First meeting of the year and its strategic planning. Reading through the papers nothing too controversial but something did make my hackles rise. There was a retrospective application in for the removal of 4 trees on the new school site across the road from county hall.
The biggest application was the one for over 500 houses around and behind the fire brigade headquarters at Cramlington. That looked a no brainier to me as the whole site is dedicated employment land and we have already stated our intention to protect employment land when we turned down the Alnwick application for houses on their industrial estate. Jeff Reid made a good point in that the site was always dedicated for industrial use and was originally in the remit of the RDA. With their demise the site along with many others has been gifted to other agencies who do not have the same remit as the old RDA as evidenced by this application. It was turned down and the site remains available for industrial use. In fact there were some veiled whispers that it might be needed sooner rather than later.
The school application came up and I only asked simple questions of the officer. First would we see like for like tree replacement? She thought I was on about the species but I said no it’s the maturity I’m on about. No doubt the 5 new trees going in will be whips but we could ask for like for like replacement. I said I knew that would be a very expensive option but it might stop developers ripping out protected trees and shrubs with almost impunity. I then asked if it was a NCC maintained school or an academy. After some puzzles looks the answer came back that it was NCC maintained. I kept my powder dry for the debate after that.
It was proposed and seconded and opened up for debate. I said I was really disappointed with this application because the new school is a flagship development and enjoys cross party support. Given that the site is ours and its our school and it’s a matter of yards away from this building if we cannot control this site we have no chance of controlling any site in the county! The builder has been given a set of plans which I presume listed these trees as being protected yet chose to just dig a trench adjacent, ripping out their roots and undermining the trees and then pulling them out. Again I had to say I was disappointed at the obvious lack of control or expertise this has shown but I don’t know where we go if we don’t agree? In the end we did vote unanimously to approve the application but I hope someone is learning that I’m not just going to rollover on this stuff because it’s happening at most building sites with trees and shrubs being removed expressly against planning conditions.
Full council meeting today so straight after work it was a rush to get up to county hall. Couple of contentious things going through today, Council tax support and the Local Plan. As usual lots of silly things too and a couple of times members were throwing handbags at each other!
I’m not sure I like the way this council tax support cut has been put onto the agenda. It’s in a report from cabinet and is not in the agenda as it’s own item. In fact members had to ask if they were agreeing the minutes or voting for the change. Both it seemed. The council solicitor mentioned that he had just realised that some members or their close family might actually be claiming this benefit and should declare an interest. I asked a question for clarity then the chair moved onto declarations for the meeting. I was amazed at the members who now had to declare they or family members claimed this benefit. I wondered if they would be allowed to vote on the matter because it seemed to me there was a direct financial benefit here!
I had made my case at committee and I could see one of my suggestions had been considered in the cabinet meeting. I felt I could only abstain from the vote given the replies I had off my residents I have spoken to about this, 99% of whom agreed with the proposal. I would still of preferred deferring the introduction until we get Universal Credit sorted if it ever is sorted but that was turned down.
Well once again another labour member has put a social media report out saying I and the others who abstained should have backed the labour resolution not to introduce this measure. First of all there wasn’t a Labour resolution for anything, like I said earlier it was brought in for a vote on the back of cabinet minutes. The only resolution was to accept or not to accept. Also I’m a bit annoyed by someone telling me I should support the Labour group, I certainly wasn’t elected to do that! If anything quite the opposite. Given that several labour members put their apologies in for the meeting, maybe if they got their own act together instead of pontificating on how I should proceed they might actually benefit.
This is the real problem, long term players can only see things as a binary choice and say things like if you don’t support us then you are against us. No, let the merits of the argument decide the outcome instead of playing silly political games which ultimately do nothing for the county as a whole. Why would members elected to work for and support the county walk away en masse from important committees. They can neither represent their constituents nor do the job they were elected to do with regard to the running of NCC Ltd.
So that went through and it was then the Local Plan. Several questions ensued with a lot about affordable housing, especially off one member. I had my own and started by saying I still consider the whole affordability definition a misnomer because it just means less expensive. Until we base affordability on local people’s ability to buy them instead of a super inflated market price then they certainly aren’t affordable for the bulk of our young people. I then picked up on the council house building policy saying this was something I supported but I’m starting to wonder where we might see them because we have been rushing to get neighbourhood plans and town boundaries introduced to stop wholesale development in and around our local conurbations and yet this is where we need the mass of social housing. My last point was about the build quality of new houses. Within the document it says we will get better homes and I asked how would we do that? Would we insist on a better build code which could at least give purchasers some backup because what I’m being told is that the build quality of these new boxes we all see sprouting up is shocking. Nice to see some nodding heads on the front bench. The Local Plan carried even after all the labour members abstained. Yep the ones telling me I was in dereliction of my duty by abstaining on a previous vote all abstained on this one. Seems what’s good for the goose isn’t quite the same for the gander!
I have read through this document and it’s far more interconnected than the last one which was almost exclusively concerned with getting as many new houses built as possible. This one dovetails economic regeneration and development, educational improvement, infrastructure projects as well as laying down not just a housing strategy but quality improvements in housing. In my view this is more like a comprehensive plan for the county which realises its USPS and seeks to exploit the ones capable of being exploited whist at the same time protect those which need protecting. I’m not saying it’s perfect and I will be questioning a lot of the rather blasé statements it contains but it’s a whole sea change from the last attempt. I always questioned the last one with it ethos, build houses and the jobs will follow. I argued that was exactly the wrong way around as has been proved throughout history. Towns and cities have always built up around economic activity and that in turn begets it’s own economic activity.
I had a meeting at the Town Council offices today about grit bins. This seems to have been going on for months and months, in fact I have already paid for the ones I need. At last we were down to the nitty gritty with the NCC officer saying none of the suggestions met with the criteria for NCC to supply. I had already presumed that months ago so I just wanted to get these new bins into their positions so they are in place when needed and given we have escaped the worst or the winter up to now…….I listed the four, residents had asked me to see about and we should see them in place within a week or two. Many thanks to WBTC because after the two free refills they will be picking up the refill costs in future. Another example of a good working relationship for residents these days!
I had a meeting with Russ, the head of local services and the technical head of highways about the A1068. I have residents complaining about their access roads because they are basically hidden from oncoming traffic. I presumed asking for concealed entrance signs would suffice however I was surprised when the head of highways said no chance. If you allow them here we will have to allow them throughout the county. Errr….so what if it improved road safety? I even offered to pay myself out of my smalls scheme but again that was turned down. That now meat a full on argument because I couldn’t see any sense at all being displayed. Not only do we have those concealed entrances the speed on the road goes from 30 to 60 to 40 and back to 30 all within a mile or two. In my book that’s just unnecessarily confusing and actually makes this road worse in terms of road safety. It was suggested we have a full road investigation because Russ wants to see some improvements closer to the town and we were told we would have to stump up for it. Is now going to cost me about a grand, Russ the same, and all I really wanted was a concealed entrance sign and there is no assurance that will even be considered! All we can do now is wait on whatever the results are of this survey.
I had a meeting with our regeneration manager to discuss some ideas I have for further regeneration within Bedlington. He said the governments High Street funding is extremely over applied for but he is putting together a list of strategic regeneration ideas countywide which if considered worthy will get serious consideration. He is going to send me the application process.
After many months of forwarding residents complaints about certain building sites within my ward to enforcement but not really getting much further forward I had to opportunity to take a slightly different tack, on the back of another application I heard for another town in the county, this time I questioned our ecology officers. After being promised a site visit which never happened and again approaching the lead officer he promised me not only would he get his assistant to come for a visit but he would invite me along as well. This took place and our enforcement officer attended too. I took them along the main bone of contention and showed the clear breaches to the ecology conditions. Because I sit on two planning committees I know better then most the conditions laid down on applications! To say he was appalled would be an understatement and he agreed with my prognosis if this wasn’t rectified. We were there for well over an hour and he told the enforcement officer he would be sending them a letter outlining all the breaches he had been shown and he expected it to form the bulk of their letter to the developer. Let’s hope we see some teeth now!
I received the application process off our regeneration officer, it’s actually expression of interest forms, and given the very limited timespan I had to fill it in straightaway. I duly sent it back for his opinion and I have been told it warrants closer examination so it’s passed the first hurdle.
As well as that I have been working on a project at Westlea for some time and after getting most of the ducks lined up one final one to get onboard was our planning department. They had previously sent me an UXB saying what I have been working towards might not be allowed. That solicited a phone call straightaway and speaking to the appropriate officer I was offered a meeting to discuss my proposals. I have just sent a message asking when would we be able to have this meeting at their earliest convenience. If it’s not one thing it’s another, I have to wonder if other places get this level of negativity when someone proposes a community project.
As mentioned previously I have been trying to get interactive speed indicator signs for Netherton village and after the Town Council agreed to pick up any maintenance charges that should be plain sailing. Well that’s what I thought. On the back of that I know of one other sign another member wants for another Bedlington area and maybe one might help towards the problems I have on the A1068. So will see what I can negotiate the price of four down to.