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.