Friday, August 31, 2007

I Spoke Too Soon

Just because no-one had complained about the music at the Park didn't mean that no-one was going to! Only one complaint though, so I stand by my comment that the Summer Show was an improvement on the previous weekend.
This week we were sent a map at long last of the location of the dog waste bins around the ward so that we can arrange to have some more put in to fill the gaps, using the small environmental improvements budget. Unfortunately the first thing that John noticed was an error in the map! Nothing's ever simple.
Meanwhile we have arranged for the planting of thousands of spring bulbs around the ward so that next spring we should all see a huge difference and have our spirits lifted by the sight of crocuses, daffodils and tulips in the grass verges around.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Bank Holiday Weekend

The Stockton Summer Show opened on Friday in Preston Park under the warmest sun we've had for a while. The weekend so far has stayed fine and warm - most unlike a summer bank holiday weekend! Crowds of people seem to be really enjoying the entertainment on offer. The music from Arc in the Park didn't penetrate to this end of Eaglescliffe, or even to outside the park, so that was a great improvement on last weekend. The only annoyance I found when I went up to check on things this afternoon was that the show has closed off the path to the museum, so people have to pay the show entry fee to get to the Hall. I shall have to take that up on Tuesday because I couldn't do anything to get gates and fences changed at this stage, but I wasn't at all happy about that.
On Friday night I went out on patrol with our neighbourhood policeman, looking for the young people who get into trouble for drinking under age and making a bit of a nuisance of themselves usually round the back of the shops or on the play areas. We wanted to talk about what they'd like in the area and what they'd be prepared to put into the effort to achieve it. Amazingly, on a fine warm night there wasn't one group of them to be found - the only people hanging round the shops were a couple of 20+ year olds and they were already engaged in conversation with a special constable on patrol there. So we're no further forward in knowing if there's anything we can do to provide some alternative "hanging out" place for them.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


This morning was the last stage of the Fairtrade Borough Roadshow - a visit to Thornaby market. The positioning of the trailer had been discussed with the markets manager and the driver on Monday and agreement reached. Imagine how I felt when I got there and found it occupying two disabled parking bays. An e-mail to the events team elicited the response that they couldn't park anywhere else because everywhere else was full! Reluctantly I started erecting the display. I could have saved my energy. The only people willing to engage with us were the people who wanted to protest about us parking there. In the end we packed up early and asked the events team to come and take the trailer away early. I hope they did! I've told the corporate director what happened so that if any of the public complain as they threatened to, to the press or police, he knows what the story is.
Fortunately this afternoon brought better news - the deportations to the Congo have been stopped until the review of country guidance takes place. I just hope the review is an honest one.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

It's Official

The second day of the Fairtrade Roadshow coincided with the formal celebration of the Fairtrade Borough achievement. A lovely afternoon, recalling the 30 year journey from the first Fairtrade coffee and tea to the present day. We heard from Jenny Medhurst about the early campaigns and the huge support from individuals and church groups which started things moving. Then we heard from Ayshe Babur about the wonderful work being done at the Newtown Resource Centre to educate people about Fairtrade and give them the chance to taste for themselves, culminating in producing their winning entry to the recipe competition in the spring. Finally I had the chance to thank everyone for the work and commitment they've shown and present the certificate to the Deputy Mayor as representative of the people of the borough. I hadn't actually written a speech so I didn't feel I'd wasted time writing it when the press didn't arrive!
One of the local free papers, The Circuit, had done a lovely photo of the Billingham stall and a great write-up on the front page. Sadly, the rest of the press didn't turn up today! Why can't they write a good news story for once.
After finishing for the day in Stockton market it was time to head back to Eaglescliffe and have a look at the plans for rebuilding our local Health Centre. The building design looks like a pleasing mix of traditional and modern and the people visiting the display sounded happy. The ground floor will be able to be used in part for community activities in the evening, such as ante-natal clinics to fit in with working parents-to-be, healthy living drop-ins and possibly the occasional meeting that's not health related. That could be a big asset to the area. Parking will be no better than it is at present, but the site isn't expandable so there isn't much we can do. At least the centre is staying in the centre of population and near a good bus route - it might have moved to Preston Farm or Allens West and we'd all have had a much more difficult journey to see a doctor.
The building process will give 12-18 months of pain, so I hope the end result really is worth it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

We're a Fairtrade Borough

The Fairtrade Roadshow hit the road this week, kicking off in Billingham Town Centre yesterday. Unfortunately, a little breakdown in communications meant that the trailer arrived late and didn't get into a very good position. The early sunshine gave way to cloud and bitterly cold wind and the balloons and bunting wouldn't stay in place. The display kept threatening to blow off the table! On the plus side, the people were interested and a good number signed pledges to spread the word.
Tomorrow we're in Stockton market and also in the Town House, presenting the certificate to the Deputy Mayor for the people of the Borough. I need to write a short speech, not so that I know what to say but so that the press can have copies!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Catching up

August used to be a quiet time for council work, with very few meetings. Somehow that's changed and everyone seems to try to fit things in before September. Nevertheless, each of us in the Eaglescliffe team has managed to have a holiday away from it all. In my case it was a week in the Peak District, somewhere we hadn't been to for several years.
Back home, decisions need to be made on the spending of our budget for small environmental improvements. One or two of the things we've asked for have been provided from other budgets so we're able to afford to have quite a lot of spring bulbs planted in grass verges around the ward and probably a number of dog waste bins. We're still waiting for information about some more major works which might be achievable.
The music event in Preston Park on Sunday was apparently greatly enjoyed by those who attended, if the local paper can be believed. It was not so enjoyable for the neighbours who felt their houses pounding in time to the music of the DJ sessions and couldn't get the organisers to turn the volume down. It wasn't so pleasant for us, trying in vain to help. We're still trying to ensure that a proper investigation takes place into what went wrong with the organisation and monitoring, especially as there's another event this weekend!

Friday, August 03, 2007

Deportations carry on regardless!

People who know me well will know that I spent some time before becoming a Councillor teaching English to refugees who arrived in Stockton from a variety of trouble spots around the world. In general I found them delightful students, desperate to learn the language and the culture of the country which had taken them in and was providing a temporary refuge from fear, oppression and worse. I occasionally meet some of them around the town, still here, still wishing their country was safe to go home to.
Imagine then my anger when I found that some people seeking asylum here from the Democratic Republic of Congo were being deported back there, told that the country whose government had sanctioned their torture and the killing of members of their family was a safe place to live. I am ashamed to say that our Government, acting supposedly on behalf of the citizens of the United Kingdom, has agreed to have a tribunal look at the evidence about the DRC but then keeps deferring its meetings while still deporting people. I've been shown photographs and heard personal testimony from some of those affected and I'm horrified.
I am a firm supporter of the view that people who are at risk of torture, murder, starvation and other atrocities must be given a safe haven to live in until the problems at home are resolved. This is very different from the view sometimes expressed in the media and elsewhere that all these people are coming for is our health service and benefits. They don't actually qualify for anything but basic support and I believe they need that support. The other side of our responsibility as a comparatively rich and democratic nation is that we work with the UN and other international bodies to encourage the countries concerned down the path of peace and basic human rights. When those things are in place the vast majority of refugees want to go home. The few who have put down roots in their country of refuge can surely be accommodated.

Rant over, but if you agree that deporting people to torture and worse is wrong, please write to your MP and to
Kim Howells MP - 0207 219 5813 Fax: 0207 219 5526
Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Whitehall SW1A 2AH