Monday, January 21, 2013

Teesside Air Show to restart?

A group of enthusiasts is trying to resurrect the air show which used to delight thousands of visitors when I first lived in Eaglescliffe, and annoy those who didn't enjoy it.  The noise of low-flying aircraft, the train being full of people heading to the airport rather than to Darlington or Middlesbrough (yes, the train did stop at the airport several times a day!), the cars parked on the A67 verges with people more interested in their binoculars or picnic than in the traffic trying to drive along the road - these all irritated some.  But thousands enjoyed the spectacle and some would like to restart it.
If you're interested there's an appeal for help in today's Northern Echo.
As the wintry weather continues remember that Stockton Council's updates on gritting, road problems, school closures etc are on Facebook and Twitter

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

There are more sensible ways to spend an afternoon than travelling around in the weather we've had today.  We haven't had anything like as bad as some parts of the country, even locally, but it's been tricky enough at times.
This afternoon we had a briefing for members of planning committee along with Ingleby Barwick, Thornaby, Eaglescliffe and Yarm councillors and planning officers on the latest developments in the traffic modelling for the areas of new housing development.  Three Eaglescliffe councillors duly travelled to Norton to find out what was being predicted as a result of the developments taking place in the area.  None of the Yarm councillors was there.  Only one of the Ingleby Barwick councillors attended and none of the Thornaby members.  Three members of planning committee and the cabinet member for regeneration and transport made up the remainder of the attendees.  8 councillors out of the 25 invited.  Granted that some are at work during the day it was still a poor attendance for what sounded like a pretty useful and important session.
As it turned out, the work that's been done so far was of least interest to the ward that was best represented!  The concentration of effort so far, understandably, has been on the traffic which would be generated by building an extra 735 houses on Green Lane.  The answer seems to be "Too much".  The developer there is probably going to have to scale back significantly on what they're planning if they want to get permission.  However, who knows the vagaries of the planning committee.  We'll have to wait until the February meeting to see what happens.
The work on the Eaglescliffe traffic will have to wait until later in the process because the Urlay Nook development isn't coming to committee just yet.

None of which helps in fighting the application for Yarm Independent School's extension into the river bank land below Egglescliffe village.  That one won't be won or lost on traffic generation but on the environmental impact of the development - is Tees Heritage Park sufficiently important to the borough or no?  Tomorrow afternoon will bring the answer.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Budget Highs and Lows

The time is approaching when Stockton council, along with every other council in the country, has to set its budget for the next 12 months.  The story being told by the officers who are expert on such calculations is that the budget gap is going to get wider each year for the next few years and that it's going to be increasingly difficult to find ways to cut costs.  More services will have to be trimmed or cut out completely, and the only questions are about how to do it smoothly.  For this year the reserves can be used to soften the blow but there won't be reserves left to do that in future.
I'm not so pessimistic as that.  I don't believe that even Mr Pickles can imagine that people don't need services like street cleaning.  He's going to have to come to his senses and leave local authorities the ability to do what local people need them to do.  The difficulty is knowing when he'll come to that conclusion.
Meanwhile there's some really good news.  Before the general election the Liberal Democrats did some deep thinking about how to improve the life chances of children whose backgrounds don't give them the opportunities which most can benefit from.  The conclusion was that the best way to break the cycle of deprivation was to concentrate efforts on their education and especially in the early years.  One of our flagship policies in the general election campaign was the "Pupil Premium" - extra money to go direct to schools where children most in need were on the register.  The school could decide how best to spend that money as long as it made a difference to the children most needing that help.
When the coalition agreement was negotiated that policy was included - extra money for the schools to make a difference.   Despite severe pressures on the budget across the country schools have seen that money increase each year.  In 2013/14 schools in Stockton will receive almost £4.8m extra to give children that chance - to make the opportunities fairer.  Some will employ extra staff, some will buy new equipment.  Some schools get only a few thousand pounds because they don't have serious levels of deprivation to cope with.  Others will get over £100k because they have a lot of children from poor homes.
In Eaglescliffe, as we reported in Focus before Christmas, the primary schools will share £45000 and the comprehensive school will get over £60,000.  We need to make sure that it's being sensibly spent and that the young people are seeing the benefit!

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Good news - bad news

Despite all the wet weather over the last few months the play equipment at Kingsmead has been successfully installed and the grass is managing to grow back.  There are some horribly squelchy patches but nothing that a few days of wind and sun won't solve.  The equipment is obviously very attractive because despite the safety fencing being erected round some of it still to let the grass recover further people have removed the fencing and obviously been playing with enthusiasm.  At the moment it's not very attractive except at the weekends because there's not enough light when the young people come home from school, but by the Easter holiday the grass should be established and the young people of the estate should get the play value they've waited for.
The shrubs will be trimmed back and the shrub beds tidied.
Well done Egglescliffe & Eaglescliffe Council - another successful investment in play.
Later in the day came the bad news - Stockton Council's planning officer has recommended approval of the extension of Yarm Independent school onto the banks of the Tees below Egglescliffe Village.  That tranquil zone of the Tees Heritage Park will be changed forever if this goes ahead, and the evening was spent with the committee of the Egglescliffe Area Residents Association agreeing the way forward in order to put the arguments as clearly as possible at Planning committee.  It's not going to be easy to persuade the committee to go against the officer recommendation but we'll give it our best shot.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

This coming week sees a number of interesting meetings on the timetable.  Tomorrow Alan and I concentrate on being Parish Councillors looking at the positioning of traditional toddler swings on St Margaret's Play Area as well as looking at the issues around flooding on that ground.  The excessively wet weather last year has exacerbated problems all over the ward, but we are thankful that our flooding is relatively small scale and only affects the open spaces - no-one had to evacuate their house in Eaglescliffe as becks broke their banks!

On Tuesday Stockton Council's Local Development Framework Steering Group meets.  This group looks at proposals for planning and development in the borough and offers comment as well as political steer on the proposals.  On Tuesday we'll be looking at the preliminary results of the consultation that was undertaken last year on where new housing developments should go.  Unsurprisingly perhaps some land owners and developers have re-submitted land which was discounted after the first consultation.  Some have even submitted new pieces of green space.  Sadly, no-one seems to want to submit brownfield sites.  Should we be surprised?  Sadly, no.

Later in the week I'm heading to London to meet with a couple of government ministers to discuss some issues of importance to us in the region.  More on that after the event.

Meanwhile, don't forget - Christmas cards can be recycled in the cardboard & plastic collection if you've no better use for them.  Real Christmas trees will be collected on the same day as waste this week, and will be shredded and composted for use on the flower beds in our parks and public spaces.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Life is gradually getting back to normal after the Christmas and New Year holiday period.  The email inbox is filling up again and the phone ringing with queries of one kind and another.
Having had it confirmed that the last 12 months have been extremely wet in this part of the country, it's no wonder that there are complaints about potholes, water-logging, standing water and so on.  Alan Lewis and I follow up on each and every complaint but it sometimes takes quite a time to get answers and then they're not always what we want to hear.  Cuts in the roads maintenance budget across the borough don't make it any easier to get things done quickly.
In no time at all there will be meetings within the council to decide on the budget for the year 2013/14.  Stockton Council has for many years worked on a rolling 3 year financial plan, thus doing away with the old system of suddenly spending up money in February and March so that it wasn't lost when April came.  That's enabled the council under whichever leadership prevailed at the time to have a planned approach to the budget.
That approach is being made more difficult at the moment by the heavy cuts that have been needed to cope with the national deficit - a deficit which the local Labour party seem to forget was racked up during their party's 13 years in government and which was described in the famous note from their Treasury Secretary to the incoming one "Sorry, there's no money left".
There are going to be some tough decisions to make over the next couple of months, but I'll be in there with the other Lib Dems fighting to keep the best of what we've got and to stop any silly party politics causing problems for residents like are happening in some parts of the country.  At least Stockton's Labour party hasn't followed Derby's in proposing a charge for the collection of recyling!  To be fair to them I don't think it would enter their thinking in any serious way.  Nor do I think they're going to follow Newcastle's Labour group in suggesting that the Arts aren't worth supporting.
On a more cheerful note, we should see the official re-opening of Preston Hall Museum in the next couple of months.  Although visitors have been enjoying it for almost 6 months now it hasn't had its formal opening, so now that the Olympics and royal jubilee are over it could be Preston Hall's turn for a moment of glory - watch this space for details!

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

New Year

2013 dawns bright, sunny and cold in Eaglescliffe.
My hope for individuals is that good health prevails over bad, and that friendship and love triumph over prejudice and hatred.
My hopes for Eaglescliffe
- that the planning officers and committee of Stockton Council will see the value of the tranquil stretch of the river bank that winds along the edge of Egglescliffe and not approve the planning application which threatens to change its character for ever.
- that the residents' organisations which have sprung up recently will prosper and work closely with elected members of the Parish and Borough Councils to develop the community spirit which is undoubtedly present.
- that our children and young people have the safe access to play and school which they deserve and need.
- that all our residents are respected, regardless of age or any other part of their life.
My hopes for the Borough of Stockton-on-Tees are that regeneration continues to show results, that businesses continue to start up and to succeed, and that employment opportunities are seized upon for the good of all.  I'd like to hope that the parties in control at the Council would stop trying to score points on national issues and concentrate instead on how to get the best results locally, which could sometimes be better achieved by working with the opposition, but that might be a hope too far.  We shall see.

Nationally, I hope that the government and particularly Mr Pickles, start to listen to the Local Government Association which is a cross party organisation and let local councils have the time and resources to do the job they do best - listen to local people and provide the services they need.  There's no way that Westminster based politicians can frame rules and laws to cover every tiny detail of what goes on locally and they shouldn't be wasting their time trying.

So a happy, healthy and hopeful 2013 to one and all.