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.