Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Another step along the Fairtrade road

I was invited this afternoon to attend a meeting of the school council at Ingleby Mill Primary School.  Unfortunately I was held up and arrived a little late so I missed the presentation done by the Yr 6 councillors to the others.  Apparently I missed a treat, but I was in  time to witness the children completing the school audit - where they are along the road to becoming  a Fairtrade school.  It's wonderful when the children start to make links to other subjects and think of things which the staff have forgotten about.
The most exciting part of the meeting was the draft action plan.  An outline drawn up by a couple of teachers was soon being questioned and fleshed out by the children.  I've a feeling that I'm going to be taking part in a sponsored walk on leap year day!  The theme of the coming 12 months in the world of Fairtrade is going to be Steps - taking steps, big ones, small ones, leaps, jumps, any kind of step to increase awareness of Fairtrade and to spread the word.  There were some mental leaps going on this afternoon, from pancakes with Fairtrade chocolate to sponsored walks, to biking to school and having a Fairtrade breakfast on arrival. 
But first of all they have to attend a governors' meeting and explain to them why it's important to become a Fairtrade school.  If any pupils can do it they can, I'm sure.  They're even going to have a go at persuading the cook to use some Fairtrade goods in school meals and their uniform supplier to use some Fairtrade cotton in their uniform. 
It was inspiring, exciting and humbling - what wonderful children.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Farewell to The Grange

The Grange was a lovely old house, one of the oldest in Eaglescliffe, and was home to a family which really made the house into a family home.  When our children were growing up there were always children living at The Grange, and more children visiting them, always welcome, always safe and though maybe I'm looking back with rose tinted memories, but they always seemed happy.  The children grew up and moved to their own homes and eventually it was time for the family to relinquish the old house.  Everyone hoped that another family would come to live there and have as much joy in growing up there.  Alas, it was not to be.  The buyer turned out to be a developer who simply wanted to knock it down and build as much as he could sell on the site.  The first application was refused and refused again on appeal.  The next application was again refused but this time granted on appeal.  Still nothing happened - no-one lived there and no demolition either.  Tiles came off the roof, weeds grew up in the garden, the fence was breached numerous times.  The old house grew ever sadder and more derelict. 
Another planning application came in and eventually approval was given for a smaller development than before - houses instead of flats.  Still nothing happened.  Still young people broke in and used it as an adventure playground from time to time.
Last weekend my colleague Cllr Alan Lewis discovered that primary school children as young as 7 or 8 had been playing there, Stockton Council officers had been notified but nothing was done.  On Monday Alan took the matter up and by yesterday he had a commitment from the owners to proceed with the demolition.  The enforcement officers with whom he dealt acted swiftly and decisively and we're very grateful to them that this weekend there's proper fencing up and the building will go next week.
I'm sad to see  a once fine family home left to get into such a ruinous state - a family could have lived in it for the past few years while the planning permissions were sought and finance sorted out for the work.  Instead it turned into an eyesore so that eventually almost everyone wanted to see it gone.
So, farewell to the Grange.  I won't go and see it demolished - I'll remember it as it was when the children were growing up, and I'll still hear the echos of the laughter no matter what is built on the site in the future.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

More cars, more pedestrians

Following yesterday's post I've been asked about the legal position on parking and also what is being done to help solve the problems.

In Stockton the council is responsible for enforcing parking restrictions in most cases. The main issues we have in our estate roads are parking partly on the pavement and parking on bends or junctions or across someone's drive.
Drivers often park with 2 wheels on the pavement because they think that it gives more space on the road for other motorists to pass and therefore is safer or better.  However, there are 2 problems with that approach.  First, the surface of pavements is not reinforced for the weight of the vehicle so damage is caused.  The damage isn't visible immediately but builds up over many months.  Repair costs money which is paid by all tax payers, not just the motorists concerned.
Second, a pavement is designed to be wide enough for someone in a wheelchair or someone pushing a pram to go along comfortably.  If a car is parked partly on the pavement the access for those pedestrians is obstructed.
The council's enforcement officers will take action if someone is parked causing an obstruction such as leaving too narrow a gap on the pavement thereby forcing wheelchair users or people pushing prams to leave the footway and walk on the road.
Although the Highway Code says that motorists should not park on bends or in such a way as to obstruct the use of a dropped kerb or the driveway of a house, we all know that if 50 cars are collecting children from a primary school on a modern housing estate they will end up doing all of those things.  Most residents accept a bit of give and take in these situations but sometimes some drivers can be so thoughtless in their parking that people get really angry. 
Tomorrow Alan Lewis and I have a meeting scheduled with a council enforcement officer to discuss the situation we saw yesterday and see if we can come up with an action plan to improve the situation.  That will give us a better idea of what might be possible outside the other schools in the ward where similar problems are experienced.

That doesn't resolve the issues around youngsters being out on roads on their scooters and skateboards while drivers don't expect them to be in the road. We are trying to find a way of funding some provision for them to enjoy those wheeled activities safely and getting them off the roads and off the front of the shops, but that's going to take a bit of time.
It also doesn't resolve the issue of people who drive at legal but inappropriate speeds on estate roads - 30mph might be legal but it doesn't mean it's sensible.  Unfortunately we can't get the speed limit reduced without lots of speed bumps or build outs or other physical means of slowing down the vehicles - expensive beyond reach even if everyone agreed it was a good thing on all of our longer roads.

So I'm not offering platitudes, nor easy answers.  It is difficult but Alan Lewis and I are doing what we can.  If anyone has any helpful suggestions that we haven't yet tried please do get in touch - we'll see if they can be tried.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Cars, schools and pedestrians

Sometimes I wonder if primary schools have built-in magnets which attract cars to park as near as possible before the school opens in the morning and closes at night.  The idea of parking an extra 100m away and walking a little seems to be alien to so many parents these days that it's causing real problems.  It's not new this year but it also isn't any better.
Just over a week ago Carnoustie Drive had 3 speed humps and some school time waiting restrictions put in.  Today parents who do walk to school almost erupted at Alan and me as we walked down the road at 3.15, looking at the pavements half covered by cars parked with two wheels on them, cars parked on corners so that seeing round them was difficult for other drivers, even one car parked with a child asleep in the baby seat and parent nowhere to be seen, presumably on the other side of the road waiting for another child to come out of school. Whatever happened to the Highway code, to common sense and to good manners?  We'lldo what we can of course but it's going to take a rethink on the part of some parents before the issues are resolved.  Meanwhile people have to walk on the road if they're pushing a pram or a wheelchair, children take their lives in their hands crossing between parked cars, and several people are describing it as an accident waiting to happen.  No-one we spoke to seemed to think the school zone was an improvement at schooltime though the slowing down of cars during the remainder of the day was much appreciated.
Only time will tell whether efforts to reform people's parking habits will be successful.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Preston Park

Yesterday and today I've been involved in a series of meetings about the Park and the Hall, the developments going on right now and the vision for the future.  They've been in turn confidential, robust, comforting and exciting.  The way in which the story of the Hall and Park will be told in the museum when it reopens, the ideas for celebrating harvest in the kitchen garden, the new settings and opportunities for weddings in the Hall, emerging plans for celebrating 200 years of the railway in Eaglescliffe, the gateway to Tees Heritage Park - all have been part of the discussions but there's been much more too. 
Years ago when I was first elected the relationship of ward councillors to council officers over the park seemed to be almost constant conflict.  It's taken hard work on both sides to reach the point we're at now, but it's been well worth the effort, and now we have a more or less shared vision which is developing in exciting ways - new ideas for events and for activities in the heart of our community.
Preston Hall & Park is the jewell in the crown of the borough, and long may it remain so.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Government by Cabinet

For the first time since the election I attended a cabinet meeting tonight, sitting in the row of seats labelled "Public Gallery".  I attended fairly regularly for the last 4 years because there were usually important and/or interesting things being discussed and there really was some discussion.  Tonight was a step back in time.  There was a really important item on the agenda tonight.  Following a serious cut in funding available for services for our youngest children council officers have been reviewing the services to see how best to cope.  They've tried really hard to work out how to target the services to the most needy and they've done a good job.  But then almost every cabinet member had to speak on it, saying how wonderful the report was and adding their two pennorth.  And so it went on - no debates, no discussion, just back patting and agreement that Stockton is the best council in the country thanks to the wonderful people running it!
The one debate was sparked by me asking how they made a decision on which person to appoint as a school governor - the choice being between a ward councillor and a school nomination.  Apparently councillors are to be preferred every time because they've shown a commitment to getting involved.  And of course I had misunderstood completely the role of a council appointed governor - there's no need to report anything to council at any time because Ofsted monitor every school.
So in an hour of my life which I'll never get back I learned that the Labour council is wonderful, the council officers are excellent and councillors are the best school governors.  Wow!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Amberley Way and Allen's West

Spent the morning in discussions about play areas.  First of all a site visit to Amberley Way with the artist who worked with the children of Durham Lane School on designing a play sculpture - the right wood has finally been sourced and the orientation was finally decided on today.  Now everything can be ordered and work can start when the workforce are ready.  Plans are being drawn up to involve the school children in the publicity for the start of the work.
Then a discussion about the provision of play areas at Allen's West if the new development goes ahead.  The developer is suggesting several small play spaces, no bigger than what we have at Leven Close and equally close to housing.  So far there seems to be nothing in their indicative outline for older children to enjoy without causing real problems for the people living in the nearby houses.  Fortunately the Stockton Council officers concerned seemed to be on the same wavelength as the Parish Councillors - no scrappy bits of leftover land, but properly thought out and designed facilities for the hundreds of children and young people who will eventually live on that site.  Whether the developer takes any notice and whether our planning officers make him remains to be seen.