The chairman of a residents’ association in Bury St Edmunds has made an appeal to councillors and members of the community in the face of falling attendance.
Ernie Broom, chair of the Howard Estate Association of Residents and Tenants (HEART), said the group had seen fewer visits from police representatives and councillors in recent months, causing concerns about its future.
Ahead of the association’s next meeting on Monday (January 18), Ernie sent an email to members and others saying that lack of appearances from councillors and police was making the meetings ‘less inviting’ to residents.
“We are a bit concerned. I should imagine all residents associations are in very much the same boat,” he said.
“It is a shame if we cannot have the police there, it is really important that they give us their report and so our problems can be taken back. With all the cut-backs, I think this is the way things are going.
“I was concerned that we might lose some of our members. But it’s a new year, and we have got to try and get something sorted. Hopefully people will have noticed, like I have, that the numbers have gone down and will think of suggestions as to how we can move forward.
“We’ve got to have new blood, otherwise it gets stale. And when you’ve got packed meetings it is better than having just a few of you.”
Ernie believes it may be possible to combine the residents’ associations on the Westley, Howard and Mildenhall Road estates, in order to ensure the survival of all three.
“If we get together and have joint meetings where we all attend, we can look after our side of the town,” he said. “That’s the way I want to move forward if everyone agrees.”
District and town councillor for St Olaves ward, Cllr Paul Hopfensperger, said he was often the only councillor at the meetings and he had not see a county councillor at an association meeting for around a year.
“I have been getting very irate about it, because there are a lot of county council issues going on up there and I’ve had to go out and sort those issue out myself,” he said.
“I think the association is very important for the estate because it is a democratic place where people can air their views in front of everyone, the councillors and the police and others.
“As far as I am concerned, it is the place to go for all residents, but it needs stronger leadership.”
Cllr Bob Cockle, fellow town and district councillor for St Olaves, said: “I’ve know Ernie since I was elected and over the years I have seen the importance of the residents’ association and how it works. It is a very good success.”
Cllr Cockle said ill health had kept him from the past few meetings, adding: “When I feel fit enough I would like to attend and see the residents as one of their elected members, because it is important to me.”
Of the idea to combine the associations, he said: “I understand Ernie’s point of view. I think it may be a good thing for the future but at the moment each of the residents’ associations is fiercely independent.”
Addressing the lack of police presence at the meetings, Superintendent Paul Sharp, who is leading the Suffolk Local Policing Review, said in order to achieve ‘required savings’ the attendance of police officers at local meetings had been reviewed.
He said: “Where possible, we want our officers to be out in local communities and have to ensure that we are prioritising their work and making the best use of their time.
“Consultation has been held with local councils to ensure that they are kept informed of our plans, with briefings given to meetings over the summer period so that local views and concerns could be addressed.”
Supt Sharp said if there was a ‘specific local issue of concern’ being discussed at a planned meeting, or a police presence was required following a major incident, the police would ‘send a representative and continue to maintain liaison’ with the parish council involved.
“Communication with local people remains key to ensuring we provide a service that is right for our communities,” he added.