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Malcolm Robinson

Councillor Robinson - June 2018

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June2018.

 

First meeting this month was strategic planning.  Just before the meeting we had an update off a previous applicant and this was to be held in confidence.

When the meeting took place the chair lifted the confidential nature off the presentation and we listened to the director of the company explain the revised thinking which will go into his future planning application.

This was about the waste recycling plant along Barrington Road and in the original application extended operating time permission was one of the specifics asked for.  My only reservation at that time had been the fact that in my view skip wagons and large container vans were not a good mix with the likes of children on the small ancillary roads leading to the industrial estate.  I was concerned that in the darker winter months a 10pm operating time meant that these wagons would be using the same roads as children and whilst this sort of traffic could be expected during the day it wasn’t something which young children would necessarily expect at night.  Also the fact that pick-ups at that time could very well be in residential areas and again there was a safety aspect to consider.

The director went on to say they were dropping the extended operating time for the wagons and he had invited all the residents who had complained about the application and shown them the revised plan and all were now quite happy.

When we were allowed to speak I thanked the director for taking on board the sentiments we expressed at the planning meeting because even though the application was turned down we did ask for the planning department to try and reach a compromise and bring it back.  I also thanked him for safeguarding the jobs there and adding several more new ones!  I said I would welcome his further revised application.

One sad bit to note was that he has talked about an almost £5M investment which had gone into their Chester-Le-Street and when we asked if that had gone down there because of our initial refusal he said it had.

So a very salient point to note, these committee meetings quite often do have repercussions and sometimes not in the way we might hope for!

The planning meeting started almost immediately and there were several applications to consider.  One or two were head scratchers especially the one with revised house numbers in the middle of an industrial estate after we turned it down last year saying no housing on industrial land!

One application had us all in agreement, that being the new school build on the old fire station site opposite county hall.  I did have concerns, not with the actual school but the vehicular access or rather lack of.

I asked the officer why there wasn’t a drive in and drop off point for the children, one which could see traffic disruption minimised on the adjacent main road, a main road beset with traffic jams already.  I started to get on my high horse a bit saying here we are building a new school from scratch and we don’t seem to have learnt any lessons about traffic issues.

My sails were deflated when the officer said there was a designed drive in and drop off point included in the plans.  I said I could only apologise for going on about it and not seeing it was in fact included in the plans, but I would check again.  Everyone had a good laugh at my expense but that’s just normal banter!  One other member spoke up and said he didn’t see it either!

After the meeting I had another look through the application and still I couldn’t see this feature so I stopped the officer in his tracks before he left the chamber and asked him to show me where it was.  After some shuffling of papers he said there wasn’t one as such but there was a car park!  He went on to tell me NCC actually has a policy banning such drive ins in case it might look like we condone parents taking their children to school in private cars.

Well that’s not the answer I got in the middle of the meeting so I sent a mail around all the members who were in attendance telling them the real position.  I said I wasn’t complaining but they might understand my future conduct if an officer tries to mislead me!  I also said I would be raising what looks like a daft policy decision NCC currently have regarding school traffic.

I have since listed it for discussion at the next full council meeting.  Why not build in a practical and safe route and drop off and pick up point into all of our new schools?  We can still asked parents to think about the ramifications but it looks to me like we are pushing water uphill.  We can surly do better when planning new schools.

 

One of the cancelled meetings I had was relisted for this week.  This one was the corporate scrutiny committee with one thing really on the agenda, Arch.  In fact it was the recommendation to move all the holdings of Arch into a new company, Advance Northumberland, and rejig its remit so it was solely concerned with Northumberland matters.

There were at least two cabinet members there to present to us and the Leader of the opposition was there in a none contributory role taking notes as was the ex-business chair.  The deputy leader and ex chair of Arch had been replaced with another member from his political party.

As soon as the presentation was over the vice chair started reading out her questions and making some serious allegations.  She was reminded that we were not in parliament and had no parliamentary privilege and was asked to withdraw her allegations.  After some huffing and puffing she did.  When I was able to ask my questions I contained myself to the presentation and the agenda we had been sent out.

We had heard about serious threats and exposure currently held by Arch so I asked if adequate risk assessments had been carried out and if these risks had in any way been mitigated seeing as we were taking about bringing the company closer into the council’s realm.  My answers came not just off the cabinet members but also the chief executive.    The reality was that yes risks had been mitigated as best they could and some had to be quarantined but many were inherent in the business model adopted by Arch.  In other wards extremely poor governance.  This was starting to sound like the Active Northumberland debacle on steroids!

My second question was about business development both commercial and in some cases social.  I asked if any area came forward with a viable business plan would they get a fair hearing for once or like as has always been are there only designated areas going to see investment.  I was assured that all areas would be treated the same.  I said that’s good then we might see the natural assets all of our areas have exploited for maximum benefit instead of the usual artificial regeneration imposed on favoured areas.

My last question was about the scrutiny which had been so lacking during the course of Arch.  It was stated real and additional scrutiny would be introduced for the new company and I wanted to know a bit more about that.  I said mixing policy and scrutiny with business decisions had got us into this mess and clear lines and understanding was needed.

The vote in favour of allowing transferring the Arch business into the new company was taken and agreed with only three of the labour members against and one other abstaining.

 

At the moment I have several constituents with specific housing problems.  These have taken quite a bit of my time recently but that’s what I said I would do when I stood.  Just heard that one has been resolved and I’m really pleased with the result.  I’m waiting to hear if another had had the result she needed.

After some consideration I have submitted two questions for the next full council meeting next month, one about planning and the other social landlords.

Here are the questions verbatim:

Question 1 from Councillor M. Robinson to Councillor Riddle.

“I have been getting a lot of contact from my constituents about their housing needs and concerns.  I know it’s not really something we as a council have control over because the vast majority of the properties in question in my ward belong to a separate social landlord. Irrespective of how many times I say it, the perception out there is that they are still council houses.   I believe these social landlords still carry a social responsibility but sometimes it’s not the easiest thing getting them to accept that fact.

After many attempts to try and get to the right person to deal with my issues and in a lot of cases not really getting past the front desk, my question is can we not have someone within our housing department who can be a liaison point for all members in their initial interactions with social landlords?  They should hold direct contact details with the people who are tasked to oversee these problems within their respective organisation. “

 

 

Question 2 from Councillor M. Robinson to Councillor Riddle.

“During a recent Strategic Planning meeting we heard the application for the new school which is to be built over there.  Every member was supportive and just about as passionate as the head teacher obviously was.  My only concern was the traffic issue, specifically the lack of a drive in, drop off in safety and drive out again facility.  One which in my view should keep traffic flowing and take out any need for parents to stop on the main road to decant their children.

I have exactly those sorts of problems in and around my ward and I bet most members do, but here we are building a new school from scratch and in that context I think a bit more thought should be applied to alleviate these problems. I was initially informed this was the case and this had been factored in.  On later investigation, I found this wasn’t the case and the Council actually has a policy forbidding them.

The reason we have this policy is so we don’t seem to be condoning parents taking their children to school in private vehicles. The reality is that many parents do take their children to school in their own cars, and that’s causing havoc in and around schools at start and finish times.

My position is that instead of waging some sort of subliminal war where we don’t do something in case it looks like we condone it, shouldn’t we be practically managing the issue in real time, certainly as far as new builds are concerned?  My question therefore is can we revisit the policy currently in place which forbids us, at a planning stage, from looking at practical and reasonable solutions to this problem?”

Well next up was a Local Government Pension Scheme Panel meeting.  Again a great voluminous pile of paperwork came out with the agenda, most of it on pink papers which are strictly confidential.  It took several days to wade through these reports and in reality there were only a few resulting questions.   The meeting started at 9.30am and I met the chair beforehand when he informed me only he and I had turned up out of all the committee members.  That meant we were not quorate but one other member had said he would be a bit late so we contended ourselves doing some necessary committee housework until our other member turned up.  So the Conservative chair had to rely on two independent councillors to hold quite an important meeting.  Might make anyone consider commitment right there!

Anyway we had a morning presentation and an afternoon one.   After the presenters had left we held our decision making bit of the meeting and one item in particular interested me.  I told them they knew my position as I have said for the last 6 months I would prefer to bank some of the incredible gains we had seen recently so taking a more guarded approach and trying to insulate some of the portfolio from a potential market readjustment would get my vote.  This time it was agreed as a sub strategy!  Given everything I have seen and heard about, that is a very sensible option……at last!  I also asked about mortality rates given there is something of a spread throughout our county.

Heck of a busy end to this week and into next week with 6 meetings, full council and my surgery in the next 5 days!

Last meeting of this month and it was a strategic site visit, first to Alnwick Gardens then onto Amble. The planning meeting is next week so this will be fresh in our minds.

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