviation heritage.

Henry followed us to the 1950s training simulator, the jumbo jet cockpit and the helicopter engine commenting with a zeal to match any aviation enthusiast.

We then came to a short passage connecting two of the buildings which told the stories of some of the aircraft and airmen who had served during the Second World War. Henry pointed to a panel which told the story of a Halifax bomber which had been shot down over Holland in December 1944. The panel has details of all the six crew but points out that, sadly, only the navigator had survived.

“There was fuel all through inside of the aircraft”, said Henry, “and so the pilot gave the instruction to bail out. I removed a metal door from hatch from beside me and dropped it through the hole. I then stepped through and followed it out.  The plane crashed into the countryside and I looked around but I couldn’t see any other parachutes. It was only me. I had no control over the parachute and the wind swept me over the river, which was the border, and so I landed in Germany.”

“How old were you?” I asked.

“Then? I was 21. Now, I’m 96.”

Henry was ‘on the run’ for six days trying to stay out of sight and surviving by drinking water from puddles and cattle-troughs. Eventually, just before Christmas he found himself walking, exhausted, down a main road. He heard the click of a rifle bolt and a voice shout “Halt, Wer Da?” and he knew he had been captured.

The panel in the museum explains that while Henry was a POW (Prisoner of War) for ‘only’ a few months, they were certainly the worst few months to be in that position with the German armies retreating from the advancing allied troops as the war neared its end. Henry was among the POWs forced to take part in the ‘Death March’ of 227km over 21 days and nights from Bankau Stalag Luft VII to Goldberg during horrendous weather with very little food and virtually no medical care. This was followed by three days travelling by rail, standing with 65 other men in a cattle truck.

As we stood at the centre of this small but well-cared-for museum, Henry told us that people refer to this corridor as ‘the hall of heroes’ but adds “We didn’t consider ourselves heroes, we were just doing our job”.

My daughter and I made our way round the rest of the museum exhibits which include a helicopter engine, propaganda posters from World War 1 and examples of ordnance of various shapes and sizes. Before we left, Henry directed us to an exhibition piece beneath a swastika flag. It has details, in original German and also translated into English, of a German attack on a Halifax bomber. In fact it was the attack which brought down Henry and his companions on that fateful night in 1944. Henry explained “I researched the raid in the Bundes-archive and I know how many rounds of ammunition were used, the name of the pilot and the name of the gunner. I don’t have any ill-feeling towards them. They were doing their jobs just the same as we were”.

Henry is the same age as the Queen. At the outbreak of the war he was the same age as my daughter is now. As a young man he put himself in harm’s way in defence of our country. What an unexpected privilege to meet an aviation enthusiast with such a story to tell.

Henry Wagner, sole survivor of the crew of a Halifax bomber shot down over Holland in 1944,

The Fenland Aviation Museum can be found at Old Lynn Rd, Wisbech PE14 7DA is normally open, during the season, on Saturdays (10-5), Sundays (10-4) and Wednesday afternoons (1-4). For more information phone 01845 461771. NB. The museum is usually closed between November and Easter.