Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 draws to a close

It's that time of year when I reflect on the last 12 months and wonder about the next 12.  As I get older reflection seems to emphasise just how quickly the years pass.
This year has of course had its ups and downs.  Seeing the council seat which John Fletcher held for so many years slip away to another party was definitely a down.  And there have been others as the dire financial situation in the country has taken jobs from so many and hope from others. 
But there have been some good moments too - becoming a great-aunt 3 times in the same month as we celebrated 40 years of marriage was wonderful.  Holidaying with family and meeting up with cousins I'd not seen for almost 60 years was another high spot.  And there are many more happy family memories from 2011 to treasure.
Being able to witness our good friends Suzanne and John Fletcher having their long service to the borough recognised by being made Honorary Aldermen was the most enjoyable bit of the full council meetings this year, I'm sure, though of course not the most important.  That honour falls to those meetings where the council's budget and forward plans are set.
And what of 2012?  With luck there will be more joy with family and friends.  There will be much work around the ward dealing with the issues residents bring up.  There will be next year's budget setting process, and a need to look very carefully at all the implications of the council tax grant being offered.  There'll be the Olympic Torch relay and Fairtrade Fortnight and the 25th Stockton International Riverside Festival and no doubt much more.  So 2012 promises to be at least as busy as 2011. 
Best wishes to all of you for 2012.  In the words of the old toast: Health, Wealth and Happiness, and the greatest of these is happiness!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The season of Peace and Goodwill

As the December edition of Eaglescliffe's Focus leaflet hit the doormats around the ward I started to receive phone calls from people offering coats for the Donate a Coat appeal.  For those readers who don't live in the ward or don't read Focus, this is an appeal which the Salvation Army is making this year with Daybreak TV for warm winter coats to give to the homeless and otherwise vulnerable people who turn to them for help. Alan, Lesley and I decided that this year we were going to publicise the appeal and offer to collect them if people couldn't deliver themselves.  The results have been humbling - we have several bags of coats to take in to Stockton tomorrow thanks to the generous people of Eaglescliffe.
The news headlines this morning were dominated by the last US troops leaving Iraq, but by lunchtime that had been ousted by the death of Vaclav Havel, perhaps the best known citizen of the Czech republic.  A man who led his country to embrace democracy, look beyond its borders and become a fully functioning part of Europe - not a bad record for anyone!
Sadly, the news from further afield has not been so positive - still problems in Egypt as some people feel the military leadership is obstructing the passage to democracy with others thinking it's a benign influence bringing stability; even bigger problems in the Congo where people who have been returned by our government which claims that it's safe to return are being arrested and in some cases tortured.  Let's hope that having a first hand witness report on the situation encourages the government to realise that the country isn't yet safe to return refugees to.
So at a time when we celebrate the birth of a child who became a refugee with his parents the world presents a mixed picture.  Would that the generosity shown in the Donate a Coat appeal were shown right across the country and the world. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Are We Nearly There Yet?

This was the title of Durham Lane Primary's Christmas production.  Unashamedly celebrating the Christian festival, it also allowed children from 5 to 11 to show off their musical talents, their confidence in front of an audience, and their self discipline.  I don't know which child the man near me was waving to so energetically but well done to the child for not being distracted.
The story of the journey to Bethlehem was told in words and music with great enthusiasm but also with skill.
The Oakwood Centre again provided a super venue - the big screens and the video cameras enabled every child to have their moment of stardom, the seats are adult sized and comfortable, and the acoustics mean that children don't have to shout.  Plenty of car parking is the icing on the cake!
As always, Durham Lane school took the opportunity to raise some funds for Daisy Chain, a local charity which helps families cope with Autism and has special links with the school.  They showed a very moving video of two mums talking about the difference Daisy Chain made to their families.  I hope the collection at the end was generous.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Allen's West and Preston Park

Two sites, two planning applications, worlds apart.  The Allen's West application is for a housing estate the size of a village - bigger in fact than Preston is, with perhaps its own shop and some allotments, maybe some unspecified community facilities and potentially bringing with it a mass of traffic problems.  Of course, the traffic problems could be reduced by careful road changes and designing in the ability to use public transport including committing substantial sums to increase the frequency of bus services, improving footways and cycleways and ensuring that pedestrian access to the railway station is improved.  Will it happen?  Who knows.  Meanwhile if you want to comment you have until next Tuesday to get your comments in.  Go to,  then clicking on SEARCH and putting in the application number, 11/2842.

The newest application for Preston Park on the other hand is for a sculpture set into the landscape which will act as a "gateway" feature for the Tees Heritage Park.  Children from Preston Primary school spent a lot of time with an artist looking at the park and the river and working on expressing their thoughts and their vision in models.  He took those thoughts and ideas as a springboard for a design to submit for approval.  The first attempt met with considerable public approval but some aspects of it were not considered suitable by the council officers charged with managing the park and museum.  Much discussion later a second  design has emerged and that design has now been submitted for planning approval.  It's described on the offical notification as:
Application 11/3088 REV.
 This scheme is part of the Tees Heritage Park Arts Project.  The works will consist of ridges of stone sculpted landform radiating out from a central interpretation panel in cast iron and behind this a curved stone bench recessed into the hillside.

The application can be viewed by going to,  then clicking on SEARCH and putting in the application number, 11/3088 REV.  Comments are needed by Dec 30th and should be sent to , marked clearly with the application number for the attention of Mrs Fiona Bage.

There will be some issues around the maintenance of such a piece of sculpture in the landscape.  It's not something that's been done before in any of the Stockton Parks.  In my view it will be worth the effort.  It will add something to the park which we haven't had before and add to the unique qualities of Preston park in the North East.  But there's a lot of work to be done on it to get to that stage, and it'll be somewhat messy while it's being constructed.  Interesting times for the park.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Credit where credit's due

Politicians, like most people, enjoy being praised for doing things that people think are good things.  So getting a pothole filled when drivers have complained to us, sorting out a problem with drainage on a footpath, winning a fight in planning committee are all things we sometimes succeed in and enjoy being thanked - we're human after all.  Sometimes we don't succeed and then there's a feeling of despondency perhaps.  And sometimes a politician claims more credit than is really due, forgetting the efforts of the community towards the same end.
So it's timely,  as the subject is topical once more, to give great credit to Egglescliffe & Eaglescliffe council (formerly known as Egglescliffe Parish Council).  The council is currently working with a group of young people in an effort to provide a facility in the parish for wheeled sport - BMX, skateboards, micro-scooters and so on.  Young people who choose them as a way of taking enjoyable exercise and learning new skills are in trouble, understandably, for using the ramps and steps provided for pedestrians, wheelchair users etc outside Orchard Shops.  The ramps and steps provide the best facility they've got, but while using them they cause problems and danger to the people for whom they're designed. 
Various people have talked about the issue over the last 12 months, not always in public and certainly not always in writing.  At a meeting of the parish council's recreation committee yesterday morning we had reason to go back through minutes of the committee and its predecessor committees to look at decisions taken over land in the parish..  It was interesting to note that in minutes as far back as 1995 councillors were bemoaning the lack of facilities for skate boarding and the danger in which young people were putting themselves and others by doing it in inappropriate places.  Councillors were trying to work with ward councillors even then to get something done.  So all credit to the parish council for perseverance and for having the vision lacked by many at Stockton Council and a timely reminder to newly elected people that this isn't something new and solutions don't come about just because it's mentioned in a leaflet or a letter - it's a long hard road to success. 
It would be interesting to know whether any of those young people who were petitioning the parish council back then are around now, and indeed whether any of their children are involved in the current discussions.