Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Plans and more plans

St George's Day, and the English flag was flying proudly from a number of buildings in the spring sunshine.
I spent part of the morning discussing with senior council staff the difficulties we face over planning enforcement. When someone builds something for which they should have asked permission but didn't it seems to take forever to put it right. The council is also only allowed to take "reasonable" action. Eaglescliffe residents will remember the furore over 12/15 Station Rd which was extended by small incremental applications over a period of time and eventually was built bigger than the last permission allowed. After protests by local residents and ward councillors it eventually went to committee to decide whether to enforce reducing the size and the advice from the legal experts was that it wasn't a big enough variation to warrant such enforcement. Although I disagreed I was out-voted and the monstrosity still stands. Other residents will recall the problems of Riverside Lodge motorcycling, and the inability of enforcement to stop the activity while an assortment of applications went through the system. It seems as though enforcement is only effective quickly when the offender has made a genuine mistake and is willing to put it right. If the offender is pushing at the boundaries of what is legal or permissible the legal process is so slow that residents can be forgiven for concluding that it's non-existent.
More frustration in a meeting about progress on local transport issues. The cycleway from Kingsmead to Cleasby Way is still not completed because the process of acquiring a tiny strip of land from the industrial site next to it is taking, quite literally, years. I now have another promise that it will be chased up, but I've given up holding my breath. There is lots going on in the background in Eaglescliffe at the moment:
  • Station Rd and the surroundings are the subject of a study to see what needs to be done to make it a really attractive welcoming area to people getting off the train and walking into our area as well as to make it easier for residents to live there and others to shop there.
  • The detailed work on the Preston Park bid is going on, looking at how to ensure that the traffic going in and out of the Park doesn't cause problems for pedestrians also wanting to move about the area and for the traffic flow along Yarm Road. Traffic lights at the entrance to the park is one possibility being examined.
  • Safer crossing of Yarm Rd for people wanting to access the park is being looked at, and this will help those on the Park side of Yarm Rd wanting to access Preston Primary School I hope.
  • Safer routes to schools is an on-going study with some traffic calming near our schools possible as well as some parking restrictions for those busy times.
  • More work is being done on preparing school travel plans and also on monitoring how successful they've been in encouraging more youngsters to travel other than by car.
All these things will be presented to the Area Transport Strategy meeting next month at which Parish Councils and Community groups are represented so if you're a member of a community group or residents association in Preston, Eaglescliffe, Aislaby, Elton, Long Newton, Yarm, Kirklevington or Castle Leavington and your chair hasn't had an invitation do let me know. There is a budget available for helping these schemes along, and its up to that group to decide how best to spend it. It's small in roadworks terms - £25,000 - but sometimes a bit more can be found from ward budgets so it can stretch to quite a lot of work. In the past it's funded improvements to pedestrian safety at Silver St on Yarm High St, cycle lane on Spital bank, dropped kerbs in Station Rd, Eaglescliffe, improvements to the bus stop near Allen's West on Durham Lane to name but a few items.
Following that session I had time to nip upstairs to catch up on a couple of items for the Fairtrade Borough Group before going home for a very late lunch. It was worth the delay to hear that there's a catering company based here in Eaglescliffe who try to use all organic or Fairtrade or locally sourced produce for their catering. It's a family business and they even have an allotment to grow some of their own organic produce. How good is that? We'll certainly be adding them to our list of caterers in our directory.

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