View from County Hall

Saturday, June 27, 2020 - 09:59

By Cllr Greg Peck

Norfolk’s libraries may be closed, but that isn’t stopping the return of the Summer Reading Challenge, which for 2020 is all about funny books, happiness and having a laugh.

With the disruption caused by Covid-19 and the impact of social distancing on schools and public libraries, this year’s challenge has launched as a digital activity to keep children reading over the summer and help prevent the summer reading “dip”.

The theme for this year’s challenge is the “Silly Squad”, a team of animal friends who love to go on adventures and get stuck in to all different kinds of funny books. It features bespoke artwork from award-winning children’s author and illustrator Laura Ellen Anderson.

Digital devices for Norfolk pupils

Meanwhile, 1,800 laptops are being provided for Norfolk pupils as part of the government’s scheme to support young people to learn remotely during the pandemic and help tackle digital exclusion.

Laptops and tablets are being provided for disadvantaged families, children and young people who do not currently have access to them through another source, such as their school.

To ensure the support goes to children who need it most, Norfolk County Council is following the government’s guidelines and is working with schools and specialist providers to identify those eligible.

Devices will be distributed over the coming days and weeks. All laptops will be delivered in a “good-to-go” state, so they can be used as soon as they are taken out of the box.

Adult learning

Adult learners’ study is ongoing through lockdown to enable learners to continue their courses, online – boosting their well-being and easing their isolation.

Within two weeks of lockdown starting, Norfolk County Council’s Adult Learning service ensured that all its 1,257 current learners were moved onto online classes; there are now 2,935 people learning online across the county.

Befriending service

Loneliness does not discriminate, so a new befriending service has been launched during Loneliness Awareness Week to combat isolation and loneliness in Norfolk.

In partnership with Norfolk County Council, Voluntary Norfolk has recruited 3,500 befrienders.

This army of volunteers has been recruited from those who came forward during the coronavirus pandemic. They will help people, who, for a variety of reasons, would benefit from social contact.

Residents can ask for support with loneliness and isolation by contacting Norfolk County Council on 0344 800 8020.

Cllr Greg Peck, Norfolk County Council, Reepham Division
Tel: 07972 230282

Wednesday, May 13, 2020 - 17:13

By Cllr Greg Peck

We have all been struck by the speed of change that has occurred over the past few weeks.

Friends ask me if I am bored with self-isolating. The truth is I am working every day on the county council’s response to the coronavirus crisis. I have daily video conference calls with my officers and cabinet colleagues, even though they are also working from home as much possible.

This may be a controversial view, but I do not think the local press and TV give enough credit to our hard-working council staff and officers: my own officers are providing seven-day coverage by sharing working on either Saturday or Sunday.

I have seen the look of exhaustion and strain on their faces in my video calls. It is easing off a bit now as we have avoided the overwhelming of the NHS we all feared.

In particular, I would like to pay tribute to adult social services and children’s services for the excellent work their frontline staff and officers have been doing in what are extremely challenging and testing times.

I would also like to formally recognise the many staff and officers who have helped deliver the background infrastructure that is keeping this county safe and operational.

Our officers moved quickly to safely close down the council “estate” (all the property and land owned by the county council) following the lockdown being announced, at the same time keeping our critical frontline services operational.

They have worked with NHS and adult services colleagues to deliver step-down facilities that have helped keep our hospital wards from being overwhelmed.

In the case of the redundant care home in Cawston, which we acquired for that purpose, this included fitting it out and providing catering and cleaning in record time.

Fortunately, this facility has not yet been needed, but should the dreaded second wave of coronavirus occur (if people don’t behave responsibly and obey the social distancing rules) it will help prevent the risk of overwhelming the NHS in the coming months.

I am also particularly proud that they delivered – from inception to operation in six working days – the central logistics function that provides personal protective equipment to our frontline workers and food boxes for the districts to deliver to vulnerable and shielded people.

In addition to sufficient PPE, up to 500 food boxes a day are being processed from this redundant factory site in Norwich, which is managed by the Norfolk County Council property management team and operated by volunteers from our library services and Norse.

Some of the more difficult work, such as helping the Norfolk Resilience Forum deliver a temporary mortuary facility at Scottow in record time, has meant that the county knows that during this difficult time our residents will be treated with respect and the vulnerable will be looked after.

We now face a difficult time co-ordinating the recovery. However, I am sure that the county council, with the efforts of all partners pulling together, will deliver.

Meanwhile, normal council work continues, so if you have any issues where you require my assistance or advice, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Cllr Greg Peck, Norfolk County Council, Reepham Division
Tel: 07972 230282

Monday, March 16, 2020 - 18:07

By Cllr Greg Peck

The outbreak of novel coronavirus continues to be a rapidly evolving situation and by the time you read this the advice concerning Covid-19 may well have changed as the government’s plan to slow down the rate at which the virus spreads is modified at each stage.

I am reluctant to repeat the county council’s advice for that very reason; this is a fast-moving crisis and the advice, as I indicated, will change as we reach different stages of the predicted growth in infections.

The latest information and advice from the Department of Health and Public Health England (PHE) can be found HERE. This includes the current situation in the UK and advice about the virus and its symptoms.

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, has announced strengthened legal powers to protect public health. The Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 have been put in place to reduce the risk of further human-to-human transmission in this country by keeping individuals in isolation where public health professionals believe there is a reasonable risk an individual may have the virus.

At a local level the Norfolk Resilience Forum (NRF) partners meet regularly to discuss the potential risks and impacts for Norfolk and remain well prepared to respond to any potential incident and to ensure key services can continue to be delivered in the event of any issues caused by the coronavirus.

The NRF is a multi-agency group that brings together a number of partners including emergency services, local authorities, utility companies and the voluntary sector. It is the principal mechanism for multi-agency co-operation under the Civil Contingencies Act (2004).

Norfolk County Council will continue to review the situation and is following all advice given by PHE on this matter.

As I write this on the eve of another Cobra meeting which, it is expected, will introduce further restrictions on our movements, I have already received notifications of the cancellation of a number of my 20 parish council meetings and some other public meetings.

However, I am due to attend a scrutiny committee meeting at County Hall to defend a cabinet decision under my portfolio that has been called in by the opposition. Meetings of scrutiny, cabinet and full council are, by law, “meetings in public”, so are not easy to do by videoconferencing.

I will also be meeting with the inspectors and one of the applicants for the proposed wind farm cabling, which will come through my division, for a tour and inspection of the proposed route.

I will again be voicing my opposition to the applicant’s current proposal. It is totally unacceptable and I will be telling them that unless they produce a revised traffic movement plan that avoids the centre of Cawston, I will continue to lobby at every level of government up to and including the Secretary of State, Alok Sharma, who has the final sign-off of the scheme, to request the scheme is not approved until this requirement is met.

I will also be pushing for a relocation of the site depot at Oulton and the avoidance of damage to mature hedgerows by under-drilling.

I wish all my constituents good health and hope you and your loved ones avoid this terrible virus. Stay safe and follow the government advice.

Cllr Greg Peck, Norfolk County Council, Reepham Division
Tel: 07972 230282

Thursday, March 5, 2020 - 10:11

By Cllr Greg Peck

As part of its commitment to be carbon neutral by 2030, 10 years ahead of the government’s own target, Norfolk County Council is to plant a million trees over the next five years.

Any trees cut down for infrastructure and housing developments would be replaced without counting towards the one-million commitment.

County Farms, which are within my Cabinet portfolio, are already making a start. We have already started a planting scheme on three of our properties, which will involve planting more than 150 trees and 18,000 hedging plants.

In addition, on one of our Care Farms a further 150 trees will be planted by volunteers, including Care Farm clients, staff from County Hall and councillors, all by the end of March.

This is small, first step. There is a tree planting season so we hope to begin planting many more trees in the autumn. In collaboration with our county farm tenants, we have identified many potential woodland sites on our estate, which includes a potential 50-acre site in the west of the county, where we will plant around 40,000 trees.

We have also identified opportunities to create new hedgerows and restore existing ones.

Cllr Greg Peck, Norfolk County Council, Reepham Division
Tel: 07972 230282

Wednesday, March 4, 2020 - 17:35

By Cllr Greg Peck

The planned route of the Norwich Western Link road, which will link up the existing Norwich Northern Distributor Road (NDR – Broadland Northway) with the A47, runs entirely through my division (Reepham).

It is an issue that will affect my constituents more than others, particularly those living in Weston Longville, Ringland and Honingham.

I am working hard to make sure the route is tweaked to mitigate the impact on constituents by moving the route as far as possible from dwellings and putting restrictions on the surrounding minor road network in an attempt to keep the traffic, in particular heavy goods vehicles, on the new road and prevent them continuing to use these villages as “rat runs”.

There will be a final public consultation in the spring so affected residents will have one more opportunity to address any unresolved issues.

I would remind everyone that in the original public consultation there was hardly any support for the option to do nothing; there was a large majority for building the road and the route chosen was one of the two most popular chosen by the public.

The reasons for Norfolk County Council not choosing the marginally more popular route were mainly on environmental grounds and to avoid a large colony of barbastelle bats.

I am, however, receiving a lot of daily online attacks from members of a pressure group who want to stop the road being built. They have every right to do that, but I resent them questioning my conservation credentials.

When I retired from a career in international business I became chairman (unpaid) of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) for five years and was then chairman of CPRE Eastern Region for a further six years.

I spent 11 years defending the Norfolk and East Anglian countryside from inappropriate development. It is an issue I still feel passionately about and one which I continue to pursue.

My reason for wanting to get the Western Link completed is simple: not to build the road would be more damaging to the environment than building it.

The current situation in the villages around the end of the current NDR is that residents are suffering from the constant rat-running through these villages.

In rush hour, cars and trucks are constantly backing up and in static mode, letting other vehicles pass, so you can imagine the emissions from these vehicles compared with those emitted from a vehicle travelling for a few minutes on a three-mile stretch of dual carriageway.

Cllr Greg Peck, Norfolk County Council, Reepham Division
Tel: 07972 230282

Tuesday, January 28, 2020 - 17:08

By Cllr Greg Peck

Apart from finalising the budget, one of the other issues that is a priority for me is to mitigate the impact of the wind farm cable routes through my division.

The final decision on the Vattenfal and Ørsted projects has been deferred by the Secretary of State, Andrea Leadsom, while she seeks answers to a range of questions she has raised, not least the traffic movements through and around Cawston.

We have now been hit with another application from Equinox for the Dudgeon and Sheringham Shoal offshore wind farm extension, which will further add to the pressures on our communities from these ill-thought-out schemes.

Jerome Mayhew, our new MP, has taken up the issue as a priority and has already arranged a meeting with the Secretary of State to further raise our concerns and also push for an offshore ring main, which is being promoted by all the effected parish councils.

Let us hope that common sense prevails and sufficient measures will be insisted on and taken to avoid the unacceptable impact and the disruption that would be caused to the local area.

Cllr Greg Peck, Norfolk County Council, Reepham Division
Tel: 07972 230282

Tuesday, January 28, 2020 - 09:57

By Cllr Greg Peck

After the period of purdah caused by the general election, which was then followed by a long Christmas and New Year break, activity at County Hall has ramped up quickly.

The last three years of uncertainty caused by a hung parliament and the endless arguments and indecision caused by the debates and disagreements over Brexit is thankfully over. It is hoped the government will now be able to focus on other, pressing issues.

Everyone in local government is also hoping this will lead to the long-awaited green paper on adult social care being published; it has already been delayed for more than a year.

We are actually spending more than ever on adult social services but, with an increasingly ageing population in Norfolk, the pressures continue to mount.

Although Norfolk County Council has welcomed the £17.6 million share of the government’s additional £1 billion for social care, which is intended for both children’s and adults’ services, it will not fully meet the needs of either; increased pressures on adult social services are £34.6 million for this year alone.

The recent government decision to raise the national living wage increases the council’s care market costs, which means an extra £1million will have to be found to cover this next year. Every penny added to the national living wage hourly rate adds £200,000 to the council’s care market costs.

We are now in the process of finalising our budget, but you can see that delivering a balanced budget, which we have statutory duty to do, is no easy task.

We will have some difficult decisions to make and we will need to take a balanced approach to meet all our residents’ needs within the finite resources we have.

Of course, the county council, the leader and cabinet members are pressing the new government to increase funding of local government in general and Norfolk County Council in particular.

Cllr Greg Peck, Norfolk County Council, Reepham Division
Tel: 07972 230282

Wednesday, May 29, 2019 - 08:51

By Cllr Greg Peck

Norfolk County Council is holding a Carers Support Day on Friday 14 June at The Forum in Norwich to recognise and celebrate the huge contribution that carers play in people’s lives and to promote the support available to them from across Norfolk.

The event coincides with Carers Week, a national campaign to raise awareness of caring, highlighting the challenges unpaid carers face and recognising the contribution they make to families and communities throughout the UK.

The County Council will be hosting stalls and events in The Forum throughout the day from 10 am to 4 pm.

An estimated 100,000 people in Norfolk provide unpaid care (that’s around one in nine people).

Carers Week is about connecting carers to their communities and the event at The Forum will be hosting organisations, groups and networks from across Norfolk who can help with the difficulties, stresses and challenges of caring.

Cllr Greg Peck, Norfolk County Council, Reepham Division
Tel: 07972 230282

Thursday, May 23, 2019 - 20:06

By Cllr Greg Peck

The development of a Norwich Western Link, to connect the Broadland Northway, formerly known as the Norwich Northern Distributor Road (NDR), from the A1067 to the A47 west of Norwich, is one of Norfolk County Council’s top infrastructure priorities.

Since construction began on the Broadland Northway there have been sustained calls to fill in the “missing link”.

With cross-party support, the County Council has supported the development of a Norwich Western Link for a number of years and council members agreed in 2016 to include it as one of the county’s top three major infrastructure priorities.

The Council published four shortlisted road options for a Norwich Western Link, designed to improve travel between the A47 and the western end of Broadland Northway and tackle transport problems in this area.

A public consultation on four shortlisted options for a Norwich Western Link was held between November 2018 and January 2019. Since then, a great deal of work has been carried out – and continues to be carried out – with the aim of identifying a preferred route.

Analysing the responses received to the consultation is one of the elements that will inform this decision, but there are many other important factors that need to be considered, including: the results from ecological surveys and environmental information; the routes’ effectiveness at improving traffic issues in the area and meeting the other project objectives; and costs and the ratio of those costs to the benefits they are likely to create.

We still have work to do, so we don’t have a preferred route yet. However, we hope to make a decision on this in mid-July.

Cllr Greg Peck, Norfolk County Council, Reepham Division
Tel: 07972 230282

Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - 20:56

By Cllr Greg Peck

May sees the start of the political year at County Hall and this year we have seen a major change to the governance system in place there.

A vote to formally reintroduce the cabinet system was held at the annual general meeting of Norfolk County Council on 7 May, which also saw an executive leader model brought in.

This means the chief executive officer, who resigned some months ago, will not be replaced. Effectively the leader and CEO roles have been merged and a corporate board created.

When the Rainbow Alliance took control of County Hall in 2013, it changed the way the council was run from a cabinet system to a committee system.

The current administration wanted to revert to a cabinet system, believing it will mean quicker decisions and more accountability. This will enable the Council to move forward with strong, accountable decision-making and drive the transformation programmes that are in place to deliver improved and efficient services.

I have been appointed to the Cabinet and have been given the responsibility for commercial services and asset management. It is a challenge I am looking forward to.

The new Cabinet is already developing plans to balance the books and fulfil its ambitions for the council.

Cllr Greg Peck, Norfolk County Council, Reepham Division
Tel: 07972 230282