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Malcolm Robinson

Councillor Robinson - May 2019

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May 2019.

 

Once again May is a bit different to the other months and this one especially so with all the elections and purdah.  For anyone who doesn’t know about purdah….” The term ‘purdah‘ has come into popular use across central and local government to describe the period of time immediately before elections or referendums when specific restrictions on communications activity are in place.”  So I have been under some restrictions with my diary and when and how it has been published.

 

I think a brief overview of the major items of business going on over the last year, as I have done previously, is the best way forward.

 

I will preface this with the fact that I have been contacted by more and more residents with their concerns and questions and they are naturally confidential but I welcome the fact that people seem to have a renewed faith in contacting their elected representatives and asking for assistance.

 

This time last year we saw Arch transform into Advance Northumberland with a much stricter local remit.  Regeneration and investment has been curtailed so its directed at Northumberland only instead of seeing investment made into other councils and county areas.  Lots of issues with Arch which have been well documented in the media so I won’t go into specifics but I do feel that to regain the public trust we have to see a full and independent investigation carried out as a minimum.

 

We can now see the full council meetings in “glorious Technicolor” live as they happen on the NCC YouTube account.  While I welcome this step forward in transparency I do still have reservations about the nature of these full council meetings.  I have just been informed some committee meetings will be recorded now too and I have one next week which is one of the first to be recorded to see how it goes.   If nothing else I will bet we see members turn up who don’t usually or who very rarely do!

 

Work has been going on all year putting together a new Local Plan or Local Development Framework, as it was originally named.  I have said the last one which took about 8 years to bring together was just a carte blanche for housing developers.  It contained estimates for over 26,000 new houses with no associated infrastructure provision.  The new one, which has taken just over 1 year to put together, links all sorts of things to house building and has estimates of about 17,000 new homes.  Having worked on the committee which helped put this together, although in truth it was hard work by dedicated officers which has seen it produced, I can say incorporating most of the ancillary infrastructure needed is the way to go.  It isn’t a cure all but at least it starts to link policies and projects NCC now have in place.  This new version was listed to be finished and sent off to central government for inspection yesterday!  If it gets agreement then it will underpin our planning strategy in the short to medium term.

 

The new North of Tyne Mayoral authority was discussed and given cross party support.   Initially this was to be the 7 local authorities but that had been reduced to 3 because the others refused to sign up to a publicly voted in Mayor acting as chair.  We have now seen the election held and the new Mayor installed.   What struck me throughout the campaign was the suggestions by the candidates about how they intended spending the money government is providing.  This wasn’t part of any deal when we debated backing the creation and I will be asking questions about it!  It was supposed to be about job creation and raising educational achievement, using the funding as seed funding to lever in even more.  As far as I understood it wasn’t supposed to be used for any pet projects for whoever got elected.  I’m not even sure it can be given that it should be overseen by a committee of elected members from the 3 areas.

 

We started the work to enable a new play park and other park upgrades in Plessey Woods about a year ago.  We worked on an outline and then sent out tenders for the work.  I specifically asked the companies who tendered for the new park equipment to look at the site and see what they might recommend, given that I wanted exciting and innovative play equipment suitable for a good range of children, including disabled children.   I think we had 16 tenders to go through and score then see which 3 came top.  Again another session to examine the 3 in fine detail and at last we chose one.  Once that went out we had meetings with the company chosen and I pressed for some tweaks so the new equipment would be exciting to all age ranges.  We had a target completion date set for Easter 2019 and it did open on Good Friday 2019.  It looks like a great success with a huge swell of visitors to the park these days.  More to come with a bit of luck!

 

 

I couldn’t not mention our Town centre redevelopment and having called it a staccato development at the recent presentation I now see it being likened to Brexit!  For me the whole thing was badly judged at inception with at first housing which was then  squashed in favour of a wholesale retail development.  The way that was underwritten led to a whole raft of problems as work progressed to bring the scheme forward.  Unlike other developments all the proposed units had to be prelet to retailers and given the changes happening to our high streets up and down the land this was always destined to be hard work!

We have at least seen the preparatory work done after a main contractor was appointed.  Again unlike any other development there has followed a period of inactivity on the site and even though there is a considerable amount of pressure to get this development back on track I think there is only one way to get it across the line now!  On top of all the evidence of a change in shopping patterns up and down every high street in the country we really need to be innovative and imaginative with ours to make it as attractive as possible to as many folks as possible in an effort to make it sustainable.

 

I will mention the initiative to get the Blyth and Tyne line reopened for passengers.  Again this seems to have been a perennial promise by one administration and council after another.  Having been invited onto a specially sponsored train to travel the line from Morpeth to Blyth, stopping off at the old Bedlington station platform where I had the opportunity to shake hands with the Transport Minister and along with Russ and Bill press the case for the line reopening, I have to say the message coming from the Minister was pretty encouraging!  He took all of our concerns and suggestions on board even saying this was possibly the easiest of the national closed lines which were being looked at to get reopened!  It will take a considerable amount of funding but with NCC agreeing the seed funding and it now being a commitment by the new North of Tyne Authority to bring it about, I think we have the best chance in decades to see passengers on the line in 2022 as has been suggested.

I think we have to think about this not only in terms of people being able to travel outwards more easily, but also the fact that it will encourage people to come in and actually visit Bedlington.  This can only have a positive effect on infrastructure at the Station and the immediate surrounding area but also once we get our town centre redevelopment done it could encourage people to visit that too.  The over rider is of course, as I have suggested, we have to make our Town Centre redevelopment innovative, successful and fit for the 21st century and so entice added footfall.

 

Just to close there are now several new initiatives aimed at getting Bedlington the upgrades it has desperately needed for many years and as these are publicised I have no doubt the vast majority of people will see the work which has been going on over the last couple of years to get the needs of Bedlington up the pecking order within the county.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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