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Malcolm Robinson

Councillor Robinson - November 2017

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November 2017.

First of November and a mad rush from getting up.  I asked work if I could start and finish 30 minutes earlier because I have full council meetings at 3pm when they are on and finishing work at 2pm in Newcastle is cutting it pretty tight to get home, shower, change and get to Morpeth for the meeting.  They agreed so I was up at 5am for a 6.30am start.   Somehow and don’t ask I was 3 minutes late?

I rushed home got ready and was up at County Hall for 2.45pm.

I had two questions tabled for this meeting of full council and Bill had one too.

Mine were:

“First let me say how disappointed I was to read the about the actions we are taking with regard to the Arch investigation.  Not because of what has happened but because we as members were not informed prior to the press being informed.  

I don’t think that is correct procedure and I would have thought anything which might impact onto the reputation of this council should be given to members at least at the same time as a press release!

I am not asking for the full information to be relayed only the action being taken in our name!

My question therefore is, shouldn’t members be informed about such actions before any press release? “

And my second question was:

“One of the reasons I voted to withdraw the Core Strategy was that it lacked any real economic guidance, hopefully that will be addressed when we see the revised version!

The lack of a clearly defined business strategy for the County seems apparent unless we have one and its hiding somewhere?

My question is do we have a holistic business strategy for the County, if so where is it, if not is anyone working on one and who would fulfil that remit. “

 

The meeting as quite ill-tempered because as usual each of the main parties were trying to score political points off each other.  A less than edifying spectacle at the best of times but in full glare of the public even more so!

The business chair moved member’s questions to the end of the meeting for reasons quite plain to see.

After the normal precursory items and public questions we had two motions to consider.  Both presented by councillor Ledger, latterly vice chair of the council and chair of Arch.

First one, quite surreal, was asking of NCC would write to  the various Secretary of States, Chancellor, etc asking to make sure we get included in any UK structural funding post Brexit.

Seemed like a no brainer to me, isn’t that happening anyway, but what do I know?  An agreement and the motion passed and quite a few puzzled faces like mine were apparent.

His second one was about the Local Government Pension Scheme; I serve on the Panel for this so I know more than most about it.  Seems he doesn’t want the cost saving move we are working on to happen saying it will be detrimental for any face to face meetings members might want with the administrators.   That would seriously impact onto costs for members and the whole country is looking at mergers and pooling by way of reducing fees and overheads.  It was shown that what is being proposed is actually enhanced services for members and at much reduced costings so this motion as thrown out.

We then had various reports by cabinet members and then a decision about the way these meetings are structured.

At the last meeting we had over 20 questions by a single member and she took up over an hour asking them, mainly about her ward affairs?   This it was felt by the majority was appropriating member’s question time for her own political ends.  So the decision was agreed that members could ask a nominal 2 questions, this question time would be limited to 20 minutes at the start of the meeting and if more time was needed it would be added at the end of the meetings.  And a set time for submitting questions prior to the meetings.

I agreed just to move these full council meetings along better and stop the normal grandstanding by some.

We finally got to Member’s questions and Bill’s was first.  He asked about facilities in Bedlington or the lack of them and in her reply the cabinet member for Leisure services and Active Northumberland said there was only 12 members for the Bedlington Sporting Club at the High School!  Can’t see that maintaining its present offer if we don’t see new members, in a world of extreme pressure on budgets!

My questions were 4th and 5th.

The answer to the first came off the Cabinet member for Communications and he stated the Arch press release was not a NCC one!  In fact they had only been asked to corroborate the story, so someone else leaked this one.  Couldn’t argue with that so I then went onto my second question about a countywide business strategy which was taken by the Leader.      

He said he agreed with my take on the old Core Strategy as far a business went and they are pulling another one together which will include proper business guidance.  His anticipated delivery time was next year.   Still didn’t answer my question about who was doing it but they know I’m after whoever has the remit, first stop cabinet member for economic development.

We were then enthralled by another set of lengthy questions by the member who seems to set her sights on taking the floor for the maximum period.  This really presented itself when she completely lost the plot when asking one of her questions.  She had the book with them written down just read it out!  There was a lot of argy bargy during her stint!

The previous Leader of the Council, Councillor Davey, then asked a question and the reply astounded me never mind him and his cohorts.  He asked the present Leader to justify his comments about Councillor Davey’s conduct with regard to a particular incident involving a huge sum of money and a housing development at Ponteland.  The current Leader said he couldn’t because it was now part of an active investigation but he was still more than willing to show the opposition party the evidence!  Sharp intake of breath on that one!

We then ended up with another opposition member firstly bating the cabinet and chair and then shouting them down altogether.  My God anyone would think there is to be a leadership election in the Labour group, all the front runners made their voices heard at this full council meeting!

I have picked up a bad cold somewhere and have to take a bottle of water with me to any meetings I attend!  First one is a Pension Panel one and they usually go on for hours.

Armed with my bottle of water I took my place at this pension panel.  Firstly the head of pensions for NCC gave us a run through of what was going on, just in case someone had been asleep and missed it looking at one of the motions at the full council meeting!!!!!! I don’t even think the member knew he was being admonished!

Anyway there were several questions I needed to ask and I got full and explicit answers as normal.  No problems agreeing to all the advice we received and making decisions based on that advice.    We ended the meeting at lunchtime.

I nipped home had a cuppa and then it was back to County Hall for another meeting this time with the Head of Planning.  This was ostensibly about the Community Infrastructure Levy associated with the proposed 500 houses north of the Chesters.  Bill and Russ were there as well as were the lead planning officer and the countryside officer.  After some heated debate we agreed a way forward.  Whereas my ward and WBTC were not previously included in any Community Funding regarding this development we now are!  How on earth we weren’t going to be included when the development is actually taking place in my ward and the WBTC area I am at a loss to explain but after some harsh words we are!

I had other resident’s inspired business to ask the head of planning about so I stayed and went through that.  I also mentioned the fact that I was getting more and more concerned about the level of information members of the strategic planning committee, especially, are getting in the run up to making planning decisions.  He promised to look into it all.

Well no work this weekend instead my youngest son got married!  Congratulations to them both and a lovely service and day for us all.

Monday and my monthly surgery tonight.  I can hardly speak but I cried off the last one with toothache so I was determined to make this one even if I was on my deathbed or suffering with Man-Flu!

It took about 30 minutes extra for my surgery tonight because of the questions and concerns raised.  I now have several further areas to try and get to the bottom of and pass on residents’ concerns!

Tonight Strategic Planning and for once there doesn’t seem to be anything too contentious on the agenda.  That’s maybe my naivety of course!

Well it took nearly 2 hours to hear the two applications and neither was particularly contentious.

The first yet more housing for Amble.   I listened to the various presenters and the planning officer but I did have some questions of my own.  First the Town Council had suggested a much better access route from what I could see so I asked why this hadn’t been used?  Not our land came the reply.   Hmm pity, I could see exactly why the Town Council had suggested it because that would give an access road at the north and south of the sites.

My second question was about the obvious overdevelopment of Amble.  I have sat on this committee since the election and we have put through outline planning for nearly 1000 houses for a smallish place like Amble.  It’s going to be a Metropolis soon!    So I asked when enough was enough and the answer, basically there isn’t enough in planning terms!  If the various bodies, like education, health etc, say they can accommodate the housing population then overdevelopment doesn’t feature!  That’s quite a bleak thought given the performance I have witnessed form our education and health sector!

We were told about a proposed through road the developers were looking to put in which would alleviate town centre traffic and also passing traffic.  Many members and planners waxed lyrical about this proposed road and how it would benefit the Town but I stood up and said the only reason developers were looking to build this road was to make their houses more attractive to sell, simple, nothing more altruistic than that!   What I was concerned about was that it looked like the funding for this road would come out of the proposed community funding and that would be something I would not be in favour of.  Other members then questioned this too and the officer reluctantly agreed this was in fact the case!  So that comes back to us separately unless the developers want to fund it themselves out of their own monies!

 

The housing was passed unanimously and in my case because of a lack of objections to it.

Next up was the anaerobic digester for Lynemouth.    Sounded fine and looked OK on the old Alcan site but I did have a question about odours.  I asked if the officer was so convinced there would be no problem with odours that he hadn’t inserted any environmental conditions in the application.  He had difficulty understand what I was saying so another member explained.  He said environmental conditions could easily be attached and linked to the Environmental Agency to be jointly policed.  We insisted that happen!

Again the project was passed unanimously.

Just back from work and loads to get through.

I sent a question into the planners……..why is the local ward mentioned in the varyco’s for the 14 houses at the top of Netherton Lane listed as Longhorsley?  It should be Bedlington West!

I made more calls and sent some emails and I got a response straightaway.  Our Highways department phoned me to say the ‘Pot Holes’ I had identified for the new funding will be getting done in the next 6-12 weeks!  Great and the road I had mentioned down to Choppington has been judged bad enough to get resurfaced, one half next year the other half the year after.  Not the speediest of things but at least they are getting done!

I also sent a message to the Cabinet member for Environment and Local services asking him to put Netherton Lane into our winter gritting schedule.  I explained that we have changed the bus route into our local school and that means there are now over 15 busses using Netherton Lane to drop school children off every morning.  Not only that it’s a bus route in its own right now too.  He promised to look into it and get back to me.

I had my eldest granddaughter to get to the dentists today and then get home to write up something for the Town Council Meeting tonight.  The following was my update:

WBTC update:

“Jointly working with Chris on a 20 MPH speed restriction on B1331 past the schools.

I have also made enquiries about getting the ring road around Hazlemere 20 MPH after complaints off residents about excessive speeding.  Seems daft having a 20MPH on the main road and people whizzing around the estate at up to 60MPH!

I had some complaints about street lighting at my surgery and I used the opportunity to further them along with the historic list off the Town Council to the Director of Service who promised to look into them for us. 

Looking at the flooding problems around Westlea especially along the Cemetery, footpath and playing fields. 

Don’t seem to have schematics off WDC about all the drainage here, or lack of it? 

Looking to do something with the changing facilities at Westlea which hopefully might include some sort of youth provision. 

Previously you as a council and my ward in particular were not included in the S106 funding stream from the 500 houses north of the Chesters, if or when they get built.  Happily that has been resolved and we are now included, but it will be a long drawn out affair potentially up to 10 years!   

I am getting more and more concerned about a lack of full planning documentation certainly in the packs which accompany the Strategic Planning committee applications.  I have made the head of planning aware of my concerns! 

I took part in the countywide community chest decisions and please tell any groups about this one as well as the more localised Local Area Council one.  That’s the NCC Community Chest Scheme. 

I also raised the point about these LACs taking on much beefier agenda items and I hope you will see this month that’s exactly what’s happened.  

Nice to see the usual committed contingent from WBTC at these meetings, it doesn’t go unnoticed!” 

One thing which did puzzle me at tonight’s meeting was the updates off Russ and Bill? Seems Russ and Bill will run the Bedlington 18 gig but pay nothing into it and myself and Geoff use our smalls scheme and the two councils (EBPC and WBTC) pay up to fund it???????  Russ said they had better things to spend their funding on?  Well I might just have better things to support in my ward than your event guys!  One council is already imposing conditions and the other working on some!   Looks like a classic case of pulling defeat from the jaws of victory there boys!  What should have been an easy no brainer looks now to have turned into a right old headache!

Today the county council held its Remembrance Service.   I went up and took my place for the service.  I can’t get to the Bedlington one because of work but I can get to this one.  Very poignant and moving it was too.

I came home grabbed a cuppa and then it was back to County hall for a meeting with our Comms team.  They wanted me to do a video promoting our LACs and highlighting the fact that there is a now a Facebook page for them too.   Not the best of ideas with a heavy cold but we had put it off for a week already so it had to be done.  That done and after quite a long chat with the Comms team I then returned a call off one of our officers.

This was about the flooding problem around the Westlea Cemetery.  I have told our officers I would like to look at curing the flooding problem in the cemetery and in so doing get the pitch and footpath drained properly too.  I spoke to our flooding expert and we are meeting up for a site visit next week.

Like many people in Bedlington I’m getting a bit concerned about the lack of information reading the Marketplace Development, so much so I asked the Chair of Arch for a meeting to update us.  Like it or not the future of our Town is now inextricably linked with Arch as a development company and seeing the Chief Executive and Director of Finance both suspended pending investigation does not inspire confidence!  We really need to be driving this development forward as much as possible and ASAP if it is to happen!  Thankfully the Chair agreed with my arguments and a meeting is being arranged.  One slightly brighter note is that the Arch representative has asked for a slight delay because they are busy getting even more signatures and letting the ink dry out on contracts regarding the Bedlington redevelopment.  Lots going on and all sounds very positive, fingers crossed!

I couldn’t make it to the Bedlington Remembrance Sunday service but I had asked to pay for a wreath myself and then asked two of our young people to deputise for me.  Again a huge turnout for this solemn act of respect.  I would like to thank the two lads who laid my wreath, Callum Appleby and John Strasenburgh, sterling work and very respectfully done by all accounts.  You have done yourselves, family and school proud lads!

I have just been forwarded the numbers concerning the small road improvement scheme or Pot Hole Fund.  Out of the 12 councillors 5 put in their (up to 3) suggestions and there are to be 13 approved schemes.  Not sure why all of us didn’t apply, still getting the roads fixed in my ward is my priority and there will be another bite at this cherry because of the underspend, which I of course welcome!

Had a bit of an easy week this week with only a single meeting.  Looks like that’s going to be made up for next week when I have at least one meeting a day and in one case three!

Well might not have had meetings to go to but plenty of intrigue!

NCC issued its councillors a notice which told us about Arch being scrapped and why.  I immediately asked if I could make this public but the secretary didn’t know.  I sent her a message later saying it didn’t matter the Chronicle had published most of it!  Well at least someone listened and members did get slightly advanced warning of this press release!

Course we now have everyone pronouncing their particular take on the news, everything from the Bedlington regeneration project scrapped to every Arch employee out of their jobs.  It’s all in the press release in reality, its business as usual for most of the company and the company will get a new name and focus.

By far the most interesting bits for my money are the following sentences:

“In an email to members, the board said the review had uncovered “failings in relation to the operating principles and fundamental purpose of Arch”.

It added that “financial probity” had not been at the level required and that decision-making had been “inconsistent”.

Some big adjectives and nouns there, mostly nebulous, and I will be asking questions about their meaning!

Another matter popped up and took me by surprise recently.  Seems there has been a falling out between the various football club managements and the one which they are supposed to operate under.  I have been asked to help one out and I will.  I have brokered a meeting between them and a local community group to see if we can get them to use a green space the community group have registered for community usage.  Fingers crossed it would seem to tick a few boxes that one.

Took a call off the NCC Business Chair asking if I would chair the LAC on Wednesday.  I said of course I am the vice chair but asking about why Christine couldn’t chair it I was told she had been taken to hospital.  I sent my best wishes.

Wednesday and after coming home from work I showered, changed and then went over to Cramlington for the LAC.  There had been quite a few apologies talked about so I read the terms of the meeting quite closely, good job I did!  If there had been a normal turn out of public but a less than ample turn out of councillors I would have mentioned it but as it happened only about 4 apologies were entered.  One member has consistently failed to attend and only came to one planning meeting to talk about his supposed support of residents for which he got a round of applause.  Unbelievable!

Anyway we had a lead petitioner and I knew all about the reasons behind this one so I spoke to the lady and asked if she wanted to be on first so she didn’t have to stay for the whole meeting.  She agreed so I opened the meeting and put agenda item 5 to the front.  This was a petition for traffic measures on a stretch of road in Bedlington which has recently seen this lady’s daughter involved in a fatal crash.

Obviously very emotive and we all wanted to help, some wanted to help directly and some wanted to use the situation to further their own concerns.  I think we had the right balance at the end.

After the lady left we returned to the business of the night.  We had a very good smattering of big shots at this meeting with the Ceo of NCC, Business Chair, Environmental Services manager, Highways manager, Technical manager, cabinet member for environmental services, Deputy Leader, vice business chair.  I called on most to answer questions directly!

Public questions and as far as I am concerned if we want to engage with the public we must give them a stake in the meetings so I allowed them as many questions as they wanted to ask. I was to pay for that later!   Anyway a lively exchange as normal which I had to curtail when it started to become a debate instead of a question time.

Onto the meeting and several items of interest none more so than a presentation about the Ashington/Blyth /Tyne railway line.  Looks like we now have a timetable counting down to 2022 at the latest for the introduction of passenger trains, if we can reduce the £200M costs that is.

Meeting closed about 8pm.

Today I had a Corporate Scrutiny Group meeting and it was in the Chairman’s dining room.  As I walked in the business Chair shouted for me so I went to his office and asked what he wanted.  I had been working all morning with Democratic Services to get the Bedlington update on our Town Centre retail development heard in Bedlington.  It was down to be talked about in Seaton Valley, not the best of ideas!  Anyway the business chair started to admonish me for the way I handled the LAC, specifically the amount of time I gave the public.  That soon became an extremely heated two way street!  I think the best thing to say is that we agreed to disagree on this point!    I also took the chance to get his backing to move the Bedlington update and as luck would have it the deputy Leader was there and he backed my idea.  So with that move firmly on the cards I went into the scrutiny meeting.

Two of the items on the agenda had me perplexed.  We went through the meeting and got to the ones which intrigued me.  One was for a loan to an animal charity and the other a loan to a swimming pool.  We went through the applications and they were both unanimously supported.  Personally I would rather use our financial backing to back genuine community projects like these rather than give money to a group to buy an outdated shopping centre!  I was one of two members who cross examined the business cases pretty thoroughly and they both seem worthwhile and securely backed.

This does beg the question however, what the hell were our last councillors doing  because we saw PAWS in Bedlington having to close and the small pool at St Bennies close because of the need for some cash!  Almost identical projects and for the sake of pretty small cash injections (compared to what we had just agreed) they could both still be open to the Bedlington public!  I despair!

When I left I was again shouted on and had to go in to see the business chair.  This time the Bedlington update was the main reason and it seems Democratic Services had some new information after speaking to one of the main presenters.  Again after some further discussion about several topics I left the business chair and went to see Democratic services.  Seems the Dec meeting which we can have in Bedlington is still a bit soon for a full update so back to the Jan one at Seaton Valley.   That’s no good so we settled to hold the Feb meeting in Bedlington and having this update and the Local Transport Plan as the only real agenda items.

Well I got my way and we now have the Bedlington update in Bedlington but it cost me a month so February instead of January.  As it happens we have been told there will be even more information available then so maybe not such a bad thing.

I have been asked about the Core Strategy time and again so here are my views.

The Core Strategy came out of the Local Development Framework or LDF, and to my mind is a legal gentleman’s agreement.   That is to say it identifies policies and strategies for NCC but in reality these could still be challenged by those wanting to, for instance a developer.  If the Core strategy said we only wanted housing in areas A, B, C and D but not in X and Y but a developer wanted to build in X then they could challenge the decision right up to the Secretary of State.  And how many times have we seen that being applied successfully by developers, more often than not!  It would be in any developer’s advantage to work within it of course because of the extras a body such as NCC can add to the mix, such as schools, roads, leisure etc…all of which makes selling their houses that much easier!

All this bandying around of pointing the finger saying we now have an open season for ruthless developers, well the plain fact is that there was never a Core Strategy in place, it was a collection of documents which the Government was going to sift through and see if it stood their examination before it came back to NCC for proper adoption as a policy.   The papers had only just been sent off to London!

Fact is that neither the Lib Dem administration, who started it, nor the Labour administration who are mendaciously pointing fingers about it brought it in under their watch, 8 years in total.    Therefore all this absolutely terrible free rein which has somehow been given to developers was already freely available to them over the past 8 years!

What has happened is that Labour wanted to close the door after the horse had bolted but the Conservatives want to put extra locks on!   The real point is that the horse is out there as it has been for years!

Not only do I agree we should have extra locks on we should have a much better door and barn too!

Well good meeting with the football club Chairman and the community group.  Hope that gets resolved pretty soon.

Still no meeting with the flood officer, that’s a phone call tomorrow.

Just heard Netherton Lane won’t be classed as a primary route for gritting but it will be classed as a secondary route.

Had an initial meeting with an architect with reference to getting something done with the abysmal changing facilities at the Westlea pitches.  Trying to squeeze in some sort of youth facility too.

Almost weekly contact with our planning department and enforcement these days.

Two of my pot hole suggestions have already been done and the other is getting a complete resurface.  Now looking for others to list.

 

As my December update will not be due until January can I wish everyone reading these pages a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


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