Ups and Downs

There can be few things more exhilarating than winning an award or plunging down a water slide. Winning an award while plunging down a water slide might qualify, but what are the chances of that?!

I am, of course, referring to the recent success of this here blog at the Essex Digital Awards, scooping Bronze in the ‘Blog: Entertainment’ category, and the SlideRider event I’ll be joining, on May Bank Holiday Monday, to help raise funds for Cancer Research UK and the Mayor’s charities.

First off, I was absolutely delighted Pritchard’s Point of View made it to the finals of the Essex Digital Awards, and even more thrilled to scoop a prize. It really is heartening to know that the judges recognised the way the blog connects with its audience – locally, nationally and internationally – and is helping, in some small way, to raise the profile of the borough, the work of the Council, and the hard work and dedication of all my staff. Of course, the most important judges are you, loyal readers, who I hope will continue to take an interest in my musings and find something to inform and entertain you along the way.


That’s the ‘up’ part – now for the ‘down’. The ‘down’ being a huge 250-metre water slide running the length of North Hill, along which I shall soon be hurtling headfirst at 20mph for two well-deserved charities. I have to confess, I’m not looking forward to it, believing my days of getting wet and cold whizzing down water slides to be well and truly behind me. But it is for charity! And should the adrenaline-fuelled euphoria of the descent eventually take hold of me… who knows? I might even wonder why I didn’t elect to have another go.

Slide Rider 2

If you’d like to sponsor my slippery descent, please visit my JustGiving page and pledge what you can. Do it for the reward of knowing your money will be go to some great causes, or simply because you thrive on schadenfreude and the glee of knowing the terror I may experience on the way down. Whatever your motive, please donate something.


PS: You could be forgiven for thinking I’m a glutton for punishment, if you watch my previous escapade abseiling down Colchester Town Hall. Check out the video here.


Elections – Thursday 5th May

Don’t you just love elections? Hope, fear, ambition, trepidation, elation, dejection. And this is just me and all my colleagues who play a part in the election process.

Thursday 5th May 2016 is an important election date in the history of Colchester borough and Greater Essex. This May we have all borough Council seats up for grabs. We currently have 60 councillors in the borough, but we are reducing to 51 councillors in 17 revised wards, with three councillor seats in each ward.

So your ballot paper will look different this year. You will be allowed, up to and including, three votes as there are three councillor seats available. Just put your cross against a maximum of three candidates, for us to count your choices. You don’t have to vote for three; one or two is fine, but you are allowed three and I would urge you to use all three. However, the choice is yours.

Please don’t vote for four or more candidates, as your ballot paper will be seen as spoilt.

So, an example ballot paper:

      Borough Council Election

Candidate  1
Candidate  2


Candidate  3


Candidate  4
Candidate  5
Candidate  6
Candidate  7


Candidate  8
Candidate  9

Vote for up to 3 candidates

Got it? Good. Let me worry about how we count your votes! Just remember, the 51 councillors elected will take decisions on your behalf about the services we provide, the resources we use, and the direction the borough takes. Remember though, we don’t do schools, social care, or highways and potholes. You will have to wait for the 2017 elections for Essex County Council to determine which councillors take those decisions on your behalf.

Two for the price of one
On 5th May, not only do you get to vote in the Colchester Borough Council elections but you also get to vote for the Essex Police and Crime Commissioner. It is a different way of voting in this election. Here you will receive a ballot paper with five candidates and you choose your 1st choice candidate and your 2nd choice candidate. So in the first column mark your 1st choice candidate. In the second column mark your 2nd choice candidate.

So, an example ballot paper:

      Essex Police and Crime Commissioner Election

1st choice

2nd choice

Candidate  1


Candidate  2    
Candidate  3  


Candidate  4    
Candidate  5    

Put your X in the first column for your 1st choice candidate and
put your X in the second column for your 2nd choice candidate.

Got it? Good. Let me worry about how we count your votes!

So, for the 5th May 2016 elections, you will receive two ballot papers…

One for the 51 borough councillor seats being contested, where you get up to three votes for three different candidates. Those three councillors will represent you in the ward in which you live.

Then you will get an Essex Police and Crime Commissioner ballot paper, where you can vote for your 1st choice candidate (in column 1) and for your 2nd choice candidate (in column 2).

If you have not received a poll card you may not be on the register, so please call 01206 282820 to check

If you need to register go to, provide us with the necessary information, and do it by the 18 April at the latest. After that we can’t register you and you can’t vote.

For my part, I promise to count all your votes (if valid) and announce the 51 borough councillors as soon as I can in the early hours of Friday morning.

I will also announce the new Essex Police and Crime Commissioner late afternoon on the Friday. To see more information on the Police and Crime Commissioner election, visit: or

Happy voting!

Greener growth means Garden Settlements

You’ve no doubt heard the expression ‘You can’t fit a quart into a pint pot.’ Well some of you will have. I realise we are into litres now, but for me the quote fits.

‘You can’t fit a quart into a pint pot’ refers, of course, to the impossibility of fitting something into a space designed for something only half as big.

Colcestrians won’t be alone – or wrong – in thinking their town contains only so much development land, and that to meet the growing demand for more houses and jobs a sustainable solution will have to be found (far bigger than the proverbial pint pot) which can meet those needs without having to build on every last scrap of the living earth. A process urban planning folk euphemistically call ‘densification’.

So if continuing densification isn’t a long-term growth solution for Colchester, what other alternatives could meet the development challenges that lie ahead? Cue: Garden Settlements.

You may already be aware that, along with Braintree District Council, Tendring District Council and Essex County Council, we’ve begun to explore the idea of developing up to four Garden Settlements in north Essex which will help to meet the increasing demand for new homes generated by a growing population in our region.

The watchword here – and every step along the way – is ‘sustainability’: how we can meet the future needs of a growing population without overwhelming the services and infrastructure that underpin the quality of life we already enjoy. Intelligently-planned Garden Settlements could be the answer.

“So what are Garden Settlements?” I hear you cry. Well, one thing they’re not is haphazard ‘sprawl’ or some kind of expanding asteroid belt of random developments popping up all over the place just beyond the edges of town. On the contrary, Garden City principles are all about creating planned new settlements which enhance the natural environment, provide high-quality affordable housing, infrastructure and locally accessible jobs.

They’re what you might call ‘smart’ developments, which combine the very best of town and country living, with all of the necessary services and infrastructure, such as cultural, sports and leisure facilities built-in right from the start. They’re planned around enabling people to travel within the community and to other settlements on foot, by cycle, by car or by bus, via an accessible and integrated transport system. And green space is enshrined in the design with parks, gardens, and open space all complimenting and enhancing existing natural environmental assets.

It took nearly 2000 years of incremental, organic growth for Colchester to become the town it is today. Garden Settlements won’t take quite as long as that to mature, but will develop over a period of time alongside new infrastructure and jobs.

So what’s the next milestone on the road to these proposed new Garden Settlements? Well, we’re currently working towards producing a new Local Plan which will be subject to public consultation in the summer. The partnership we’ve formed with neighbouring authorities was recently awarded £640,000 grant-funding from central government, for initial work to investigate if Garden Settlements are appropriate for this part of the world. This initial piece of work will provide evidence on infrastructure needs, the number of new homes and new jobs that could be created, and the provision of green spaces.

Unlocking large-scale housing developments is critical to driving the supply of new homes in the medium- to long-term. They can offer a more strategic and thoughtful alternative to sequential development (aka “sprawl”) around existing communities, which can sometimes burden existing infrastructure such as hospitals and schools.

Once the public consultation has taken place, we’ll review all the responses and determine whether the Local plan needs to be revised prior to submission to the Planning Inspectorate. An independent examination is then expected to take place in 2017.

When the town planner Ebenezer Howard set out his vision, in the 1890s, for a series of ideal towns in England, coining the term ‘Garden Cities’ for new settlements combining the best of the city and countryside, he was proposing a radical solution to the housing crisis of the day. Back then, the population of the UK was 38million. Today, that number has grown to more than 64million, and, like many other parts of the country, our town and region is feeling the effects of that growth more and more.

I think garden settlements represent a bold and enlightened solution to the population pressures we face, as well as the duties, obligations and responsibilities we have as a local authority to provide affordable homes and a decent way of life for all of our citizens. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing how much they’ll deliver on their potential.

That Was The Year That Was

For me, the abiding appeal of that classic Hollywood film and perennial Christmas TV favourite ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ is the way it makes us think about the interconnectedness of people and the importance of appreciating the simpler things in life. Okay, the director, Frank Capra, piles on the sentimentality in places, but by the end-credits we’ve learned some valuable lessons about just how easy it is to take for granted the community we live in, and how creating and maintaining a vibrant town doesn’t just happen by chance but through the willingness and care of everyone who lives in it. The film tells us plainly: if we really want to create communities worth living in, and places worth caring about, then we have to step forward to make it happen.

I meet people every day who are helping to ‘make it happen’, who are working incredibly hard on behalf of the local community to improve the lives of the people who live and work in our Borough. And so I guess, with the festive period and New Year fast approaching, now feels like an appropriate time to look back at just a few of the many highlights of an eventful and busy 2015, and pay tribute to all of my staff for their hard work in helping to make Colchester a better place for all…

‘Making a difference’ was very much the emphasis during two Community Days of Action held in Berechurch in February and Lexden in September, led by the Safer Colchester Partnership. The Lexden Day of Action was the first to be organised around a bid by the local community to host the event and deliver legacy improvements for local people. Look out for another two events in 2016 – the first one in Greenstead, in March. And, as I write, we’ve just announced Colchester’s Big Choice, offering up to £200,000 to deliver projects that will provide long-lasting community benefits for the Borough, with residents having a final say on which ones go ahead.

Outcomes from across the range of our services tell the story of council staff working incredibly hard to serve our residents and customers. Where to begin? Over 202,000 contacts handled through our Customer Service Centre this year, for starters. I could also mention the 25,440 benefits changes processed between April and October, and the 3910 new Housing Benefit and Local Council Tax support claims processed in the same period. Then there were the 925 planning applications determined between April and October – 90% of which were decided faster than the Government target – not forgetting the 3397 resident permits issued across the North Essex Parking Partnership area.

The Community Hub in the Library continued to create a communal ‘buzz’, offering a host of frontline customer services under one roof and encouraging residents to register for an online account to do many of the things they could once only do in person – such as pay bills and receive help with benefits – which has helped to revolutionise the way people access our services.

Colchester’s cultural life was as vibrant as ever this year. The castle continued to delight and draw the crowds. Colchester Market relocated to the High Street, and the town centre received a Purple Flag award for providing a positive experience to night-time visitors. There was a Green Flag award for our much-loved Castle Park and High Woods Country Park, and Colchester won double awards from Britain in Bloom and Anglia in Bloom. Who, among the thousands who attended, will forget the amazing Light and Shades Halloween laser show which beamed animated stories onto the exterior of the Town Hall? Is it any wonder confidence in the Town Centre continued to grow this year, along with more than £500million earmarked for new projects, including the Creative Business Centre and a new Curzon cinema?

I could literally could go on until Christmas recounting all of the great things over the past 12 months that have helped make our borough a place worth caring about – but perhaps I should use what little space remains just to say a huge ‘thank you’ to all of my council colleagues and to you, the reader, for continuing to take an interest in my Blog.

I wish you all a very happy Christmas and a prosperous 2016.

Brave New Digital World

I’m almost certain if you’re reading this here blog, you’re online. It’s where people seem to spend a lot of their time these days tweeting, shopping, gaming, Skyping and generally interacting in ways which would seem utterly bewildering to people used only to face-to-face contact, postal deliveries and telephone calls less than a generation ago.

Like it or not, we live in a world which is progressively more digital. All-encompassing cyberspace is helping to connect us in novel and far-reaching ways. It’s how I am able to speak to you now, and, as a council, it’s providing us with new methods to deliver some of our services much more flexibly and efficiently.

Take, for example, our new website launched last year, which receives over 110,000 visits per month on average… It’s not just the place to go for user-friendly information about our day-to-day work and the services we offer; it’s increasingly the place where residents can engage with us for more straightforward interactions such as paying bills.

November saw the launch of our campaign to support residents accessing several services through their online account at This is a place where they can quickly and easily see how much Council Tax they owe, set up a Direct Debit, apply for a Single Person Discount and switch to e-billing. Housing Benefit recipients can also view their entitlement, check correspondence and the income on a claim. Making these and other services available online is just one way that we’re supporting residents to manage their household budget and find the information at a time convenient to them, rather than having to phone, email or visit in person.

We’ve also been developing existing partnerships with several social landlords and charities operating in the borough, to encourage their tenants to access online services too.

We’ve already seen a significant dividend, shifting to online services. For instance, between September 2014 and March 2015 customer engagements increased 89% across our website (not including payments), increased by 71% in the Revenues and Benefits area of the website, and by more than a 100% in visitor traffic to the Planning pages, with a noticeable drop in the number of inbound telephone calls. This has helped us make £300,000 savings last year and on-target savings of £400,000 this year – money that can be diverted to other front-line services.

You can connect with us elsewhere in cyberspace, too, including our Visit Colchester tourism website and app, and via a busy social media presence on Twitter and Facebook, with dedicated profiles for Leisure World, the Town Hall, Colchester Market, and Colchester Museums. Then there’s our YouTube Channel, showcasing life in Colchester to a truly global audience. And those interested in local history can download the Colchester Heritage App, an interactive guide which allows you to explore the borough’s historical treasures.

Our commitment to use the best that digital technology has to offer is also helping to transform the way we manage off-street parking. We recently launched MiPermit, a cashless way of paying for parking using a smartphone app, online portal, text or phone call, with no need to issue a paper ticket. Its convenience and flexibility means you can top-up a parking stay at any time, so a shopping trip, meal out or an over-running appointment needn’t be cut short. Very useful, I’d say, with the Christmas shopping season approaching fast.

I’m tremendously proud of the leaps we’ve taken to connect digitally with the people we serve and — knowing how amazingly fast technology continues to advance — am really excited about the changes still to come.

BB4N (bye-bye for now).

Think Global, Act Local

It’s no wonder we face an uphill struggle combating climate change, when petrol costs less than bottled water in some parts of the world. Nowhere is the global warming dilemma – between ‘happy motoring’ on the one hand and ‘protecting the environment’ on the other – felt more acutely, perhaps, than in the United States, from where I’ve just returned from a holiday.

America is a big place – full of big cars, big roads, big everything! Convenience is King, and don’t you forget it! Seeing such an abundance of riches in the world’s leading consumer society, I began to wonder if things will ever change: will Americans ever find a way to manage their affairs sustainably, in ways that don’t threaten the ability of future generations to do the same? Will we, here in the UK and Europe?

I’m optimistic. The US leads the world in developing alternative energy and other green technologies, holding out the hope that we won’t always have to choose between saving the Economy and saving the Earth. And as the saying goes: when America sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold (and sometimes even the flu). Just look at the huge strides the UK has already made generating a substantial amount of its energy from wind power. Not only is it helping to prevent climate change, it’s also helping to reduce the economic burden of importing vast quantities of oil and gas. That’s a win-win situation, as far as I’m concerned.

So what are we doing locally to tackle climate change? First off, the council takes its environmental obligations very seriously and recently signed up to the Local Government Authority’s Climate Local Commitment (snappy title, I know), a carbon reduction plan that aims to reduce our carbon emissions by a whopping 40%. The Climate Local Commitment also supports our 2015-2020 Environmental Sustainability Strategy, a wide-ranging pledge to reduce the environmental impact of our core activities and services.

We’ve already proven we can make a significant difference, having exceeded our 25% carbon reduction target with our last Carbon Management Plan. And we’ve been helping residents reduce their energy bills, too, by encouraging them to sign up to the Big Community Switch, which has so far saved the 600 households who’ve switched a total of £138,510 on their energy bills. We’ve also generated income by feeding excess electricity back into the National Grid from solar panels installed on council homes, avoiding more than 1,200 tons of CO2 emissions in the process. And our Warm Homes Project is helping residents reduce their energy bills, with home insulation and other energy-saving improvements.

The more I see the progress we’ve made, the more I realise it doesn’t always have to involve the straight choice between costs and ethics – between saving money and saving the planet. It’s perfectly possible to do both, nationally, locally and as individuals. Each one of us has the power to make the world a better place. I know that will sound airy-fairy to some, but actually I’m a pragmatist. I realise it’s not going to be easy to turn around the climate change juggernaut, but ‘doing nothing’ is really not a sustainable option either.

Perhaps each of us can look at some other changes we can make at home, at work or in our business which helps reduce our carbon footprint a little bit more, and save ourselves some extra money into the bargain.

North Essex Parking Partnership (NEPP)

We often get asked who the NEPP are, what their role is and perhaps mostly – how much do the Enforcement Officers get paid in commission for hitting their targets in issuing tickets!

Well I hope to explain all of this in my latest blog post and do some ‘myth busting’ along the way.

First things first. The NEPP stands for the North Essex Parking Partnership. They are a Joint Committee of 7 local authorities that provides a partnership between Essex County Council and six district and borough councils – Braintree, Colchester, Epping, Harlow, Tendring, Uttlesford.

And yes before you ask, there is a South Essex Parking Partnership that covers the other areas of the county.

Why do the NEPP have such a strong link to Colchester Borough Council? We are actually the authority that manages the joint service and employs all the staff for the Partnership as well as providing its communications and marketing services. I hope you’re still with me. It is effectively a shared service managed and run by Colchester Borough Council although the Joint Committee of 7 authorities agree all the policies and policy changes.

At this point I think it is important to address the issue surrounding Enforcement Officers and commission. Quite simply our Enforcement Officers DO NOT work on commission nor do they have targets to hit – in fact what they do get… is grief!

Whether they issue 10 or 100 notices the officers get paid the same every month. The most important thing is that the notices and the charges are fair and valid.  We do not expect to get it wrong otherwise it is costly to us in both time and resources.

I’ve actually spent a day with a Civil Enforcement Officer that works for the NEPP and watched how they go about their work and interact with the public. Although this probably goes against most people’s perceptions they were very reasonable and genuine. Of course you say he would be because you were there. Oh come on. He knew his job, his role and how he should conduct himself.

The best way to understand the role of an Enforcement Officer is by looking at why we need to enforce in the first place? Well we need to keep traffic flowing, to ease congestion and to make it safe.

We have people contact the council to complain about how busy Colchester’s roads can be but believe me, it would be a lot worse if we didn’t have Enforcement Officers managing parking. However, some of these same people can be the first to complain should they get a ‘ticket’.

There are two types of enforcement – on and off-street parking. Off-street parking refers to the parking in council owned car parks while on-street parking refers to things like the yellow lines on roads, parking bays and permit areas.

Our Civil Enforcement Officers go through a stringent training programme so they know what constitutes an offence and yes as with anything I am sure we get it wrong; but very very occasionally. Most of the time we don’t!

You know the best way of not getting a ticket – don’t park where you are not meant to. And don’t park in our car parks without buying a ticket. And please don’t tell me about Civil Enforcement Officers hiding behind bushes or walls! It is a great story, but….Don’t park illegally – we won’t issue a ticket – you won’t get angry – we won’t need to read and try to understand some of the reasons for appealing your ticket. Although we would miss the last part of this sequence.

Please stay safe and legal we are trying to help law abiding motorists to do just that.

If you’re interested in understanding more about the day-to-day role of a Civil Enforcement Officer then I recommend reading and following a blog written by an officer in the NEPP –