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Malcolm Robinson

Councillor Robinson - July 2018

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July 2018.


2nd of July and straight into the thick of it again.  Full council had been changed and was now on today.  Plenty of things to go through on the agenda plus two questions I had submitted.



The first one was pretty straightforward with the portfolio holder promising to get me and the other members the contact details for the right people within the various social landlord businesses, especially the largest ones.

My second question wasn’t so accommodating.  This was the one about the safe drive in’s and drop offs at new schools and having been told there was one included in the new school we at the strategic planning had passed for Loansdean then on further inspection been told we were not allowed to have them,  I was somewhat mystified.  Well after asking my question the portfolio holder told me on one hand there was such a facility in this new school and in the next breath told me why they couldn’t be included?  So when asked if I had a supplementary question my only response was that my original question stood.  Clear as mud!

I also question the Leader about the £20M a year we have been promised as part of the Devolution Deal.  It was £30M a year as far as I understood?  He assured me no it was £20M.  I have since looked back and both the BBC and ITV reported it originally as a £30M a year deal.  I can only assume it changed when the 7 members became 3!

Next day it was back up to county hall, first for the community chest panel, which I chair, and then later for a strategic planning meeting.

I had been around most of the community groups in my area telling them to apply for the NCC community chest funding and out of 8 applications 6 were from my area!   We had just started when the fire alarm went off and everyone had to leave the building.  After 40 minutes waiting outside we decided to hold the meeting somewhat apart from everyone else but under the shade of the trees.  Couple of problems with two applications but nothing that couldn’t be straightened out.  Still feel troubled by the lack of applications and we still have quite a wedge to award out at our last session in September!

Next came the planning meeting and yet more houses on the lists.  The Alnwick Gardens came up and while I fully supported the project I did ask if better and two way signage could be introduced to show visitors where the Town centre was so those traders might get a lift.   I also questioned the business plan which sees the need to turn the attractions into 2 days stays yet only allows for 3 hr parking?   I had also made the case for using this to boost our demand for road improvements on the main A1.

Another application came through for houses in Amble and in rounding up the application just before the vote I said out of the 1300 houses I have had to give outline planning to in Amble this scheme looked the most needed and sustainable.  It has a mixture of 1 and 2 bedroom houses, is adjacent to a modern estate, is getting new bus stops etc and the ‘developer’ is a social enterprise,  so a not for profit group!

Next up came a site visit for the planning side of our LAC.  This was at a stables in Seaton Valley.  Really pleased I checked Google maps before I set off.    Only 4 of us turned up, myself, Russ, Bill and Christine the chair of the LAC.  Once again the 3 Bedlington councillors turned up to discharge their duty yet none from the immediate vicinity!

We were taken around and shown the application then it was a very quick dash up to County Hall for the Economic Strategy presentation.

Again I was shocked to see only one opposition member had turned up for what is really one of the most fundamental and important policies we as a county council have to put together.

The meeting was led by our Economic Strategy officer and there was a good smattering of cabinet members present as well as the Leader and Business Chair.  I listened to the proposed changes to our strategy which are being introduced and got the chance to ask questions.  I asked what was the definition of these much heralded “better jobs” which we seem to be chasing.    I questioned whether it was just down to salary because job satisfaction must have to play a part and some people will feel they have great jobs but not necessarily the highest paid ones.  That point was conceded.

My second question related to two points in the presentation, one about our area not being a high wage earning area and another about affordable housing.  Again I stated this affordable term we are using for housing is in no way accurate, in reality it only means less expensive!  I said until we relate local salaries into the affordable nature of our housing then we are doing our people a disservice.  I also related the question directly at the Leader saying that if and when we start our social house building programme we have to make it really affordable, and that would be the dictionary definition,  in terms of sales and rent for our indigenous young people.

My third point was about job creation and it was nice to hear an officer repeat almost word for word what I had said to her previously about the potential our smallest business have in terms of job creation if we can get them to develop to their potential.  I said I thought we should start to look at this aging population which we as a county have going on and is forecast to grow even more so in the future.  Maybe there are lots of retired people who still want to do something and could well be interested in starting or restarting businesses if we went out and asked?  That raised some eyebrows.

I had already pressed the point that real sustainable regeneration doesn’t happen because someone wants it to happen in a certain area.  It’s about time we realised that and looked at the natural assets each area has which can be exploited to everyone’s benefit instead of seeing the same places get one regeneration package after another, most of which are destined to fail because the simple lessons haven’t been learnt!

At the end of the presentation I spoke to the officer at length about these community partnerships which are a central plank in the new policy.  I pressed him about how open the authority would be if places came together and presented viable business plans.  He said he knew exactly what I was saying and any area would get a full and fair hearing.

In my view this is the best chance Bedlington has to see a successor to the Market Place regeneration currently in place.  It is certainly something I will be pushing for.

This week is the LAC and I have several unanswered questions relating to the last LAC!

The LAC once again took place At Netherton Social Club and even getting their early there were no parking places left!  I had a feeling all these cars were there for one thing!

The planning meeting commenced at 4.30pm as advertised and there were two items which needed to be addressed.

The first one was the retrospective permission for the stables and there was plenty of opposition.  For my part I listened to all the arguments but most were not planning matters so I had to discount those.  The legitimate ones were answered by the officers and we then had it to decide.  I proposed acceptance, seeing as no one else was going to risk the wrath of the audience, and this was duly seconded by another member.  That meant I had to sum up and doing so countered most if not all of the weak planning arguments which had been presented.  The vote came next and it was passed by a majority, with some members voting with their hearts not their heads!

The second and even more contentious application came next.  This concerned a small parcel of land which the owner wanted to turn into caravan storage.  This had actually come to us last year and we had turned it down for two reasons, one overdevelopment of the land and two the impact it might have on the road infrastructure where it was.  In my opinion the owner had addressed both issues in this current application.  I still thought it a bad idea but couldn’t see any planning reasons to turn it down and I said so.  I was certainly not the most popular person in the room then!

The vote came and again it was turned down by all the other members, in my case I abstained saying I didn’t like it but couldn’t find legitimate reasons to actually vote it down.  I think the owner has been given a gold plated appeal and I would expect to see caravans on there before a year is out.  Of course everyone else thought it was a great decision but the wry smile I got off our planners told me differently!

One thing was did strike me was the bare faced playing to the audience done by a couple of members.  Now I know it’s hard not to address the audience but we are just supposed to address the committee.  Watching members quite openly fawn over and almost flatter the audience was a bit queasy and I know how the planners must have felt.

After the planning was over and about 80 people trouped out we had our normal LAC.

I was very happy to give out presentation plaques again on behalf of the LAC Community Chest.  Groups were there to receive them and there are more to come!

The main meeting started and several questions from the audience.  Some were answered, one or two deemed to have already been answered.

The main part of the meeting was to receive an update about the Local Plan.   We were taken through various aspects and all my questions were answered, as were others.  I was particularly happy to hear my view that ‘Bedlington was now full of new house builds’ was generally agreed with by officers.  I also asked about house design.  One being some sort of Northumbrian vernacular and the other forcing new houses to be of better standards as far as future proofing and basic stuff like insulation went.  Again they were generally accepted.

The meeting closed about 7.45pm and I had to run to catch another community one.

This week all members were invited to a presentation about Devolution.  I went up to County Hall to take part and again mainly cabinet members and admin councillors.  Again one opposition member and another independent from the West of the county.  One Conservative councillor came in and sat down next to me jokingly saying he didn’t mind sitting next to the troublemaker.  I said I consider that a badge of honour given that it was mainly cabinet members!

So we were taken through the presentation and I have to say while I still do support the intent some of the detail is far from worked out.  Well according to some of the answers I got back anyway.  At least I was able to get a better understanding about how this will work and the functions it will contain.   I even suggested making Bedlington the central plank in the economic policy for commercial development and job creation.   I also spoke about the potential Cambois and North Blyth offer in terms of river usage and developing the potential of the Enterprise Zone.  My only reservation was that if the Tripartite authority are looking to expand port facilities will Newcastle and North Tyneside somehow out vote us arguing for investments for the River Blyth.  I was assured no because our offer is vastly different from theirs.   I honestly hope that is the case.

I do think this is something which we might exploit and I will be thinking up ways to put in some suggestions regarding future develop and investment into Bedlington.

I went up to the Local Plan presentation held in Bedlington and was slightly bemused when the officer told me the two main topics which people had been asking about.  One was the possible Golf Club development and the other the Town Centre regeneration project.  I said one I didn’t know anything about because I have kept my distance as I sit on a planning committee and the other I hadn’t heard anything untoward or anything which had been changed.   I was surprised when I was told the detailed planning would go in by September with a start date of January next year.   That’s wasn’t something I understood to be happening but before I could get the answers off the people who would have them, I needed I had to get over the weekend at work.

Unsurprisingly social media here is alight with claims and counter claims for each of those subjects and whilst I can’t get involved with one I can certainly get involved with the other!

After the weekend I made some calls and had some meetings lined up to check out what exactly was going on with our Town Centre regeneration.  I was assured it was proceeding as planned and that whilst an act of God couldn’t be foreseen everything being equal we will see work start very soon.  I explained why I was concerned, and a lot of people in the Town too and there doesn’t seem any rhyme or reason for the planners to have told people there was a long delay?  That’s being checked out.

I am of the opinion that it’s still a sound goer and whilst there are several reserved matters to be attended to which may incur a slight delay, it will certainly not be months and months.

I do have to say I find it a bit strange when people are questioning the exact day, hour and second this development will commence when for the last 50 years we have had nothing like it for the Town.  It’s almost like Schadenfreude to some and even though they might have a political reason not to want this to happen surly supporting it for the greater good is the right thing to do?

I completely understand why people are hesitant and some even doubting Thomas’s because we have been ‘misled’ for so many years in the past but I hope when this does start and people can see real action they get behind it en masses and prove Bedlington can have a successful development of this type.

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