Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Mount Leven Farm

The planning application for a retirement village to be built in the Tees Heritage Park at Mount Leven Farm in Yarm was rejected today by Stockton Council's planning committee.  It was of interest to people in Eaglescliffe because the application for Yarm School's new sports pitches is also in the Heritage Park, albeit a different part.
The decision to approve or reject the village all hinged on whether the policies protecting the Leven Valley as a green wedge between Yarm and Ingleby Barwick were more important than the pressure from central government to build more housing.  There were other issues of course: the jobs that come with a construction project, the opening up of some currently private land for public access being two.  The jobs would be an undeniable temporary bonus.  The opening up of some private land would be a delight to those fit enough to cope with the steep slopes.  There are some people who say they would love to live in such a village, surrounded by people of their own age and with no problems from young, noisy, energetic people.
At the end of an hour and a half or more of statements from residents, mainly against but a handful for, the development followed by debate among members, the decision was made.  Four councillors voted for approval but fortunately the remaining 8 voted against it and the case was lost.
No doubt the developer will appeal to the secretary of state who will pass it to the Planning Inspectorate to look at.  We can only hope that the decision of the planning committee is upheld.  There might be a desire for such a village in the borough, but the Leven Valley green wedge is not the right place.  Perhaps he'd like to speak to the owners of the Allen's West site and plan the development there?

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Christmas is drawing near now, as we're reminded every time we turn on a TV or go past a shop window.  For the past 4 days there has been the Christmas market in Stockton centre with music to listen to and all manner of goods to buy - everything from a cup of hot soup to an exquisitely crafted cushion or carefully made holly wreath.  As dusk fell the lights gave an almost magical appearance to the chalet stalls.
Icy Polar Bear
Meanwhile, over in the town centre a variety of activities drew crowds for a few minutes or longer - dramatic acts, ice carving, music groups.  And of course on Saturday the traditional market provided the range of goods it always does.  I must admit that at this time of year I feel a sense of nostalgia for the hiss and smell of paraffin lamps on the stalls and the first appearance of exotic fruit like tangerines - how times change.
This afternoon we made our annual Christmas Tree buying excursion, and came away from the local farm with a splendid specimen that's now standing in our back garden until Christmas Eve when it'll be dressed in all its finery ready for the big day.
In Yarm the tree lights were lit, with carols and prayers reminding people that Christmas isn't all about spending money - a timely and necessary reminder.
In Egglescliffe there will be a Christmas Tree with lights outside the Parish Hall, thanks to hard work by members of the Egglescliffe Area Residents Association and the Egglescliffe Parish Hall committee.  Tuesday evening at 6.30pm is the time to be there and join in a few carols round the tree.  The weather forecast isn't too bad so fingers crossed for a good turnout.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Latest Idea for Stockton High Street

I went into the Discover Stockton shop on Monday to look at what is on offer - lots of interesting information about the area, the chance to buy souvenirs and postcards, someone to give advice on business start ups and enterprise ideas and point people in the right direction for proper detailed advice and most important perhaps, large scale plans of the proposals for the High St and surrounding area as its regeneration continues.
Now comes another reason to visit the premises (near the corner of Dovecot St and the High St):

PEOPLE visiting Stockton Town Centre are being asked for their views on a new suggestion to celebrate the Borough’s heritage within the newly designed High Street.

As part of the town's multi-million pound regeneration Stockton Council is considering installing a moving artwork, called an Automaton, to entertain and attract visitors.

Automata have been created by engineers and artists since ancient times and now one could feature on Stockton High Street.

Three design models for the playful moving artwork have been developed and are being trialled in the Rediscover Stockton Shop at 134 High Street.

Visitors and shoppers are being urged to pop in and drop a token in one of three big clear boxes to vote for their favourite.

The designs are based around a plinth which would spring into life to promote Stockton's heritage and rich industrial past at a set time, once or twice a day, in keeping with the town's growing reputation as a hub for arts and culture.
The three ideas all take reference from the achievements of George Stephenson and John Walker and are inspired by the mechanics and engineering of the shipyards and railways.

Among the designs are:

·    The Stockton Storybook – this design sees a giant fish emerge from the plinth.  The fish then opens up to reveal a series of "pop-up book" style images enhanced with light and sound to tell Stockton's story.  Mixing myth and history, the story unfolds like a giant magician's box to reveal a surprising sequence of tricks.

·    The Walker Clock – a steel plinth frame clad with sandstone panels displaying a panorama of buildings on the High Street is the basis for this design.  A clock surrounded by a moving steel ring showing eight scenes of industrial activity forms this automaton with a figure of John Walker, striking a match, rising above it.

·    The Stockton Flyer – the main focus of this design is the origins of the railways. A playful cartoon version of Stephenson's Locomotion No1 emerges from the plinth with gushing steam.  Flapping wings stretch out over the spectators as the train, made out of industrial scrap, rises.
The three automata designs will be exhibited within the Rediscover Stockton Shop between 9am and 5pm, Monday-Saturday until the end of December.

Once a favourite is identified the Council will then develop a programme to identify all costs, suitable locations, external funding as well as help and support from local engineering and manufacturing companies. The most popular design could be installed on the High Street towards the end of next year.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

This was a week of briefings from senior officers in the council - as the setting of the budget for next year, and hence the Council Tax level, comes ever closer they are concerned to make sure that the councillors don't make decisions that can't be implemented.  For many years now Stockton Borough Council has made rolling 3 year budget arrangements, looking ahead to be able to plan more effectively.  Occasionally central government steps in and makes a decision which throws those arrangements out of kilter.  Unfortunately this government is more prone to that kind of behaviour than expected.  On the one hand Localism is the mantra, and Stockton has benefitted from some of those decisions, but on the other the Secretary of state claws decision making back to the centre.  For 2011/12 we had a council tax freeze imposed, with a grant equivalent to a 2.5% rise coming from central government.  That was about 0.5% less than SBC would have spent but it was possible to find more efficient ways of doing things and save that money.  That of course was on top of the cuts in funding already made.
In 2012/13 we were offered the equivalent of a 2.5% rise if the tax were frozen again.  This was another cut in the predicted budget for Stockton and the council decided it was too much of a cut - too many services would have to be cut.  Stockton took almost 3% rise.
For next year we are being offered 1% to freeze the rate, and told that we can't increase above 2% without a referendum.  Holding a referendum is a very costly exercise, with ballot papers to print, postal ballot envelopes to print and pay for the postage on, polling booths to run etc.  A 2% rise will mean further cuts in services, starting to hit now the front line services that we all see and many of us use.  There will be a big debate in the coming months over which are the most important services and how they can be preserved.  How much of a cut can other services take and still be there?  Some hard decisions ahead and Lib Dems will be trying  to engage with residents as much as possible to explain the options and to come up with ideas that are acceptable.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

As expected, Yarm Independent School has put in its reduced application for school playing fields on the Egglescliffe bank of the Tees.  Gone are the all weather pitches, which would have seriously improved their provision for sport all the year round but are accepted by the Planning officer as being completely out of keeping with the surrounding area.  Gone are the pitches on the doorstep of Egglescliffe village.  No doubt the school hopes that opposition will die away.  How wrong can they be?
A recent meeting of the Egglescliffe Area Residents' Association committee confirmed that though this is an improvement it is still 11 pitches and a pavilion too many on the river bank.  The school are proud of the fact that half of their pupils are involved in sport on Saturdays during term time.  Allowing for approximately half of them being involved in away matches, this means about 500 pupils, parents and teachers - maybe more if the parents are enthusiastic.  This is an unimaginable intrusion into the peace and tranquility of the flood zone on the river bank.  What hope for humans to enjoy the area, let alone the wild life?
The discussions with the planning officer have changed the architecture of the pavilion to a wooden chalet style, reminiscent of the Swiss Alps.  Gone is the hospitality label - now it's entirely for padding up, toilet and first aid provision.  That's certainly an improvement but the pavilion could be built on their present playing fields for much the same cost one would imagine.
The access to the bridge on the Yarm side of the river is being moved away from  Minerva Mews but is still closer than those residents would like.  The thought of 30 or more boys and girls walking over the bridge every hour or so past their front windows is not pleasant.  The thought of hundreds on Saturdays is worse.  Add to that the idea that the general public can use it any hour of the day or night and amenity becomes significantly impaired for those residents whose windows are closest to the bridge.  Having observed the behaviour of a large group of the senior boys of the school when we did the walk on the river bank to protest against the development I dread to think what they'd be like when walking past windows unsupervised.
This is a development too far on the Tees Heritage Park, near to the Egglescliffe Conservation Area and needs to be stopped in its tracks.  I hope that all who sent in objections to the initial proposal will be sending them in for this one.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Rays of Sunshine

I am by nature fairly optimistic and in the present climate, both economic and natural, that's probably a good thing.  There was really good news a few days ago that Nifco had been granted funding from Regional Growth fund for their expansion.  A small research facility with 9 staff, and a much bigger expansion to their manufacturing base will protect the existing jobs and allow for more staff to be employed over the coming years.  One of the good things about that is that Nifco employ and train apprentices - they don't just expect fully trained and qualified people to turn up on the doorstep.   The young men we met when Alan Lewis and I toured the factory earlier in the year were enthusiastic about their work and their study, and looking at their faces on the Gazette photos this week that enthusiasm is still there.
There's a ray of hope for Durham Tees Valley Airport too.  Although it didn't get the funding this time, it seems that the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, is willing to look at a re-worked bid.  Credit where it's due - Alex Cunningham MP did raise the issue quickly in Parliament and met with the minister to discuss it.  Let's hope that the revised bid is successful in due course and the land around the airport can begin to offer some employment opportunities with the right kind of infrastructure to ensure the heavy traffic goes along the correct routes.
On Friday the agents for Yarm School's planning applications held a briefing meeting for the Parish and borough councils affected as well as the various residents' groups in the area.  Unsurprisingly they presented a smaller scheme, but equally unsurprisingly in my opinion it's still far too intrusive in the Tees Heritage Park. There would be fewer pitches but no fewer children playing on them, so the noise and disturbance would all be concentrated in one area.  A marginal improvement for the residents of Egglescliffe village but still not acceptable to most.  The old applications are now withdrawn and we await the new ones so that comments can be lodged all over again.
Now the traffic surveys are being carried out around the area in order to build the new computer model for yarm and Eaglescliffe.  That will be interesting to see.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Orchard Shops

At long last another step forward.  Today Stockton Council issued the necessary notice, granting permission to demolish the burnt out shops.  I've spent a lot of time in recent weeks working with council officers to try to find a way to speed matters up and finally this announcement came today.  Of course it's only the next stage.  Getting rid of the burned and charred remains will make a huge difference to the appearance of the site and might mean that we can have some movement on the blocking off of car parking spaces at the front.  Disabled people are not finding it easy to access the Library at present, having to park at the side and negotiate the cobbled paving.
The next question of course is, what's going to replace them?  The owner has said all along that he wants to see shops there, and so do the people of Eaglescliffe.  But not just any shops.  The shops need to be affordable so that the services people want can come back - the pharmacy which provides much more than a prescription service, the hairdresser, the dry cleaner, the fish & chip shop, the Indian and Chinese takeaways, perhaps even the betting shop!  We don't want the shops to be so expensive that they are never occupied.  That parade, with the library at one end and the community centre at the other, is the heart of the area and needs to be full of life again.
No doubt there'll be changes.  Perhaps there'll be flats over all the shops rather than just at the end.  They'll surely have good secure rear yards, learning the lesson from recent events.  The front paving probably won't be quite as attractive to bmx and scooter fans.  We hope it'll be easily accessible from the car park and easy to walk along.
I hope that the owner is going to work with the community to come up with a design that will be the best for the area and good for him by being profitable too.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

A good Brownfield Development

A couple of years ago Stockton Council held a design competition for the housing to be built on the North Shore site - at that stage still a very uninspiring dirty area.  The architects all produced futuristic designs and one was duly declared the winner.  Some months later the plans came to planning committee for the first phase of the housing, now looking a bit more traditional and constrained by what was sensible to expect from that site.  There were promises of housing that would be easy to maintain and low in energy demand.
Yesterday I went to look at what was actually being built, now that the second phase has just received planning consent.  The houses are varied - 2, 3 or 4 bedrooms, some with 2 floors while others have 3 floors.  Some have windows that are really enclosed balconies on the first floor with views across to the Cleveland Hills and the Infinity Bridge.  Others have roof terrraces with similar views.  The roofs incorporate PV tiles, there's rainwater harvesting, there's really good insulation.  I wouldn't mind betting that with care it's possible to use very little electricity for heating and lighting.  Unsurprisingly, when I've looked round them, they are selling well.  With a 10 minute walk into Stockton Town Centre or along to the barrage or the gym, 5 minutes up the road to the bus stop, cars aren't as necessary for every day use as they are in other places.
Developers are telling us that they can't afford to clean up and build on brown field sites because people won't buy them.  Yet here's a developer with people buying the houses before they're built, because they're well designed, well built, with low power costs to run and within easy reach of many amenities.  Talking to people there it seems that there's a bit of community spirit already, and children are actually playing out of doors!  I suspect that this will be a more sustainable development than any of the ones being proposed around Eaglescliffe and Yarm, and longterm a more desirable one too.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Would you develop here?

This was the view on the approach to the proposed sports development for Yarm School around mid-day yesterday.  Would anyone seriously want to put their sports pitches and pavilion there?  I wonder if the design calculations for the pedestrian bridge have taken into account the impact of this sort of flood on the foundations, or is it written off as a "one in a hundred year event" and ignored because it happened this week.
Others have shared photos of flooded fields where housing proposals are awaiting consideration.  There isn't a stream running through "Urlay View" or the Green Lane playing fields but they still had a significant amount of water standing on them earlier in the week.  Is it right to build houses where there's such a lack of natural drainage?  How much more pressure would that put on the ecosystem in the area?  And will the planning officers even take this kind of weather event into account, or will it be written off?  Only time will tell.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

September storms

Struggling to walk along the pavement safely between one meeting and the next over the last couple of days I was well and truly aware of the worst September storm for many years.  However, I don't think we had anything compared to the amount of rain that fell in parts of the North East.  Residents in Yarm and Eaglescliffe have sent me photos of the river, Yarm High Street, flooded fields where developers want to put hundreds of houses, streams where a day before it was a road.  It certainly isn't making the case for the developers any easier!
Meanwhile I could take every opportunity to make the point to ministers, advisers, members of the house of Lords, members of industry bodies and so on that we need proper ways of ensuring that if a builder has planning permission for a site and wants to renegotiate the Section 106 responsibilities they should be made to do it openly and transparently.  If it goes to appeal, the inspector can require the production of the costs for the site etc, so why can't the planning department do that at the beginning?  Why does the local council have to work with one hand behind its back?  Today, Lib Dem policy was made to include that transparency.  Now all that has to happen is to get it agreed in government!!  That won't be easy, but it'll be a great success if it can be achieved.
Add it to the idea of an additional tax on the land if the developer doesn't make a meaningful start on the development for which they've got planning permission and we'd have something really helpful.
And right up there in the policy, alongside these relatively small sections, were some big sections on making sure that tenants will have more protection against bad landlords, ensuring that local authorities are the arbiters of what's good in the area, and improving the ability of local authorities to act on the blight of empty homes.  A good motion, putting in place a good policy after an informed and passionate debate - that's conference at its best.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Conference roundup

This morning saw an unusual event for Lib Dems at the moment - a public Thank You!  Over two years ago Lib Dems committed to do our very best to stop the iniquitous practice of locking up children in detention centres like Yarls Wood which are just like prisons, when their only "crime" was to have parents whose application for asylum here had not succeeded.  The pledge was made in response to a very brave campaign by people who didn't have the advantages and privileges of  the parliamentary candidates who were being asked to support them.  This year, thanks to a huge amount of work by Sarah Teather and her in government and Citizens UK outside of government, there are no children in that kind of detention.  The new family detention centre gives them humane surroundings while all the necessary proceedings go on above their heads.  Today, Citzens UK came to say thank you.  But they also told the very moving story of the campaign and reminded us that although that campaign is over there are other problems yet to be resolved with regard to asylum seekers and immigration controls.  The next steps will be just as challenging if not more so.
At the other end of the day was a challenging debate on the UK power infrastructure - the need for renewal, the opportunities that brings but also the challenges.  With speakers from CPRE, the National Grid and the Distribution network as well as Ed Davey it proved to be interesting, challenging and hopeful.  It was one of those debates which could have gone on a lot longer if only the main protaganists hadn't had other appointments and the room hadn't been needed for another meeting.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Stand up and be counted

This week the full applications for Yarm School's latest developments were validated and are open to comment.  The extent of them is almost, but not quite, unbelievable.  Numerous sports pitches of one kind or another - 4 Senior Rugby Pitches, several junior pitches, mini pitches, training pitches, 2 all weather pitches, rounders pitches, cricket pitches for juniors and seniors, an athletics track and an area for triple jump and the like.  All this to be fenced off from public access.  A hospitality pavilion will be built into the bank so that it has panoramic views of the lower pitches.  And of course there will be storage needed for the grass cutters, liners and so on.
Add to that some changes (described as improvements) to the farmland to provide a  "public park" area for Yarm and a car park behind the flats at the bottom of Stoney Bank, supposedly to provide extra parking for Yarm town centre.
Access from Yarm to the pitches and the parkland would be via a new footbridge with a secure access from the school and a public access from Atlas Wynd.
The detailed plans can be seen on the SBC planning website and although they're big documents it's worth having a look and commenting on them.  This whole development is within the area of the Tees Heritage park designated as the Tranquil Zone and will be anything but tranquil if rugby, rounders, cricket and athletics are going on.
The biodiversity of that area at present is wonderful.  Walking along there last weekend we saw a variety of birds, mice scurrying away from us into the crops, insects galore, sheep, loads of wild flowers and different kinds of grasses.  Goodness knows what was hidden from view by the vegetation or living out its life under the ground.  Most of that would be lost if it became manicured and painted sports fields and public parkland, neatly trimmed and "looked after".
Many residents are already up in arms about it, and rightly so.  Alan, Lesley and I have been told in no uncertain terms why it shouldn't happen and we will oppose it, though Alan will have to remain open to persuasion at the committee meeting.  Get in touch if you want to be part of the campaign.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"Put the Council in the Driving Seat"

This afternoon's planning committee showed some of the best and some of the worst of Stockton Council at work.  The first item on the agenda was Morley Carr Farm - an application by Taylor Wimpey for outline permission to build up to 350 houses which was recommended for approval by the planning officer.  The site is on the outskirts of Yarm, near the junction of Allerton Balk and Green Lane and not far from the Tall Trees.  The proposal attracted a great deal of opposition and by no means all of it was "nimby-ism".  There were genuine concerns about traffic, road safety and the gas main that runs under the site.  There were also strong arguments made that the proposal does not fit with the current planning strategy of the council.  The council is consulting on possible changes to the core strategy for housing allocations because of the reported difficulties with developing the brownfield sites in the centre of the borough.  That consultation closes on September 24th and will then be analysed, and a final proposed strategy be sent to the Planning Inspectorate later next year.  Many people pointed out that with more than 4 years' supply of deliverable housing land the council is well placed to wait until the consultation has gone through and decisions can be made in an informed and strategic way.  Instead developers want to push through approvals in advance of those changes because they want to be able to build on the easy and lucrative sites like Morley Carr.
About 20 speakers this afternoon had their say on why the application should be refused.  They spoke calmly, mostly clearly, and with conviction.  Some had technical expertise, some had personal experience.  They shared this with the committee and were given the opportunity with courtesy by the chairman.
When it came to the debate within the committee it was obvious where the concerns lay.  Most Labour members didn't open their mouths.  It was left to other party representatives to raise issues and stress the importance of a measured approach to planning.  Questions from some weren't even answered.  Alan Lewis asked whether the New Homes Bonus being paid on every new house built in the borough would be invested in cleaning up the brownfield sites so that no more greenfield sites would need to be built on.  As he said, "this would put the council in the driving seat, not the developers".  If there was an answer to his question it was drowned in the applause from the audience.
However, the worst fears were realised when the vote came - Labour members voting en bloc for the officer recommendation to approve, supported by one of the IBIS councillors, meant that the recommendation was carried by 7 votes to 6.  Emotions ran high and outraged residents shouted at the committee members who'd supported the proposal.
So who lost in this?  The objectors certainly, but perhaps more importantly so did democracy and Stockton Council.  Who will have any faith in consultations carried out by SBC now?  Certainly no-one in Yarm or Eaglescliffe.  How must the spatial planning officers feel when they've said that something should be refused because it's outside the current policy and their colleagues in the next office recommend approval?  There were several people who had nothing to do with politics before this, but became active community representatives, and in other circumstances might have thought of standing for election to town or borough council in the future, now feeling that there isn't point in getting involved.  Not a good result at all.
Other campaign groups will carry on but with a heavy heart.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Mick Eddy RIP

This morning I attended the funeral of Mick Eddy, a Thornaby Independent Councillor who will be missed by more than just his own party or ward.  Mick had been a teacher for all of his working life.  His love of children and desire to see them do well shone through everything he did.  I didn't always agree with him but that's life.  I did enjoy talking with him about how children could be encouraged, about the difference between education and learning to pass exams, about how schools should be organised and so on.  I'll miss those conversations.  If the political life of the borough had been different perhaps we could have worked more closely to make a real difference for some of the children of the borough.  As it is, his untimely death has robbed Thornaby of a much loved and inspiring character.
Rest in peace, Mick.  Your memory lives on.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Light Relief

As part of the regeneration of Stockton's riverside area new lighting was installed last month along the section between the millenium bridge and the Princess Diana bridge.  Last night was the first opportunity I'd had to go and see the lights in action.  Red, white and blue  chased along the river bank and over the bridge, changing to gold in honour of Kat Copeland, the borough's very own gold medal winner.  Yes, she lives in Stokesley now, but she went to school in the borough, trained in the borough and still has many connections here.  She is probably typical of gold medal winners - absolutely dedicated to her sport and willing to go without many of the pleasures which others take for granted so that she's fit and able to perform at that high level.  I can only look on and admire from afar - I don't have that degree of determination and dedication!  Her welcome back to Stockton was greeted by several hundred guests and members of the public who braved shocking weather to cheer her.  She responded by coming down into the crowd and having her photo taken with anyone who wanted it - real devotion to the people of the borough.

Monday, July 23, 2012


Today I attended a session for members of  Stockton's Health & Wellbeing Partnership to discuss inequalities in health and how to tackle them.  It's generally accepted that on average healthier people live longer, more independent lives than unhealthy people.  Which means that the life expectancy of people in a town or a district gives a reasonable idea of how healthy they are likely to be.  The shocking fact about Stockton is that the difference in life expectancy between the best and the worst end of the spectrum is bigger than almost everywhere else in England!  In general it's the people in the more affluent areas of the borough who live the longest and the difference is around 15 years between the best and the worst.  I don't think that anyone in the room was happy with that statistic.
The difficult question is how to make the gap smaller.  All sorts of things have been tried and some things have shown a good effect - early deaths from coronary heart disease are decreasing.  But smoking in pregnancy is still far too common, as is drug and alcohol abuse.  Most people today were convinced that improvements need to start young, and carry on.  So encouraging more mothers to breastfeed their babies for at least a few weeks would lead to a significant improvment in health later.  But today we were asking whether more radical intervention was needed - should children who are born to drug or alcohol abusing parents be taken into care at birth?  Should women who continue to smoke pregnancy be charged with child abuse?  There's not a simple yes or no answer to these questions - where would the necessary foster and adoptive parents be found for example?  But the questions certainly focused the minds of those present on the need to make every penny of funding and every scrap of intervention count.  A happy healthy child who attends school regularly is more likely to benefit from education, get a job, live a fulfilled and healthy life on average than a child without that start in life.
So the question for us all is - how much is that good start in life worth and where do we get the resources from to give it?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Week's round-up

No chance of doing daily posts this week I'm afraid.  Apart from the meeting of EARA on Monday, there were meetings of Stockton Council committees and partnerships looking into the problem of long-term empty properties, fuel poverty and conserving the environment while providing housing which people are willing and able to live in; meetings of the Parish Council and its Recreation Committee, partly to consider the problem of waterlogging at Amberley Way play area; representing the Liberal Democrat Group at the royal opening of the White Water course; a public meeting organised by Alan Lewis and me, helped by Lesley, to explain and discuss the planning system and how plans for development are submitted and handled at Stockton Council; a full meeting of Stockton Council on Wednesday evening; a meeting with our MEP, Fiona Hall,  about the skills gap causing problems for the manufacturing industry here in the North East including Eaglescliffe.
At Wednesday evening's council meeting there was a debate on a motion put forward by the Conservative group advocating taking a look at whether to reduce the number of councillors in the borough.  It wasn't a very clearly worded motion and didn't offer any reason for doing so other than that it might save some money.  The Labour leadership had evidently known it was coming up and had done their homework by having discussions with the Boundary Commission at the LGA conference.  It turns out that Stockton councillors represent significantly more residents per head than those of neighbouring boroughs despite the latter having recently had boundary reviews.  The whole debate prompted me to look at the hours I'd spent this week on council work - over 37 formal hours and then I hadn't logged the hours spent responding to letters and phone calls, chasing up answers on casework for residents, reading papers in advance of meetings in order to understand the issues being discussed, and so on.  It was a busy week, but not a unique week, and I wasn't the only person to be putting in long hours I'm sure.  So yes, having fewer councillors would save a few thousand pounds a year in allowances, but at what cost to the representation of the people of the borough?  Would the lady who wrote to us on Tuesday have had a visit in response to her problem on Wednesday if Alan and I had also been representing a further thousand residents?  Would we have had time on Tuesday to spend explaining the system and encouraging people to get involved and have their say?  How many little corners of the ward wouldn't get a regular visit from us if we also had to look after part of the present Parkfield & Oxbridge ward for example?  Local democracy isn't perfect by any means but I don't think that reducing the number of councillors is necessarily the best way to improve it, despite what some people think.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Egglescliffe Area Residents' Association

Following a hastily arranged meeting in the Pot & Glass side room last week the inaugural meeting of EARA was held on Monday in the Parish Hall.  A committee was formed from among the hundred or more who packed into the room, and agreement was reached that although the priority at the moment is to fight the proposals for development in the green wedge next to the village there will be a wider remit for the future including positive developments like developing Egglescliffe in Bloom activities.  Working in partnership with the Parish Council was also seen as a positive move.
For now, the committee will be looking in detail at the planning proposal being put forward by Yarm School and at the policies in Stockton Council's development plans so that suitable arguments can be framed. I look forward to seeing the Association develop.
It's membership is open to those who live in or have any interest in the area round Butts Lane, St Margarets estate and the village.  People came to the meeting from a wider geographic area because they care about the village and its surroundings.  Of course if other areas want to set up such groups Alan Lewis and I will be happy to help.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Durham Lane Primary School

I am so lucky to be a governor at one of the primary schools in our ward.  I was first appointed in the days when Parish Councils appointed one governor at each of the primaries in the parish and I've been lucky to be able to continue when the law changed.
Today the older children in the school delivered the history of the Olympic movement in music - Olympic Odyssey, directed by their head teacher.  To see so many children enjoying singing was truly thrilling.  At the end I had the opportunity to say thank you to all involved, as the chair and deputy chair will be at today's performance.  I told them, honestly, that I really miss seeing my own grandchildren perform in their school and so they were my proxy grandchildren for this afternoon.  I could then tell them that I was really proud of them.
When I went to primary school there was a tendency to tell pupils like me, not quite sure how to pitch a note, just to mime and no-one would notice.  Thank goodness those days have gone.  Every child at Durham Lane will have a go, and none of them will be told to just mime.  With care, every child gets to take part and show off their talents.  Whether they're the child with the wonderful facial expressions or the ability to hit high notes or the confidence to launch into a list of long words at speed - whatever their talent it's on show on that stage.
Thank you Durham Lane pupils, staff and families - you produced a very special afternoon.
No photos this time, just lots of lovely memories.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Preston Hall & Park

Toys for sale in Museum Shop
On Sunday I had the privelege of being a guest at a behind the scenes preview of the refurbished museum.  The word refurbishment really doesn't do it justice.  This isn't simply a lick of paint and a reshuffle of exhibits.  This is a complete rethink about what the museum is there to do and how it should be done.  So it will tell the story of Stockton in a new and more interesting way.  There will be a natural route through the exhibits and plenty of space to stand and stare.  The museum shop is stocked with lots of fun and beautiful goodies. The Victorian street will be alive with a tea room serving real tea, a sweet shop selling real sweets and so on, as well as the blacksmith, the violin maker and others showing off their skills.  The walled kitchen garden is already flourishing with veg and herbs growing there.  And there's much more to come with craft workshops and all manner of interesting events over the year. 
The museum is scheduled to open for the public on July 27th but the recent deluge has penetrated part of the roof so it's to be hoped that the damage won't delay the opening.  Also on that day is the Tristar Fun Day in the park.  Let's hope the rain has eased off by then to allow it to go ahead.
Despite the weather the sculpture beside the path to the river is taking shape.  It's a very laborious process and is a genuine labour of love for the sculptor.

Meanwhile the Friends of Preston Park continue to plan for the Picnic in the Park on August 18th, hoping for fine weather to encourage everyone to come and join in a huge picnic with children's crafts, games, and more.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Yarm School Plans update

The developer & agent, Bellway Homes & Nathaniel Lichfield, have set up a website with the proposal on it, along with the questionnaire in electronic form.  Sadly, they still haven't provided a printable version so that people can write their comments after seeing printouts of the webpages, but I've asked them for one.
I hope lots of people will look at it and register their views.
I've had a number of people ask about affordable housing and what it means.  "Affordable" refers to a percentage of the average house price in an area (currently about 80%).  As a result a house in Yarm or Eaglescliffe can be labelled as affordable even though it costs several thousand pounds more than a "top of the range" house in a cheaper area of the borough.  Developers will sometimes suggest that they will contribute an amount of money equivalent to making 15% of their housing affordable so that the affordable housing can be built elsewhere.  There are some advantages to that - the borough gains more affordable housing than it otherwise would and the developer makes more profit by selling full price housing on all of the development.  However there are disadvantages too - the development ends up being less diverse than it otherwise would be and the young people who want to buy their first house or older people wanting to move into something smaller and more easily maintained can only do so by moving away from their friends, family, church and other communities.  I'm not suggesting that either way is right - just pointing out that it's a dilemma every time an application comes in for our area.

There's also lots of speculation about the remaining farmland between the application site and the footpath to Dinsdale way beside the golf course.  At the moment there are no applications for that area and I've had no word of pre-application discussions though they could be going on in confidence - commercial considerations mean that most developers speak to planning officers first to see what they might be able to do with a site before going public on the ideas.  All I can say at the moment is that if I hear about such applications Alan Lewis or I would send out a ward e-news as soon as humanly possible.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The plans for Yarm School's extension onto the Egglescliffe side of the Tees were worse than I had anticipated.  Not only the flood plain area is to be covered by rugby pitches, cricket pitches, rounders courts and athletics tracks but the upper field near the village will also house several rugby pitches of varying sizes for different age groups.  Between the two will be a cricket pavilion.  All this would be fenced off from the public by a wooden post and rail fence with high hedging, closing the Teesdale way off from views over the plain.   A swathe of land which slopes too steeply to be converted into sports pitches would become public parkland/open space.  A 36 space car park would be provided in the "wagon yard" at the foot of Stony Bank behind the new flats.  We were told that this would help to ease the problems of parking in Yarm High St, though why people would choose to park there when currently there is no shortage of space in front of those flats during the day is beyond me.
The link to Yarm would be via a truss & girder bridge which would be accessed from Atlas Wynd and from the school via a secure gate.
The whole would be financed from the sale of 500 large family houses on the current playing field and land beyond it towards Kirklevington.
Unfortunately our Focus leaflet had gone to press and was on the way to deliverers when we got this information so the only way we could let people know was by email.  Anyone who isn't on our email update list and would like to be can be added by contacting me.  Luckily a combination of email, facebook, twitter and word of mouth meant lots of people could get there and make their voices heard.
For those who couldn't be there, the developer's agent has promised to look into the possibility of setting up a website but meanwhile the website of the Protect Yarm - Leven Valley has some pictures of the display boards from the consultation.  If you want to let your Lib Dem councillors know what you think - just email.  We'll respond to all relevant comments.  At the moment all of our correspondence has been from people who object to the proposals.  It may be that there are some people in favour - we need to know so that we can truly represent the residents of Eaglescliffe ward.

Monday, June 18, 2012

I started the week with a visit to Wolviston Primary School to talk to the whole school about Fairtrade as an introduction to the topic before the School Council Eco team run a Global Cafe later in the term. What a great way to start the week.  Though I did feel for the little ones doing their phonics test today - I'm not sure they really knew what to make of it when they were presented with "made up" words alongside real ones.
Tomorrow ward councillors have the first opportunity to look at the plans proposed by Yarm School and I'll be particularly interested in the parts relating to the North side of the river.  After that it's off to Preston Hall for a meeting of the Friends of Preston Park.  Ward surgery and then a meeting of Churches Together in Yarm & Eaglescliffe completes a busy day.  At some point I need to make space to eat, but I'm not sure where that's going to fit!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Yarm School plans consultation

We now have the official invitation to the community consultation on the plans for Yarm School's latest development.
The plans consist of about 500 houses on the current playing fields at Green Lane, Yarm and various measures to compensate for building on there.  On the Egglescliffe bank of the river they propose to put playing fields, a boating pavilion, a park and a footbridge to link them to Yarm and the school.  Also on the Egglescliffe side of Yarm Bridge they propose a 40 space car park, described as long stay parking for Yarm, behind the Blue Bell.
Councillors haven't yet seen any detail of the plans but even without detail we can see some impact on the Teesdale Way and some changes to the character of the river bank in that area.
The consultation event is taking place in Conyers school, Yarm (the Big Cook Canteen), between 4.30 and 8.30pm on Thursday 21st June.  Alan, Lesley and I hope that lots of Eaglescliffe people will make the effort to get there and give their opinions.  We will try to get copies of the plans so that people who can't get to the event can see them later.  Get in touch if you live in Eaglescliffe and need to see them after Thursday.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Down to earth with a bang on Tuesday morning with a message that Yarm School were holding a pre-application consultation on Friday for a proposal that had me checking the calendar.  No, it wasn't April 1st so this was serious.  Unfortunately it was also impossible to cross-check as the relevant people were on holiday for the Jubilee Bank Holiday.  It came from a usually reliable source and so I decided to let people know about it on our e-news.  Predictably, people were not happy.  The proposal is for car parking and sports facilities on the Egglescliffe side of the Tees and a footbridge to link it to the school.
On Wednesday came the information that although the consultation had originally been planned for Friday it was now going to take place at some time in the next few weeks.  A second e-news had to go out rapidly.  Fortunately our constituents are very understanding people on these occasions.
Lib Dem councillors understand that the pre-application discussions with planning officers are confidential but questions to Stockton Council officers about whether the applicants had been strongly recommended to involve ward councillors at an earlier stage have so far fallen on deaf ears.  So have questions about whether the applicants were told strongly enough that the area concerned is part of Tees Heritage Park and afforded some protection in the Core Strategy and the Green infrastructure strategy of SBC.  There's a sense of deja vu here - Preston Park and BSF funded school proposals spring to mind.
As soon as we know the date for the consultation we'll be letting people know - again!

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

The Beacon is Lit

When Egglescliffe & Eaglescliffe council decided to have a jubilee beacon and organise a little party round the lighting of it we didn't know that there would be 2 more within walking distance.  When it became obvious that there would be one in Yarm with much more elaborate celebrations round it and one in Preston Park with lots of activities for families leading up to it I began to doubt whether many people would turn up to ours.  How wrong could I be - the grass of Memorial Garden was packed, people were standing round the memorial to get a better view, up on the church yard and along the path.  Hot dogs disappeared as fast as they could be prepared.  The hot chocolate was a huge hit, though cold drinks were less popular (could have been something to do with the air temperature).  50s music played out from the "ghetto blaster".

Egglescliffe Beacon on tower of floodlit church

A few moments before 10:15 the music went off and the countdown began.  Up on the church tower the wardens were listening and watching so that the beacon flared into life at exactly the right moment.  Cheers and applause gave way to singing of the National Anthem with great gusto and then more cheers, applause, flag waving and a joyful playing of the church carillon.  Soon we could see another beacon, probably towards Leyburn, flaring up on the horizon.

As the bells subsided the fireworks display organised by Yarm Town Council started up and we were treated to a spectacular display from a little further along the river bank.  Thank goodness I'd been at the garden earlier in the day when the company arrived to set up the display or we'd have had it right beside where we were standing, with all the attendant health and safety problems of smoke and debris.  Luckily I could point out the problem to the company and they arranged an alternative site.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Day 2

Wow, what a party!  We'd advertised the Big Picnic Lunch to start at noon.  The first party arrived at 1145 and there was a steady stream after that.  Never mind the weather - the Big Picnic was on!  Entertainers turned up as promised; we had music, magic, puppets, stilt walking, juggling, sack races, welly throwing, fancy dress, and more - 4 solid hours of fun.  The afternoon drew to a close with the Salvation Army band playing then a short ecumenical service to round off the day.
A second day of the community pulling together to put on a celebration and I hope that the press publish a good story about it, having rung me for an interview part way through judging the fancy dress competiton!

Day 1 of Jubilee Weekend

Saturday dawned rather colder than we'd hoped but undaunted the Parish Council and community volunteers were up and out on the grass at Orchard shops by 8a.m.  For some that was a previously undiscovered time on a Saturday morning and I'm enormously grateful to them all.  By 10 the fencing was adorned with bunting and flags, the grass was fenced off as a safety measure to deter children from running into the road, the community centre was buzzing with activity as the exhibition, quiz and cafe were set up and a large tent was taking shape on the grass, surrounded by tables with fun crafts to try.
Sadly, just as the first Punch & Judy show got underway, the sky decided to weep.  Rapid removal of craft tables to the tent followed.
Undeterred by the weather a steady stream of people made their way to one end of the parade or the other, mainly determined by age. The exhibition in the community centre proved very popular and the afternoon talk "Was it really 60 Years Ago?" drew a  food audience of people most of whom had their own memories of the period and were happy to share them.
While older people reminisced about life in the 50s in the Community Centre the very young cheered and laughed and booed at Mr Punch and his goings-on.  Between shows crowns were made, dozens of biscuits decorated and eaten, paper plates became ornate plaques and pictures were coloured.  Outside there were fierce quoits battles and some entertaining attempts with hoola hoops.
By 4pm  when it was time to clear away that phase of the celebrations we all felt it had been worth getting up early on Saturday morning to set it up.
In the evening, local theatre group, Cliffe Theatre, performed a murder mystery evening to a packed house in the Community Centre.  Performed without benefit of stage lights (electricity problem caused by the fire a fortnight ago at the shops), stage space (occupied by the partially prepared set for the next performance by Centre Stage, our musical theatre group) or heating (no gas because of the fire) and using the scripts (because they hadn't had the rehearsal time they would normally have) it was nevertheless a thoroughly enjoyable evening and a great tribute to a community theatre group who pulled out all the stops to do their bit for the Jubilee celebrations.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Plans for Jubilee Celebrations

Egglescliffe & Eaglescliffe council have planned a weekend of events to celebrate the Jubilee.  The weekend kicks off with an exhibition in Egglescliffe community centre on Durham Lane on Saturday morning while crafts, games, puppet shows, music and face painting goes on outside on the grass near the library.
The council aims to celebrate in style after the horror of last weekend, so bring out your flags and bunting and let's have the security fencing covered in red, white and blue for the day.
At 2pm there's an illustrated talk on life in the early 1950s (I've heard a preview and it's fascinating).
Then at 7.30 there's a murder mystery evening also in the community centre.

On Sunday the action moves to the Village Green for a Big picnic lunch followed by games and entertainment all afternoon, ending with a service of thanksgiving at 4.30.
On Monday the ward has two jubilee beacons to light - Friends of Preston Park are hosting an event in Preston Park starting at 8.30pm near the aviary with family fun activities, followed by a short service at 9.50 leading up to the lighting of the beacon down on the jetty at 1015.
Egglescliffe memorial garden, next to the war memorial, has an evening of quieter music and refreshments leading up to the lighting of the beacon on St John's church tower, also at 1015.  This is hosted jointly by St John's and Egglescliffe & Eaglescliffe council.
As chair this year of the parish council I shall be at that event, but I  hope lots of people go to the Preston Park one too.  Eaglescliffe is very fortunate to have 2 events out of the 8 taking place in the borough, so let's get out there and enjoy ourselves.

Arson Confirmed

Yesterday morning Cleveland Police confirmed that the fire at Orchard shops was caused deliberately and the focus of investigation has now shifted to finding the culprit.  Ward councillors and the local MP, James Wharton, have worked together on the impact of the fire since Saturday morning and yesterday James issued a media release on behalf of us all.  The text is reproduced below:

Arson Suspected, Community Calls on witnesses to inform police
Joint Press Release from Local Councillors and MP
The fire at the Orchard Shopping Parade in Eaglescliffe early Saturday morning may have been caused by arson, Police suspect.
The site was visited on Saturday by James Wharton MP along with local Conservative Councillor Phil Dennis and Liberal Democrat Councillor Maureen Rigg.
The local Councillors and MP have now released a joint statement and called for any witnesses to come forward:
James said:
“This has been a huge blow to our community, with people’s jobs and local independent businesses put at risk. Along with Phil and Maureen I was on site on Saturday and I spoke to the landlords then, we all hope the shopping parade will be rebuilt but in the meantime whoever did this, especially if it was a deliberate act, must be brought to justice.”
Cllr Rigg said:
"This makes it even worse - the thought that someone could wilfully endanger the lives of those in the flats and the livelihood of dozens of people is too horrific to contemplate. Alan Lewis and I will work with Phil Dennis and James Wharton to get the shops back into use as fast as possible and to encourage anyone with any information that might help the police to come forward quickly."
Cllr Dennis said:
“We are working together to keep the community updated and will be doing everything we can to see the shopping parade rebuilt. If anyone saw anything they should certainly come forward, this could easily have put lives at risk and the damage to independent businesses and their employees has been huge.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Shops update

Today I spoke with the owner of the shopping parade who stressed again that he wants to see the shops rebuilt but it will take time to assess the damage and decide on what needs to be done and what can be done.  I've emphasised that one thing everyone I've had contact with agrees on is the need to have the shops back.  There's no interest at all in having anything else on the site, but a lot of interest in having a modernised shopping parade.  Although it's too early to say exactly what will happen it's clear that some demolition is needed - the sagging roofs need to be removed at the very least.  The owners are hoping that a start can be made on the demolition work within the next 2 weeks.  That could make it a bit difficult for the Jubilee celebrations but Eaglescliffe can rise above those problems - we'll decorate the area and enjoy ourselves no matter what!
Meanwhile, we have Sainsbury's open along with the library and the community centre.   The Hairdresser is trying to set up a mobile service for some of her less mobile customers and trying to accomodate others at her Yarm salon.  The chemist is working with the Sunningdale pharmacy to offer a prescription service until he can establish something more.  The Bengal Lancer is setting up in temporary premises at Sunningdale shops.  The Chinese takeaway is reminding people they can order from Yarm.  And the dry cleaner is asking for details so that they can start the long process of insurance claims.  If you haven't had all the phone numbers etc in an email news and would like it - do ask.

Shops update

At the request of ward councillors Stockton Council's officers are trying to meet with the owners of the businesses and find out what help they need.  As soon as that's known we'll know what's possible.  Meanwhile I met the owner of the shopping parade this morning and stressed again how keen we all are to have the shops up and running again, although I recognise that insurance investigations take time.  Rome wasn't built in a day and all that.
Sainsbury's should be open mid-morning but people will need to be very careful when approaching and stick to the designated paths as there is a lot of security fencing and still barriers round the excavations needed to sort out the gas leak on Saturday.  Security staff will be on hand to help keep on the right track.
The community centre now has power so it will be back to normal.
The library was getting a steady trickle of people so word will spread that it's operational I'm sure.
We might yet need to organise a clean up of the path in front of the library in time for the Jubilee celebrations but we'll see whether any rain comes and does the job for us!
Don't forget that if you live in Eaglescliffe and want to get regular email updates you can arrange it by contacting me at the address on the left.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Orchard Shops

Following yesterday's devastating fire the latest news is:
1. Sainsbury's is being cleaned of smoke damage, all food etc has been removed and the shop will be restocked for opening on Tuesday all being well
2. Egglescliffe Community Centre has escaped with just loss of power.  They hope to get power back some time tomorrow and to open for normal service on Tuesday.
3. The pharmacy has been cleared of all controlled substances and sensitive paperwork.  The chemist hopes to start a prescription collection service from other premises soon.
4. Lib Dem and Conservative councillors are working together with the local MP to help get things sorted out for our community.  If we find that there is any way in which the community can help we will be calling for help.  Meanwhile we are keeping people informed by e-mails to our mailing lists.  If you know of anyone who'd like to receive those emails just get in touch via the contact e-mail on the left of the page.
5.  Until structural engineers, insurance assessors etc have done their work no plans can be made for the future of the damaged buildings.  Many rumours have been circulating but no decisions have been taken

Meanwhile, the parish council's jubilee celebrations will go ahead as planned on the grass and in the community centre.  I hope everyone will turn out and enjoy the Saturday festivities, then join in Sunday at the Green and Monday on Memorial Garden - make it a weekend to remember pleasurably, unlike this one!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Urlay Nook Plans

This afternoon was the "community consultation" on the proposal by Taylor Wimpey for houses on the field at Urlay Nook Rd opposite Hunters' Green.  The developers invited ward and Parish Councillors for  a private briefing before the public dropin session and all 3 ward councillors duly turned up, along with 2 representatives of the Parish Council.
There is no doubt that the developers have put some careful thought into the proposal but that doesn't alter the fact that this is a further creeping development westwards over green fields.  I know that the green field is within the limits of development as laid down in Stockton's planning documents over the years but the fact remains that it hasn't been developed so far and people have grown to expect that it wouldn't be.  Now a  combination of factors looks set to change all that.  Up to 160 houses is a lot less than would have been applied for a few years ago, but it's still a lot of houses.  It still would generate more traffic on the roads and more children needing school places, more demand for community facilities and more pedestrians crossing busy roads.
The developers did make notes of some of the things we pointed out, and might make some small changes but an application will almost certainly go in and the planning committee will again have the job of deciding it on its planning merits.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Fly Tipping

Fly tipping used to be a problem of verges on the outskirts of the borough.  Recently for some reason it's started to be a problem in streets across the ward.  Black bags dumped on the grass on estate roads, in alleys behind older terraces, in the road behind shops - no apparent pattern, no apparent reason.  I spent time on Friday morning with the cleansing manager and Care For Your Area technician working out a course of action for one area.  Alan spent time on Friday afternoon doing the same for another patch.  Action will be taken but it's a use of council resources which shouldn't be needed.
One ray of (virtual) sunshine in the morning's rain was seeing that the Carnoustie Drive subway is clear of flooding, showing that all the work done last year has paid off and the drains finally work!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Planning - again!

On Wednesday afternoon Stockton Council's planning committee met in public to discuss the Allen's West application.  The agent, very predictably, talked about how good it would be for the borough - more housing, more money etc.  I pointed out that the road infrastructure nearby, specifically Yarm High St, is creaking and although the application can't put that right we are convinced that it will make things worse despite the best efforts of SBC engineers.  I also spoke about the proposed care home - not needed in stockton or in Eaglescliffe.  We have a surfeit of places in residential care and what we really need is the kind of extra care sheltered facilities that are found at Aspen Gardens.  Residents keep telling us that what they want is a replacement for Witham House.   What we are offered is a choice between residential care or expensive retirement flats.  It's not on.
The killer for the application turned out to be the thing I've said all along - why lose employment opportunities just to give the Irish Government the money back that it needs after bailing out a bank which lent a ridiculous amount to the previous owners of the site?  There are warehouses on there which could no doubt have their contents and employment transferred to other similar warehouses around the borough but the high storage for the NHS in one of the large sheds doesn't seem to be transferable at an economic price.  That aspect of the site could be accomodated with some imagination and determination but the present agents seem unwilling to even consider it.
The head of that company spoke eloquently about the need to be where they are, I followed it up with my views and two Labour members of the committee had the courage to go against the officer recommendation and vote against the application in its present form.  With my fellow councillor, Alan Lewis, the Tories and the Thornaby Independent representative that was enough to reject it.  As a result the applicant has a fortnight to have further discussions with the relevant people to see if they can produce an acceptable solution.  It will come back to committee on 30th May in all probability.
Meanwhile I've been dealing with a number of queries about other applications, ranging from the fairly large one opposite Hunters' Green to a replacement for one house on Yarm Rd/Cleveland Gardens junction.  The Urlay Nook application will be the subject of a pre-application meeting next Wednesday, 16th May between 4 and 7pm at the Oakwood Centre.  I've complained about the venue - not exactly the most accessible place in the ward - and asked why they didn't book the community centre or one of the school halls.  After all, Nifco did that and their application has a lot less impact on the area.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

On Monday the planning officer responsible for dealing with the Allens West planning application published his report for planning committee.  Perhaps not surprisingly he's recommending approval.  The Highways Agency hasn't said the roads can't cope.  Tests on the land haven't shown it to be contaminated with anything horrible.  He considers there to be no good planning reasons for refusal of the application.  I still have real concerns over the loss of employment land, the increase in traffic and the impact on community facilities such as doctors, dentists, schools and so on.  The decision will be taken at a meeting held in public on May 9th at 1.30pm in the Jim Cooke Conference room, accessed through Stockton Library.
The first meeting of the new committee of Friends of Preston Park took place on Tuesday afternoon.  It was agreed that the Friends will host an event leading up to the lighting of a Jubilee Beacon at the riverside on June 4th, and a sub-committee was set up to finalise the details.
Later on the same day there was a meeting of the Jubilee committee of Egglescliffe & Eaglescliffe council to finalise the plans for the Jubilee weekend in the parish.  Fun activities for children on the green in front of Orchard shops, an exhibition and a talk in the community centre and then a murder mystery evening on the Saturday; picnic lunch, fun and games on the village green, afternoon tea in the parish hall, a service of thanksgiving on the green on the Sunday; music and refreshments leading up to the lighting of the beacon on the Monday evening at Memorial Garden.  All we need to make it perfect is fine weather and the good people of Eaglescliffe to turn out and enjoy yourselves.
Taylor Wimpey are about to launch a public consultation prior to submitting an application for housing at Urlay Nook, opposite Hunters' Green estate.  They claim of course that it will be energy efficient, well designed housing but it's going to be a long way from the nearest shops, have no bus service going past, and generally not be very sustainable from a first look at the proposals.  And so life goes on in Eaglescliffe!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Friends of Preston Park

Last night's AGM was in some ways a make or break meeting for FoPP.  Having developed from a protest movement into a more mainstream organisation people had to come to terms with the fact that this means fewer members and fewer activities instigated by the group.  So what exactly is its role and where is it going?  And perhaps more importantly, who is willing to take it there?
Nick Smith and Reuben Kench of Stockton Council were guest speakers and gave an inspiring vision of the future not only for the park but for the Friends if they want to be involved.  There were many questions from the floor and most of them were able to be answered.
Then came the crunch - who was willing to be part of the committee, developing that vision into something useful and meaningful?  After much debate, some of it hearking back to what began to sound like the good old days of protest, a good number of volunteers came forward and the committee has now some new blood on it, a new chairperson and a  new event to plan for.
No time to waste - the first event is the lighting of the Jubilee Beacon on June 4th.  The first committee meeting is arranged and the new chairperson has the job of welding the committee together.  It won't be easy but if she can pull it off the Friends of Preston Park will take on a new lease of life.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Friends of Preston Park

The Friends of Preston Park grew out of the protest movement against the proposal to build Egglescliffe School in the park.  Having stopped that suggestion from the Ingleby Barwick Independents and the Labour MP people rightly wanted to make sure that the park was safe for the future.  Over the last 18 months a small committee has worked to ensure that a constitution was drawn up, that the group became Friends of Preston Park last year, that the Park management consult with and listen to the group and that the Park is treated with the care it needs and deserves.
Over the past year members of that original committee have had to step back for various reasons including needing to spend time on other things in their lives.  This year's AGM needs new people to step forward and take over for the next 12 months.  So this is an appeal to everyone who cares about Preston Park and lives within reach of it.

Come and hear about exciting times ahead for Preston Hall Museum & Park and tell the Friends of Preston Park your ideas, hopes and dreams for the future and how the Friends can help the local community with this jewel in our crown!
As the rejected idea of a school in the Park becomes history, we can look forward with excitement to the reopening this year of the Museum, restored and improved.  The Park has gained a new jetty, a new play area and a newly drained front field and work is under way in restoring the Kitchen Garden.  There’s so much potential!
Please come to Preston-on-Tees Parish Church (All Saints’), 22 Dunottar Avenue, Eaglescliffe, at 7 p.m. on Monday, 23rd April, 2012.  Our visiting speaker will be Nick Smith, Stockton Borough Council’s Development Manager, Museums & Heritage.  The Annual General Meeting of the Friends of Preston Park will also be held.

See you there?

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Community Covenant

Last night's meeting of the full Stockton Borough Council started with the signing of the Community Covenant with the Armed Forces.  This is a further step along the way of ensuring that the armed forces personnel with links to our borough feel supported and valued for what they do.  Although sometimes the battles they have to fight are ones which some of us might not support politically there is general agreement across the council and the wider borough that the men and women involved in the forces deserve our support.
 Representatives of the army, navy and air force signed along with the Mayor on behalf of the Borough and Cllr Bob Cook as Chair of the Stockton Renaissance Partnership.  In thanking the community the Forces representative spoke of the high proportion of people from the North East who sign up to serve in the forces (20% of total recruitment) and therefore the high proportion of veterans who return to the North East.  As he said, some don't need any particular help but others need a great deal of medical, emotional and social support to settle into civilian life.
Stockton led a review of services for veterans in the North East over a year ago now, and that has made a difference to how such services are advertised to the returning veterans as well as trying to make sure the services offered are good ones.
This, coupled with such things as Freedom of the Borough and the associated links, and the current mayor's charitable work for charities associated with the armed forces, was noted.  As the Brigadier said, "The thing that matters most to Defence Forces abroad is to feel valued when they come home.  We have never felt so valued as we do at the moment here, and that is really important.  Thank you."
Each of the signatories was presented with a framed photograph of Infinity Bridge to remind them of the event.

 The rest of the meeting wasn't nearly so interesting, being the formal approval of a variety of things which had already been well debated in committees and cabinet meetings, though one member question raised the issue which no-one connected with the Ingleby Barwick Free School application seems to have properly addressed yet:
In order to build the "Free" School land has to be found.  The preferred site is also proposed for housing development.  If a deal is done such that significant housing is allowed in exchange for land for the school how will the resulting children be accommodated in the primary schools which are already pretty well full?  Will primary children have to be transported to other schools round the borough in order to provide space for secondary children to be educated on the estate?  Will the children whose parents are currently campaigning for the school find that their children don't benefit because the new school has to accommodate the children from the new, currently unplanned housing?  All interesting questions which of course the Labour Cabinet member quite enjoyed agreeing were interesting and important questions.  The answers might have all been thought about by the campaigners but we haven't heard them yet.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Health and Social Care

In recent months this topic has come up in news bulletins, in political debate and in conversations more than any other.  It's something that affects everyone in some way, something that costs a lot of public money as well as private investment for many, and something that we seem unable to agree on changing in any way.
Most people agree that "something must be done" about the spiralling cost of care and medicine as our population grows and ages.  What we can't agree on is just what that something is.
As a relative and as a patient I've seen some of the best of our National Health Service and our care system.  But I've also seen some of the worst.  So I don't view it through rose-tinted glasses, and I don't believe it's just about more money or government targets.
I read the current debates around the bill going through Parliament and find myself agreeing first with one person then with another - has enough been done to the original bill to make it acceptable as a way forward for the Health service in this country?  Yes....No...Maybe!  Unfortunately I shan't be at Gateshead next weekend to hear the debates first hand.  But in Stockton I am part of the Health & Wellbeing Partnership, representing the people of Yarm, Eaglescliffe, Long Newton and the surrounding villages.  I hear professionals and voluntary workers in a number of fields working together to try to join up their services and their thinking in a way that will use resources effectively for the good of the people of the borough.  And through being part of that body I realise that a return to the systems of a year ago, prior to the publication of the controversial bill, is never going to happen.  Things have moved on, largely in anticipation of the way they'll be expected to move if the bill becomes law, but also partly because people recognised that this was a good thing to do - working together to agree what's necessary and then what's desirable and then working together to deliver those aims.
So whatever happens to the bill in its remaining time in Parliament I'd like to see one outcome - fewer publicity seeking soundbites from national politicians and more help and encouragement to local people to sort out what's important to them and how to deliver it.
And on the subject of pressures in the Care system and dignity for all, I can do no better than recommend reading Ruth Bright on the subject.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

What's On Your Mind?

Sunday morning at church usually brings at least one comment or question on council matters as most people know I’m a councillor, though not for the ward in which I go to church.  This morning brought a bumper crop and served as a reminder of what ordinary people are thinking about.
First up was a question on a planning application – not one in Eaglescliffe ward, but in a neighbouring patch.  While not against new housing the resident was very concerned about the lack of infrastructure planning associated with the application.  Not being familiar with the detail of the application I couldn’t answer specific questions but did point him in the direction of Planning Aid and will send him links to Stockton’s planning policies.
Next was a very interesting conversation with a young person, perhaps still at primary school, who wanted to know why the Fairtrade stall had so much Traidcraft stuff on it.  I was able to explain that Traidcraft is a company which works with producers to get them ready to trade as Fairtrade producers and then supports them to grow and diversify when they’re ready.  As a result their produce is sometimes a bit more expensive than supermarket own brand Fairtrade goods but it’s for a very good reason and worth supporting.
Follow that by questions about where Stockton Council is with regard to Yarm Parking, to which I could only reply that the Labour/IBIS cabinet take the political decisions and council officers are instructed to carry them out.  They don’t consult me nor tell me every step they’re taking, so I know no more than the Town Council does about what’s happening at Stockton Council and no more than I read in the papers about what’s happening at Yarm Town Council.  I assume that Stockton Council is preparing the consultation with residents of the High St over how best to accommodate their vehicles but I don’t know.
Finally, a discussion with an employee of Cleveland Police about the forthcoming elections of Police Commissioners.  It seems that many rank and file officers think as the Lib Dems do – electing a Police Commissioner will do nothing to improve the force and might make matters worse but electing a Police Authority/Panel/Watch committee (call it what you will) to challenge the Police and ensure that resources are properly used would be a good move.  Meanwhile, accepting that elected commissioners are going to be a reality in November he felt that politicians should not be standing.  It’s surprising how many ordinary people I meet think that this system is going to be a mistake.