Friday, November 17, 2006

"Enforcement not expedient"

Residents of the Albert Rd, Swinburne Rd and Station Rd area of Eaglescliffe cannot help but be aware of the ongoing problems with 13/15 Station Rd. For others, a brief outline:
This is the building at the corner of Station Rd and Swinburne Rd. A couple of years ago it was extremely run-down in appearance and many businesses and residents complained that it spoiled the area. Ownership changed and eventually a planning application was submitted for an extension with conversion of the rear into 4 flats. Although the extension was quite large it seemed on balance to the planning authority that the end result would be a much tidier, pleasanter building in this conservation area and so approval was granted. But then came another application to make the extension even bigger. Despite misgivings councillors were persuaded that the increase in size being asked for would not make a significant difference to the area. Oh how wrong could we be? The neighbour most affected was not in a position to speak up for herself and we later discovered that far from being a little used window near the new build this was her living room. Her quality of life was severely impaired.
Then, to add insult to injury, the roof was built 1.2m higher than approved. The developer refused to lower it and refused to seek retrospective planning permission. The question of whether to enforce a reduction in height came to planning committee 3 weeks ago. The report to committee had errors in it, other parts were ambiguous, and the engineer told us that the parking arrangement is illegal anyway! The report was sent away to be rewritten.
On Wednesday it came back to committee. The developer's agent was so arrogant, telling councillors that if they voted for enforcement it would fail at court and the council would be liable for substantial costs. I could hardly speak - I was so angry with him. In the end, despite everyone being furious that he was getting away with behaving like this the committee vote was split 7-7 and the chairman's casting vote decided the matter in favour of the developer. So the extra roof height stays, he's got an illegal devlopment to sell or rent because without planning permission it's not legal even though we aren't going to enforce compliance with plans, but as long as someone will take it off his hands he's all right.
I hate enforcement cases, but this one has annoyed me so much it's a good job I'm not on a blood pressure monitor.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


Today Suzanne Fletcher celebrates the 25th anniversary of her election to Stockton Council. On November 12th 1981 she drove a thin orange wedge into the red/blue comfort zone of Stockton Town Hall, winning the Elm Tree ward by-election.

At a celebration party last night, attended by friends and colleagues from across the north east including Fiona Hall MEP, she recalled the early days of Focus production and distribution. Letraset, hand turned duplicators and willing volunteers all featured. Over the 25 years Suzanne has been part of a group of Liberals then Liberal Democrats on the Council ranging in size from 1 to 11 with all the associated joys and sorrows.

She has been the first councillor to put out a regular leaflet, the first to run ward surgeries specifically for young people in the ward, a pioneer of e-updates to her constituents and an ardent advocate of having a good, active website.

She now shares an enlarged ward with Julia Roberts and together they continue to serve the residents who have elected them. What a cause for celebration!

On top of that, Stockton Libdems new improved website went live to public view just a few hours before the party started. So a dual celebration - cause for much consumption of champagne.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Noises great and small

Having spent two days with no voice all the telephone calls had to be taken by my colleagues. Enormous thanks to them - be of good cheer, my voice is getting better all the time.
Last night and of course tonight the noise has been that of fireworks which seem to get bigger and louder every year. No complaints to me so far, but I'll be surprised if there aren't some in the next couple of days. More dangerous by far is the fact that some person or persons set fire to allotment huts last night at Egglescliffe Village Site. There have been allotments there for nigh on 100 years and in general they're lovingly tended by the tenants. It's heart-breaking to think that someone finds it amusing to cause so much damage. The fire brigade were called and did a good job but of course that's no consolation to those who've lost huts and their contents.
The other noise that's caused complaint is the Motor Cycle track which is operating without benefit of planning permission near the edge of our ward. The people on Hunters' Green estate and Orchard estate have suffered intermittently for the last few years with this and it seems as though the owners are just running rings round the planning, environmental health and enforcement sections.
Tonight I need to have a good look at the plans submitted for The Grange on Urlay Nook Rd as a neighbour of the site wants to discuss some of the issues with me tomorrow. It's a difficult problem because the Planning Inspector more or less said that SPG4 couldn't apply strictly to this site and the only problem with the previous application was the design. I know that the Planning Officer has worked very hard to try to reduce the impact of the application but it's still bigger than most of the surrounding residents want to see.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Tarmac etc part 3

Even more complaints as people have returned from holidays or finally dug our phone/e-mail details from the back of their filing systems. We've now passed them all on to the engineers in Stockton to deal with as we agree that the consultation was way below standard, and writtten to every dwelling on the road explaining why it was done in the first place, what we've done with their complaints and how to access SBC's complaints system. Happy days!!

Yesterday started with a meeting between Mike & I on the one hand and Stockton's chief executive on the other, discussing issues of concern to our group. Confidentiality of the council's communications was one topic on which we're awaiting the outcome of some investigations. He was full of the implications of the White Paper which has finally been published, and the half promises it makes without any detail of how they'll be kept. One which will be good, as long as it isn't watered down, is the ability of the borough to make its own by-laws without approval by the central govt. That means that Stockton residents will know exactly who to blame if a by-law doesn't achieve what it's meant to achieve and it'll be a lot easier to change it if need be.

Then a quick meeting with the scrutiny officer supporting the Children and Young People committee to iron out a problem we have with dates of meetings before heading over to the Town House for a meeting of the Members' Advisory Panel. I wouldn't normally accept meetings at 11 on a Thursday because of family commitments but this had such an important agenda I had no real choice. In the end it was a constructive meeting because most of what we agreed was what we Lib Dems were happy with. There's still one outstanding issue - is there to be a mandatory requirement on councillors to undergo any kind of training or not. Some who are very keen to do training don't like the idea of it being mandatory for all kinds of very good reasons and that will take some negotiation in the future to make sure we don't lose the good will of very experienced councillors in all parties.

The early evening was taken up with the Cabinet meeting which was probably shorter than usual because I'd lost my voice so couldn't make any serious interjections or ask awkward questions. A rather dry document entitled "Employment Land Review" went through on its way to becoming part of the Local Development Framework. As part of the review 2 pieces of land in our ward will not be used for industrial development and the bigger of the two, between the present housing and the A66 will be noted as agricultural so won't be used for housing either. Hooray!!

Then it was home to prepare for the Annual Mayor's Charity Dinner - huge fundraising bash at the Tall Trees. Suzanne had worried originally that there might not be enough people willing to go but in the end there were more tickets sold than ever before and the rather different format seemed to go down well - dancing to the Beatlemaniacs, racing on a Scalextrix track, a roving caricaturist and a tombola as well as a raffle and auction and a superb meal made for a good night. Sadly, my conversation was limited severely by a lack of voice, but others seemed to be enjoying their chats.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Tarmac, Concrete etc Part 2

Yesterday John went right through his file on Newsam Rd and found everything he could relevant to the grass verges - complaints about how badly scarred they were, consultation about hard standing, complaints about vehicles etc. So now he's written to the relevant officers asking for the results of the consultation held in 2003 and a reason for the change to tarmac and bollards. Meanwhile he's delivered a letter to each of the residents telling them that we're looking into it and we'll get back to them.
On a brighter note, Suzanne was sent a photograph of herself as Mayor serving someone on the One World Week Fairtrade stall on Saturday at Newtown, so we can put that into the file of evidence of public engagement for when we apply for Fairtrade Town status.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Tarmac, Concrete and Trouble

There's an old saying "You can't do right for doing wrong". It doesn't seem to make a lot of sense but I've always understood it to mean that however much you try to do the right thing someone's always going to be upset. This week it could easily be our slogan! As part of the Western Area Transport Strategy it was agreed a few weeks ago that the grass verge on the north side of Newsam Rd would be hard surfaced in order to provide a cleaner, safer way to school for the comprehensive children and to make it easier for wheelchair users etc to make their way along the pavement. The pavement has always been too narrow for comfort and the verge generally looked a bit bedraggled and messy. Three and a half years ago the residents were consulted on whether to have block paving instead of grass, but told that the change was dependent on funding being available. Unfortunately, now that some funding was available, tarmac was used instead. And in order to protect the pavement from vehicles wanting to park on it, posts were introduced. Not nice-looking cast iron ones like in Butts Lane or in Maritime Rd in Stockton, but concrete ones. Our phones have not stopped since - not one person is in favour of them it seems. Some oil is needed for troubled waters but I've no idea where we'll find the right kind or sufficient quantity!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Exciting Times

This week our new website was released to us to experiment with and check over. Great excitement and great fun as two of us tried adding new stories, uploading past editions of Focus, trying all of its features. We were like children with a new toy. Now I can't wait to put it onto our public site so that residents can see it and take part in local decision making to a greater extent than they could till now. It should happen some time next week all being well.

Today was exciting in a different way. Common Purpose held one of their events for young people to learn about leadership and help them develop their leadership skills. I was invited to be part of a group of 3 councillors taking part in one of the sessions. These young people, 13 & 14 years old, had some really serious questions about issues that concerned them. I'm afraid that I may have incited rebellion in one school whose students told us that their staff don't listen to them and their School Council is appointed, not elected. They didn't feel as though they had a voice and I suggested that they should arrange an election to set up an alternative council - they looked excited at the thought of rebellion. I don't think the rather "establishment" Tory councillor was at all excited!
But then I wasn't very pleased at something he told me in a brief gap in the proceedings. We'd made a joint decision on Wednesday evening with the other opposition parties and now today he'd decided to do things differently, completely on his own. Not a team player at all. I have yet to speak to others in the Lib Dem group about how we deal with the situation, but I know that the Independents are fuming.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Weekend

After a pretty busy few days it was good to have a weekend off. As my husband reached 60 this weekend we felt it a cause for mild celebration. So Saturday night found us enjoying a meal and stimulating conversation with old friends and today we took ourselves off to Whitby. The weather was hazy and chilly but nevertheless it was good to wander the old town again. Fortunes were closed, with a "sold out" sign up, but the smokehouse was working well in readiness for sales tomorrow.
Home just in time for a web conversation with the family in Derby, complete with the camera working. Emma did look a trifle confused at the hazy picture of Granny & Grandad on the computer screen.
Then to a quick read of e-mails and general catch-up before tomorrow's jobs.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Bill Bryson's Visit

Bill Bryson is Chancellor of Durham University, which includes Queens Campus at Stockton, and yesterday he paid a brief visit to the town. He's been to the University several times but had commented that he'd not seen the town itself so he was invited to visit. I was fortunate to be invited to the reception and to join him on the town trail afterwards. He's an easy person to talk to and very interested in the town which is home for the students for 3 years or so.
After that I had a short break for lunch before going to Durham Lane school for a meeting of a governing body committee. It was a very intensive meeting and very useful but I had to rush away the moment it finished in order to get to the Town Hall for the inaugural meeting of the Adult Care Partnership. Again, useful but intensive. It finished a little earlier than I'd expected so time to go home and open the post before going out to Stockton again for my final meeting of the day.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Disappointing News

A really productive morning spent with IT staff working on a database for tracking casework. If it all works as planned it'll be a real boon.
A quick detour to the supermarket so that I could stock up on some of the basics that were running low and then home to sort through the post - not usually very exciting on a Monday. My heart was in my mouth as I turned over a large brown envelope bearing the insignia of the Planning Inspectorate. Sure enough it contained the decisions on the two appeals by McCarthy & Stone for The Avenue. Both appeals granted - the inspector had taken everything they said at face value and rejected everything we'd said. So now no doubt they'll build the first of them, the bigger and more intrusive one. I really feel for the residents on Ashville Avenue who'll be most affected. The inspector seems to be saying that having one or two big buildings in an area means that any application for another one of the same mass should be acceptable, despite the fact that the character of the area will be completely different if the diversity disappears. Needless to say the residents are devastated.

30 years ago

30 years ago today I was in hospital, the proud but exhausted mother of a very new baby. Happy birthday K!
Today however, she's a grown up daughter living on the other side of the world, so has already been celebrating her birthday for almost a day before I rose from my bed.
Meanwhile, this morning I have a meeting with one of the Council's IT gurus who is developing a database for councillors to help us to keep track of casework. It'll be interesting to see what he's come up with so far. I've also got to report in all the things that cropped up over the weekend which I couldn't do because the e-mail system was down and there's no-one there to take phone calls.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


The council system linking councillors to the server has fallen over again - Since Saturday lunchtime we've been without e-mail links, no link to all the documents stored on the intranet, no links to the GIS mapping system. In fact total deprivation. People have had to resort to the telephone, knocking on doors, posting letters - all the lovely old fashioned things we used to do before the government encouraged us to go to e-government.

Yesterday and today I spent some time at Preston Hall at the Forge In of the British Artist Blacksmith Association - over 100 blacksmiths and apprentices working together to produce a new set of gates to the Period street in the museum. Craftsmen & women are always fascinating to watch, but this was a truly amazing experience. I'm looking forward to the gates being completed and hung in the near future.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Lottery fund grant

Success at last on arranging for some overgrown bushes to be trimmed back so that people waiting for the bus at Preston Park can see whether there's a bus coming without stepping out of the shelter into the rain. The officer trying to find the offending shrubbery was handicapped by being given the location by his admin section as the station rather than the park!

The rest of the morning was spent at Preston Hall at the official announcement of the Heritage Lottery Grant for refurbishment of the Winter Garden there. I remember it as an exotic place to visit but it's gone downhill over the last 30 years and now it's just draughty, damp and dangerous - some of the window glass is loose and cracked. However, it's going to be restored to its former glory thanks to the grant so the local TV station was there as well as the newspapers. The mayor was there to say thank-you on behalf of the Council and I was there as a ward councillor. I look forward to seeing the finished project.

Then on to the Municipal Buildings to a meeting about the Western Area Partnership Board, a quick bit of shopping and home to catch up on some paperwork and housework before ward surgery in the evening.
I took the rest of the evening off to have a meal with my husband at our local vegetarian restaurant, not because we're vegetarians but because the food is just too good to be left solely to vegetarians. AND they use Fairtrade tea, coffee, sugar, some of the wines, fruit and so on.

Monday, October 02, 2006

A wet and chilly autumnal day today. No meetings scheduled, so a chance to do a bit of catching up. Or so I thought. Somehow everything took twice as long as expected - maybe it was the weather!
The order arrived from Traidcraft, so that was to unpack and check then sort out the things which were special orders and the stock replenishment. Already I'm starting to plan my next order, things are selling so well at the moment.
This evening I visited our local Brownie pack, taking their certificate from the Care for Your Area awards. The garden in front of the Parish Hall is still looking colourful as they've now planted up troughs of pansies. They really deserve their award.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Vote now, or for ever hold your peace!

So far I have 3 votes - 2 from people who represent Yarm on the Borough or Town councils, and one from the other side of the world, though to be fair Thribble was once a resident of Eaglescliffe. Unsurprisingly perhaps the votes are currently 2 for the completion of the route to Yarm Station and one for the footway in Eaglescliffe. Voting will have to close soon, but as this blog isn't widely advertised it's unlikely to generate much interest.
Yesterday was a day off - spent visiting our daughter, son-in-law and grand-daughter. Great fun as always, with the photos on Flickr for those in the know.
As we were leaving Eaglescliffe I noticed that the Speed Camera van was parked on the footpath, in the narrowest place, forcing pedestrians into the cycle lane. It didn't seem like a very considerate place to park, given the fact that 2 or 3 metres either way wouldn't have made any difference to being able to catch speeding motorists, so a complaint accompanied by incriminating photograph will be winging its way tomorrow. Whilst I approve of the use of speed cameras to make people slow down and drive more safely I don't approve of it being at the expense of pedestrian safety!
Unfortunately yesterday I decided to do some tidying up in the garden while we were visiting and managed to stab my toe with a nasty sharp object lying hidden on the ground. My own fault entirely for gardening in open toed sandals, especially as A had offered me trainers. It makes walking uncomfortable and driving very difficult. Consequently my long-suffering husband needed to take me to church this morning, along with boxes of Fairtrade goodies to sell. It meant that he was extremely early for his service, which starts half an hour later than mine!

Friday, September 29, 2006

Loads of meetings this week, including Western Area Transport Strategy. That was really interesting - the Engineers had done the costing on the projects we'd identified as priorities at the beginning of the summer. Sadly for the residents of the Park View estate their wish for a pedestrian refuge can't be achieved. The road would need to be widened and that would involve no less than 5 utility companies so the cost is estimated at £47,000+. Given that we only have £20000 to spend it ain't gonna happen!
More hopefully, we found that the feasibility study on safe pedestrian and cycle routes between Eaglescliffe and Yarm on the one hand and Ingleby Barwick on the other had been done more cheaply than anticipated. Two possible routes to Eaglescliffe were considered feasible, though none to Yarm except via Eaglescliffe and Yarm Road. Preston Parish council are implacably opposed to the building of a pedestrian and cycle bridge over the river, but the proposals will be the subject of a wide consultation in next year's budget.
The work to make the crossing of Central Street in Yarm a safer experience for pedestrians can be achieved quite cheaply, leaving plenty for signs to indicate a pedestrian route between Yarm High Street and Yarm Station.
Then came the interesting bit - what to spend the remaining money on? A traffic calming measure which has been requested by residents and consulted on could be achieved by using this money but the Preston PC chairman told us that the problem had gone away as the residents causing it had moved! We're left with enough to put dropped kerbs in on the pedestrian route to Yarm Station or to widen the footway in Newsam Rd for the benefit of children going to and from Egglescliffe Comprehensive, but not both. At the moment an e-mail vote is taking place - so far 2 votes for the Yarm scheme and no-one else has voted.

Yesterday the Children & Young People Select Committee heard what should be the final evidence in our scrutiny of Teen Pregnancy Strategy in the Borough - Strategy to cut the numbers not increase them! The PCT representatives told us that the Borough Council was funding a coordinator post which previously has been funded on time limited grants. We were really pleased to hear the news, because it would have almost certainly been one of our recommendations that the post be mainstreamed. However, today I was told that there's still disagreement over the funding because the Borough wants the PCT to share the cost. It sounds to me as though there's another bit of evidence gathering needed here! I'm cross because we could have been told that in advance if our link officer had come to our meetings. So much for the wonderful procedures that we have in place.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Conference is over!

This time last week I was driving south to Brighton with two other delegates from Stockton to the Liberal Democrat conference. It was a perfect day for driving - dry, slightly overcast, light traffic. With a couple of comfort breaks we were there in time for the afternoon consultative sessions. Then a leisurely evening meal, taking advantage of the fact that there were no evening sessions.
The rest of the week passed in a whirlwind of debates, fringe meetings, meetings with people from all over the country who might be able to help with problems we had, touring the exhibition stands and grabbing some fresh air and exercise by walking along the sea front between venues.
One exhibition stand offered a health check with blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose, height, weight and waist measurement checks. They were followed by useful advice on how to put right the things that were wrong. Now all I have to do is put it all into practice. It did lead to a light-hearted competition to see who was walking furthest in the course of each day!
The quality of debating was superb - I'm always humbled by the range of expertise in our party, from academics and professionals to people who are "at the coal face". At the end of the tax debate there were many, including me, who weren't sure which way to vote right till the final speeches had been made.
I'm delighted that we've taken steps to move the burden of taxation from the earner to the polluter. And to remove some of the double benefits that richer people have at present. I really believe that our tax policy is now fairer than any policy has been in my lifetime and I look forward to us winning more seats in Parliament next election so that it can be put into practice. If anyone wants to see the policies explained simply this is the place.

Our whole emphasis on the environment and climate change was inspiring and I'm even more enthusiastic than ever to see microgeneration of electricity being used widely in new buildings and in older ones where possible. And no, that doesn't mean windmills on every corner - it means ground source heat pumps, photovoltaic cells, solar-thermal units, combined heat and power plants and yes, some windmills. I am amazed that we put up with the losses of electricity that we suffer by pushing the stuff round the national grid when we could be much more efficient if we generated more of it where it's used. Typical of the Labour government though - while exhorting everyone to do their bit towards climate change reduction they reduce the grants available to help ordinary people install these generating systems!

Meanwhile, it's back to ward work - overgrown shrubs, lights not working and Focus to be delivered.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


For better or for worse the appeal is over. My day started with a slight glitch yesterday morning when I found that the Council laptop wouldn't access the internet. Grabbed my things and headed for the council offices where I managed to read a couple of the bits I wanted to check before going over to the Inquiry. The procedural bits at the beginning were soon over and the two sides launched into their opening statements. Then it was time to hear the evidence for the Local Planning Authority, otherwise known as Stockton Council. I didn't think it went very well at first but perhaps I was looking at the wrong things. Some others didn't agree with me.
The inspector then decided he'd take evidence from 3rd parties after lunch, but some had left and others wanted to speak at the end. Consequently it was my turn first, followed by John. I wasn't as well prepared as I should have been and didn't feel I did very well, but the residents said it was OK. John was his usual unruffled, factual self - his experience of appearing at tribunals and courts in his former job stood him in good stead.
The appellant's case started and we sat until well after 5 o'clock hearing that.
The site visit was fixed for 8.20 this morning but I didn't feel a need to go to it. I felt sure the inspector knew what he wanted to see.
This morning's evidence continued and I thought that our counsel was very good in his cross-examinations. Unfortunately I had to miss a large part of the afternoon session to be part of planning committee, but at least we didn't have any horribly contentious ones to consider. Some did need a lot of discussion and careful wording of conditions so that (we hope) we get what we want out of them. Then several of us went back over to the Tabernacle to hear the end of the appeal. We were just in time to hear the last few minutes of 3rd party submissions and then it was time for the closing remarks.
At the end of it all we're worn out with the concentration required and have no idea of whether it went well or badly for us. The inspector was non-committal throughout, telling us only that his decision would be published in the week commencing 9th October. So less than a month before we know whether Eaglescliffe will have Category II private sheltered accommodation for the elderly, and if so whether it will be 41 or 42 units.

The good news that came out towards the end of the afternoon is that the bid for funding for Preston Park's winter garden, aka the conservatory on Preston Hall, has been successful so we look forward to the result of the work and a grand reopening.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The weekend again

On Friday John Fletcher and I had a meeting with two members of EPAG committtee to discuss the appeal. It was a useful and interesting session, combining John's practical experience of previous enquiries with EPAG's research into the documents being presented to the inspector. We are all a little better prepared for Tuesday now.
Focus 135 was printed on Friday and is starting to be delivered this weekend, so a flurry of e-mails and phone calls will probably result from that. I now need to complete the survey we want to do at the same time on Hunter's Green.
Last night was the Mayor's Ceilidh, a fund-raiser for her charity funds. The Fettlers were great and about 150 people thoroughly enjoyed themselves. The room beside the river was just right - big enough for dancing but not so big that people couldn't mix and talk to each other. Unfortunately when I got home there was a hand-delivered letter waiting for me which will necessitate some phone calls and enquiries once offices are open on Monday.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Will he, won't he?

Last night's news and this morning's papers are full of stories about when Mr Blair will go - May 31st according to some, after a grand farewell tour of the country according to others. Of course, we've heard this all before - just with different dates. Although at one level it's interesting it's also a big distraction from all the important news, both local and national.
In Eaglescliffe we've news of a planning application for Riverside Lodge, this time for a leisure facility for small (up to 150cc) motorbikes and quad bikes. Having a nephew who races quad bikes means that I've been able to ask some questions about the noise likely to be generated and it seems as though they won't be an improvement on the bikes that have been using the site recently. Residents of nearby estates are already objecting.
Next week the public enquiry into the McCarthy and Stone planning appeal starts, so a large part of 3 days will be taken up by that. The agents for SBC haven't been in touch at all. Apparently they don't feel the need for the ward councillors to be witnesses. The objectors are planning to use at least one of us to give our local knowledge and views to the inspector, however. So there's much time to be spent on preparation over the next few days.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Where did Summer go?

So it's September already - where did the summer go? Partly it went on holidays, partly on baby-sitting my wonderful granddaughter, and partly on work in the ward and the rest of the council.
Now that we're into autumn, the season of conferences is almost on us. That means lots of speeches by politicians of all parties trying to put across their policies to the electorate. But it also means that grass-roots politicians like councillors get a chance to mix with everyone from leaders to local activists from all over the country. A chance to recharge batteries in readiness for the next elections.
Meanwhile, before conference, there are still planning applications to be studied and commented on, casework to deal with, committees to attend and strategies to decide as well as Focus to write and surveys to do.
There is still much to do to try to resolve some of the problems around the conflict between the needs of young people who want somewhere to hang out with their friends talking or playing football and the needs of older residents for peace and undamaged gardens, fences and windows. Unfortunately, the Youth Service don't seem able to respond with the kind of support we think we need. We don't give up easily, though, and will keep on trying.
I can now report that John Hemming MP has joined in the debate on PPG3 on his blog, calling on Ruth Kelly to allow more autonomy for locally elected politicians in these decisions. Momentum for change is building.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Just an ordinary Friday!

Apart from the fact that it 's cold and wet, so May isn't looking very spring-like at the moment. Leaving that aside Friday's often a day for catching up on things around the ward. So this morning saw the 3 ward councillors together in one room, discussing what to do about some of the issues facing the ward. One result is that a letter will soon be winging its way to the new minister in charge of local government (including planning), Ruth Kelly, asking when she's going to start to sort out the mess left by PPG3.
Much more positively we decided to join with IBIS and some of the local groups and residents to work for the River Tees Heritage Park. Coupled with the feasibility study to be done on safe non-car routes between Ingleby Barwick & Thornaby on one bank and Eaglescliffe & Yarm on the other, this is a really positive step.
Now it's time to go and make some phone calls about other issues and see what else can be achieved.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

A month later - whoops!

And so another month flies past. I really must get the blog habit. Our mayor is putting me to shame. She dutifully files her copy every day - what a star!
To be fair, in the last month I've had other things on my mind. Brief visit of daughter and son-in-law from Oz means that we now have some of our loft back and a bit more space around the nooks and crannies of the house. 9 big crates of stuff (including nearly 200 paperback books) are now en route to Melbourne, courtesy of Pickfords NE and Beca.
While they were in the country we had a service of blessing and dedication for Emma at St Mary Magdalene in Yarm, so the whole family was together for a short time. Denis and I felt very priveleged.
Meanwhile of course the ward and the borough go on - planning applications and issues of provision for young people in the ward are still major concerns. This week brought some partial good news - the appeal against the Council's refusal of the planning application at the Grange on Urlay Nook Rd was refused. Sadly, only on the grounds of design and mass of the building and not on the sustainability element of the refusal which doesn't bode well for SPG4 in the future.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


A day spent with Andrea and Emma on Saturday was just the antidote to all the politics of the week. John Paul had to go to work but the three of us managed the shopping, a little bit of housework and a lot of playing. Being a grandmother is a wonderful thing. Denis' work commitments mean he's not getting the benefit of being a grandfather to the same extent unfortunately.
A meeting of the Local Strategic Partnership on Tuesday included one of the more interesting debates of recent times in response to the White paper on Worklessness strategies. It's a really important matter in Stockton and the North East in general so everyone was keen to see it working well. There was also a really interesting presentation on the work so far that's been carried out on the Saltholme Nature Reserve. If the European funding is forthcoming that's going to be somewhere well worth shouting about from the roof tops - huge, interesting and on our doorstep. The design of the building is futuristic and just about as sustainable as you can get. What's more, after a Europe wide competition to find architects the winners are a Newcastle partnership.

Friday, April 07, 2006

ASB and other things

So, with the Annual Meeting behind us what have I done? Caught up on some case work for the ward and read lots of comments from frustrated residents on the one hand and frustrated planning officers on the other about applications in the ward. Some things never change. The Mayor now has her blog working, with photos of events she's attended. Because it's part of the local authority website it has to be done according to policies and codes of practice, but it's still a real innovation.
Tonight's ward surgery brought some unwelcome news. It all started well enough with a representative of the church in whose premises we meet coming to do a risk assessment and discuss the petition they're organising for a pedestrian refuge in the road outside. That's something we can very happily support. But then came a visit from our neighbourhood police officer to talk about the anti-social behaviour problems in the ward. It seems that we now feature as the second worst ward in the South and West area. Gangs of young people are gathering, drinking alcohol and causing noise and damage as they disperse. If the police disperse them from one area they move on to another. In the end we decided to try to arrange a round table discussion with the young people, the police, the youth service, the parish council, ASB team and other interested parties to look for a way out.
Watch this space - miracles are notoriously difficult so I hope we aren't raising false expectations.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Mayor Suzanne, Part 2

Home again, in a blissful state of blessed relief. Everything went smoothly - 100% attendance by councillors meant that Allison was duly elected as chair of the Housing & Community Safety committee and Andy as Vice Chair of Corporate Policy Review. No hiccups, Suzanne looked radiant, John was proud as could be and their grandchildren were wonderful. The African drummers played up a storm and were applauded enthusiastically. The Fairtrade wine gave me a chance to explain Fairtrade to the representative of the Hindu community on Teesside. All in all a good day!
Now I need to get my act together and be more dedicated to this diary, as our new mayor is planning to have a blog during her year as mayor. I'll definitely have to look to my laurels.

Mayor Suzanne

Well, the day has finally arrived - at approximately 10.45 BST today Suzanne Fletcher will become Mayor of Stockton-on-Tees. It's been a long time coming. Thanks to the selfishness of the biggest party on the council she's been a councillor for 25 years before becoming Mayor whereas some of the recent holders of the post have served less than 10. Still, today's not a day for recriminations but celebration. It's going to be a very different mayoral year from the norm!
For a start the Mayor and civic guests won't enter the reception to a slow handclap but to the sound of African drums provided by a group of refugees from that continent. Drumz use Fairtrade drums imported from Africa. Which will lead nicely to the Fairtrade wine served with the meal! All part of Stockton's effort to become a Fairtrade Borough, something Suzanne has wanted for years now.
Meanwhile I need to go and add the Lord Lieutenant into my speech introduction!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Imaginary Readings

How time flies when you're enjoying yourself (or busy or just forget about the blog!)
It seems that we celebrated too soon the granting of a second reading for the TMR bill on building in gardens. Although apparently granted such a reading in fact it won't get it, because there won't be time made for it. Such is the way of Parliament - Ten Minute Rule bills get imaginary second readings.
Meanwhile we have another two or three applications in for just this kind of building, and no sign of the flood abating. EPAG are getting more and more demanding in their desires to reform the planning system as a whole and Stockton's planning department in particular.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Gardens or Brownfields?

Yesterday afternoon, as Stockton's planning committee debated one application after another for housing to be built in large gardens, Parliament was hearing about exactly the same problem. The MP for Tunbridge Wells sought to introduce a bill removing gardens from PPG3 under the Ten Minute Rule. Normally such bills go nowhere, but lobbying by residents and local councillors from Stockton to Somerset meant that this one has been granted a second reading. It might just be the incentive the ODPM needs to change PPG3.
When introducing it Mr Clark (Greg, not Charles) said he'd had messages of support from Liberal Democrats and Labour so the flurry of e-mails and phone calls from here may have done some good.

This morning is my first meeting with the Chief Exec as Group Leader - oh joy!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Catch up time

I've just realised what a long time it is since I wrote anything in this diary. An eventful six weeks really, in which I passed the significant age of 60, became a grandmother and became Council group leader in that order. No wonder I hadn't time for blogging!
My birthday bash was a really enjoyable Ceilidh at Yarm Fellowship Hall to music by The Cleveland Bays. Friends came from far and wide and the whole family was there. It's a long time since I've enjoyed an evening so much. We also had some of Kirsty's long-standing friends (most of whom had been in Guides or at school with her) so that they could have an evening together before she and Pete jetted off to Australia.
On the actual date of my birthday they flew on the first leg of their journey as far as Dubai where their plane was delayed so they started their wedding anniversary in the transit lounge of the airport - Kirsty curled up asleep and Pete on his laptop with a wireless connection e-mailing photographs of the journey so far to friends and family around the world. Since then things have gone rather more smoothly for them and they are now touring that huge country before she starts work in March.
Between Christmas & New Year Denis and I went to Keswick for a short break to walk in breathtakingly crisp cold scenery. We arrived home to find that all was not running smoothly with Andrea's pregancy and she had spent a night in hospital for tests. The next 3 weeks were punctuated by regular checks with parents anxiously waiting for the results, and the early arrival of Emma Jane on January 18th. She is of course beautiful but small. Their first shopping expedition was to buy some tiny baby clothes - the many first size ones they'd received in advance will have to wait a few weeks to be useful. The proud parents are tired but enjoying her to the full, and proud grandparents couldn't wait to go down and see her.

On the Council there was a lull over Christmas, as usual, but immediately afterwards I presented the last scrutiny report of the Education, Leisure & Cultural Services Select committee first to members of the Youth Assembly and of the youth service and then to cabinet. In both cases it was well received and the department is now looking at ways of implementing the recommendations in it.

Suzanne decided that she needed to step down as group leader very soon in order to give her successor chance to do the necessary negotiations on budget and positions of responsibility before the Annual Meeting when she'll become Mayor. At the group meeting it was decided that I would take over from February 1st, so here I am! A bit like birthdays - it doesn't actually feel any different to yesterday.

The FairTrade Borough campaign rolls on, albeit slowly. Last night was an amazing night, though, with 100 people squeezed into the Newtown Resource centre to hear Bruce Crowther speak about how we could move forward, Simeon Greene talk about the difference FairTrade made to his home island in the Windward Islands and John Lyons talk about the impact on the global awareness in his primary school. We hope now that all those people will go away and promote it even more actively.