COVID-19 has not stopped Suffolk County Council from protecting Suffolk’s natural environment the council’s leader said on 22 October.
In his third executive statement to the council, Councillor Matthew Hicks thanked the authority’s staff and councillors who have taken to kitchen tables, spare rooms and bedside tables to keep council services running and protect Suffolk’s most vulnerable adults and children throughout the pandemic.
Speaking at the meeting, Councillor Hicks said:
“I want to pay special thanks to our outstanding staff, who time and time again have gone above and beyond expectations to support those who have been affected by the pandemic, and to ensure people across Suffolk get the tailored support and service they need to stay safe and well.
“Many staff, including our carers, social workers, foster families and firefighters, to name a few, continued to work at the height of the pandemic, facing exceptionally difficult conditions, delivering the same quality of care, compassion and professionalism, despite such uncertainty.
“I know I speak for every county councillor when I say we are exceptionally grateful to all our staff at this time.”
He recognised that despite the challenges, the council has:
- Created new school places for children with special education needs, with 210 young people attending new, special units at schools in East Suffolk, West Suffolk and Ipswich.
- Made it possible for 98% of premises in Suffolk to access superfast broadband, with a plan for the remaining 2%.
- Maintained a stable budget, despite the increasing demand and cost of running public services.
- Agreed a new model for Family Hubs in Suffolk, releasing funding tied up in buildings to reinvest in more staff to help people.
- Fought for Suffolk’s interests in the development of Sizewell C and other energy projects.
- Secured the funding and appointed a company to build the Gull Wing bridge in Lowestoft.
On the council’s work to protect the environment and reduce carbon emissions, Councillor Hicks said:
“I am extremely pleased with the progress and momentum we have put into strengthening our environmental credentials this year, as part of our commitment towards addressing the climate emergency which we declared last March.
“I am also very pleased to confirm that the first three Suffolk 2020 projects have been launched to support local communities and focus on key environmental priorities. We are increasing the number of electric vehicle charging points offered across the county, with particular focus on rural areas. It is my hope that the, at least, 100 additional charging points will give Suffolk one of the best, if not the best, rural charging networks.
We are creating a series of ‘quiet lanes’, reducing the number of motorised vehicles using certain single track lanes, and have committed funding to plant at least 100,000 trees in the next 18 months, improve our maintenance of trees and hedgerows, and manage our roadside verges better for wildlife.”
On the council’s major programme to resurface a quarter of Suffolk’s road network within four years, he said:
“In August this year, a fresh new road surface was laid in Eye as we accomplished our commitment to surface 1000 miles of Suffolk’s road over a four-year period. A commitment we have delivered ahead of time.”
On housing, he said:
“As the third largest landowner in Suffolk, the county council is in a prime position to support the growing local need for new housing and the supporting community infrastructure. I am really pleased that a great deal has been achieved during the last 18 months towards meeting my commitment to explore potential development opportunities and generate income for the county council.
“As an illustration of what’s to come, we have now handed over the site at Chilton Woods near Sudbury to a commercial house builder to develop 1150 homes over the next 10 years, offering numerous community benefits including new school provision, new sports facilities and community woodland with children’s play areas. We will invest the income from this site in a range of council services.
“Two further large schemes are currently being planned in North Lowestoft and West Mildenhall with consultations planned for later this year. These schemes will include over 2,000 new homes, with new schools and an array of supporting community facilities.”
Building on work in the past 18 months, Councillor Hicks pledged to continue working collaboratively with district and borough councils, other public sector partners, businesses, and residents to find the best ways of delivering services to the people that need them most.
Ending his executive statement, Councillor Hicks said:
“My passion and my commitment remain as strong as ever. My approach is centred on the principles of listening, collaborating, being open and transparent, being supportive, and taking a pragmatic view when it comes to taking tough decisions.”
See the speech delivered on the recording of the October 2020 meeting of Suffolk County Council. The full speech starts at 01:23:00.