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Malcolm Robinson

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Malcolm Robinson last won the day on February 8

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About Malcolm Robinson

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  • Birthday 09/09/1956

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Nov 2018. We had a pretty packed strategic planning meeting tonight, or it was going to be until one of the large applications was pulled by the applicant. The other biggie was the Bedlington application for the 500 houses north of the Chesters. Having been awarded a new contract I was at work all week for training and exams and had to get permission to leave early for this meeting and the full council meeting tomorrow. The other applications were not really contentious and we agreed with the planners and their advice. The chair knew I wanted to speak about the Bedlington application and first up was the planning officer who outlined the application and its terms. Next up was Christine, the current mayor of West Bedlington Town Council. She gave an impassioned 5 minute speech about how disappointed she was with the terms of the S106 funding and especially where it was going to be spent. We next heard off the applicant and then onto members questions. One or two members asked a question about the application then it was my turn. I said it seemed we had a dichotomy of guidance regarding this application seeing as the Wansbeck Local Plan had a boundary line which these houses lay outside of, therefore they should be disallowed. Not only that but we are being advised that the new Planning Guidance off central government which actually meant these houses were needed, to bolster our housing land supply figures. I said I saw that as an excuse, sorry for using that term, but would we as a county have enough land bank for housing if these houses were not permitted? The silence was deafening so I gave them the reply they didn’t want to give me. Yes we have more than enough identified housing land, isn’t that true. Again none of the planners wanted to say but I pushed them for an answer. It seems we do have enough but they want these as well. I asked if that justified redrawing the town boundary line and again silence. I then asked if the Wansbeck Local Plan was the only planning guidance we should consider because at every meeting we are told we can only consider material considerations and adopted policies. Again a very muted response! I then asked about the S106 agreement and said it wasn’t good enough. The reply was that there is a framework for working out these agreements and some might seems more generous than others. Well how can the same framework deliver almost £5M in S106 funding in Amble for the same number of houses and even about £4m for almost half the number in Blyth? Ours totals just under £2M! In fact the only change I could see since this was last before us is the inclusion of a £65 bus ticket for each house. It really isn’t good enough. Given highways and transportation were mentioned in the application I asked about a new road I have heard about linking the B1331 and Choppington Road. I was told I couldn’t mention that because it wasn’t part of the application but I said in that case you shouldn’t be so ambiguous in the terms used in your guidance and my question stood. No answer. Next came the debate after two members proposed accepting the application. One member even said he didn’t understand the new central government guidance but would vote for the application. Surly that should mean you don’t vote for something you don’t understand shouldn’t it? It does whenever I don’t understand what’s on the table. In my reply I said this was clearly outside the boundary line in the only policy in place and I will not vote for anything which seems to undervalue my residents in comparison to any other residents in the county. When the vote came only two of us voted against it so it was agreed by majority. I think we have lost an opportunity to get some real funding to address the imbalances we can all see here in our social infrastructure. I have to mention some of the things which my refusal to accept this paltry community funding has brought to my attention. First I hadn’t realised this application had been brought to the last administration. In fact it looks like they were the ones to agree the first mishmash of community funding. This was the agreement brought to strategic planning last year when I first heard it. This had no health funding requirement and the educational requirement had been allowed to fall from £3.2M to about £1.2M, or about £2M was allowed to disappear. To add further insult to injury the outdoor sport and play funding was to go to Bedlington Station? So West Bedlington gets the houses and the demand while East Bedlington gets the goodies. I wonder who put this deal together but I hope readers can see why I objected so passionately last year when this came up. In the course of several meetings I had with the planners over this I got planners to ask the health trust again about some funding requirement and I also had that ring-fenced for East Bedlington caveat squashed. So £335K for health funding suddenly appeared and the £229K for sport and play can stay in our ward. Still think the figures are insulting given what other areas seem to be able to demand and in no way addresses the lack of infrastructure needed to service our current needs never mind considering the huge increases we will soon see I’m sure. Full council today and it was quite a rush back from work because I’m doing training and exams all week. There weren’t really any main bones of contention in the agenda but that was before the more politically motivated members got their hands on it. So once again a political ping pong match which I think shows just how unwilling some members are to work with each other for the benefit of the county. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-_ELUoMGYA I am really quite disappointed with these full council meetings. Instead of reasoned debate which might just influence the direction we are taking we get the minutes of previous committee meetings and a chance to ask….TWO….questions….if they were submitted in time before the meeting. This isn’t the cut and thrust of modern politics for local benefit, this is an old codgers club! We really need to stop electing people because of the gang they belong to. Interesting to see just how wildly taken out of context some of the ‘quotes’ are and that’s only the ones I have firsthand knowledge about. I was truly shocked at the misrepresentation of one of the committees I serve on. I now have to question everything those members utter in future. Well it might have taken some time, months in fact, but after all the complaining, lobbying, phone calls and messages we eventually have a full set of working lights up the Netherton Village. We were promised these were working some time ago but several faults came to light; pardon the pun, which resulted in temporary traffic lights for a couple of days while the faults were once and for all rectified! Fingers crossed! Sadly it has become apparent that once again I have been targeted by certain individuals in an effort to unseat me. This was particularly distressing because it involved other people close to me and while I am fully prepared to argue my points and politically debate quite openly the oleaginous manner in which this was done left a lot to be desired! This resulted in having to close down my social media accounts until I was sure I had regained control over them and was the reason my last month’s diary was late and this one somewhat truncated. It would seem giving, principally, my constituents so much information within these diaries is not something certain people relish. I will leave the last word to one of our greatest political commentators, “In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” ― George Orwell.
  4. 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. Tesco wasn't blocked???????? The only quotes they had were off their own builders and no one else saw them. It looked to be a national strategic decision by Tesco to stop all new builds and try and refocus what they already had because their share price had bombed out. The whole of Front Street is a conservation area........they way thats been handled of late doesn't warrant the paper its written down on! There are no listed buildings. The build has started........?
  6. Rosco, Not quite right..........the council didn't stop Tesco......Tesco pulled out of 40 odd new developments, one of which was ours. The way this development has been set up means only the units which have agreed tenants will be built, thats one of the reasons its taken so long! Oh and they are medium sized retailers not small ones which I think is a missed opportunity and one I'm trying to remedy. The previous plan was to have 6 small starter units on the front with offices above which was to be let to Wansbeck Life who would then rent them out. I believe thats why on one can find the supposed million quid Tesco was supposed to pay for the site. I think it was a deal where WL got the shops on a peppercorn agreement for 25 years and made the money renting them out. Pity no one thought to write a codicil where if Tesco didn't develop we got our town centre back!!!!! Instead we had to buy it back off Tesco who I think got it for nowt!!!!
  7. September 2018. First meeting was economic and corporate scrutiny at 10am. I got there in good time and took a seat. We had several cabinet members and the Leader there for this one because there were several bits on the agenda which we would be asking questions about. We also had the ex-Leader there and as he sat at the table I presumed he must be speaking directly to us. The meeting was called to order and we started with the chair altering the agenda because of clashes with some of the members and other meetings which they had to go to. One of the agenda items was about the legal advice members could receive from outside the NCC legal team. It had been proposed that due to legal action against 3 or 4 members and a member of staff by a multi-million pound offshore company, NCC should underwrite some of the cost of advice or we could well face say a rich development company from almost picking off any members who disagreed with it, especially in terms of planning! The ex-Leader had headed up a counter proposal supposedly denying members and officers this help and he presented his case. I was surprised at his opening remark that his group actually agreed with the proposal and it was only the way this had been brought to cabinet that he disagreed with. I’m not sure given the time frames involved that the convoluted way which was the counter proposal could have been actually delivered. I did agree with a couple of the points raised but given that a writ had been issued, time was of extreme importance. The legal advice off the NCC solicitor was pretty unambiguous and the proposal failed. We went through several items and then hit on the most controversial. This one was about a report and consultation into possibly reducing the level of council tax working age claimants received. I listened to the presentation given by the cabinet member with the responsibility and started asking questions. This was soon drowned out by one member shouting that this should not even be tabled. The reply off the cabinet member astounded me. What was being proposed was the possibility of reducing this benefit by 8% from 100 to 92%. During his reply the cabinet member mentioned the fact that the last administration were going to reduce this benefit by 50% not the 8% the current administration wanted to look at. Seems only us and Durham give 100% reduction these days with most councils facing some hard facts as they try and balance budgets. One of the members said yes but they weren’t going to do it straightaway. Flipping heck the last administration were a curious bunch looking at what’s coming out now, in fact I’m starting to wonder if I’m in some alternative universe where the Labour group cosy up with multi million pound offshore companies and think about halving benefits and the Conservative group are keeping any reduction to a bare minimum? Anyway the three labour members were asked if they wanted to make a counter proposal and after quite some prompting they proposed taking this proposal for a report off the table. A very dangerous option in my opinion because the administration could easily push this through without any due consideration or consultation! As there were 5 conservative members, 3 labour members and myself their proposal fell and I asked specifically what the original agenda proposal was. Producing a report and a consultation exercise only because this committee was not a decision making committee it was a scrutiny committee. I agreed with this now because I felt getting a report done and a consultation exercise would give us the understanding of what the impacts of this measure might actually be. The current administration could just push it through if they wanted so at least this would gave us the background needed to make any recommendation. I left the meeting and hurried home in time to grab a cuppa before going up to Alnwick for a strategic site visit. Once again I have to say the access route to the site leaves a great deal to be desired but at least the site is in the agreed neighbourhood plan. Also the fact that the neighbourhood plan recommends the same number of houses went some way in my decision making. The matter in question was the fact that the outline plans moved an area of housing nearer to the existing dwellings there so there would be a much better aspect to the development. It was half a paddock nearer but this meant that the development could be built in the low lying area and not spoil any view looking from the conserved Alnwick fields just over a hill. When I got home I had several messages about me being the target of attack by the mother of our MP’s communications manager? Seems I had to stop everything I was doing to reply to her political accusations on social media. In fact they were getting more and more deranged as far as I could see. As well as these tirades the ex-chair of the local labour group joined in but that was just par for the course! (Hi Alex!). I did do a reply the next day and I received an inbox full of well wishes! Thanks to everyone who sent them! Again once home I only had time for another cuppa then it was up to Netherton Club for my monthly surgery. Today I had the strategic planning meeting and one item on the agenda was the detailed planning for the Bedlington redevelopment in marketplace. The Alnwick application was before and that was eventually agreed. One application had been pulled and another pretty straightforward. Finally the Bedlington application came up and after seeing the application on the screen I asked about the parking provision. Looks like it’s been reduced but adding in the parking for the anchor store it’s actually increased. There were no other questions and I asked the chair to move to the vote. I proposed it and it was duly seconded and with no comments from members I said we have waited 50years for this let’s get on with the vote. It was passed unanimously. Third day of my holiday from work and full council meeting today. We had an update on some confidential matters pertaining to the Bedlington development and then downstairs for the full council meeting. I had submitted a question for this meeting again, this one about the conditions we attach to planning applications where members feel they are necessary. I had already asked our head of planning who oversees these conditions and her answer was our enforcement team. This question was a bit different however because of what I have seen locally I basically asked if it was worth members attaching conditions to applications because developers seem to be agreeing conditions but then not adhering to them once they get their permissions. I will let people make their own minds up about the answer I got back. Full council meeting September 2018 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVbuTqINJPk I had two constituents to see and ask questions on their behalf then I was off on holiday for 3 days! It should have been 2 weeks but unable to sort of the respite for one of the lads meant our holiday had to be cancelled so we could look after him. When I got back I had a meeting to sort out which company got the contract for the new play park in Plessey Woods. It took hours to go through all the responses and score each one but eventually we got it down to three. Each had their good bits but we all eventually agreed on one. If it goes in exactly like the plan it will be quite an improvement! This is just one way I hope to make any parking charges for using this park worthwhile. We already have the undertaking that monies raised will be used to further improve the park so getting these initial upgrades is really the icing on the cake. Still working for more of course! One concern has been raised by adjacent residents who are probably rightly concerned about conflicting parking. I have requested a meeting between the park’s management, NCC highways and myself to see what can be done for residents along the road outside the park entrance. We had a full council planning training session given by two QC’s specialising in planning law. Seems the politicos wanted to pay games at question time but the QC’s weren’t playing those games. I did ask a question, this one about the weight given to applications in consideration of any emerging strategies or polices. I said this by it’s very nature was a subjective call by planners and maybe they didn’t fully appreciate the local ‘flavour’ as much as local members did so could this weight be challenged by members? The answer was maybe, but given that the same information should be used the same conclusion should be arrived at. Well that’s as clear as mud then! Seems they didn’t appreciate my subjective comment? Well it has to be doesn’t it? The monthly Town Council meeting was on tonight but I had to meet constituents so I couldn’t give my usual monthly update. It turned out to be a pretty productive meeting and I think we all know the direction, albeit a new one, we are taking now. Well I have now been accused of voting for personal gain, again off the mother of our MP’s communications manager. My legal advice, because this was something I wasn’t going to put up with, was that she either presented the case and listed where and what this personal gain is or apologised and took down her social media posting. The posting was deleted but no apology has been forthcoming! Might be worth looking at the recent BBC Newsnight update on NUM funds if we are to consider personal gain! Last couple of days of my Holidays and I had a site visit with our chair of planning for our LAC. This gave us a much better understanding of the application which is before us on Wednesday. Today I have another site visit asked for by a resident. After all the planning visits I’ve done over the last few weeks it was now time for another planning committee meeting at our LAC. One of the applications was in my ward and after seeing first-hand the site, with the chair of planning, I thought it best to request a full site visit by the whole committee. This was felt necessary by other members too as we progressed the application because it turned out the advice by the officer as he freely admitted was only his judgment. The second application was pretty straightforward so went through unanimously. As the chair couldn’t attend this meeting I chaired it and after starting then passing over to the chair of planning for that bit, after which I took over again. Public questions and only two were forthcoming. Those answered, it was on with the agenda. The police had come to introduce our new police neighbourhood officer and they gave a brief presentation about how they policed and the stats for Bedlington. A few questions ensued and I opened this up to questions from residents. First meeting of this week and it was corporate and economic scrutiny. I had read through all the associated papers and had quite a few questions on several of the agenda items. The chair changed the agenda items at the request of the Leader so we could hear the new Borderlands deal. This was given in private because it hadn’t even gone to central government yet and had repercussions to their budget but I can say that if we had been given some of the details we heard today I wouldn’t have needed to abstain from the vote at full council. I did ask to formally recognise and include the micro businesses in the resulting consultation where there were direct business links. We then resumed the normal running of the agenda and had the initial budgetary report. I had a few questions about this and almost seemed to monopolise the debate. Again I have to say all my questions were answered in what seemed to be clarity and honesty by the cabinet member and financial officer. One of my questions was about the £65M “black hole” which had been presented at public meetings last year. This is now been reduced to £36M and I asked how that had been achieved, if only to make sure the previous figure was justified. The answer came back both off the cabinet member and the financial officer and I was satisfied with their responses. I then asked about the large potential reduction in children services for year 21-22. Again the answer was about the culmative effects and their bedding in time more than putting off the biggest hit for future years! I then asked about how the debt management figures for Arch were suddenly put into savings? The reply was more about how the debt figures have now been effectively managed but more on that later! My further questions were about “operational efficiencies” and “fee optimisation” as listed in the report and again I was satisfied with the answers. I apologised for the time spent answering my questions but in reality I think many were happy to finally get questions based on the actual papers instead of political rhetoric. I also asked about the proposed savings were had previously examined in our shared service project. These have not been included and I then asked if or when would we see any given the bulk of the project has been put off until Universal Credit has bedded in. That wasn’t really answered but the intent is to complete the shared service project at some point. One last thing to mention is that I asked that commercial income generation opportunities which were listed are explored in detail and with even small incomes capable of enhancing some service provision this is something I have been working on and could really help with some of the more very frontline services. One thing I did like is that this process (budget setting) is starting off earlier than it had been done, which means we can all have greater opportunity to see and examine it. We then looked at the loan governance for Arch and again the loans, almost £300M, and their specifics were something of a direct risk worry given the way they have been written. Some members complained about the way this was presented but the answer came back off the cabinet member that the way it had been handled, where the CEO and Leader of NCC sat on the board of Arch and proposed borrowing and then took their place next door in Council and accepted the proposal to loan Arch the money they had requested. As the cabinet member remarked, that cannot be right, the conflict of interest has to be immense! I had several more questions about this subject but they were getting more and more technical in a business sense. My last question was about our social housing programme and would we be using Arch to deliver it. My concern was that if we are now going to ‘tighten’ up any loans insofar as the interest and liquidity is concerned then my request that rents were genuinely affordable might be a casualty in that power play. The reply was that social housing was seen as very low risk and it was hoped that would not be the case. I said I will be watching! I did get some support off other members on this question. I have to say if this committee is supposed to be strictly scrutiny, making overly political claims and introducing political plays is something I hoped would not happen or even be allowed. There are perfectly legitimate ways to examine the administration and its policies without resorting to the much easier politicking which is becoming the norm. In fact the distinct lack of opposition members on several committees seriously compromises NCC to represent a balanced view in my opinion! In fact the very next meeting was one I have been co-opted onto, the LDF committee. This was because essentially the opposition have withdrawn from this committee and as it has to be quorate other members were needed. I did voice the opinion that as all parties and members should be represented on something as important as this committee there should have been a place for an independent representation anyway! This committee looks at the LDF or Local Development Framework which became the Core Strategy we hear so much about. Strikes me that a group which pulls away from the working group looking into and suggesting the details of this subject while at the same time bemoaning the fact that the one they worked on had been withdrawn for a revised version is not being as upstanding as they should? We heard the results of the consultation completed by many thousands of our residents from all over the county then looked at how their opinions could be used to influence the current proposed draft. As I was the only member from the south east of the county, where about half the population lives, it fell to me to speak for that area. I could only reiterate the concerns I have with the basic infrastructure we have now never mind thinking about the huge influx of new residents given the house building and pre-applications we have recently seen. I also had a discussion with our new head of planning about some of the terms used in planning, such as affordable, and especially listing all of our towns into a hierarchical structure. I asked if that is the case will we see business rates in say a B or C town be less than those charged in an A town? And given we are seeking inward investment will that be naturally directed at the A towns first? I was assured that wouldn’t be the case. Well why not itemise our towns listing their natural assets and development potential rather than classify some which seem to be better than others. The meeting continued and it is obvious there is a huge amount of work being done by staff to meet the government deadlines. One of the other things I mentioned was based on a housing application I heard on the strategic planning committee. This had suggested the affordable housing, which has become the norm for planning applications these days, is passed to the local parish council. I was and still am very much in favour of this sort of arrangement because who knows local need better than these very local councils. I was told there are problems with that application regarding this matter but I said regardless this is a good idea and one we should adopt across the board whenever possible. This could have put up to £200K into that parish council pot annually if it was allowed and clearly would have major impacts onto either the parish precept or enhanced service provision or a mixture of the two. Would have cost implications for the parish council in terms of management and oversight but the benefits would far outweigh any associated costs in my opinion.
  8. I cant answer that before tomorrow! The project is up for detailed planning tonight and putting up an answer might look to be predetermining the application because I sit on the planning committee.
  9. August 2018. First official meeting in August and it’s at Corbridge. It’s actually a strategic planning site visit with the planning meeting tomorrow night. Another load of houses with associated planning matters but for once nice to see a designated drop off and pick up point for the adjacent school on the plans. Seems we do allow these sometimes, a point taken and espoused by one of the Labour members on the committee!!!!!! Anyway after walking the fields for a couple of hours and with some of my questions answered, others for tomorrow night, it was a quick drive back to Bedlington to see some people here. Several people been in touch today and some very interesting projects outlined. I will certainly try to help in any way I can. Off up to County Hall in good time for the strategic planning meeting. I wanted to see another councillor up there but he had tendered his apologies for the meeting so I presume is on holiday. The meeting started and again a packed public gallery. First up was an application for what is in essence an extension to the Haggerton Caravan Park. Most of the issues had been dealt with and we supported the application unanimously. I couldn’t help but think about the recent Alnwick Gardens application we supported and the potential these two venues create to back up our need for modernising the main road, the A1. Both will result in increased traffic I have no doubt. The second application was the Corbridge one and after the officer gave us more information as well as a written update, which we all had to hastily read through, I had several questions. I saved my response until we debated the application at the end of this application just before the vote and after it had been proposed and seconded. After members had said they thought the application had been thoroughly worked through my turn came. I said I was of a different opinion and gave my reasons. There were several outstanding issues, which I had asked about during questions and the answers all came back that they were being worked on. I also pointed out the fact that there was a current public consultation being held which didn’t close until after a few days’ time. This had been referred to in the papers we had received to examine for this application. One paragraph in particular stated that depending on the result of this consultation and if a hitherto unidentified ‘material consideration’ was identified our decision now might not be upheld. I said that taking all of these into consideration I didn’t think we had enough “Factual” information to make a decision and even though I thought the scheme was probably the best use of the land, apart from the absolutely crazy access road which we had not got to consider as it had already been passed at the outline stage, for these reasons I would be abstaining from the vote. The head of planning didn’t like that but said I was perfectly entitled to that decision. The vote came and all other members voted for it with only my abstention due to insufficient information. Next came the Bedlington application. This concerned a business on the Barrington Road Industrial Estate and one which we had previously turned down. Previously most of us had objected to the increased hours wagons would be using the roads and estates but this had now been dropped out of the application and there was now no increased traffic asked for. There was quite a loud dissent heard from the public gallery when the members started saying they would be supporting the application now. Interestingly it was mainly the Labour members who did this. For me this shows planning isn’t being used as the usual political football and members are applying themselves without fear or favour. For me there was quite a surreal moment when one of the objectors in his address actually quoted from this Blog. Nice to know someone is reading it and the member sitting next to him and advising was none other than one of our local political party officials. Maybe this is now required reading for the local Labour group? Back to the business in hand and I was again the last member to speak, this time I fully supported the application for three main reasons. Firstly the increased traffic hours had been quashed, secondly the other improvements and changes were all within the applicants business premises and seeing as that was on an established industrial estate what’s wrong with the owner trying to maximise his potential return on investment, that’s something we should support if we can, notwithstanding the jobs there, and lastly I had read through the conditions attached to this application and with 25 conditions, most with subsections across 4 pages, I was happy that most of the issues raised had been addressed or could be through these conditions if needed. I did say monitoring might be a problem but that wasn’t something in our remit to question. The vote came and it was unanimously agreed. Course that wasn’t what the members of the public wanted to hear and again more vociferous dissent could be heard. As one member said later, if you want to be popular don’t go on a planning committee! If only people would realise that they have to come up with these ‘material considerations’ because we are not allowed to consider anything else by law! After the meeting I had several things I wanted to ask the head planner about but she immediately thought I would be having a go about the lack of information which I had complained about. Not so and after a brief exchange about that, where I think we both agreed in the end, I raised the local points I wanted her to look into which she agreed to do. Looking at my latest emails it looks like the planners are taking things tougher now. Monday and after a tough weekend I have several calls to make and letters to write. I managed to get them all done by lunchtime. Some of these did the trick straightway others went off in all sorts of directions. One of them was something I have been working on with others for the last few months and I wasn’t best pleased that it might not happen. Hopefully that has now been sorted and we will see our youngest kids playing their football on a new pitch soon! I did make a request about community funding to planning and the answer that came back left me speechless. I was under the assumption that all planning for houses carried its own obligations for community payback but it seems that’s not the case? Seems only 5 applications can be used for community payback and we have had ours? That’s just plain daft and that’s the exact words I used in my reply! The tenders have come back for the new play equipment for Plessey Woods and I have meetings to go through them. Hope we can get some real exciting stuff in there! I have been advising lots of community groups how they can better access funding. I hope we will see much better take up of funding routes by them all now and for once Bedlington will start to get its fair share! Seems August is a quiet month for the routine NCC business but in our case that just means we get to lobby and attend meetings for our Town’s benefit. One of the things that I and the other Independent councillors for Bedlington have been pushing is the Town Centre redevelopment and at last that is back on track. We have seen one announcement but there is much more to come very soon. The whole redevelopment is listed for detailed planning at our next Strategic planning meeting early next month and until that’s heard we are bound by confidentially and not predetermining an application. Just had the last meeting to determine who gets the Plessey Woods play area contract and it’s been a hard decision. We had around a dozen tenders to go through and each one was weighed against a set scoring card. Eventually it came down to about 3 and then they were revisited and assessed again. Thankfully one came through and I think we were all pretty much convinced it was the better tender. So over the next couple of months there should be some pretty exciting play equipment and upgrades to Plessey. Having gone through a similar process for the Town Council and its 2 play park complete upgrades the behind the scenes work it surprisingly difficult and exacting. Just so considering the money which is being spent. I have to make mention of my almost incessant contact with our planning enforcement team. I am very concerned with the way some developers and behaving and this has culminated in me listing a question about ‘conditions’ at the next full council. Well it seems having voiced an opinion about the current election for WBTC I am being rebuked for not seeing it as an example of democracy in action. Seems a bit ironic getting reprimanded for my take on local democracy off people who have never been elected but isn’t that the way of these things? At some point I hope we start to realise gang culture is wrong in all sorts of fields! That’s all I can write about August really because it has been categorised by a large swell of constituents getting in touch rather than the normal NCC business which I do try and report.
  10. July 2018. 2nd of July and straight into the thick of it again. Full council had been changed and was now on today. Plenty of things to go through on the agenda plus two questions I had submitted. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tIDjcTsPrM The first one was pretty straightforward with the portfolio holder promising to get me and the other members the contact details for the right people within the various social landlord businesses, especially the largest ones. My second question wasn’t so accommodating. This was the one about the safe drive in’s and drop offs at new schools and having been told there was one included in the new school we at the strategic planning had passed for Loansdean then on further inspection been told we were not allowed to have them, I was somewhat mystified. Well after asking my question the portfolio holder told me on one hand there was such a facility in this new school and in the next breath told me why they couldn’t be included? So when asked if I had a supplementary question my only response was that my original question stood. Clear as mud! I also question the Leader about the £20M a year we have been promised as part of the Devolution Deal. It was £30M a year as far as I understood? He assured me no it was £20M. I have since looked back and both the BBC and ITV reported it originally as a £30M a year deal. I can only assume it changed when the 7 members became 3! Next day it was back up to county hall, first for the community chest panel, which I chair, and then later for a strategic planning meeting. I had been around most of the community groups in my area telling them to apply for the NCC community chest funding and out of 8 applications 6 were from my area! We had just started when the fire alarm went off and everyone had to leave the building. After 40 minutes waiting outside we decided to hold the meeting somewhat apart from everyone else but under the shade of the trees. Couple of problems with two applications but nothing that couldn’t be straightened out. Still feel troubled by the lack of applications and we still have quite a wedge to award out at our last session in September! Next came the planning meeting and yet more houses on the lists. The Alnwick Gardens came up and while I fully supported the project I did ask if better and two way signage could be introduced to show visitors where the Town centre was so those traders might get a lift. I also questioned the business plan which sees the need to turn the attractions into 2 days stays yet only allows for 3 hr parking? I had also made the case for using this to boost our demand for road improvements on the main A1. Another application came through for houses in Amble and in rounding up the application just before the vote I said out of the 1300 houses I have had to give outline planning to in Amble this scheme looked the most needed and sustainable. It has a mixture of 1 and 2 bedroom houses, is adjacent to a modern estate, is getting new bus stops etc and the ‘developer’ is a social enterprise, so a not for profit group! Next up came a site visit for the planning side of our LAC. This was at a stables in Seaton Valley. Really pleased I checked Google maps before I set off. Only 4 of us turned up, myself, Russ, Bill and Christine the chair of the LAC. Once again the 3 Bedlington councillors turned up to discharge their duty yet none from the immediate vicinity! We were taken around and shown the application then it was a very quick dash up to County Hall for the Economic Strategy presentation. Again I was shocked to see only one opposition member had turned up for what is really one of the most fundamental and important policies we as a county council have to put together. The meeting was led by our Economic Strategy officer and there was a good smattering of cabinet members present as well as the Leader and Business Chair. I listened to the proposed changes to our strategy which are being introduced and got the chance to ask questions. I asked what was the definition of these much heralded “better jobs” which we seem to be chasing. I questioned whether it was just down to salary because job satisfaction must have to play a part and some people will feel they have great jobs but not necessarily the highest paid ones. That point was conceded. My second question related to two points in the presentation, one about our area not being a high wage earning area and another about affordable housing. Again I stated this affordable term we are using for housing is in no way accurate, in reality it only means less expensive! I said until we relate local salaries into the affordable nature of our housing then we are doing our people a disservice. I also related the question directly at the Leader saying that if and when we start our social house building programme we have to make it really affordable, and that would be the dictionary definition, in terms of sales and rent for our indigenous young people. My third point was about job creation and it was nice to hear an officer repeat almost word for word what I had said to her previously about the potential our smallest business have in terms of job creation if we can get them to develop to their potential. I said I thought we should start to look at this aging population which we as a county have going on and is forecast to grow even more so in the future. Maybe there are lots of retired people who still want to do something and could well be interested in starting or restarting businesses if we went out and asked? That raised some eyebrows. I had already pressed the point that real sustainable regeneration doesn’t happen because someone wants it to happen in a certain area. It’s about time we realised that and looked at the natural assets each area has which can be exploited to everyone’s benefit instead of seeing the same places get one regeneration package after another, most of which are destined to fail because the simple lessons haven’t been learnt! At the end of the presentation I spoke to the officer at length about these community partnerships which are a central plank in the new policy. I pressed him about how open the authority would be if places came together and presented viable business plans. He said he knew exactly what I was saying and any area would get a full and fair hearing. In my view this is the best chance Bedlington has to see a successor to the Market Place regeneration currently in place. It is certainly something I will be pushing for. This week is the LAC and I have several unanswered questions relating to the last LAC! The LAC once again took place At Netherton Social Club and even getting their early there were no parking places left! I had a feeling all these cars were there for one thing! The planning meeting commenced at 4.30pm as advertised and there were two items which needed to be addressed. The first one was the retrospective permission for the stables and there was plenty of opposition. For my part I listened to all the arguments but most were not planning matters so I had to discount those. The legitimate ones were answered by the officers and we then had it to decide. I proposed acceptance, seeing as no one else was going to risk the wrath of the audience, and this was duly seconded by another member. That meant I had to sum up and doing so countered most if not all of the weak planning arguments which had been presented. The vote came next and it was passed by a majority, with some members voting with their hearts not their heads! The second and even more contentious application came next. This concerned a small parcel of land which the owner wanted to turn into caravan storage. This had actually come to us last year and we had turned it down for two reasons, one overdevelopment of the land and two the impact it might have on the road infrastructure where it was. In my opinion the owner had addressed both issues in this current application. I still thought it a bad idea but couldn’t see any planning reasons to turn it down and I said so. I was certainly not the most popular person in the room then! The vote came and again it was turned down by all the other members, in my case I abstained saying I didn’t like it but couldn’t find legitimate reasons to actually vote it down. I think the owner has been given a gold plated appeal and I would expect to see caravans on there before a year is out. Of course everyone else thought it was a great decision but the wry smile I got off our planners told me differently! One thing was did strike me was the bare faced playing to the audience done by a couple of members. Now I know it’s hard not to address the audience but we are just supposed to address the committee. Watching members quite openly fawn over and almost flatter the audience was a bit queasy and I know how the planners must have felt. After the planning was over and about 80 people trouped out we had our normal LAC. I was very happy to give out presentation plaques again on behalf of the LAC Community Chest. Groups were there to receive them and there are more to come! The main meeting started and several questions from the audience. Some were answered, one or two deemed to have already been answered. The main part of the meeting was to receive an update about the Local Plan. We were taken through various aspects and all my questions were answered, as were others. I was particularly happy to hear my view that ‘Bedlington was now full of new house builds’ was generally agreed with by officers. I also asked about house design. One being some sort of Northumbrian vernacular and the other forcing new houses to be of better standards as far as future proofing and basic stuff like insulation went. Again they were generally accepted. The meeting closed about 7.45pm and I had to run to catch another community one. This week all members were invited to a presentation about Devolution. I went up to County Hall to take part and again mainly cabinet members and admin councillors. Again one opposition member and another independent from the West of the county. One Conservative councillor came in and sat down next to me jokingly saying he didn’t mind sitting next to the troublemaker. I said I consider that a badge of honour given that it was mainly cabinet members! So we were taken through the presentation and I have to say while I still do support the intent some of the detail is far from worked out. Well according to some of the answers I got back anyway. At least I was able to get a better understanding about how this will work and the functions it will contain. I even suggested making Bedlington the central plank in the economic policy for commercial development and job creation. I also spoke about the potential Cambois and North Blyth offer in terms of river usage and developing the potential of the Enterprise Zone. My only reservation was that if the Tripartite authority are looking to expand port facilities will Newcastle and North Tyneside somehow out vote us arguing for investments for the River Blyth. I was assured no because our offer is vastly different from theirs. I honestly hope that is the case. I do think this is something which we might exploit and I will be thinking up ways to put in some suggestions regarding future develop and investment into Bedlington. I went up to the Local Plan presentation held in Bedlington and was slightly bemused when the officer told me the two main topics which people had been asking about. One was the possible Golf Club development and the other the Town Centre regeneration project. I said one I didn’t know anything about because I have kept my distance as I sit on a planning committee and the other I hadn’t heard anything untoward or anything which had been changed. I was surprised when I was told the detailed planning would go in by September with a start date of January next year. That’s wasn’t something I understood to be happening but before I could get the answers off the people who would have them, I needed I had to get over the weekend at work. Unsurprisingly social media here is alight with claims and counter claims for each of those subjects and whilst I can’t get involved with one I can certainly get involved with the other! After the weekend I made some calls and had some meetings lined up to check out what exactly was going on with our Town Centre regeneration. I was assured it was proceeding as planned and that whilst an act of God couldn’t be foreseen everything being equal we will see work start very soon. I explained why I was concerned, and a lot of people in the Town too and there doesn’t seem any rhyme or reason for the planners to have told people there was a long delay? That’s being checked out. I am of the opinion that it’s still a sound goer and whilst there are several reserved matters to be attended to which may incur a slight delay, it will certainly not be months and months. I do have to say I find it a bit strange when people are questioning the exact day, hour and second this development will commence when for the last 50 years we have had nothing like it for the Town. It’s almost like Schadenfreude to some and even though they might have a political reason not to want this to happen surly supporting it for the greater good is the right thing to do? I completely understand why people are hesitant and some even doubting Thomas’s because we have been ‘misled’ for so many years in the past but I hope when this does start and people can see real action they get behind it en masses and prove Bedlington can have a successful development of this type.
  11. Canny lass, John works in archives and publishes just about everything that comes up in connection with Bedlington. This one is taken from "Some men, Murders and Mysteries of Old Bedlington" by Evan Martin.
  12. June2018. First meeting this month was strategic planning. Just before the meeting we had an update off a previous applicant and this was to be held in confidence. When the meeting took place the chair lifted the confidential nature off the presentation and we listened to the director of the company explain the revised thinking which will go into his future planning application. This was about the waste recycling plant along Barrington Road and in the original application extended operating time permission was one of the specifics asked for. My only reservation at that time had been the fact that in my view skip wagons and large container vans were not a good mix with the likes of children on the small ancillary roads leading to the industrial estate. I was concerned that in the darker winter months a 10pm operating time meant that these wagons would be using the same roads as children and whilst this sort of traffic could be expected during the day it wasn’t something which young children would necessarily expect at night. Also the fact that pick-ups at that time could very well be in residential areas and again there was a safety aspect to consider. The director went on to say they were dropping the extended operating time for the wagons and he had invited all the residents who had complained about the application and shown them the revised plan and all were now quite happy. When we were allowed to speak I thanked the director for taking on board the sentiments we expressed at the planning meeting because even though the application was turned down we did ask for the planning department to try and reach a compromise and bring it back. I also thanked him for safeguarding the jobs there and adding several more new ones! I said I would welcome his further revised application. One sad bit to note was that he has talked about an almost £5M investment which had gone into their Chester-Le-Street and when we asked if that had gone down there because of our initial refusal he said it had. So a very salient point to note, these committee meetings quite often do have repercussions and sometimes not in the way we might hope for! The planning meeting started almost immediately and there were several applications to consider. One or two were head scratchers especially the one with revised house numbers in the middle of an industrial estate after we turned it down last year saying no housing on industrial land! One application had us all in agreement, that being the new school build on the old fire station site opposite county hall. I did have concerns, not with the actual school but the vehicular access or rather lack of. I asked the officer why there wasn’t a drive in and drop off point for the children, one which could see traffic disruption minimised on the adjacent main road, a main road beset with traffic jams already. I started to get on my high horse a bit saying here we are building a new school from scratch and we don’t seem to have learnt any lessons about traffic issues. My sails were deflated when the officer said there was a designed drive in and drop off point included in the plans. I said I could only apologise for going on about it and not seeing it was in fact included in the plans, but I would check again. Everyone had a good laugh at my expense but that’s just normal banter! One other member spoke up and said he didn’t see it either! After the meeting I had another look through the application and still I couldn’t see this feature so I stopped the officer in his tracks before he left the chamber and asked him to show me where it was. After some shuffling of papers he said there wasn’t one as such but there was a car park! He went on to tell me NCC actually has a policy banning such drive ins in case it might look like we condone parents taking their children to school in private cars. Well that’s not the answer I got in the middle of the meeting so I sent a mail around all the members who were in attendance telling them the real position. I said I wasn’t complaining but they might understand my future conduct if an officer tries to mislead me! I also said I would be raising what looks like a daft policy decision NCC currently have regarding school traffic. I have since listed it for discussion at the next full council meeting. Why not build in a practical and safe route and drop off and pick up point into all of our new schools? We can still asked parents to think about the ramifications but it looks to me like we are pushing water uphill. We can surly do better when planning new schools. One of the cancelled meetings I had was relisted for this week. This one was the corporate scrutiny committee with one thing really on the agenda, Arch. In fact it was the recommendation to move all the holdings of Arch into a new company, Advance Northumberland, and rejig its remit so it was solely concerned with Northumberland matters. There were at least two cabinet members there to present to us and the Leader of the opposition was there in a none contributory role taking notes as was the ex-business chair. The deputy leader and ex chair of Arch had been replaced with another member from his political party. As soon as the presentation was over the vice chair started reading out her questions and making some serious allegations. She was reminded that we were not in parliament and had no parliamentary privilege and was asked to withdraw her allegations. After some huffing and puffing she did. When I was able to ask my questions I contained myself to the presentation and the agenda we had been sent out. We had heard about serious threats and exposure currently held by Arch so I asked if adequate risk assessments had been carried out and if these risks had in any way been mitigated seeing as we were taking about bringing the company closer into the council’s realm. My answers came not just off the cabinet members but also the chief executive. The reality was that yes risks had been mitigated as best they could and some had to be quarantined but many were inherent in the business model adopted by Arch. In other wards extremely poor governance. This was starting to sound like the Active Northumberland debacle on steroids! My second question was about business development both commercial and in some cases social. I asked if any area came forward with a viable business plan would they get a fair hearing for once or like as has always been are there only designated areas going to see investment. I was assured that all areas would be treated the same. I said that’s good then we might see the natural assets all of our areas have exploited for maximum benefit instead of the usual artificial regeneration imposed on favoured areas. My last question was about the scrutiny which had been so lacking during the course of Arch. It was stated real and additional scrutiny would be introduced for the new company and I wanted to know a bit more about that. I said mixing policy and scrutiny with business decisions had got us into this mess and clear lines and understanding was needed. The vote in favour of allowing transferring the Arch business into the new company was taken and agreed with only three of the labour members against and one other abstaining. At the moment I have several constituents with specific housing problems. These have taken quite a bit of my time recently but that’s what I said I would do when I stood. Just heard that one has been resolved and I’m really pleased with the result. I’m waiting to hear if another had had the result she needed. After some consideration I have submitted two questions for the next full council meeting next month, one about planning and the other social landlords. Here are the questions verbatim: Question 1 from Councillor M. Robinson to Councillor Riddle. “I have been getting a lot of contact from my constituents about their housing needs and concerns. I know it’s not really something we as a council have control over because the vast majority of the properties in question in my ward belong to a separate social landlord. Irrespective of how many times I say it, the perception out there is that they are still council houses. I believe these social landlords still carry a social responsibility but sometimes it’s not the easiest thing getting them to accept that fact. After many attempts to try and get to the right person to deal with my issues and in a lot of cases not really getting past the front desk, my question is can we not have someone within our housing department who can be a liaison point for all members in their initial interactions with social landlords? They should hold direct contact details with the people who are tasked to oversee these problems within their respective organisation. “ Question 2 from Councillor M. Robinson to Councillor Riddle. “During a recent Strategic Planning meeting we heard the application for the new school which is to be built over there. Every member was supportive and just about as passionate as the head teacher obviously was. My only concern was the traffic issue, specifically the lack of a drive in, drop off in safety and drive out again facility. One which in my view should keep traffic flowing and take out any need for parents to stop on the main road to decant their children. I have exactly those sorts of problems in and around my ward and I bet most members do, but here we are building a new school from scratch and in that context I think a bit more thought should be applied to alleviate these problems. I was initially informed this was the case and this had been factored in. On later investigation, I found this wasn’t the case and the Council actually has a policy forbidding them. The reason we have this policy is so we don’t seem to be condoning parents taking their children to school in private vehicles. The reality is that many parents do take their children to school in their own cars, and that’s causing havoc in and around schools at start and finish times. My position is that instead of waging some sort of subliminal war where we don’t do something in case it looks like we condone it, shouldn’t we be practically managing the issue in real time, certainly as far as new builds are concerned? My question therefore is can we revisit the policy currently in place which forbids us, at a planning stage, from looking at practical and reasonable solutions to this problem?” Well next up was a Local Government Pension Scheme Panel meeting. Again a great voluminous pile of paperwork came out with the agenda, most of it on pink papers which are strictly confidential. It took several days to wade through these reports and in reality there were only a few resulting questions. The meeting started at 9.30am and I met the chair beforehand when he informed me only he and I had turned up out of all the committee members. That meant we were not quorate but one other member had said he would be a bit late so we contended ourselves doing some necessary committee housework until our other member turned up. So the Conservative chair had to rely on two independent councillors to hold quite an important meeting. Might make anyone consider commitment right there! Anyway we had a morning presentation and an afternoon one. After the presenters had left we held our decision making bit of the meeting and one item in particular interested me. I told them they knew my position as I have said for the last 6 months I would prefer to bank some of the incredible gains we had seen recently so taking a more guarded approach and trying to insulate some of the portfolio from a potential market readjustment would get my vote. This time it was agreed as a sub strategy! Given everything I have seen and heard about, that is a very sensible option……at last! I also asked about mortality rates given there is something of a spread throughout our county. Heck of a busy end to this week and into next week with 6 meetings, full council and my surgery in the next 5 days! Last meeting of this month and it was a strategic site visit, first to Alnwick Gardens then onto Amble. The planning meeting is next week so this will be fresh in our minds.
  13. May will be published but in a different format.
  14. Dont know if you have read this Canny lass but try these......... Thanks to John Krzyzanowski and his Bygone Bedlington page.
  15. Quite a bit on him Canny lass and yes Glassey Terrace is named after him. Im sure our history bods will give you the info once our little game is over................
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