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  1. 8 points
    Well as I said February has started off with a bang. Straight up to County Hall for several meetings. First up was my assessment for Members Personal Development and I completed the sheets for democratic services. At last some sort of overview of the training we have started taking and our skills development. I wonder if we get to see everyone’s? Next up came a meeting I arranged on the phone this morning. This was about exploring various funding options for what I hope to see achieved for my ward. That turned out pretty encouraging. Next meeting was all about helping a couple of community groups in my ward and after talking through the options and concerns with one of our lead officers there now seems a perfectly reasonable way forward for them. Finally the main even, Medium Term Financial Plan or Budget scrutiny. There was supposed to be over 70 attendees, in the event only about 40 turned up. I sat next to Russ and the chair opened the meeting. This is basically what the administration wants to do over the next 3 years. I had heard a lot of this off the Leader at our LAC and we had all been given a 350 page booklet setting out the proposed budget, financials and targets etc. Course some awkward sod had actually read the book and had his own questions he wanted answering, sorry! Asking for any questions I waited to see how many members shot their hands up. Remember this is the most fundamentally important bit of business any administration can put through. No members raised their hands so I did, to set the ball rolling. I asked a few questions which ruffled a few feathers, some were even answered, and then I said I would defer my other questions so other members could ask theirs. Only one member indicated his intention of asking questions and he asked a couple then said he would defer so everyone got a fair crack. Again no other members raised their hands so I did again and asked another few questions…….all about the budget figures and what was contained within the booklet. I again said I would defer and again only the same member raised his had to ask further questions. When he was satisfied the chair asked members for any other questions and again no one spoke up so I did! I asked if this was just a double act! This time I had a couple of more serious questions about governance and after being told my concerns were unfounded and not to be considered by this scrutiny committee I pointed them to the exact passage in the booklet which outlined what I had asked about. That flummoxed everyone and I only got half a reply. I eventually got a reply after the meeting off the Leader and cabinet member about this matter and they agreed it was something which they should give serious consideration to. What struck me was the complete lack of holding anyone to account in committee exercised by the opposition. Not one question off them, not one concern raised. In fact the only questions came off the leader of the Lib Dems, Jeff Reid and myself. This is the queerest budget scrutiny I could have imagined because basically there wasn’t any, apart from the questions Jeff and I asked. Now I’m going to take a punt here and forecast lots of opposition member’s questions at full council when the budget comes up, especially if the meeting is televised again! I just hope they can read out what has obviously been written down for them to ask this time! Cynical….mois……jamais! Just been back onto the police again about another incident at the same place in my ward. I know the officer is trying to get something done and feels as frustrated as me about the vandalism and senseless criminal damage being caused there. The advice off the police officer I deal with is to tell residents to report everything, something I have passed on in the hope of seeing some action taken in the near future. I can only imagine how nerve racking it must be to have things thrown at your house windows and patio doors on a regular occurrence! Back up to County Hall today, firstly for a meeting with the countryside officer which has turned into a bit of a high powered meeting so no doubt I will have said too much or been too cheeky in my requests! I’ll wait and see. Second meeting is to resolve any unanswered budget questions I might have. I made it to the office I had been redirected to in good time followed by the countryside office, director of service and cabinet member. Firstly I tackled them about the state of the roadway into the cemetery at Westlea and pointed at and used their own medium term budget as part of my argument. The cabinet member said, “My you have read that document, haven’t you!” Yes I have and seeing what is intended for cemetery’s across the county meant we should have much improved facilities in them but especially in the one in my patch! That was agreed and the road which is dotted with pot holes near the present-day burial sites is now getting resurfaced. One down one to go! Yes Plessy Woods Country Park is being included in the very small number of country parks in the county which will see substantial investment, some more than others of course! Champion but there is never a free dinner so my payback will be to work in a very small team to increase footfall there significantly. I gave them some ideas off the top of my head how we might do that and they were astounded! So as long as we have the investment and a free hand I now have to make sure it’s warranted. Looking forward to that challenge. I came home via Leading Link and had a chat with Lyn and Julie to see how they were getting on these days. I also told them about the young person’s personal development funding the Local Area Councils have now. When I got home I had the estimate off the drainage company I have been waiting in. It’s quite a bit more than I was expecting but it has given me a ball park figure to seek funding for. This is the drainage to make sure our children’s graves at Westlea don’t flood again so can there be a cost too expensive. I don’t think so! I started the day off at North Shields at 10am then I had two meetings up at county hall, one at 2.00pm the other 6.00pm. The first one was a presentation about Universal Credit, what it is, how it will roll out and what it might mean. I have to say the presenters didn’t get an easy ride as we questioned them quite closely about this stuff! The daft thing is that it’s not really their initiative; it’s been foisted onto them like the rest of us and they have to make it work. I think one member even apologised for the questioning we gave them and suggested someone from DWP should have been here to answer a lot of these questions too. I now have a better understanding of what all this means and one of the most astounding things for me was the financial payments currently quoted. I had to come back then straight back up to County for the 6.00pm meeting. This one was our Strategic Planning meeting and we all thought it would be over within 15 minutes because the controversial one had been pulled. How wrong everyone was! The application was for extra hours and a second weigh bridge for a business on the Barrington Industrial Estate. I was really willing to listen to the evidence on this one because I could see both sides of the argument. Quite a few people and the Parish Council had complained about noise and dust and the extremely poor state of the road into the unit and the fact it is very narrow so wagons have a real problem passing each other. I listened to the residents and the council arguments and then the business owner’s arguments about extra work, investment, jobs etc. In the end I summed up my feeling about this to the committee and public audience. We can only consider the planning application which is in front of us and on that basis we have to disregard references to dust, noise and wagons using the road because that isn’t changing! The only things we are considering are the weight bridge and the extra hours. That was confirmed. And here is my dilemma……while I think the weigh bridge is entirely up to the company and I have no problem there, it’s the extra hours which cause me some concern. Not because of the extra time the depot is being used, to me that’s extra pay and jobs, and the last thing I want to do is jeopardise the validity of the business there by standing in the way of its expansion but knowing all the approach roads to that site and having 40 odd tonners barrelling up and down them up to 10pm at night, well that’s excessive I believe and probably not safe for pedestrians and other road users; who might expect heavy wagons on the same roads up to normal daytime working hours but not up to the 10pm being asked for. So I could only come down on not allowing the application based on that concern. The application was turned down but we did ask the applicant to work with the planners on a new proposal which we might all find we can work with because we are not that far away. That took 1hr45m to get through and is a good example of how we can’t take anything for granted in planning! Quite a bit going on over the phone lines this week. I arranged a meeting with a developer about a project I have been working on and invited another interested party to the meeting. It was the Town Council meeting tonight and as usual here is my update: WBTC update Feb 2018. Not the usual monologue this month but there are things I would like to update you on. Firstly I have had the drains along the Westlea Cemetery CCTV’d and they are silted up and have root damage. No surprising seeing as BUDC put them in and they have never had any maintenance as far as I know! These are the drains we need to clear to stop the children’s graves flooding! That would also help drain the footpaths and pitches along there. Anyway further inspection work was needed and I have now had to have a dye test conducted to see exactly where the problems are. Hoping to see that report sometime soon. I have also had a quote on renewing that line of field drains and it’s quite an expensive job but I am working on attracting the funding needed. Second item is the upgrades we will soon see to Plessey Woods Country Park. Two parks were getting substantial investment off NCC, Druridge Bay and Bolam Lakes; we now have Plessey Woods in that group! I have said, during my meetings, I would hope to see WBTC as a supporter for that investment and that really translates to asking for space in one or more of your future newsletters. I said I would think you will be more than happy to promote it because my job is to use the upgrades to drive up visitor numbers. You should have received an email off county about this. Last item but in some ways the most fundamental. I have been to our in depth budget presentations about the Medium Term Budget for NCC and one item which I questioned stands out as something you need to be aware of now. Its something I used to bang on about when I sat where the Mayor is sitting. For this next year we will see the local services budget carried forward as is, after that there are reductions planned for at least the following two years. When I asked about that and questioned whether we would see services passed down to Town and Parish Councils because I couldn’t see the grass stopping growing or people suddenly becoming litter conscious I was told that there will be detailed contact this next year with yourselves about this subject. There were no further elaborations. I would suggest you will be asked which services your resident’s value enough to pay for them if they were to be stopped. I think that will be something you will need to get your heads around for your next year’s budget. Just to remind everyone the next LAC at Netherton Club is 20th Feb, which is a Tuesday night because we have full council budget the next day and that will go on into the night! We have the Town Centre redevelopment as an item and the LTP as well as other presentations etc. Also work starts next week on the new Puffin crossing going in next to the COOP on the B1331. Hopefully most of the disruptive stuff will get done during the half term or traffic congestion will be huge! I am getting a heck of a lot of reports about the building sites at the west end of Town. There would seem to be a lot of conditions not being adhered to and I am continually getting in touch with planners and enforcement about these sites. It would seem to me that the dog has no teeth! With no formal meetings this week I have asked for some myself! One to chase up funding for the drainage problems and another to get a better idea of what we have available to work with down at Plessey woods. Well from nothing to non-stop in two days! I have the meetings organised with the people I wanted to speak to and others have come along too. The drainage mess at Westlea continues to grow in price to get sorted but this is something I want to sort out properly. I have now picked up costings to get the drains which run under the houses to the culvert sorted but without doing them I will be wasting my time getting the other stuff done. More funding to find! I also met with the guy who runs our Country Park at Plessey; he actually does Plessey and Bolam Lakes. In fact I was early and spoke the staff that operate the centre too so I now have a pretty good idea what is needed to make this Park into a much better visitor attraction. I spoke to the officer who manages this facility at length and I think we are on exactly the same page overall maybe not on certain specifics however but that’s all well and good for the mix. I asked him to help produce a business plan and he agreed. Now I need to talk my way into proper funding for it because I am not impressed with the offer we have at present! There are over 100 acres there with about 5 kilometres of paths and of course the river. I have just asked for a further four meetings with potential funders for tomorrow! Two cancelled for later dates but two didn’t! I called into the first one and agreed a contribution from them. Once this has all been done I will thank them properly! It was then a quick pit stop before going up to County Hall for my second lot of negotiations! This proved far more difficult but an understanding was reached and I now have further meetings to try and wring this extra funding out of them. I sent quite a few messages to officers who I have been dealing with over several projects and just about all of them are on holiday today? I had been promised the puffin crossing next to the COOP would be started this week whilst the schools were on holiday, unfortunately it hasn’t been! I have asked why not and a pretty weak excuse of the weather and lack of availability has been blamed. And we wonder why people call the councils! On a similar note I have just been informed the builders at the Netherton Lane site seem to be building outside their agreed site so I have asked for someone to come out and check it up. I know residents have too so pressure from all sides might get something done! On a similar note just been asked to see why a resident has not received a copy of a report he requested off NCC, and they agreed to, some time ago. I have asked the appropriate head of department. The last 3 paragraphs are things which shouldn’t be needed, checking up and trying to get things done which should have been. I know NCC is a large organisation but potentially their internal controls need to be reviewed? Busy day today with 3 meetings all this afternoon. First up is a meeting I have requested where I will be doing my usual “Oliver and asking for more! It’s about the Plessey Woods project and I need more infrastructure in place so I can work with the lads and lasses there to increase visitor numbers. I hope to show we can make this Park the blueprint for other parks’ developments. Second meeting is the State of the Area Debate in the council chamber and I don’t know what to expect. Lastly we have our Local Area Council tonight and two important issues on the agenda, one the LTP (Local Transport Plan) the other the Bedlington Town Centre redevelopment. Well I made it to the first meeting in good time and was soon giving chapter and verse about what I needed to turn the fortunes of Plessey Woods around. I said I would be working with the guys in place and we had some exciting ideas for developing the attraction of this park. I wasn’t about to take no for an answer but I think as the eyes widened and the mouths dropped any chance they had of stopping my tsunami disappeared. They have asked me to crystallise the plans with the lead officers of both local services and parks. We are off and running! Next meeting was the State of the Area Debate and I was a bit shocked to see only about half the members turn up! I sat and listened to the Leader, deputy Leader and cabinet members talk about where they are and where they want to be and how they could get there. The chair was only allowing questions but I reminded him it was a debate when I stood up to speak. I questioned why we are seeing elderly people as a drain on resources when in point of fact it’s their payments which have got us here in the first place. Also the new social housing, or council houses, NCC are going to build. I applaud it because it’s much needed but we really need to redefine the term “affordable” because at the moment it’s anything but! Lastly I spoke about economic redevelopment of the county and the fact that we should be expanding our workforce and their work not contracting it. That meeting over it was a mad rush to get home and get changed because I had just been told I had to do some presentations tonight at the LAC. I had asked why there was no public question time at the start of the meeting and the chair was going to check it out. When I got to the venue, Netherton Club, I asked again but was told because this was a planning meeting and only had special permission to hear the presentations there was no public questions. I said my lot won’t like that, so 15 minutes were given for public questions after the Bedlington regeneration presentation. We started with the planning and it boiled down to a new fence. A stone wall and convex fence panels atop. For some reason members were giving the planners such a hard time about the height and security of this wall? I asked if anyone had built a fence or stone wall such as we were discussing because all the ones I have built require concrete foundations and would take an articulated lorry to knock over! Also because of the wavy nature of the wooden panels most of the fence line would be well under 2 metres so the very small bits which would be over that by 20mm were really immaterial! The application was passed unanimously in the end. Next I had these presentations to do and it turned out they were some of the community groups my committee had given funding to. I chair the community chest panel and we were given £60K to give out to local organisations that passed the criteria. After 10 or more pictures we were done and I told everyone what we had to spend and the fact that our panel had given every penny away to worthy local causes. The LTP was next and I think the lead officer and cabinet member got away pretty unscathed. In fact I think I was the only member to cross examine them? Next up the Bedlington Regeneration update and a pretty competent and comprehensive update given by the lead investment officer and the project manager. Of course there were several questions following this update and thankfully the chair allowed members of the public to ask theirs. Several echoed my only concerns about parking but most were supportive. The timeframe is now set to an August start and that’s about 4 months behind the original schedule. That’s not bad considering the whole project was put into limbo by the last administration depending on the results of last year’s election and the fact that immediately following our election we had to win hearts and minds to get it restarted! I think the presentation was quite open with most of the facts and figures mentioned and only the definitive list of retailers who will move in not released but certainly we were allowed a glimpse at the types of retailer lined up to go in. Unbelievably it now seems a local political group are claiming the investment has been halved and by association isn’t worth the effort! It clearly hasn’t been and anyone listening to the presentation should know that! Another day and another mad rush, this time to get to County Hall in time for full council after a day at work. Again like yesterday the meeting will be televised. This full council meeting was pretty much all to do with the budget and it was the main item to be voted on. The preamble started and then we got to the nitty gritty. I was quite shocked as first the CeO of the council stated her concerns about the way things had been allowed to be run especially at Active Northumberland. She immediately called in an independent review of the charity. These are the main findings: “The conclusion and associated recommendations of the strategic review of the arrangements between Active Northumberland and Northumberland County Council has identified significant failings of governance and numerous gaps in the expected level of strategic and operational capability and capacity in Active Northumberland. These poor oversight arrangements have severely impacted on the organisation’s performance and day to day operational capability. There is evidence of: – Very poor leadership – A lack of evidence or rational based decision making – Very weak governance – Very weak financial management processes – Very poor strategic direction or forward planning – Ineffective due diligence and leadership processes – Lack of appropriate organisational information – Lack of an appropriate level of professional advice or support. And……- a lack of appropriate arrangements to monitor safeguarding of children.” I have never read a report like it. It is the most damming report I hope to see into a company delivering to our residents! If it was private sector there would be calls for a proper investigation! After reading through all of that it seems I am to blame for the position Active has found itself in? Well according to the latest Labour blog. Absolutely ridiculous. We then had the spectacle of the present cabinet member having to list all the short failings and quite bizarre nature of the way Active had been run. Because I have been the subject to such aggravated accusations by the local labour group I have to now mention that the cabinet member for this company during the last administration and this complete ineptitude was none other than one of our recently deposed labour councillors! Listening further it was clear she was not the only member not making the grade, because the chair of scrutiny who is charged to examine all these decisions was none other than another of our recently deposed Bedlington labour members too! My God and her husband is currently carrying out a smear campaign against me and the other two recently elected members! There has to be a complete lack of mirrors in their house! We then spoke about the budget or medium term financial plan. First up the Leader and he gave an overview report highlighting the total inadequacies of the last administration, the inherited position and what this budget was going to do to redress them. Next up came the cabinet member for finance who gave us a glimpse of just what sort of odious campaign the Labour group are currently waging countywide with regard to social media. 17 completely inaccurate claims since January on the Northumberland Labour Facebook site and blog. He then went on to itemise several and even had the leader of the Labour group saying it had nothing to do with him. It was pointed out that the site is the official Northumberland Labour councillor site and he is their leader. For instance they had reported it costs £3M a year to heat County Hall. The actual figure for gas and electricity is £225K. The current administration has decided to forgo with Arch dividend…….which I was told several times would be £25M! There has NEVER been an Arch dividend! CeO was next and again it was wildly misreported. Either £1M or £1.5M has been talked about which is actually nothing like the real figure and which was supposed to be confidential anyway! 200 jobs were being moved out of Northumberland……err no they are actually coming to Northumberland. ..and on and on it went! What became clear was the insidious nature of the Labour spin machine and how a once great organisation has been reduced to meaningless drivel by its current leaders. I think they have all gone to Egypt for their holidays because they are all in De Nile! Coming next was the labour budget and they somehow proposed last year’s budget? That was voted down and then the leader of the opposition went on to talk about what he would have done and why some of the current ideas were no good. Well some were good he said but others worthless. One thing he mentioned which drew a big jeer was the post 16 school transport which has been made free again after he had stopped paying for it by NCC. He said that might work for rich people in the north and west who could get their kids carted to schools…….. Is it just me or is that the exact opposite of a socialist position where education should be free and liberating? Like Bill and Russ I felt having not read through the document I couldn’t very well vote for or against so I abstained. Strangely in the middle of this diatribe he mentioned that if they were in power they would be building a leisure centre in Bedlington. Eh? They have been in power for 50 years here what’s changed now……..oh yes they lost seats they considered unlosable! If nothing else is achieved in the course of my 4 years as County Councillor that statement justifies standing and everyone’s vote! We have beaten the very man who said he had no appetite for a larger sports build in Bedlington when I took costed plans to the heads of Active Northumberland and said for the same investment that’s going into Gallagher Park I could get a large indoor facility built which would finally start and address the lack of such a sporting facility here! What I found inexcusable and the reason I have gone into so much detail about the shortcomings which were mentioned is that the opposition Leader then said I (we) had sold out our residents too cheaply because the investment in the Town centre redevelopment had been halved. That incensed me and I shouted out asking for the written proof. Laughing he said it’s there but couldn’t say exactly where! I have since looked but still can’t find it! When I got back home the local Labour Party had a social media posting saying the Bedlington regeneration funding had been halved……..fancy that! After checking it out with Arch that is actually not true and the real position is that there is slightly more going in! It would seem the truth is a stranger to Councillor Davey and his entire group and competence in office something they could only dream of! Unbelievable but when bullies are stopped in their tracks by a bigger person, or in this case the truth, they usually turn on a smaller body and try to continue their bullying ways. Well I might be smaller, being a single independent, but I’ve never liked bullies and I’ll do what I have always done and fight back! Another hectic day with the phone ringing non-stop and the internet alight with claims and counter claims. Once the true figures and situation about the Bedlington Town development had been put out people started seeing the Labour posting for what it was a cynical attempt to dupe them! I don’t know why they feel the need to be doing this stuff……if it was the run up to the election then understandable but shouldn’t we all be working together to make the Town better and address the disparities we can all see? Well up to County Hall first thing for a Local Government Pension Panel meeting which lasted from 9am until 1.15pm. In fact I had to excuse myself right at the end of the meeting and rush over to East Bedlington Parish Council for a meeting about the Gallagher Park music event this year. I went in and for the first 20 minutes we were regaled by the EBPC parish clerk why one of the two submissions we had come to judge shouldn’t be considered. I thought that was a bit unfair because he wasn’t now going to give the submissions equal chance in the scoring process. We kicked it around for a good hour and it became clear there was no way one of the submissions would get a fair chance. We went through a scoring process and right at the end when it looked like one of the applicants would win the EBPC clerk said he would make it easy, either his choice won or the event wouldn’t go ahead. I thanked them for wasting my afternoon and got up and left! I was disgusted and wanted distance from what I thought to be a charade, but said I would still be prepared to allow my smalls scheme funding to be used if the event went ahead but because of the way this had been handled and the lateness of the day, they would have to find a way out of this mess! I liked one submission because it offered a much more diverse day out for families with street theatre, workshops and such like. The other submission was the same event as last year music on the stage only. I can only wait and see what they came up with now. Over the weekend I heard about several more spates of anti-social behaviour and a very disturbing report about criminal activity so I asked the local police for a meeting. They agreed and that is taking place tomorrow. Seems we are slowly winning the fight to get an adult conversation about the Bedlington Town Centre redevelopment. Sensible people have seen through the latest spin designed to dupe members of the public by a political group and are now discussing the finished look and how we might move forward. And yes getting behind this development and supporting it will move the Town forward in the future I have no doubt. Pulling it to bits for political reasons can only alienate the very people we hope to attract and it will become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Much better to use the experience to show we can and will support this and future development here, that way we might actually also get some of the leisure offer we so badly need! I had my meeting with the police and I found it very positive. I did say we could have very differing view here but as it turned out once I had listen to what they are doing I could only congratulate and thank them on taking all this anti-social behaviour seriously. I was a bit surprised at all the actions they are talking to tackle this sort of behaviour and I couldn’t ask for anything more to tell the truth! So to all my ward residents who have raised the issue with me please be assured it is being taken seriously and actions are forthcoming behind the scenes! They did ask me to make mention of a couple of points. Firstly, and exactly as I have been advising, please report any incidents. Even if you are just reporting something ask for a call back for reassurance its being taken seriously. Secondly and quite bizarrely, please try and do what you can to secure your bins? Seems there is a spate of bin disappearances and householders have to buy replacements and they don’t come cheap! Again a real nuisance but with hidden costs, both in terms of finance and man hours. Well there’s February out and the last days saw me stuck in Derby with snow and blizzards. Got to make it back for Monday when I have several meetings and my surgery. I have to finish this month with a note by way of explanation. It has taken many hours and in some cases days to once again get the true information out into the public realm in response to the spin and mistruths put out by the local labour group. I haven’t got that time to waste on repudiating such drivel! I have far more productive things to be getting on with which will benefit my constituents and residents so please understand if I don’t counter each fresh accusation which appears on social media. It would seem their intent is to mislead people and try and bully any opposition. Well that has worked for 50 years for them, but I believe people can see through all that hokum now and really treating people like fools can only ultimately lead to their own extinction! Also the fact is that there are many things which I need to challenge the current administration about but that time is being wasted on discounting these untrue accusations.
  2. 6 points
    January 2019. 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.
  3. 6 points
    December 2018. First up was a site visit to Widdrington to look at the site of a potential Caravan park. I got there early because I wanted to look at all the access roads. The main one from the village is pretty new and pretty good but the other way it’s more or less a single track road passing over railway lines with unmanned level crossings. This would be totally unsuitable for a sizeable increase in traffic in my view so that’s one question to ask later! It is a nice site and perfect for a caravan park with some provisos. A major one being the ecology report and possible mitigation measures. While the planning officer gave us the presentation I asked about the Blue Sky Forest project and if this had been included in that site. I really wanted to know if this land had been identified for this sort of development for years or was this application something new. Seems not many people, other than the Widdrington residents who were there as observers only, knew the answer. Turned out it was one of the areas earmarked for development in the Blue Sky Forest project, in fact it was the area designated for a nature reserve. Tonight we had the strategic planning meeting with several old applications having to come back because of the new NPPF guidance off central government. First off I objected to the minutes of the last meeting which said there had been no objectors to the new 500 houses in Bedlington. I reminded the chair and officers there had actually been 2 objectors, one of which was me! After a bit of fluster I was told it was only a slip of the pen and would be amended forthwith. First up was the Widdrington application. This took nearly 2 hours to get through. We were given the presentation by the officer then objectors spoke, then supports/developer spoke then members got to ask questions of the officers. After they were over we get to debate the motion once it has been proposed and seconded. I had heard several concerns the local parish council had mentioned and one in particular resonated with me seeing as I chaired our local Town Council for two years and served as a member for four. I reiterated their concerns about things like a possible litter problem which would ultimately be costly for the parish council and I specifically asked what measures were in hand to make sure this private commercial development didn’t impact onto the parish unproportionately. Given there were only 80 odd households in this parish that was understandably something of a worry. The officer replied saying some of the s106 funding was for coastline mitigation and part of that would be wardens or rangers who would be able to keep paths clear and help oversee things like litter bin emptying. I also mentioned the road to the west especially if this was the route from our main arterial road, the A1. I said I welcomed the North East Mainline Train holding objection until they assessed any impacts onto their level crossings. So we have to wait until they get back with their assessment. Didn’t stop the application going through with only one member objecting because of his concerns regarding the lakes on the site. Given that we have policies espousing the virtues of tourist potential I don’t think we had much choice. The rest of the applications were actually ones coming back because of the new NPPF guidance. As there was one about a 500 house development I couldn’t help but compare the agreed S106 funding with the one Bedlington got. Sizeable differences but given that this one was only one part of about 900 for Amble I could see some reasoning. Didn’t stop me questioning the agreed funding! In fact once again I had to insist on getting the answers to my questions and using them to inform other members that even though we think we are getting a good deal, things like the health contributions don’t actually put one extra doctor or nurse into the practices because it’s capital only funding. I said this actually does nothing about waiting times to see the likes of health professionals or even help parents get their children into their local school of choice. The interim head of planning told me they tried to get the best deals they could within the regulations and I replied I understood that and this time I didn’t blame them or even the developer but I did want to question the health authority and education authority about the way they assessed need and where and how this money got spent! Few slack jaws there with that volley and I don’t think this has ever been questioned before. We think we are doing the right thing yet know nothing about the system after our input. I also had words about another application up in Amble. This one came to us earlier in the year and members asked about a relief road as part of the development. It was mentioned not just by the developer but planning officers as well that a road would means there would be no suit of other S106 funding, it would effectively wipe them out. Members stepped away at that point but given that the local member had requested this road I asked if we were being presented with a deal for community benefit who was to say what the community really wanted? The planners insisted on the funding package as presented so I asked when had they last spoken to this community to get their view, isn’t that the job of the local member and he was asking for this road. That seems to really throw the cat amongst the pigeons again but I said it seems we were being asked to decide on which side of the deal to come down on. Seems we weren’t and any trade-off was imaginary. I think I was on planet Planning at that point! I would suggest no one play poker with anyone in our planning department because whenever I have four of a kind they pull out a royal flush. This is getting frustrating having them pull trump cards out of thin air all the time and the whole thing looks to be smoke and mirrors with the rules written on the back of fag packets! The next meeting I had to attend was listed as pension training but actually it was to hear a presentation from our new pension management officers. This because we are now in a partnership called Boarder to Coast with another 12 authorities and public sector pension providers. The officers from Leeds gave us a run-down on where we are with the new host body and then the head of strategic investments gave us his input. I did have several questions for him and one in particular seemed not to be answered even after asking it again. It was about the investment strategy and in particular the sub divisions. I was keen to know if they would be taken up whatever the market did even if that meant buying into a loss making position. Still didn’t get my question answered and in our discussions later, after these officers left, other members of the panel agreed it was a pretty fundamental question. I also asked about the strategy I had suggested several months ago about protecting our level of pension liability coverage. We currently enjoy a 100% coverage for the first time ever but my warnings about market corrections seem to be coming true. I’m pretty sure we don’t enjoy that amount of coverage now because of our passive engagement in stocks and shares. It should come back of course but I really did want them to protect our gains because we would be in a buying position given market viotility instead of sucking our thumbs waiting to see the effects. Chance lost I fear. I had a quick exam and assessment to do as part of this panel then it was off back home for the Town Council Meeting. I had a meeting with our head of Estates and the green spaces officer about a couple of projects I’m working on in my ward. I also had to raise concerns others had made to me about their relationship with our estates office. Affable meeting with no real objections raised to my suggestions so onwards and upwards! When I got back to Bedlington I had time for a quick cuppa then back out for a meeting with the police, this along with Russ and Bill. We discussed quite a few issues and I listed just about all the concerns my residents had contacted me about over the last couple of months. I think we all felt each of us got something out of this meeting and now others have been arranged. The police are well aware of what residents are concerned about these days. I had been asking for a meeting with the leadership of NCC for some time and after many cancelled attempts I finally got into the Leaders office along with the cabinet member I had specifically asked to attend. This was all about trying to get more investment into Bedlington, give it a renewed focus to address its fast approaching dormitory Town status and especially my ward and the suggestions I made were listened to and acknowledged. In fact I have to work them up into firm costed proposals now so lots of work to do in the New Year. I got up to county hall in good time for my next meeting which was economic and corporate scrutiny. One of the main bones of contention for this meeting was the proposed reduction in relief for council tax claimants of working age, to go from the 100% currently enjoyed to 92%. This was the same meeting I had previously reported on because I was told I was taking the bread out of the bairns mouths by asking for as much information as possible before proceeding to a recommendation? The consultation had been carried out and we now had the results. These were contained in a large publication which has been available in the members lounge for some time and something I had taken the time to read through. I have mentioned previously about me asking people for their thoughts on this potential reduction to benefit. In fact the NCC consulting’s got about 500 responses, I have asked probably nearly 100 people myself. Of all the people I asked I can now report that just one person was absolutely against the idea and I asked people in all council tax bands, people working in this arena and even benefit claimants themselves. So I did have a clear mandate to back to proposal however there are some salient pieces of information most people will not be privy to, such as the introduction of Universal Credit and its likely effects. I also consider the fact that with 80 odd percent of micro businesses making up the business landscape in this county and with small retailers being a large part of that, the recent downturn in high street retail with some pretty large players going to the wall means that employees within that sphere, not usually the best paid, could well be facing a bleak time, was something I had to consider as well. Like everyone else on the committee I spoke to prior to the meeting we all expected a large presence in the public gallery for this one and again histrionics from certain members. I was astounded when only one single Labour member turned up and he is on the committee. The other two submitted apologies even though at the discussion stage they shouted about this, now when the decision was to be made their votes were missing? None in the public gallery either which again shocked me as everyone had expected heckling. Back to the meeting and after the usual agenda item we came to this benefit cut. The Labour member sitting next to me asked about the consultation and both the cabinet member and the appropriate officer gave him the run-down on how it was conducted. I said nothing because I knew I had it posted on my blog and asked residents to complete it, if all 67 members had done the same I’m sure there would have been a lot more than 500 replies! Anyway the chair asked if we had any more questions and with none forthcoming from other members I said I had several. I first asked how confident we were in the numbers and the immediate response was about the consultation numbers. I said I was not on about those rather the financial numbers given that all the way through we had been told about 12,000 people would be affected, just now that figure seems to have been revised up to 15,000. How confident are we in the number of people affected and the financial savings mentioned in the report? Seems there was a bit of averaging done to arrive at these figures but NCC was the only authority along with Durham which gave 100% rebate and even after the change if it goes through we will still be the second most generous in the North East. I said it looked like that was being used as an excuse for bringing in this cut and I wasn’t bothered about anywhere else, I wanted the best for our residents, that was my only concern as it should be for the rest of us! I said I considered this proposal too much of a blunt instrument and we should really celebrate the fact that we give this level of help to people needing it. I went on and said I wanted members to consider two proposals, one to guarantee the 100% rebate for the first year of unemployment because that’s when help is really needed and secondly defer the introduction until we see how Universal Credit has bedded in. The Labour member sitting next to me immediately seconded my proposals but the cabinet member said how that would negatively impact onto the budget. I reminded everyone I had asked members of the committee to consider what I said to which the secretary gave a rather curt reply saying all comments would be taken to cabinet for their consideration. I kept my powder dry until the chair called for a vote but that never came. I do know cabinet considered my proposals but decided to put the reduction through without change straight-away. We had our usual Local Area Council meeting at Seaton Sluice this time and there was really only one planning item on the agenda. This was a revision to a condition we had laid down on this application previously when it came before us. Speakers for and against spoke as well as the planning officer. Storm in a teacup really because it was all about disguising a metal storage container so it blended into the setting better. One of the members spoke against it saying she could hear the noise when she was at church and it looked unsightly. I said she must have supersonic sight and hearing because I had been to the site visit, only the Bedlington lads and the chair attended, and the container wasn’t visible from the road and it was actually 200 metres away from other buildings as well as a wall and a wood all directly in the way of the church the member said she was inside of but could hear saddles being lifted out of mountings inside this container. Another member said there was actually churches in the middle of our largest cities right alongside major roads and that this was a complete red herring. The applicant got his change of condition. I did have to raise something else at the final agenda item of any other business. I said we were told these committees would bring decision making closer to residents and would have things like economic budgets attached. If that is the case I can’t recall any meeting where that has happened or did the administration really just meet local contested planning applications? The chair informed me that this wasn’t the right time to bring this up but another member said he actually backed everything I had said. So I look forward to an answer at our next meeting. So that’s about it for 2018 and I wish all residents the very best for the New Year. Kenavo 2018 and Salud 2019.
  4. 6 points
    First meeting was supposed to be a site visit but that had been postponed on instruction from the applicant. So the first meeting became a strategic planning meeting. The huge volume of notes for this meeting had been halved because two applications had been pulled. Still left several and most were revised reports listing changes to things like S106 agreements. This is the community payback funding which should go directly into our areas for things like education, health and leisure. With that I mind I had examined the notes in detail and had quite a few questions for each as they came up. Two simple applications first then it was into the meat of the meeting. Several hundred new houses proposed for the east end of Ashington, near the hospital and spine road, with several millions of pounds paid into things like education and health. I had a few questions about that and then in was onto the thorny one. We had a developer which had challenged the contributions our planners had asked for and after two or three critical examinations which produced mixed answers the planners had finally agreed a reduced figure with the developer. Lots of questions with this one! We get to ask the planners questions first then after a proposer and seconder has been found we get to debate what we have heard. I was first to speak at debate. I said I think it’s obvious for once our planners had tried to strike a hard bargain with the developer and I applaud that. Also I would have loved to give our planners full backing for their original proposal but with the present listing I couldn’t. I could see some rye smiles appearing. I went on to say it now looks like we have been presented with a Hobson ’s choice and we could actually be folding a full house, pardon the pun. I said I would be voting in favour if for no other reason than I believe our planners that the current agreement is the best they can get at this time. I might have been tempted to a showdown with the developer over this because the funding which is the casualty is the educational allocation. I said I was really disappointed for the children of Blyth because in my view it was them paying for these abnormal ground conditions which the developer has stated makes a full suite of contributions unviable. The application was passed unanimously. New Fence for pedestrian safety at Green Letch. I had a LGPS meeting and this one looked a mammoth undertaking, the paperwork and notes were very extensive. I’ll not go into detail but it took most of the day and we had two or three managers who addressed us regarding aspects of our fund and it’s performance. We are taking steps to protect our 100% coverage at last in case we do see a market downturn. We I’ll know in the next 6-9 months if that was prudent! Looks like I was justified in pushing for some sort of protection looking at recent market gyrations over the last week or so! I had a site visit at Plessey Woods with the park management and the contractor picked to put in the new play equipment. I did know the rep because it was the same guy I used for the two play parks we put in at WBTC. I spoke to him before the others got there and asked about other adult play/sports equipment. He gave me a catalogue including the prices which was exactly what I wanted for another project. When the others got here we convened the meeting inside the café. Going through the plans there were two bits of equipment we wanted to ask questions about. One bit I wanted to changed entirely! I did manage to convince everyone that what was intended wasn’t that inspiring and another bit of equipment suited the project much better. It was more expensive but I negotiated the price down with the rep who agreed to swap this bit with the other piece. Because of this I did give way on my initial request to have a zip wire included in the offering but then argued that if I did agree to the bit of equipment instead of the zip wire it had to be of a size and exciting enough to justify not having a free play bit of kit. I said I wanted 20% more but the same cost and Mark remarked that we already had a discount applied. I said I have just put that down to us including the cost figure in the tender so consider it only as an accounting excersise! What a barmy way to put out a tender, including the exact figure we have to spend. About a dozen applications came back all surprisingly to the penny of that quoted figure. I realise we had to find some way to give an idea of overall cost but surely we could have done it without quoting the exact figure? Other bits of change were negotiated with the rep mainly to do with the finish and edging. All in all I think this will be a pretty exciting new addition to the park when it finally gets installed. Initially we are looking at spring for the installation so it will be ready and open for Easter. Lots of small stuff still to be agreed but mainly edges and materials. I did manage to speak to our head of parks later and mentioned concerns some of my residents have regarding other areas within my ward but also to ask him to look at other ways we can stimulate increased footfall. Last time I had this conversation my ideas were dismissed out of hand, this time he agreed to think about them and have a conversation about them later. Progress! I asked if he would allow me to propose things like events and other upgrades to the top end of the park right at the entrance to increase footfall and hopefully takings in the café because that’s the only way we will get the justification for future development, not only for capital items but revenue costs as well. Town council meeting tonight and even though I hadn’t prepared anything I did give as much of an update as I could because a lot of my work this month had been for constituents and that remains private. Concern was expressed at the lack of action regarding the town centre redevelopment site but I said we had just met there today and if anyone looked now the site had been cleared this morning. That I believe augers well. An update has just gone out saying the main contractor will now begin with the site preparation work which needs to be done before any building work can be started. Happy to buy one of the new bus shelters, along with Councillor Wallace, which now sit outside Lidl. I had also been invited to the opening of the new apartments on the site of the old school opposite St Cuthberts. I was quite surprised at the finish and the fact that each apartment had its own parking bay at the rear. I also asked about materials and build quality and again pleased to hear higher spec insulation had been used throughout, more efficient boilers and broadband connections into each unit were installed. Also seeing as the clientele were all to be over 55yrs old good to see a lift installed for this 3 story development. Another bonus was that the reacts were all classed as affordable and whilst I might have a problem with that actual term it did means top end private rents were not being charged. We were told all the units expected to be let forthwith and some clients were actually moving in that same day! Might not have been my preferred option for this site but I can’t argue with the fact that it must satisfy a local demand. Just been informed my meeting with highways and parks management has been postponed but only for a week or so. This is about concerns raised by residents about parking issue along the roads outside Plessey Woods. . Next meeting was for new grit bins for my ward and the others wards in West Bedlington. We met at the WBTC office and Russ and Bill came for their wards too. Our highways manager gave us the rationale behind these grit bin positions and they have to score against a set criteria. Finally got to see the criteria so I now have to present each of my suggestions within that context. I also asked about a strategic map the Mayor said she and highways technical have put together looking at existing bins and possible ones because I don’t want to duplicate efforts. Another meeting has been planned for next week let’s hope all the information will be available then. Just been to another site visit this morning and I am even more perplexed than I was before. There are several bits to the advice given by planners which seems strange to me so I asked about them only to be told they were all down to personal interpretation. As far as I can see that means I can just use my common sense which is something of a rarity for planning matters! I’ll see what other members think next Wednesday at the planning meeting before I throw my tuppence in! I have been asking everyone for their views about this 100% reduction to the council tax working age benefit claimants get because it’s out for consultation. I have been shocked at the replies which came back. I won’t mention anymore here but I will have to dig deeper before I come to a balanced conclusion. Just firmed up another debate with young people as part of the NCC local democracy week. Looking forward to that but they do give me a hard time. Nothing like young minds to see straight through any obfuscation of the facts! Young people we can all be proud of. First meeting of the week and it was a site visit for an application in my ward. 4 of us turned up at 9.30am and the planning officers gave us a guided tour explaining what was what and where things might go. We were taken around outside the site and suggested we should look at the views of the open countryside. We left after an hour and the officers had given us replies to our questions. I had to go and see a local blacksmith I knew from previous jobs he had done for me through the Town Council and the development trust. I gave him an outline of the job I needed pricing up and he said he would go and measure up that day and forward me his estimate. Tonight is our LAC meeting which this one is shared with the local town and parish councils. Immediately prior we had a planning meeting for an hour. This to consider the application we had the site visit for on Monday morning. As it had already been in front of us last month, where members have requested a site visit, we knew most of the details. We heard off the officer then the applicant and then it was our turn to ask the officers questions. I did have several questions about this one because on the face of it there should be a refusal, given that was the officer recommendation. However the site visit had been requested because it was really down to a judgment call and there were several bits of the reasoning put to us by the officer which I disputed. As we worked through the questioning it was clear other members were unsatisfied too. An interruption was made so our head of planning could interject because clearly she could see this was not going as intended. Once the questioning was over there is a call for a proposer and seconder and I duly proposed accepting the application but under the terms, minded to accept subject to the outlined conditions being met and qualified. That caused a bit of an uproar and again the head of planning interjected explaining what my proposal meant. I was happy for her to clarify for other members but essentially I had proposed accepting the outline application only if the terms and conditions which had not been discharged yet duly were. It then has to come back to us for ratification or not as the case might be. It was seconded and after a debate which included officers for some reason I was able to give a closing statement. I said I would normally vote for refusal given the designation of the site however in this case I couldn’t agree with the reasons put before us. I had looked north from the site as requested and two large black agricultural barns were blocking any views. Along the road a little and looking north again we saw the Hepscot building site in full view. Turning back looking at the site and there were no views of the proposed site at all! Looking west from the site we see another large building site just up Station Road again not obscured at all and again at least 2 story houses. This application was outline permission only for 2 bungalows with restricted heights and as far as I could ascertain only the corner of one of the roofs would be seen from a single viewing point on Station Road. Also included was that this development would urbanise the area, clearly 2 low level impact bungalows couldn’t do that especially compared with the building sites we have allowed along Station Road and the house types being built there. I said I thought we were in danger of inconsistency if we didn’t allow these and that was my main reason for going against officer advice. The vote was taken after a lot of clarification by planning officers, their acting head and the NCC solicitor and it was 6 to 2 for my proposal. This doesn’t mean the applicant can now go off and start building; they have to discharge several conditions and get professional reports before our minded to, becomes approval. I feel we have acted in good faith and not discriminated against an applicant who doesn’t have a large building firm behind her to put forward their own partisan arguments. New road resurfacing done on the Choppington Road entrance into Bedlington. It was then on with the LAC and this one was for Town and Parish councils to interact with NCC departments and officers they wouldn’t normally get to have any discourse with. The chair suggested a round table approach and taking a very relaxed oversight of the meeting. We were given an update on the roll out of Universal Credit and both Councillor Pidcock and myself registered our dismay with this scheme and they way it is to be rolled out. We acknowledge it wasn’t our officers who should be in the firing line and they had to implement this as directed. Supposedly rolling out on 12 December in our area and with payments potentially 6 weeks in arrears meant some people would have no money for anything at Xmas never mind presents! In fact they might not get their full entitlement until February next year. Also the facts that it has to be all done online and applicants have to have bank accounts are other concerns. Who thought this was a good idea, obviously someone who has never been on benefits and doesn’t understand how they work! Several more items were discussed with most members using it to further the concerns they had in their own wards. I certainly did although I did ask about where we are with the devolution project. Just had another meeting about new grit bins but I still haven’t seen a map yet. This is supposed to come out to us next Monday. As we had the manager of local services there and the highways manager I did get the chance to raise some past and present concerns residents have mentioned to me. In fact one was mentioned by the young people I met with yesterday about their safety at school drop off and pick up times. Good to see them all written down let’s hope I get the answers back we all need. I went up to Leading Link and once again took part in a question and answer session with some of our young people. All of these youngsters are interested in becoming part of their school council so I knew there would be some hard questions! I gave a brief summary of local government then tried to answer questions off the youngsters. Once again the variety of topics these young people are interested in is astonishing and nothing like young minds to see everything in black and white. After grilling me for over an hour I hope they got some of their questions answered in a manner which they understood. Monday and back to county hall for another scrutiny meeting. This one only had about three or four agenda items, with the main one about the arrangements for dissolving Arch. I had read through the papers and had a few questions about how the council was financially safeguarded. I was particularly interested in the arrangements about the purchase of the Arch share capital and it’s reimbursement through a special dividend back to Council. Arch and ‘special dividends’ are something to be absolutely certain about!! I also asked specifically about the companies owned by Arch, both trading and non trading. I was quite satisfied with the answers I got back and a bit mystified when only one other member asked questions. Another member asked about the new governance document and we were told we would receive a copy each but that was something already asked about previously. Once again I had not boiled a kettle for a cuppa when I got home before I was made aware of a report on social media which seemed to misrepresent the facts as had been discussed just this morning. As the only member of the committee to actually ask questions about the financial arrangements and their repercussions I have to say the oblique silence from opposition members during committee sessions only to see accusations and finger pointing on social media almost immediately after these meetings only leads me to assume very partisan reports go back to whoever writes this stuff and their own conclusions are added into the mix which is then regurgitated onto social media. I do not think this is in the best interests of anyone in the county much less taking responsibilities for the best practice of NCC as a body. Holding the administration to account and suggesting ways it might improve for the benefit of us all is surly the job of every councillor irrespective of whatever party they belong to? Maybe I’m still just naïve, I am certainly coming to my own conclusions! Today it’s the Fire Brigade pensions and as usual the agenda runs to almost four pages! Unlike the Local Government Pension Scheme my part in this one is as a representative for the employer and it looks only at the administration and legalities because it’s a revenue pension scheme unlike the LGPS which has investments to manage. It takes all morning and into the afternoon to get through it all and we now have a manageress from Yorkshire who come up to advise. This is because the admin for this like the LGPS is in Yorkshire. We got through all the details and I even now have a basic level of understanding although it’s still pretty complex. After the pension committee meeting I went home and had just enough time for a cuppa before it was back up to county hall for the community chest committee meeting. We had quite a few applications to wade through, sadly this time only one from Bedlington! With only myself and two members of the administration we agreed all the applications in one form or another. Some of the details were not eligible and I wish people would take their time and read through the associated guidance then we could award even more. We ended up still underspent and not wanting to see that funding for local community groups and charities disappear we decided we wanted another extra round in January! Road resurfaced at the Hartford Hall entrance into Bedlington. Just returned for a supposed meeting about residents concerns about parking adjacent to the Plessey Woods Country Park. Seems that meeting had already taken place even though my invitation clearly said today. Being there and with the manager of the site and one of the workers I used the time to go through what had been said at the meeting. Seems nothing much even after they walked around speaking to residents. Unless residents wanted to see double yellow lines outside their houses there isn’t much that can be done. I suggested a much better signage for the park which included the wording…..”parking for Plessey Woods this way”. We also had to chance to kick some ideas around for the park and I think we might be on the same page by and large. I want to see more people using the park and using the café, that way we get to retain the income and spend it on more park upgrades and personnel. I also want to see more event type things going on and pulling more and different park users down with a varied offer. I was assured the lads now wanted to help with putting together a proper Friends of group and they will be talking to users to see when we can get a meeting pulled together to discuss it with all interested parties. There are a lot of things going on with regard to constituents and their concerns at the moment, even more than usual. I try and forward each concern as soon as I receive it and when answers are not forthcoming give the departments a nudge. I had a reply off highways about the traffic survey which was asked for by residents and which I in turn asked for. This was done on Choppington Road near the Chester’s entrance road. Again like the Netherton Village one this has come back saying the data doesn’t warrant any further action. We must have the safest drivers in the whole country because that’s two traffic and speed surveys which have come back quoting insufficient evidence for further action. If I didn’t know better I might have agreed! Path extended and resurfaced. Just come back from another LDF or Local Plan meeting. This had been called by officers working on the new plan for guidance on a list of items. Again I was the only member from the south east so it fell to me to provide answers for this whole area! Good job I sit on strategic planning so even though Blyth, Ashington and Cramlington were discussed as well as Bedlington, I did have knowledge of what was being discussed. In fact I think it was a pretty ‘robust’ meeting with some very straight answers given to straight questions. Lots of housing issues as well as town boundaries and community gain funding discussed. I was pleased to hear employment land would not only be protected but enhanced as we seek to bring real economic growth to the county. One thing which came up as I mentioned concerns I have with some of the developments we have seen is that the 500 house application north of the Chesters was actually first considered by the last administration. When it came to us last year at strategic planning it was actually the second time it had come through as a minded to approve scheme. No wonder I couldn’t get it refused. As I have been asking for updates on the Devolution Deal we are entering into with Newcastle and North Tyneside I have been invited to attend the committee meeting later this week as an observer. As I have already pitched a scheme for Bedlington using not only the Devolution Deal but also the Borderlands Deal I need to go and make sure I’m aware of the trajectory they are taking. I did go to the Devolution and Borderlands presentations and found them very interesting. So much so I had several burning questions I wanted to ask but being only a spectator at this committee I couldn’t during the meeting but I did directly to the officers after the meeting closed. Talking about questions I was astounded none of note came during the official question time during the meeting. Instead members only seemed interested in promoting their own candidates into the oversight committee positions which would be created all in the name of political balance. At some point we will have to put people into these sorts of positions because of their acumen and quality instead of just belonging to a political party! This infuriated me and I couldn’t help but tell them what I thought on my way out. 2 schemes worth about a billion quid and no one had asked how we made sure we get the maximum benefit for our residents. I might be being unfair and it’s all worked out but the answers I got back, I very much doubt it. Residents roadway finished at last!
  5. 6 points
    March 2018. Beginning of March and I’m snowed in. Hope this clears before I have to get back. Well it did and I made the meetings I had and held my surgery. I had quickly rearranged meetings because the NCC officers I needed to speak to were busy and having just been though a very bad snow-out I could sympathise. We ultimately met at Plessey Woods to talk through some of the ideas I had to improve visitor numbers. Lots of negativity here I’m afraid and I had to explain I didn’t want to spoil the natural environment only improve it and commercialise it so we didn’t have to be so dependent on NCC funding. One way opens up opportunities, the other is a continuation down a one way street I’m afraid. I did get support off the park manager and with his help we even managed to turn a flat no into a let’s look at the possibility. I really want to see a very much increased offer down there, well publicised and easy access for coaches. We spent well over a couple of hours walking around and they did listen to what I proposed but time and again it came back to, ‘that might not work’. I really have my work cut out to bring these guys into the 21st century! Not everything will work, some will inevitably fail but some will fly and they are the gold nuggets we want! After that it was time for the second site visit, this time the end of the Red Ash Path next to the cemetery. We drove there and parked up then I took them along the sodden path which had been churned up by cars at the start. I convinced them we had to put in new bollards to stop cars driving up the footpath there. I also pointed out the drainage problems the cemetery has and what I have been doing to tackle the flooding problems. Hopefully WBTC will commit to funding to help repair all the drains which actually join up under the houses and exit into the Green Letch. If that gets done then I need new field drains along the cemetery fenceline to stop flooding there. I think I won this one and they agreed to investigate and get the estimate I have, checked out. I also want to add in pitch drainage because that will not only make the pitch much better it will also help drain the footpath. The full costs of what I am talking about is well over £100K and all of a sudden why this has been left for so long becomes clear! Because the strategic planning meeting had been cancelled I was able to make it down to the EBPC meeting. Russ, Bill and Christine, the Mayor of West Bedlington Town Council, made it down too as did councillor Gobin. The chair made a point of gushingly welcoming only councillor Gobin and by association snubbing the rest of us. How childish! Anyway we needn’t have bothered going because most of the agenda was going to be discussed behind closed doors after we and the public all got kicked out! And that’s exactly what happened, very Stalinesque! I have to ask is that really in the public interest and all those agenda items needing to be discussed, subject to commercial confidentiality? Some looked quite innocuous. Today I have been on the phone for most of the day. I have agreed to help out more community groups and getting stuff in place for them took ages. Tonight is the WBTC meeting here is my update for them: Before I started I thanked them for their “open and transparent agenda” with everything out in public not hidden! WBTC update March 2018. Again not having a great deal of time to get things down chronologically so here is my update. Been getting a few concerns about anti-social behaviour in the ward so I asked for a meeting with the police. They duly responded and I have to say I initially went in to the meeting convinced it would be quite heated. I raised all the points residents have told me about and I have to say I was more than impressed with the police response. I was reassured and my constituents can be too that the police are taking all these reports seriously and even with the limited resources they have available, they are taking pretty firm actions. They did ask me to highlight a couple of things. First please report any incidents because a lot of these social media reported incidents are not being logged because they are not reported to the police. Ask for a ring back to make sure they are being taken seriously! Secondly please try to secure your wheelie bins! That’s the craze at the moment, setting fire to wheelie bins, and replacements don’t come cheap! Next up the problem with flooding at the cemetery. This is actually number 8 sub section A on your agenda tonight. I’m asking to help fund the repairs necessary to the existing drainage which untimely drains surface water out of the cemetery and also Redhouse Farm and Westlea. I have paid to get the whole warren of pipes CCTV’d and then dye tested so the blockages and problem areas could be identified. The quote you have on your agendas tonight is for that remedial action. I am also paying for extra work on the Green Letch outlet area. That’s the sprat to catch the mackerel! I have also been working on full replacement to the field drain which runs the length of the cemetery and have estimates for that. This is what will drain the cemetery and keep it dry! I have most of that cost covered and I would like to thank my two NCC colleagues here (Bill and Russ) for agreeing to help fund some of that too. I was down there with NCC yesterday and have their agreement to start looking at the project seriously and possibly making up the shortfall. Not to stop there because we have a problem with the path which runs along there, the Red Ash Path, and the football pitch I have also been quoted for full pitch drainage. I have already identified funding for that additional costing. To sum up, the overall cost of the basic infrastructure project is in excess of £100K, we get the children’s graves, and others, protected from flooding, path drainage, pitch drainage, surface water from Red House Farm estate and the Westlea estate drained properly, first time in decades and your contribution if you agree is about 6% of the cost and it will last for many years to come. The road inside the cemetery is getting redone too I have that already agreed. Now onto Plessy Woods. I have had meetings there with NCC officers because I have asked for more funding, well more help really. I want to see a bigger car park and better access because I want to see many more coaches down there. I think driving up real usage at school times means we take schools trips there. That’s one line I am exploring. I was also promoting many more ways to help the park pay towards its upkeep and especially giving the workers there some security! I didn’t expect the negativity I got back off some of the officers. In fact I had to tell them I would drag them kicking and screaming into the 21st century if I had to. The one officer who had liked my ideas was in stiches and had to turn away! We have a huge asset there, 100 acres plus, but because it’s been allowed to whither due to successive funding cuts it’s in danger of not being able to look after itself properly. There is already one path almost impassable! I am also working with two very enthusiastic young ladies who are opening a Woodland Nursery there. The work on the new Puffin crossing was delayed but is now well underway. I did ask Highways to get most done during school holidays because of the traffic congestion it would cause, but again local knowledge was set aside because it didn’t fit into a nice pie chart! It has been stated that the funding for the Town Centre redevelopment has been halved……it hasn’t, actually it’s slightly more because of the planning conditions we applied to the application. Lastly I have to mention the Gallagher Park event and the steering group meeting to select the preferred event organiser. After almost 2 hours I walked out in disgust. Let me say why. There were 6 representatives there to score two applications and an NCC officer taking the role of chair and another officer from procurement handling the tender. When one of those representatives firstly hands out 3 pages detailing why one of the applicants shouldn’t get the gig, I think that was enough bias shown to exclude him from any voting on the matter, but then after 2 hours when the scoring has all been done and is being tallied up and its very close, he says quite categorically that if his choice doesn’t get it, the event won’t go ahead, then that is not a full and fair process for either applicant and one I didn’t want to be part of! I therefore felt I had no other option but to leave, registering my dismay. I did say my funding was still available but this process has to be resolved properly. It now seems NCC have agreed with my assessment and they have withdrawn too! Thankfully WBTC did agree to my request for our joint funding project and we will now see all the main drainage for surface water leading into the Green Letch repaired and redone. Thanks very much WBTC, now to get on and get the funding necessary to put in new drainage for the cemetery! They also took the decision to withdraw their funding for the Bedlington Music event given the chair’s experience at the steering group meeting and NCC’s reaction. If they decide to put on their own event that has to be where my funding will go, having linked my “small’s scheme” funding to WBTC last year. Another day and another e-mail to planners this time for advice! I also had to get in touch with the same manager I did last month asking for some information to be passed to one of my constituents. I cannot believe that hasn’t happened but it hasn’t, even though I was copied into the email off the manager asking for this to be made available. Well it seems the Music event has taken on a life of itself according to all the emails and messages I am getting. Not really sure why this has blown up in the way it has other than an inflexible predetermined position by a couple of the members of the steering group. Hmmm…. local politics don’t you just love it, gets in the way of everything! If only decisions were based on the merits of the arguments…… A live music event for Bedlington was never under threat, but proper rules and procedures have to be followed, this is public funding. I think this sentence from NCC says it all……..”it has been decided that in order to protect the probity of the process, the procurement will be terminated..” I think that more than justifies my reaction to what occurred. I can only go off my training and experience. I have done commissioning and tendering training when I ran the Development Trust and I have delivered quite a large, for us anyway, commission. The two play parks, Westlea and Meadowdale, which were done by WBTC and overseen when I was the chair, were done through a commission put out to tender. We publicised the work as far as we could and 4 national and international bidders came forward with their tenders. A small subcommittee opened them together on the time and day we had included in all packs which the suppliers all got, and they were then scored off an agreed list which was also supplied to the tenderers. That reduced the count to two and the two which made the cut were then put up for public display and a public vote. The design the public liked most won the contract! That I would suggest is an open and transparent system and because the submissions were only opened and viewed at a predetermined time and all together, then there could not have been any “predetermination” and the only thing which counted was obtaining best value for council tax payers! Busy weekend at work but an even busier Monday. I was contacted by one of our schools who needed help with some fundraising they needed for one of their major projects. I checked things out and then gave them a list of funders who they could ask and should reasonably expect donations off. Next up several of my constituents were in touch about different problems they are experiencing and they took the rest of the day to get a handle on. Some I am meeting so they can show me their concerns directly. I have also been in touch with the Plessey Woods officers I met because I want to write a report for the next WBTC newsletter including a call to see if anyone is interested in forming a proper “Friends of Plessey Woods” group. Hopefully people will come forward and we can start seeking out extra funding to add to the Park’s appeal. Off up to County Hall later today for a strategic planning meeting. Only thing on the agenda is the application for 118 houses at Pegswood. I genuinely haven’t decided which way to go on this one but I have read the papers and I do have several questions! Well not to disappoint there was only one item on the agenda but it took 2 hours to get through and then it was essentially deferred for a site visit. We heard the application then the objectors and then the applicant. Several valid points were raised in these exchanges but they weren’t allowed to ask questions directly to the planners, the only people allowed to do that are the members of the committee, so I listen intently to what the likes of the local parish council says and what local community groups say and in most cases ask the questions they have intimated by their submissions. This was no different and after I guess about an hour of questioning and then debate the motion to award planning was amended to defer for a site visit. Hmm, looks like the strategic planning committee are not the usual push overs they have been! I also had a few words with the cabinet member for country parks who asked me to work on driving up visitor numbers at Plessey Woods. He understood my concerns and is to set a meeting up between officers, him and myself. This has to be an all-in play! Loads going on today and several constituents have been in touch to ask me to sort some things out for them. Pleased to do that, it’s just part of the job. Other problems and concerns raised are not quite that straightforward and I will get back onto them on Monday when I have more time. Another hectic weekend at work but straight back into it on Monday morning. In fact I even fielded a call off a lady in Surry asking for some local help with her relative. I have also been invited to meet with a charity which is starting here in Bedlington. Just organised a meeting for this afternoon with them. Police have been on too voicing concerns about the social media stuff which is saying there isn’t a police presence in Bedlington after 8pm. There is, what ends at 8pm is just the civilian front desk access. So a meeting with them is on order again. Unbelievably I still haven’t been able to get the information one of my residents requested about the traffic survey at Netherton. Calls for a bit stronger worded email! This is not top secret, it’s a traffic survey for God’s sake and why this hasn’t been expedited straightaway I can’t for the life of me work out! Well it seems like my latest epistle worked and both I and the resident have now got the detailed results of the traffic survey which have been requested for some months! I have had the meeting with the principle of a charity which has just opened in Bedlington and what a load of stuff they do, in fact it took nearly 2 hours to listen to what they are about! Looks like they will concentrate on family issues to start and I was pleased to help and offer local advice. Especially pleased a local lass is leading this! I also had reason to drive around the Chesters estate because of complaints I have had and will forward onto the appropriate people. I wanted to make sure I knew exactly what and where the complaints were about. It was soon time to go up to County Hall and again, this was a specially called full council meeting to hear a single issue, the Devolution enigma. We first have to pull out of the 7 authority one after 4 authorities said they were not going to proceed, and give delegated powers to the leads to negotiate and proceed on our behalf on the new 3 Authority one. In the end there was cross party support with only two dissenters. Unfortunately one of them decided to extend the meeting unnecessarily by insisting he reply in long speeches every time he was named by another member. That’s the protocol for these full council meetings. I rushed back to Bedlington to try and make the last Bedlington Forum meeting and say adieu to Brian and Margaret and thank them for their diligence and support. I got back just as people were leaving the Sally Army building so I could only do that by phone later. I spent most of the night replying to mails I have received on various topics. I have also canvassed for support off various organisations with my ideas for Plessey Woods development. Everyone without exception has welcomed my ideas and this now gives me a much better hand to play when I have the next meeting with the lead officers and cabinet member. Well a day off today but I did have a few calls to make and e-mails to answer! They took on a mind of their own and I now have several site visits and further enquiries to make on residents’ behalf. Today I had to get to work early then a meeting in Bedlington, then a meeting in Cramlington. For some strange reason the Labour group are saying the Cramlington meeting has been cancelled? No it hasn’t and I had to point that out on social media. And someone actually ‘liked’ it………Strange people? Anyway I made my afternoon meeting in Bedlington and it was extremely helpful. Excellent response off a local business when I asked for help! More on that later. I came home via the cemetery and took some pictures of the resurfacing work which has just been done. This is something I have been asking for over many months and at every available opportunity and at the last meeting where I had brought it up I was told to shut up because I had won them over! I sent a couple of messages to the people who untimely had to agree, thanking them for the job and passing on my congratulations to the team for a job well done. Next came the evening meeting at Cramlington. I turned up and had to sit right in front of the projector so all I saw for 25mins was a bright light! Anyway we heard the planning application, listened to objectors and supporters and then voiced our own questions. In the end we passed the application unanimously and then it was onto the LAC normal business. Pretty thin agenda but I do know they are going to be beefed up very soon. This is something I asked them to do last year, that and give the public a reason to come along! This meeting finished pretty early and as usual contained a game of political ping pong between the main parties. Today I had to be up at County Hall for a corporate scrutiny meeting. I turned up only to see more than half the committee hadn’t? Pretty bad show especially when we are the first line of scrutiny on corporate matters. I said that at my first opportunity when the meeting had started. This meeting was mainly about Active Northumberland, looking into the way it had been managed and then trying to get to the bottom of why it had gone so badly wrong. When the chair explained that the people who we needed to grill weren’t available, I again didn’t take that lying down! The officer who secretarys’ the meeting said the cabinet could still ask questions but it then goes to full council who will act as the main scrutiny. I disagreed. My argument was that we in this committee are supposed to drill down into the nitty gritty and spend as long as we needed doing that. I said the same level of questioning isn’t available at full council where we are lucky to catch the chair’s eye to ask any question in reality! Not the same and not really comparable or why have these meetings? We have now been allowed to send in written questions which will be passed around the members and replies hopefully received prior to the Cabinet meeting. If that’s the best we can do on such a confidential and essentially quite intrinsic subject matter then so be it, but any of my questions may well have led to new avenues of questioning to follow, you just don’t that that interaction with written stuff! I did submit a dozen questions and some observations. Don’t think anyone is in any danger of not knowing what I mean when they read my offerings. One thing which did puzzle was that one of the members of the committee said they had held a small meeting to discuss the issue and had some questions to submit. Now this has come out on Pink paper which means it’s entirely confidential and cannot be discussed outside the meeting, that’s why I can only mention the subject broadly and not go into any specifics. Just how that equates to having a small meeting about it with “our lot”, I don’t know……. but I have asked. I have several meetings lined up for next week now and I have been out to check the state of the roads in one of the residential estates in my ward. It has been inspected earlier in the week and several problems identified for remedial action. Well the week started off very well and I hope I have made a good enough argument to see a countywide employment initiative implemented in my ward. That on top of other developments should see this ward start to flourish in the coming years. The new light controlled crossing work on the B1331 continues and while it is causing quite a few obstructions and waiting traffic lines it just goes to show how busy this road is and the amount of children crossing it with no right of way was really just a fatality in waiting! At least they will have somewhere to cross in relative safety soon. Seems another week and another road to review. This time a road residents had been promised would be done several years ago but which hasn’t been. Again I have asked the question and also requested a site visit. The officer who responded to my request for a site visit didn’t hang around, it has happened the very next day! We discussed various options to get most of the road resurfaced and eventually agreed. I also asked him to take a look at a small bit of footpath I have been asked to try and get waterproofed. I have sent him the requested pictures and an offer of funding so we might get both jobs done! He has since agreed so both jobs will be getting done in the next couple of months. Well another month and yet another scandal breaks about the way the last administration behaved. I can only image the headlines they would be coming up with if this had been me in the frame! As it is it now looks like most people have realised just what has been going on and there is plenty more to come if they haven’t! I know work is going on behind the scenes to beef up the board of Arch as it transforms into something more along the lines of its original remit which was to provide real growth and opportunity for our county. It may be a bank holiday today but I still wanted to check up on some work which was supposed to have been done this week. It hasn’t so yet again another phone call to ask why not! I have done a reply to the accusation the Leader of the Opposition at NCC made during the last full council meeting, which was televised, where he effectively said I had sold out the Town too cheaply. Reflecting on the last administration and how they governed this county, including Arch and Active Northumberland debacles, brings this to my mind more and more………….here!
  6. 6 points
    Once again it seems I am to blame for all the woes in the world, well according to the Bedlington Labour page that is! I must be doing something right and they can’t have that or people might actually see they don’t need to vote for a political party, just someone who tries to get the job done for them! Anyway on with my retort. I have been accused of selling out my Town and its residents by the Labour Leader at a full council meeting, because I was conned by the Tories, as seen on the video! That incensed me to shout out asking where the evidence to his claims could be found. The answer…..”They are there.” Well Councillor Davey I have looked and looked for them but I’m afraid I haven’t found them, but I did find a smoking gun. In other words what I did find was extremely revealing. Claims of a £12M redevelopment budget for Bedlington Town Centre don’t seem to stack up when I have finally looked through his medium term budget, even the now revised figure of £10M doesn’t! And just to check, if everyone who reads this can look and maybe point out to me the Bedlington Town Centre project costings in the attached pictures of that budget I would be indebted and fully retract my statements and offer unreserved apologies. If it can’t be found then it may follow I deserve an apology! (It is clearly visible in the current newly agreed budget.) I can see two Bedlington references, one to Dr Pit Park the other to the 3G pitch at the high school, certainly none for £12M. So before we get carried away and no doubt claim that the £12M proposal is somehow off the books………do we really want to go down that road because ‘that way madness lies’…… Looking a bit further into this vast tome of business acumen I find further evidence to back my electoral claims up. I said the Chief executive of Arch is on record as saying he wanted Arch to be a £1B company over the next couple of years. NCC were already heading towards a debt level of another £1B and were seeking to double that. I further stated I wasn’t willing to be the guarantor for almost £3B worth of debt! Eye watering figures and some disputed them. Well here is the CRF and clearly it’s up to £1.587B in 2019/20. My warnings over a year ago were almost spot on! Part of my election leaflet of almost a year ago…….did I get it right? For anyone who watched the recent council videos all the way through I have asked several questions. One especially for residents during the budget debate and my question was quite simply……..if what we pay in goes up and up every year and the services we receive diminish every year just where is the money going? The answer came back quick as a flash…….debt repayments. So the last administration increased debt from about £400M to nearly £800M and we all feel the effects of that in our pockets each time we pay our council tax. Can anyone imagine what the effects of doubling that debt level to nearly £1.6B would have been on our council tax payments? I shudder to think and I couldn’t begin to comprehend what service provision would be like carrying all that debt and its repayments, even at historic low rates of interest! A small, but much forecasted by pundits, percentage rise in interest rates would be catastrophic in that scenario. I would also like to mention something else. If the basic build costs for the Bedlington Town centre redevelopment have been agreed, I think by all now, at about £6.5M with an overall cost upwards of £10M, or almost double, then we just need to look across the water at what was the proposed county hall move to Ashington with its build costs at £32M. And they were before an extra floor was going to be added and didn’t include the cost of the new roads. Also because it was going to be ‘our’ building all associated costs had to be considered seeing as they too would be coming out of the same public purse. All the work stations and associated hardware and software, even mundane stuff like furniture and given the impressive nature of the building I have no doubt designer would be included in the preamble to the name on the furniture! So what would the finished costs have been…… answers on several postcards please so all the zeros can be added! Now for this……… Oh dear not top of the class for comprehension were we? It’s not Arch, per say, I’m having a go at rather the now publicly identified “Culture of Entitlement”! Again going back to my election leaflets what did I say about Arch………….. “I’m not saying scrap it, I am saying it needs effective and transparent regulation and I don’t see that as a possibility with the councillors we have at present!” Was I right……..absobloodylootly! And we didn’t know the half of it then! I see Alex is entertaining himself with a play on the words ‘new dawn’ on recent posts on social media. In reply I would just say this……… There is a new dawn in Bedlington for honesty and integrity, There is a new dawn in Bedlington for people seeing through the political smoke and mirrors of the past, There is a new dawn in Bedlington for transparency, There is a new dawn in Bedlington for the Town being taken seriously, There is a new dawn in Bedlington for self-expression, There is a new dawn in Bedlington for community cohesion, There is a new dawn in Bedlington for turning away from soothsayers and charlatans, There is a new dawn in Bedlington for the scales to fall away from people’s eyes. It’s a bit rich all this attempted subversion and discontent from people who have had over 50 years to deliver and the only consistent thing they have delivered for Bedlington is their failures!
  7. 6 points
    Greetings from Adelaide . Wishing everyone in Bedlington a Merry Christmas and a wonderful new year.
  8. 6 points
    8mm film footage of the family when we lived in Netherton Colliery Village from around 1970 to 1973. Hope it brings back some good old memories.
  9. 6 points
    I have a feeling that that's more a commentary on the people you heard it from than on the "few self-obsessed locals"!
  10. 6 points
    Great photo Foxy, showing Bedlington in a very beautiful and positive light. There is so much whinging and negativity on this and the various Facebook sites, but at the end off the day, there are very few towns with a Front Street like Bedlington. Well done for the photo and all the positivity that you attempt to cascade onto these digital message boards.
  11. 6 points
    Malcolm.perhaps the best way to get our panes replaced in Bedlington is to get rid of the pain in charge the cooncil!
  12. 6 points
    It will soon be possible to get your very own [email protected] email address with online access to send and receive from anywhere in the world. There will be three ways to obtain one. Earn an online reputation on bedlington.co.uk of 50 points or more.Pay £5 for five years access.Demonstrate a personal community effort to help the town. For those of you not familiar with the reputation system here on bedlington.co.uk, each post has a icon in the bottom right hand corner. If you're a registered member and you like the post, clicking this icon will give the user that wrote it one reputation point. To maintain the standing of the town, members with active moderator warnings do not qualify for address allocation. Though, once granted only a total ban from the site by a vote of all moderators will result in cancellation of an address. @bedlington.co.uk mail is entirely independent of your Internet Service Provider, you can change ISP to take advantage of better deals available from time to time without worrying about having to change your e-mail address. Addresses are allocated on a first-come-first-served basis. The administrator reserves the right to reject abusive or improper registration requests without further explanation. The service is offered on an as-is basis, though every effort will be made to ensure reliability and stability of service.
  13. 5 points
    Having been brought into the social media froth by the Bedlington labour group I think I should be allowed the right of redress. Looking at recent postings regarding the forthcoming East Bedlington Parish election it seems some are suggesting an almost malevolent Independent Party has been formed to suppress the democratic wishes of the electorate. As usual in these cases the truth is far more mundane! When first elected to County Hall the three independent candidates for Bedlington formed a group, not a political party, to impose ourselves onto the committee structure within County Hall. That meant we had to be given seats by ratio on the major committees as all ‘groups’ have to be awarded. This we believed best represented our wards and Town. Instead of possibly being frozen out of major committees we had to be included and we each took seats on committees which we felt best represented not only our constituents but our own past experiences and interests. That would seem quite sensible to me? There has also been a suggestion that party politics shouldn’t play a role within Parish level of government and indeed this was quite clearly written in one of the first drafts of the NALC guidelines for the new Parish’s created after local government reorganisation in 2009-2010. That was surreptitiously taken out before the guidelines were agreed and put in place! The question is who could possibly benefit, in my view certainly not the residents who would be asked to vote! One further thing to note is the plain fact that even at parish level votes were and probably still are being ‘whipped’ by political parties. That means party political elected councillors have to follow the orders they are given to vote certain ways on certain items of business. There is clear documented evidence of this even a video so let no one be naive enough to suggest this doesn’t happen! That to my mind says political appointees will look after the best interests of their chosen party before the best interests of their electorate. These are some of the reasons I stood as an independent candidate for NCC and why I think the sooner we get rid of party politics the better!
  14. 5 points
    April 2019. First of April and straight into a corporate scrutiny meeting. At least this time there was no mention of potential criminality! We had several previous cabinet reports to acknowledge and then future ones to scrutinise and advise on. First one was a potential Cultural Fund to support a Great Northumberland initiative which would be aimed at boosting both culture and tourism. My only concern really was to question if this in any way shape or form was designed to replace the Community Chest scheme and assurances were given that it wasn’t. In fact this fund would seek out new projects to back. It was agreed unanimously. The second item was about increasing the Regeneration Development Reserve and I had a few questions about this one. Again eminently sensible and again agreed unanimously. I had to take several detours on my way home to look at various problems residents had contacted me about recently. Once home I had a few emails to send out too! Monthly surgery tonight and it took longer than the normal hour listed. Again quite a few emails to do tomorrow! Strategic planning today and with only 3 applications anyone would expect a quickish meeting, but this is planning! First one was a new supermarket for Amble and my initial thoughts were with the existing small traders who have helped transform Amble over recent years. Having said that and as I said at the meeting why shouldn’t Amble residents have 21st century shopping facilities on their doorstep, as long as we don’t lose sight of helping existing traders. There had been a retail impact assessment done which didn’t raise any concerns. However once the contents of this report were considered it was obvious it was just a desktop exercise done by someone who had never even visited Amble. So many inaccuracies it was unbelievable and I had to say that. The supermarket passed but we were able to ask for measures which are designed to help footfall down into the town and Marina from the supermarket site. Next came an application which to say was convoluted wouldn’t do it justice. Houses were being applied for on green belt land and the only way that could happen is if several exceptional circumstances overcome the green belt listing. The officers told us only one exceptional circumstance was in place and this was what looked to me like a hotchpotch, designed especially to try and get around the green belt designation. In fact, given the level of questioning by members of the committee it wasn’t just me who was uncomfortable. This was a 3year old application (?) and the 3 labour members who had sat when it first came up wanted it pushed through. As the planning officer stated the rules had changed and so had their advice, which had gone from acceptance to outright refusal. Normally we hear applications for houses and there are S106 developer contributions paid to the likes of education and health locally. What was proposed here was that the land owners wrapped up the money they were getting in a S106 agreement but the only beneficiaries would be themselves, ie nothing for health or education etc. I specifically asked the head planning officer about this because we usually have a run in about S106 agreements at every meeting. I said how many times have I questioned you about these agreements and you have always told me that there are strict rules and a mechanism in place to set these S106 monies, yet here we are a situation which flies in the face of your previous guidance. What no one wanted to say was this was the only way the green belt protection might be alleviated by saying the S106 agreement was a special circumstance. Well if it was it was like none I have ever seen before! A labour member proposed overturning planning guidance and accepting it but the legal officer then wanted him to list why he thought it overcame the several green belt protections. He couldn’t and then was advised by a colleague to go for a deferral. The 3 labour members voted for that with the rest of us voting it down. We then voted to refuse the application in line with officers recommendations. This whole S106 question looked to me like something artificially designed to simply get around the green belt issues and like other members I wasn’t happy about it, in exactly the same way we saw a quick redesign to our town boundary to accommodate 500 new houses in Bedlington! The last application was for a new classroom block at a Blyth school and we passed that without almost any questioning. I had to call in on a resident on the way home to give her the information I had for her so it was quite late when I got back. Town Council meeting tonight and I hope there is a good turnout. Lots of comments on social media because this council published their budget online for everyone to see, unlike most others! Well not the turnout I hoped for but an interesting meeting nonetheless. A resident asked if it was proper that two of the sitting Labour councillors were right not to declare an interest before they pushed through a motion giving a neighbouring council, where they are members too, funding for one of their events. Seems it was a matter for their own conscience. In the Mayor’s update they featured again because while this council had given funding to a play area which is actually outside their parish, the neighbouring parish where this play area is situated refused and the two members who had voted saying it was a worthwhile cause when at one council actually voted against it when it was discussed at the other council? One has to wonder if they had some “Road to Damascus” experience or if indeed they were just following a political directive. Whatever, it seems the calls for closer working between these two parish councils is OK as long as the actual money flows one way! Thats 7 grand WBTC have just awarded projects in EBPC’s ward, it would be nice to see some reciprocity or council tax in West Bedlington will have to climb to the heady heights of other local parish councils! Local Development Framework or Local Plan meeting today and low and behold this time I wasn’t the only South East member, the Lib Dem Leader Councillor Reid from Blyth attended too. None of the Labour members turned up again so it was down to the two of us to represent the whole of the South East area, which I think we did pretty well! We went through the 20 odd pages of bullet points regarding the input from the last consultation exercise, diligently pulling out ones which we needed clarity on or wanted to ask questions about, so the meeting lasted all morning. This has been a pretty Herculean task for the officers who have worked on these studies and consultations and given it has several completely new focuses the fact that they have produced such an in depth, articulate and sound plan was something we all thanked them for. My final question was something I wanted to know so everyone who took part in the consultations would know if their time and effort had been worthwhile. I asked if the public responses, not any off self interest groups just plain old Mr and Mrs Joe Bloggs, had influenced this final draft in any way. I was assured they did even down to some publicly suggested wording has been considered and given weight in this new Northumberland Plan. Given that this will influence planning for some years ahead it wasn’t unexpected that developers had been very vocal in their submissions with many saying much of it was too restrictive for them. It certainly isn’t the developers playground the last Core Strategy intended! This one has much more joined up thinking and reasoning behind it and embraces all sorts of things like sustainability, employment, infrastructure, affordability, health and education to name just a few. Whilst this is no panacea for all the woes in the county, at least it does draw together and start to bed down various other policies NCC have now got in place. The last Core Strategy took over 7 years to produce and basically gave developers carte blanche as far as house building went. This one has taken a year and has already restricted new house builds over the course of its life by something like 8-9 thousand. In fact given the settlement boundaries and neighbourhood plans now in place most of our towns and villages have additional protection. Minor changes and details are now to be considered then we should have a plan ready to go to central government for their perusal quite soon. Our LAC planning site visit today and we all met at the designated site in Cramlington. As temporary chair of this planning committee it was down to me to set the ball rolling and I explained to the members of the public the rules and regulations we were under and the way this site visit had to operate. That done I handed over to the planners and our highways officer for them to explain the specifics of the application. Once members had their questions answered, and I had quite a few, I suggested we walk around to the temporary entrance to the site to see first hand how that was being administered. Our highways officer pointed out a few discrepancies to the applicant’s representative and they were rectified immediately. After a cuppa and a chat with Russ and Bill in Cramlington, it was then time to get to another meeting with the CeO of Advance about our town centre redevelopment. We are pushing this about as far as we can go without resorting to bad language and I think that message has got through. In fact it looks to me like we might have another meeting next week given our almost reticence to accept things at face value these days! Several other possibilities were mentioned all aimed at augmenting footfall for the retail units planned there. Time will tell how ‘received’ they were! Another dash back home then off to the dentist, this time not for me! Firefighters Pension Board meeting today and this one is different to the normal LGPS because one is a board and the other a panel. This one looks at all of the administration, legals, recommendations etc and take a view accordingly. The LGPS Panel make investment decisions because its a non funded scheme whereas the firefighters one is funded directly by employers and the firefighters themselves. Again quite a bit of reading to get through and of course the recommendations off the ‘training’ day I attended at the Cramlington fire station. It took over 3 hours to get through all of the papers and I really wish I had a dictionary of acronyms because not being involved on a day to day basis all these letter abbreviations are somewhat confusing and I have to stop and work them out as we go through. We had a rep from the Yorkshire admin we use and she had quite a bit to go through too. LAC meeting this time at Seaton Sluice. This was only a LAC Planning meeting and I have been asked to step in as chair again until someone from another political group is appointed. The meeting started with the Chair of the LAC, Christine, opening the meeting then passing the planning section onto me. We had been to a site visit on Monday morning so we all had first hand knowledge of the first application. After the presentation by officers and hearing arguments for and against we were able to ask our own questions. I had to say I thought this was a missed opportunity for some elderly housing provision but as most other members stated given the facts of the application, as far as planning matters went, we didn’t have any material considerations to turn the application down to it was agreed. The second application for a MUGA in a school at Cramlington was again passed unanimously. I did ask if this would be open to the public but it was a special school and therefore this new muga will have to be fenced off for school use only. I did mention the fact that I was dismayed to hear work had already started, hedges had been ripped out, even though we hadn’t as yet given any permission. Well it’s been a week or two of ups and downs, pleasingly more ups than downs! We saw the new play area in Plessey Woods Country Park open bang on time. Not bad seeing as it was over 12 months ago when we sat down to plan this and targeted Good Friday 2019 as the opening date. It looks to have been very well received. Now to get some good events on down there and drive up visitor numbers, as was my brief when we got the funding for the new park. Lots of two way traffic with residents at the moment and most issues have been resolved, some even to the delight of residents! Others will take more time because they need careful and considerate handling. I have been working on a project to replace all the piecemeal hedging at the front of the cemetery with cleaner metal fencing so it looks much better and cared for and at last I have the quotes needed to go after the rest of the funding. Still waiting to hear what the new speed signs for Netherton Village and outside Hartford Farm are costing and that is frustrating to say the least as I have other calls on my smalls scheme funding. Looks like the interactive signs will be fitted before I get the costs! This is not the best way to oversee a small finite budget! Never mind at least we seem to be getting somewhere after many months of trying to push these along. Been working on a large scale project too and this at last is progressing well. It’s taken well over 12 months to get this far and when it comes off, not if, I hope it will finally start to address one of the running sores we all feel in Bedlington!
  15. 5 points
    March 2019. Monthly councillor surgery tonight, been a busy day today. Strategic planning meeting today and there seemed no contentious issues but this is planning and you never know what might pop up. Seems I was right and what should have been a straightforward application for a new fire station turned into something else. I questioned the reasoning behind removing the green belt protection because quite simply it flew in the face of what was in the guidance papers! I fail to see how in one sentence we read that response times were perfectly adequate yet in another sentence they were being used to show green belt protection should be overturned because they needed to be improved? I didn’t really have a problem with the application but I did have a problem with this reasoning. The new head of planning explained that response times were not really a planning issue and we should disregard them. I asked if that was the case then the green belt protection stood and we had no option but to refuse permission. I said it seemed to me they were an integral part of the application and that was reluctantly agreed! In the end the application went through unanimously but I hope we see some joined up thinking behind these applications and their rationale sometime soon. Next up was an application for a new free range hen farm. This had its own nuances seeing as it was the NCC Leaders farm! In fact it was explained that the only reason it had come before us was because of who the applicant is and anyone else wouldn’t have needed to submit to such rigorous examination. The only thing I was concerned about was the ‘waste’ material handling and this was to be agreed at a later date. I said I was fed up of getting half the information when trying to decide planning applications and this was a case in point. There are strict guidelines and some serious concerns had been mentioned about this sort of waste and not having a full report as to how the applicant intended to manage this meant, in my view, we didn’t have a complete set of papers in front of us on which to make a decision. Again the head of planning responded saying the conditions would be subject to discussions between his department and the applicant. I said I understood that but I had to make this decision now and I really wanted to know if the conditions would be in the interests of the general public and residents of that area or for ease of use to the applicant. Without that I considered this a less than complete set of information! I had a LGPS panel meeting today and this really was a case of turkeys voting for Xmas! We have been considering merging the NCC pension fund with the much larger Tyneside one and we have already transferred our administration department to them in a cost saving exercise. Going through all the permutations for a couple of hours we eventually concluded this was potentially a good move for pensioners and contributors. More investigations to be conducted before our next meeting in June but if it goes ahead the NCC panel which I’m part of will be redundant! Busy day today, first up my car had to go for an MOT and with other meetings to go to lifts had to be arranged. Turned out I got my car back in the morning just in time to get to the meeting we had with the police. No guessing what mainly featured in this meeting and I was pleased my calls at the recent State of the Area debated in Council chambers for a multi agency approach had been welcomed and things were proceeding. Russ and Bill were there too and each of us had our own concerns to mention. We all feel these are worthwhile meetings and it seems the police do too. Next was another meeting with the CeO and Chair of Advance at their headquarters in Ashington. More questions than answers again but at least it seems we are moving forward, albeit in a crabwise fashion! Last meeting today was the West Bedlington Town Council one, where we all give updates. Interesting meeting tonight pity more residents don’t attend and see where their council tax Parish precept goes. Well at long last the audit report into the Arch fiasco has been released. Lots of areas of concern in themselves but taken in context with the Active Northumberland report and the recent Briardale debacle we can see a pretty distressing pattern emerge, that being, at the very least, a substantial lack of accountability and any business acumen. For a company which had been “given” hundreds of millions of pounds in loans by NCC this is extremely worrying. That’s not even considering the proposed extra £450 million in the last administration’s budget for new projects. This was to be overseen by only two people, the ex Leader and the Ex CeO of NCC! These people should not be allowed to go anywhere near anything to do with pocket money never mind figures that are being discussed now! It does give an insight of how the last administration conducted themselves when they held office because all of this had to go through various committees where all councillors should have been sitting and they had a majority, no excuse! Comments and opinions by auditors below: Internal Audit Opinion: “There are two immediate primary areas of concern regarding propriety / probity. These relate firstly to the purchase of the former Arch Chief Executive’s home, by Arch, at a price which appears to have been unrealistically high to deliver expected rental income yields; and secondly, to what appears to be an unduly generous benefits and remuneration package afforded to a specific contractor (referenced as Consultant C). There is potential for criminality to be indicated in respect of each of these two matters, which were correctly referred by the County Council’s then interim Chief Executive to Northumbria Police for further examination. Northumbria Police requested that absolute confidentiality should be maintained by the County Council / Arch, in order that any potential criminal proceedings would not be compromised. Lifting of this reporting restriction was notified to Northumberland County Council by Northumbria Police in February 2019 (confirmed in March 2019). The Police are responsible for determining whether any offences have occurred and if so, by whom; the Crown Prosecution Service would be responsible for assessing whether any prosecution would be brought. In the remaining areas audited, findings indicate areas in which procedures need to be strengthened to protect the Arch Group of Companies and its primary shareholder Northumberland County Council. During Internal Audit fieldwork, several Arch staff voiced the opinion to us that ‘Arch is separate to the County Council’ and that ‘Arch is a company and follows its own procedures, not those of the County Council’. While this is true, it would be expected that as a group of companies wholly owned by the local authority, Arch would understand the need to demonstrate appropriate and effective stewardship of public funds. Some of the decisions reviewed as part of the audit – specifically the two matters referred to above – do not appear to have been in keeping with Arch’s own agreed procedures or expected financial returns; they appear unique and without a sound commercial basis. These examples do not reflect a sense of fiduciary duty to the shareholder when dealing with public monies, or a sufficiently robust commercial approach, by those involved in taking the decisions. In the other work performed by Internal Audit as part of this investigation, there are areas in which we would recommend that procedures are strengthened. These are explained further in this report. Internal Audit has also identified as a specific risk that the nature of Arch Corporate Holdings – as a group of companies – further complicates investigative work. The completeness and reliability of records across the company group will need to be verified as additional work on the matters under examination is performed and concluded. As part of our work to date in gathering and assessing evidence in respect of the specific objectives set out above, Internal Audit has not assessed the financial performance achieved by Arch to date, or the returns which it has delivered / is forecast to deliver for the shareholder. It is recommended that such an assessment is performed as part of any strategic review of Arch, to determine the profitability and performance of the group of companies and the accuracy of projected growth and income forecasts. In turn, this will help the Board and its primary stakeholder (Northumberland County Council) evaluate which activities are delivering well, and which should be continued; and which aspects of the group’s operations are not adding value and which should cease. During Internal Audit’s work, we have begun to consider the matter of State Aid. This is a complex area which did not form part of the initial Terms of Reference for this work. It is recommended that this matter is kept under review and that appropriate legal advice is sought as required. At this juncture, confidence in and reputation of the Arch group of companies would be enhanced by a more transparent approach, clear commercial acumen and demonstrable stewardship in all aspects of the Group’s operations and decisions taken. Comment /Evaluation: One of the biggest risks here is corruption / collusion. Without evidence of a sufficiently robust competitive process in any organisation, there is a risk that firms might be appointed to lucrative contracts inappropriately – or that this suspicion will fall on the company, creating reputational risk. Documentation demonstrating a competitive process was available in five of the thirteen ‘consultant’ assignments sampled. However the robustness of the competitive process could be strengthened. For the remaining eight consultants, appointed by former Arch Chief Executive or the current Arch Chief Executive, no documentation could be provided. Some of these consultants have had long standing engagements with Arch over a number of years. The absence of information regarding the engagement exercises with a number of appointments made by Arch former Chief Executive and the current Chief Executive needs to be examined further. Regarding the engagement with Consultant C, there are a number of documents which Internal Audit has viewed. Some of these, such as the one side summary of this contractor’s skills and experience, refer to Consultant C. However invoices have been submitted under his company name (a company shown as no longer trading on Companies House website). Whilst there was evidence provided regarding a role being advertised and parties (including Consultant C) submitting ‘bids’ there was no evidence of a value for money review of quality and price. There is email evidence which suggests that Consultant C was operating in the role before he had applied for it. The relationship between Arch and the surveying firm/ Northumberland County Council needs to be examined further as a separate piece of work, to more fully understand the nature of the relationship and services provided. All consultants currently engaged by the Group should be reviewed to determine if these services continue to be required and if so whether a fresh engagement process is needed to ensure value for money is being obtained, the engagement process is transparent and financial regulations are complied with. Comment/Evaluation: From the information provided and discussions with Arch staff, there is a lack of awareness of the requirements of Financial Regulations with regard to the appointment of consultants. There was a lack of information regarding the terms of engagement with the majority of the consultants reviewed. With regard to any equipment/assets consultants are actually provided with, this is covered in a later section of this report. The letter dated 15 May 2017 from then Arch Board Members would appear to be an extremely rare arrangement, and not likely to be typical. The scenario set out in the letter does not reflect the terms set out in the advert for this work published on Arch’s website, from which Consultant C was appointed. Internal Audit has not found any evidence of similar arrangements afforded to any other contractor. Comment/Evaluation: There is no segregation of duties in the payments to the four long standing consultants and a lack of evidence was provided in relation to the work undertaken. The daily rates are very high and we refer back to our previous comment regarding reviewing all consultants currently engaged by the Group to determine if these services continue to be required and if so whether a fresh engagement process is needed to ensure value for money is being obtained, the engagement process is transparent and financial regulations are complied with. There is no process in place to verify the work undertaken by Consultant C. This would not be possible due to the apparent absence of any terms of engagement and the lack of detail on the invoices in relation to work undertaken. On the basis of the invoices reviewed it would appear that former Arch Chief Executive and former NCC Chief Executive were authorising the payments. There was little evidence of the work undertaken (seven press releases at Arch) in comparison with the remuneration to this consultant. There is evidence that the first payment relates to a period before Consultant C had submitted his application for the role / contract advertised. In respect of the construction consultants sampled properly authorised orders and invoices were evidenced. For the two marketing companies where quotations had been obtained and purchase orders issued, evidence of monitoring progress and completed work was also provided along with authorised invoices. Comment/Evaluation: The absence of an inventory of assets has hindered this aspect of the review and it is difficult to say with certainty that the information provided forms a complete record. No consultants other than Consultant C appear to have been given a house / car. A decision is required in relation to what to do with the car, and its future value and use to Arch. Comment/Evaluation: Once an inventory of equipment has been established, a decision should be made on whether or not insurance is required for any items held by consultants. The purchase of insurance for the car used by Consultant C adds to an already substantial package of benefits enjoyed by this contractor and funded by Arch. It would be unusual to provide insurance in these circumstances. Comment/Evaluation: It is not known whether the tax implications of the provision of equipment and mileage payments to Consultant C have been accounted for correctly, or whether his status as a consultant is correct. Comment/Evaluation: There was a lack of evidence provided regarding the appointments of a number of the employees sampled. For the most recently employed member of staff in the sample a relatively robust process appeared to have been followed. This could have been enhanced further through checking the qualifications of the new employee. A number of appointments appear to have been made without a competitive process being followed. The offer of a £3k relocation package to a new Director already living in Morpeth at the time of his appointment would be difficult to justify, especially as the Director appears to be living at the same address as prior to his appointment. It was not established whether this payment was in fact made, or simply proposed. Financial Regulations and MoDA do not specify anything in respect of salary decisions that are required to be considered by Remuneration Committee, other than MoDA specifying that in year pay increases to the Group Managing Director are to be approved at this committee. If the Director of Finance’s email to the former Arch Chief Executive on 21 April 2017 regarding the requirement for Remuneration Committee approval for the Chief Executive’s direct reports is correct there are further areas that need to be examined further, including increases to the Director of Finance and the Arch Chief Executive. Comment/Evaluation: The absence of a salary scale makes it difficult to ensure parity for roles of comparative levels of responsibility. The provision of company vehicles to employees should be reviewed. Where it is felt beneficial for employees to have vehicles that they take home the terms and conditions of the use of the vehicle and each party’s responsibilities should be formalised. The other vehicles used by staff appear reasonable given the nature of Arch’s work, i.e. Citroen vans and a ford fiesta van. However, the purchase of a vehicle for £24,290.65 + VAT would appear at face value to be excessive. The invoice for this purchase is not signed / authorised. The staff benefits should be reviewed taking into consideration that the company is owned by NCC. For example in the current financial climate within the public sector, it may seem extravagant for a company which is wholly owned by a local authority to have a subsidised Christmas party. Comment/Evaluation: There was a lack of evidence provided regarding the appointments to new posts of a number of the employees sampled. A number of the pay enhancements reviewed appear to be unusual and require further examination by management. Financial Regulations and MoDA do not specify anything in respect of salary decisions that are required to be considered by Remuneration Committee other than MoDA specifying that in year pay increases to the Group Managing Director are to be approved at that Committee. If the Director of Finance’s email to the then Arch Interim Chief Executive on 21 April 2017 regarding the requirement for Remuneration Committee approval for the Chief Executive’s direct reports is correct there are further areas that need to be examined further, including increases to the Director of Finance and former Arch Chief Executive. Comment/Evaluation: The absence of an inventory of assets has hindered this aspect of the review. An inventory of equipment, particularly portable electronic equipment should be established as soon as possible. The number of mobile phones in use appears to be excessive and could benefit from a review. Internal Audit are of the understanding that the former Arch Chief Executive was on gardening leave in the period prior to him leaving the company in June 2017. This raised questions as to whether the charges incurred outside of the EU occurred in this period and if so whether he was on Arch business. Comment/Evaluation: The 2016/17 P11D return to HMRC is inaccurate in that it does not contain all the required information. The use of company vehicles by employees is a particular area of concern. Further work is required by the company to ensure compliance with all HMRC requirements. Comment/Evaluation Inaccuracies found in a number of banking transactions associated with property purchases result in a lack of confidence in the overall internal processes surrounding bank payments for properties purchased by Arch. We were informed in September 2017 that the legal law firm contractor ref.1 had concluded a review and that this had identified that £42k had been overpaid by Arch. It is understood from the Management Accountant that clients’ accounts at the Law Firm should all reconcile to zero once a property purchase is complete, which would have provided a further control, but should not have been relied on by Arch as the sole source of control. The surveying firm appear to have received payments under a fee structure which sees a payment for identifying an executive property to be sold to Arch; a further payment for identifying a tenant to live in that home; and possibly other fees which at the current time are obscure. This does not assure value for money. The decisions around the purchase and disposal of property at Empire Court in Whitley Bay do not seem congruent with the direction of other Arch acquisitions and developments. As we understand this property is now being disposed of, it will only be when all units are sold that the return on this investment can be evaluated. Further analysis on the treatment of Stamp Duty Land Tax (and professional advice on the treatment applied in this case) will be required. Comment/Evaluation: Rental income monitoring appears to be disjointed with the Arch team monitoring private rental sector and affordable homes and the surveying firm monitoring the Executive Properties. Review of rental statements show high levels of arrears in some Executive Properties, suggesting that the surveying firm may not be managing this as effectively as would be expected. There are weaknesses in the end to end process for all rental income monitoring. A review should be undertaken and a process determined which gives Arch assurance that there is a robust process in place across all the rental sectors. It is of concern that the Land Registration details for the property Y were incorrect and in the name of Persimmon Homes rather than Arch, despite the conveyance having been performed by legal law firm contractor ref.1. Comment / Evaluation: The involvement and interest taken by the former Arch Chief Executive in the purchase and subsequent rental of Property Y, demonstrated in emails regarding the property, appears inconsistent with his involvement in the purchase and management of other Arch properties. Had the ‘extra’ costs been taken into account in the purchase of Property Y then calculation shows it would not have achieved the 5% gross target yield or a net annual profit and may/should not have been approved. Had a more realistic achievable rental income been used in the calculation for the purchase of Property X then it would not have achieved the 5% gross target yield or a net annual profit and was unlikely to have been approved. Comment /Evaluation: Points of good practice: Internal Audit was informed that in the earlier years of the Company, the opportunities for hosting of events were more carefully considered with proposals going to the Board and a report of outcomes also going to the Board. It was the perception of the Marketing Manager that more recently as the Company grew and with it the volume of business going to the Board, hosting became a reduced priority for Board consideration and reporting purposes. Internal Audit was shown an overall calendar of events (spreadsheet) and provided with detailed spreadsheets for the planning and monitoring of expenditure in relation to individual larger events which included MIPIM (Cannes) and the Tall Ships. Areas of concern: Due to the apparent lack of a strategy and reporting, it appears unclear what value is being gained from expenditure incurred; the rationale for hosting certain events, or the level of hosting if such events are to be attended (e.g. bar and travel to social or sporting events). There is a risk that expenditure may be incurred that does not contribute towards the objectives of the Company. At the transaction level, all transactions should be properly supported with prime documentation regardless of the method of payment. Comment/Evaluation: Under the Localism Act, elected members are required to comply with the Code of Conduct maintained by the Council’s Monitoring Officer. It is the elected member’s personal duty to declare interests. Clarification should be obtained from the Monitoring Officer as to which ‘hat’ elected members serving on Arch’s board would be expected to be wearing when undertaking various duties and roles related to Arch, or accepting hospitality. The risk is that acceptance of hospitality and gifts from, or interests with, those firms with which Arch contracted may have impeded the impartiality of decision-makers or been seen to impede that impartiality. At worst, there is a risk of corruption/collusion; and reputational risk to the organisation. There is clearly a need to reiterate the duty on elected members and senior officers at NCC of their duty to declare in accordance with the County’s codes of conduct. There is similarly a need to make the requirement to declare by Board members at Arch more robust, and to enforce this more stringently. Comment/Evaluation: Further to the lack of a separate process for the declaration of offers of hospitality and gifts by Board members throughout the year, as there exists for officers, it is apparent from the work undertaken by Internal Audit in relation to the hosting of events that the annual declarations are incomplete, specifically under the section ‘Gifts and Hospitality’. There had not been additional declarations made under the NCC policy and processes. Comment/Evaluation: The awarding of exclusivity arrangements to the surveying firm to act as agents and property management agents in relation to the Executive Homes Portfolio has not been tendered for in accordance with Arch’s Financial Regulations and Memorandum of Delegated Authority, as described in Section 1 of this report. An assessment should have been made as to the estimated fees for the scheme should have been undertaken and the appropriate procurement method followed (for example the Director of Finance had delegated authority to £20m on Executive Homes, therefore it would have been easy to establish that the fees for finding and managing these properties would have been over the threshold requiring a full tender exercise). Our earlier work in relation to the Executive Homes portfolio has identified concerns regarding the surveying firm’s management of these properties and we are aware that the Head of Estates and the Homes Manager have written a briefing paper recommending the management of these properties is brought in house. The award of the 2015/16 and 2016/17 asset valuation works has not been compliant with Arch’s Financial Regulations and Memorandum of Delegated Authority as competitive quotes were not obtained and the services are in excess of £20k. Competitive quotes should be obtained prior to the award of these works for the 2017/18 annual accounts. The annual costs of the estate management contracts is below the £20k requiring competitive quotes to be obtained, however as these contracts have been in place since 2015/16 it may be an appropriate time to obtain competitive quotes for the 2018/19 financial year. Earlier in this report we have referred to the importance of estimating the costs associated with schemes to ensure the correct procurement routes are followed. This applies to individual schemes such as the large acquisitions of Potland Burn and Ellington Colliery as the fees incurred were likely to be significant given the value of the land being purchased. No declarations were identified in relation to the engagements with this company. A number of emails were identified during the original review which indicated an apparent closeness between the surveying firm and Arch former Chief Executive (the former Chief Executive being referred to as ‘mate’ in one email). Comment / evaluation: The cost of the new stand and clubhouse by Arch and associated lease require review regarding the expenditure incurred and the financial viability of the project. That the former Arch Chief Executive and a former Arch Board member are also ACFC Board members and there would appear to be a close relationship between the two organisations with Arch providing financial support to ACFC. Further review is required to establish whether this is in accordance with Board approval. Arch has paid approximately £67k plus on-costs for 2 members of ACFC staff and in itself is a significant financial contribution to ACFC. Comment / Evaluation: From the information gathered at this stage in the investigation, the nature / extent of any relationship between Arch and Construction firm ref. 13 is unclear. No evidence has been found of undue influence from Arch within the procurement process leading to Construction firm ref. 13 being included within the NCC framework contract. A substantial amount of business has been awarded to Construction firm ref. 13 by Arch. While some of this has been the subject of competitive tender, in other cases it is unclear. With regard to the first (and largest) tender exercise the validity or suitability of some of the other requested tenderers appears doubtful. Given the status and influence which the former Arch Chief Executive would hold, it would have been expected in the interests of transparency that the relationship with his brother (an employee of Construction firm ref. 13) would have been explicitly declared. This is especially so given the values paid to this company.” Given what the police have come back with I have no doubt this will not be the end of the matter! How they could have conducted a complete investigation without interviewing anyone, even without being under caution, is something I just can’t understand. There are some pretty devastating sentences included in the auditors comments above which anyone of them by themselves demand forensic investigation! Firefighters Pension training all day today at Hartford Fire Station. Members of pension boards came from all over the North East and it was a long and quite intense session. Several questions now for our board. LAC meeting tonight and I have been asked to chair the Planning portion because our last chair was Bernard. So a pre meeting with the planners to go through the application/s then the meeting proper started at 5pm. Only one application and after we heard the planning officer outline the application then an objector and supporter we had members questions. This was followed by the debate amongst members but this was somewhat truncated when we all decided a site visit was in order. Seems strange to me that this application was first brought in 2016 for outline and then a demolition order but there’s nowt as strange as planning matters! Once the planning was done we had 15 minutes before the main event. The room was filling up because there was a Bedlington Town Centre update on the agenda. We got through the bulk of the meeting quite quickly then it was the main event. I knew this was going to go wrong and I had warned them but it was for some reason deemed necessary? So the CeO of Advance gave a presentation of where the development stood and basically it was in the same place as it was last year at this time. That’s not quite fair, there has been a lot of preparation work done so building work above ground can begin but until we see some bricks being laid I don’t think anyone will believe it’s actually happening. I asked a few questions, why has this turned into a staccato type development, can’t we look at other ways to develop the USP Bedlington could offer and lastly why is the public toilet not showing on the plans now? Seems the toilets were never included, sorry but I sit on strategic planning and saw the toilet provision clearly stated and a member of the public backed me up on this. After members had a chance to question the CeO of Advance the public had their chance and if he thought we were tough…….. Lots of questions, suggestions and concerns put forward with some people leaving early. All in all a pretty lacklustre offering with more questions than answers again. My first question now would be if we are so close to sealing the deals and getting the scheme across the line why not put off this presentation for a month or even two so a definite signed and sealed development could be presented. For my money this a just another in a long line of disastrous PR for firstly Arch and now Advance. At some point lessons have to be learnt, surely! I used the chance of having the heads of local services at the meeting to lobby for Bedlington to be included in the recent High Street Clean Up funding central government has just released. Seems I wasn’t supposed to be aware of that yet but the point was taken and I was assured Bedlington would be included. I have had several meetings with local organisations and I was offered a meeting with local services manager about this high street clean up funding. I suggested including WBTC and Russ came along too seeing as its primarily in his ward. Seems this funding is extremely time dependant with only a matter of days to submit schemes for consideration. WBTC have to put in schemes for most of the funding but NCC are withholding some of the allocated funding to do extras in the Town. Both Russ and I are trying to get maximum benefit out of that NCC withheld funding but its turned into a bit of a fight! Time will tell. Called in to make sure the new play equipment was on track at Plessey Woods so we get an Easter holiday opening. Looking good and seems with only some infilling left to be done, we are on track. Had a whole afternoon at planning training, this one about the new social rented housing we are initiating. Listening to the presentation I became increasingly worried that we might not see as many new houses to rent at affordable charges as I was anticipating. I therefore had to question the presenters about this. Still waiting for a definite answer to that one! I also asked about build quality and running costs because it’s all very well having a new council house but if you can’t afford to heat it! I asked about infrastructure and where that might feature and another point of worry was the onus the presenters put on the financial aspect to demonstrate need so I put forward that social need had to be figured in too. I said “need” was something aligned to people so it wasn’t too hard to see a lot of social need in our area given we have over 50% of the population squeezed into the South East of the county. If we only rely on the fact that there may not be enough houses available in rural areas and financial constraints when there are then we will miss out on a huge opportunity to address social housing needs in my area. With no other members from the South East in the chamber I had to be determined enough not to take flimsy answers or I would lose the point for this whole area. I eventually got acknowledgement of my concerns! I seemed to monopolise the questions and apologised but as I remarked we should get this right from the start and save problems building up later. I also questioned the fact that developers seem to say that their sites cannot support S106 schemes because of ground conditions etc. and we let them get away with it. Is it really in our job to allow developers to maximise their profits on the back of not paying any community funding, such as health, education and leisure? The new head of planning responded and said I was quite right and this was something central government has identified and were going to take steps about. All in all a very informative afternoon but once again I was the only member from the south east of the county to attend? We are shaping a social housing policy and the very people purporting to support this don’t attend therefore don’t get to shape any part of it. There might not be any newspaper headlines to grab but this is the basic workload of elected councillors as far as I can see and I have to wonder how anyone can shout their mouths off when the cameras are on yet fail to put in the work where and when it really matters? Once again it seems I’m being targeted on social media by the same person and his cronies, this time demanding I apologize for screaming across the chamber at the last full council meeting, as well as other nonsense. I think light must have to bend around these people! Well I’m not going to apologize for refusing to allow this Town from being used as a political football between the two main parties. The video of that meeting is in the public domain and I think anyone can see I certainly wasn’t screaming at anyone, passionate for the town yes, screaming no. In fact there isn’t many times fellow members indicate their support for what was said with a round of applause but that was one! But thanks for bringing up the question of apologies maybe someone needs to apologize for the many years they spent on Wansbeck District Council ignoring the needs of Bedlington and the way they and their associates allowed Arch and Active Northumberland to operate, ramping up debt levels to unsustainable heights which in turn leaves council taxpayers on the hook for many millions of pounds in interest payments. We can all clearly see the present day results of that! On another point it seems the fact that I have a “day” job as well causes mirth. No answer to that absurdity really. Also it seems I claimed I ran ‘successful’ businesses for 30 years, well the video of the council meeting can lay that one to bed. Of course given that in all that time I have never left creditors in the lurch would explain why some might see fit to insert their own adjective. It would appear the seemingly demented ex taxi driver is increasingly apoplectic in his rabid social media attacks to which I will respond with a truncated quote from an ex Prime Minister when describing someone of opposing views… “a sophistical rhetorician, inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity, and gifted with an egotistical imagination that can at all times command an interminable and inconsistent series of arguments to malign an opponent and to glorify himself?” I would just like to point out one extra little bit of extraordinary hypocrisy. I was castigated by a local political group for abstaining on the council tax benefit vote. I did give my reasons for that at the time and in these diaries but I was “told” in no uncertain terms that they considered abstentions an aberration, in our democracy. Well not only did we see the whole of the Labour contingent abstain on a recent vote at county we now see our MP abstaining on a vote of national importance. I’m still waiting for similar cries directed at them off the same political group, who have been strangely quiet on the matter!
  16. 5 points
    Thank you! It was a bit different this year. 31 years ago I was fooled into a hard morning's work clearing snow, followed by a sauna, followed by a roll in the snow, followed by a brown, foul-smelling and foul-tasting drink served in a small glass. It was revolting - but it didn't half put a glow inside my chest. I was lead to believe that this was normal and customary practice on birthdays celebrated during the winter. Talk about being naive and gullible - It was six years later when I learned they were taking the mickey! By that time, having recovered from the shock of the first experience, I'd started to enjoy the procedure (and even the drink - the sacrifices one makes) and ever since then I've thrown myself voluntarily into the snow with gay abandon every January 13th with the exception of one snow free year when I threw myself into a lake (3 degrees centigrade). Never again! Snow, believe it or not, is warmer! This year we are again without snow so I had to make do with the sauna and the drink (well - it might have been two) following which I spent a quiet and relaxing day doing basically nothing. I've had a hectic month with an extremely ill OH so doing nothing was absolutely wonderful!! OH is making a remarkable recovery so we'll make up for lost time when he's properly on his feet again. Thanks again for your kind birthday wishes.
  17. 5 points
  18. 5 points
    The following are things people actually said ...in court, word for word, taken down and published by court reporters that had the torment of staying calm while the exchanges were taking place. ATTORNEY: What was the first thing your husband said to you that morning? WITNESS: He said, 'Where am I, Cathy?' ATTORNEY: And why did that upset you? WITNESS: My name is Susan! _______________________________ ATTORNEY: What gear were you in at the moment of the impact? WITNESS: Gucci sweats and Reeboks. ____________________________________________ ATTORNEY: Are you sexually active? WITNESS: No, I just lie there. ____________________________________________ ATTORNEY: What is your date of birth? WITNESS: July 18th. ATTORNEY: What year? WITNESS: Every year. _____________________________________ ATTORNEY: How old is your son, the one living with you? WITNESS: Thirty-eight or thirty-five, I can't remember which. ATTORNEY: How long has he lived with you? WITNESS: Forty-five years. _________________________________ ATTORNEY: This myasthenia gravis, does it affect your memory at all? WITNESS: Yes. ATTORNEY: And in what ways does it affect your memory? WITNESS: I forget. ATTORNEY: You forget? Can you give us an example of something you forgot? ___________________________________________ ATTORNEY: Now doctor, isn't it true that when a person dies in his sleep, he doesn't know about it until the next morning? WITNESS: Did you actually pass the bar exam? ____________________________________ ATTORNEY: The youngest son, the 20-year-old, how old is he? WITNESS: He's 20, much like your IQ. ___________________________________________ ATTORNEY: Were you present when your picture was taken? WITNESS: Are you shitting me? _________________________________________ ATTORNEY: So the date of conception (of the baby) was August 8th? WITNESS: Yes. ATTORNEY: And what were you doing at that time? WITNESS: Getting laid ____________________________________________ ATTORNEY: She had three children, right? WITNESS: Yes. ATTORNEY: How many were boys? WITNESS: None. ATTORNEY: Were there any girls? WITNESS: Your Honor, I think I need a different attorney. Can I get a new attorney? ____________________________________________ ATTORNEY: How was your first marriage terminated? WITNESS: By death. ATTORNEY: And by whose death was it terminated? WITNESS: Take a guess. _____________________________ ATTORNEY: Can you describe the individual? WITNESS: He was about medium height and had a beard ATTORNEY: Was this a male or a female? WITNESS: Unless the Circus was in town I'm going with male. _____________________________________ ATTORNEY: Is your appearance here this morning pursuant to a deposition notice which I sent to your attorney? WITNESS: No, this is how I dress when I go to work. ______________________________________ ATTORNEY: Doctor, how many of your autopsies have you performed on dead people? WITNESS: All of them. The live ones put up too much of a fight. _________________________________________ ATTORNEY: ALL your responses MUST be oral, OK? What school did you go to? WITNESS: Oral... _________________________________________ ATTORNEY: Do you recall the time that you examined the body? WITNESS: The autopsy started around 8:30 PM ATTORNEY: And Mr. Denton was dead at the time? WITNESS: If not, he was by the time I finished. ____________________________________________ ATTORNEY: Are you qualified to give a urine sample? WITNESS: Are you qualified to ask that question? _____________________________________ ATTORNEY: Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse? WITNESS: No. ATTORNEY: Did you check for blood pressure? WITNESS: No. ATTORNEY: Did you check for breathing? WITNESS: No. ATTORNEY: So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy? WITNESS: No. ATTORNEY: How can you be so sure, Doctor? WITNESS: Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar. ATTORNEY: I see, but could the patient have still been alive, nevertheless? WITNESS: Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law.
  19. 5 points
    Phase one..........the road has been resurfaced.
  20. 5 points
    Merry Xmas to everyone
  21. 5 points
    October 2017: After a hectic weekend at work I made sure I had either talked to or sent e-mails off to the people I needed to speak to about what is now getting to be backlog of constituency work. I have picked up yet another three meetings in the next couple of weeks, two for committee meetings and the other for additional training. When I said October was going to be hectic I really meant it! First off the block was a strategic planning meeting. One of the applications was the redevelopment of the Alcan site and I had some questions to ask about that, not least about contamination issues. I was assured none of the relevant agencies had reported any concerns. Well that sounds hunky dory except that none of that documentation had been included in our packs? This is something I am getting a bit concerned about, lack of full disclosure in planning applications! Anyway that application, like all of them that night was passed unanimously. One which I do want to remark on was the application again up in Amble this time for 272 houses. The developer came in and explained everything he was prepared to do and give by way of community payback and we even had councillors asking us to agree this application because of the level of payback this particular developer was prepared to give to the community. In effect for 272 houses a potential sum of up to £5M had been agreed. I immediately compared this with the 500 houses earmarked for Bedlington and my ward and the figures we can probably expect pales into insignificance. Same planning officer leading this too! Wasn’t too long ago, a month or so, we heard an application for 500 houses for Amble and again the negotiated community payback funding was into many millions of pounds! Why the disparity? This whole planning system is an absolute joke and needs fixing from top to bottom and I can’t even blame our planners because they have to function under the system as is, which in many cases isn’t what they might like. I feel I really need to start and highlight the inadequacies and downright inconsistency the current system is producing for the likes of my ward! Very next day and back at County Hall for another training session. I had gone to work at 5.30am come home at 2.20pm had a quick shower and then back up at Morpeth for this training session. This one was a master class in ‘chairing skills’ and it was something I wanted to do anyway. As I anticipated I have been doing it all wrong, well not really but I did learn some tricks of the trade which was exactly why I wanted to do it in the first place! Thought I had a rare day off today but not so there was a Gallagher Park Steering Group meeting to attend. That went quite well with everyone pretty positive until I was told the Community Gain funding or S106 funding for leisure emanating from the 500 houses we could very well see just north of the Chesters has been ring-fenced for Gallagher Park only. It would seem to me that the area which has to put up with the loss of amenity etc should be the area which sees the vast majority of payback, that as a minimum! Again I came home and fired off a missive to the head of planning informing him about this and saying I thought this money should be retained within the ward for the residents. As I write this up still no reply! Another day another meeting to attend this time the Pension Panel. We had a few presentations off fund managers who had come up from London to deliver them and one off an adviser who had travelled up from Leeds. Interesting presentations and they threw up some pretty interesting questions! I sat next to Liz who I am doing the further pension panel training with next week down in London and said I will meet her at the train station in Morpeth at 5.00pm. She corrected me and told me its 3.00pm! Heck just as well we chatted about it! I came home and spent nearly 4 hours getting some answers to further concerns expressed by residents and in a couple of cases trying to get their cases dealt with sympathetically. I still have my original list of concerns which still haven’t been answered or dealt with so I think it’s going to be a pretty uncomfortable meeting with NCC officers at the next Local Area Council. Well after another hectic weekend at work I did make it to the train station for 3.00pm on Monday. On the way down neither of us could work out how to use the other tickets we had, one for the underground but only for tomorrow? Anyway needn’t have worried we asked one of the underground porters and he waved us through! Up at 6.30am and after a cuppa and a quick shower it was off to the next venue for the training. Again we more or less walked straight there just in time for enrolment. As Liz said this was quite a complex session especially if you didn’t know the terminology. I asked each one of the presenters several questions, some they answered, some they deferred but against a room of over 40 people from all over the UK everyone knew there was a contingent from Northumberland present! This may not help my ward directly but it is one of the job requirements to make NCC as well run and professional as possible. In fact I would say this sort of activity takes up to around 70% of my time. I did enjoy the afternoon session and had a continual banter with that presenter! So that was the Pension Panel training over and it was then a trek back to Kings Cross. We got there early and tried to change our tickets to a train which was still in the station but we were told the ticket would have to be bought again so we declined. The problem we had was that the train we were booked on had a change in Darlington and the departure time for the train we needed to catch there, was 5 minutes after the arrival time of the first one! In the end it wasn’t a problem because it was actually on the same platform so one had to leave before the other came in. Got back to Morpeth for 9.00pm so quite a long day. Not to have a rest I had to take today off work because of meetings. First one was the joint chairs of the LAC’s and I had plenty to say there. First up was the county wide community chest scheme and we had about a dozen countywide applications and the funding was well oversubscribed. As we progressed through the list we examined the applications and questioned the officer. Some were taken out for further information and reflection as to the new rules, others passed, and some passed after quite heated debate! Next onto the normal business of this group. I had to chair our last LAC meeting because the usual chair had to have a minor medical procedure and several members of the public wanted some of their concerns addressing further up the food chain! Two in particular, one that the meetings timings were daft and the other that the agendas were as thin as water! I firstly mentioned the times of these meetings where planning is usually at 4.00pm and the LAC proper starts at 6.00pm. It seems all the other LACs have no problems with those times but I repeated what the floor of our meetings had said the times were crazy. The chair of this group said he delegated all the organisational procedures to the various LAC chairs so Christine can set her own meetings when she wants. She said she will be asking people what they prefer. The second issue I raised was the content (or lack of it) on the agendas. This was actually agreed by other members. I did say conversely looking at the November agenda it was very much beefier and contained several big topics, such as the NCC Budget. I said I hoped on behalf of residents these sorts of agenda items continue and make these meetings well worth attending. Next up a training session for the Fire Fighters Pension Board which I have been delegated to serve on. This has come right out of the blue! Listening to the briefing myself and the other delegated member were given it would seem as board members we have almost no say in the running of this scheme but we are responsible for the safe and correct way it is administered. No wonder there are no administration members present!!!!! Anything goes wrong myself and Ian are in the firing line, the administration members have insulated themselves from any liability here! Never mind just have to make sure nothing goes wrong under our tenure but again quite a responsibility. We went through the constitution and workings of this group and made sure we realised the difference in responsibility we had compared to the LGPS. This is a defined benefit unfunded scheme so no investment decisions to make! It took well over an hour to go through this stuff and only then were we informed that the next board meeting is actually next week! Because this is quite a small group, to quorate the meeting we need just about everyone there so if one of us can’t make it the meeting cannot proceed and that wastes time for everyone! Talk about being thrown in at the deep end! Much nicer time today! I had been asked to take part in the Democracy Week NCC hold every year for the school children of the county and today was Bedlington schools turn. Not only Bedlington but other schools around us too. 4 councillors and the Business Chair turned up to welcome our young people and take them up for lunch. They had been up there for some time but our first job was to take them for lunch in one of the committee rooms. Gave me the chance to talk to them because I knew quite a few that had come from St Bennets. After lunch they had the chance to ask us questions across the council chamber. They were given an hour to throw as many questions at us as they wanted and boy did they do just that. So we had to field the full gambit of questions from Brexit to School transport, from additional educational learning to inclusive disabled education, from gang culture to teacher’s pay and everything in-between. Of course the Conservative Business chair on my left and the Labour Party Whip on my right went at each other like dogs at broth which gave me the perfect illustration as to why I was an independent and resulted in plenty of laughs in the audience! One of the questions was about proportional representation and the two party members gave their positions. I asked why not instead of having party references just vote for the person you think best represents your position, but both party members rounded on me and told me you had to be in a group to get anything done. Really well I’m sitting here the same as you gentlemen! Oh and one other thing, didn’t we just agree that gang culture was wrong and had no place in our schools or indeed society or is that just a case of do as I say not as I do? I hope the young people got something out of it all, even if it was just a sense of county hall not being so remote and the people who make the decisions are just human beings as well, with all the frailties that entails. I hope I have convinced one or two of the young people who always take such active roles in most of the times I have worked with these young people to lay a wreath at Remembrance Day, deputising for me. I can’t be there because of work commitments but I do want to show my respect so I have asked to buy a wreath myself and hope to get these young lads to lay it on my behalf. Well what a nightmare work was this weekend. I had to stay late on the Sunday night to make sure the production lines were running normally at switch on and that was after a 12hr shift so I was pleased to get home! Monday and a rare day this month, a day off! Time to catch up on my correspondence and get in touch with the people I needed to speak to. My environmental training was cancelled this morning but I was at the dental hospital anyway! Ended up rushing back to chair a meeting at 2.pm. This was the NCC Community Chest Scheme for our local area. Hopefully more groups and associations will apply in future but as it was the funding was about equal to the applications. We really would like to fund every application which comes in but there are strict rules and regulations we have to follow to make sure everyone gets the same chance, irrespective of how big and professional their group is. That done and seeing as I was in offices adjacent, I took the opportunity, or in reality barged into the office, to ask cabinet members several questions on behalf of constituents. I even managed to squeeze into a director of service office and ask him directly some questions! I also had the opportunity to speak to one of the planning officers! I have also been speaking to the temporary local area manager I have been trying to get answers out of. He agreed to meet with me and I will take him around the ward and show him the concerns residents have been in touch with me about. Hopefully we can come up with some resolution! So not only have we dished out about another £50K to worthy groups in this area I have also been able to put into place some determination of residents’ complaints! Now I just have to make the best case for each! Wednesday and rushed back from work to get to the LAC in good time because there was a planning brief beforehand. As this is in my ward again I really wanted to be there right at the start. Got there in time to help putting the chairs out! First up a brief planning update about the applications we had tonight and then straight into the applications. First one was certainly contentious. Members of the public were there to put their views so after we heard the planning officer present the case it was time for public address. I do wish anyone speaking would refer to and take on board the rules and regulations we have to follow. An address can be as emotive as possible but in reality it can’t be considered if there are no lawful reasons to object! Whilst the public objectors had the sympathy of the panel we couldn’t dismiss the application because it followed all the rules, in fact I seconded it for exactly that reason! Several of these members of the public felt obliged to shout at us on their way out blaming us for passing this application. If only they realised it was in fact their inability to make a case using the lawful planning terms and conditions which made the outcome so one sided. Next up an application for the nursery in the West End school here in Bedlington. I proposed acceptance and when the highways and parking issues were raised I said it was so bad now that nothing could possibly make it any worse! That again was passed unanimously. Next up was the Town and Parish Councils section. This is so Town and Parish councillors can get access to the various NCC department managers such as Neighbourhood Services, IT Infrastructure, Democratic Services, Highways and Planning who were all there tonight. There was the usual contingent from WBTC, all Independent councillors (!), so with them and the two Bedlington County Councillors once again Bedlington was well represented. In fact there seemed to me to be a feeling of really getting on with business tonight. The officers were more than open and took notes of everything raised and we should see some actions resulting. I know my items were all written down for further action and asking other members, theirs’s were too. Today I had two meetings on at the same time. Treasury Management training and the Fire Fighters Pension Board. The Board had to take precedence because as I said if one of us misses a meeting then there isn’t a quorum. Plus the fact that this was the main 6 month meeting. Again quite a complex issue but then pensions are. Updates done and questions asked the Chair then took us through the rest of the agenda. This took 2 hours and I was pleased about the level of training I have done for this subject or I just wouldn’t have a clue. Friday and I had a meeting with our Neighbourhood Services area manager, something I have been chasing for some time! I had about a dozen items which needed to be resolved so once we met up I took him around to each and showed him the problems. I have to say this guy is extremely approachable and accommodating, so much so that because he has been transferred as soon as we get a replacement both the Town Council and myself asked his boss if he could stay looking after our area and his replacement move elsewhere. That can’t happen we were told! So after driving around for an hour looking at all the concerns brought to me by residents we now have agreed ways forward. That’s all I have been after for about 2 months now! Once home I had several emails to sort out, some giving updates to residents but one other laying out the evidence to back up what I said at a recent meeting, something which had been disputed. I have also been invited to a meeting by the head of NCC Planning about the housing development to the North of the Chesters. Seems there are some anomalies to clear up! It would seem there are quite a few anomalies where planning is concerned. We currently have a variation to a planning application which was originally turned down but got through on appeal and one of the variations to the permission is to build the houses in completely different styles. I have asked planners about this and they have said it is a correct way of doing it. How can that be right?????? For instance you get permission to build a bungalow and instead you build a three story townhouse and the change isn’t even consulted upon. Absolutely nuts but that’s the National Planning Framework for you! I wanted to get some questions in the next full council meeting so I contacted the person who sorts that out and she said I still had time. I wrote one about Arch and another about the Northumberland business landscape. I will list them in next month’s diary complete with the answers which I get.
  22. 5 points
    Another great turnout from the Bedlington folk showing their respect.
  23. 5 points
    Not a great start to the month still unable to access the internet at home? I was going on holiday just after the first week so I wanted to get everything done and in place before I left. I contacted everyone I had to with the concerns and questions my constituents have asked me about and I hope to have all of them answered by the time I get back. I had a Local Government Pension Panel meeting to attend and it turned into an all-day event! Several people had come from London and elsewhere to do presentations and answer any questions. This is a very serious position so I ask a lot of questions and if I disagree I say so, maybe too vocally! Anyway this took from 9.00am until 3.30pm to get through and I felt washed out by the end because it’s pretty heavy going. Never mind holiday to look forward to starting tomorrow! I was only going for a week and I had let everyone who had contacted me and was waiting for a response, know. For the first 3 days my phone hardly stopped! When I got home I was determined to get these ongoing issues sorted. After wading through the treacle of bureaucracy I eventually spoke to the neighbourhood services director. He confirmed that the original officer had been redeployed and his replacement had only just taken up the role when he applied for and received part time retirement. In some strange quirk of fate the original manager has been regiven this area to see to until such time as a fulltime replacement is found. I therefore shot off this communique listing the problems I had been asking about for some time now and in reality to him! “The following is a list of unresolved concerns my constituents have raised with me at my monthly surgeries. Black path from Glebe Road up to Meadowdale. Glass and cans strew all over and overgrown vegetation. Loose drain cover on Dunstanburgh road in the Hazlemere estate. Been reported by resident but no response from NCC? Cars driving on path to miss speed bump in Bernard Close, Hazlemere estate. Empty plot of land Edinburgh Drive, is it designated play area as it was supposed to be? Ineffective weed killing and blocked rains reported in Westlea. “ This doesn’t seem like rocket science to me but then I don’t have to balance the budgets and man power. I had to take the LAC tonight due to the fact that Christine the chair was in hospital undergoing a procedure. At least this one is in Bedlington! There was a pre planning meeting at 3.00pm followed by the planning meeting proper at 4.00pm followed by the LAC meeting at 6.00pm. After having procedures and the legal details of the planning applications explained to myself and the chair of planning we had the planning meeting at 4.00pm. The room was filling up with people who had been told they could address the planning meeting by their ward councillor but unfortunately that wasn’t the case! Not only that they had all come from the far side of Cramlington and thought this meeting in Bedlington had been handpicked to be out of their way! So I felt it incumbent on me to explain there was no conspiracy and that these meetings are booked well in advance of any agendas so no one knew the application they had come to shout about was going to be one tonight. The meetings will be held around the areas and this was just Bedlington’s turn. Also the fact that one of the members had told them they could speak was in fact wrong, they had to pre book a spot within the 5 minutes public speaking time. I opened the LAC and shot through the first agenda items and then passed it over to the chair of Planning sitting next to me. He again explained how the system worked and then opened it up for the first applications. Just about everyone had come to complain about one of the applications and it took over an hour to hear the case. One of the opposition members’, who has never been to one of these meetings but is supposed to come to each of them, stood up and spoke against the application. That got him a round of applause. Are people really that gullible? A very young woman spoke for the application and I had to remark to the chair that the audience should be silent and give her the respect she deserves! He agreed and asked for silence. Anyway after the speakers and questions surprisingly the chair wanted to defer the application but one of the administration members proposed rejection. I spoke about the concerns I had and most agreed but I also said we were in danger of looking like every commercial application that comes in front of us is turned down and that was something I wouldn’t like to be associated with. The vote was a unanimous rejection. Next item was a change of use and refurb of a commercial property. Again unanimous vote this time in favour. We then had half an hour to wait until 6.00pm when I could restart the LAC proper. When I did restart one of the first items on the agenda was public questions and as there were several members of the Bedlington public there unsurprisingly the questions were about Bedlington. This did not suit one of the members and he made an exasperated outburst! His complaint was that there wasn’t more members of his constituency here to ask questions and vary them from being Bedlington centric as he put it. I thought that is about as ridiculous as it gets and other members said as much! One of the items brought up could have been classed as repetition but given this member’s outburst not only did I allow it I made sure it was minuted for action! We then had a police update and I was surprised to hear quite a different report from the one I heard off the Police at the last Bedlington Forum meetings? When I questioned the officer about it he assured me his report was correct. Seems Bedlington is fully staffed and there can be no suggestion of a lack of presence here. Hmmm…… Had a corporate scrutiny meeting yesterday and this time I was pretty vocal. (I really wanted to get to the last one but it had been called at very short notice when I was away on holiday. That one was about the aborted County Hall move. I did read through the associated papers and most are covered by a confidentiality clause. So I can’t say anything other than I would expect all this information to come out into the public realm at some stage so people can then make their own minds up about who was promoting the truth or not about this move!) One of the items was the budget performance for this financial year. I had gone through the papers before attending the meeting and seen the general direction we are talking so several questions needed to be asked as there seemed to be a projected slight overspend. As this ‘potential overspend’ was mainly made up of one entry I asked about these figures. I would seem to me that an overspend of about 60% was either accounted for by incompetence, which I doubt, or the base line budget figure was so out of true it skewered the resulting report. The latter seems to be the case but I was assured it is something which has been identified and is being worked on. Good. I have just been contacted by another two constituents, one who seems to have had a less than salubrious service off NCC and another who asks about a project the last councillor was supposed to be doing. I have had nothing back from our temp area manager about the list I sent so now I need to step it up and include more items! I wanted to debate some of the topics identified in that Active Citizen report I posted some time ago with the young people I did the Civic Roles with. I had contacted Lyn at Leading Link and asked if she would ask them if any of them were interested in discussing the subject and I sent the synopsis so they could look and see. Lyn said it had a good response and there were quite a few young people interested in further exploration so I booked some time to meet up with them. In the event about two dozen young people came along and we discussed all sorts ranging from Active Citizens to Brexit, from democracy to paths for young people to better access our democracy. Couple of things stood out, one was they felt they needed better educating about the subject so that they would then be able to make much better and more valued decisions and the second major item was improved transparency! Couldn’t agree more but I had to play Devil’s advocate. The discussion went on for well over an hour and I hope we both learnt some things. I will certainly be pushing their points across at next month’s Democracy Week at County Hall where I have agreed to play host to some of our young visitors. Well my contact at Management level about constituent concerns has produced an unexpected result. Saturday night and I came back from work and was just having a cuppa before getting ready for work the next day and I had two emails from the people I have been trying to get hold of for weeks. I thanked them very much for the contact and assured them I wasn’t after any special treatment but I did need the feedback, good or bad, to the concerns and queries I had raised. Hope I get a similar response Monday! That’s this month done then and it might have been a little curtailed by technical problems but I have again tried to include what’s been going on as it happens, in real time so to speak. It may be a little abridged but some will appreciate the brevity I have no doubt! LOL. October is going to be a very hectic month! I notice the Bedlington Independent Councillors have been asked which way they are going to vote on the costs of over 16 school transport issue by the Labour group. Talk about insincerity! Well not to give anything away prior to a vote but I wouldn’t have voted to abolish free school transport for over 16’s in the first place, unlike the last Labour administration! In fact I believe education like health should be free for all citizens as long as we all agree with the basic policy and agree to chip in. I look at my monthly taxations on my salary and it seems like many others I have already agreed and I’m fine with that. Just to answer one snide attack with another…..maybe we could use just 2% of this Special £25M Dividend Arch are paying back to the County Council, according to the last administration, to fund free school transport for our over 16yr olds! Ahh… but then we would have to actually find that money; it would no longer just be a soundbite in a pre-election gambit.
  24. 5 points
    Start of August and already loads to get through. I thought this was going to be quiet because it seems most people still choose August for their holiday time. I went through the suggestions off constituents for the Pothole Fund and sent my three suggestions off. There could well be another two rounds for this funding so I have a good start for them too. I have asked questions about our weed killing programme because some residents are mentioning this as a problem and I have seen weeds in the most unusual places which have just been left. It doesn’t leave a great impression. I have already asked the Town Council to think about getting the weeds around their new litter bins killed off but they said NCC were doing it? I was told NCC don’t do weed killing themselves but I know they were unhappy with the contractor who was doing this job. So let’s see the real tale from the horse’s mouth and maybe even think about some way to get my ward done properly! I have also responded to the Local Transport Plan. This once again gives me three suggestions as to any highways and transport problems in my ward. I have a list of all suggestions residents have written to council about over the last year and good to see the three I was thinking about well represented. First is to look at traffic calming measures on the road through Nedderton Village. This has been a problem for 30 years I know of and I favour physical traffic calming measures. Second suggestion is around the problems of parking at the top of Link Avenue. The cars parked up on that road are being hit by cars using the junction to turn around. We need to take the parked cars out of the equation and it’s also something which I looked at for residents there already. Third suggestions is to look holistically at the parking problems at school time along Bishops Meadow, Deanery Street, Westmoreland and Cumberland Avenues, Ridge Villas and the start of Netherton lane from the COOP to the CLUB. These might be several areas but there is a single root cause, school time traffic. It needs to be resolved as a whole issue rather than just displace one or two problems areas. I have sent those suggestions in too. My surgery was pretty busy this month with one after another resident coming in to highlight their concerns and ask for them to be reconciled. As I left another three got me in the corridor so all in all a very busy surgery! It took me well over half a day to speak to and message the people I needed to get to so I could try and do something about what I had been asked about last night. Some were simple others not so……. I hope most people who came to see me can see the direct response to their queries and concerns which has mostly been done immediately by our (NCC) service arm. Excellent response off them for most things! Town Council meeting tonight and here is the update I gave: • Mentioned the meeting we had with Arch at last update…..we now have a proper press release which I made public. • Thanks Christine for doing the necessary at the Westlea Play area and picking up that broken glass. • Asked for the major road works on the B1331 next to the COOP to be done in summer hols. • Had meetings with Arch about constituent’s problems…..very helpful! • Various new initiatives for our LAC, first one being a pot hole fund. • Another, new Community Chest scheme, please tell any groups you know about to apply….. • Also I was trying to get Bedlington as a venue for these Lac’s or at least our proper share. After many blind alleys we now have a Bedlington venue…….Netherton Club. • Also chasing up on the time taken for an ambulance to get to my ward! • Haven’t let the 500 house application go unchecked either. Asked about the S106 funding or lack of it and I have now been told planners have asked for leisure, highways, sport and educational contributions. I have asked to see the paperwork! It is now designated to come back to strategic planning……. • Fighting the decision about not carrying forward unused Councillor small scheme funding. • I have put forward three suggestions for the pot hole funding, these are: • Ridge Terrace, Nedderton and the bottom of Choppington road, all areas identified by residents. • I have also submitted my three proposals for the Local Transport Plan, again all identified by residents. These are, speeding issues and traffic calming measures through Nedderton, parking issues at the top of Link Avenue and a holistic view about traffic problems at school times especially around Netherton lane, Ridge Villas, Bishops Meadow and Deanery Street, Westmorland and Cumberland Avenues. • I have also had meetings about the NCC weed killing programme and it has commenced under NCC in my ward the very next day! • Well done for the recent events in the Town, the Picnic, Bedlington Live and the Carnival. Not to sit back I have challenged the Cabinet about this Smalls Scheme money. They decided re-elected members can get that funding rolled over however new members/councillors can’t? Don’t quite see any logic in that decision, the money has been allocated and budgeted for and in point of fact its only money residents have paid in anyway, so why anyone wants to stop them getting their fair share????? My opening shot was that it looks mean spirited and unjustified. For my ward its almost £20K, so well worth fighting for! I have also had to get in touch with the police again today. Seems some kids had a hell of a night ripping off door mirrors along Netherton Lane but they were apprehended. So I need to find out what has happened exactly and what the cops are doing about it. I did get a reply off the police straightaway and it was reassuring that they have arrested 4 suspects but obviously couldn’t discuss a live investigation. However it would seem we have a bit of an impasse as I’m representing residents who are sick of this type of behaviour from the same place, while the police are more intent on the good work done by such places! That’s indisputable but there has to be some responsibility taken somewhere doesn’t there or if not isn’t that exactly the wrong message to instill? I contacted residents who had reported the incident to me and told them it was being dealt with seriously. I also had a neighbour dispute referred to me. It was referred by the MP’s office? Seems he can’t get involved in these types of disputes but somehow I can. I have absolutely no jurisdiction but the problem is that everyone still sees these houses and estates as being council owned and they aren’t anymore! It’s like coming to me with a faulty pair of jeans you bought at M&S’s. I did phone up the social landlord and made some enquiries about this problem. I got some answers and reported back to the constituent, hopefully they can progress their own line of action now. While I was on to the social landlord I had another problem which I had reported to them on behalf of another resident some time ago, two months to be exact! I was told this had been resolved now. Not so sure about that I think the lady in question would have let me know, still fingers crossed. I have been trying to sort out the panel for our Local Area Council community chest so it can be up and running as soon as we get applications in. I have agreed a letter with the chair of the LAC and the officer in charge of the community chest. This will go out suggesting the panel is made up of 3 Labour members, 2 Conservative members and an Independent member. This should give maximum representation of the electors in our area. That done time to have another go at another cabinet member about my Smalls Scheme! In had to get in touch with this cabinet member because of his portfolio anyway so while I was onto him…… I had a very interesting meeting with a developer about the possibility of a Bedlington Sports Centre. This was very positive, so much so I need to get some extra information so he can cast a slide rule over the project and come to a decision! With a bit of luck there might be something to present to the Town Council soon! I have been chasing up that information and have finally been put in touch with the right person to give me the answers I need. Well it seems the Town Council are coming up with their own costed leisure centre proposal. Should I drop my line of enquiry or carry on and develop it………think I’ll carry on. I have also been chasing some information for another constituent and this again might well produce real tangible benefits for residents here so I wasn’t willing to take being put off! Been to a Bedlington Forum meeting tonight and Brian the chair was too unwell to attend. Russell the deputy stood in and did a fine job! I answered most of the questions directed towards NCC and Bill took them for his ward. One thing which was a bit unsettling was the police report. Seems we are soon to see our cops amalgamate with Ashington and parts of Morpeth; it was stated as in the parliamentary constituency of Wansbeck, which will inevitably result in a much reduced presence in Bedlington because Ashington is always much busier for our local cops! This didn’t sound right when it was explained on the night and in retrospect looks even worse for us in Bedlington because I can easily see a situation where there is no immediate cover for us in Bedlington. Hate to say it but once again Ashington is benefitting directly from Bedlington’s needs being ignored, this time as far as delegated police officers go. There is no other conclusion any right minded person can reach. Planning site visit this morning at Seaton Sluice. Old care home being proposed to be demolished and a brand new facility created. We walked around the site and I asked several questions which will help me make my mind up at the planning meeting tomorrow. Again I had access to another cabinet member and lobbied him about this underspent smalls scheme monies. He was very well aware of my intent so the others must have been talking! He did seem to sympathise and accepted that I will be fighting this in whatever way I can on behalf of my constituents! In fact he made a perfectly sensible suggestion…….let’s call this day one now and stop rollovers in future! That will do me……it would get my ward another £20K now! Speaking of small’s scheme I have agreed, along with the other Bedlington councillors, to put £2K into the upgrades at the War Memorial. When I was Mayor I bought two WW1 commemorative seats for exactly this project but to fit them we needed a new path and that took ages to get agreements on. The idea was to make a contemplative seating area behind the War Memorial. As NCC councillors we have now agreed to pay for that new path so Remembrance Day should be shown to be even more aesthetically pleasing and something the Townsfolk unquestionably respect and identify with. I had a meeting with Leading Link about putting on another access to democracy debate. The last one I did as Mayor and explained what a Town Council did. This one would take the Kirklees’s example as a marker and try to get the young people fired up about active citizenship and the way democracy, or rather its access routes, needs to change to engage more of our younger people as we go forward. This would lead onto the democracy week NCC hold where young people are invited up to County Hall to see how it works. Tonight we had our LAC meeting but it was only the planning section. With half of the members away on holiday I thought this would be over pretty quickly as we only had one application to hear. Wrong! We had an objector and her councillor speaking against the application and the owner of the property speaking for. Once the officer made the case the speakers were heard. Questions came next then the debate. We were asked for a recommendation and I had no problem proposing acceptance. Christine seconded it and we then had the debate. I gave all my reasons for deciding the proposal should go ahead and most members seemed to agree. We had heard about the possibility of Napoleonic Tunnels running under the site, this from the objecting councillor! This then took over the meeting with questions about “what if” and “suppose……” It was suggested that I change my proposal from accepting the recommendation to include some further conditions about the possibility of these tunnels. I refused saying I read the NCC archaeologist’s report and they make no mention of these supposed tunnels so I wasn’t going to have any knee jerk reactions to this supposition, my proposal stood. There is a condition contained which states if anything of archaeological merit is found then………..that was good enough for me. In the end the planning was granted by a unanimous vote. Once again I then ‘spoke’ to another cabinet member, this time the Deputy Leader about this money I’m after for my ward! He said they were taking it seriously and I will be contacted soon. I also spoke to the head of Planning and asked her to nudge one of her colleagues because I have sent two or three emails with concerns one of my residents has and as yet I have had no reply. Got back home in time to see the News Post Leader had printed my reply to a letter last week about the Dam at Humford. Someone was having a go saying the new councillors needed to step up to the plate, get to know about it and voice their concerns about this project. Hmm, my reply was that I had been to meetings about the project and was at the public presentation by the proposer but coming out on one side or the other would preclude me from voting as a planning committee member when the project came in front of us, if it ever does. So maybe not a case of not stepping up to the plate maybe a case of keeping one’s powder dry! As it stands we have 3 Bedlington councillors on planning and we are all aware of this project and local feeling. Well just got an email from NCC telling me what my smalls scheme allowance is and its reset back to this year only! Well that’s me told……….not! I now need to see what other buttons I can press! I don’t see why we should lose out just because the last councillor didn’t know what was needed and didn’t spend his allowance! The quiet word I had with the head of planning seems to have worked as I now have several emails replying to the questions I submitted on a resident’s behalf. These I can now send on. I now have to get onto several departments within NCC and seek out yet more answers to questions raised by constituents. Had to go and see one of my constituents about a problem he had outside his house. After this meeting I had to request a meeting with one of the NCC managers who I am in almost daily contact with! This will be easy or extremely difficult to sort out! I also asked about the puffin crossing which is due to go in beside the COOP on the B1331. I wanted to know and pass on the timescale or it. While I was onto highways I asked about the traffic survey which is to be carried out in Netherton Village. I have been asked to go up to County Hall for a meeting with the business chair! I should be getting answers back to my enquiries of last week because it was a bank holiday yesterday and everyone had a long weekend. Well apart from me and the weekend workers! I do have several more questions to ask now though! The puffin crossing next to the COOP is to be started during the October half term, hopefully that will minimise traffic disruption. I had asked for it to be done during the summer holidays but the paperwork couldn’t be done in time? Had the meeting with the NCC Business Chair and I think I can describe it as a full and frank exchange of views! I think both of us are in no doubt about where each of us stand on several issues and time will tell how sincere each of us are. This month’s Diary and the start of next month’s diary will inevitably be somewhat curtailed due to the fact that my Internet supplier seems to have switched me off half way through August! I have made efforts to at least describe what happened in the last 2 weeks.
  25. Malcolm Robinson

    Bedlington Town Centre redevelopment update:

    Bedlington Town Centre - Councillors Briefing, August 2017 Introduction This report provides an update on progress on the Bedlington Town Centre, former Tesco Site and the Old School housing development. Bedlington Town Centre Summary We are making good progress with development proposals for Bedlington Town Centre, a retail led scheme is emerging that will be capable of transforming the town centre, creating exciting new places to visit, dwell and shop. Once completed, this flagship Arch development will form a pivotal focal point for the town whilst also delivering a truly mixed-use scheme with many positive economic, social and physical benefits. Discussions with prospective tenants, in particular the food anchor, are reaching fruition and a number of corporate retailers have expressed an interest in being part of the scheme. Securing these anchor tenants forms the next stage of development now that outline planning consent is secured. With commercial viability a core objective of the development, our immediate efforts have been concentrated on five key activities: 1. Demolition, site clearance, site investigations and remediation; 2. Design of a financially viable masterplan to demonstrate the capability of the site to the market and provide a balanced mixed-use development that will complement and add value to the existing Bedlington offer; 3. Obtain outline planning permission for the development; 4. Attract new investors into Bedlington to increase retail diversity and create the economic catalyst for commercial development; and 5. Introduce a new housing offer with a diversity of tenures to satisfy market demand for town centre living. Planning The pre-planning submission public consultation was held 6th December 2016 at the Salvation Army Hall. County and Town Cllrs and members of the Bedlington Delivery Group were invited to a preview. Over 150 people attended on the day with 140 providing feedback, of which 98% were generally in support of the development proposals, agreed that there is a need for more shopping and leisure facilities in Bedlington and agreed that the scheme would enhance Bedlington Town Centre. The outline planning application was submitted 9th February 2017 and approved at Strategic Planning Committee in June 2017. The design team meet weekly and are now working with Arch Developments in preparing the ‘reserved matters’ application and discharge of conditions. However, some of the detail is subject to retailers / other users’ requirements, which are yet to be defined. Tenant Profile The scheme is attracting good levels of interest in the retail market and we are confident of underpinning the development with two “anchor” stores. The primary aim is to secure a c.2,000m2 discount food supermarket and a c.1,500m2 non-food discount store, we are in direct discussions with two major retailers to fulfil these roles. Our existing tenant Greggs have expressed interest in a larger unit within the new development. General feedback is looking positive and once the anchors are secured a number of complementary retailers are also keen to take units within the scheme. Once an appropriate level of income/capital is accomplished from sales and lettings, a request for funding to commence the development will be brought forward for Arch Board approval, current target is an Autumn Board. Construction Due to the estimated build cost of the development, the construction will be subject to OJEU procurement (restricted tender). This will require a PQQ stage to shortlist interest from the market, followed by an ITT to the shortlisted contractors. We are currently targeting to commence with the PQQ this autumn with the aim of completing the procurement to enable construction to commence, subject to viability and Board approval, early 2018. Development names A naming competition (My Town My Vote) for the development was launched in February, led by Leading Link, nearly 2,900 votes were cast. The winning name was Pipers Place (947 votes) followed by The Forge (811 votes), Market Square (562 votes) and The Cross (481 votes). Ballot boxes toured local schools in Bedlingtonshire and were placed in local businesses, churches and care homes. The campaign involved the design of a local mascot ‘Bedlington Ben’ and included stickers and posters, all designed by young people involved through Leading Link youth charity. The name is yet to be adopted. Consideration needs to be given to its suitability for a retail led development and also the Council’s Street Naming and Numbering process. Old School, Bedlington Arch acquired the former Old School site situated on the corner of Front Street and Church Lane from a local developer in February of 2016. The site came with the benefit of a planning consent for 19 apartments – granted in 2009 through appeal. The intention is to develop PRS/affordable apartments on the site, targeted at the over 55 market. Arch appointed architects ID Partnership to revise the development, aligning to the PRS market, but maintaining high quality architecture. The revised development provides 18 two bed apartments, ranging from 59-65m2. A section 73 application for the proposed variations was submitted in September 2016 and the variations were approved by Planning Committee in January 2017. Arch Group Investment Committee approval was granted February 2017 for the development and appointment of the contractor NB Clark (Morpeth), following competitive tender. NB Clark took site possession in March 2017. Practical completion is currently programmed for April 2018. At present, NB Clark are currently on programme and are progressing well with ground to first floor brickwork. All underpinning works to the south and west boundary walls are complete.
  26. 5 points
    I’ve recently spent a couple of weeks wandering about in the Cotswolds and was delighted in several towns and villages to find FREE walking tours available. Guided by a member of the local history society, groups of 2 to 20 people are shown points of historical interest and the history of the town is briefly related. The walks were 1-2 hours. The experience was both interesting and enjoyable. In some larger towns the tour took place up to 4 times a day, while in smaller towns it was only once a day. It was free because it encouraged visitors to the town and in small towns (timed as it was directly before or after lunch) it brought income to pubs, tea-rooms and restaurants. These towns and villages were places no larger than Bedlington and in many cases, though interesting in their history, had not as much to offer as Bedlington. Could it be something for Bedlington? I’m not suggesting every day, but perhaps a couple of times during the summer? Or even an autumn or winter walk, perhaps with pleasant lighting in places.
  27. 5 points
  28. 5 points
    Looking good today!
  29. 5 points
    Seems another, albeit less important, election has been forecast for June 8th.
  30. 5 points
    my name is joe steel the photos were took in the howard arms in the market place bedlington this is my granddad who brought me and my brother brian up and we are very proud of him .the middle photo is our real dad also called joe steel.hope this helps a little bit
  31. 5 points
    Excellent love the new Gateway Features
  32. 5 points
  33. 5 points
    That article is so true. The sad thing is, Bedlington has lovely character that other towns in Northumberland lack (such as Ashington, Blyth and Cramlington). It's good to see new business' springing up like Root bean, fishy feet, etc as well as the old classics such as Tallantyre, Dennis Todd music and Moods (where the gentleman who served me yesterday was bloody lovely, and not a generic tesco uniform clad zombie. We just need that extra boost, but the government have ignored us for the likes of Whitley Bay, Ashington and some pointless human sculpture made out of land near cramlington. To be fair, I don't even know how they can, with good conscience, build that sculpture while there are policemen and nurses being laid off. I'd rather have good health care and a decent police force than have my taxes pay for the second angel of the north!!
  34. 5 points
    Just what everyone wants to know: RE: J D Wetherspoon: Contact Form Submission†From: Acquisitions Internal ([email protected]) Sent: 05 July 2010 09:10:23 To: claire jackson Dear Ms Jackson Thank you for your email. JD Wetherspoon has purchased the Red Lion in Bedlington. At the moment there are no onsite or opening dates agreed. Once again, thank you for taking the time and trouble to contact us. Kind regards Carolyn
  35. 5 points
    As far as we're concerned, the matter IS closed thanks. There has been no problems at our door since one of the kids has received a behaviour order(not quite an ASBO) and the police visited another one and warned his parents! We don't wish to listen to some "other story" that some of the other kids have told their parents, as do you honestly believe they'll tell it as it is? As i know their names, you are not the parent of those that the police have reprimanded but i do know the names of the larger group and a simple check informs me they are friends of those involved. This does not mean they themselves have been involved, so any "misrepresentation" of your children is not the case. We are just a little curious why you think your children have been somehow been mentioned in all of this as names have NEVER been mentioned? There are many groups of kids that roam around our estate and 99%of them are great and behave themselves. As to a "completely different story", for the last 18 months or so, the police have a detailed list of all incidents including dates, times and names of those stopped and questioned in the area at the time. They also have recordings of all calls to their office of incidents happening at the time. We have the full support of the local police and have received routine call-ins and checks at our house since the last incident. As far as we are concerned...police and local liason officers have the job done. In the meantime, it's come to light that one of our neighbours were having similar problems to us as well as a house in the next close. Neither have had any problems since then, so logically, they got those directly involved. Thankyou for your wish for us to have closure and possible apologies etc but we already have and wish to leave it at that. Jester & Family
  36. 5 points
    I first met Mr Lavery after leaving school and joined a Y.O.P. (Youth opportunities Programme) at Ashington Technical College. Then I started work at Lynemouth Colliery with said Mr Lavery, then got my mining craft apprenticeship with Mr Lavery, then transferred to Ellington Colliery with Mr Lavery, then went to a Ashington Colliery training centre with Mr Lavery, then spent nearly five years at Ashington Technical College mining department with Mr Lavery. Yes you could say I know Mr Lavery very well! I wouldn't trust him as far as I could kick him!
  37. 5 points
    There are to many do-gooders now. I think there is a big difference in disciplining a child and abusing a one.. We are talking about a smack here not a full blown assault lets get this right. I think the kids have decided that they are in charge because they are not taught that its their responsibility if the've done wrong and thats because everyone is frightened to do anything about it as it's their so called rights. I don't think there is anything wrong in having a reason to be afraid that a smack will happen if bad behavior is happening child line and ethser rantzen has a lot to answer for.
  38. 5 points
    tesco closed 6 stores in that block and opened one inadequate tesco store.I'm sick of this town playing second fiddle to other towns. Newbiggin got a beach Ashington get a superstore, sports centre. Blyth get parks and play areas. Morpeth get MILLIONS spent on a shopping precinct. We get 2 million spent on some paving slabs. Although very pretty in does not detract from the fact that the surrounding buildings are crumbling as is our community. The population of Bedlington is huge and continues to grow, yet the council refuse to add to the amenities. Prefering to gloss over the cracks and hope we wont notice. Buildings are left derelict for years.While OUR council tax is spent elsewhere.
  39. 5 points
    Ok i'll admit now i've not read 100% of this topic, only up to Toby's second post. But anyways, I'd just like to say, that when i was younger, i was quite the opposite of you Toby. I say younger, i mean when i was 15 - 18. I had loads of mates, i was always hanging about the streets, and i will admit i used to knock about with some troublemakers. I went to all the 6th Form Socials, I organised them back in 6th Form. I was drinking before i was 18. I was rarely in the house, even though i did have a playstation/internet or whatever. The one thing i did have, was respect for other people. ...I've never done anything like harrassing or taunting people, i've certainly NEVER done anything like Jester is describing, i personally think it's absolutely disgusting. I'm not a 'somebody' but i do look down my nose at scum like that. I actually caused quite an uproar on the bus not so long ago when some youths were firing spitballs across the bus, which resulted in me telling them to grow up (only being 20 myself) and another elderly man telling them they were 'the scum of the earth', in which i strongly agreed. They were really upsetting some elderly passengers and i was just filling with anger. I had no where to hang about, nothing to do but wander round with a group of mates, sit at the doctors, or down the front street...but i never resorted to all of this. What i'm trying to say is that i don't think it's about not having anywhere to go. It's about how they're brought up, what principles they live by, not being taught to respect others, not being taught to THINK FOR THEMSELVES. If someone is brought up to belive that doing this sort of thing is 'funny'...then...that's what they're going to do. I had one hell of an upbringing, i was taught right from wrong, i was punished for my actions, but i was also taught to think for myself and learn from mistakes. I really do hope you get this sorted Jester! There's just no call for it.
  40. 5 points
    As someone who is self employed and an owner of said white van I find your remarks quite offensive! As said van, tools and eqipment cost about three times as much as your average family car where the hell do you expect people like me to park their vehicles? Down plessey woods car park? I think not! It will be parked outside my house so said younger generation can not help themselves to my van,gear and livelyhood.Get your head out of where the sun don't shine,if it wasn't for the likes of us your estate would probably be half boarded up houses and a haven for hoolaganism,and if this is your snobbish attitude to hard working decent people then I am not surprised you are having bother,in fact I'm surprised you are still living where you are and haven't moved in with the Queen
  41. 4 points
    I was talking to Dave last week, I know him well and will bring this to his attention @Brian Cross @Alan Edgar (Eggy1948)
  42. 4 points
    Hi, i have just stumbled across this forum online, we are the family of Jack Antonino he is the man in the white coat and his grandson david is the little boy in the horse and cart with him, to this day we have carried on Jack’s legacy in fhe ice cream trade with our ice cream vans that have covered Bedlington and Blyth for decades as well as our very own ice cream parlour in the heart of Blyth in memory of Jacks arrival in the UK back in 1906 making it 110 years when we opend the shop.
  43. 4 points
    Youtube clip by John Ashford - End of Coal Mining in Northumbria, featuring local lads
  44. 4 points
    Monica Lewinsky siad she could not vote for Hillary as the last Clinton who was in office left a bad taste in her mouth
  45. 4 points
    A woman in a hot air balloon realized she was lost. She reduced altitude and spotted a man below. She descended a bit more and shouted: “‘Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago but I don’t know where I am”. The man below replied “You’re in a hot air balloon hovering approximately 30 feet above the ground. You’re between 40 and 41 degrees north latitude and between 59 and 60 degrees west longitude”. “You must be a technician.” said the balloonist. “I am” replied the man “how did you know?” “Well,” answered the balloonist, “everything you have told me is probably technically correct, but I’ve no idea what to make of your information and the fact is, I’m still lost. Frankly, you’ve not been much help at all. If anything, you’ve delayed my trip with your talk.” The man below responded, “You must be in management”. “I am” replied the balloonist, “but how did you know?” “Well,” said the man “you don’t know where you are or where you’re going. You have risen to where you are, due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise, which you’ve no idea how to keep, and you expect people beneath you to solve your problems. The fact is you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now, somehow, it’s my fault!
  46. 4 points
    Just wondering if anybody else has had enough of the youth disorder in the Bedlington Area? I'm in the Meadowdale Farm area of the town and over the last 2 years had nothing but problems with youths aged 12-16 constantly banging on the door, kicking the panels of the garge in and then standing on the corner of the street "egging" us on with insults and threatening to burn the house down. When chased they disappear across the spare ground behind Featherstone Grove onto the back path that passes Meadowdale Middle School and usually make their escape to join the crowds milling around outside Moby's fish and chip shop for protection and to hide. Some may say it's just a case of "Knocky-Door-Ginger" and ignore it but after 1 year of trying to deal with it ourselves followed by 1 year of getting the police involved (called 6 times during the last 8 months alone) we've just about had enough! Friday 30th October was the latest incident. Garage door panel kicked in, door bell hammered and ran off again. This resulted in my 5yr old crying and upset once more and the police arriving too late to catch them. A house in the next close was targeted(they have also been having the same problems) and their car had been vandalised. When confornting the youths outside Moby's about it within 30 mins of it happening(the incident took place at approx 9:15pm) they said a group had passed them and told them all they were going to wreck cars and have a chase and deliberately went down that "back path" towards our estate. Without going into great detail here, the running theme seems to be that they all go to St.Benet Biscops school and there seems to be something going on that crosses a few of the years(years 9,10 and 11) and they see it as fun to deliberately target certain houses to get a reaction!!....well they do....it's got my 5yr old frightened to go to bed now incase the "bad boys" come back. I'm certainly not saying that it's all those kids that go to that particular school of course but it's just that everytime i ask those kids who have seen them run off...they say they are from that school and in those years but can't give their names/nicknames..obviously scared of comeback. Police involved but as we all know they have limited effect. St.Benet Biscops say it's out of school hours...not their problem. Have tried ignoring them so they get bored and give up....hasn't worked! Been warned off dealing with it myself by the police as i'll get into trouble. Can't afford to move, so we can't even give them their moment of triumph! Whats next eh? Totally at a loss what to do and now me, my wife and family are just wondering when it's going to kick off again! In the meantime, i'll continue to pass the large groups hanging around and continue to wonder if it's them. They know my address, make of car and me by sight now....there's no way to try and catch them! I know what i'd love to do to them if i do manage to get them...but can't say on this public forum.....i'm sure you understand.. Usually the trouble happens when the schools break up for holiday or any weekend night. I've even had to cancel 70th birthday drinks for my own father on a night out to respond to a call from my wife who had ignored a few problems that evening before eventually calling me. Anybody got any idea's before it escalates even further? Help appreciated before i call in a few favours and get into trouble myself. PS- Just for the record, to my knowledge we haven't "crossed" anybody in anyway whatsoever!


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