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.