In memory of Martin Hunt

Unfortunately, another commitment elsewhere means I can’t attend Martin Hunt‘s funeral and memorial today, but as his family have requested donations to St Helena Hospice in lieu of flowers, I wanted to mention something I’ll be doing in memory of him in a couple of months.

Pier-to-pier-website-bannerSt Helena Hospice are staging a Pier To Pier walk on the Essex coast in April, on a route between Clacton and Walton piers. I’m intending to do the full fourteen mile there and back walk (not sure which one I’ll be starting and finishing at) so this is fair warning that I will be asking for sponsorship and donations as the time comes near, and every bit of support will be appreciated. It’s not on the scale of my previous charity walking challenge, but this is one to fill a day rather than an entire summer.

In the meantime, please think of Martin’s family today.

Martin Hunt

martin.jpg-pwrt3It’s been a sad Christmas for me because it started with the news that my friend and former Colchester Council colleague Martin Hunt died on Christmas Eve.

I’d known Martin for around ten years, going back to when I was first a candidate for the council. I can remember him at a meeting where we were discussing our potential election manifesto and he was criticising it from two grounds that defined his career. First, there were the strong liberal principles that drove his politics, and second, the desire for clear and understandable language that came from his career as a journalist and sub-editor. He could sometimes be annoying in the way he’d speak up for one or both of those values, but he’d rarely be wrong when he did.

Martin was both the first and last Liberal Democrat group leader I served under during my time on the Council, taking over the role in 2007 when the group was at a low ebb, having shrunk down to just 19 councillors. Thanks to his leadership, we were able to refocus ourselves and make the gains at the next set of council elections which allowed us to move from opposition back into power. I think he was as surprised as anyone that we did make those gains, and he hadn’t considered that we might move into power after his first set of elections as leader.

It was coming into power which gave Martin the responsibility of completing the Firstsite project, the problems with which had provided some of the reasons for us winning so many council seats. It seems odd to remember it now, but when we came into power, the prospect of Firstsite being completed and opened seemed very remote. It’s a tribute to Martin’s tenacity and diplomacy that he was able to negotiate between the many funders, builders, project managers, architects and others to get work on the building restarted and then to see it through to completion and opening. It’s rare for councillors to leave behind lasting physical reminders of their time in office, but Martin has two of his. As well as Firstsite, he was also – before I lived in Colchester – chair of the committee that built Leisure World, an experience that helped him with getting Firstsite completed twenty years later.

Throughout our time on the council, Martin’s experience and knowledge made him a great source of advice and wisdom to be and others. His twenty-nine years as a councillor meant he had great experience of what had happened before, but he also understood that things changed and moved on in local government, as in everything else, and he understood the importance of learning from the past while not believing it was a golden age that should be repeated uncritically.

One thing obvious to anyone who knew Martin was how much he loved his family, and my thoughts are with them as they deal with his death. He would speak of them often, with an obvious pride for all they accomplished and a delight at getting to be a grandfather. Family business was always much more important to him than Council business, and I recall several meetings ending very promptly in order for him to be with them.

Accepting the fact of any death is always a long and hard process, and I still can’t quite believe that Martin won’t be with us any more. I’ll remember so many thing about him, from his ability to be heard with respect from all sides in the council chamber to the fact that he and Nick Cope made up what must be one of the tallest ward teams in council history, but most of all I’ll remember that he was an excellent person, and we’re all worse off without him.

2015 Colchester local election results

As I get people coming here looking for them, I’ll post them as I get them so the post will be updated as the evening goes on. Click here for the General Election result.

(These are for the original Colchester in Essex, England – if you’re looking for those for November 2015 in Colchester, Connecticut, click here)

Berechurch: Labour (Dave Harris) 1,958, Conservative 858, UKIP 521, LD 406, Green 152
Birch and Winstree: Conservative (Andrew Ellis) 1,913, UKIP 569, LD 291, Lab 287, Green 145
Castle: Conservative (Darius Laws) 1667, LD 1172, Green 982, Labour 821
Christ Church: Conservative (Annesley Hardy) 964, LD 670, Labour 433, Green 319, UKIP 148
Copford and West Stanway: Conservative (Jackie Maclean) 673, UKIP 177, LD 115, Lab 155, Green 46
Fordham and Stour: Conservative (Nigel Chapman) 2,023, labour 396, Green 336, LD 327
Great Tey: Conservative (Peter Chillingworth) 979, LD 257, Labour 170, UKIP 162, Green 104
Highwoods: Independent (Philip Oxford) 1,592, Conservative 1,192, Labour 479, LD 466, UKIP 395, Green 187
Mile End: Conservative (Ben Locker) 2,101, LD 1,769, Labour 707, UKIP 533, Green 368
New Town: LD (Annie Feltham) 1,289, Conservative 832, Labour 772, Green 631, UKIP 493
Prettygate: Conservative (Will Quince) 2,269, LD 967, Labour 522, UKIP 489, Green 196
Shrub End: Conservative (Pauline Hazell) 1,571, LD 1157, UKIP 757, Labour 736
St Andrew’s: Labour (Tim Young) 1,462, Conservative 715, LD 447, Green 317
St Anne’s: LD (Barrie Cook) 1173, Conservative 976, UKIP 770, Labour 600, Green 241
Stanway: Conservative (Fiona Maclean) 1861, LD 1611, Labour 616, Green 261
Tiptree: Conservative (Margaret Crowe) 1,873, UKIP 1,313, Labour 535, LD 194, Green 129
West Bergholt and Eight Ash Green: Conservative (Marcus Harrington) 1,578, UKIP 370, Labour 306, LD 265, Green 204, Independent 151, Patriotic Socialist 12
West Mersea: Conservative (Patricia Moore) 2,154, UKIP 988, labour 402, Green 330, LD 278
Wivenhoe Cross: Lib Dem (Mark Cory) 668, Labour 328, Green 130, Conservative 271, UKIP 90
Wivenhoe Quay: Labour (Rosaling Scott) 1295, Conservative 1251, Green 325, LD 295

Official details are on the Borough council website here.

Another stop on the farewell tour

Only a few days left for me as a councillor – I’m not quite sure if my term ends when my replacement is announced on Friday, or if I’m technically still in office over the weekend – but I’ve been chatting with Jason from the Colchester Chronicle about my decision to step down, which he’s now published as a post.

And if you missed it, my original post explaining why it’s time to move on is here.

Stepping down

After eight years, I still haven't memorised this list from the Council Chamber
After eight years, I still haven’t memorised this list from the Council Chamber
Those of you in Colchester likely already know this, but let’s make it official: I won’t be standing for re-election to Colchester Borough Council this year, so my eight years on the Council will be coming to an end in May.

It’s been an interesting and enjoyable time, but everything has to come to an end sometime, and it seems that this is the time for me and the Council Chamber to part ways. There have been various machinations going on behind the scenes and the stress from that, plus the pressure of just being a councillor (let alone the extra roles) has just been mounting over time to the point where the negatives now far outweigh the positives. It’s still enjoyable in parts, but the idea of going through the pressure of another election campaign, when I’m not sure I’d enjoy the reward – and then have to go through the whole thing again next year – isn’t appealing to me.

I can remember being told by certain people that there was no chance of me winning the first time around, because Castle ward was about to be subsumed beneath a Green wave, and then in 2011, there was no chance I’d get re-elected because of the coalition. So, just having had eight years on the Council has beaten a lot of people’s expectations, and having most of them where we’ve been leading the council and over half of them where I’ve been a member of the Cabinet wasn’t something I was expecting when I first agreed to stand.

Trust me, getting elected as a councillor right before the global economy goes into a tailspin, the country dives into a recession and austerity becomes the ruling dogma is a surefire recipe for living in interesting times. The last few years has been dominated by talking about cuts and savings and efficiencies, while laughing bitterly at anyone imagining local government is somehow profligate. There isn’t a light at the end of the tunnel, either. The party manifestos for the next Parliament all promise some mix of tax cuts, deficit eradication, further austerity and certain services protected from cuts, all of which mean local government is going to take another hammering over the next five years.

But what about localism, I hear you ask? Don’t you have all sorts of new powers to do things your way? Pause to hear a legion of councillors laughing sadly at that. Localism sounds good, especially when put through the party political spin machine, but in practice it just means we get to locally decide how much we agree with Eric Pickles on something – total or absolute. For instance, the old centrally imposed housing targets have been removed, which sounds good, but the evidence base on which councils have to decide their housing targets haven’t, so it’s a case of no longer being told from the centre that the answer is 10, but instead being give two fives and told to go away and add them up locally, and you’ll be entirely responsible for the result. After a while being caught between voters’ expectations of what the Council can do, what it can actually do, and Whitehall’s continued belief that we should just be local delivery arms for the Government can get pretty tiring.

I’m reminded of what Tony Benn said when he left the House of Commons, that now he’d have more time for politics. One of the problems of being involved in the day-to-day politics of being a councillor is that you get swamped by the process and forget the wider issues. There’s a tendency to let everything become a process story, and I think that goes some way to explaining why a lot of politicians are suckered by the cult of managerialism – you can feel that the important thing is the sheer action making of decisions, rather than what decisions actually are. One thing about doing my Masters degree has been that it’s given me the space, time and context to think about politics on a much wider scale: I like talking about big ideas and ideologies, and not being involved so much in the day-to-day of being a councillor will give me the opportunity to do that.

What this means, of course, is the coming election campaign will be the first one in about a decade that I’ve not had heavy involvement in, which gives me more time to work on my dissertation – and I’ll likely bore you with more details of that after May 7th – but also to blog about the election, and hopefully find something interesting to say. There’s still a lot to discuss politically, even if the campaign itself is likely to be little more than game playing and process stories.

I’ve still got a month left on the Council, so it’s probably a bit early for epitaphs, but it’s been fun and I’d still recommend it to people who want to have some impact on their community, even if the Council’s not quite the grand seat of power it used to be. To those who remain, and those who come after me, I can only echo the words of someone much older and wiser than me:

One day, I may come back. Yes, I may come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine.

Latest Castle Ward planning applications

142469 & 142925: Variation of planning conditions, Greens Yard.
142583: Advertisement consent for new signage, Angel Court, High Street.
142868: Advertisement consent for rebranding, Crouch Street.
142890: Advertisement consent for new signs, High Street.
142913: Change of use to class A5 (hot food takeaway), High Street.
142923: Rear and front porch extensions, Kings Meadow Road.
142940: Alterations and part demolition, High Street.
143208: Advertisement consent for signage, Trinity Street.
143372: Change of use from offices to hotel and restaurant, North Hill.

You can make a statement in favour or against any of these applications on the Council website, or if you want to discuss it further with one of your councillors then please contact me or my ward colleagues Bill Frame and Jo Hayes.

Latest Castle Ward planning applications

142128 – New one bedroom dwelling, Walters Yard
140344 – Listed building consent for painting window frames, East Hill
142440 and 142441 – Single story extension and garage, Maidenburgh Street
142462 – First floor extension and garage reconstruction, Carlisle Close
140527 – Change of use to A5 (restaurant/cafe), St Botolph’s Street
142523 – Change of use from office to out-patient clinic, High Street

You can make a statement in favour or against any of these applications on the Council website, or if you want to discuss it further with one of your councillors then please contact me or my ward colleagues Bill Frame and Jo Hayes.

Latest Castle Ward planning applications

140021: Listed building consent for replacement signage, Head Street and Culver Street.
140046: Listed Building consent for signage, Head Street.
140218: Two-storey front extension, Kings Meadow Road.
140226: Change of use from A1 (Retail) to B1 (offices) on upper floor, Osborne Street.
140332 and 140333: Change of use from A1 (retail) to A2 (Bureau de Change), High Street.
140337: Removal of condition, Red Lion Yard.
140355: Listed building consent for refurbishment of public house, East Hill.
140357: Listed building consent for internal alterations, High Street.
140379: Single-story rear extension, Causton Road.
140382: Listed building application for blue plaque, East Hill.
140389: Removal of condition, High Street.
140390: Installation of plant area on roof, Culver Square.
140394: Variation of condition, Head Street.
140446: Advertisement consent for signage, Cowdray Avenue.
140448: Change of use to travel shop and offices, St Botolph’s Street.
140454: Removal of condition, Manor Road.
140473 and 140474: Shopfront alterations and advertisement consent, High Street.

You can make a statement in favour or against any of these applications on the Council website, or if you want to discuss it further with one of your councillors then please contact me or my ward colleagues Bill Frame and Jo Hayes.

Colchester Trees for Years 2014

Just to let you know that Colchester Council’s 2014 Trees For Years giveaway will be taking place on Saturday February 1st from 10am at Rowan House. Borough residents and community groups will be able to get free trees and shrubs from a variety of different species to help green the borough a little more. For more information, click here.