Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A week in the life of a councillor - a very personal view

It’s been brought to my attention that another councillor is castigating me for not attending meetings earlier this week, saying that he’s sure people expect their councillors to attend meetings.  All I can say is that meetings are only valuable if we learn something or contribute something to them.
As a council group leader I attend a lot of briefing sessions with senior officers and pass on the information to my group.  At those briefings I can raise the questions that I want to, get answers and discuss them in some detail.  I don’t find it productive to sit through the same briefing being given for other councillors.  I do find it productive to respond to the phone calls and emails from residents with real concerns about their day to day life, and to go out and knock on doors to see whether those concerns are shared by many others.
As it happens, over the past week I've had meetings about transport, about the local library, about inconsiderate parking, about the changes to the electoral registration system which will have a huge impact over the next 3 years, about what’s happening in the surrounding area including the crime figures but also road safety concerns and the problems of the youth & community centre in a neighbouring village, discussions on the impact of some of the savings identified in the Cabinet recommendation on the budget for Stockton Council and whether to oppose any of them or suggest alternatives, plans for the summer event being organised jointly by the parish council and the Egglescliffe Area Residents Association, discussions on the impact of storm surges on sewers that are already at or near capacity, and more.
But much more importantly, in my opinion if not in the opposition councillor’s opinion, I’ve sat with a very frightened, sick relative, holding her hand and trying to bring a little comfort.  I’ve had meetings with health staff and carers.  None of this is a part of being a councillor, but it’s a part of being me.  And I hope it helps me to understand when someone else needs to be somewhere other than where I might have expected them to be.  It certainly helps me to understand when residents contact me with problems relating to sickness and disability.
And now, having said all that, I shall get on with chasing up the repair to the broken manhole, the two consultations that need to be carried out in parts of the ward and following up the problems with disability living allowance for a resident without family to help her.  All in a day's work for a councillor and not a formal meeting to be seen there.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Egglescliffe Library

Last night’s meeting of Stockton Council's cabinet approved the cuts in Library services that we’ve been expecting.  For the next 12 months or so Egglescliffe will be guaranteed at least 17 hours a week of opening.  That’s a reduction of 50% on our present opening hours, but at least there’s still a library.  It’s a sign of changing times that many people prefer to read from electronic gadgets rather than paper books, and those who like paper books often find that picking up a paper-back in the supermarket is preferable to a special trip to the library.
Egglescliffe library doesn’t have enough people using it for the amount it costs to run and maintain the building.  We’re in the situation of having a sizeable share of our population which uses cars to go most places, and perhaps Yarm or Stockton library is more convenient for them.  But we also have a significant number of older, less mobile people and young children for whom a trip to the Library at Egglescliffe is a lifeline.  
Stockton Council would like to cut their costs by finding a more suitable location.  Perhaps if they’d thought ahead they could have included a newer build on the new Junction Farm School extension but it’s too late for that now.  They had their sights set on the Allen’s West development but that’s at least 10 years away if it’s ever built.  
Meanwhile, use it or lose it is the catch phrase. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Area Transport Strategy

Twice a year a group meets with the rather grand title of Western Area Transport Strategy Steering Group.  It's made up of representatives from Preston, Eaglescliffe, Yarm, Kirklevington, Long Newton and surrounding areas - elected ward councillors, parish councillors, police and residents' groups.  At the first meetings some years ago the participants were asked to set some priorities for travel and transport in the area.  Each year Stockton Council allocates a budget to it and the money can be spent on any projects which will help towards those priorities.  Perhaps not surprisingly, road safety and the movement of HGVs through Yarm and Eaglescliffe have been high on the list for years.
Tonight's meeting allocated almost £45k - some to studies in order to see what if anything can be done to improve safety on Yarm Rd and the A67, mostly in Eaglescliffe but also in Western Parishes ward and a little in Yarm; a look at Long Newton lane to see what can be done to try to keep it as safe as possible bearing in mind the increasing amount of traffic likely to flow along there when new housing is built in Eaglescliffe; consultation on and possible installation of traffic calming in Muirfield Rd; the possibility of closure of a little used and poorly maintained road in Kirklevington parish, and a contribution towards a major scheme to help pedestrian access to Levendale School in Yarm.
Unlike some areas of the borough our budget was adequate for our needs, so there was no haggling needed, no arguments over who should have what in their ward.  As always in the Western Area meetings party politics seem to be left at the door and people in the room are willing to listen carefully, share ideas and support schemes in parts of the area they don't know or have any personal interest in.  Long may it continue so!
We also made a little list of things that need to be looked at and tackled outside of this budget - Network Rail to paint a fence at Allen's West, Vehicle activated signs to be serviced or replaced as their useful life draws to a close, and a bollard to stop inconsiderate parking.
In the autumn we will reconvene and hear more detail of some of the schemes, progress reports and decisions that might have to be taken in the light of the work being done between now and then.
If only all meetings were as productive as that.