READERS’ LETTERS: From the Bury Free Press of Friday, February 6

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A selection of letters from the Bury Free Press of Friday, February 6.

FOLK WERE HAPPY AT ERSKINE LODGE

I read with interest the report (Bury Free Press, January 23) concerning the Erskine Lodge site at Great Whelnetham.

As a former resident of Erskine Lodge, I want to take to task the statement Havebury Housing made, saying ‘its bedsits with shared facilities proved to be undesirable’. We had no shared faciities there. Our bedsits had a separate bathroom containing a bath, washbasin and toilet, a few even had showers as well. True, the kitchen, living space and bed area were all rolled into one, but the kitchen part, like any normal kitchen, had a sink and taps.

There was real community spirit there – we all got on so well. It was shocking the elderly residents with health problems had to get out. I met my partner there and we would have liked to have stayed.

In October 2012, Havebury made an official announcement to the residents that the place was going to close.Prior to this, for some considerable time, there were stong rumours that it was going to close. So strong were these rumours that in November 2011 it prompted most of us residents to write a letter to the chief executive. I will quote from some of the lengthy reply: “I was concerned to learn you are worried about the future of your home at Erskine Lodge. I am pleased to confirm that all properties at Erskine Lodge continue to be offered via Home-Link and we are happy to let properties at Erskine Lodge should anyone express an interest in them. Furthermore, if anyone expresses an interest in sheltered accommodation in another area but is unsuccessful, our allocation team will suggest an Erskine Lodge property as an alternative choice. Turning to your final points which are that Erskine Lodge is to be closed, I am able to confirm that at the present time there are no plans to close any further sheltered housing schemes in Havebury’s ownership.”

For most of us after receiving this letter our fears about a possible closure were not eased, but in April 2012 Havebury offered my partner and myself our first home togethere elsewhere.

-- Bevis Hurst, Clare

CLOSURES ARE A TRAGEDY

The closure of nine children’s centres in Suffolk is a tragedy. A tragedy for parents, often living in difficult circumstances, often isolated or with health and social issues, who need the support and guidance offered by the centres in their efforts to nurture their children physically, emotionally and developmentally. Every parent knows just how hard it can be; we are all amateur parents! Imagine how much more hard it must be to bring up your children when coping with financial, physical or emotional difficulties. Sporadic outreach will be no substitute for a permanent centre.

A tragedy for the children whose parents will no longer be supported throughout the crucial early years. A child’s experience 0-5 years shapes their future health, happiness, educational achievement and ability to be good citizens. Research by Action for Children has shown that 77% of children attending Children’s Centre had improved health, education and development outcomes. Is not helping our children have a decent future an essential, not an option?

Because ultimately, the closure of these nine centres, and all those other centres which are closing around the country, is a tragedy for us all. By damaging these children’s chance of a brighter future, we also damage our chance of living in a country where everyone is valued and valuable, where everyone reaches their full potential and fully participates in society.

Our children are our future, we forget that at our peril.

-- Julia Wakelam, Green Party Councillor , Risbygate Ward, St Edmundsbury Borough Council

ESTATE CAT WILL BE MISSED

Whoever it was that knocked over Merlin the Howard estate cat (Bury Free Press, January 30), I hope you are feeling guilty. You may be thinking, ‘well it’s only a cat’, but he was the Howard Estate shops’ cat and was liked by a number of people and he will be missed.

-- Name and address supplied

LET’S HAVE A PLAQUE TO REMEMBER CAT

I refer to the touching story in last week’s Bury Free Press of Merlin the ‘cheeky’ cat who was loved by all, but who was unfortunately run over and killed. I do hope sufficient funds will be raised to enable a plaque to be produced and erected in his memory, perhaps somewhere in the shopping precinct on the Howard Estate, which was his very own territory.

It might just be possible that he will meet up – in catsville in the sky – with Oscar, a very friendly ‘outdoor’ cat who roamed St Olaves Road and McIntyre Walk a few years ago, who would follow anyone who stopped to stroke him. I recall picking him up and returning him to ‘his’ side of the road on more than one occasion after he had followed me.

-- Brian Davies, Bury St Edmunds

A MASSIVE OPPORTUNITY

West Suffolk has enjoyed good relations with our American cousins over the last 70 years but times have moved on and the recent announcement that the US airbase at Mildenhall will close, has generated mixed reactions.

Certainly, those local businesses who rely on the base will be affected although the corresponding expansion of Lakenheath is likely to lessen the impact. Without wishing to dismissthe effects on those whose livelihood relies on the base, I have never been convinced that the US airbase in Mildenhall brings large economic benefits to the area. From my perspective, much of the trade generated by the base is carried out in US dollars on the base. Only a small proportion spills over and this does not balance the economic costs from pressure on schools, housing, roads and infrastructure that the large American population brings.

If it were the case that a big US airbase brings with it economic prosperity, then we would expect to see neighbouring Lakenheath as a thriving, bustling community in the same way that the villages close to Cambridge are. Clearly, this is not the case.

I believe the closure of RAF Mildenhall provides a massive economic opportunity for West Suffolk. Local councillor James Waters has been quick to realise this and was the first out of the blocks in his statement of ‘not sitting on our hands’. He and local MP Matthew Hancock will be important players in this matter. They have before them a number of strategic options – some of which offer much greater economic opportunity than the presence of a US airbase ever could.

Some will argue that ‘it’ll be just another disused base’ – after all, East Anglia is littered with disused airbases and the region’s track record of turning such assets in to generators of economic wealth is not great. Bentwaters is a notable example.

Mildenhall is unlikely to be another Bentwaters for several reasons: Firstly, it’s massive in terms of area, buildings and infrastructure, with one of the longest and best runways in Europe. Secondly, it is in very good order from large-scale investment in recent years.

Thirdly, it is close to the newly expanded A11 which runs north-south, and the A14, which runs east-west. Fourth, it’s less than a half hour commute from Cambridge – one of the UK’s most important and fastest-growing clusters for economic prosperity. Fifth, we have time. The closure is more than five years away – plenty enough time for even the slowest of governments to capitalise on this opportunity and generate wealth for West Suffolk. I am encouraged that other local residents have also seen the potential upside to the closure. Some have ventured the idea that Mildenhall could remove the need for Heathrow’s third runway. Whilst technically this is possible, given that the runaway is almost 2 miles long, there is one major problem: it isn’t close to any major centres of population.

For air-freight, however, well, that’s a completely different matter. Thanks to globalization of trade, international air-freight is a huge and rapidly expanding industry. The potential to use Mildenhall’s massive infrastructure for warehousing, distribution and international air-freight – as well as its proximity to the UK’s road network and Felixstowe offers great potential for the likes of FedEx, DHL or TNT.

Another local resident is Steve Bowns, CEO of Technology Futures – an expert on military capability and equipment: “Mildenhall is a valuable strategic asset. If a conflict were to arise in the next few years that needed air-to-air refuelling from Mildenhall, I would not be surprised if the Pentagon were to shelve these plans – at least temporarily. Similarly, at this early stage I would not rule out it becoming a UK air-base.”

Perhaps the strategic options with the biggest economic impact for West Suffolk would be the creation of an industry park and/or the relocation of a large aerospace company on to the site. Such businesses typically generate large numbers of high-skill, well-paid jobs as well as a plethora of support and supply jobs. The UK has a strong aerospace industry making products for the rapidly expanding civil aviation market. Marshalls of Cambridge is one obvious local candidate but they have already ruled themselves out, preferring to remain in Cambridge.

Nevertheless, if Marshalls are not interested then their competitors will be. They will see the potential of a well-maintained, long runway; large-scale aircraft maintenance facilities; extensive offices and parking; in an area offering a great quality of life to potential employees.

Another option is the development of the site for more housing – possibly as one of the Governments’ new garden towns. UK government has already indicated the need for more housing in East Anglia especially. The large area of the airbase means that there is the potential for Mildenhall to more than double in size – joining up West Row, Beck Row and Holywell Row into a single town. This would be attractive to the UK Government as it opens up the potential to provide lower cost housing for rapidly expanding and congested Cambridge. It is unlikely that the whole site would be purely residential because of its large scale. More likely is that redevelopment would see a mix of residential, commercial and industrial development. Certainly, this would be very good news for the shops and business of Mildenhall town centre.

There is also potential for solar and wind energy parks, science parks, a race track as well as options from combinations and permutations of all of the above.

With such an array of options coupled with West Suffolk’s ‘can-do’ attitude, my outlook is extremely positive.

This opportunity is so big that this is not just about economic regeneration for West Suffolk – it’s should be on the agenda for UK plc.

-- Mark Howard, CEO, Zettlex

REMEMBERING B-17 CREW

On January 6, a ‘Thinking of You’ card was laid with bouquets of roses in Home Covert in Moreton Hall. Seventy years ago a B-17 bomber crashed there, leaving two depressions in the earth. The card was written in memory of the crew, and was signed by Derek and Alfie (aged 6). Please would Derek get in touch with Elizabeth – on email address ecreid72@gmail.com – so that we may discuss a more permanent memorial.

-- Elzabeth Reid, via email

STREAM HOLDS HAPPY MEMORIES

I saw your request for volunteers for the Tayfen Stream project and it brought back memories of my childhood in Bury St Edmunds, of playing in the stream when I was a boy. During the war years I lived in Cannon Street and spent

many happy hours down there trying to catch tiddlers and getting soaking wet, also going to the gasworks across the road on Saturdays to get bags of coke for the fire. There was a huge round tank in the ground just inside tthe gates and it was full of goldfish of all sizes. Back in the 1860s some of my wife’s ancestors lived in the cottages which were known as the Tayfen. I am now almost 85 and I live in Ipswich.

-- Peter Phillips, Ipswich