Suffolk: Villages’ needs under the spotlight

BETTER broadband and more community involvement are the key needs of Suffolk’s villages according to one of the largest-ever surveys conducted in the county.

Suffolk ACRE, the umbrella group which supports parish and town councils, sent out a survey to all the parishes in the county – and 84% responded.

The key requirement was for more community involvement – councils were worried that many villages seemed to lack groups run by and for residents.

Improved broadband speeds was seen as vital for communities as they came to terms with life in the 21st century.

However on other issues there was a split.

Some communities felt that lack of enough affordable homes was a key issue preventing their development – while others were concerned at the impact of new developments on their quiet rural life.

Dr Wil Gibson, chief executive of Suffolk ACRE, said: “Those might appear to be irreconcilable aims, but it is an issue that we need to look at.

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“There is a need for more affordable homes so people who have grown up in a community are able to live in that community – but there are concerns from people who have moved to a rural area to find peace and quiet and then don’t want it to be developed.

“We have to look at ways of reconciling those concerns – it is possible for affordable housing to be built in small groups so they don’t have to be part of a large development.”

Dr Gibson said if there were smaller groups of affordable homes they could be built by local builders – giving a real boost to the local economy.

He said there had been examples of local community businesses helping to improve life in Suffolk villages – the first shop opened on that basis at Polstead in 1984 and was still serving the community.

Suffolk County Council leader Mark Bee said: “We’re acutely aware of the impact that poor broadband access has on people and businesses, especially in rural communities.

“That’s precisely why we’re one of the first areas in the country to embark on such a large broadband programme. We hope that by Christmas, the first homes and businesses will start benefiting from better broadband provision.

“Suffolk County Council has already begun changing the way it works to focus more on the needs of local areas, rather than providing a one size fits all service.

“We’ve got some development to do in this area however it’s important for large organisation like a county council to think and work in this way, so that the benefits we can bring to local people can be maximised.”

Parishes were concerned about speeding drivers and the number of HGV lorries that went through some communities.

There were concerns about rural crime as a whole and specifically about anti-social behaviour in villages.

The two most pressing environmental issues were the number of wind farms being developed and dog fouling.

The figures show some significant changes over the last four years.

As broadband has been extended, every village now has some provision – although for some parishes this is very slow compared to that in major towns, especially those areas of Ipswich and Felixstowe which have fibre-optic cable connections.

Although the need for more affordable housing is given as one of the main concerns in the report, there does appear to be some progress towards this.

Over the last four years the proportion of parishes with affordable housing has increased from 29% to 53%.

However there are some more concerning figures.

The number of parishes with have no youth organisations has increased from 47% to 67% – an increase that has come as the county council’s youth service was cut.

And the number of parishes which hosted courses in IT or computer skill has almost halved from 58% to 30%.

The number of parishes without banking facilities has increased as has the number without a post office.

There has also been a significant increase in the proportion of communities without any scheduled bus service – an increase that, again, has happened since the county council’s cuts introduced last year.

On the more positive side, the number of parishes with a village hall or community centre has increased and the number of parishes with a pub has also increased. The number of parishes without a village store has fallen marginally.

And the proportion of parishes with a secondary or primary school has increased marginally – possibly because of the opening of new free schools and academies.

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