…they think it’s all over, but it isn’t!
The fight for fairness and integrity in the Trimleys and Kirton.
If you would like to hear an upbeat, positive view of the future of our local villages, then you can do no better than listen to Stephen Wrinch talking about the implications of the Local Plan. Here is a man who has sprung into the limelight, seemingly out of nowhere and who has started a campaign to limit housing and industrial growth in the Kirton and Trimley area. In truth, his appearance on the planning stage may perhaps be dated to back last summer. Kirton Parish Council called a Public meeting to address the issue of the draft Local Plan and its unwelcome proposals for our area. Stephen spoke at the meeting as a member of the public and this was the start of a campaign which has grown ever since. Other meetings have been held in Trimley St. Martin, Felixstowe and Kirton, promoting the work of the ‘Kirton and Trimley Community Action Group’ (KATCAG[i]). Soundness and sustainability have become part of his everyday vocabulary in a way he may never have quite anticipated and references to the Local Plan wove in and out of the conversation as we talked. Stephen lives in Kirton, just a road’s width away from Trimley and you may be wondering why he is in the Trimley St. Martin Blog. His presence may be explained through his actions. As the man who started the KATCAG ball rolling, he can be seen to be actively working to preserve Trimley St. Martin land and it is this point of interest I was keen to examine.
I met Stephen two or three days after the responses to the Second Consultation had been submitted and there was a small space in his diary where he gave me the opportunity to talk about himself and KATCAG. The work of the people who make up the Action Group may alter the planning future of Trimley and Kirton. As such, I am a recorder of the participants activities as they are creating history as they go. The actions of Suffolk Coastal District Council and the people in the villages of Trimley and Kirton will have a lasting impact. Whatever the outcome of their actions, the point is that they are working to conserve our area from what they and many others perceive as an overburdened planning future.
Born in Ipswich in 1951, Stephen is a native of the Shotley Peninsula. He comes from Erwarton and is part of the long established Wrinch family, who have farmed the land there for many generations
“The family tree goes back to the early sixteen hundreds,” he told me, “and if I spread it out in front of you it would reach to the other end of the room.”
He indicated a distance of perhaps twenty feet and I felt a frisson of covetousness at such a glorious, visible genealogical heritage. Most of the family came from Harkstead, Erwarton and Wrabness on the Essex side of the Stour. I knew of the Wrinch farming connection as anyone who has ever lived on the Shotley Peninsula will do and could easily place his childhood home in my mind’s eye. It is one of the Suffolk villages whose placement in the landscape gives it the appearance of a land time has forgotten. With your eyes half closed, green unpeopled landscape and open views of the River Stour can take you back two or three centuries with ease. Our own peninsula has more obvious latter day intrusions but not so long ago had the same under occupied appearance.
Part of Stephen’s childhood was spent sailing around the area of the Stour/Orwell confluence. I believe it was during the time of his Great-Grandfather Walter Wrinch there were twelve barges at Ness Farm. Stephen told me they would ship cereal crops down the North Sea to London and return laden with Horse Manure, which was spread on the land.
“The farm is still benefitting!”
he told me, although it is his cousin who now farms the land. Had Stephen followed a different career path, it is likely he would now be a Farmer. One small barge, the Cygnet, often moored alongside at Snape Maltings, was the barge his great-grandfather used as an Harwich Harbour run-around. Sailing has been part of his adult life and although he no longer owns a boat, he continues to sail with other people in their boats. He described a yacht race from Den Helder to London where his ability to position the yacht using star sights enabled the yacht to win the race (long before the days of GPS units!).
Stephen’s childhood wasn’t spent exclusively in Erwarton but included attendance at St. Edmunds School in Martlesham, now better known as Milsom’s and originally built as Kesgrave Hall. His senior education was spent at Haileybury in Hertfordshire. After leaving school, he initially followed his roots and worked as a Farming Apprentice in Ardleigh but decided it was not for him. I don’t know if sailing off Harwich influenced him at all but his next move was to join the Merchant Navy as a Deck Officer. He subsequently experienced the excitement, danger and boredom of the high seas and was the start of a rich and varied career, unrestricted by expectation and unlimited in choice. The Merchant Navy was followed by a period working for Trinity House, out of Harwich, as well as a spell based in Great Yarmouth. This was followed by a move to the General Council of British Shipping, which enabled him to develop skills in the field of Industrial Relations. It was a natural to build on these experiences which allowed him to establish his own successful company and then sometime later after move to establish a consultancy in a different field. In the course of his working life, he has developed practical, managerial, consultancy and business skills. His ability to learn, adapt and consolidate these skills is one of the hallmarks of his success. In 2009, he was approached to sell his business, which he did prior to moving to Innocence House in 2010. At the same time, he also bought two Guest Houses in Ipswich known as Innocence Rooms and these became a different work focus.
Rather like Becca Atherstone, I suppose his life assumed a different pace and focus when formal work ceased. And like Becca, all that changed with the arrival of the 2018 Draft Local Plan. When Stephen attended the Kirton Parish Council Meeting, he knew nothing about planning and to be truthful, not many lay people do understand the arcane and abstruse language of planning. But what he didn’t know was, and is addressed on a daily basis; the learning curve may have been perpendicular but not insurmountable. And what he did know was that he wanted to oppose the plans and encourage others to object as well. This is now history, because he was swift to form KATCAG, a non-political party. He gathered supporters as he went, organised the local petition objecting to the contents of the Draft Plan and then delivered it to the Planning Department at Suffolk Coastal. There have been two other peaceful protests; one on 27th November 2018 and one on the 3rd January 2019. The latter protest was at Suffolk Coastal’s Offices when the Draft Plan was discussed and approved. On every occasion, protest has been good humoured and peaceful and he has drawn understanding about how to run well-organised civic protest groups from Sir Anthony Jay’s, “Not in Our Back Yard: How to Run a Protest Campaign and Save the Neighbourhood”[ii]. (Sir Antony Jay was one of the writers of the BBC television series, “Yes Minister.”)
Planning objections across the United Kingdom are an almost daily occurrence. The twenty first century online opportunities for objection and campaigning include Change.org[iii] and 38 Degrees[iv], whilst the U.K. government[v] also presents an online opportunity to raise concerns which may be debated or addressed in Parliament if enough people sign the Petition for their cause. Historically, the effectiveness of protest in this country is uneven. Starting with Watt Tyler and the Peasants Revolt of 1381, when many of the Peasant Population marched on London with subsequent loss of lives, there are a list of actions which have achieved varying degrees of success. Kett’s Rebellion in Norfolk in 1549 against the enclosure of land, The Levellers in 1647, the Peterloo Massacre in 1819 and the General Strike of 1926 are just a few of the events where large numbers of people have been moved to object and protest. In fact, there is an earlier precedent for protest in the Trimleys. About ten or eleven years ago an Action Group was formed, “Stop Trimley Against Growth” better known as S.T.A.G., was fronted by focused and dedicated individuals who worked to influence many of the proposals of the 2008 Local Plan and is worthy of reference on its own account as a predecessor to KATCAG. What will you do with all the documentation and paperwork you are amassing, I asked Stephen? It seems important it should be saved for the future and any other campaigns which may be necessary when another Local Plan is presented in ten years’ time.
I am not seeking to place the work and approach of KATCAG in quite the same national category as the dramatic historic events mentioned above. It is a peaceful, non-political action group, run along civilised, non-confrontational lines and the fight to achieve their ends is far from over. Their objections materialise in the words and language of substantial written documents, where they challenge the soundness and sustainability of the Local Plan.
“After the adoption of the draft Local Plan on January 3rd, everyone thinks it is all over now. But it isn’t,” said Stephen, “it’s far from over and in a way, the battle has only just begun.”
I asked how much time had been spent on the submission to the Second Consultation and for Stephen alone, it was about eight to ten hours a day, seven days a week over a six to eight week period. Inevitably, it included thousands of emails, numerous discussions and endless liaison with many people both within and without the KATCAG organisation. As he described the work, it felt as though he were running an informal Planning Office. There has been considerable support on Facebook where hundreds of people are following KATCAG, many of whom are also signed up to the official website. The audience is wide although they are all accessing the campaign from different entry points. The campaign has been assisted by through the work of its Solicitor and is now employing a top Barrister. The next stage of the process is when the Inspector will examine the plan in June, when the submissions to the second consultation will be evaluated for soundness. Both the KATCAG submissions[vi] and that made by the Cross Boundary Parish Council Group[vii] have noted areas of concern and lack of soundness. As KATCAG has noted on its site,
“The Local Plan is heavily reliant on the Lichfield’s supporting documentation, which does not stand up to close examination.”
For Stephen and KATCAG, fighting the proposals does not come cheaply. I don’t know for certain but suspect most of the funding so far has come from the pockets of Steering Group members themselves but this cannot be sustained indefinitely. To continue the battle requires both time and money and the Group have to raise funds to continue their work. As Stephen has stated,
‘We do this willingly, for the benefit of all the good citizens of Kirton, Falkenham and The Trimleys. But there are only a handful of us …”
The handful have placed themselves in the public domain from more or less Day One and they work to maintain a high profile. On Saturday 9th March the Group will be hitting the mean streets of Felixstowe with a Pop-Up stall on The Triangle. Anyone who wishes will be able to approach them to discover more about their work. Funding is clearly a priority. Stephen showed me two proposals for fund raising. One will be an Auction of Promises and the other an Auction of Un-Wanteds. Proceeds from both will help to swell the coffers and if you look on the KATCAG website you can see the distance they have to go before they reach their immediate goal of £30,000. The Group is already considering what should happen to any excess funding and as a Charity, the accounts will have to be audited.
I was curious to know what will happen after the Campaign finishes, because whatever the end result, it does have a finite life. Stephen is a man with a positive, can-do outlook which is backed up by determination and gusto. He works hard to take people with him, whatever the project in hand may be. He is absolutely clear KATCAG is a non-political party and this is specifically stated on the website. However, his next step is of a slightly different flavour. He is going to stand as an Independent Councillor in the Election to be held on May 2nd 2019 for the new District Council Ward, “Orwell and the Villages”[viii]. whose topography includes much of the old Colneis Hundred[ix] covering the area between Nacton, Waldringfield, Falkenham, Kirton, Levington and the two Trimleys. He would like to see an East Suffolk Alliance of Councillors whose policies are based on Community needs rather than that those of Party Politics and who have an environmental focus. Come April, Stephen will be out in the Ward advancing the Independent cause and you are likely to see him advancing his beliefs and policies.
As with Becca Atherstone and Iain Irvine, the two other two KATCAG activists I have spoken to, I asked Stephen for one word which might sum up what drives him to work so tirelessly for the Campaign. He supports the conservation of green field sites, partly because of his background. He doesn’t feel the Local Plan has integrity and basically, it is unsound. He stated that the evidence base presented in the 2018 Dock study, or ‘Lichfield Report’ is flawed. He wants people to do the right thing by their communities, regardless of political party policies. He recognises there are different drivers from different parties concerning the Local Plan. But,
“Where are the needs of the people and communities reflected in the planning process?”
And what was his one, overarching word?
The following photographs show some of the areas which will be affected if the developments in the Local Plan go ahead.
Part of the land behind Reeve Lodge, 2017
Part of the land off Howlett Way, July 2017
Innocence Farm Land, all 111 hectares of it, is a huge space. These photographs were taken from various points around the perimeter and are an inadequate attempt to convey the size and innocence of the land.
Innocence Farm viewed from Roselea on the Kirton Road, March 7th 2019
Innocence from the Kirton side of Innocence Lane, March 7th 2019
Innocence Farm from opposite Innocence Cottage, March 7th 2019
Innocence Farm from the junction of Bucklesham Road and Innocence Lane, March 7th 2019
Innocence Farm taken from Trimley Radar Station Lay-by, March 7th 2019
If you have any comments or would like to be part of the Trimley St. Martin project, please contact me at:
[ii] Jay, Antony, Craze, Richard and Jay, Roni Not in Our Back Yard: How to Run a Protest Campaign and Save the Neighbourhood. White Ladder. 2005 978-0954821944.