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Malcolm Robinson

Councillor Robinson - July 2019

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This month my surgery was on Monday the 1st and as usual plenty of questions to get answers to.

 

Next day I had to be at county hall before 9.30am to get a small coach for this site visit to Kirkwhelpington.  I think only one member of our strategic planning committee did not show so most of us got to see the spectacular scenery the rural part of our county has to offer.  Getting up to where this monument was proposed to go was quite something as we had to stop and inch past tractors quite a few times.  Eventually we stopped beside Tit Hill where this was being proposed for the top of.  A few protesters lined the route with their placards but we were told not to speak to them under any circumstances because this was a delegated planning site visit under strict regulations.  Didn’t stop a couple of members engaging with the protesters and the chair had to call them back in!   Once we had a good look at the proposed site from this vantage point we had another two to get to and look from.  It was difficult to imagine what this monument would look like imposed on the landscape but the planners had done some mock up pictures with it superimposed.  I have to say this site visit did give extra gravitas to the proposal.  We made it back just after lunch and I nipped home for a cuppa then back up to County Hall for a meeting at 3pm, this time for one of my pet projects!

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Once we had conducted that business it was about time for the strategic planning meeting at 4pm.  Again we heard off our planning head, residents, councillors and the applicants agents each with their own version of what should be done.  After many questions a proposal was made to reject this application and this time it succeeded.  It was gratifying to hear the reason put forward for refusal was exactly the reason I had stated at the last meeting about this, namely there was merit in the idea but not at this location!  This time I had done the background and listed chapter and verse within the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) why I thought refusal was the correct outcome.  I could see the head of planning nodding at my assertions.

Again I was left wondering if some members were just playing to the audience as one even stopped to get a round of applause!  Never mind I think the right result was reached.

 

I was supposed to have a meeting with our local services manager today but something cropped up at the last minute and he couldn’t make it.  I would like to see him sooner rather than later so I can progress residents requests.

 

Had a Corporate Scrutiny meeting this morning but I had to declare an interest in one agenda item, that being a revised governance of Advance Northumberland.  Getting the relationship correct with NCC is vital in making progress on the new internal governance within the group.  We also heard about the current position regarding NCC debt with regard to council tax and business rate payers etc.  Next came a report about the new road which is being proposed for Blyth and finally a last minute addition, a report about a new countrywide lottery.  Plenty of questions all of which got answered!

 

Had the afternoon meeting cancelled because of an accident.  It needs to be back on sooner rather than later because it’s about additional Bedlington investment!

 

Today, along with Bill and Russ, I had a meeting with the Leader and some of the other senior NCC  cabinet members.  We have all been pressing not just for more investment into Bedlington but also having some of our basic social  needs addressed properly.  It was a very businesslike meeting and there are some, what look like, halfway decent results.  I did make the point that we have heard plenty of rhetoric from the Administration it was now time for action!

Once that was over I had to run to my next meeting because I had to chair it.  This one was the LAC Community Chest and we had to go through several applications. I would urge everyone who applies to actuality read through the guidance because we had to take some of the applied funding out and dismiss one or two entirely because they clearly breached our guidelines for funding and that’s something we all hate to have to do!   That done I thanked the members who made the time to turn up and closed the meeting.

 

I had an extra LGPS Panel meeting this afternoon and I expected it would be quite a short meeting.  As usual it didn’t turn out that way because there were so many interconnected things to consider and we were making  a fundamental change to our strategic asset planning.  Again I did make the point that we are in the middle of a pooling restructure, considering a merger, implementing a strategic review and considering an asset reallocation, each one worthy of very careful consideration in itself and each one putting extra stress on our team, most of all our officers and the Board members.  That was acknowledged but we did finally make a decision to de-risk some of our assets, something which I have been arguing about for over a year.

 

I had a brief talk with one of the police officers who oversee our Town about a suggestion I had made at the last meeting we all had.  I have expanded that suggestion and I await the reply.  Hopefully it might help tackle the seemingly growing anti social behaviour we are seeing.

 

Nice meeting today at a special school in Cramlington.  This came about because of my comments when their new play area came in front of our LAC planning group.  The questions I asked were later answered by the school’s new head of comms and funding.  We eventually chatted about the school and the pupils and I was asked to go to an opening event they were holding for a new garden area the pupils had done for themselves.  I suggested asking all the LAC members and said I would ask our Civic Head to officially open it for them.  The invites went out and Ian our Civic Head of Northumberland and his deputy Eileen agreed to officiate.  Lovely to see all the undoubted hard work paid off in such an inspiring garden area. I chatted to the school liaison officer and suggested ways they might try and attract extra funding into their school.

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Today I have our LAC to chair because Christine the chair is away on personal business.  So quickly back from work for a shower and change then straight out for the pre planning meeting at Seaton Sluice. Only two applications both of which were uncontested.  As Bernard was the chair of planning and I had to take it on temporarily until a new chair was found, this was the first planning meeting for our new chair Councillor Ian Swithenbank.  I opened the LAC gave a brief explanation how it operates went though the first three agenda items and then passed the meeting over to Ian for the planning part.  He took us through the two applications with the planning officers and both were agreed unanimously.  We had 30 minutes to wait until I could restart the LAC!

One restarted straight into public questions and the very first one was something we couldn’t consider.  I gave the speaker as much leeway as possible to eak out a question to us but in the end what was being said had no relevance to our LAC and I had to stop the line of questioning.  His next question was about members conduct during elections and I asked if he wanted an explanation of Purdah?  He said so and I gave him my understanding which was about the types of communications members used and the tools allowed to do it.  I was corrected when I suggested members should even say they were already elected members in the authority.  In fact the new Labour leader said no one would stop her saying she was an elected member and supported her preferred candidate.

After one other question, which I requested a written reply to because we couldn’t give a definitive answer verbatim, the meeting carried on and we had several updates from our local area managers, notably highways and neighbourhood services.  We then got to an update on the cycling Tour which is coming through Northumberland again.   A presentation ensued from very enthusiastic officers and they answered our questions afterwards.  I then wrapped the meeting up.

 

 

Today I had a meeting about the old council offices in Bedlington  trying to get something done.  Thats seems all but impossible given the way this was put together originally.  It’s almost like one step forward and two back sometimes!

 

Had to go to a planning training meeting today and again more empty seats than full ones.  In fact it looked like most of the planning department was here so even less member attendance and we all sit on one planning committee or another!  In fact the head of planning stated the Central government guidelines  which says members have to undertake training or they wont be allowed to sit on planning committees.

The head of planning then gave the presentation and launched into ‘what is planning’ as the first part of his presentation.   Some interesting points were brought up and in the Q&A session I had a few questions.  One bit I did want clarification on was the assertion that planning had to ‘facilitate economic development, that I hadn’t heard before.  I asked if that was a material consideration and the reply was yes it is.  That was a bit strange because profit, per say, isn’t and do you get one without the other?

Second presentation was about houses and again I have several questions.  I asked for specific training along the lines of what the Strategic Planning committee had asked for several times, S106 developer funding, and also I asked about conditions and varyco’s attached to applications both before and after a decision.  I said I had sat in committee and attached conditions to applications only to see them changed or just taken out  as soon as a developer started work.  I said that wasn’t right because the development didn’t now look like what we had considered.  I also questioned him about the term ‘affordable housing’ saying I thought the term at best misleading and I postulated that in actual fact infrastructural improvements were much more rewarding to a greater number of people in the local communities than half a dozen ‘affordable houses’ and the fact that they are now dished out to housing associations behind what looks like closed doors only adds insult to injury as far as I was concerned.  He took my points and said they warranted further consideration.

 

Well just come back from a site meeting with a sports facilities funding officer and he said he was impressed with my ideas because they were far more inclusive than just applying to one sporting body.  He is going away to do some work to help me progress this and I now have to think up ways to fund another feasibility study into need in Bedlington.  Last time I did this was back in 2010 and we got KKP to do a report but their conclusion was that a £20M investment into a new school with modern sporting facilities at Bedlington Station couldn’t be ignored and the easiest option would be to make them accessible for the greater community.  Of course what we actually got was a £10M new school and very limited community accessible facilities.  So the fight goes on to get Bedlington what it deserves!

 

Just come back from another Advance board meeting and again it was dominated with new governance and policy matters.  Anyone might suspect we could possibly end up with a regeneration company fit for purpose at this rate!  I did have to stop the meeting at one point to raise a concern and that will now have to be addressed before that particular item is progressed. As an aside it looks to me like the company really needs to assert itself and not be held back by quasi public sector restraints and ways of doing business.  Fleet of foot and agile of mind would be my maxim regarding how this company develops now, with the proviso that the governance is sorted of course!

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Well someone was listening.  Several phone calls off Advance today but finally my concerns were addressed and we can now proceed with that particular project.  I did use this time to further ideas for more investment into Bedlington of course!

 

First meeting today was the LAC chairs. I’m only there because I am vice chair of ours.  Several item on this agenda and a presentation about the possible Northumberland Lottery project.  The chair moved the presentation up so the presenter didn’t have to spend all morning sitting listening to the usual meeting before she got to her bit.   She did say some of us would have heard her presentation before and I was one because she had given the same to scrutiny earlier.  As she explained this was all about getting good local causes potential funding because players picked which of the good causes listed they wanted to support with most of their stake monies.  I did have another couple of questions about this such as how long would players be subscribed for, seeing as it is entirely internet based.    Also was there any constraints on how the good causes spent their possible windfalls?   Other members had their questions answered too and the whole thing is going to cabinet for their approval, or not, at their next meeting.

On with the normal meeting and again I said I wanted to see a much greater turn out at LAC meetings so making the agendas interesting for the public was essential.  This time the business chair intervened and challenged me directly to list all the possible updates and presentations I wanted to see and send him the list so each one could be checked off as it was delivered.  I have already made a start on this list!

 

Back home for a quick cuppa and get some mails sported then back up to county hall for another meeting , this one the LDF or Local Plan update.  We had the update and its expected the governmental hearings will start in October with Morpeth Town Hall booked to deliver the public sessions.  A couple of items were on as separate updates, one being affordable housing and the other planning obligations.  Both of these topics enlisted several questions from members and I had a few of my own. The SPD’s or supplementary planning documents will be going out for consultations quite soon because we all want to see this local plan in place.

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Again it was stated today that pretty soon if members do not take up planning training they will be barred from sitting on any planning committees. Seeing as all members sit on at least one planning committee there could be sparks soon with that one!  Planning law, like Local Government Pension training,  isn’t the easiest thing to get your head around  but the new head of planning is insisting members have to attend.  Might start to improve attendance records for some!

 

Had a meeting with our Highways Technical officer today about the road issues and the solutions we have been working on.  Russ was there too and he got his issues sorted while mine were about the new speed signs I have already paid for and other traffic calming measures especially on the B1331 and Netherton Village.   I had told residents I would not let this officer go until I have a set date for the installation of these signs because we seem to have been waiting months and months for their installation after being agreed and paid for!  Well I did get assurances that both the signs at Netherton and Hartford Bridge will be in within the next 2 weeks.  There are also other measures to go in and these are hoped to be completed before the end of the school holidays.  In fact it might look to some like overkill but Netherton Village especially has suffered far too long from excessive speeding and if these measures don’t have an impact a far more drastic solution is in the wings!  One of the measures is to reduce the speed along sections of  both the B1331 and the A1068.

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