Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Liberal Democrats - the Real Opposition!

What a triumph for common sense, led by Nick Clegg! The vote on allowing Gurkhas the right to settle here. Soundbite of the day must be "If someone is prepared to die for the country surely he should have the right to live in the country." Well done to our parliamentarians - leading the opposition to this "government" is something you did well today. In the words of the school report - Keep up the good work.

We needed some good news, having been given the news that Elementis is definitely closing. 100 people out of work, victims of changes in the global economy. It's a tragedy that a company which has been part of Eaglescliffe for over 100 years should be closing just as we need every job we can keep. I know the economic arguments about factories which import all of their raw materials but it doesn't stop me feeling sad, cross and disappointed. I'd like to think that one of the newer process industries would move into the area to take up the skilled workforce but of course the plant isn't useful for anything but Chrome processing and which company will demolish and build new if they can get permission to build on an empty site somewhere else.

This evening I was asked to go and view piles of dog poo! For some reason people seem to think that the footpath between Brae Head and Glenluce Close is a dog toilet. Children use that path to travel safely to and from the primary school. A couple of months ago the same resident complained and the dog wardens did extra patrols, put up large temporary signs and all was well. Now, the signs have gone and the poo is back. What sort of person thinks that a public footpath is the right place for this sort of thing?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Health and Wellbeing

That seemed to be the theme of today's activities. It was even the title of the partnership meeting I attended at lunch time. Today marks the start of Walk to work week, an initiative aimed at encouraging people to walk more and enjoy it more. Unfortunately my first appointment of the day didn't finish until 1130 so walking from Eaglescliffe to Teesdale for a 1230 meeting seemed to be cutting things a little fine. As it was raining into the bargain walking to work lost its appeal. The highlight of the meeting was seeing the podcasts produced about the Health Trainer programme. The programme provides individual help and support for people who want to improve their health. It's been a real success, providing support to a significant number of people who need it and providing interesting employment to people from a range of backgrounds. It's free to anyone over the age of 18 in the borough, and there aren't many things of which that can be said.
Then it was another drive, this time to see my mother whose health and well being aren't as good as they could be at the moment. Long discussions with health professionals so I missed the update on the Momentum programme. No doubt someone in the Lib Dem group will fill me in later in the week.
Home in the rain, again in the car - well I couldn't leave it parked up there could I? Then decision time - was the rain heavy enough to make me get in the car again or could I at last join in walking to work? My last meeting of the day was not too far away and I usually walk there, so yes, out with the umbrella and raincoat and off I went. I was rewarded because when the meeting was over so was the rain. The air smelt clean and fresh, the colours were all vibrant again with the dust washed off everything and the sun tried to peek through.
So, not as healthy a day as could have been, but not as bad as might have been either. Let's see what tomorrow brings.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

40 Days and 40 Nights

Not many things persuade me to drive far on Saturdays but the Liberal Democrat North East Regional conference is one. This one was special because it is only 40 days to the European Parliament election in the UK. The biblical phrase resonated in the hall as the impact of having elected our first Lib Dem MEP for the region was discussed. The positive effect of having someone to speak up for the North East in Europe was rightly celebrated. Fiona Hall's achievements in more general fields were also celebrated, as was the launch of her new website.
Our new President, Ros Scott, spoke about her disappointment which many of us share that more people in positions of power didn't listen to warnings years ago from Liberal Democrats about the dangers of demutualising the Building Societies and allowing personal debt to spiral skywards. If only Paddy Ashdown and Vince Cable had been taken seriously we might not be in the dire situation we're in now.
Alan Beith MP spoke of his disgust, shared by all present as well as the rest of the party, at how the government has treated Gurkha soldiers. A few years ago a small group of very dignified retired Gurkhas visited our Autumn Federal Conference and I signed the petition supporting their right to settle here. They are still as dignified, still as deserving of respect, still veterans of some tough times in the armed forces and still our government treats them with contempt. Yet again I feel ashamed to be part of a country which elected this government.
Fiona Hall talked about her work in Europe, especially on two fronts. The environment has always been dear to her heart and she talked about long negotiations to get the European Parliament and Commission to agree to the right things. At almost the opposite end of the Grand Design scale was her effort to secure European funding to keep a small business in Northumberland afloat while the owners sorted out some financial issues. Both good, both worthwhile and both (along with lots of other things) done by a Liberal Democrat MEP.
It was good to see so many members of Liberal Youth there, taking full part in the discussions and then hurrying off to finish the day with some campaigning in Newcastle North.
A good day, and worth a morning drive to go there.

Friday, April 24, 2009

I started the morning, wearing my school governor hat, by sampling the worst morning traffic I've experienced in Eaglescliffe for a long time. When it takes 6 minutes to travel the length of South View you know the day isn't going to run smoothly. If I hadn't been going straight on to another meeting in a different part of the ward I'd have walked over on such a lovely day. As it was, I managed to reach school only 30 seconds late. This was my first experience of doing the Health, Safety and Maintenance check at school and it was very pleasing to see how the refurbishment of parts of the school building have gone and the difference it's made to the environment for the children. However, I have a question which I'd love to understand the answer to: why does a 9 year old primary school child need to take a bag to school which is almost as big as him/her? And then why do they act surprised when it doesn't hang on the hook designed for a coat? OK so that's two questions, but I'd still like to understand the answers.
A quick change of hat and mindset while driving to the meeting of the Recreation committee of Egglescliffe & Eaglescliffe council. This was the long awaited meeting to discuss the outcome of a bid for Playbuilder funding for our play areas. We knew that there was some funding allocated to St Margaret's but this was to discuss the detail. All the consultation we did with the young people of the parish has paid off. By this time next year they should see the results.
We also had a promise of help to design a scheme for Amberley Way play area and also to apply for other funding to help complete that. So next year we might well have two improved play areas. It's just the sort of cheering news we need after Wednesday's budget and today's economic news from the ONS.
Speaking of the GDP announcement - why didn't someone leak the figures to Alistair Darling before Wednesday lunchtime and stop him looking so clueless? Third impossible question of the day, after which I'll pack up and go to bed.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"Go and make your voice heard"

Not my words but those of Kate Adie, guest speaker at the Ladies' Lunch in aid of the George Hardwick Foundation. This is a wonderful charity which cares for carers, supporting them in their caring role, enabling them to have a little time to themselves, offering counselling and advice. Although some of their work is funded by Stockton Borough Council they have to raise lots of money each year to keep their premises intact and to advertise their services to the thousands of carers who don't yet know about the help and support that's available.
Kate spoke about her early years in local radio with BBC Durham and her transition to TV reporter and emphasised that she really learned all she knows in those years in Durham. She talked about the good reporter who listens to people and doesn't just jump in with comments.
She talked about the contribution local radio has made to bringing into the forefront of the nation's mind such issues as carers' needs - never discussed in the early 60s because the person needing care was seen as some kind embarrassment. But she also reminded us that we still have a long way to go and suggested strongly that more women need to get involved in politics, locally as well as nationally. "Volunteer to be a local councillor" she said. "Go and stand for Parliament". She commented that women couldn't possibly make a worse mess of the budget, the banks and international relations than men had and we'd probably make it a lot better. After all, who does all the day to day budgeting in the country? Women of course! Who mediate day in, day out in the home - women of course.
So I echo Kate Adie's words - let's have more women involved. If anyone wants more information on being a councillor, just get in touch.
While we were enjoying a lovely lunch in beautiful surroundings Alistair Darling was talking up his 2nd budget. I caught up with it later in the day and wasn't very impressed. A real missed opportunity and a real mix of previously announced changes, previously leaked changes and borrowing. The level of debt he's prepared to incur is terrifying. I look at our grandchildren and wonder how old they'll be before this slab of debt is paid off. I don't know that it'll be in my lifetime.
This morning we heard the news that the Tee Valley hadn't been granted City Region status, despite lots of encouraging noises in recent weeks from ministers and government spokespeople. It doesn't mean that we lose any money, just a bit of prestige and we have to work harder for the flexibility we'd hoped for in using our money across the area. However, Tees Valley Unlimited is down but not out, and the region will go on to greater things I'm sure. We will co-operate because it's the only sensible way to achieve what we want for our residents.

And at the end of a long day, time to catch up on e-mails and phone calls. Parking, new fences, old walls, children and ball games - It's fun being a councillor, honestly. Take Kate Adie's advice and try it - make your voice heard.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Efficiency, Improvement & Transformation

I didn't start very efficiently this morning, having put the wrong date in my diary for a meeting. Fortunately I'd also forgotten to put in an important deadline. Why fortunately? Because that necessitated my contacting my colleague, Alan Lewis, who then put me right about the date of the meeting I was about to go to and thus saved me a valuable 2 hours in which to produce the article in time for the deadline and do some clearing out of my inbox in order to have it filled up by other things. Untrammelled joy!!
This afternoon's meeting of the Environment select committee was given over to a briefing session on the Efficiency, improvement and Transformation reviews which are going to be undertaken by scrutiny committees. There was just one problem - the review to be carried out by the Environment committee isn't part of the "EIT" timetable so the briefing wasn't relevant to our topic and because the same briefing was being given to all committees this week people who are on two or more don't have to turn up to this one. As a result we only had 4 members there so couldn't even start the scoping of the review properly. Grr. Whoever thought up the bright idea of repeatign the session 4 or 5 times didn't think it through.
Never mind, we're now free to start looking at the Carbon management strategy for the authority and working out how we can save not just carbon emissions but also money. Answers on a postcard please!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sun shining, flowers nodding in a gentle breeze, birds singing. Such a beautiful April day. It must have been a day like this which inspired the line "Oh to be in England now that April's here."
It has been a day of recreation in the fullest sense of that word, lots to do but none of it pressured or a worry. Thanks to the wonders of technology there was the chance to have a catch up with family on the other side of the world. There was a moment of wonder standing under a tree with a group of people admiring the fine plumage and beautiful song of the chaffinch sitting near the top. And in between there was time to do a lttle work towards the European Parliamentary campaign - just enough to be enjoyable without being too tiring.
Fiona Hall has done more to help businesses and people in the North East than either of the other two MEPs as far as I can see and I'm really keen to se her re-elected. In the interests of fairness I tried a Google search for North East MEP and came up with only two references on the front page of results which weren't about Fiona. What do the others do with their time I wonder?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Allen's West Crossing

We have been trying for the last week or two to get clarification of this weekend's arrangements for the closure to vehicles & pedestrians. The latest news is:
Owing to the length of the diversion undertaken between Hartburn Interchange and Yarm (via the A66 and Yarm Road), the Saturday daytimeArriva Service 20 will be unable to serve Orchard Estate - the nearest alternative stops will be at Eaglescliffe Tesco. Early Saturday morning ('551'), Saturday evening ('7A') and all day Sunday services ('7A'), will continue to serve Orchard Estate as per their normal timetables.
The shuttle bus will not connect Eaglescliffe with Hartburn, as originally advised.
The arrangements so far as we can find out are as follows. PLEASE ADVISE
B. Bus services 551 & 7A during this period will U-turn at Greenfield Drive & not serve the Kingsmead stop, to & from which passengers will be unable to walk.
C. On Sat. 18th Service 20 will not serve any stops on Durham Lane.
Between Hartburn Interchange & Yarm it will run via the A66 & Yarm Road (& vice versa). It will continue to serve the Millfield Close & Tesco stops on Urlay Nook Road, calling there shortly after 54 min. past the hour on the Tesco side of the Road on the way to Yarm, Stockton & Middlesbrough, returning from Yarm at 31 min. past the hr.
D. The free shuttle bus will run between Stockton, all stops in Durham Lane N of the railway and Yarm (Ketton Ox) & Town Hall (timetable below).
E. On Saturday when Services &A & 551 are not running, there will be no bus service to The Eagle or Greenfield Drive.

SERVICE NO: 920 FRIDAY (17 April 2009)

Stockton High St (st 3) 2155 2312
Eaglescliffe, Kingsmead 2206 2323
Yarm Town Hall 2223 2340

Yarm Town Hall 2225 2342
Eaglescliffe, Kingsmead 2242 2359
Stockton High St (st 3) 2254 0011

SERVICE NO: 920 SATURDAY (18 April 2009)

Stockton High St (st
3) 0535 0635 0735 0835 0935 then 1735 1855 then 2155 2312
Eaglescliffe, Kingsmead
0546 0646 0746 0846 0946 hourly 1746 1906 hourly 2206 2323
Yarm Town Hall 0559 0659 0759 0859 1003 until 1803 1923 until 2223 2340

Yarm Town Hall 0605 0705 0805 0905 1005 then 1805 1925 then 2225 2342
Kingsmead 0619 0719 0819 0919 1022 hourly 1822 1942 hourly 2242 2359
Stockton High St (st
3) 0630 0730 0830 0930 1034 until 1834 1954 until 2254 0011

SERVICE NO: 920 SUNDAY (19 April 2009)

Stockton High St (st 3) 0845 0945 1055 then 2155 2312
Eaglescliffe, Kingsmead 0856 0956 1106 hourly 2206 2323
Yarm Town Hall 0913 1013 1123 until 2223 2340

Yarm Town Hall 0915 1015 1125 then 2225 2342
Eaglescliffe, Kingsmead 0932 1032 1142 hourly 2242 2359
Stockton High St (st 3) 0944 1044 1154 until 2254 0011

Needless to say, we are not happy about how this information has been sent out to the public and have made our views known to Stockton Council officers.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Clement Freud RIP

Farewell to a larger than life character who's been around for as long as I've been interested in politics. Perhaps my abiding memory of him isn't political though. It's of him on one of his cookery programmes telling us with a completely straight face that we must always never cut lettuce with a knife when making a salad. You'll hear it scream in protest he said. Even now, if I take a knife to lettuce I hear that wonderful voice. Rest in peace, Clement.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The nuclear option

The announcement that Hartlepool is one of the possible sites for a future nuclear power station is bound to generate a fair bit of heat locally before it comes anywhere near to generating electricity. It's not unexpected of course - any site which already has a nuclear station must have been in the running because the issues of geography and so on have already been resolved to the satisfaction of the authorities.
I'm not one of those who absolutely oppose nuclear power, but I do oppose using any process which produces a byproduct that doesn't have an end use. Nuclear waste is enormously difficult to deal with, we haven't yet resolved the issues of how to store it successfully for the necessary thousands of years before it decays to harmless and the technical problems of decommissioning nuclear stations arent' yet fully solved. Given all that, I don't see how we can possibly contemplate building more stations, generating more waste and leaving our grandchildren a toxic legacy to solve. Then on top of that we have the considerable carbon diocide emissions of the construction process - all that concrete, all the fuel coming from overseas because we don't have native supplies.
Add to that the fact that we need to get smarter about tracking radioactive material around the globe and keeping it out of the hands of potential evil-doers and I ask myself what we could achieve on greener technologies with the same amount of investment.
No - I still need convincing that the nuclear option is the right one.
Though given this story maybe miracles do happen.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

We'll find the perfect place

A weekend spent with family - part of it on unexpected visiting at the hospital and part of it at home with an unexpectedly extended visit from our grand-children. I was reminded again of the amazing devotion and dedication of the vast majority of our NHS staff - doctors and nurses and health care assistants and cleaners all working over a bank holiday weekend to make life as good as possible for their patients. Their mix of patience, care and firmness is a true vocation.
At home a 3 year old gave a reminder if I needed one of the joys of books for people of all ages. At the recent Mayoress' coffee morning I took advantage of the book stall to stock up on some new books to keep for when the grand-children visit. Twice through a book and the 3 year-old had it off pat even some new vocabulary. The new words and phrases found their way into her conversation in no time. As I was looking for a suitable place to put something down yesterday she told me "Don't worry Granny. You'll soon find the perfect place".
Believe me, this weekend I did. It wasn't quiet nor peaceful nor restful but it was inspiring - both parts of the weekend.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

I spent a large part of Tuesday in a Planning Appeal Hearing, defending the council's decision to refuse planning permission for extensions to a bungalow in Maltby. I, along with other members of the planning committee had disagreed with the officer's recommendation at the meeting back in February. We felt that the increase in the bulk of the building was so significant as to be unacceptable in the village. The inspector appointed by the Secretary of State had decided to hear 3 appeals in one hearing so it wasn't easy to keep track of which particular one she was discussing at any one point and to make sure that we were all talking about the same application. After 3 hours of discussion we then had a site visit, including viewing the site from a number of gardens and houses. The local residents were very well prepared and made their cases very clearly. Now we just wait for the result. This is the 2nd hearing in which I've been involved and I haven't found either of them easy or possible to predict.
On Wednesday the planning committee were faced by an interesting and potentially exciting development at Mandale Triangle in Thornaby which unfortunately had a large element of student accommodation included. As the council adopted a policy on student housing some months ago which insists that developers have to prove the need for such flats this one was recommended for refusal on the grounds that need had not been demonstrated. The developer tried to say that there was flexibility to change the interior design if other accommodation were needed but then the car parking requirements would be higher and of course it would need to be a different design to accommodate it. A shame, and a real test of the new policy. We shall see what happens if it goes to appeal. The policy hasn't yet been tested in that way.
The same planning meeting made a final decison on a site which has been the subject of several applications over the last few years, while having buildings erected on it which are very different to the permissions that have been granted. Now enforcement proceedings start, but of course the applicant may decide to appeal in which case he can carry on as he is at present with completing his unapproved buildings. The system is really stacked in favour of the developer it always seems to me.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

A Little Bit of Good News

This morning I was again at our new Outdoor shop in Portrack, this time to exchange something bought by someone else earlier in the week. Putting the exchange through the till was a procedure for which the member of staff on the till hadn't yet been trained so took longer than it might have done and provided an opportunity for conversation with her and a more experienced member of staff who came along to help her when she got stuck. It turned out that they were both unemployed when the store had advertised for staff - one from Woolwoths and one from a non-retail job. They were both enormously pleased to have their jobs, were enjoying the work and were very happy that Go Outdoors had opened. The ex-Woolworths employee was an excellent teacher and took the opportunity of relaxed customers and a relatively quiet midweek morning to make the transaction a proper and enjoyable learning experience for the older lady. Now that's what I call regeneration - never mind the buildings, think about the people.
At this evening's Parish council meeting the news about the successful bid for Playbuilder funding for St Margaret's Play area was announced and at last I was released from my promise of secrecy made a fortnight ago. The Recreation committee will meet after Easter with officers of Stockton Borough Council and plan the way ahead for the project. Great news after a year of delays and disappointments.
Unfortunately, though not entirely unexpectedly, Amberley Way wasn't considered to be within the criteria for Play Builder funding so we need to look at what we can do there with the funding we have available. Probably quite a bit, but over a longer time frame and without the input of experts on the site plans.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

All Change

Today was largely taken up with the Annual Meeting of Stockton Borough Council. This is the meeting at which the mayor is elected for the year, the leader and cabinet are appointed and the committees are all set up for the year. This year the business part of the meeting was separated off from the ceremonial part which seemed very odd. We had a brisk meeting with the mayor being proposed and seconded, candidates for deputy mayor being proposed and seconded, votes being taken and then an adjournment to move into a bigger room to have the speeches and presentations of flower arrangements. I'm not sure that anyone gained anything from the changes but no doubt a report to cabinet in due course will say that it was a great improvement on the previous years.
This was the 5th time in succession that I'd stood at the microphone to speak about a Lib Dem councillor- from proposing Suzanne as deputy mayor then mayor, then John as deputy then mayor and now finally to give a vote of thanks to John for all his work as mayor having done the same 2 years ago when Suzanne handed over the chains. Before that sequence I'd also had the experience of proposing Suzanne unsuccessfully before the constitution was changed to ensure that the longest serving councillor gets the opportunity to be mayor regardless of party allegiance.
Giving the vote of thanks to the retiring mayor is a very special opportunity to highlight some of the aspects of the mayoral year which some in the audience might not know about or appreciate the significance of. It's a chance to say a public thank you and to celebrate the achievements of the year. It's also a good opportunity to emphasise to senior officers and members of the ruling group just what is important and worthwhile in what the mayor has done. One of the least known and most successful things which John had done was to meet with representatives of the workforce and recognise the contribution they make to the well being of the borough. That even brought him an accolade from the leader of the Labour Group.
And so 4 years of civic duty has drawn to a close. Over the coming months John and Suzanne will gradually restore a degree of normality to their lives and we will enjoy having them back as fully involved members of the group again.