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Malcolm Robinson

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Malcolm Robinson last won the day on January 11

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About Malcolm Robinson

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  • Birthday 09/09/1956

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  1. December 2019. After taking the lads on holiday it was straight back into the thick of things with an Advance Board meeting. We have eventually got through all the new policies which needed to be put into place and now there is just a few agreed amendments to make. Its been a long hard slog with meetings lasting well over 6hrs sometimes but it really needed to be done to make sure the excesses of Arch never happen again! Once again I raised the sore point about the Bedlington redevelopment and the parking problems. Scrutiny meeting today and along with the normal cabinet scrutiny there was one special item, the Climate Emergency strategy. It emerged that there is special provision within the SE of the county for tree planting. With up to 29 sites identified I asked for a map and was assured one would be forthcoming! Friends of West Lea Cemetery tonight and again a well attended meeting. Similar sorts of problems came up and I said I would invite the manager and head of service along to our next meeting so things might get resolved face to face. A phenomenal amount of funding has been raised by the dedication of this group and a few very hard working members! Well done Issey, Sarah and Susan! WBTC Christmas meeting tonight with most getting into the spirit of the season early! Site visit Hartford Bridge with head of service, cabinet member for housing and a couple of officers. Pleased to say they are responding to my requests and I hope a solution has been found and agreed. I had a meeting with cabinet member for local services and the head officer to ask about some requests we have for the cemetery. It was agreed head of service would attend a site visit and see what could be done about my specific requests. The cabinet member did remark that there were other cemeteries in equally parlous states or even worse but I replied that whilst I might agree they aren’t in my ward! LAC Meeting at Concordia tonight. I chaired the last one and had been asked several questions which I said I would have to find the correct answers to add report back. I had done so and gave the answers to the meeting when we went through the minutes. This one was mainly planning and one application in particular about extending opening hours of a take away in Seaton Delaval. I did have some questions about this and the one which I still find curious was that a 12 month trial would be conducted with a 6 month review after close monitoring. I had to ask again who would be doing the monitoring because the answer was the applicant? So the applicant who wanted the increased hours would assess any incursions which might not allow that to happen. A farce would be too kind a description! Anyway it was agreed by majority. The rest of the month I was chasing stuff up for residents so we could get closure before the Xmas holidays.
  2. https://www.local.gov.uk/our-support/purdah/what-purdah-means-practice
  3. Not allowed to Bedlingtonian. As a councillor we are under Purdah and there are quite strict rules regarding this. As a private individual thats different.
  4. November 2019. First up a site visit to Hexham at 10am Monday morning. Even with the traffic I made it in time and we all stood at the site entrance. This one was about developing a bit of derelict land at the entrance to Hexham. The real crux was the listed stone wall which will have to be removed and re-sited further back for a new roundabout and access into the site. The officers took us through the application explaining what was proposed. Took about an hour to get through and walk around. I can see this will be pretty controversial tomorrow night when it comes in front of our committee. Strategic planning this afternoon but first a presentation about a possible schools project in Hexham. We heard that and asked quite a lot of questions, it actually overran by about 30mins. Next was the planning meeting and we had an application for Bedlington to discharge reserved matters on the proposed new houses next to the Chesters. First were two applications related to the Hexham application. Both were considered as one but voted on separately. The first was about the new store and hotel which is being proposed as well as possible secondary retail offers. I just thought this hotel will dominate the site and its basically a square box pity we don’t see some imaginative design for it. We also considered this listed wall and its removal. It is to be re-sited around a new curve allowing vehicular access to the site but I pointed out that most of the stone which is to be reused is shot so new stone will have to be used and it won’t look the same. I asked planners to take the aesthetics into account when agreeing materials. There are also old bricked up tunnels under this road and wall which we all hoped might come back into use for pedestrians and cyclists. This application went through unanimously after hearing it had been a blot on the landscape for 30 years! Next came the Bedlington reserved matters application. I had asked for this to come back to committee even though the developer didn’t see the need! We had the scheme outlined by the planners and then had a member of the public speak about safety issues at the proposed junction and then the spokesperson for WBTC who had tabled several objections. The problem was that most were not specific to the application! However some were and needed to be answered. We then had members questions and I waited until the end before asking mine. I did this because I could only ask about matters pertinent to the application and those brought up by the planners and highways. I had to say I was struggling to contain my questions to the application only given the history and the planners knew exactly what I was saying! Because of questions and replies given earlier I started by saying what had really happened and why and explaining some of the reasoning other members had asked about. I then asked my questions, we had heard about a speed reduction, where was that proposed, trees were to be removed where abouts, the S106 agreement and how it will be delivered and do we have a definitive settlement boundary now? Each one was taken by several officers and it took quite some time to get through as we argued and debated back and forth, especially about the S106 infrastructure funding. In the end with only my vote against the application passed. Full council meeting today and again only questions off independent members tabled to the administration! Mine was first. I wanted to know about the build quality of these new social houses are are supposed to be building and used another council’s award winning scheme to illustrate how we could be doing them. Seems we are going to look into the build quality and running costs so I spoke about the project Northumbria University are currently doing with the North East’s very own George Clark, one of channel 4’s architect building experts, and could we get the recommendations and suggestions coming out of that to use in our own builds? No commitment but at least they know about it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-0ym88gG-Ng&t=1612s Again a ping pong match between the main parties each trying to score points over each other. Even the Lib Dems got into this one! Facilitated a meeting at County Hall today with a group of residents and the appropriate officer to see if solutions to their problems could be found. Hopefully they have and we will see some action soon. Remembrance Day and a full schedule today for me. I declined the NCC parade and instead attended the West Bedlington Memorial. First up was a scrutiny meeting at County Hall about the forthcoming budget amongst others. I had quite a few questions for this scrutiny meeting across all the subjects. I had read one paragraph over and over and it still seemed to me to be something other than what was promised. This was about a budget consultation but it only said the proposals would be presented and explained. It never mentioned anyone responding to the consultation would have their views considered and might ultimately influence any decisions made. As I said that’s a PR exercise not a consultation! This was disputed by the portfolio holder and I eventually gave him the benefit of the doubt, but I will closely monitor this consultation and see if anything coming up influenced any of the proposals in anyway! https://www.northumberlandgazette.co.uk/news/politics/council/call-meaningful-consultation-budget-ps10million-cuts-planned-northumberland-county-council-974817?fbclid=IwAR01_EPvFO-Mv5FzGgCZGtk7vILJsM4yWp3bNoZ1Y_j6QsZN-WLRdCJNhmQ After this meeting it was back to Bedlington for the Remembrance Day service at the Memorial and then up to West Lea Cemetery to officially unveil my new plaque. I had asked Sydney Graham to do the honours as he organises the Remembrance Day parade for our armed services and the Royal British Legion. He has also identified most of not all the war grave in this cemetery. Parachute Regiment veteran Bill Johnson came too. We had an all member Local Transport Plan meeting today and about a third of the councillors turned up for it. After an outline we then broke into LAC groups to go through each of our proposals. I registered my immediate concerns that none of my proposals had made it through into the schemes to be worked up. After checking my email trail the officer apologised and wrote them down again, this time into the approved schemes! We spent most of the allocated time with the first officer then had a swap as the technical officer came in and again I managed to get another two of my schemes into the mix. So from going from zero input I managed to get 5 schemes into the mix! I also mentioned something which bothers me personally and even though its not even in my ward I had to mention it. It was the road out of Bedlington up the Horton Bank, especially the adverse camber coming down this road towards the Attlee Park bridge. I was surprised this had never been mentioned but it was agreed this was something to be looked at especially when the officer emphatically agreed with me it is very dangerous! We then had an inclusive last session on things like plastic added road surfaces and after I had some questions about that the meeting was called over. One thing which had made it through already was my call to get the 40MPH bit of road at the bottom of Choppington Road reclassified as 30MPH. I felt it was a morning well spent but only if we see some resulting actions! LAC tonight and the chair has been in touch to say she is unwell so could I chair it. I got to Netherton Club in good time and agreed to open the meeting then hand over to the Planning chair for that part of the meeting. I had to declare an interest in the only application before us so once the planning started I left the room. Had to remind another member she had the same interest! Once the planning was over, and it took about 10 mins, we had 45mins to wait before I could restart the meeting! Daft! I reminded everyone that we were not a Hustings, we were a Local Area Council operating under Purdah so don’t try it on! Once the meeting restarted I opened with public questions and seeing as we were in Bedlington there are always some of them! Once members of the public had asked their questions and been satisfied with the responses I moved onto the agenda. We had several presentations and updates off NCC highways and local services. Good hearted meeting tonight and I allowed members of the public to ask their own questions to the officers. I might get into hot water again because of that but if I’m in charge of the meeting then members of the public can have some access! Not sure if this has been seen by many……. https://www.newspostleader.co.uk/news/local-plan-proposals-main-towns-south-east-northumberland-399418 Next meeting was the LAC chairs meeting when once again I requested more public involvement into the area LAC’s. I did this because of a specific question relating to this at our last LAC. The answer came back that public involvement was at the discretion of the chair, so at least I have some justification if needed! Several other matters were discussed and county wide community chest applications heard. I had to go back up to County Hall this afternoon to chair our area’s community chest and once again there was one application which didn’t adhere to the rules so we had to dismiss that one. Very pleased it wasn’t a Bedlington based organisation! The rest of the applications went through with just about all getting the funding they had applied for. Once again we have an underspend so an extra round in Jan/Feb was called for. Well that’s just about it for this month and as my December diary won’t be seen until January I wish all the readers of this a Merry Xmas and a very happy New Year.
  5. I said I would write a thank you to the people who helped make the Commemorative Plaque at the West Lea Cemetery possible. Some might not know but West Lea Cemetery in Bedlington is a nationally recognised War Graves site and with this in mind I came up with this design for a commemorative plaque which could be attached to the entrance. With over 28 graves directly attributed to the second world war and many more annotations on family graves mainly attributed to the first world war it was time we saw a permanent memorial plaque. Taking my idea and design down to Mike Robertson and his innovative team at Barrington Metals they came up with an all metal plaque which exactly matched my expectations. After a whirlwind week it was produced and fitted in time for Remembrance Day. Thanks go to Tony and Stephen, NCC cemetery management, and also the CeO of NCC who I needed special permission off to pay for the project. I am especially grateful for the kind words and recommendations off so many people in our community when they have seen this new plaque. With a new Friends of West Lea Cemetery group I can only see this usually forgotten and neglected important local asset improve and become something we can all take pride in.
  6. I was challenged to explain S106 developer funding recently and I can now have a go. Pretty complex subject and to get it right here is the latest government guidance: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/planning-obligations Part of the question also related to what’s been achieved and what has it been spent on, in the last 3 years? I’m going to presume new house building which has been started, completed or planned for, is what this question is about. Obviously I can only comment specifically on the applications in my ward because I’ve spent quite a bit of time on them, usually onto NCC enforcement! Taking the 14 new houses on Netherton Lane, there was no S106 funding applied for! Inexcusable in my view but that was before I became the NCC elected member and it did have to go to a planning inspector to overturn the original refusal. Even the planning inspector raised eye brows and mentioned the fact that no S106 funding had been applied for. Onto the Broadoaks development now and again before my time but once again no S106 funding. Although only a Town Councillor at the time I did question this and the reason came back that adverse ground conditions mitigated the S106 funding. I made the argument that if that was the case then the community were paying for the work needed to overcome these adverse ground conditions seeing as no community funding was attached! Again inexcusable in my view! There were some ‘affordable homes’ within the development which I believe have been passed to Bernicia for affordable rents. I have a real problem with the term ‘affordable’ because in my view they aren’t for the vast majority of our young people and I have argued that point at several planning meetings! Now onto the proposed new housing on the land north of the Chesters. This has been at committee 3 times now and on each occasion I have voted against, one reason because of a lack of suitable S106 agreements. Again this scheme had been originally planned for before I became the NCC elected member but I now had the chance to sit on the committee and question it. In the first outing for this permission I saw the original £3.4M (I think!) allocation for education had been reduced to £1.3M and there was no allocation for Health. Even the Sport and recreation allocation had been agreed to go down to East Bedlington? This I challenged and managed to change so we saw a £346,500 allocation for health and West Bedlington are now included in the sports and recreation funding. ” 7.77 Objectors have raised concerns regarding increased pressure on local services and infrastructure. This matter is addressed through the Section 106 Agreement that runs alongside the outline planning permission with contributions secured for education (£1,331,000), primary healthcare (£346,500), off-site sport/recreation (£229,000) and the strategic highway network (up to £155,000).” The strategic highways contribution is going to a Highways England project at the Moorfarm roundabout at Cramlington? I did make the case that there were plenty of highways works needed around Bedlington but Highways England seem to be holding a gun to the head of Planners because in quite a lot of cases around the SE of the county this has become the norm and they will object unless its included? Maybe we should take a leaf out of their book! Having spoken to our local health and educational professionals it seems the education allocation is almost entirely going to Special educational needs and as we have little if any it will go to Guidepost. The health contributions off this and others are being rounded up and our health centre will get a share of that? How much I don’t know. At the second hearing I argued the point that the proposed development was actually outside our settlement boundary as well as the reduced S106 funding. The reply was that planners needed this development to show government an agreed land bank for new housing. This time I did manage to convince one other member to back my assertions and there were two objectors at committee this time. This week reserved matters came before committee and I had asked planners specifically to make this happen. The Town Council submitted objections and I wanted to examine the proposed site access. Again planning law has to be understood because ONLY matters in the application could be discussed and debated. This severely restricts what could be brought up because outline permission and detailed permission had already been agreed by majority vote. This was really only about site layout and reserved matters. There are some affordable units included…… “7.18 The level of affordable housing provision for this site has already been agreed as 15% under the terms of the Section 106 Agreement which runs alongside the outline planning permission.” After a lengthy and pretty protracted questioning session the application was agreed with only my vote against, citing the loss of the original £2M in the S106 agreement as the main reason! Immediately after the meeting I was told by a member of the public that he was shocked to see all the party political members voting for this apart from me after receiving a political leaflet saying I supported wholesale housing without adequate infrastructural funding. The opposite is actually the truth! The only other sizeable application I know of is the 16 houses opposite West Lea on Netherton Lane and again I believe no S106 funding has been attached? Although this never came in front of any planning committee once I was aware I did challenge the lack of S106 funding. I hope that answers the questions.
  7. October 2019. October and after a short break straight back into it. Being a Thomas Cook customer on top of everything else is sending the house into meltdown! Having had to cancel my surgery because of a change in travel plans I now have several home visits to do. First one in the Chesters. After a nice chat and seeing first-hand what the problems were it was then a quick trip up to Netherton Village for another home visit. This one will be more problematical but given some of the meetings I have this week I should be able to get this mentioned during them. Along with Russ and Bill I had a meeting with the local police team today but it had to be cancelled at the last minute. I had some constituency concerns to address so I insisted on a private meeting with them anyway. Lots of food for thought with this one and I’m afraid more questions than answers, which wasn’t really the fault of the local cops its just the complexity of the issues. I have been trying to get a meeting with the NCC leadership for some time and received a message off the secretary saying if I could make lunchtime today they were all in one place at the same time! I went up and waited in the secretary’s office! We had what I would consider a positive meeting and one I expect results to flow from! I put my positions forcefully and had agreement in the end. There were several topics covered, each with their own nuances but in I think we worked out a strategy for each. Once home I had a quick cuppa then it was off to a meeting at Gallagher Park. This one was with the Barnesbury Cycling Club as they try to get funding pulled together for a renewed BMX track. The other independent councillors, EBPC and WBTC had met earlier in the week with them and most had pledged some funding to support their ambitious plans. I had already shown them how to apply for one funding source and they have been successful with that one. Strangely only EBPC and the Labour councillor for the Sleekburn ward have refused their plea for funding help. Seeing as they need to match fund a generous Sports England grant it was a no brainer for me because helping them reach half the amount unlocks so much more and improves the offer down there for all our young people, I just wish I could have offered more. Again once home a quick cuppa then out for a WBTC meeting. During my update for them I told them about the Halloween event in Plessey Woods and the event aimed at our youngsters for next February. I have even arranged for shelters for the seating area for the February one, just in case. Part of the challenge I was given when I got the money for the new play park down in Plessey Woods was to increase visitor numbers and I know how much extra its being used now and given we are using it for extra events as well even these numbers can only increase in the short term. I also know there is another event for which a funding bid has been worked on and submitted. Just had an audit committee meeting for Advance and good to hear the new governance and polices which we have been putting in place for the new company is starting to have the desired effect. I did have several questions for the external auditor which were answered in their entirety. We were also given reports by internal audit and again very helpful as we transform the company. Been up to see a couple of my constituents who are both reporting problem with roads and paths within the ward. For some reason NCC have been out and marked the bad bits of roads but have never completed? In fact its been that long the marker paint has eroded off both. Why NCC fail to keep residents informed is beyond me and seems to me to be a prime requirement for any ‘business’. I think a question at full council is called for because I have had many such issues! Another likewise problem is with trees situated in our housing estates. Seems to me at some point in the past we have planted the wrong type of trees and they are now mature enough to cause real problems for residents. The pretty rows of nice looking plantings the developers left as they moved out of the estates are now pushing up paths and pavements, undermining foundations, touching roofs and blocking reception and making some paths unusable. Forward planning at its best! Given the amount of contact I have been having concerning these problems I will do a spreadsheet to list the item, concern and any actions forthcoming. Thats the only way I can think of to keep on top of this seeing as some have been listed for action but in fact nothing has been done since the problem was reported. Had to attend an internal audit for Advance and nice to hear things seem to be changing. We did ask for a more contemporary update taking into account the changes which we have put in over the last few months to measure their performance. That was agreed and I hope it shows the huge change in corporate governance we have put thorough recently. No more “Arch” type shenanigans! Had another Friends of West Lea Cemetery meeting tonight and I hope there are some actions forthcoming. Plenty spoken about so getting them seen to is the way forward now. Pleased the ‘spoil’ heap has been moved! Local Area Council or LAC meeting tonight but it was just for planning matters. In fact there was only one item on the agenda, the new play area for WBTC. Christine the Mayor gave a presentation about the project and we heard the response off the legal consultees. One really surprised me. It was off public protection and made mention of a noise assessment and secondly went on about floodlighting the area? I said I was bemused by this seeing as floodlighting wasn’t even in the application so by planning standards we shouldn’t even be able to consider it, but I wanted to know exactly what the noise assessment was about. Are we really going to measure the cheerful noises off children playing in the new park? Seems it was more about the noise off the new equipment so I made sure that was listed as the sole reason for the noise assessment! It was only in front of us because NCC own the land and it went through unanimously. There was a Locality event on in the Community Centre today and I had tried to promote it as much as I could. This will lead to a directory of local voluntary groups etc and should show people exactly what’s going on in the Town and environs. There was a good turn out and I hope it all gets listed. A directory of local groups would make my job of telling them where funding is available much easier so we get as much inward investment into the voluntary sector here as possible. Fire fighters pension board meeting today and as usual a whole swathe of papers to go through. In fact I suggested doing this in bite sized chunks might be advisable so we have doubled the amount of meetings. So much to consider and much of it very technical in nature. Having shorter meetings but more often would make it much easier to keep on top of. Just had a meeting with highways technical after residents got in touch to complain about their estate road. He agreed their road is needing quite significant works done but that has to go into the LTP for consideration and budgeting. He did promised remedial action on the worst bits would be done ASAP though. I had a meeting with NCC about my sports project this morning and after discussing the best way forward it was agreed to ask for the feasibility funding as a first step. That is now proceeding! Its taken 2 years to get to this stage! On my way home I called in to report back to a resident about the concerns she had been onto me about and whilst they are going to be addressed I couldn’t tell her exactly when. That depends on budget pressures but if not this financial year then certainly next. I then had to call in to see a Development Trust member because they have agreed to fund an item for another voluntary group. Next up a visit to the manufacturer for the memorial plaque I have commissioned for the West Lea Cemetery to make sure that’s still on track. With all that done I could then get on with my own stuff for work this weekend. I had a meeting with WBTC and NCC Cemetery’s about West Lea Cemetery. Good positive meeting and the new Friends of Group is a welcome addition according to NCC officers! Plenty to get on with and agreement on most. Advance Board meeting this afternoon and again quite a lengthy meeting. We recapped the new strategic strategy we have put in place for the group and explained what the internal audit had said. The Chair had to pull my horns in when I spoke about Bedlington but apart from that the company is being turned around slowly but surely and with a large new project in Blyth…… Ahem Mr Chair that will be Cambois or Bedlingtonshire, its our side of the river, not to be parochial of course! Still lots to do but at every meeting we see a whole swathe of new governance and policies put in place. I hope we soon see some business help put in place in Bedlington and help the businesses we have as well as help anyone thinking about starting one. Just heard thats coming this month! https://www.northumberland.gov.uk/News/2019/Jun/Council-to-declare-climate-emergency.aspx All member Climate Change meeting tonight and a decent turn out of councillors for once. We heard two presentations about the problems and what NCC intend to do about them. The projects are aimed at making us carbon neutral in about 10 years. There were some pretty impressive facts and figures quoted and at the end we did have a chance to ask questions. I asked about how much of our current energy usage is delivered by renewables, given the trends we see in vehicle production and the fact that gas supplies into new houses is to be ended in the near future are we reasonably able to take all that extra usage and still be carbon neutral by the anticipated date and lastly do we assess carbon footpaths into our calculations given things like battery usages. Seems we are just over the 50% in renewables at present and if we get all the subsidies and grants off central government etc we stand a good chance of achieving the outcome we want. As for measuring the carbon footprint of all associated items the answer was no but the speaker did admit there are some pretty nasty ingredients in batteries which would skew any resulting calculations! Trees and peat bogs were spoken about as a means of carbon capture with a large investment going into tree planting in urban areas. Keilder was mentioned and I asked if broad leave or pine trees were better at carbon capture. Broad leaf trees are much better but to me that means decades of growth before they reach their potential. One item which did prick my ears up was the hydro power generation which is being looked at. I think we have a reasonable possibility for that using the tidal estuary on our river. In fact I have just wrote in and suggested looking at the possibility of using modern designed hydro units to generate power for Bedlington! Maybe the old Iron Works could still yet give us an insight into using water to provide power for Bedlington! Whatever happens change is coming and I want Bedlington into the forefront of any possible investment.
  8. September 2019. September started off with a bang! First up was a site meeting up in Berwick. I had to be at County Hall for the bus then up to a pretty chilly Berwick leisure centre to hear what the proposals were. Had a pre- planning meeting today about a possible new large scale development. I did have questions, one of which was about offering apprenticeship schemes within the projects seeing as it would probably last 3 years plus. Strategic planning and a rush to get down into the full council chamber to take my seat. I had to declare an interest in one agenda item so I had to leave the room for that one. First one was the Berwick proposal and I questioned the officer about various aspects but especially pedestrian safety seeing as there are two schools at the other side of the main road and whatever way the kids cross they have to cross a road on quite a steep hill. There was also the question about the roundabout which is actually on quite a slope. Other members echoed my concerns and some asked if we might impose conditions. I said could we not include a suggestion after the planning offer said we shouldn’t really impose conditions. Again after some discussion that was not allowed either! During the course of my interchange with the highways officer it emerged that they could only consider present and historical pedestrian figures in their assessments? Now that sounds crazy to me, here we are proposing to build a new leisure facility with 2 schools opposite and we cant consider any future usage figures in the application. I thanked the officer for giving us an insight into the crazy rules and regulations they had to operate under! The application was passed with only one member abstaining. I had to leave the meeting for the next item and halfway through I was joined by another member who realised he should have declared an interest too. Returning there was another two applications to hear and after some discussion both passed with one member abstaining on one of them. Full council today so I left work early to get home grab a quick shower and change before getting up to County Hall in time. Seems our usual seats have been taken over by the last opposition leader and his cohorts so Russ, Bill and I found seats near the front. Lots of the usual political shenanigans at full council but I am more and more thinking that we could be doing this better, its all too stage managed! I did have a question this one about the report by the standards committee which said anything I said in public, and that is verbally or written, I did so as a member of NCC. I said I believed that subjugated my right to freedom of expression because I have a life outside these walls! That had to go to the solicitor to answer because no one else understood what I was getting at. He did and assured me it wasn’t a policy proposal only a repeat of a central government line which wasn’t even being proposed yet if ever! It did produce reactions from other members one of who supported my warning. Another said he expected conversations he might have in public places to be treated as confidential, but that isn’t what this sentence said! The opposition leader said we were under the guidance of the Nolan Principles anyway which actually backed the point I had made when I said as elected members we operated under strict guidance anyway but as private individuals we were entitled to have personal views as well. If this comes back I will fight it because it curtails my ability to have a personal life. I did say I realised there was a problem with this issue but gagging people wasn’t the way to fix it! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BqxN2M-_1XU&t=3716s Had a meeting with our highways technical officer today and we walked around the area I wanted him to look at. Pleased to see the interactive speed signs have been fitted and working at Netherton Village and Hartford road. Still more road markings to be done and taking out the 60 MPH sections as we leave/enter the Town on the B1331 and the A1068 in an effort to curtail speeding cars. Had our Classical concert tonight and for once I was able to make it. Absolutely stunning performances with something for everyone. I was pleased to see so many people turning up for this and many messages of congratulates. I passed them onto the organiser who along with the Staff at Plessey did a superb job for us all. Working on more events down there with the next at Halloween. I have to say here that trying to make them free events while putting on real professional entertainers isn’t easy, but if it was everyone would be doing it! STOP PRESS……..STOP PRESS………..STOP PRESS………..STOP PRESS…… Just heard the funding for our next Plessey Woods event has been agreed. Look out for a kiddies spectacular just after the New Year! It will be super…..literally! >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Had to go to Blyth today and do training regarding State Aid. Interesting session with lots of legislation to consider. Given some of my ‘hypotheticals’ and the answers which came back I have to wonder how some of the more outlandish historical schemes and the associated funding by Arch was even considered never mind rolled out! Had a meeting with the Advance officer who is in charge of project management and an officer from Active Northumberland. I started off by asking about public loo provision within the Bedlington Town Centre regeneration project. Again I was told it was never considered which seems strange seeing as I now have the planning application which actually lists a public loo! I said he had better get an answer to that because I will be using it at any future public meeting! Discussing a sporting provision then produced some interesting results, none of which I wanted to hear! Only one thing to do now so I’ve put a request into the top echelons of NCC for an immediate meeting. Getting back from Ashington I had a detour to the WBTC office for a meeting there. Pension training today along with North Tyneside Council up in Edinburgh. It was their session really but the Actuary used it to give us a private update on our, NCC, valuations. Everyone is pleased at the valuations because going from a £200M deficit to an above 100% coverage is quite extraordinary and definitely a much better place to be in. It looks like my pleas for trying to protect this position has been listened to as well and we all agreed to some de-risking in the portfolio. LAC meeting tonight at Concordia. With no planning on the agenda its wasn’t the usual mad rush back from work to get ready and the meeting started at 6pm. Didn’t seem to be very much on the agenda but as ever these things change! We had updates off the NCC public safety officer and the police and these turned into quite a long session, firstly with the safety officer. I did have several questions some based off what he told us. Next up was the police update and I think all the Bedlington councillors thought it was great! He said he had just taken over the inspector role and the softer line taken by the police with regard to anti social behaviour (ASB) in Bedlington is now changed and a much harder approach is going to be taken. Previously we had worked hard to stop our youngsters being criminalised but that obviously hadn’t worked given the repeated levels of ASB we have seen so back to old fashioned policing. I nearly gave this new inspector a round of applause! Funding had been acquired to increase on the beat policing and we all thanked him after the meeting and said if we can help with anything just ask. Had the chance to speak to our manager for Local services and again asked him to look at the hedging along the front of the cemetery seeing as I have had more complaints about the fact that pedestrians now have to walk on the road to get by because of the state of the Blackthorn hedging. He promised to look into it straight away and he has because it was cut the very next day! Well done Local services. Good meeting with the new Friends of West Lea Cemetery tonight and a constitution was adopted and officers elected. We now have a formal group to look after public interest in the cemetery. https://www.facebook.com/Thefriendsofwestleacemetery/ Had a meeting with constituents today about some concerns they have and I have forwarded them as I promised to do. Pension Panel today and another huge pile of papers for it. 9.30am – 4.30pm was listed for this meeting. Most of the committee had heard the Actuary report up in Edinburgh so no surprises there but that was just the first 30mins. It was good to get home that night and get sorted for work this weekend! Well the weekend wasn’t the normal because on top of everything else my holiday has disappeared! Thanks Thomas Cook! I had a LAC chairs meeting today and there was two presentations as well as the normal agenda to hear. First one was the Library service. There is a public consultation going to be rolled out soon as we try and increase library usage figures, which at the moment are declining. I have already submitted my ideas for bringing the service into modern day usage and having been assured non library users will be included in this consultation I will be promoting it when it comes out. I think Library provision is important for any conurbation but changing it into something which appeals to a greater amount of users is important to keeping it. Next up was a report and presentation about social care apprentice scheme, which seems to have been a huge success. Knowing first hand some of the problems within this service I asked if these apprentices would be subject to follow ups because I would be very interested in seeing how they interacted within other parts of our service. It seem they will and given that education and increased qualifications are offered to all carers it will be interesting to hear how it all rolls out. One item came as a surprise to some members, the fact that 82% of the workforce in this service was made up of women. I assumed it would be quite high anyway seeing as the vast majority of carers I know are women. Anyway good to see it being presented as a credible career with good prospects for anyone. We then had a presentation about the way some types of anti social behaviour is going to be reported and the figures collated and shared. This was for things like dog fouling. I asked about the way we respond to reports and could we do anything to bring the response more into real time. I had to explain that so I said I have several football pitches in my ward as well as a cemetery and there will be reports going in on say a Saturday when the footballers use the pitches but the ‘offence’ could well have taken place the previous Wednesday, Thursday or Friday and there might well be someone who saw it taking place. I think the answer was no we can’t react immediately which was what I expected to be fair. It was good to hear the chair of this committee saying we really need to make these LAC meetings much more relevant to members of the public and drive up attendance figures. Well its taken a year but at last my message seems to be getting through! Wonder what’s happened to my lists of possible agenda items? Had a follow up meeting with officers about the Bedlington Regeneration meeting we had last month. Bill and Russ were there too and we thrashed out some ideas for potential future strategic projects in Bedlington. It was a pretty positive meeting with follow ups expected! Last meeting this month is the Advance Board meeting. Again dominated by putting new governance policies in place which are all aimed at putting to an end any possibility of malpractice from now on! It was quite an intense meeting lasting nearly 7 hours non stop!
  9. August 2019. Second of August and I have a meeting with WBTC about the Local Transport Plan trying to get some real benefits out of it for all our residents. What a refreshing change to talk to Town councillors and other county councillors about schemes which address concerns residents have raised and the only thing on the agenda was improving the current situation. We went through all the concerns and suggestions which residents had sent in to NCC highways and settled on the ones which hadn’t already been addressed or were in the process of being addressed with a view to support them. Strategic planning today and going into county hall for the meeting I chatted to other members of the committee who all asked me to curtail any objections or suggestions I had. Looks like I’m being blamed for the meetings overrunning, ha ha! I did have to declare interests in two of the agenda items, as did another member, because Ascent Homes were the applicant and they are a division of Advance. First application was about new school facilities within Haydon Bridge High School. This is a maintained school so NCC was the applicant. After the presentation by the planning officer and as there were no speakers we went into members questions. Seems I was the only member to have some questions about this and I could almost hear an audible groan! I said while I had no problem with the school extension I did have a problem with the fact that we were cutting down 44 trees, which to me seemed an inordinate amount, with zero mitigation? I went on and said we have just declared a climate emergency and here we are ripping out the lungs of that area, we can and should be doing better! I pointed out that there was already a condition in the application which specifies “agreed landscaping” and I suggested we insert the need for replacements for the trees lost. To add insult to injury some of the trees are to be cut down to provide more parking spaces! The rest of the members agreed with my comments so at proposal and vote we included this “aimed” condition. The legal officer suggested allowing the exact wording to be delegated to the chair and lead planning officer which I agreed but insisted it had to feature mitigation for the lost trees! The application passed unanimously. Next up was a varyco to a plan for an extension to Kyloe House at Netherton Park. Again this passed unanimously. I then had to leave as did another member while they heard the Ascent applications. I had a meeting with the head of Active Northumberland. We talked about the proposal I made at the last full council meeting about giving our armed forces veterans free access to our leisure centres. I did get a reply and it was quite thorough in explaining what discounts veterans can apply for now. I said I did understand the constraints imposed on Active but made a further proposal that any armed forces veterans injured in the line of duty get free access to our leisure centres. That seemed to fit in with the aims of a charitable company such as Active is. That proposal is going to their next board meeting and would at least be a step in the right direction of recognising service to country! Two steps forward and one back as usual. Phone call today off Bernicia telling me the table I acquired for a group of residents is causing a problem? I was asked for help in tidying up a communal area within a block of flats in my ward and I got them some hanging baskets, thanks Brenda, and paid for the compost and hanging brackets myself. They also wanted a table so they could sit outside in the summer once the area had been cleaned up. So I asked around and one of my contacts within NCC came up with a suitable table with integral seating. I even got them to deliver it and helped get it into place. Seems one of the residents has complained about it and I now had to have a meeting with the Bernicia officer. She did understand what was being attempted and we tried to get it sited in a couple of other places but the resident wouldn’t have it. So it now has to come out! This reminds me of the green at Red House Farm where I worked with a resident group to turn it into a kiddies football pitch and gardens. Again one resident complained and that kicked the whole project into the long grass! Maybe when people complain about things not being done they might like to consider the stuff going on in the background and the real reasons for the associated unrealised projects! Well the Bedlington Regeneration meeting finally took place yesterday after many months of trying to get one sorted. I didn’t like the make up anyway with supposedly 3 members from WBTC and 3 from EBPC which I said would unbalance the group and mean very parochial items were forwarded instead of strategic aspirations for the Town as whole. It was said by one member that NCC should be doing everything but as the officer who lead the meeting explained that isn’t how this would operate the people present would have to do it all but they would get administrative backing off NCC. We did discuss the Town Centre development of course and as the chair of Advance sat next to me and we had the regen officer from Advance too they gave an update on the current position. The 2hr meeting overran by 30 mins and I had a chance to speak to the officers who had led it. I know what I took away from this meeting and told them so. Busy few days as I keep up the pressure for the traffic improvements at Netherton and outside Hartford Home Farm. They have been paid for and I’m wondering why we haven’t seen them installed as yet! Had a meeting with our manager for local services and as usual took him around my ward showing him the problems and concerns residents have contacted me about. I also had a couple of suggestions about improvements at the West Lea cemetery and again they have been well received but I now have to get the rest of NCC departments on board. The problem is most of the people I need to speak to are on holiday at the moment so a couple of weeks before I can progress them. Well all the posts for the new interactive speed signs have been installed, just the signs to be fitted and by the mail I have received off Highways that happens next week, once the concrete has hardened. I have been invited to go up to Hadston today and take a look at their sports centre. This is a smallish centre catering for local need and I have been told there are ideas there which might well translate well into one for Bedlington. Open to all and any ideas so a trip up there is called for. I did go up to Hadston and met with Active Northumberland officers who showed me around and told me how they manage this centre. Few lesson there for making a small sports centre sustainable, something which we have to get right if we are to have any hope of getting one in Bedlington. At last Christine Taylor the chair of West Bedlington Town Council has called a meeting to try get a Friends of group for West Lea cemetery. Lets hope we get a good turn out. Its not about doing what we expect the council to do its about keeping up the pressure so they know what we feel is important and trying to get even more done there than what’s currently being done. Well done Chris. Just had a reply off my question about needing planning permission for one of my projects. Seems its not needed so I can at last progress this one. Just had the first meeting about forming a Friends of West Lea Cemetery. About 20 people turned up and some interesting suggestions, now to get it formalised and see what we can do. There is already a list of actions and more to come by the sound of it. Great start!
  10. As it passed through Bedlington............
  11. This month my surgery was on Monday the 1st and as usual plenty of questions to get answers to. Next day I had to be at county hall before 9.30am to get a small coach for this site visit to Kirkwhelpington. I think only one member of our strategic planning committee did not show so most of us got to see the spectacular scenery the rural part of our county has to offer. Getting up to where this monument was proposed to go was quite something as we had to stop and inch past tractors quite a few times. Eventually we stopped beside Tit Hill where this was being proposed for the top of. A few protesters lined the route with their placards but we were told not to speak to them under any circumstances because this was a delegated planning site visit under strict regulations. Didn’t stop a couple of members engaging with the protesters and the chair had to call them back in! Once we had a good look at the proposed site from this vantage point we had another two to get to and look from. It was difficult to imagine what this monument would look like imposed on the landscape but the planners had done some mock up pictures with it superimposed. I have to say this site visit did give extra gravitas to the proposal. We made it back just after lunch and I nipped home for a cuppa then back up to County Hall for a meeting at 3pm, this time for one of my pet projects! Once we had conducted that business it was about time for the strategic planning meeting at 4pm. Again we heard off our planning head, residents, councillors and the applicants agents each with their own version of what should be done. After many questions a proposal was made to reject this application and this time it succeeded. It was gratifying to hear the reason put forward for refusal was exactly the reason I had stated at the last meeting about this, namely there was merit in the idea but not at this location! This time I had done the background and listed chapter and verse within the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) why I thought refusal was the correct outcome. I could see the head of planning nodding at my assertions. Again I was left wondering if some members were just playing to the audience as one even stopped to get a round of applause! Never mind I think the right result was reached. I was supposed to have a meeting with our local services manager today but something cropped up at the last minute and he couldn’t make it. I would like to see him sooner rather than later so I can progress residents requests. Had a Corporate Scrutiny meeting this morning but I had to declare an interest in one agenda item, that being a revised governance of Advance Northumberland. Getting the relationship correct with NCC is vital in making progress on the new internal governance within the group. We also heard about the current position regarding NCC debt with regard to council tax and business rate payers etc. Next came a report about the new road which is being proposed for Blyth and finally a last minute addition, a report about a new countrywide lottery. Plenty of questions all of which got answered! Had the afternoon meeting cancelled because of an accident. It needs to be back on sooner rather than later because it’s about additional Bedlington investment! Today, along with Bill and Russ, I had a meeting with the Leader and some of the other senior NCC cabinet members. We have all been pressing not just for more investment into Bedlington but also having some of our basic social needs addressed properly. It was a very businesslike meeting and there are some, what look like, halfway decent results. I did make the point that we have heard plenty of rhetoric from the Administration it was now time for action! Once that was over I had to run to my next meeting because I had to chair it. This one was the LAC Community Chest and we had to go through several applications. I would urge everyone who applies to actuality read through the guidance because we had to take some of the applied funding out and dismiss one or two entirely because they clearly breached our guidelines for funding and that’s something we all hate to have to do! That done I thanked the members who made the time to turn up and closed the meeting. I had an extra LGPS Panel meeting this afternoon and I expected it would be quite a short meeting. As usual it didn’t turn out that way because there were so many interconnected things to consider and we were making a fundamental change to our strategic asset planning. Again I did make the point that we are in the middle of a pooling restructure, considering a merger, implementing a strategic review and considering an asset reallocation, each one worthy of very careful consideration in itself and each one putting extra stress on our team, most of all our officers and the Board members. That was acknowledged but we did finally make a decision to de-risk some of our assets, something which I have been arguing about for over a year. I had a brief talk with one of the police officers who oversee our Town about a suggestion I had made at the last meeting we all had. I have expanded that suggestion and I await the reply. Hopefully it might help tackle the seemingly growing anti social behaviour we are seeing. Nice meeting today at a special school in Cramlington. This came about because of my comments when their new play area came in front of our LAC planning group. The questions I asked were later answered by the school’s new head of comms and funding. We eventually chatted about the school and the pupils and I was asked to go to an opening event they were holding for a new garden area the pupils had done for themselves. I suggested asking all the LAC members and said I would ask our Civic Head to officially open it for them. The invites went out and Ian our Civic Head of Northumberland and his deputy Eileen agreed to officiate. Lovely to see all the undoubted hard work paid off in such an inspiring garden area. I chatted to the school liaison officer and suggested ways they might try and attract extra funding into their school. Today I have our LAC to chair because Christine the chair is away on personal business. So quickly back from work for a shower and change then straight out for the pre planning meeting at Seaton Sluice. Only two applications both of which were uncontested. As Bernard was the chair of planning and I had to take it on temporarily until a new chair was found, this was the first planning meeting for our new chair Councillor Ian Swithenbank. I opened the LAC gave a brief explanation how it operates went though the first three agenda items and then passed the meeting over to Ian for the planning part. He took us through the two applications with the planning officers and both were agreed unanimously. We had 30 minutes to wait until I could restart the LAC! One restarted straight into public questions and the very first one was something we couldn’t consider. I gave the speaker as much leeway as possible to eak out a question to us but in the end what was being said had no relevance to our LAC and I had to stop the line of questioning. His next question was about members conduct during elections and I asked if he wanted an explanation of Purdah? He said so and I gave him my understanding which was about the types of communications members used and the tools allowed to do it. I was corrected when I suggested members should even say they were already elected members in the authority. In fact the new Labour leader said no one would stop her saying she was an elected member and supported her preferred candidate. After one other question, which I requested a written reply to because we couldn’t give a definitive answer verbatim, the meeting carried on and we had several updates from our local area managers, notably highways and neighbourhood services. We then got to an update on the cycling Tour which is coming through Northumberland again. A presentation ensued from very enthusiastic officers and they answered our questions afterwards. I then wrapped the meeting up. Today I had a meeting about the old council offices in Bedlington trying to get something done. Thats seems all but impossible given the way this was put together originally. It’s almost like one step forward and two back sometimes! Had to go to a planning training meeting today and again more empty seats than full ones. In fact it looked like most of the planning department was here so even less member attendance and we all sit on one planning committee or another! In fact the head of planning stated the Central government guidelines which says members have to undertake training or they wont be allowed to sit on planning committees. The head of planning then gave the presentation and launched into ‘what is planning’ as the first part of his presentation. Some interesting points were brought up and in the Q&A session I had a few questions. One bit I did want clarification on was the assertion that planning had to ‘facilitate economic development, that I hadn’t heard before. I asked if that was a material consideration and the reply was yes it is. That was a bit strange because profit, per say, isn’t and do you get one without the other? Second presentation was about houses and again I have several questions. I asked for specific training along the lines of what the Strategic Planning committee had asked for several times, S106 developer funding, and also I asked about conditions and varyco’s attached to applications both before and after a decision. I said I had sat in committee and attached conditions to applications only to see them changed or just taken out as soon as a developer started work. I said that wasn’t right because the development didn’t now look like what we had considered. I also questioned him about the term ‘affordable housing’ saying I thought the term at best misleading and I postulated that in actual fact infrastructural improvements were much more rewarding to a greater number of people in the local communities than half a dozen ‘affordable houses’ and the fact that they are now dished out to housing associations behind what looks like closed doors only adds insult to injury as far as I was concerned. He took my points and said they warranted further consideration. Well just come back from a site meeting with a sports facilities funding officer and he said he was impressed with my ideas because they were far more inclusive than just applying to one sporting body. He is going away to do some work to help me progress this and I now have to think up ways to fund another feasibility study into need in Bedlington. Last time I did this was back in 2010 and we got KKP to do a report but their conclusion was that a £20M investment into a new school with modern sporting facilities at Bedlington Station couldn’t be ignored and the easiest option would be to make them accessible for the greater community. Of course what we actually got was a £10M new school and very limited community accessible facilities. So the fight goes on to get Bedlington what it deserves! Just come back from another Advance board meeting and again it was dominated with new governance and policy matters. Anyone might suspect we could possibly end up with a regeneration company fit for purpose at this rate! I did have to stop the meeting at one point to raise a concern and that will now have to be addressed before that particular item is progressed. As an aside it looks to me like the company really needs to assert itself and not be held back by quasi public sector restraints and ways of doing business. Fleet of foot and agile of mind would be my maxim regarding how this company develops now, with the proviso that the governance is sorted of course! Well someone was listening. Several phone calls off Advance today but finally my concerns were addressed and we can now proceed with that particular project. I did use this time to further ideas for more investment into Bedlington of course! First meeting today was the LAC chairs. I’m only there because I am vice chair of ours. Several item on this agenda and a presentation about the possible Northumberland Lottery project. The chair moved the presentation up so the presenter didn’t have to spend all morning sitting listening to the usual meeting before she got to her bit. She did say some of us would have heard her presentation before and I was one because she had given the same to scrutiny earlier. As she explained this was all about getting good local causes potential funding because players picked which of the good causes listed they wanted to support with most of their stake monies. I did have another couple of questions about this such as how long would players be subscribed for, seeing as it is entirely internet based. Also was there any constraints on how the good causes spent their possible windfalls? Other members had their questions answered too and the whole thing is going to cabinet for their approval, or not, at their next meeting. On with the normal meeting and again I said I wanted to see a much greater turn out at LAC meetings so making the agendas interesting for the public was essential. This time the business chair intervened and challenged me directly to list all the possible updates and presentations I wanted to see and send him the list so each one could be checked off as it was delivered. I have already made a start on this list! Back home for a quick cuppa and get some mails sported then back up to county hall for another meeting , this one the LDF or Local Plan update. We had the update and its expected the governmental hearings will start in October with Morpeth Town Hall booked to deliver the public sessions. A couple of items were on as separate updates, one being affordable housing and the other planning obligations. Both of these topics enlisted several questions from members and I had a few of my own. The SPD’s or supplementary planning documents will be going out for consultations quite soon because we all want to see this local plan in place. Again it was stated today that pretty soon if members do not take up planning training they will be barred from sitting on any planning committees. Seeing as all members sit on at least one planning committee there could be sparks soon with that one! Planning law, like Local Government Pension training, isn’t the easiest thing to get your head around but the new head of planning is insisting members have to attend. Might start to improve attendance records for some! Had a meeting with our Highways Technical officer today about the road issues and the solutions we have been working on. Russ was there too and he got his issues sorted while mine were about the new speed signs I have already paid for and other traffic calming measures especially on the B1331 and Netherton Village. I had told residents I would not let this officer go until I have a set date for the installation of these signs because we seem to have been waiting months and months for their installation after being agreed and paid for! Well I did get assurances that both the signs at Netherton and Hartford Bridge will be in within the next 2 weeks. There are also other measures to go in and these are hoped to be completed before the end of the school holidays. In fact it might look to some like overkill but Netherton Village especially has suffered far too long from excessive speeding and if these measures don’t have an impact a far more drastic solution is in the wings! One of the measures is to reduce the speed along sections of both the B1331 and the A1068.
  12. Looks like the info you got is flawed minitoonmook, or its a case of comparing apples and pears. NCC took over all legal responsibilities when WDC was abolished. Bernicia is just a social housing provider and whilst they ended up with our old council houses they have no wider legal responsibility. So to me at least it would seem you need to be dealing with NCC as it is they who took on all covenants etc. I am presuming, from what you have written, you are buying your house and not renting off Bernicia? I would suggest trying to get indemnity off NCC in writing regarding this covenant.
  13. June 2019. June already and last week we had an LDF, or Local Plan, update. Lots of last minute items to go through and several cases to be made but in the end the document left on time to go to central government for inspection. Like I have said this has been a mammoth task and all credit to the team of officers who have done such a diligent job on its production. Next meeting was an LAC, Local Area Council, chairs meeting. I get to go because I’m the deputy chair of ours. Several items of business went through and one in particular I was very interested in, this being the new “council housing” initiative. The lead officer gave an update and as I was one of only a few who had actually attended his wider presentation earlier in the year, I mentioned some of the concerns I had spoken about at that presentation specifically the fact that the administration have done press releases suggesting we are building 1000 new houses for social rent whereas when I asked if we would see 1000 new council houses built the answer had been somewhat different! I did press this point and said I didn’t know why the opposition, who were at least at this meeting, had let the administration away with that claim! Seems I was being overly sceptical? Next item was something I again wanted an input into as this was possible items for future meetings. I said we had been told when these LAC’s were initiated, that they would bring decision making closer to the local populace and they would hold their own budgets for things like regeneration projects and I haven’t seen any evidence of those! I said we always got a good turnout of Bedlington residents but even they are not attending because they have little input and the agendas are too weak. This caused a bit of a furore and I was told we had just seen a Bedlington regeneration presentation in Bedlington so we did have regeneration in our remit. I said that has nothing to do with the LAC and was only a presentation by an existing project. I was told in no uncertain manner to list what I thought should be included so I said things like the social housing project we have just been talking about, the proposed new rail link, the North of Tyne devolution deal which has just had its mayoral election, the Borderlands deal and I could go on. These are all things which affect residents in all our wards and we should see the local flavour. I was told to send my comments to the chair and business chair so I will! Strategic planning today and only one application. I went along open minded and listened to the arguments for and against. The more I heard the less I liked the scheme on offer and had to ask several questions to the Head of Planning about it as he seemed to be taking over this application. Of all the questions I asked I think I only had one proper reply, in fact the chair had to say I was drifting towards debate which I refuted straight away because I wasn’t getting any straight answers. That bit done we had a proposer and seconder for approval and I spoke against. This application was for a piece of artwork installed in the middle of the Northumbrian moors. I understood the concept and even given it was to be 56M high I did like the idea but I said I just couldn’t accept it at this location. I said I would support it in 100 different locations throughout the county but in this location it was just too confrontational. Also the fact that it was being touted as a tourist destination but the road to it was a single track, there was to be no facilities such as toilets or restrooms, and the current parking which could accommodate one single bus or a handful of cars wasn’t being upgraded meant that argument was a complete red herring. Who ever suggested this was to be a tourist destination but didn’t want any tourists to actually visit it baffled me. Anyway we eventually voted it down but then one of the members who had proposed it and refused a site visit before the vote then proposed a site visit. I asked what were we going to look at because there was nothing 56M in height nearby which would give us an indication. I was told we were going to see the moors to which I responded I could see them on the pictures on the screen behind. So we now have a site visit to go on for an application which has been refused. I have said many times planning law has it own incongruous set of rules. It wasn’t just me who wondered what was going on either! My application for the central government High Street funding which although turned down has born some fruit! I saw the way some other towns had been given a lead and that is done through business forums so given what I was told at recent NCC economic presentations all areas would be given equal consideration I asked for one to be set up for us. Just learnt we are getting one set up and it will include the parish councils in the first instance. Thats a step in the right direction but we then have to turn the rhetoric into real investment and regeneration. I have my own ideas on how this should proceed and I’ll wager there might be some fireworks because I don’t want to see some anodyne and insipid lip service being played out with this chance. Another meeting with the head of Advance and this time we locked horns! I just couldn’t see the sense of what was being proposed and said so. We were joined by the head of investments and it was nice to hear some of my ideas have been taken seriously. Still gagged by NDA’s but that will soon be over. Our Town Centre regeneration will happen and once we can tell the real story behind this epic tale people will see for themselves why there has been so many false dawns! I can only see one way to get this over the line in the short term and that will become clear in the next couple of weeks. One of the things stated on social media by the usual suspects which does rankle a bit is the suggestion that because I, as well as Bill and Russ, are new councillors we don’t know how to represent our wards or Town. I’ll leave this comment which I overheard at a recent NCC meeting…. “You always know when Bedlington is at a meeting these days!” As for not working to get any investment into the Town, well the £6.5M for our Town Centre regeneration is there in black and white now, it never was before, as well as an extra £1.4M! Having won that fight I now want to see it actually spent sooner rather than later. As well as that investment into the Town we are pushing for other funding streams and I hope we can soon reveal details of those. Scrutiny meeting today and a varied agenda. One of the items was about devolving an educational budget to the new North of Tyne Combined Authority. This one did make sense strategically but I asked if any other budgets were going to be devolved because this was a question I asked at the very first presentations about this years go. A direct answer was skillfully avoided but I was told devolving this budget had always been the case. Actually I distinctly remember being told some of our Transport initiatives working toward an integrated transport network would be the only thing devolved at the time! I was told that had been shelved because of its complexity for the moment. I was also told back then there would certainly be no duplication of efforts and this would be new money for the twin stated aims of job creation and raising educational standards and any projects funded would be subject to a benchmarking process. Once back to Bedlington I had some things to sort out and then a meeting with the police. This time I had invited a senior NCC officer to attend so we had first hand information and a potential route to get a multi agency approach to Beldington’s ASB problems. He did offer some help and advice but I’m not sure if this will have any benefits, however we did hear how other areas have tackled the same problems and the tools they used. If nothing else the NCC officer got to hear the problems firsthand! I have now had notice of another meeting to discuss an initiative suggested at this meeting which I think could well have some merit. Personally I’m still pushing for somewhere for young people to congregate which they can call their own but with some supervision! Back up to councty for further meetings but then across to Plessey Woods to do some PR for the Park. Pension Panel meeting this morning and given the size of the papers I had its going to be a long one! Well it was another mammoth LGPS meeting and it threw some items up which we need other meetings to consider. Doing 9am-3pm for a meeting on a Friday left me little time to get sorted for the weekend at work so back to Bedders ASAP. This week we had a full council meeting and as usual I finished work early to make it up to County for the 3pm start. I had two questions tabled at this one and other members have said how they were going to be interested in the answers I got back. I have to say out of 7 questions tabled to the Administration 5 were from independent members with the other two from a Conservative member. Got to wonder just who is trying to hold the Administration to account these days? Out of 7 questions tabled to the Conservative Administration at this full council meeting 5 were off Independent members and 2 off a Conservative member who really took them to task on his questions too. (Meeting starts about 16 minutes in?) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jIO8oFaxXDE&t=2024s I have Director training at Advance Northumberland today. The only way I can see to get our Town Centre regeneration on anything like a proper time frame is to work from the inside so I have agreed to take up the poison chalice and become a director of the company. Having been one of the biggest critics about the way Arch conducted itself I will be making sure Advance isn’t allowed to go the same way. Of course I now have further constraints on what I can say because being a director places its own requirements on what can be reported. Having had all afternoon with the Chief Executive and the financial officer it was refreshing to hear that a complete set of new governance and accounting is being put into place. Today I have my first board meeting and once installed it was a very open, amiable and accountable meeting. I did take part and all my questions were answered and suggestions considered. Looking at next month’s calendar the days are being filled up with meeting after meeting. It’s going to be another busy one.
  14. May 2019. Once again May is a bit different to the other months and this one especially so with all the elections and purdah. For anyone who doesn’t know about purdah….” The term ‘purdah‘ has come into popular use across central and local government to describe the period of time immediately before elections or referendums when specific restrictions on communications activity are in place.” So I have been under some restrictions with my diary and when and how it has been published. I think a brief overview of the major items of business going on over the last year, as I have done previously, is the best way forward. I will preface this with the fact that I have been contacted by more and more residents with their concerns and questions and they are naturally confidential but I welcome the fact that people seem to have a renewed faith in contacting their elected representatives and asking for assistance. This time last year we saw Arch transform into Advance Northumberland with a much stricter local remit. Regeneration and investment has been curtailed so its directed at Northumberland only instead of seeing investment made into other councils and county areas. Lots of issues with Arch which have been well documented in the media so I won’t go into specifics but I do feel that to regain the public trust we have to see a full and independent investigation carried out as a minimum. We can now see the full council meetings in “glorious Technicolor” live as they happen on the NCC YouTube account. While I welcome this step forward in transparency I do still have reservations about the nature of these full council meetings. I have just been informed some committee meetings will be recorded now too and I have one next week which is one of the first to be recorded to see how it goes. If nothing else I will bet we see members turn up who don’t usually or who very rarely do! Work has been going on all year putting together a new Local Plan or Local Development Framework, as it was originally named. I have said the last one which took about 8 years to bring together was just a carte blanche for housing developers. It contained estimates for over 26,000 new houses with no associated infrastructure provision. The new one, which has taken just over 1 year to put together, links all sorts of things to house building and has estimates of about 17,000 new homes. Having worked on the committee which helped put this together, although in truth it was hard work by dedicated officers which has seen it produced, I can say incorporating most of the ancillary infrastructure needed is the way to go. It isn’t a cure all but at least it starts to link policies and projects NCC now have in place. This new version was listed to be finished and sent off to central government for inspection yesterday! If it gets agreement then it will underpin our planning strategy in the short to medium term. The new North of Tyne Mayoral authority was discussed and given cross party support. Initially this was to be the 7 local authorities but that had been reduced to 3 because the others refused to sign up to a publicly voted in Mayor acting as chair. We have now seen the election held and the new Mayor installed. What struck me throughout the campaign was the suggestions by the candidates about how they intended spending the money government is providing. This wasn’t part of any deal when we debated backing the creation and I will be asking questions about it! It was supposed to be about job creation and raising educational achievement, using the funding as seed funding to lever in even more. As far as I understood it wasn’t supposed to be used for any pet projects for whoever got elected. I’m not even sure it can be given that it should be overseen by a committee of elected members from the 3 areas. We started the work to enable a new play park and other park upgrades in Plessey Woods about a year ago. We worked on an outline and then sent out tenders for the work. I specifically asked the companies who tendered for the new park equipment to look at the site and see what they might recommend, given that I wanted exciting and innovative play equipment suitable for a good range of children, including disabled children. I think we had 16 tenders to go through and score then see which 3 came top. Again another session to examine the 3 in fine detail and at last we chose one. Once that went out we had meetings with the company chosen and I pressed for some tweaks so the new equipment would be exciting to all age ranges. We had a target completion date set for Easter 2019 and it did open on Good Friday 2019. It looks like a great success with a huge swell of visitors to the park these days. More to come with a bit of luck! I couldn’t not mention our Town centre redevelopment and having called it a staccato development at the recent presentation I now see it being likened to Brexit! For me the whole thing was badly judged at inception with at first housing which was then squashed in favour of a wholesale retail development. The way that was underwritten led to a whole raft of problems as work progressed to bring the scheme forward. Unlike other developments all the proposed units had to be prelet to retailers and given the changes happening to our high streets up and down the land this was always destined to be hard work! We have at least seen the preparatory work done after a main contractor was appointed. Again unlike any other development there has followed a period of inactivity on the site and even though there is a considerable amount of pressure to get this development back on track I think there is only one way to get it across the line now! On top of all the evidence of a change in shopping patterns up and down every high street in the country we really need to be innovative and imaginative with ours to make it as attractive as possible to as many folks as possible in an effort to make it sustainable. I will mention the initiative to get the Blyth and Tyne line reopened for passengers. Again this seems to have been a perennial promise by one administration and council after another. Having been invited onto a specially sponsored train to travel the line from Morpeth to Blyth, stopping off at the old Bedlington station platform where I had the opportunity to shake hands with the Transport Minister and along with Russ and Bill press the case for the line reopening, I have to say the message coming from the Minister was pretty encouraging! He took all of our concerns and suggestions on board even saying this was possibly the easiest of the national closed lines which were being looked at to get reopened! It will take a considerable amount of funding but with NCC agreeing the seed funding and it now being a commitment by the new North of Tyne Authority to bring it about, I think we have the best chance in decades to see passengers on the line in 2022 as has been suggested. I think we have to think about this not only in terms of people being able to travel outwards more easily, but also the fact that it will encourage people to come in and actually visit Bedlington. This can only have a positive effect on infrastructure at the Station and the immediate surrounding area but also once we get our town centre redevelopment done it could encourage people to visit that too. The over rider is of course, as I have suggested, we have to make our Town Centre redevelopment innovative, successful and fit for the 21st century and so entice added footfall. Just to close there are now several new initiatives aimed at getting Bedlington the upgrades it has desperately needed for many years and as these are publicised I have no doubt the vast majority of people will see the work which has been going on over the last couple of years to get the needs of Bedlington up the pecking order within the county.
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