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.