Thursday, December 31, 2009
On a personal level this year is ending better than it began, with many of the heartaches and headaches in the past. Although I needed to visit hospital this afternoon I don't envisage seeing in the New Year there this time.
So what will the new year bring? Nationally, a general election of course. For Stockton Borough Council a decision on how it operates in the future - with a directly elected mayor or with a leader elected by the elected councillors. For most of the Borough's young people the excitement of the final designs for MyPlace and for the new schools to be built or refurbished. For Eaglescliffe, Yarm and Ingleby Barwick a decision on where and how big to have the 3 schools in this area once money is available.
And all that will be against a background of initiatives and policies and strategies being churned out by whoever is in charge at Westminster which local government will have to abide by with reduced funding and increased responsibilities.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
"Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear."
Ponder and be warned!
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Now it's raining but the forecast is for freezing temperatures later in the night so if you're out, take good care.
Some Christmas traditions never die so it's back to my new jigsaw. Happy days!
Thursday, December 24, 2009
In a few hours we'll walk down to the Midnight Mass and Christmas will start.
I hope that it will be filled with joy and peace.
No more blogging or emails for a day or two, just family and friends.
A message this morning from the leader of the council says that an extra salting run has already started at 8a.m. and a snowplough has been dispatched to the A67 in Yarm.
Drive carefully if you're out. Keep warm and enjoy Christmas whatever you're doing.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Her office is now closed for the Christmas Holiday, but for councillors there's no closing down. We will read e-mails less often and we won't always be around to answer the phone but we will check for messages of all kinds and we'll respond to any really urgent ones as soon as we possibly can.
Thoughts of emergencies bring me to the second piece of unwelcome news - the Council received a severe weather warning this afternoon, predicting road surface temperatures below -5 again and a possible 5cm fall of snow at around 1a.m. Needless to say the council's gritters have been out again in the late afternoon and will go out during the night also. The crews are the heroes of the hour and we hope that they'll get some time off over Christmas.
Meanwhile thanks to all who've signed the petition - hundreds of you from all over the borough and beyond. You have shown how much Preston Park is needed.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
At long last the roads are starting to clear, but there is still a long way to go. A gritting lorry came down Carnoustie drive today - a secondary route owing to it having a school on it. The school is closed for Christmas otherwise the rock salt might have been ground in effectively by all the parental vehicles going to and from the school. As it is, very little traffic = very little effect.
Salt bins are now being refilled which is good news for those on difficult corners and hills.
And for a little light relief I went to the Christmas party at a care home today - festive lights, music, Santa, food and drink. I don't know who enjoyed it the most, the staff, the guests or the residents. Suffice to say that the Yule log disappeared very fast and the coffee gateau wasn't far behind.
And just for a change I picked up a couple of sheets of completed petitions from one of the local shops.
Monday, December 21, 2009
At 1053 on 20-12-09 a Stockton Council Officer wrote:
“Gritters have been out constantly noon yesterday, 4pm, midnight, 4am.
Richard Bradley is Duty Engineer this weekend and is awaiting today's
forecast. Road Surface temperatures were down to -10 degrees. Salt
effectiveness is reduced at -5 and below and at -10 the amounts needed
become economically and environmentally undesirable. That said we've had
80gms of salt down since yesterday. There is enough salt on the network
so any gritting today will have little extra effect.”
At 11.06 he added:
“Given the current conditions the salt bins are not our priority. They
will be refilled as resources allow.”
There is information about the Council procedures and policies at
roads are blocked or difficult, If anyone knows of a better site for
local conditions please do let us know.
Not what any of us wanted to hear of course. We really wanted a magic wand to clear the roads and make the pavements passable but to leave the pretty picture snow in suitable places. It may be almost Christmas but this is Eaglescliffe, not Fairyland, and we have to be content with what we can achieve.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
The snow certainly came with a vengeance yesterday evening. I've never seen such huge agglomerations falling from the sky except when propelled by human hands. The result this morning was a walk to church which used my thigh muscles more than they've been used for a long time! It also resulted in some stunningly beautiful scenery, especially on the river banks. I've put one photo here but there are more to be found here.
Of course it brought problems on the roads, some more serious than others. Leven Bank closed, lorries having problems at the Yarm Rd traffic lights near to the Blue Bell, a 2 hour journey from Yarm to Ingleby Barwick are only some of the stories I've heard so far. Stockton Council's officer in charge of such things as gritting roads says that although the gritters were out regularly yesterday and Friday at times there wasn't enough traffic on the roads to mix the salt into the snow and make it effective and at other times the road surface temperature was down to -10C, at which point salt isn't effective anyway. It seems that circumstances conspired to spoil their best efforts.
On the other hand, people travelling to other Tees Valley towns said that they were clearer than Stockton so one does wonder just where the truth lies.
Either way, the forecast for the next few days is more snow and freezing temperatures so wrap up warmly, try to avoid using cars if possible and do use the grit bins which are at strategic points round the ward. At least until they're empty - they're not a priority for filling while major roads need grittting unfortunately.
Friday, December 18, 2009
The snow certainly slowed down traffic on Yarm Rd this morning. I'm told it was gritted last night but that there wasn't enough traffic on the road to mix the salt into the snow and melt it. Unfortunately the weight of things I had to carry meant that I couldn't use the bus so the car had to be used. I didn't see any sign of accidents so that was a relief.
The Christmas market looked very pretty with snow around and the sun sparkling on it but the sky was soon cloudy and threatening. Stall holders were cheerful despite a low footfall and things did seem to be picking up by noon when I'd finished my shopping. I found myself wishing I could stay and sample the hot food that was cooking - it smelled very appetising. The Jamaican food stall keeper also had his drum and was entertaining passers by as well as keeping an eye on his stall - great fun.
More domestic tasks this afternoon in preparation for Christmas, and only a few dozen comments on the Preston Park issue to deal with. I'm currently seeking clarification from Stockton Council officers of the true position on some of the claims being made by other parties. If they are right and we've been misled there'll be a huge row and that's not exactly the spirit of Christmas.
Meanwhile all 3 Eaglescliffe councillors will get on with responding to people's comments, passing on comments to the officers looking into the various suggested sites, and trying to counter misinformation.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
No photos today because I was too disorganised to take a camera out, but there should be some tomorrow, snow permitting.
The little flurries of snow during the day settled to something a bit more long lasting in the evening and the walk along to Egglescliffe village to the annual get together of Parish Councillors and spouses was a crisp and cold one. The walk back was even crisper and colder, but it did work off some of the naughty buffet we'd eaten!
Even at a social event like that I was being asked by people to explain the situation with the school - no, there hasn't been a planning application, no there isn't money for a bridge, no there isn't any money for the rebuild of Egglescliffe school at the moment, yes we do think Egglescliffe school is a brilliant school and we do want it to have wonderful buildings to go with the wonderful teaching and yes if the council owned a plot of land right in the middle of the catchment area wouldn't it be lovely.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
There were balloons, cakes, quiches, pizza, sausages, sausage rolls, sandwiches, crisps - the tables were almost groaning under the goodies on them. Then of course there were the children. I'd have loved to fill this blog with photos but it wouldn't be appropiate. Tiny babies through toddlers to teens, some in fancy dress costumes, some in their party outfits. There were young foster parents, old ones and middle aged ones. The excitement of the children as they won prizes in games, the thrill of seeing Father Christmas arrive, the pride in their fancy dress costumes - I could go on for ever. I was called upon to help with judging the fancy dress competition. We thought it would be really difficult but in fact there were 3 which stood out as having been home made. I have a picture in my mind of the family working on them together - a tinsel christmas tree, mother goose and the cutest little shepherd boy imaginable. And then there was the King - making such an effort to walk round keeping his crown intact on his head. Lots of runner up prizes of course, including some for slightly older children who had helped little ones.
And why is it so important? Because the Council is the corporate parent of those children. Councillors and officers have a joint responsibility for them. They're not in care because they're naughty nor because theyr'e being punished. They're in care because for some reason their birth parents can't care for them. That more often than not leaves them hurting, vulnerable and in need of love. As corporate parents we can't give them the love at first hand, but we can support the social workers and the carers who do give it. That's why, in the midst of all the busy preparations for my own family Christmas, it was important to go to celebrate with the children the fact that someone loves them this Christmas, maybe not the person they'd most like it to be but someone at least who gives them love, shelter and care. If that's not the spirit of Christmas then what is?
So no photos but lots of pitures in my mind. And a deep sense of gratitude and pride that in our borough there is a social work team which holds all this together and a small army of foster carers who enable children to have a family, however temporary. Thank you one and all!
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
I hadn't realised that the chaplain is a priest I've known since he was a young curate but not seen for some years so it was good to be able to catch up with him. The university had invited some residents from the nursing homes nearby as well as other Thornaby residents. So there was a good mix of people there and my lack of singing ability was nicely hidden by the orchestra and choir leading the singing.
The service started with the sharing of the Peace Light, a light brought by a long and not particularly easy route from Bethlehem as a reminder to us to bring peace to the people we meet and to pray for peace in Bethlehem and beyond.
A moving and thought provoking talk from the Dean of Stockton set Christmas and the carols firmly in context. What's the difference between an angel and a fairy? One brings a message of hope and one takes your wishes, one brings joy and the other brings fun. Hope and joy last through all manner of hardships but fun and wishful thinking don't. Happy Christmas one and all!
After the carol service we joined the college for dining, and then prepared for the procession. I'm afraid that our table were the rebels and encouraged by the Mayor we changed the route of the procession to walk over the Infinity Bridge. Despite the predictions of some we didn't get lost and we did enjoy fabulous views of the lights along the river.
At the end of the Ecclesiastes bridge we were met by the Mayor and mayoress with a handful of councillors and council officers. Tees Valley Youth Choir were waiting for us at the Town Hall and sang carols beautifully. If angels have voices they were being imitated tonight.
There was a cake to be cut, jointly by the Mayor and the Vice-Chancellor, and then drinks (including non-alcoholic mulled "wine") and food for all.
A truly festive occasion, full of all the good things in life - friendship, music, conversation, and working together.
Monday, December 14, 2009
At last there were 3 designs which seemed to fulfil most of the requirements we had. Ideally we'd like to take the best of all of them but as they come from different suppliers as well as different designers that won't be possible so now it's down to the children of the area to come up with their favourites. The officers are trying really hard to get into al the schools in the area as well as the youth club to see what the young people say. On 7th January they'll bring the results of those consultations to the Parish Council and a final decision will be made so that the order can be put in.
Meanwhile petition signatures continue to pour in, mainly from Eaglescliffe but also from other parts of Stockton including Ingleby Barwick. I do wonder whether there's as much support over there for the idea as is being suggested. Perhaps people over the other side of the river can see that in the current economic climate a bridge is unlikely to be built so children would still have to be bussed off the estate and they'd have lost a park which is visited by many of them.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
As I walked home in the early evening I was struck by how few festive lights there are outside houses on my route this year. Maybe because there's still almost 2 weeks till Christmas, but I had the feeling that they went up earlier in the past. Perhaps the credit crunch is having an impact or maybe it's people cutting their carbone footprint from choice or maybe it's just my imagination.
I heard the most bizarre story of climate chaos this morning - a friend tells me that her son, working on a cruise ship in the Caribbean for his first ever Christmas away from home, has had snow! The first in the memory of most people there - if that's not climate change what is?
Saturday, December 12, 2009
The vice-chairman of the Parish council spoke first about the hard work and dedication of the people who've achieved the transformation. Then Rev Norman Shave who was curate there when the initial bids were going in and early work being done spoke about the centre being at the heart of the community and everyone working together for the things that matter to them. Dari Taylor started by saying some of the same things but then turned to the importance of education and gave all the arguments she put in her letter, as well as saying several times that she wanted the people to be involved in the decision making, that it's not up to councillors to make the decision, that there should be a precautionary principle applied to pylons, that Preston Park might not be ideal but no-one has suggested anywhere better and that there's £20m waiting to be spent and it needs to be spent wisely! Towards the end a number of people behind me were saying "Oh come off it Dari". I did say to a couple of people that the £20m wasn't for Eaglescliffe but it wasn't the right place or occasion to start asking people to sign the petition!
After she'd unveiled the plaque we were invited to go to the hall where the WAPB meetings take place for refreshments whereupon Dari said "I paid for them but they're not on expenses" and then went on at length about how she doesn't have a moat or a duck house and because 18% of MPs had broken the rules they were all tarred with the same brush and isn't it dreadful. At that people really were getting restive and muttering.
All that doesn't stop me celebrating the achievement of the community. The photo shows Nora Rosser, one of the leading lights in the campaign and their representative on the Western Area Partnership Board. She and all the committee deserve every congratulation.
Friday, December 11, 2009
A path beside the memorial will allow a little more hard surface to stand on for Remembrance Sunday and will also provide a way to go dryshod to the fence and enjoy the wonderful view. At the end of the path we hope to have a stone plinth with an interpretive board giving a brief history of the memorial and garden and pointing out the direction of Northern France & Belgium where many of those named lost their lives. A further bench donated in memory of someone who loved this area, some paving round the benches to allow their use in wet as well as dry conditions, planting of low shrubs will all contribute to a worthy memorial
Today that dream moved a step nearer when the recreation committee met on site with Stockton Council's urban design manager in order to talk about any possible issues before submitting the planning application. With good luck we should have all the works completed in time to be enjoyed as a tranquil seating area in summer and a fitting memorial to those of the parish who gave their lives for their country.
A rather better way to spend an hour than worrying about political point scoring. This is really making a difference to something which local people want and have paid for out of their own taxation. Local decisions about local expenditure - real democracy.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
It sounds idyllic but it was work. The photographer from the local paper came to take photos of people who want to keep the Park as a park. They don't have a united view on where the school could go, but they certainly are united in where it shouldn't go. I had to spend a lot of time explaining that this wasn't a planning application, that a decision hasn't yet been taken and that the study of different sites really is a genuine study.
It's very hard for people to understand that just because an MP says it's a good idea doesn't mean that it's a done deal.
In the photo are some of the residents who were happy to have photographs used on political leaflets and the like - there are many more who prefer to stay out of the limelight in that way.
I hope that the report being prepared by the SBC officers produces a suggested site which is acceptable to all parties even if it isn't anyone's first preference. The staff, students and parents need some certainty on what's going to happen. If we don't get that, we don't stand a chance of getting the funding for the rebuild and we desperately need that.
After an hour in the park there was just time for some personal jobs before an update meeting on the issues surrounding children, young people and social care in the borough. There are ongoing problems across the country with recruiting staff following the tragic case of baby Peter in London and so existing staff are having to cope with increased workloads. Add to that the fact that we're expecting Ofsted to descend at any time and it's a recipe for a stressed workforce. Unfortunately for social workers the Christmas break often means an increase in problems rather than a decrease as families try and fail to be something they're not.
Peace and Goodwill? I wonder.
But then I read a Christmas letter from friends overseas and remember that, as my mother would say, there's always someone worse off than yourself. Imagine having children in your care run off and murder someone - it doesn't bear thinking about.
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
The last full council meeting before Christmas tonight was followed by the traditional hospitality from the Mayor - drinks and nibbles. It was a pleasant end to a hectic day with members of all parties mixing and chatting. It was particularly good to see two councillors who've suffered serious health problems recently back with us, not fully restored to health but at least capable of taking a full part in proceedings again. Something of the Christmas spirit rubbed off as even the questions were relatively good natured today.
I even found time today to locate our Christmas card list and count up how many cards we still need to buy! Now all I need is a bit of shopping time and we'll be organised.
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
Meanwhile more and more people are joining in the outcry, signing our petition and offering to help in the campaign. We haven't got the financial resources of the larger parties but we have got a lot of people who recognise that over the years Liberal Democrat councillors in Eaglescliffe have kept them informed about what's going on and can be trusted to do their best for the area.
This evening's meeting of Stockton's Local Strategic Partnership heard that although crime figures for the area have dropped dramatically over recent years and Stockton is the safest place in the old Cleveland County to live we can't have top marks from the inspectors because we're not reducing the crime in an innovative way!! No wonder the police representative on the Partnership despairs.
Monday, December 07, 2009
In the midst of all that hubbub there hasn't been a lot of time to think about other things.
Although my letter to the Echo was published in the newspaper it wasn't put up on the online version so I can't provide a link. The Darlington & Stockton Times made the story front page news on Friday and they published my letter inside.
Thursday evening's Parish council meeting had also discussed the matter although unfortunately I had to leave early as I was travelling down to the Midlands to help with a house move the next day. All weekend, between unpacking boxes and amusing the grandchildren I was receiving and responding to emails on the subject. Now I see that Dari Taylor says today that she was trying to open up a consultation, something I haven't done!! Quite what she thinks our regular Focus articles are I don't know. But of course she doesn't live in Eaglescliffe so can't be expected to know what's going on. Perhaps if she did a little consultation of her own and asked her own party members in the area how many times they've been asked for their views? Too much to ask.
And in case anyone is wondering - the house move passed off without major disasters though with lots of stress.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
In response to IBIS' claims that there is money in a pot waiting to be spent on a bridge they might like to contemplate the real cost of building a bridge across a river of that width, navigated by sailing craft as well as by motor vessels. Even if all the money from the Sustrans Connect2 project were to be spent on the bridge it would hardly build a wooden pontoon. They really need to take a reality check.
If anyone would like a paper copy of the petition to take to people without ready internet access just let us know.
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
Meanwhile the campaign gathers pace. Stockton council officers and members will soon see that it's not only the people of Ingleby Barwick who feel strongly.