Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Trees, Housing and other things

The morning started with my first meeting of The Tees Community Forest board which only meets 4 times a year so isn't a very onerous undertaking. I soon realised that there is a budget implication in this as in so many other things which just seem to happen. The Tees Valley councils put in money each year to allow for workers to look after the forest, explore new possibilities and undertake some education work. However, the money is not enough to keep the forest going and budget pressures on council tax mean that it could be cut next year.
The nearest pieces of community forest to us in Eaglescliffe are Coatham and Preston Park (Quarry Wood). Anyone feeling adventurous and prepared to try a serious bit of sponsored activity can go on a sponsored adventure and raise funds for the forests at the same time. The website has the details.
It was a bit of a rush to get from that to the planning committee meeting, stopping en route to buy some fruit for lunch because I'd forgotten to bring some out of the house with me this morning. The only decision on the agenda was on the house which we'd visited yesterday, not built in accordance with the approved plans. When I arrived it was to find that since then even more questions had been raised and so it was agreed to defer the decision until plans have been submitted showing what has actually been built. The site visit had shown some deviations even from the amended plans! After that the agenda was all about the annual monitoring report, which gave the committee the opportunity to ask questions before it goes to Cabinet tomorrow. It paints a reasonably positive picture of performance, but changes in how planning will be funded by central government give rise to real concerns. The whole system is swinging in favour of the SE of England and not taking account of regional spatial strategy decisions which were taken just last year. I see some conflicts arising between different bits of legislation and guidance in the future.
Then we had a seminar on affordable housing - an issue very dear to the hearts of many people in this ward. How do our children afford a house in Eaglescliffe to be near to parents when they set out on adult life? An "entry level" house in Stockton costs over £82,000 but there aren't many, if any, available in Eaglescliffe at that price! The council is trying very hard to get developers to put 15% of new housing in that category but it's an uphill battle. Affordable rented housing is just as difficult to provide here, but we keep trying. It's important not just for those families with young people wanting to "fly the nest" but for all of us - Eaglescliffe needs young people as much as it needs old people in order to be the kind of strong, mixed community which thrives and supports everyone in it.

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