Monday, June 30, 2008

Pathways to Healthcare again

Tonight's meeting of the Western Area Partnership Board was taken up to a large extent with a discussion on the Momentum project. This had been mentioned last month but this month we had a presentation and debate which could have gone on for a lot longer. People have real concerns about concentrating services in too few locations, about how the villages will be served when they can't have a GP service, let alone any of the wonderful new services being proposed. There were worries about private sector involvement and some confusion over the difference between the health centres being proposed and privately operated polyclinics being talked about in some parts of the media.
There was a glimmer of hope for Long Newton Post Office, when we heard that the leader of the council has asked council officers to look into the possibility of the council keeping it open. It doesn't seem like a lot to ask - a part-time worker for a few hours a week, purchase the second hand redundant equipment from the Post Office and pay a bit towards the upkeep of the Wilson Institute. We shall see. I'll keep reminding him that it's important to the village community of the Western Area and we don't ask for much from the council.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Day Off

A rare opportunity this afternoon to just drop everything and go out. The initial intention was to walk along to Preston Park and see something of the Fire Engine and Vintage Vehicle rally, but a sudden downpour changed our minds. We drove out to the moors and enjoyed the scenery even though it was grey and rather more wintry looking than we might have hoped for this time of year. Our walk was a very short one along the river bank in Great Ayton, catching a brief spell of sun, and enjoying an ice-cream. We're very lucky to have such beauty on our doorstep and don't always appreciate it. One of the oldest hostelries in the village was looking particularly beautiful and just for those few minutes the colours looked quite summery.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Another Threat to the Post Office

The Government still hasn't made up its mind about who will run the Post Office Card Account after the present contract expires in 2010. This is the account which replaced the Pension book for many over 60s, allowing them to go to the Post Office as they always had and draw the money out each week. For people like my mother who can't get into her bank branch it's a godsend, helping her to maintain her independence. It's also used for benefit payments and often is the only sensible way for someone on a very low income to manage their money. Because the account doesn't allow overdrafts it's impossible to spend more than you have in the account. But this Labour Government, elected because so many people thought it would look after them better than the previous Conservative one, is failing the people who need it most. They've made it really difficult to find out that such a card is an option, assuming instead that everyone will want to use a bank account. And yet many people, even though they use a bank for other things, value the social networking that goes on in the Post Office. Even those of us who can't imagine needing it at the moment don't know what's going to happen to us in 10 or 20 years time. We might be glad of an account which someone else can draw from and do our shopping but we can ensure that it only gives access to a certain amount of money.

The National Federation of Sub-Postmasters is running a postcard campaign to try to ensure that the Post Office keeps the contract. All you need to do it ask in the Post Office for a card, fill in your name and address and give it back to them. They will send them to the right MP. If you think the card account is important, please do ask. Liberal Democrats strongly believe that only the Post Office can do this job. It's the only body with a wide enough network to support all the people who want to use the card. So please do support the campaign and write to your MP or ask for a card at the Post Office.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Retirement Living

The McCarthy and Stone development on The Avenue which was so unpopular as it went through the planning process last year is nearing completion. Timothy Hackworth Court sales office is open for business and today a range of people from local businesses and the community were invited to see for themselves what is on offer. John Fletcher and I went along as ward councillors because we will represent the residents once they move in. It was useful to see the building and the kind of flats which are being constructed. More helpful was to meet the House Manager and discuss some of the possible ways of helping new residents to fit into the community in Eaglescliffe and Preston. The new vicar of All Saints church was there with some members of the church, as was the Methodist minister so I'm sure the churches will be helping those who wish to become involved to settle into new congregations quickly.
Looking at the amount of work going on around the grounds and in the building it was hard to envisage the first residents being in there in July.
Sadly, now that we've got them, the prices mean that they're not affordable for a lot of the Eaglescliffe residents who would like to move to something smaller and more manageable. We'll just have to keep trying to get more affordable housing for all ages when other developers come wth applications for our area.
Tonight the democratic accountability of the planning system took another blow with the passage of the Planning bill through Parliament. 16 Labour rebels weren't enough to defeat the government and so yet another quango will come into being - The Independent Planning Commission will decide on applications for big infrastructure projects, not the councils elected to represent the people of the area. I know that the planning system needs some reform, but it doesn't need to be taken out of the hands of local people. And this same government wonders why people lose the will to vote in local elections!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A day without meetings - a rarity indeed. So what does a councillor do on such a day? Well, we do have a life other than council of course but multi-tasking is common place for us. Thus a walk to do some shopping, rather than a quick call in the car en route to somewhere else, was a chance to check up on the state of some little problems reported earlier in the year. Some things never seem to change - the amount of litter which is deposited on the grass along the route taken by pupils to and from Egglescliffe school never ceases to amaze me. I'm not suggesting that the young people are responsible for all of it, but the preponderance of soft drink cans and sweet wrappers does seem to implicate at least some of them. Yet these same young people can be incredibly concerned about pollution, deforestation and other global issues. There's a connection missing somewhere. The Care for Your Area team were busy picking up litter from the grass near the railway bridge, but it's slow work when there's so much.
Then a trip to Municipal Buildings so that I could print off copies of the plans for the Tesco roundabout along with letters to tell those residents who aren't on our e-news list and live near to the roundabout.
A few personal and family matters to deal with and then time to catch up on e-mails, preparing Focus and all the other jobs which have slipped behind in the last couple of weeks.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Allen's West & Urlay Nook Road Update

Stockton Council's engineers asked the people applying to develop these two sites to calculate the effect of not only their own traffic but each other's, especially on the roundabout near Tesco. Those calculations are done using standard computer programmes that are accepted right across the country and it's very difficult to argue to a Planning Inspector on appeal that they are wrong, even when local knowledge suggests strongly that they are.
The calculations have shown that the approach to the roundabout would need to be modified to accommodate the extra traffic. A senior council officer has described the proposal thus:
Both developers have combined a proposal for an improvement scheme on the Tesco roundabout to mitigate their impact from development. In summary, the improvement scheme includes local widening to the approaches on the Durham Lane and two A67 legs of the roundabout. This will allow two formal lanes for traffic queue and therefore more traffic through the roundabout more efficiently. There is of course a complication to this, as we are aware the wider highway network (Yarm High St) is the bottle neck. Under the legislation, the developer must mitigate their own impact on the affected junctions and existing problems on the wider highway network remain the responsibility of the Authority.
We know that car drivers now tend to form two lanes close to the roundabout but the width of the road from the north and the west indicates that this can't happen, hence the requirement for widening. What this means is that if the planning applications are approved on July 2nd these changes to the roads will go ahead without any further consultation, so as ward councillors we're busy trying to consult with the people who live nearest to the roundabout to see what their views are. Street letters will go out in the next few days as well as an email news. If readers know anyone who might be affected please let us know.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Magnificat - The Challenge to Women Today

That was the title of a conference I attended this weekend. I'd been asked to speak at the annual conference of the National Board of Catholic Women about being a Borough Councillor and a woman of faith. The other speaker was Prof. Tina Beattie (photographed with the NBCW president, Mrs Yogi Sutton), a wonderful theologian with the gift of being able to express deep thological concepts in language which ordinary people can understand. It may not seem at first glance that a Stockton Borough Councillor and an eminent Catholic lay theologian have a lot in common, but as our talks unfolded it became obvious that what she was saying was as relevant to the challenges facing women today as it had been in the times described in the Christian Gospels. We still face the issue of ensuring that women have the self esteem and self confidence to do what they believe is right, even in the face of pressure to do otherwise. The review which I chaired two years ago on Teenage Pregnancy showed how much that is needed. And that's just one small example. I'm sure there are men who need the same support, but this was a conference about women so I make no apologies for concentrating on us, just for a weekend.

The rest of the conference was taken up with workshops and discussions on a number of topics. I was very interested in London Citizens, a strong alliance of people in London who seem to be succeeding in making sure that the Mayor of London does implement some policies for the real benefit of the citizens. The London Living Wage is one example, and they're now campaigning for community land ownership as a way of helping to tackle the shortage of really affordable housing in the city for ordinary workers. I was told that Birmingham now has a similar organisation starting up and I wondered why other big cities didn't follow suit. It seems to be a way of bringing together a huge number of disparate communities to work for things which affect them all. We talk a lot about Community Cohesion, building sustainable communities and so on. Here is a group which is actually doing it, not just talking about it - widely different groups working together. Where else do we see real partnership working of faith groups, trades unions, schools, residents' groups and more on practical actions, not high level strategies?
So, much to think about and some new ideas to ponder and share with colleagues.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Declaration of Human Rights

This year is the 60th anniversary of the declaration of human rights and a group of eminent people including Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu have launched a campaign to celebrate and strengthen the declaration by getting a billion people to sign a personal commitment to uphold the Declaration. When I signed there were over 21,000 signatories so there's a long way to go to get the billion. Please think about signing and spreading the word.
The personal declaration reads as follows:

I choose to sign this declaration because:

I wish to take responsibility for upholding the goals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in my daily life and in my community. I will do my best to speak out to protect the freedom and rights of others in my community.

I affirm the following principle: “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

I believe Every Human Has Rights.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Larch Crescent

Residents of Larch Crescent have been plagued for a number of years by teenagers playing football on the patch of grass in front of their bungalows, kicking the ball into their gardens and causing damage. It's the age old story of the patch of grass available being too small for what the young people need. Quite why they won't go over the road to Preston Park I don't know.
Tristar have done the consultation for us and we're prepared to spend some of our Environmental Improvement Budget on doing some planting in the area, but it's proving tricky to work out which department can do the design. We'll get there in the end!
Meanwhile we've chased up a request that was made 3 years ago by the then councillor for Preston Ward to have some goal posts erected in Preston Park with the aim of encouraging teenagers to go there rather than these small patches of grass. The goal posts never appeared but we'll see what's said this time.
Stockton Council's engineers told us today that the developers of Allen's West and Urlay Nook Rd warehousing proposal have agreed on a package of road widening measures at the Tesco roundabout to mitigate the impact of their developments. According to the wonderful computer programme which calculates these things for local authorities if they widen the splay at the roundabout everything will be fine, except for the bottleneck caused by Yarm High Street which isn't their problem. So the engineers have no option now but to accept that these developments can be accommodated, despite the fact that we all know that the Yarm High St issue is the biggest problem for this area and won't be relieved at all by any of these measures.
Planning committee on July 2nd will be a difficult one. Decision day for both of these developments, both the subject of serious objections by residents but both looking increasingly as though they're proving able to answer the material planning objections.


A complete waste of time was my reaction to the morning's event. I went to a workshop which I'd been led to expect would be useful in my role as Chair of Western Area Board. Unfortunately this was one of those rare occasions when I found absolutely no value at all in the session. In fact I don't think I've ever been to something where I've come away feeling quite so cross about wasting time. To add insult to injury, the lunch which was on offer consisted of sandwiches and chips! That's twice in three days that I've had that sort of offer. So much for healthy eating. So I left and went home to make a salad!
A visit to an elderly relative in hospital showed up some of the poor communications that are all too prevalent there. The doctor had said "you can go home" so the patient had packed her bag and was expecting me to take her home. What hadn't been said to her was that a number of other things needed to happen first including work by other staff than doctors to make sure her return was safe, comfortable and with the right medication. You can imagine how upset we all were at that muddle. Just a bit of thought and careful choice of words would have made such a difference.
The bright note of the day came in a pre-meeting for the Environment committee meeting next week. It looks possible now that we'll complete our work on Customer First comfortably by September and be able to start on something with a bit more relevance to our residents. Hooray!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


A breakdown in "the system" meant that I realised this morning that minutes of a previous Fairtrade meeting hadn't been sent out, nor the agenda for today's. Consequently no-one but the two of us responsible for doing that had remembered the meeting! We took the opportunity to sort out some things which we've been meaning to do and not done because of pressure of other work, so it was a very productive 45 minutes but not what we'd intended when we set the date a month ago.
My second appointment of the day was to discuss the agenda for the next Western Area Partnership meeting on 30th June. We're trying out a new venue, using Challoner House in Yarm, so it'll be interesting to see how it works. One of the items on the agenda is the Momentum consultation and as part of the proposal is to extend services in Yarm it should provoke an interesting discussion.
I had a quick meeting with my two ward colleagues, John Fletcher and Alan Lewis, before our ward surgery, to discuss the proposals for Larch Crescent green space. We need to try to stop the older children playing football and kicking the ball into the pensioners' gardens but still leave a pleasant place to look out onto and perhaps some space for any young children to play. Not easy but we're arranging a meeting with the Tristar staff involved to come up with some designs.
Ward surgery brought another intractable problem - the poorer bus service which now operates up Durham Lane past Orchard estate, compared to what it used to be. Sadly, the council has no power to make the bus companies provide a better service and can only encourage. In our experience encouragement doesn't produce results and our residents continue to be frustrated.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Pathways to Healthcare

As residents know, the health service in this area has been looking at changes to hospital provision for several years. The latest scheme involves building one new hospital to serve Hartlepool, Stockton and parts of Easington and Sedgefield, closing both North Tees and Hartlepool hospitals and having a lot more services available "in the community". Of course that phrase means different things to different people and in different circumstances so there's much debate about what sort of clinics, health centres or hospitals are needed and where.
Over the last couple of weeks leaflets have been distributed in doctors' surgeries, with free papers, in dentists' waiting rooms, hospitals, council buildings and everywhere anyone could think of leaving them. There's a questionnaire included but if yours has been chewed up by the dog or coloured in by the toddler there are plenty more available! It's a way of having your say about where you think services should be located, what you think is important about the new services and where you think the new hospital should be built.
Today there was a "summit" consultation and I was there as a representative of the Western Area Partnership Board. The discussion was very animated and well informed because everyone there was involved in some way or another - patients, doctors, nurses, NHS support and managerial staff, carers, councillors and others. We were all passionate about trying to ensure that what we have in 5 or 10 years time is better than what we have now, not just in terms of the buildings but in terms of how patients are treated. What was really interesting to me on a personal level was just how much agreement there was when people could discuss general principles. Clinicians were able to admit that things don't always run smoothly, that care isn't as good as it could be at times, that people are discharged or admitted too soon sometimes. If what was said today really is listened to then the service will improve, but we shall see.
It was particularly appropriate for me today, following my recent experience of hospital care and discharge procedures for my mother-in-law. And it was very interesting to have professionals telling me what should have happened!
So, if you haven't already had your say do go to the Momentum website and complete the questionnaire or e-mail them if you've got comments that don't fit on the form. Don't say in 10 years time that it should have been done differently (unless of course you've had your suggestions ignored!)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Two Very Intensive Days

Liberal Democrats have always been the party which most values local government and our local government conferences are always well attended. This weekend was no exception. Councillors from all shapes and sizes of local authorities gathered in Birmingham, along with MPs with a special interest in local government.
Although not of direct and detailed interest to the residents I mention these things because some of what was discussed will help us to be better able to do our jobs as councillors.
I spent Friday afternoon in discussions with other group leaders about what is happening in the towns and cities around the country in terms of economy and quality of life, and what can be done to ensure that everyone benefits from improvements. That intense discussion was followed by a very pleasant dinner in the opulent surroundings of Birmingham Council Banqueting Chamber, a legacy of Birmingham's enlightened Victorian entrepreneurs and councillors. The photo shows the outside of the Council building because I forgot to take my camera to the dinner!
Saturday was the conference proper, held in one of Birmingham's prestigious venues, the ICC. I was a little thrown as I walked towards the door, following behind a group of very elegantly dressed people who looked more likely to be attending a wedding than a Lib Dem conference. All was revealed when I stepped inside to find that the Open University Graduation ceremony was also taking place that day.
Speeches from Andrew Stunnell MP and Simon Hughes MP set the tone for the day. The rest of the day flew past before it was time to walk back down to the railway station for the trip home. On the way I passed the "Celebrating Sanctuary" events in Victoria Square and the surrounding areas. I confess I'd forgotten that Refugee Week started this weekend but Birmingham certainly were celebrating in a big way. The photograph shows a Latin American group performing on the specially erected stage. Sadly I didn't have time to visit the mock-up of a refugee camp set up by Islamic relief and based on the ones they set up for crises around the world. Maybe next year.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Day of Shame

So Brown and his cronies have done it - 6 weeks without charge, just for being suspected of terrorist involvement. 40 Labour MPs can hold their heads high tonight, but not the member for Stockton South. Ms Taylor showed again that she meekly follows wherever her leader goes. It's been proved over long bloody conflicts that interment doesn't work. In my lifetime Northern Ireland proved the point. Yet here we go again - lock them up just in case.
And somehow, Parliament is going to be able to decide whether to give the police permission to extend beyond 28 days (which shouldn't have been introduced anyway). Quite how is this going to work? Debate in camera with everyone sworn to secrecy? Debate with no evidence? Vote with no debate? Heaven help the mother of Parliaments. Senility seems to be taking its toll.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Good, The Bad & The Boring

Monday brought some good news following on from the Wastes Management review carried out earlier this year. The officers concerned have worked so enthusiastically on ways to implement the recommendations that the action plan is ready ahead of schedule so the recommendations will begin to be implemented sooner than we'd thought. Watch this space!
It seems also that the plans for Billingham Town Centre are coming on nicely so I look forward to seeing some detail in them. It seems likely to include a new medical centre and perhaps a customer contact centre for Stockton Council.
The insulation of Municipal Buildings cavity walls was cracking on, noisily but efficiently. However, the sun was so hot that I suspect staff working in some of the rooms had ventilation on their minds rather than insulation. It's a difficult building to improve with its lovely big windows - hot in sunny weather and cold in winter though the insulation should help with the latter. One day perhaps we'll get a nice energy efficient office building, but not yet!
Less good is all the public consultation starting about the new hospital for North of the Tees. The idea is that there's to be a lot more care in the community including some procedures that are done at hospital at present. This means that new medical centres need to be built and old ones refurbished but there's no clarity from the PCT about where these facilities will be nor what exactly will be available in each one. But without knowing this people are being asked to say which site they prefer for the hospital! Both sites are out of town, not readily accessible by public transport and no guarantee that they ever will be. The NHS seems to have decided that they can't please everyone so they're better to please no-one. There doesn't seem to be any sense to their choice of sites other than the fact that the land is likely to be cheaper and more readily available than some of the other sites which have been suggested.
The afternoon saw a further meeting of the Environment Select committee to review the Customer First Programme of Stockton council. Whilst I agree that it's important to give customers the best possible service I still am utterly unconvinced that there's going to be any useful outcome of this scrutiny. Maybe I'll be proved wrong?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Greener Living

Stockton council held a Greener Living Roadshow today at Preston Park. There were exhibitors showing all manner of renewable heating systems, public transport, recycling, real nappies, plans for the regeneration of the Park, cycling, lower emission cars and even an electric motor bike which produces no emissions at the time of use (because they're all produced at the power station making the electricity). I hope that others will have written more about what they saw because I didn't get much chance to look round as I was helping to man the Fairtrade stall. By showcasing the huge variety of Fairtrade products available we hoped to encourage people to ask their local shops to stokc more. A number of people did take a postcard to do just that so we hope it will have an impact. We also had a lot of interest in the Fairtrade group, in converting local businesses and in giving talks to schools and other places. Definitely worth going and giving up a Sunday afternoon and a huge thank you to those who covered Sunday morning while the councillors among us were at the Civic service.
The civic service is the opportunity each year for the people of the Borough to share with the new mayor in prayer for the borough and to hear the new mayor commit to serving the people of the borough during the year. This year's mayor, John Fletcher, is well known to the people of Eaglescliffe and they were strongly represented in the congregation and in the choir. But John hasn't been a councillor for over 20 years without forging links in other parts of the Borough and of course there were representatives from neighbouring authorities whose links with Stockton extend long past the tenure of any particular Mayor. We were blessed with a sunny day and very little wind for the traditional parade up the High Street to the Parish Church and back again after the service. Sadly, the number of young people from the different organisations in the Borough has decreased over the years, no doubt for complex reasons, but those who do march, old and young, are a credit to their peers and to the Borough.
The Civic service has a number of common elements year by year but each Mayor and chaplain choose some parts to reflect their particular feelings for the role. John's readings and hymns gave a deep sense of the vocation involved in public service, of being a servant to all across the Borough regardless of their background and of trying to work with all the different groups in the Borough. His chaplain spoke of part of his role being to give pastoral care to someone in a very exposed public position - not something which is discussed around council chambers but very important none the less.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Who can help?

I haven't commented on the Mugabe/Zimbabwe situation this week, mainly because words failed me. But reading this morning's newspaper I just felt so sick, physically ill, at what's going on there. I'm not qualified to say whether Mugabe is mentally ill or something else but what he and his henchmen are causing to happen in that country should be cause for shame to all around who might be able to help and don't. Diplomats and Politicians in power around the world surely must be able to do more than our esteemed Foreign Secretary this week (Comment on the illegal treatment of UK and US diplomats this week: This gives us a window into the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans). Where are the powerful who have the courage to stand up to Mugabe? The words of Christ seem quite apt here: Whatever you do to the least of my little ones, you do to me. The efforts of ordinary people in Zimbabwe to have a free and fair election are being battered and beaten out of existence and the so-called democratic governments that could surely band together and make a difference turn a blind eye. God help us all.

Friday, June 06, 2008

A grey morning started with our quarterly estate walkabout - councillors, Tristar patch manager, Enforcement officer and a Highways officer walking round the streets to check on problems and giving residents a chance to chat to us about anything they want to raise. Today's walk gave us the chance to talk in situ about the possibilities for work on Larch Crescent and Cedar Crescent. One needs something to stop football being played too vigorously and causing problems for the residents and the other needs something done to provide more parking spaces. We had a good discussion and look forward to seeing some suggested plans drawn up.
It was a pleasant experience on the second part of our walkabout to have residents of the Millfield estate telling us how pleasant it is to live there, how little trouble they have and what a good neighbourly spirit there is.

The afternoon was spent at a seminar for members on the partnership working between Stockton and Darlington on providing "back room services". These are the things like IT services which keep the work of the council ticking over but which don't impact directly on members of the public. Stockton and Darlington councils took a very brave step a few years ago of looking into the possibility of working together to work more efficiently. The partnership took over 2 years to bring to birth but it's working well so far and the managers believe it will go from strength to strength.

From there, via a quick sick visit and a trolley dash round the supermarket, to ward surgery. No customers, other than someone needing a witness to a signature, but a chance to have a brief look at the plans for the refurbishment of Preston Hall. We got 8 envelopes of plans today so it's too early to say much about them but we'll certainly study them carefully and comment as appropriate. One good thing, at first sight, is the idea to demolish the sheds and replace them with proper storage buildings designed to fit in with the surroundings.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

World Environment Day

If you're one of those who's not sure about climate change or not sure what to do next, have a look at this site, and be prepared to laugh. There's a drawback of course - you've got to sign up to do something first, but that's painless and they do offer advice on how to keep your pledge.
On the other hand, if you really want to see how much Carbon Dioxide your home and lifestyle is responsible for, there's a very handy and easy to use calculator here. Just make sure you've got your gas and electricity consumption figures handy before you start. Like all these things it's a rather blunt tool. For example, it doesn't allow the chance to say that one door has draught-proofing but the other doesn't. It suggests that I should install underfloor insulation, which might be a tad difficult in a house with a concrete floor. But at least it gives some idea of where I stand in relation to the national average and some sensible ideas on what to do next to lower my emissions. I have to confess that the biggest single contributor to my carbon footprint is visiting my daughter on the other side of the world and since I'm not going to give that up if I can help it, I'll just have to carry on with contributing to carbon offsetting programmes which sound as if they'll help. Not a cure, but a treatment which delays matters until the cure is implemented.
One of the things I'd really like is someone to work out and publish in an easily understood form, the relative costs in carbon and money of keeping a fairly elderly but still functional appliance or scrapping it and buying a new energy efficient one. It goes against the grain to scrap something that still works but if I could be absolutely sure that the carbon footprint of scrap and replace is really less than that of keep going till it drops then perhaps I'd do it.
I know that these calculations have been done on housing stock - demolition and disposal of the debris from our old housing stock followed by rebuilding with more energy efficient stock means that the new houses have to last over 50 years before they start saving carbon! That's something which I'll be factoring in to my considerations of planning applications in future.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Maps, Governance and Young People

What do they all have in common? Mainly the fact that they were the topics of my three "council activities" today. I actually started with an early session to arrange some dates to make progress on getting a report through the relevant stages in the right order. Then a brief session to ask a couple of officers for help with practical issues arising out of yesterday's climate change event. Then to the first "proper" session of the day, a training on using the council's Geographic Information Service. This is a really useful tool for finding out all sorts of information about the borough based on the geographic location. Things like how big a plot of land is, who's responsible for land in council ownership (education or leisure or any number of other departments), the location and ID number of streetlights are all there if we know how to find them. I already use the system quite a bit but this was a session to explore the more advanced tools within it. I found it interesting, and I learned what a few of the tools are which I haven't yet used but very well might in the future. There's a public version on Stockton's website which readers might find useful or interesting, or even both.
From there it was back to Eaglescliffe for a meeting of colleagues to discuss some issues around future governance in Stockton. Central government is pressing for change although with no clear reason as to why we should change something which works well enough to have Stockton assessed as Excellent for a number of years running. There's also no clear indication of how changing governance would improve on this excellence. Change for change's sake it seems. Nevertheless I'm not and never have been a King Canute caricature, nor am I the little boy with my finger in the dyke. If change is inevitably going to be pushed upon us it behoves us to be as well prepared as possible and to have taken note of all the information and suggestions coming out on the subject, hence our meeting today.
And so to youth! Unfortunately the Youth Worker we were expecting didn't arrive but it was a constructive meeting with the local beat bobby and as ward councillors we're better informed than we were. We could also alert him to things we'd been told by residents and decide on some small things we can try to do while the longer term plans for improved play areas which are being made by the Parish Council are brought to fruition. Nothing very comforting for residents who're being plagued by the few bad apples but at least we know we've done what we can.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Inspiring our communities... act on Climate Change.
That was the title of a regional conference today which I attended with Stockton Council's Environmental Policy Manager. There were some very interesting presentations and some very challenging facts from public opinion surveys. There's a great deal of confusion in people's minds about whether climate change is important or even real. Even amongst people who think it's important there's confusion over what to do about it. "Saving the planet" has become a catch-all phrase and people don't distinguish between what they can do to save precious resources (like recycling glass and metals and paper) and what they can do to prevent serious climate change (like using low energy light bulbs and driving the car less frequently). People really don't trust the idea of environmental taxes because they think the government is just making an excuse to get more money out of motorists or whoever is being targetted. All the studies show that people look for fairmess -they want to feel that whatever is being asked of them everyone else is going to be asked to make the same sacrifices.
The big challenge for us as councillors is how we lead our community forward to combat climate change in Stockton, given this desire for fairness and this lack of understanding of all the complex issues. Real food for thought and we hadn't come to any conclusions at the end of the journey home. We did agree that, difficult though the problems are, Stockton has already made a good start by doing the relatively easy things and that the biggest challenges are left to meet. Watch this space!
From South Shields and climate change to Kirklevington and Renaissance. Stockton's Local Strategic Partnership had a unique session this evening to consider itself, how it works and how it can improve. There was a lot of discussion about the fact that most people outside the partnership probably don't know it exists or what it does, and yet it's a very important part of life in the borough. It brings together the council, big voluntary sector organisations, small community groups, major bodies like police, fire and NHS alongside business links to try to join up the way services are delivered to people. Possibly the fact that people don't know about it means it's working extremely well? Whatever the reason, there's to be a lot more thought put into exactly how it operates and how it tells people about its work.
And finally, almost 12 hours after leaving home this morning, time to return to domestic matters!