Thursday, June 28, 2007

By-Election Fun

Well, it's happened - Tony Blair has finally stood aside for Gordon Brown at the top of Government. But he couldn't stay and be just an ordinary MP, could he - not him. So we've now got the Sedgefield by-election coming up in 3 weeks. 19th July is E-day, with by-elections in Ealing South and Sedgefield on the same day. I thought that the most honest comment of all came yesterday from the man in Trimdon Labour club who said that at last Sedgefield would get an MP who had time to do some work in the constituency. Good luck to him or her - there'll be a lot of catching up to do I should think.
Back in the real world the rain has finally stopped but the effect of the flooding is still being felt. NWL hasn't responded to my questions but workers have been down in the field taking rubbish out of the sewer at that end of Seymour Crescent. A help perhaps to the developing nature reserve but not to the residents at the southern end of the road who still suffer problems at their manhole. A longterm campaign is looming I think to get the sewer replaced.
We're lucky to have some expert advice on tap in the form of a family member working in the same sort of field.
We've also got the small environmental improvement budget to sort out so work continues apace.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Anyone got an Ark?

Torrential rain followed by torrential rain has caused even more flooding problems - the bottom of Seymour Crescent looking like a lake on Friday and Saturday, more horrible things coming out of the manhole, and no apparent progress. NWL came, looked and went away again after removing rather a lot of something from the sewer lower down the field. However, nothing could cope with Saturday's storm water so it was as bad as ever. I daren't think about what today's rain has brought.
Surely there can't be much more to fall from the sky?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

No Progress

First job was to report a problem with the car park at the local shops - potholes and flooding making it almost impassable to pedestrians last Friday. The owners of the shops are not noted for swift responses so I wasn't surprised to get no response today. Maybe later in the week!
Then an IT problem for a colleague who's been struggling for days with it. I couldn't solve that one either.
Next was a little light relief - the first meeting of the Fair Trade Borough Steering Group since the message that we've achieved the goals. The celebration is roughly mapped out now, and a meeting planned for July to finalise the details. It should be great fun.
The afternoon was more disappointing. NWL still haven't cleared up the mess from Friday and according to the resident who rang me they've claimed there isn't a problem. The Environment Agency is coming tomorrow to look into things. Meanwhile I've had a good look at the developing nature reserve and been given a stack of photos as evidence of the problem.
This evening's ward surgery didn't have any visitors so it was a chance to share the photos and stories from the day with my colleagues. So nothing solved but problems shared.
Tomorrow's a new day.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Another wet and miserably cold June day brought complaints that the combined sewer in Seymour Crescent was overflowing yet again. Residents and councillors have complained in the past to Northumbrian Water, but to no avail. It's going to be expensive to put in new sewage systems, but the number of times sewage spills out is getting beyond a joke. John, Alan and I are going to have a concerted effort to get the Borough Council engineers, Care for your area team and the Environment Agency to put pressure on the Water Company. People shouldn't have to put up with sewage spilling out onto the grass verge near their houses.
After that I went into Stockton for a Personal Development Plan interview. This is a new initiative on the part of the council to help Councillors develop the skills needed for an increasingly complex job. Unfortunately an element of apparent coercion crept into the wording of the programme with training described as "mandatory" when actually there's no sanction that can be applied if councillors opt out of the system. Some of us have been very upset at the use of that word and protested vigorously, but the actual idea of offering training that addresses a person's requirements is a good one.
Yesterday evening was a festive occasion, despite the poor weather. We had a party to thank the army of deliverers who get Focus out to over 4500 homes in the ward year in, year out. Several of them managed to come and enjoy drinks, nibbles and good conversation with us. We also managed to say Thank You to Mike Cherrett who retired as a councillor this year and a huge congratulations to John now in his 21st year as a Councillor for the ward.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Today was the day for a "Tristar Walkabout" - a walk round the areas of the ward with Tristar housing in them, looking for any problems. It's been booked for ages, so of course this was the day the weather broke and reverted to November - cold, grey, wet. Never mind, accompanied by an officer from Tristar Homes and one from Care for Your Area John and I set off. Cracked pavements, wobbly manhole cover, damaged street signs, overhanging hedges, unofficial drop kerbs, potholes - all duly noted and reported for action. I'll choose a rather pleasanter day for the return visit to check on progress I think. Perhaps because the weather was so poor we didn't see many residents around, but normally these occasions are seized on by people to come out and chat about little things they wouldn't bother ringing up about.
Then it was back home to dry out and catch up on the post and numerous e-mails, to say nothing of filing. Changing from Chair of Children and Young People Select committee to Chair of Environment means getting rid of lots of background papers to past work and making space for new papers. The first review by the new committee will be of policies around Cemetery and Churchyard Memorials - a sensitive topic but one which has to be addressed. There are health and safety issues but also issues of what people consider appropriate. Interesting days ahead.

Fair Trade Town - Yippee

It's official - Stockton-on-Tees is a Fair Trade Town. We got the news late yesterday afternoon so well done all of you who buy and use Fair Trade goods whether from the supermarket, the corner shop, the cafe, the church or all the other outlets. Now the steering group will plan the celebration event and draw up an action plan for the next 12 months. We need to embed and extend the use of Fair Trade goods as much as possible, encouraging people who've still never heard of the idea to try them out.
In Eaglescliffe we're lucky to have a super vegetarian restaurant which uses many fairtrade foods in its cooking without making a great fuss about it, so many people will be eating and drinking them without realising. Next time you're in look for the Fairtrade certificate proudly on display.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Let's Play!

Today was D-day for the organisations large and small which had applied to be part of the Borough's bid to BIG lottery for play facilities. There were some really exciting bids - some large scale designed to benefit thousands of children and young people over the course of a year, others much smaller designed to revitalise play in smaller communities. Almost all of them had some potential to improve and extend play for our younger citizens. Unfortunately not all of them could be included in the bid, because we can only have just over £480,00 and some of that has to cover the administration costs of managing and monitoring. 15 of us, aged from teens to sixties, gathered to try to choose between them. We spent over 4 hours reading, discussing, calculating and re-calculating. In the end we had a portfolio of possible bids, which if successful have the potential to improve facilities right across the borough. The next few months will involve hard work on the part of all the bidders to work out the details and submit the final bids. They won't work miracles but there will be little bits of help where there was nothing before.
Here in the ward we're trying to decide how to spend the small environmental improvements budget - who would have thought it so difficult to spend. The trouble is that many of the things people in the ward have said they'd like aren't suitable for this budget for one reason or another. We may come down to a mix of bulb planting for spring colour and dropped kerbs to make life a bit easier for pedestrians with prams, wheeled suitcases and the like as well as people in wheelchairs and motorised scooters. We can't easily consult on extra lights when streets don't get dark until very late at night, so that will have to wait until later in the year.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Golf Courses and Cemeteries

All in a day's work for a councillor! Planning committee approved an outline application for a new golf resort hotel at Wynyard to replace the Golf club there at present - a high quality hotel, golf course, health club and more. There's a lot of detailed design to do now but if all works out we should have the best such facility in the North East of England, right here in Stockton. Not that I can get excited about golf or health clubs but lots of people do and the Seve trophy two years ago proved how true that is of Teesside as much as elsewhere in the country.
At the other end of the borough we also approved the plans for the next stage in the regeneration of Thornaby, with new housing for Mandale. Some sadness of course for people who are losing homes into which they've invested money and/or years of their lives, but the ward councillor was full of praise for how it's been handled and we hope that they will enjoy their new homes and rebuild their communities in them.
Then it was on to my first meeting as chair of the Environment Select Committee for a background briefing on the first topic for discussion - Memorials in Cemeteries. There are some big health and safety issues related to whether modern memorials are properly secured or might topple over and injure someone! Apparently in other parts of the country this has already happened. There are also very sensitive issues over what is appropriate to put onto a grave in memory of the person whose remains are interred there - should we have teddy bears, solar lights, plastic windmills, mini fences to mention but a few? If so should there be a limit to the number or the size? Should we have edges round the plot or lawned graves to make the maintenance easy? If anyone has views on this please let me have them. We'll be collecting evidence from faith communities throughout the borough as well as Funeral Directors and memorial makers, but it's harder to reach people who don't fall into those categories.
Home then, to trawl through a mountain of post and try to sort out the issues arising from it.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

At long last the local paper published the letter I wrote over a week ago, putting right a misconception about the Lib Dem reasons for not being part of the Stockton Council Cabinet. Yesterday they published a half page article about the new Leader, but that's news.
Today was the first meeting of the Renaissance Partnership, Stockton's Local Strategic Partnership, since the election. The main agenda item was the start of the consultation on Stockton's Sustainable Community Strategy. It sounds a bit dull and heavy, but is actually very important and interesting. It will set the direction for policies on everything from play areas to keeping elderly infirm people safe in their own homes, from regeneration of town centres to encouraging new businesses. They'll all be in there. So it's really important that we get it right, and then that we set the plans under it to achieve the ambitions we have for the Borough.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

A gloriously sunny June day - just right to go out and deliver some leaflets! Well, after sitting in a training session for 6 hours yesterday on Employee Appeals procedures I needed to do some walking today. I followed the Employee Appeals session with a meeting in Stockton hosted by Justice First. An MP from the Democratic Republic of Congo who is in exile here in the UK came to speak to a small group, including our MEP, Fiona Hall, who was an EU observer at the elections there. He told us about atrocities still being committed despite a supposedly democratic government now. Some of what he talked about happened years ago, but one massacre happened just a couple of days ago - horrifying stuff. And yet our government insists that it's a safe country and sends back people whose asylum claims have not been granted.
This morning I had a complaint from a resident about the rubbish in Coatham Stob wood car park, so that was an excuse to take a little excursion up there. It really is disgusting - the car park and open ground next to it are being ruined by bottles, boxes, cartons and goodness knows what. I've sent an e-mail to all the people I think might be able to help sort things out up there, but of course the earliest they'll get it is Monday.
Meanwhile, courtesy of a relative on the other side of the world - here's a site to give you a smile. Type in your name and see how its "dictionary" defines you.