Monday, December 12, 2005

A Vote too far?

Certain people within the council have come up with quite the daftest idea yet for increasing voter interest in local elections - they want us to have a directly elected executive. Seven people to be directly elected from across the whole Borough (that's two parliamentary constituencies) to replace the present cabinet elected by the council from its members. Somehow these seven people are going to be able to come together the day after the election, understand how the system works and start sharing out portfolios and buckling down to work. This despite the fact that they might be from a mix of political parties or none, elected on completely different manifestos. Is the world completely mad I ask myself.

For some strange reason the Tories agree that it's a good idea.

One of the suggestions made is that it provides a defined career structure for elected members - what a load of rubbish. Elected members are exactly that - elected. If you decide not to elect us next time that's it - we're out. There's no career structure at all. Some might hope that if they make a good showing at local level they'll get a chance to stand for Parliament in a seat where they have a hope of winning but most people go into local politics to make a difference in their own area.

What it does mean is that ward councillors will be further away from influencing the decision making - Executive members can claim that they were elected on a particular policy platform and they needn't take any notice of other councillors. Do we really want this?

Apparently the Labour Government at Westminster has indicated that more powers could come to local councils if they go along this route. BUT the very powers people want - those over planning, licensing and policing their areas, are being more and more centralised to a regional or national level. Where's the honesty in that?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

December Already?

Where did November go? Amongst other things I spent time with my family which was good, had numerous meetings about changes in Children's Services and chased our local water provider about a leak.
The leak in question was not just any old leak - we are talking hundreds of litres a day here. But "it's not a water main - it hasn't any chlorine in it". My simple mind didn't expect it to have chlorine in it when it had bubbled its way up through several feet of clay.
Then: "It's been mended" - this when I am standing watching it flowing freely.
Then: "Its a land drain" - on the highest bit of land around???
Then: "It's a sewer - but not one of ours!"
Finally, when the Borough Engineers started talking about mending it and charging them, behold it was a water main, and it was mended.
Unfortunately they then decided to dig another 2 holes to create a triangle round the road junction.
Watch this space!!

Friday, October 21, 2005

Democracy Week

All sorts of things have been going on in Stockton for Local Democracy Week, but today's the day I make a fool of myself for a good cause. At 5pm the Education, Leisure & Cultural Services Select Committee team take on the Youth Assembly team at Hollywood Bowl. Now I haven't been bowling since my teens and that's more years ago than some of these young people's parents have been around! I do not expect that we will cover ourselves in glory, but I do expect to know the members of the youth assembly a little better at the end of it.

Meanwhile, I shall spend the day trying (in no particular order) to catch up on housework, casework and finding a replacement leader for the Guide unit from which I retire at Christmas.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Listening to Young People

Today was a much more cheerful day. We had an event in ARC for young people from across the borough to respond to the ideas in the Youth Matters Green Paper and for Councillors, Youth Workers and Childrens Services officers to listen to them. Although it started as an idea from an officer it grew into something organised by members of the Youth Assembly who took to the leadership role with relish. We played ice-breaker games, expressed our opinions on a number of topics and then had really good discussion groups on themes from the Green Paper. At the end the common complaint was that we hadn't had long enough! Now given that this was from youngsters on a Saturday morning I think it says a lot about how much they want to contribute to life in the Borough.
So - what did we as elected members get out of it? Loads of challenges, that's for sure. We were challenged to really listen, to do some of the things that young people wanted, to let them have more input into how money is spent and where - they really do want to be involved. Now it's down to us to make sure they are, and that the democratic processes really work for them.

I met a young man, 16 at present, who's winning medals at national level in athletics and expecting to compete in Europe next year - an Olympic hopeful from our town for 2012! We didn't know about him - we didn't know anything about his achievements - what sort of a system have we when we know every last detail about GCSE results but don't know we've got a national champion in our midst?

It's not often I enjoy giving a Saturday morning to Council business but this morning was quite exceptional - those young people were an inspiration. I just hope we don't completely let them down.

Friday, September 30, 2005

End of an era

On Tuesday morning we heard the sad news that Cllr Stephen Smailes, leader of the Conservatives on Stockton Council until recently, had died. He'd suffered for a long time and no doubt for him it was a release but for family and friends it's a huge loss.
I didn't know Stephen well, but he'd been on Stockton Council for 38 years and his name was known to hundreds who never met him. I expect the church to be full today for the funeral service. Much as I disagree with Tory policies I admired the way he always knew how to appeal to the electorate. His calls to preserve the architectural heritage of the "jewels in the crown of Stockton" will be missed. His will be a hard act to follow.
Rest in Peace Stephen. You will not be forgotten.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


Way back in the Spring, Egglescliffe Parish Council decided to invest some of the Council Tax in new play equipment for two of the play areas we manage. The recreation committtee duly studied catalogues, relived our own childhood (through rose coloured glass of course!) and chose some wooden adventure equipment which didn't need to have safety surface under it and would appeal to a wide age range.
Last week was installation time - while I was away at Conference. Certain young people declared that we were spoiling their football pitch and they would take the equipment out. Now I admit that the positioning was partly designed to stop them kicking their ball against the fences and walls of adjoining houses, but the grass was never, never designed for football games. It's too small an area for that. Sure enough, some of them had a good try and Stockton Council's Play Area inspection team had to be contacted to go out and make the area safe!
On Sunday evening I had an e-mail from a resident to say that said youths were trying to demolish part of the equipment. Yesterday morning I had a phone call to say that she thought they'd succeeded! The Parish Council Clerk and I paid a hasty visit and concluded that the installation was probably sub-standard. However, we're not experts so we await a written report from those who are.
Meanwhile the area has had to be fenced off so the children who were enjoying the new equipment are now deprived by the selfish revenge action of the few.

Friday, September 23, 2005

What a Week!

Back from conference with a mass of useful ideas and information - thoughts on improving recycling rates; better policies for children and young people; ideas for working towards being a Fair Trade Town; lots of questions to ask about all kinds of things. That's the beauty of Conference - the fringe meetings and the casual chat throw up all manner of ideas that make me want to come back and get on with changing the world!
The debates weren't bad either, not that you'd know it from some of the press coverage. There were some powerful arguments for and against motions, some intense listening and some thoughtful voting. The Urgent Issues debates were particularly good - no arguments over wording to distract attention from the issues under consideration but some really deep thoughtful arguments. Excellent stuff.

Thursday, September 22, 2005


My second visit to Blackpool, but my first stay there and my first conference there. First impressions weren't particularly good, arriving after a difficult weekend and driving through some pretty run down areas to reach the hotel.
Subsequent impressions were mixed - the Promenade is beautifully laid out and litter-free, some of the shopping areas new and shiny bright, some super hotels and guest houses, but also lots of flaking paint, shops selling souvenirs that were popular in the fifties, restaurants that close before 9pm.
The Illuminations certainly brightened the night scenery, even though some of the designs were distinctly tacky. I was sorry the trams stopped running when they did, as I'd have liked to have taken a tram ride along the full length of them. Maybe if there's another conference there I'll forgo one of the fringe events and enjoy the Illuminations in all their glory.
I must say how much I appreciated the shuttle bus between the Winter Gardens and the Imperial Hotel which made getting to the majority of the Fringe Venues very easy.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Good News

Amazing U-turn on the part of the Transport Minister means that yesterday it was announced that after all the Grade-separated junction on the A66 at Long Newton will go ahead next April (2006). All the campaigning was worth it.
The announcement was made during the opening of the South Stockton Link Road, so now Ingleby Barwick is linked directly to the centre of Stockton and we in Eaglescliffe have a choice of routes into the town. Unfortunately we have to wait at least another year before the funding is available to do the necessary work on the Surtees Bridge to link the road with Middlesbrough. I haven't tried the new road yet , but I will later today.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Updates (overdue!)

Where does the time go? More than a month since my last post (mental note - must do better).
So what's been happening? Well, the budget is set for better or worse. Thanks to a fairly generous settlement from central government (nothing to do with it being an election year of course) we've got the lowest Council Tax rise in the Tees Valley. We Lib Dems wanted to put an extra £50 000 into youth work but the ruling Labour Group thought it was more important to spend it on the working of reception areas.
Even before we set the Tax level the Local Government Association was warning that rises could be 7.5% next year unless we get another big injection of cash from central government. There's got to be a better way of financing local expenditure than this.
Meanwhile all departments of the Council are looking for more and more efficiency savings so that they can give a good service for less money.
As parish councillors John and I listened to a presentation by developers wanting to demolish The Grange and replace it with 19 flats. A lot of members of the public came, and made their views very clear. As a result John and I as ward councillors were invited to meet the developers and look at their revised plans. They've reduced the number of flats and the mass of the building, but it's still going to be very intrusive into Valley Gardens.
The retrospective application for the motocross circuit has produced more interest than many housing developments. Such a lot of people have been suffering from the noise but not knowing that they could do anything. Dozens of letters have gone in opposing the development. Meanwhile the owner claims that the application is only for what he's been doing for the last 10 years according to a local journalist! We now await the recommendation of the planning officer on that one.

Friday, February 18, 2005

A sad day

Today a number of colleagues and councillors gathered to say farewell to Stockton's Head of Democratic Services. Not a job title that grabs the public imagination, but one of the most important jobs in the whole council system (in my opinion anyway). This is the person who has organised elections, guided newly elected councillors through training and advice, supported Select Committees in their scrutiny role, and much much more besides. She will be sorely missed and whoever tries to fill her shoes will find it a difficult and frustrating job at times.
Good luck Fran in whatever you decide to do next.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Will it never end?

This week we've had the revised planning application for Copsewood - slightly fewer dwellings but still crammed onto the site. The only reason for the smaller number is that the developer needs to put an access onto The Avenue instead of onto Yarm Road. The volume developers can offer such a huge price for land that house-owners find it very hard to refuse. As a result anyone who would treat the existing house and grounds with sensitivity is priced out of the market and Eaglescliffe suffers from yet more second-rate architecture.
On Thursday Egglescliffe Parish Council were informed that a developer who is proposing to demolish the Grange on Urlay Nook Road and replace it with 19 flats would like to come and discuss their proposition. The Grange is one of the oldest houses outside the Egglescliffe Conservation Area, although it's had new windows and other alterations that mean it's probably not worthy of listed building status. It's also in a very prominent corner location - I bet they're not planning beautiful building surrounded by lovely trees to grow into the listed building of the next century!
On Friday came the news that the application for reserved matters on the two bungalows to be built in the grounds of Sunnymount has been withdrawn. Maybe I'm jumping to conclusions but I wouldn't be surprised if that meant that the application to demolish the Rookery and Sunnymount in order to build flats is going to appeal.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Budget Time Looms

I spent a large part of yesterday afternoon with some of my fellow councillors in a seminar on the budget pressures we face this year. A job that few if any of us enjoy is setting the budget and level of council tax for the coming year. Ideally we'd like to be able to do all the improvements that residents want. But of course very few people are happy to see the Council Tax go up to pay for them.
Because of the unfair way that it's worked out at the moment most of the say in the level of Council Tax sits with the government in Westminster. It's very frustrating for local councillors who want to do their best for the local people.
As it is we have to make some very hard choices, trying to decide between such things as paying for the electricity for the street lights, providing more help for elderly and disabled people to live independently, doing work with young people to stop them sliding into a life of crime, making sure that the computer systems work properly so that everything else can happen properly and many many more.
In the end, the councillors who were present decided that priorities should include working to stop the increasing trend towards anti-social behaviour, to keep people able to live at home as much as possible, and to keep the town safe & pleasant to live in. Sadly, while the Liberal Democrat group thought it important and ensured that almost all attended, only 6 other councillors bothered to give up the afternoon.
The final decisions will be made by the Labour controlled Cabinet. Readers may be interested to know that Cllr Gibson, leader of the council, described the increase in Anti-social behaviour as "just young people pushing the boundaries to see what they can get away with." "It's what young people do".

Saturday, January 22, 2005

New Year, New Ward

OK so I haven't exactly been posting regularly. But the early days were just trying the software, and no-one knew it was there to read.
The idea of the blog is to have another way to keep the people of Eaglescliffe informed, and to let you tell us what concerns you.
On May 5th there will be elections (again!) for Stockton Borough Council. The ward boundaries are changing right across the Borough. Here, Egglescliffe ward is combining with the "urban" bit of Preston ward, a few houses from Parkfield ward and one from Hartburn to form a new Eaglescliffe ward. The remaining "rural" part of Preston becomes part of the Western Parishes ward.
The 3 current councillors - Mike Cherrett, John Fletcher and yours truly are hoping to be elected to represent Eaglescliffe. Meanwhile, if you want to get in touch our contact details are here.