Felixstowe faces homes dilemma

PARISH council elections rarely generate excitement. Parish council by-elections hardly register on the radar of the voters.But not last week, where in Felixstowe East an incredible 45.

Graham Dines

PARISH council elections rarely generate excitement. Parish council by-elections hardly register on the radar of the voters.

But not last week, where in Felixstowe East an incredible 45.7% turned out to vote. It's fair to say that if Gillian Mason had not stood under the emotive label “Save Felixstowe Countryside,” the 404 voters who backed her would probably stayed at home to watch yet another repeat of New Tricks.

At the heart of the matter was the possibility that 2,000 homes may be built on the town's Green Belt. Mrs Mason lives adjacent to the land in question, and while I've nothing against Nimbyism per se, I have to pose the question: if not here, where?

Our children have to live somewhere. Even though the greater Ipswich area is one of the cheapest places for property in the East of England, first time buyers and essential workers are still priced out of the market.

Between now and 2025, the Government wants 508,000 homes to be built across the six counties of the East, with a sizeable proportion falling into the category affordable. The region is short of brown field sites, which leaves countryside at the margins of out larger towns as the natural areas to be developed.

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Felixstowe and communities across the six counties must be prepared to accept their share of new building - although, in Felixstowe's case, transport links and community facilities need improving first. I'm not saying the disputed site is necessarily the right one, but one needs to be found. Which brings us back to last week's by-election.

I have lived all over England, but until moving to Old Felixstowe a couple of years ago, I had never lived in a district which has been parished. The phenomenon of parish council elections have therefore passed me by

I was subjected to the full panoply of the party political machines trying to squash Mrs Mason's challenge. Canvassed by the Tories and the Liberal Democrats, my home was deluged with election leaflets - three from the Tories, three from the Lib Dems, two for Mrs Mason, and one from Labour. All this for a parish council by-election for goodness sake!

For the record, Tory Graham Newman was elected with 535 votes, the Lib Dems polled 473, Mrs Mason 404, and Labour trailing home with a derisory 84.

In June, the Conservatives will be defending control of Suffolk in the county council elections. Given the current political climate, they should be a shoo-in, with Labour set to lose seats in Ipswich and Lowestoft and the Liberal Democrats possibly becoming the main opposition party.

Yet if single issue candidates stand - opposed to housing, the controversial incineration project, or the abolition of middle schools - and take Tory votes, the Conservatives could find their majority severely dented.

BNP MUST TAKE CRITICISM

I REFUSE to be cowed by the British National Party, which sent me an email over the weekend regarding my remarks on Friday about Dame Vera Lynn's anger at her wartime songs being used in the BNP's European election campaign.

Until and unless the BNP is proscribed, it has every right to stand for election. But along with that right, it must be prepared to accept critical comments which it may not find to its liking.