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Malcolm Robinson

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Everything posted by Malcolm Robinson

  1. You are right there Vic.......it sometimes takes weeks and months to get things done! Not sure how much of a difference but I'm trying as I said I would!
  2. October 2017: After a hectic weekend at work I made sure I had either talked to or sent e-mails off to the people I needed to speak to about what is now getting to be backlog of constituency work. I have picked up yet another three meetings in the next couple of weeks, two for committee meetings and the other for additional training. When I said October was going to be hectic I really meant it! First off the block was a strategic planning meeting. One of the applications was the redevelopment of the Alcan site and I had some questions to ask about that, not least about contamination issues. I was assured none of the relevant agencies had reported any concerns. Well that sounds hunky dory except that none of that documentation had been included in our packs? This is something I am getting a bit concerned about, lack of full disclosure in planning applications! Anyway that application, like all of them that night was passed unanimously. One which I do want to remark on was the application again up in Amble this time for 272 houses. The developer came in and explained everything he was prepared to do and give by way of community payback and we even had councillors asking us to agree this application because of the level of payback this particular developer was prepared to give to the community. In effect for 272 houses a potential sum of up to £5M had been agreed. I immediately compared this with the 500 houses earmarked for Bedlington and my ward and the figures we can probably expect pales into insignificance. Same planning officer leading this too! Wasn’t too long ago, a month or so, we heard an application for 500 houses for Amble and again the negotiated community payback funding was into many millions of pounds! Why the disparity? This whole planning system is an absolute joke and needs fixing from top to bottom and I can’t even blame our planners because they have to function under the system as is, which in many cases isn’t what they might like. I feel I really need to start and highlight the inadequacies and downright inconsistency the current system is producing for the likes of my ward! Very next day and back at County Hall for another training session. I had gone to work at 5.30am come home at 2.20pm had a quick shower and then back up at Morpeth for this training session. This one was a master class in ‘chairing skills’ and it was something I wanted to do anyway. As I anticipated I have been doing it all wrong, well not really but I did learn some tricks of the trade which was exactly why I wanted to do it in the first place! Thought I had a rare day off today but not so there was a Gallagher Park Steering Group meeting to attend. That went quite well with everyone pretty positive until I was told the Community Gain funding or S106 funding for leisure emanating from the 500 houses we could very well see just north of the Chesters has been ring-fenced for Gallagher Park only. It would seem to me that the area which has to put up with the loss of amenity etc should be the area which sees the vast majority of payback, that as a minimum! Again I came home and fired off a missive to the head of planning informing him about this and saying I thought this money should be retained within the ward for the residents. As I write this up still no reply! Another day another meeting to attend this time the Pension Panel. We had a few presentations off fund managers who had come up from London to deliver them and one off an adviser who had travelled up from Leeds. Interesting presentations and they threw up some pretty interesting questions! I sat next to Liz who I am doing the further pension panel training with next week down in London and said I will meet her at the train station in Morpeth at 5.00pm. She corrected me and told me its 3.00pm! Heck just as well we chatted about it! I came home and spent nearly 4 hours getting some answers to further concerns expressed by residents and in a couple of cases trying to get their cases dealt with sympathetically. I still have my original list of concerns which still haven’t been answered or dealt with so I think it’s going to be a pretty uncomfortable meeting with NCC officers at the next Local Area Council. Well after another hectic weekend at work I did make it to the train station for 3.00pm on Monday. On the way down neither of us could work out how to use the other tickets we had, one for the underground but only for tomorrow? Anyway needn’t have worried we asked one of the underground porters and he waved us through! Up at 6.30am and after a cuppa and a quick shower it was off to the next venue for the training. Again we more or less walked straight there just in time for enrolment. As Liz said this was quite a complex session especially if you didn’t know the terminology. I asked each one of the presenters several questions, some they answered, some they deferred but against a room of over 40 people from all over the UK everyone knew there was a contingent from Northumberland present! This may not help my ward directly but it is one of the job requirements to make NCC as well run and professional as possible. In fact I would say this sort of activity takes up to around 70% of my time. I did enjoy the afternoon session and had a continual banter with that presenter! So that was the Pension Panel training over and it was then a trek back to Kings Cross. We got there early and tried to change our tickets to a train which was still in the station but we were told the ticket would have to be bought again so we declined. The problem we had was that the train we were booked on had a change in Darlington and the departure time for the train we needed to catch there, was 5 minutes after the arrival time of the first one! In the end it wasn’t a problem because it was actually on the same platform so one had to leave before the other came in. Got back to Morpeth for 9.00pm so quite a long day. Not to have a rest I had to take today off work because of meetings. First one was the joint chairs of the LAC’s and I had plenty to say there. First up was the county wide community chest scheme and we had about a dozen countywide applications and the funding was well oversubscribed. As we progressed through the list we examined the applications and questioned the officer. Some were taken out for further information and reflection as to the new rules, others passed, and some passed after quite heated debate! Next onto the normal business of this group. I had to chair our last LAC meeting because the usual chair had to have a minor medical procedure and several members of the public wanted some of their concerns addressing further up the food chain! Two in particular, one that the meetings timings were daft and the other that the agendas were as thin as water! I firstly mentioned the times of these meetings where planning is usually at 4.00pm and the LAC proper starts at 6.00pm. It seems all the other LACs have no problems with those times but I repeated what the floor of our meetings had said the times were crazy. The chair of this group said he delegated all the organisational procedures to the various LAC chairs so Christine can set her own meetings when she wants. She said she will be asking people what they prefer. The second issue I raised was the content (or lack of it) on the agendas. This was actually agreed by other members. I did say conversely looking at the November agenda it was very much beefier and contained several big topics, such as the NCC Budget. I said I hoped on behalf of residents these sorts of agenda items continue and make these meetings well worth attending. Next up a training session for the Fire Fighters Pension Board which I have been delegated to serve on. This has come right out of the blue! Listening to the briefing myself and the other delegated member were given it would seem as board members we have almost no say in the running of this scheme but we are responsible for the safe and correct way it is administered. No wonder there are no administration members present!!!!! Anything goes wrong myself and Ian are in the firing line, the administration members have insulated themselves from any liability here! Never mind just have to make sure nothing goes wrong under our tenure but again quite a responsibility. We went through the constitution and workings of this group and made sure we realised the difference in responsibility we had compared to the LGPS. This is a defined benefit unfunded scheme so no investment decisions to make! It took well over an hour to go through this stuff and only then were we informed that the next board meeting is actually next week! Because this is quite a small group, to quorate the meeting we need just about everyone there so if one of us can’t make it the meeting cannot proceed and that wastes time for everyone! Talk about being thrown in at the deep end! Much nicer time today! I had been asked to take part in the Democracy Week NCC hold every year for the school children of the county and today was Bedlington schools turn. Not only Bedlington but other schools around us too. 4 councillors and the Business Chair turned up to welcome our young people and take them up for lunch. They had been up there for some time but our first job was to take them for lunch in one of the committee rooms. Gave me the chance to talk to them because I knew quite a few that had come from St Bennets. After lunch they had the chance to ask us questions across the council chamber. They were given an hour to throw as many questions at us as they wanted and boy did they do just that. So we had to field the full gambit of questions from Brexit to School transport, from additional educational learning to inclusive disabled education, from gang culture to teacher’s pay and everything in-between. Of course the Conservative Business chair on my left and the Labour Party Whip on my right went at each other like dogs at broth which gave me the perfect illustration as to why I was an independent and resulted in plenty of laughs in the audience! One of the questions was about proportional representation and the two party members gave their positions. I asked why not instead of having party references just vote for the person you think best represents your position, but both party members rounded on me and told me you had to be in a group to get anything done. Really well I’m sitting here the same as you gentlemen! Oh and one other thing, didn’t we just agree that gang culture was wrong and had no place in our schools or indeed society or is that just a case of do as I say not as I do? I hope the young people got something out of it all, even if it was just a sense of county hall not being so remote and the people who make the decisions are just human beings as well, with all the frailties that entails. I hope I have convinced one or two of the young people who always take such active roles in most of the times I have worked with these young people to lay a wreath at Remembrance Day, deputising for me. I can’t be there because of work commitments but I do want to show my respect so I have asked to buy a wreath myself and hope to get these young lads to lay it on my behalf. Well what a nightmare work was this weekend. I had to stay late on the Sunday night to make sure the production lines were running normally at switch on and that was after a 12hr shift so I was pleased to get home! Monday and a rare day this month, a day off! Time to catch up on my correspondence and get in touch with the people I needed to speak to. My environmental training was cancelled this morning but I was at the dental hospital anyway! Ended up rushing back to chair a meeting at 2.pm. This was the NCC Community Chest Scheme for our local area. Hopefully more groups and associations will apply in future but as it was the funding was about equal to the applications. We really would like to fund every application which comes in but there are strict rules and regulations we have to follow to make sure everyone gets the same chance, irrespective of how big and professional their group is. That done and seeing as I was in offices adjacent, I took the opportunity, or in reality barged into the office, to ask cabinet members several questions on behalf of constituents. I even managed to squeeze into a director of service office and ask him directly some questions! I also had the opportunity to speak to one of the planning officers! I have also been speaking to the temporary local area manager I have been trying to get answers out of. He agreed to meet with me and I will take him around the ward and show him the concerns residents have been in touch with me about. Hopefully we can come up with some resolution! So not only have we dished out about another £50K to worthy groups in this area I have also been able to put into place some determination of residents’ complaints! Now I just have to make the best case for each! Wednesday and rushed back from work to get to the LAC in good time because there was a planning brief beforehand. As this is in my ward again I really wanted to be there right at the start. Got there in time to help putting the chairs out! First up a brief planning update about the applications we had tonight and then straight into the applications. First one was certainly contentious. Members of the public were there to put their views so after we heard the planning officer present the case it was time for public address. I do wish anyone speaking would refer to and take on board the rules and regulations we have to follow. An address can be as emotive as possible but in reality it can’t be considered if there are no lawful reasons to object! Whilst the public objectors had the sympathy of the panel we couldn’t dismiss the application because it followed all the rules, in fact I seconded it for exactly that reason! Several of these members of the public felt obliged to shout at us on their way out blaming us for passing this application. If only they realised it was in fact their inability to make a case using the lawful planning terms and conditions which made the outcome so one sided. Next up an application for the nursery in the West End school here in Bedlington. I proposed acceptance and when the highways and parking issues were raised I said it was so bad now that nothing could possibly make it any worse! That again was passed unanimously. Next up was the Town and Parish Councils section. This is so Town and Parish councillors can get access to the various NCC department managers such as Neighbourhood Services, IT Infrastructure, Democratic Services, Highways and Planning who were all there tonight. There was the usual contingent from WBTC, all Independent councillors (!), so with them and the two Bedlington County Councillors once again Bedlington was well represented. In fact there seemed to me to be a feeling of really getting on with business tonight. The officers were more than open and took notes of everything raised and we should see some actions resulting. I know my items were all written down for further action and asking other members, theirs’s were too. Today I had two meetings on at the same time. Treasury Management training and the Fire Fighters Pension Board. The Board had to take precedence because as I said if one of us misses a meeting then there isn’t a quorum. Plus the fact that this was the main 6 month meeting. Again quite a complex issue but then pensions are. Updates done and questions asked the Chair then took us through the rest of the agenda. This took 2 hours and I was pleased about the level of training I have done for this subject or I just wouldn’t have a clue. Friday and I had a meeting with our Neighbourhood Services area manager, something I have been chasing for some time! I had about a dozen items which needed to be resolved so once we met up I took him around to each and showed him the problems. I have to say this guy is extremely approachable and accommodating, so much so that because he has been transferred as soon as we get a replacement both the Town Council and myself asked his boss if he could stay looking after our area and his replacement move elsewhere. That can’t happen we were told! So after driving around for an hour looking at all the concerns brought to me by residents we now have agreed ways forward. That’s all I have been after for about 2 months now! Once home I had several emails to sort out, some giving updates to residents but one other laying out the evidence to back up what I said at a recent meeting, something which had been disputed. I have also been invited to a meeting by the head of NCC Planning about the housing development to the North of the Chesters. Seems there are some anomalies to clear up! It would seem there are quite a few anomalies where planning is concerned. We currently have a variation to a planning application which was originally turned down but got through on appeal and one of the variations to the permission is to build the houses in completely different styles. I have asked planners about this and they have said it is a correct way of doing it. How can that be right?????? For instance you get permission to build a bungalow and instead you build a three story townhouse and the change isn’t even consulted upon. Absolutely nuts but that’s the National Planning Framework for you! I wanted to get some questions in the next full council meeting so I contacted the person who sorts that out and she said I still had time. I wrote one about Arch and another about the Northumberland business landscape. I will list them in next month’s diary complete with the answers which I get.
  3. All change ....................https://www.bce2018.org.uk/node/6486?postcode=NE22
  4. Not a great start to the month still unable to access the internet at home? I was going on holiday just after the first week so I wanted to get everything done and in place before I left. I contacted everyone I had to with the concerns and questions my constituents have asked me about and I hope to have all of them answered by the time I get back. I had a Local Government Pension Panel meeting to attend and it turned into an all-day event! Several people had come from London and elsewhere to do presentations and answer any questions. This is a very serious position so I ask a lot of questions and if I disagree I say so, maybe too vocally! Anyway this took from 9.00am until 3.30pm to get through and I felt washed out by the end because it’s pretty heavy going. Never mind holiday to look forward to starting tomorrow! I was only going for a week and I had let everyone who had contacted me and was waiting for a response, know. For the first 3 days my phone hardly stopped! When I got home I was determined to get these ongoing issues sorted. After wading through the treacle of bureaucracy I eventually spoke to the neighbourhood services director. He confirmed that the original officer had been redeployed and his replacement had only just taken up the role when he applied for and received part time retirement. In some strange quirk of fate the original manager has been regiven this area to see to until such time as a fulltime replacement is found. I therefore shot off this communique listing the problems I had been asking about for some time now and in reality to him! “The following is a list of unresolved concerns my constituents have raised with me at my monthly surgeries. Black path from Glebe Road up to Meadowdale. Glass and cans strew all over and overgrown vegetation. Loose drain cover on Dunstanburgh road in the Hazlemere estate. Been reported by resident but no response from NCC? Cars driving on path to miss speed bump in Bernard Close, Hazlemere estate. Empty plot of land Edinburgh Drive, is it designated play area as it was supposed to be? Ineffective weed killing and blocked rains reported in Westlea. “ This doesn’t seem like rocket science to me but then I don’t have to balance the budgets and man power. I had to take the LAC tonight due to the fact that Christine the chair was in hospital undergoing a procedure. At least this one is in Bedlington! There was a pre planning meeting at 3.00pm followed by the planning meeting proper at 4.00pm followed by the LAC meeting at 6.00pm. After having procedures and the legal details of the planning applications explained to myself and the chair of planning we had the planning meeting at 4.00pm. The room was filling up with people who had been told they could address the planning meeting by their ward councillor but unfortunately that wasn’t the case! Not only that they had all come from the far side of Cramlington and thought this meeting in Bedlington had been handpicked to be out of their way! So I felt it incumbent on me to explain there was no conspiracy and that these meetings are booked well in advance of any agendas so no one knew the application they had come to shout about was going to be one tonight. The meetings will be held around the areas and this was just Bedlington’s turn. Also the fact that one of the members had told them they could speak was in fact wrong, they had to pre book a spot within the 5 minutes public speaking time. I opened the LAC and shot through the first agenda items and then passed it over to the chair of Planning sitting next to me. He again explained how the system worked and then opened it up for the first applications. Just about everyone had come to complain about one of the applications and it took over an hour to hear the case. One of the opposition members’, who has never been to one of these meetings but is supposed to come to each of them, stood up and spoke against the application. That got him a round of applause. Are people really that gullible? A very young woman spoke for the application and I had to remark to the chair that the audience should be silent and give her the respect she deserves! He agreed and asked for silence. Anyway after the speakers and questions surprisingly the chair wanted to defer the application but one of the administration members proposed rejection. I spoke about the concerns I had and most agreed but I also said we were in danger of looking like every commercial application that comes in front of us is turned down and that was something I wouldn’t like to be associated with. The vote was a unanimous rejection. Next item was a change of use and refurb of a commercial property. Again unanimous vote this time in favour. We then had half an hour to wait until 6.00pm when I could restart the LAC proper. When I did restart one of the first items on the agenda was public questions and as there were several members of the Bedlington public there unsurprisingly the questions were about Bedlington. This did not suit one of the members and he made an exasperated outburst! His complaint was that there wasn’t more members of his constituency here to ask questions and vary them from being Bedlington centric as he put it. I thought that is about as ridiculous as it gets and other members said as much! One of the items brought up could have been classed as repetition but given this member’s outburst not only did I allow it I made sure it was minuted for action! We then had a police update and I was surprised to hear quite a different report from the one I heard off the Police at the last Bedlington Forum meetings? When I questioned the officer about it he assured me his report was correct. Seems Bedlington is fully staffed and there can be no suggestion of a lack of presence here. Hmmm…… Had a corporate scrutiny meeting yesterday and this time I was pretty vocal. (I really wanted to get to the last one but it had been called at very short notice when I was away on holiday. That one was about the aborted County Hall move. I did read through the associated papers and most are covered by a confidentiality clause. So I can’t say anything other than I would expect all this information to come out into the public realm at some stage so people can then make their own minds up about who was promoting the truth or not about this move!) One of the items was the budget performance for this financial year. I had gone through the papers before attending the meeting and seen the general direction we are talking so several questions needed to be asked as there seemed to be a projected slight overspend. As this ‘potential overspend’ was mainly made up of one entry I asked about these figures. I would seem to me that an overspend of about 60% was either accounted for by incompetence, which I doubt, or the base line budget figure was so out of true it skewered the resulting report. The latter seems to be the case but I was assured it is something which has been identified and is being worked on. Good. I have just been contacted by another two constituents, one who seems to have had a less than salubrious service off NCC and another who asks about a project the last councillor was supposed to be doing. I have had nothing back from our temp area manager about the list I sent so now I need to step it up and include more items! I wanted to debate some of the topics identified in that Active Citizen report I posted some time ago with the young people I did the Civic Roles with. I had contacted Lyn at Leading Link and asked if she would ask them if any of them were interested in discussing the subject and I sent the synopsis so they could look and see. Lyn said it had a good response and there were quite a few young people interested in further exploration so I booked some time to meet up with them. In the event about two dozen young people came along and we discussed all sorts ranging from Active Citizens to Brexit, from democracy to paths for young people to better access our democracy. Couple of things stood out, one was they felt they needed better educating about the subject so that they would then be able to make much better and more valued decisions and the second major item was improved transparency! Couldn’t agree more but I had to play Devil’s advocate. The discussion went on for well over an hour and I hope we both learnt some things. I will certainly be pushing their points across at next month’s Democracy Week at County Hall where I have agreed to play host to some of our young visitors. Well my contact at Management level about constituent concerns has produced an unexpected result. Saturday night and I came back from work and was just having a cuppa before getting ready for work the next day and I had two emails from the people I have been trying to get hold of for weeks. I thanked them very much for the contact and assured them I wasn’t after any special treatment but I did need the feedback, good or bad, to the concerns and queries I had raised. Hope I get a similar response Monday! That’s this month done then and it might have been a little curtailed by technical problems but I have again tried to include what’s been going on as it happens, in real time so to speak. It may be a little abridged but some will appreciate the brevity I have no doubt! LOL. October is going to be a very hectic month! I notice the Bedlington Independent Councillors have been asked which way they are going to vote on the costs of over 16 school transport issue by the Labour group. Talk about insincerity! Well not to give anything away prior to a vote but I wouldn’t have voted to abolish free school transport for over 16’s in the first place, unlike the last Labour administration! In fact I believe education like health should be free for all citizens as long as we all agree with the basic policy and agree to chip in. I look at my monthly taxations on my salary and it seems like many others I have already agreed and I’m fine with that. Just to answer one snide attack with another…..maybe we could use just 2% of this Special £25M Dividend Arch are paying back to the County Council, according to the last administration, to fund free school transport for our over 16yr olds! Ahh… but then we would have to actually find that money; it would no longer just be a soundbite in a pre-election gambit.
  5. Start of August and already loads to get through. I thought this was going to be quiet because it seems most people still choose August for their holiday time. I went through the suggestions off constituents for the Pothole Fund and sent my three suggestions off. There could well be another two rounds for this funding so I have a good start for them too. I have asked questions about our weed killing programme because some residents are mentioning this as a problem and I have seen weeds in the most unusual places which have just been left. It doesn’t leave a great impression. I have already asked the Town Council to think about getting the weeds around their new litter bins killed off but they said NCC were doing it? I was told NCC don’t do weed killing themselves but I know they were unhappy with the contractor who was doing this job. So let’s see the real tale from the horse’s mouth and maybe even think about some way to get my ward done properly! I have also responded to the Local Transport Plan. This once again gives me three suggestions as to any highways and transport problems in my ward. I have a list of all suggestions residents have written to council about over the last year and good to see the three I was thinking about well represented. First is to look at traffic calming measures on the road through Nedderton Village. This has been a problem for 30 years I know of and I favour physical traffic calming measures. Second suggestion is around the problems of parking at the top of Link Avenue. The cars parked up on that road are being hit by cars using the junction to turn around. We need to take the parked cars out of the equation and it’s also something which I looked at for residents there already. Third suggestions is to look holistically at the parking problems at school time along Bishops Meadow, Deanery Street, Westmoreland and Cumberland Avenues, Ridge Villas and the start of Netherton lane from the COOP to the CLUB. These might be several areas but there is a single root cause, school time traffic. It needs to be resolved as a whole issue rather than just displace one or two problems areas. I have sent those suggestions in too. My surgery was pretty busy this month with one after another resident coming in to highlight their concerns and ask for them to be reconciled. As I left another three got me in the corridor so all in all a very busy surgery! It took me well over half a day to speak to and message the people I needed to get to so I could try and do something about what I had been asked about last night. Some were simple others not so……. I hope most people who came to see me can see the direct response to their queries and concerns which has mostly been done immediately by our (NCC) service arm. Excellent response off them for most things! Town Council meeting tonight and here is the update I gave: • Mentioned the meeting we had with Arch at last update…..we now have a proper press release which I made public. • Thanks Christine for doing the necessary at the Westlea Play area and picking up that broken glass. • Asked for the major road works on the B1331 next to the COOP to be done in summer hols. • Had meetings with Arch about constituent’s problems…..very helpful! • Various new initiatives for our LAC, first one being a pot hole fund. • Another, new Community Chest scheme, please tell any groups you know about to apply….. • Also I was trying to get Bedlington as a venue for these Lac’s or at least our proper share. After many blind alleys we now have a Bedlington venue…….Netherton Club. • Also chasing up on the time taken for an ambulance to get to my ward! • Haven’t let the 500 house application go unchecked either. Asked about the S106 funding or lack of it and I have now been told planners have asked for leisure, highways, sport and educational contributions. I have asked to see the paperwork! It is now designated to come back to strategic planning……. • Fighting the decision about not carrying forward unused Councillor small scheme funding. • I have put forward three suggestions for the pot hole funding, these are: • Ridge Terrace, Nedderton and the bottom of Choppington road, all areas identified by residents. • I have also submitted my three proposals for the Local Transport Plan, again all identified by residents. These are, speeding issues and traffic calming measures through Nedderton, parking issues at the top of Link Avenue and a holistic view about traffic problems at school times especially around Netherton lane, Ridge Villas, Bishops Meadow and Deanery Street, Westmorland and Cumberland Avenues. • I have also had meetings about the NCC weed killing programme and it has commenced under NCC in my ward the very next day! • Well done for the recent events in the Town, the Picnic, Bedlington Live and the Carnival. Not to sit back I have challenged the Cabinet about this Smalls Scheme money. They decided re-elected members can get that funding rolled over however new members/councillors can’t? Don’t quite see any logic in that decision, the money has been allocated and budgeted for and in point of fact its only money residents have paid in anyway, so why anyone wants to stop them getting their fair share????? My opening shot was that it looks mean spirited and unjustified. For my ward its almost £20K, so well worth fighting for! I have also had to get in touch with the police again today. Seems some kids had a hell of a night ripping off door mirrors along Netherton Lane but they were apprehended. So I need to find out what has happened exactly and what the cops are doing about it. I did get a reply off the police straightaway and it was reassuring that they have arrested 4 suspects but obviously couldn’t discuss a live investigation. However it would seem we have a bit of an impasse as I’m representing residents who are sick of this type of behaviour from the same place, while the police are more intent on the good work done by such places! That’s indisputable but there has to be some responsibility taken somewhere doesn’t there or if not isn’t that exactly the wrong message to instill? I contacted residents who had reported the incident to me and told them it was being dealt with seriously. I also had a neighbour dispute referred to me. It was referred by the MP’s office? Seems he can’t get involved in these types of disputes but somehow I can. I have absolutely no jurisdiction but the problem is that everyone still sees these houses and estates as being council owned and they aren’t anymore! It’s like coming to me with a faulty pair of jeans you bought at M&S’s. I did phone up the social landlord and made some enquiries about this problem. I got some answers and reported back to the constituent, hopefully they can progress their own line of action now. While I was on to the social landlord I had another problem which I had reported to them on behalf of another resident some time ago, two months to be exact! I was told this had been resolved now. Not so sure about that I think the lady in question would have let me know, still fingers crossed. I have been trying to sort out the panel for our Local Area Council community chest so it can be up and running as soon as we get applications in. I have agreed a letter with the chair of the LAC and the officer in charge of the community chest. This will go out suggesting the panel is made up of 3 Labour members, 2 Conservative members and an Independent member. This should give maximum representation of the electors in our area. That done time to have another go at another cabinet member about my Smalls Scheme! In had to get in touch with this cabinet member because of his portfolio anyway so while I was onto him…… I had a very interesting meeting with a developer about the possibility of a Bedlington Sports Centre. This was very positive, so much so I need to get some extra information so he can cast a slide rule over the project and come to a decision! With a bit of luck there might be something to present to the Town Council soon! I have been chasing up that information and have finally been put in touch with the right person to give me the answers I need. Well it seems the Town Council are coming up with their own costed leisure centre proposal. Should I drop my line of enquiry or carry on and develop it………think I’ll carry on. I have also been chasing some information for another constituent and this again might well produce real tangible benefits for residents here so I wasn’t willing to take being put off! Been to a Bedlington Forum meeting tonight and Brian the chair was too unwell to attend. Russell the deputy stood in and did a fine job! I answered most of the questions directed towards NCC and Bill took them for his ward. One thing which was a bit unsettling was the police report. Seems we are soon to see our cops amalgamate with Ashington and parts of Morpeth; it was stated as in the parliamentary constituency of Wansbeck, which will inevitably result in a much reduced presence in Bedlington because Ashington is always much busier for our local cops! This didn’t sound right when it was explained on the night and in retrospect looks even worse for us in Bedlington because I can easily see a situation where there is no immediate cover for us in Bedlington. Hate to say it but once again Ashington is benefitting directly from Bedlington’s needs being ignored, this time as far as delegated police officers go. There is no other conclusion any right minded person can reach. Planning site visit this morning at Seaton Sluice. Old care home being proposed to be demolished and a brand new facility created. We walked around the site and I asked several questions which will help me make my mind up at the planning meeting tomorrow. Again I had access to another cabinet member and lobbied him about this underspent smalls scheme monies. He was very well aware of my intent so the others must have been talking! He did seem to sympathise and accepted that I will be fighting this in whatever way I can on behalf of my constituents! In fact he made a perfectly sensible suggestion…….let’s call this day one now and stop rollovers in future! That will do me……it would get my ward another £20K now! Speaking of small’s scheme I have agreed, along with the other Bedlington councillors, to put £2K into the upgrades at the War Memorial. When I was Mayor I bought two WW1 commemorative seats for exactly this project but to fit them we needed a new path and that took ages to get agreements on. The idea was to make a contemplative seating area behind the War Memorial. As NCC councillors we have now agreed to pay for that new path so Remembrance Day should be shown to be even more aesthetically pleasing and something the Townsfolk unquestionably respect and identify with. I had a meeting with Leading Link about putting on another access to democracy debate. The last one I did as Mayor and explained what a Town Council did. This one would take the Kirklees’s example as a marker and try to get the young people fired up about active citizenship and the way democracy, or rather its access routes, needs to change to engage more of our younger people as we go forward. This would lead onto the democracy week NCC hold where young people are invited up to County Hall to see how it works. Tonight we had our LAC meeting but it was only the planning section. With half of the members away on holiday I thought this would be over pretty quickly as we only had one application to hear. Wrong! We had an objector and her councillor speaking against the application and the owner of the property speaking for. Once the officer made the case the speakers were heard. Questions came next then the debate. We were asked for a recommendation and I had no problem proposing acceptance. Christine seconded it and we then had the debate. I gave all my reasons for deciding the proposal should go ahead and most members seemed to agree. We had heard about the possibility of Napoleonic Tunnels running under the site, this from the objecting councillor! This then took over the meeting with questions about “what if” and “suppose……” It was suggested that I change my proposal from accepting the recommendation to include some further conditions about the possibility of these tunnels. I refused saying I read the NCC archaeologist’s report and they make no mention of these supposed tunnels so I wasn’t going to have any knee jerk reactions to this supposition, my proposal stood. There is a condition contained which states if anything of archaeological merit is found then………..that was good enough for me. In the end the planning was granted by a unanimous vote. Once again I then ‘spoke’ to another cabinet member, this time the Deputy Leader about this money I’m after for my ward! He said they were taking it seriously and I will be contacted soon. I also spoke to the head of Planning and asked her to nudge one of her colleagues because I have sent two or three emails with concerns one of my residents has and as yet I have had no reply. Got back home in time to see the News Post Leader had printed my reply to a letter last week about the Dam at Humford. Someone was having a go saying the new councillors needed to step up to the plate, get to know about it and voice their concerns about this project. Hmm, my reply was that I had been to meetings about the project and was at the public presentation by the proposer but coming out on one side or the other would preclude me from voting as a planning committee member when the project came in front of us, if it ever does. So maybe not a case of not stepping up to the plate maybe a case of keeping one’s powder dry! As it stands we have 3 Bedlington councillors on planning and we are all aware of this project and local feeling. Well just got an email from NCC telling me what my smalls scheme allowance is and its reset back to this year only! Well that’s me told……….not! I now need to see what other buttons I can press! I don’t see why we should lose out just because the last councillor didn’t know what was needed and didn’t spend his allowance! The quiet word I had with the head of planning seems to have worked as I now have several emails replying to the questions I submitted on a resident’s behalf. These I can now send on. I now have to get onto several departments within NCC and seek out yet more answers to questions raised by constituents. Had to go and see one of my constituents about a problem he had outside his house. After this meeting I had to request a meeting with one of the NCC managers who I am in almost daily contact with! This will be easy or extremely difficult to sort out! I also asked about the puffin crossing which is due to go in beside the COOP on the B1331. I wanted to know and pass on the timescale or it. While I was onto highways I asked about the traffic survey which is to be carried out in Netherton Village. I have been asked to go up to County Hall for a meeting with the business chair! I should be getting answers back to my enquiries of last week because it was a bank holiday yesterday and everyone had a long weekend. Well apart from me and the weekend workers! I do have several more questions to ask now though! The puffin crossing next to the COOP is to be started during the October half term, hopefully that will minimise traffic disruption. I had asked for it to be done during the summer holidays but the paperwork couldn’t be done in time? Had the meeting with the NCC Business Chair and I think I can describe it as a full and frank exchange of views! I think both of us are in no doubt about where each of us stand on several issues and time will tell how sincere each of us are. This month’s Diary and the start of next month’s diary will inevitably be somewhat curtailed due to the fact that my Internet supplier seems to have switched me off half way through August! I have made efforts to at least describe what happened in the last 2 weeks.
  6. Malcolm Robinson

    Bedlington Town Centre redevelopment update:

    Bedlington Town Centre - Councillors Briefing, August 2017 Introduction This report provides an update on progress on the Bedlington Town Centre, former Tesco Site and the Old School housing development. Bedlington Town Centre Summary We are making good progress with development proposals for Bedlington Town Centre, a retail led scheme is emerging that will be capable of transforming the town centre, creating exciting new places to visit, dwell and shop. Once completed, this flagship Arch development will form a pivotal focal point for the town whilst also delivering a truly mixed-use scheme with many positive economic, social and physical benefits. Discussions with prospective tenants, in particular the food anchor, are reaching fruition and a number of corporate retailers have expressed an interest in being part of the scheme. Securing these anchor tenants forms the next stage of development now that outline planning consent is secured. With commercial viability a core objective of the development, our immediate efforts have been concentrated on five key activities: 1. Demolition, site clearance, site investigations and remediation; 2. Design of a financially viable masterplan to demonstrate the capability of the site to the market and provide a balanced mixed-use development that will complement and add value to the existing Bedlington offer; 3. Obtain outline planning permission for the development; 4. Attract new investors into Bedlington to increase retail diversity and create the economic catalyst for commercial development; and 5. Introduce a new housing offer with a diversity of tenures to satisfy market demand for town centre living. Planning The pre-planning submission public consultation was held 6th December 2016 at the Salvation Army Hall. County and Town Cllrs and members of the Bedlington Delivery Group were invited to a preview. Over 150 people attended on the day with 140 providing feedback, of which 98% were generally in support of the development proposals, agreed that there is a need for more shopping and leisure facilities in Bedlington and agreed that the scheme would enhance Bedlington Town Centre. The outline planning application was submitted 9th February 2017 and approved at Strategic Planning Committee in June 2017. The design team meet weekly and are now working with Arch Developments in preparing the ‘reserved matters’ application and discharge of conditions. However, some of the detail is subject to retailers / other users’ requirements, which are yet to be defined. Tenant Profile The scheme is attracting good levels of interest in the retail market and we are confident of underpinning the development with two “anchor” stores. The primary aim is to secure a c.2,000m2 discount food supermarket and a c.1,500m2 non-food discount store, we are in direct discussions with two major retailers to fulfil these roles. Our existing tenant Greggs have expressed interest in a larger unit within the new development. General feedback is looking positive and once the anchors are secured a number of complementary retailers are also keen to take units within the scheme. Once an appropriate level of income/capital is accomplished from sales and lettings, a request for funding to commence the development will be brought forward for Arch Board approval, current target is an Autumn Board. Construction Due to the estimated build cost of the development, the construction will be subject to OJEU procurement (restricted tender). This will require a PQQ stage to shortlist interest from the market, followed by an ITT to the shortlisted contractors. We are currently targeting to commence with the PQQ this autumn with the aim of completing the procurement to enable construction to commence, subject to viability and Board approval, early 2018. Development names A naming competition (My Town My Vote) for the development was launched in February, led by Leading Link, nearly 2,900 votes were cast. The winning name was Pipers Place (947 votes) followed by The Forge (811 votes), Market Square (562 votes) and The Cross (481 votes). Ballot boxes toured local schools in Bedlingtonshire and were placed in local businesses, churches and care homes. The campaign involved the design of a local mascot ‘Bedlington Ben’ and included stickers and posters, all designed by young people involved through Leading Link youth charity. The name is yet to be adopted. Consideration needs to be given to its suitability for a retail led development and also the Council’s Street Naming and Numbering process. Old School, Bedlington Arch acquired the former Old School site situated on the corner of Front Street and Church Lane from a local developer in February of 2016. The site came with the benefit of a planning consent for 19 apartments – granted in 2009 through appeal. The intention is to develop PRS/affordable apartments on the site, targeted at the over 55 market. Arch appointed architects ID Partnership to revise the development, aligning to the PRS market, but maintaining high quality architecture. The revised development provides 18 two bed apartments, ranging from 59-65m2. A section 73 application for the proposed variations was submitted in September 2016 and the variations were approved by Planning Committee in January 2017. Arch Group Investment Committee approval was granted February 2017 for the development and appointment of the contractor NB Clark (Morpeth), following competitive tender. NB Clark took site possession in March 2017. Practical completion is currently programmed for April 2018. At present, NB Clark are currently on programme and are progressing well with ground to first floor brickwork. All underpinning works to the south and west boundary walls are complete.
  7. July 2017: After a pretty gruelling weekend at work I had to be up at Alnwick for a site visit at 11.00am on Monday morning. This was to do with an industrial estate being redesignated for domestic housing. We met the planning officer and the head of planning who I had just been exchanging e-mails with about S106 community gain funding trying to make sure Bedlington, and my ward in particular, benefited from any funding due to housing applications. The chair explained the rules and again pretty severe, with none of us able to talk to members of the public! The officer then walked us around the whole site pointing out various bits contained in the application. I asked quite a few questions but without any local knowledge I felt I needed to get up to speed on how this might impact local residents. There is a Neighbourhood Plan which has passed the referendum stage but not yet adopted as NCC policy. That opposes this reclassification and development and because it has reached critical mass has influenced the planner’s opinion so that what was an indication to accept has now been changed into a recommendation for refusal. I can only hope WBTC carries on with the Neighbourhood Plan I got the residents panel to start work on, they are now taken very seriously by planners on instructions off HMG. That done and after another conversation with the head of planning about how the Core Strategy vote might impact onto council’s performance I came home and started on my paperwork. I had my first surgery tonight as well. I had to pop into a resident’s house to break some not so good news about a project they wanted doing, and which the last councillor had promised, and afterwards I went to Netherton Club where my surgeries will be held. I didn’t need to wonder if I would get anyone turning up; my first constituent was waiting on the doors opening like me! Thankfully everything was written down because there are a lot of questions this lady is asking of our planners and one of the Bedlington developments. After talking it all through she left and a family came in. Once I understood their problem I knew I had to pull out all the stops to help them. That started at 9.00am the next morning when I could catch people at their desks! Today I spoke to quite a few of our staff regarding the problem my constituents mentioned last night. I hope this gets resolved and dammed quickly! Tonight I have Strategic Planning committee to attend up at County Hall and tomorrow I am starting work at 6.00am so I can finish earlier and make full council back at County Hall at 3.00pm. There doesn’t seem much on the agenda for tonight but there is one thing jumping out at me and that’s the difference in what the planners have asked for by way of community payback funding or S106 funding in one of the applications. In the same number of proposed housing units as proposed for Bedlington they seem to be getting a veritable smorgasbord of community payback schemes whilst our funding requirement was extremely limited and curtailed? …….looks like I will be back onto planners soon enough! The planning meeting went on for a couple of hours and we had the 500 house application deferred for a site visit. Given what might happen tomorrow with the Core Strategy that’s the only possible outcome as far as I could see. We turned down the change in use from industrial to housing for the Alnwick Industrial Estate and I used my input to thank the Alnwick Town Council and the people of Alnwick because they had agreed a neighbourhood plan in referendum, and were now showing us what we should be doing, not getting rid of industrial land but adding to it in the search for jobs in the county! We also agreed the enlargement of the old Ash Dock at Cambois, something I completely agreed with but I had to mention the dredging aspect and its effect on fish migration up steam through Bedlington. That will be closely monitored and any affects minimised. Good, this should open up the whole of the Cambois economic activity area! Wednesday and I had to start work early to get an early finish for the full council meeting I have at 3.00pm. Lots to do at work again and given three jobs at 1.00pm when I had to leave at 1.30pm wasn’t the best idea. I did two and laid the other one off on another engineer…..thanks Murry! I made County Hall for 2.40pm and was given more addendums to the agenda. I had been sent extra information out by e-mail this morning and now several other bits of paperwork and I had 20 minutes to get through what were quite complex notes. I don’t think that’s the right way to conduct business which will affect the whole of the county in quite fundamentals ways. The chamber was petty full with members of the public and journalists. The way the meeting went was little more than a farce in my view with a lack of microphones, seating, moving members of the public into another room and putting a speaker system on for them but the main awkwardness was the way the main political parties tried to get one over on each other time and time again. Done cleverly its quite entertaining but the crass way these guys duke it out is essentially extremely embarrassing! The main bone of contention was the vote on the Core Strategy. It took a long time to get through these agenda items mainly because of the incomprehensible way they had been structured. The addendum to the motion was actually only extra information and when challenged by an amendment we didn’t know what the exact wording on the amendment was or even if in fact we were voting on the primary motion or the amendment. As I said Brian Rix would he been chuffed! I did like the fact that there will be more emphasis on economic regeneration in a renewed Core Strategy if we voted for one but it does leave us open to speculative housing applications with little in our arsenal to withstand any application or appeals. On balance that is the reality of the current situation and has been for almost 10 years as far as housing applications go, are the benefits of including economic regeneration worth putting off submitting the Core Strategy to Government. I think they are but I will be seeking the revision to be classed as urgent. Sitting on the planning committee I know better than most how exposed we are relying on out of date plans off the old district authorities to turn down housing applications when we feel they are unwarranted. That’s been the case for about 6 years now! One thing which was mentioned was the fact that housing did not attract permanent jobs. This was something I argued with the last administration about time and time again as they put all their economic regeneration and job creation plans into a house building strategy. Seems several reports have been commissioned nationally and all of them now refute that scenario, jobs don’t follow houses, in fact its houses that follow jobs! We have been doing it wrong for years and although justified I feel no jubilation! There was an amendment offered which would have delayed our recall vote for 2 months to give time to examine what the government would accept as minor major modifications in the submitted plan. I voted for this but it was turned down and in the vote on the original motion I voted to recall the submitted strategy and rewrite certain sections using up to date information about housing need and include much more economic policies. A second important motion was put and this time I had no compunction voting. I voted to retain the NHS beds in Rothbury. It had actually been closed down by the health authority and usually I would say keep politicians out of strategic decisions such as those of the Health Authority but I am completely against loosing our small local hospitals. In my view centralisation is a complete mistake in a county such as ours for certain things, health services being one. Other bits of the agenda were whipped through and we didn’t get to say anything about the new LAC’s and their areas. Today I had loads of emails and phone calls to make. I have another heavy pension panel meeting tomorrow and there was some extra reading to get through. At 5.30pm there was the police meeting to attend. This was a meeting we agreed Bedlington Forum put together in response to concerns about losing CSOs in the Town after 10.00pm. All three independent county councillors were there as was Christine the Mayor of West Bedlington, Keith from EBPC and Stephen from Neighbourhood Watch. We were taken in by the inspector and Superintendent Huddleston the area commander also sat in. He played a very major role in the meeting and agreed to provide a small amount of funding to enable a continued but short lived CSO presence after 10.00pm. We thanked him for his understanding and said we all understood the position he was in regarding balancing the books. We spoke for some time and we all felt it was a valuable exercise so when the commander suggested we did this on a regular basis we jumped at the chance. Looks like this guy really wants an equal partnership but expects us all to play our part just as he will play his part. What more could we ask for. Friday and I had to get up to County Hall for 9.00am. The Pension Panel had its first face to face review and there were quite a few external pension professionals coming in to present to us. The chair allowed us a 5 min comfort break after an hour and a half but then it was right back into the main business. I had to pull them back several times just to make sure I understood what was being talked about. I now have more training to do in London, that’s on top of the 3 residentials I already have. This meeting went on for about 5 hours straight and we had several presentations and updates off these pension fund professionals. The agenda was more or less pretty straightforward but one item seemed a bit oxymoronic to me. We voted to explore a new way of working which would make our panel redundant. Seems some turkeys do vote for Xmas! Although I really just want to promote my ward and Town I do have a responsibility as an elected member to work for NCC Ltd and all the training we have to do and all these committees play right into trying to make NCC as professional and as representative as possible. Monday and I couldn’t make the early morning training session today so when I got home I concentrated on catching up with all my mails. I sent one off to the head of planning asking how come a 500 house application in Amble gets a fortune by way of community gain funding while the same level of housing in Bedlington gets next to nothing? I also sent one off to the Business Chair or the chair who presides over full council meetings, this one about the Core Strategy. I asked for reassurances and an undertaking that the review which we voted for last week will be given the resources and urgency it deserves and just how will the extra economic activity polices be derived? I had one advising that we have a meeting with Arch next Friday and they will be updating us all, including the West Town Council and the East Parish Council, about where the Town Centre development is right now. Fingers crosses it’s moved on from where it was last time I asked! I am looking forward to seeing it developed not least because there is a local parish councillor who has wagered me £1000 that nothing will ever happen there! I expect I will soon need to look for a worthy local charitable cause! Well I got my reply off the business chair and he said he agreed with my premise and will do everything he can to make this Core Strategy review as brief as possible. Again I did an update for the Town Council and this time only did bullet points which I was able to expand on whilst taking through them. Strategic Planning committee. 500 houses in Amble…….500 houses in Bedlington? Against changing industrial to domestic housing land. Importance of a Neighbourhood Plan. Gave permission to extend Old Ash Dock at Cambois…opens up that area for commercial development. Warned about the dredging effects on migratory fish that might impact onto us up in Bedlington! Humford. That’s going to be extremely closely monitored and carried out at times where it will have least impact. Voted against closing the beds at cottage hospital in Rothbury. Held my first surgery at Netherton Club 6.30pm first Monday of month. Recalled Core Strategy…… New information regarding housing need plus lots more in about economic redevelopment. I did vote for the amendment to give it 2 months to explore options with HMG. I have since asked the chair for assurances it would be treated as urgent and given the resources it needs to enable a swift resolution. Since had contact off NCC as a consultee going to have to be more consultation…. Elements of full council meetings are little better than a farce due to the main political parties trying to score points off each other! Had the meeting with the police….and afterwards had my own meeting with them on behalf of some of my residents and problems identified at my surgery. Real heavy pension panel meeting! Meeting with Arch on Friday about the Town Centre redevelopment. I have just come back from the meeting with Arch and they answered all my questions with professionalism and certainty! This bodes well for future meetings and I asked if we could reinstate some sort of Focus group given that used properly it will be a good two way connector. That was agreed by all. We also wanted the “Investing in Bedlington” web site regularly updated as part of a better communication tool and again that was taken from the meeting as a prime action! Quite a positive meeting with everything on track now, even the backing needed off the new administration. Once everyone left I had to speak to the Arch guys about a problem one of my constituents is having with Arch. They have promised to look into it and get me a full report of what has been going on. Within hours I had a response and a phone call off the Head of Estates of Arch and a frank discussion about what had happened with my constituents! Given that we agreed on most things, he had to go off and check out what exactly had happened, promising to get back to me with answers! In fact the gentleman in question has got back and I have a meeting with him tomorrow to discuss the situation. Couldn’t ask for more really. While I was at work a very strange post appeared on social media about the Bedlington Town Centre redevelopment. It was off one of the participants in the meeting we had on Friday with the senior figures in Arch and their political control. Now we undertook not to say anything about where we are and what exactly is happening so not to compromise delicate negotiations being held with potential lessees of the spaces. This post seemingly attacks the project and asks people to put up their own questions as long as they take directions off the poster! This off someone who just hours previously had been party to a unanimous agreement? Unbelievable! Seems this post has caused more of a problem to the poster than anyone else but in the ensuing debate which I cannot get involved with my name has been again mentioned! Seems I don’t have the experience or the ability to ask a political party for advice, so I am less than useless. This off someone who can’t even get a name right never mind the historical context and I have forgotten more about politics than this guy will ever know! But again the old adage rings true…….empty vessels make the most noise! Getting ready for work at 4.30am on Sunday morning I was tagged into a post about broken glass in one of the play areas I renewed when I was Mayor. I could only contact someone who I knew would do whatever was necessary up to and including contacting our out of hours staff to clean up the dangerous glass pieces before some kiddie or animal cut their feet. Christine said she would go up and take a look and decide what to do then. She did go up and cleaned up all the broken glass which was what I would have done too. If there is a problem and you can sort it why not just do it? Anyway thanks to Christine for going out of her way to help and improve the area, much appreciated! I have had some replies back today about questions I asked last week. One wasn’t what I wanted to hear but if it has to be………..Our Highways dept. e-mailed back to say they understood why I had asked for the upgrades on the B1331 to be done during the school holidays but they couldn’t process them in time. I’ll have another crack just to finally see if I can sway them because it will really cause problems doing that road at normal school times. I had a strange phone call this morning too. It was off our election office up in County Hall. Seems I had transgressed some agreement during my canvassing for the election? I asked specifically what and was told I didn’t have the name of the printer on my leaflets which I handed out as part of my canvassing. I replied that I had actually asked about that and was told that because I was completely independent and paying for everything myself then it was unnecessary. Not so and there have been two complaints about it. I have no doubt one complainant will have a first name beginning with a “T” and the other an “A”! So you couldn’t get me on the questions I asked in the leaflets, the allegations I made in those leaflets, the accusations I levelled in those leaflets, the only thing you can get me on is the fact that the business that printed them wasn’t included in the typeset. Pathetic! Well T and A………….. I apologise to my constituents for that error but I was doing everything myself and I didn’t have a party machine behind me to do all the work needed to progress an election campaign. Now that I have apologised maybe you’s might like to apologise for the glaringly “misleading” statements contained in just about every one of your election leaflets! One thing omitting the printer’s name, quite another mendaciously peddling deceptions! Seems I now have a left leaning newspaper hack after me because of this……… Back to sanity……… I did get another crack at this B1331 problem and I have now been promised that they will expedite the paperwork as fast as possible and see if they can bring the time for these repairs forward to at least get the most disruptive work done during the holidays. Thanks Steve for that! Well blow me down seems I am being targeted on a social media site by what looks like the Chairman of the local Labour group! It also looks like he is trying to justify his wife’s actions or inactions when she was the Bedlington Central councillor. Seems I was harassing and haranguing these Labour councillors in the run up to the least election? Can’t remember any of that, I did ask them some pretty uncomfortable questions in my leaflets though but as they were claiming credit for everything which was happening, in my view, they should be accountable for providing any answers people wanted to questions they asked. That would only seem reasonable. Less of the distractions and back to the real business. I have another meeting with Arch today, this time at Arch HQ! I have been in almost constant contact with them over the last week progressing problems some of my constituents are having with them. It’s now make or break time! Well that was interesting. Absolutely no problems at Arch HQ only a willingness to help resolve what should never of happened as far as I could see. A very affable meeting and I did get to ask for extra help and perks for my constituents. Again speaking as you find a first class service from Arch with no one hiding behind any Chinese walls! Today was always going to be busy. I had the day off from work but an early meeting up at County Hall for the chairs and vice chairs of the LAC’s. This time the meeting was held in the Chairmen’s dining room. Before the meeting I had a good conversation with someone who said he was likeminded as far as political interference went and if I ever needed any help or advice just ask. Nice to hear off one of the Labour members! We took our places and the meeting proceeded. I felt it incumbent to draw some pretty intense conclusions about how these LACs proceeded and their remits. Surprisingly most other members agreed. So quite an open and progressive meeting I would say. This new Pot Hole fund initiative was an item on the agenda and I raised questions about a lot of it, including the name. The meeting closed after about 90 minutes but then I had other business to attend to along the corridor at Democratic Services. We had our LAC tonight and again it was at Cramlington. I had insisted Bedlington gets its fair share as a venue but the lift at the community centre was reported as being problematical? I suggested the Sally Army building and after checking it out for the next few dates it was found to be already occupied on all the dates. I questioned our department again about our community centre and this lift problem and was told because someone had to get out of a special wheelchair to use it that wasn’t DDA compliant. I advised that the lift in fact takes the full wheelchair; no one has to get out and sit in something else to get to the first floor! OPPs someone made an assumption so now we will have our share of LACs in Bedlington at our Community Centre. Our meeting came just after a planning training meeting and the first part was our own planning applications. One was deferred for a site visit while another passed unanimously. This seems an area where improvements can be made! We then started the main part of our LAC. As usual several questions from Bedlington residents who always have a good showing in the public audience for this and the previous Area Meetings. I should know I was one of them! During the course of the business we spoke about the new NCC Community Chest scheme and as vice chair of the LAC I have been delegated to chair it. There will be a panel who sit and decide who gets what as normal but there are some other tweaks proposed too. It was immediately questioned and opposed by one of the party political members……….Dear me, why not see how it works before opposing it, you never know it might be an improvement on what was there before under your watch! Another item was the new “pot hole” fund. Each councillor can nominate up to three problem pot holes in their ward for repair. This is for the ones that always come back after a few months. The solution is to do much larger patches properly and not just stamp in cold tarmac! It’s actually for all sorts of small carriageway repairs so I will ask residents for their suggestions, they know better than anyone where these small road problems are in the ward. After the meeting I did manage to have a chat with the acting CeO of NCC, Daljit Lally and remind her that my question to her principle officers was still unanswered. Very reasonable person and she promised to get me an answer or at least get me the route I had to take to get the answer I was after. This is about the time taken for an ambulance to get to my ward after a young lad was knocked down. Well off down to see my brother for a few days but with mobile devices we are never away from some sort of work. While I was away I had several constituents come back with problems and some even got back to me saying their problem had been sorted, that’s always nice to hear! Two issues were always bubbling away, one the community gain funding for the 500 houses we might be getting and the other the time it took an ambulance to get to a RTA in my ward. The first answer came back and I was shocked! Seems we have asked for the whole nine yards of S106 funding to be attached to our potential housing development? I had questioned why Amble and their 500 new house application had attracted a whole gambit of community gain for things like leisure, highways and education while ours saw only an educational requirement which had been decimated and that’s before we get to detailed planning! (Originally £3.8M this had been reduced to £1.7M and we probably won’t get that full amount even!) I have asked the officer who replied to provide the evidence for that because it was never mentioned at the planning application! I am very unhappy about this whole set up where faceless bureaucrats who have probably never even stepped foot in the place make the decisions as to what’s best for our community. Guess what I believe we are the best people to decide what we need and don’t need in our area! Daljit was as good as her word too and I was given a contact within the NHS to ask about the ambulance timings. I sent off the questions I wanted answering and had a reply back the same day. Not to get too excited it was only for additional information really but at least I have made contact with the right person now. As soon as I got back home I had a meeting up in County Hall, this time a Corporate Services and Economic Growth scrutiny committee. This is really about the core business of NCC Ltd and how each segment is performing. Looks like these will be long meetings once we get right into things but as the new administration are still preparing their strategy it only took a couple of hours this time. I think for the first time ever I never asked a question! It was really about subtle changes to the way some things are dealt with and they seemed reasonable so I supported the changes, as did everyone else. I did manged to question one of the cabinet who attended this meeting. I am extremely unhappy about not having the smalls scheme allowances rolled over to me from the last councillor. This is the £15K each councillor gets annually to spend supporting small projects in their wards. The last councillor left very nearly £20K unspent and this has now disappeared! I told the cabinet member I would be challenging them on this decision and he promised to get back to me with the full details of why that decision had been made. Loosing £20K because someone didn’t know what was needed is not something my ward can afford and I will fight it. I have the council constitution and I’m awaiting our equalities policy. Well it’s the end of the month and another good live music event in Gallagher Park. It’s going to be a struggle to put something like this on again due to cost implications but there is no reason why something can’t be put on. It’s actually something I asked East Bedlington Parish Council about working together on a few years ago when I was on the West Town Council, but they said they had other commitments at that time. Looks like we will soon be getting the press release off Arch about the Town centre redevelopment, about time! I have been delegated to chair the NCC community Chest scheme for our LAC and I have put a proposal out to the LAC chair and the officer about how this panel is made up. It will be proportional with 3 labour members, 2 Conservative members and 1 Independent member. We have just received the new rules concerning this funding and it’s set of go live next month. I put the details of the “Pot Hole” fund out and several of my constituents have been in touch to suggest areas. I have taken them all on board and visited each one and I now have the 3 suggestions I will put forward. I’m also working on proposals for the Local Transport Plan. Next month looks a bit quieter.
  8. Well it seems it’s straight into the thick of it. I had a Pension Fund Panel meeting to attend and there were some pretty big decisions to rubber stamp. I had read through all the literature which came with my summons to attend and some if it was quite heavy going. At the meeting the chair went through it all and explained what everything was about. Seems I needn’t have read it all? Never mind I did have some questions which I thought needed to be asked if I was to do my job and sit on the committee. The meeting only took an hour; normally I’m told they can last all day! The outcome was as suggested and I now have extensive pension training to do later in the year. Next evening and this time strategic planning. I had discussed the possibility of me having ‘interests’ in the agenda seeing as there were two large proposals for Bedlington. The county solicitor considered my submissions and said as long as I haven’t pre judged the applications I was OK to remain in the committee when these went through. I had also taken a call off one of the planners who wanted to know if I was going to ask the questions in public I had already put to them by email. We had a long conversation and it’s clear we don’t see eye to eye about the details of the proposal. Just before the meeting I had a cuppa in the members lounge with most of the rest of the committee and introduced myself to the chair. I asked for his indulgence because I did have some salient facts I wanted to put to members concerning one of the applications. He told me to keep it short! The meeting started and there was quite a packed public gallery, with a lot from Bedlington. The main application for houses in Bedlington came up first and after the officer had given an update there were several ‘public’ speakers both for and against. When we got asked if we had any questions I had a bucketful, not least because of the explanations given by the planning team! Seems there has been a challenge to the S106 community funding and we have seen £2M wiped out? This left me fuming! It hadn’t been mentioned by the officers in their presentation and I thought it was of crucial importance so I asked them outright for the current figures. The officer said it had all been worked out to a strict formula so I asked if the same formula had been used to produce the £3.8M figure because if it had how could it now produce only £1.7M? I also question them about the allocation of housing for Bedlington because it isn’t just for the Town it’s the surrounding area too! The answer wasn’t unexpected, seems the Town has the necessary infrastructure to cope with the 1280 housing allocation while the periphery doesn’t! Says who???? I also asked about how many units we have seen completed or started and the answer was shocking. Seems we still need over 800 units because in the last 7 years we have only seen 400 new houses built. I need to check those figures! I started to give members what I had prepared but the chair stopped me after only a couple of paragraphs! The application was put out for a proposer and seconder which it duly received. I was then allowed another go at it in the debate. Just to explain things a little there is a set criteria of objections which is applied to planning applications, these are called ‘Material Considerations’ and its only they which can be used to turn down applications, nothing else. So if an application ticks all the right boxes members almost have to accept and pass it. I set out my challenge on the terms of the contract and the details and asked if it could be taken away and revamped. Planners didn’t want to do that so I mentioned some of the problems as I saw them. The chair was keen to progress the meeting and called the vote. I voted against it because of the contract which had been placed in front of us! That was the only way I could challenge it. Every other member voted for, including perhaps strangely, the other Bedlington Councillor on the committee. This is what I tried to put to the committee but what the chair cut brief! Planning meeting 06/06/2017: “As the ward councillor I’m acutely aware of the confines and concerns some local residents have with this housing application and I would like to give members some local flavour. For the sake of balance and fairness let me first tell members that when I was chair of the Town Council I started a residents group and one of the first jobs they took up was to start work on a Neighbourhood Plan. One of their initiatives was to put out a community questionnaire and one of the questions that contained was where would people suggest new housing allocations were sited, and we gave them the cardinal points as reference. The vast majority replied that land to the North of the settlement was their preferred option or exactly where this application is for. Now having said that I believe we have to drive real tangible benefits for residents who will be affected by this and other applications. I don’t suppose Bedlington is any different to other towns and villages in Northumberland or elsewhere having problems with pressure on health services, road infrastructure, leisure facilities and education, well maybe not leisure facilities in other areas but you get what I mean…. and that’s before we see what will be a massive influx in population numbers. I believe with a little bit of applied thinking some of those problems can be alleviated somewhat. We see this development singly in its outline form but we really need to consider it how its fits into the overall topography of Bedlington. We have entry and exit access from the A1068 or Choppington Road, when with a little nudge we might see a link road from the New Roundabout which has gone in as part of the Broadoaks development on the B1331, to that point on Choppington Road. Not only would it act as a relief road for the daily traffic congestion at the top end we could again with a little applied logic make it the route for vehicular access to Meadowdale School. At present we have road congestion on the B1331 and very young children walking to and from their schools. Again not an unusual scenario within the county but in Bedlington we have 4 different school entrances within ¼ of a mile! This suggestion alone could take a least a third of that congestion away. I refer members to the comment by Highways England which sadly seems to reflect the situation better than our own Highways report. Speaking of the access point in this application, not only is it on a bend in the road but it’s also immediately before you hit a 40MPH zone so guess what the traffic is doing. Plus putting in a two lane access road into and out of the estate will mean very little room for houses either side. I cannot believe the farmer who has Glebe Farm; the building to the right and adjacent to this proposed access, has not been consulted. I went down and had quite a long chat with him and his family and they are as yet undecided whether to support or fight this application. I would suggest someone either landowner or developer goes and sees this gentleman whilst that goodwill exists! As it is in the proposal, his farm steading will be surrounded on three sides by housing but let me inform members what type of business he conducts from his premises, he and his workforce do contract crop spraying so again guess what is stored in those ancillary building….chemicals or exactly what we don’t want to see in the middle of a housing estate I would assume! If there was to be a deal done with this owner then I would hope to see the worst of the bend in that road straightened out as well. Additional cost certainly but that could easily me met with a few additional housing units! My real concern is with the S106 proposal and I have been in discussions with planners over this for a while now. I saw the original figure for S106 had been challenged and we now have a much reduced figure which seems to have almost been agreed. This will be earmarked for education support and I spoke very strongly about it being ring-fenced for that within the Bedlington West area. As I said we have 4 schools within walking distance and going to one recently I saw first-hand the disgraceful state the ceilings had been left in after some remedial work had been done. That type of work may not be possible with this fund but it should be! Also these are the schools which by and large will be affected by the increased population figures. More it seems we have agreed some S106 funding for sports provision out of this application and again I have asked for it to be ring fenced to the immediate area. We do have a proposal for new sporting provision within the boundaries of this ward never mind the larger boundary of the town. This funding would not only crystallise that development it would kick-start the project and bring in other much needed sports development funding. Whilst I’m certainly not anti-housing I am concerned about some of the details the application in its present form contains. These may not be material considerations and so can be ignored in strict planning terms but we are not serving our constituents if we don’t at least try and improve the overall impacts this and other applications have as results.” The decision was also made at this meeting to give our Bedlington redevelopment scheme the go ahead. That now gives the developer the legal status to proceed to the next level and sign up retailers! It’s taken some doing but I hope this is back on track now! Speaking to the lead person on this development after the meeting he told me there was no reason to see it stall! More training done and this time planning. Friday afternoon and my phone started ringing. Seems a young lad has been knocked down on the road just outside the Ridge Farm. This is exactly the problem we have as a community been telling and warning NCC about for probably 8 years! I was told it wasn’t too serious but any road accident is one too many especially on that road! I was very concerned about reports that the ambulance took well over 40 mins to get there seeing as we live about 5 miles from the station! I will check that out later, right now I need to speak to some people! I had heard whispers about a light controlled crossing which was muted for this area and I wanted to push that into existence and get it fitted ASAP! I spoke to all the contacts I had at traffic managerial level and we do have a light controlled crossing going in now! I am now pushing to get it in Asap hopefully in the school holidays so it causes the least disruption. I also got back in touch with the planners about that 500 houses site. One of my suggestions was for a relief road and I had spoken to the developer’s land agent well over a year ago about this when I was the mayor. He agreed it would be a welcome addition, probably for his own reasons but as long as we got benefit…… I have pressed the planners to put this on the table in their negotiations with the land agent and have used the school access and safe traffic management as one of the reasons. With a £2M hit now on the S106 allocation this could easily be paid for out of the savings the developer has somehow made! After another long weekend at work I had data protection training to do. Russ and Bill were there too this time, because it was councillor training. Seems to me there are quite a few councillors missing these mandatory training sessions? Anyway I had to speak to democratic services and IT support afterwards. I took the opportunity to speak to the chair of business about the boundaries for our LAC. He said things had been changed around with a couple moving into other areas. I said I wanted to challenge one of those moves and he told me it would come up for ratification soon enough and I could challenge it then. I feel this isn’t really my fight it’s another councillors area but he isn’t responding to residents so someone has to even though it’s me that’s getting all the flack for not doing anything? I had a long chat with Christine D who is chairing our LAC. We will be getting local planning decisions to approve and then the meetings will start at 4pm with the main meeting starting at 6pm. Of course these are on Wednesdays so I will be at work at 6am finish at 2pm and rush back to get showered and changed before making the meeting at 4pm. I had to see K in democratic services to give her some Bedlington venues for these meetings because we want to see them moved around the area. The Bedlington in Bloom team asked me to build up the new planters they had just purchased but I had a problem with the e-mail address for Brenda their secretary so everything had to be organised through Christine the Mayor. I met the team at the site where the planters were going and Straughans were soon there with the new planters and the compost etc. I built the planters and helped the lasses fill the various tubs with compost. I left the actual plating to the experts and as usual they made a fantastic job, well done Irene, Trish, Brenda and Sarah. Christine T, the new Mayor of WBTC, has included a five minute segment into the Town Council next agenda for updates off the county councillors so I need to prep something for that. I received a letter off the Leader today about the boundaries for these LAC’s. Seems they have reconsidered the boundary issues but will not change them now. I am still going to challenge the main premise of their argument, in that there is a physical connect between Blyth and Ashington and its called Sleekburn. It is actually there are physical disconnects and they are called the River Wansbeck and the River Blyth!!!! I went to the West Bedlington Town Council meeting tonight and immediately was set upon by Councillor Tyler. Funny way to work together calling me names but hey ho why changes the habits of a lifetime! I gave him as good back but really……… Quite a packed WBTC meeting tonight with about 8 people there to do presentations to help their funding pleas. John K’s young grandson who had grilled me when I did the “Meet the Mayor” afternoon at his school recently was one of the applicants and spoke very well for someone of such a young age. Christine did her update and said she now understood why mine used to be so long! After that Russ was asked for his update and then Bill gave a short update. I gave mine and then we had the meeting. My update: June update for WBTC: Apart from various training sessions one of the main things which has taken place this month was the strategic planning meeting of which I am one of 12 committee members. Councillor Hogg had tried to speak to me several times about one item on the agenda but sadly didn’t seem to understand why I couldn’t engage with him about it. This was a direct recommendation off the county solicitor who gave me strict guidelines to follow if I wanted to take part in the discussion and vote on the matter when it came up. This was the 500 house application on land to the north of the Chesters which falls within my ward. Most people here will know there are very strict rules which members have to use if they want to turn down an application with the only legitimate reasons being called ‘material considerations’. With little or no material considerations in this case there was very little wriggle room but I did want to question the planners about the overall application. One thing which wasn’t coming out until I asked outright was the fact that the S106 funding for education had been reduced from £3.8M down to £1.7M. I did know about it but no one else seemed to be mentioning it and at a £2M+ hit it really needed highlighting. Absolutely unforgivable in my view and I have since been back onto the planners pretty forcefully about this very subject! The lack of foresight regarding highways, health and other fundamental needs is something I will fight them about too. I voted against the application based on the ‘contract’ as it was put to us because I thought it almost worthless in seeking to redress any problems these houses might well bring to our Town never mind help reduce the pressures we already see now and the fact that I don’t think the planners have cut a good enough deal whilst negotiating on our behalf! Up to now I have got away with my vote, it could well be challenged! I have just been invited to a meeting next week with the head of planning and the case officer, ostensibly to discuss the S106 funding issues I raised. In all likelihood it’s either going to be to listen to my concerns and consider them, or slap me on the wrist for voting the wrong way! I am hoping for one but expecting the other! Another item on the same agenda was the Town centre redevelopment and again I was keen to take part in pushing that through! Again very strict planning guidelines to follow to enable me to speak and vote on this issue too. I probably did as much as I could seconding the motion! You will have heard about the young lad who got knocked down last Friday afternoon crossing the B1331 at the Ridge Farm. I am not going to suggest anyone was to blame but I have used the accident to once again bring the dangers of that road to everyone’s attention up at County Hall. Every officer with either an ‘H’ for highways or an ‘S’ for safety in their title has been contacted and lobbied! Pleased to tell you there is a light controlled crossing going in at that point and I’m trying to get it installed during this summer holiday recess to minimise traffic disruption. This will be in addition to the small pedestrian island which is already in that area. As well as that there will be alterations done to the junctions at the Ridge Farm area and the Meadowdale entrance. I have also used the need for this contact to highlight concerns Nedderton residents have voiced about speeding through their village. Personally I am in favour of a permanent solution to this perennial problem but I can say there is a speed assessment survey going to be carried out there and I have asked for it to be in the very near future. What comes of it only time and the results of the survey will tell. I am also vice chair of our new Local Area Council and the intent is to work very closely with T&PC’s in each area. Local Planning will be dealt with there and the meetings for that will start at 4pm with the LAC at 6pm. First meeting is 28th June at Concordia. Fewer planning applications will allow the planning meetings to start later at 5pm and the venues will rotate around the area with Bedlington getting it fair share! I have been lobbying and speaking out about the boundary for this new LAC even though it is not my ward affected and strictly speaking there is a county member responsible for it, however with the level of concern people all over the Town have voiced I took it upon myself to do what I could and at least try and resolve the situation. Today I have received a letter from the Leader of NCC informing me that the boundary issue has been re-considered and its staying put! I am still going to voice some concerns I have about this when it comes up at full council. Apart from that I will be doing whatever I can to make these new Local Area Councils work for the benefit of not just my ward residents but the Town as a whole. These are new, we need to get stuck in and make them work for us! I have also started enquiries about holding my surgery at Netherton Club as the last councillor for this ward did. I had asked Christine to table a motion asking WBTC to match my smalls funding of £15K per year for small infrastructure projects within my ward. This would mean £30K per year would be available but what I hope for is to save it for a couple of years and build something like a youth facility or something else which will have major benefits to residents here. Anyway council ratified that so all of a sudden my ward has £30K a year or over £100K in the next 4 years! Twice the hit for half the money, result! Today a full day of training for the Pension Panel I sit on. This is extremely complicated and I found out why. It’s this panel which will make the investment recommendations! That’s one hell of a responsibility and really a job in its own right! We were given a thorough insight into the working of the panel and all aspects of the pension scheme and it seems I now have exams to take and residential courses to attend because we need to be very well trained to sit in this panel, actively. Another weekend at work and the temperature is heating up. Great stuck inside factories when it’s over 26 degrees outside. I took an early finish on Sunday because I had somewhere to go for 7pm and my normal finish time of 6pm wouldn’t give me enough time to get back, shower, change and then drive over. Monday and its Bedlington Forum tonight. I got back into Bedlington just after lunchtime and there were apologies off Sarah on my computer and a short summary of what we have been doing as the road safety group which I will read out tonight at the Forum meeting. There was the normal turn out for the Forum but for once 3 county councillors were there too! I read Sarah’s update and inevitably the same concerns were expressed about this and the road in general. Wednesday and back at work and again its clammy hot. Finished at 2pm rushed back and Paul turned up with some fish he had just caught! Quick shower and change and off out for a meeting with the other two county councillors. This was necessary because we have received e-mails off the head of NCC regeneration asking about the possibility of some fine tuning for the Bedlington development. I suggested asking how far we can go before we overstep the mark and Russ and Bill agreed. I have also had contact myself about the sports centre project I’m working on. I then had to go up to county hall for more IT training and there was only myself there so I got two tutors and whizzed through what I needed to know and talked about other IT training which might come in handy. I had also asked about the ambulance response time for that accident on the B1331 a couple of weeks ago. It’s causing a bit of a stir because no one can give me the info but everyone says I should be able to access it to reassure my constituents. It’s now gone to CeO level! Just sorted out my monthly surgeries and I will hold them at Netherton Club where the last councillor had his. Friday and we had Public Heath training to do. That took nearly 5 hours and Russ and Bill were there too. They stayed for lunch I had to shoot off. Quite a weekend at work this weekend, thought it was never going to get done at one point! I was pleased when Sunday night came along! Monday morning and back to County Hall for Media training. I had to send my apologies into the NCVA meeting which was on at Bedlington because it was on at the same time. As it turned out our media training became little more than a who does what in NCC comms. Quite a few members were miffed about this change and some said they had to cancel other appointments as I did. At least I had some time to get back onto a few things when I got home. I had asked about a litter problem which had been brought to my attention by a couple of residents on the Hazlemere Estate and I had asked the Neighbourhood services manager if he could take any necessary steps to put things right or tell me there wasn’t a problem. I did say that this was exactly the sort of payback I had intended when during my time as Mayor we had changed the small lamppost bins to larger ones so saving Neighbourhood Services quite a bit of time on their rounds. The manager apologised and said he thought my enquiry had been replied too. I do believe him, in all my dealings with this manager in the past he has delivered an exemplary service for us. I have no doubt I will be getting a message off him in the near future. I also decided I had given the planners enough time to get back to me with a date for our meeting. This to discuss the planning application terms for the 500 houses I had voted against at the last strategic planning meeting. Again a reply came back with perfuse apologies citing a proposed meeting this Thursday with the officers who oversee the terms and conditions. I accepted, better put my armour on! I have also had word about my enquiries regarding the time taken for an ambulance to get to my ward when it was called after an accident. This had to be escalated upwards but it looks like I am going to get an answer after all! I am not happy and I think the majority of my constituents won’t be either if it takes over 40 minutes to get to my ward when the main A&E centre is at Cramlington, less than 5 miles up the road! Had word confirming my surgeries will now be held at Netherton Club. Well talk about synchronicity I’ve just had a message of someone who wants to start a swimming pool in Bedlington. If that’s not another partner for the Sports Centre I’m working on then I’ll eat my hat! I arranged a meeting tomorrow with them to talk about each other’s proposals. Well I did have a meeting with this couple but their timescale is more acute than mine. They do have an interesting and quite innovative business plan and I will try and help them in whatever way I can. Wednesday and after coming back from a shift at work I got ready for our First LAC. Ours unlike the majority was quite packed with standing room only. A few there just to pick holes in proceedings of course! I didn’t expect one of the members to try and do that and his statement about the last 8 years of Area Meetings as being worthless and these will follow the same direction was something I felt I had to respond to. Now I remember this particular member being next to me in the public seats when the Lib Dems were the administration at NCC and using the Area Meetings to propose measures and ask for answers. Also when he became part of NCC he stood up and asked why these meetings were not better supported! So his utterance couldn’t go unchallenged especially when, as I pointed out, there were several people in the audience who got particular networking advantages out of these meetings and I should know because I was one of them at the time! Imagine my surprise when the same member wanted to introduce a specific policy into these meeting……….mustn’t be quite the waste of time he originally mentioned! I did get a chance to speak to one of the managers I needed to speak to about some work I asked him to look into. He said it had been carried out and I thanked him very much. This was in response to a constituent’s concerns which had been expressed to me a couple of weeks ago. Several good questions for the public as usual and each were responded to. A couple of presentations and agreeing the format of these meetings and it was over. Basically not a lot of content but they are very new and they haven’t got a full devolved power base yet. Next day I had a meeting with Planners, specifically about the agreements contained in the 500 house application I had challenged when it came before Strategic Planning. The case officer and head of planning came and met me and we sat down to discuss the ‘contract’ I felt needed to be much more robust! They realised how strongly I felt about the lack of community gain but insisted that part of the application couldn’t be visited again! Damm, there are so many areas where we could have gained benefits yet we are now stuck with what someone who has no clue in reality about the needs of my ward has decided to include as community payback or in this case not include! I told them I would expect to be notified about any such applications in future so I could tell them what sort of paybacks the community needed! I was astounded when they told me about one part of the agreement. Seems the landowner has specified where he wants the whole of the sporting element to go and it’s not here! Going to check that out! We did speak at some length about the subject and it is clear the constraints the planners operate under urgently need reviewing! I also urged them to make the other bodies take applications seriously and do proper audit rather than just tick boxes saying everything is rosy in the garden when we all know it’s not! (Especially Highways, Education and Health!) I then just had time to call in and talk to the head of economic regeneration. I am pressing the case for this sports centre for Bedlington and it gaining some critical weight. He agreed to mention it to his team and ask them to look into funding opportunities for me. On my way home I stopped off and spoke to the landowner who the planner had said specified where this S106 funding had to go. He told me he knew nothing about it and was never involved in the minutia of the agreement at that sort of level. He agreed we should see this money retained locally and use it to get the sports centre proposal off the ground! Friday and after writing to tell the planners what had been said and agreed with the landowner regarding elements in the S106 funding I then wrote to the constituent who had been in touch with some problems and gave him the good news that the work had been done. I then had to hightail it across to Cramlington and attend more training at the Fire Station. This was about the nuts and bolts of the county council, what the public sees and the main workforce. A very informative if quite long session and at least I have faces put to names for the heads of service deliveries. I sat with Bill as the four managers and their director talked us through the structure and gave us some idea of budgets. I was admonished at the end for asking too many questions! I also had to chance to speak to Liz, a fellow councillor, who sits on the pension panel with me. Like myself Liz is having problems with the 3 days of training we have to do in London, Cardiff or Leeds as they included Wednesdays. I work Wednesdays and Liz has other commitments on Wednesdays too. Leeds was all Wednesdays, so that was out for me, London had a couple of Wednesdays but Cardiff was clear of any Wednesdays so I told Liz just to book us both on those sessions. Not only do we have these, what were residential courses, to do we also have exams to take for being members on this Local Government Pension Panel. We have been told everyone runs away from this committee and I’m beginning to see why! It’s going to be three very long days! That’s June just about out and next week I have a site visit up at Alnwick on Monday morning, my surgery Monday night, Strategic planning Tuesday afternoon, work on Wednesday but I need an early finish because I have full council to attend at 3.oopm Wednesday too!
  9. Malcolm Robinson

    The Tour returns......

    "Stop Press" Due to the success of the last Tour we will see the world's best road racers once again speeding through Bedlington. More to follow......
  10. May 4th 2017 Friday 5th May……. and the results were supposed to be out between 5am-5.30am. Turns out everything is running much later! Just saw Bill’s result and he has won the Bedlington East ward. Mine and Russ’s are immanent. Russ’s ward just declared and he has won it by a landslide. Because I couldn’t be there Wendy is ringing me with my result. The phone rings and its Wendy only to say the sitting councillor has called for a recount. Really is it that close, Damm! Adam could well have caused the problem I told everyone about and splitting the vote has let the sitting councillor back in. Wendy let me hear the announcement as it happened. Bloody Hell I’ve won! I am quite literally speechless! Wendy hung up to let me get my breath back and I have loads of people to thank for this. I started doing that straightaway. Walked around in a bit of a daydream for the rest of the day but I had to get myself together for work tomorrow, 4.30am quickly comes around so no celebrating. Over the weekend I was contacted by a constituent who had been promised some highways work by the ex-councillor. Haven’t even been inducted yet but I did go and see this lady and learn what the problem was. I will get to see where I have to go and then take this forward for her. I said give me a couple of weeks to see the lie of the land! Tuesday 9th and we had a basic induction to do at County Hall. Bill and Russ were already there when I got there and had already filled in the paperwork we had to do. I decided not to fill mine in straightaway because I am still the sitting chair of WBTC until Thursday night and I would have to put all that into my declaration of interests whereas holding off a couple of days saves all of that. We had presentations off the main departmental managers and while everyone else said nothing in the open session I was able to ask them some questions. Most people (fellow members) had been very polite and welcoming, in fact some blatantly so. However some were less than cordial and made quite unnecessary and cutting remarks. I reminded them that what they were actually complaining about was the result of a democratic election, we were not quite in the Stalinist state some obviously thought we were in, people still had choice! One thing I did note was who were first at the table when the freebies were being handed out! We spoke at length to the people who will be leading and forming the next administration and they suggested we come in for a ‘get to know each other’ meeting where we could properly present the case for Bedlington. Gladly accept that one. Tuesday evening and I went down to the East Bedlington Parish Council meeting as usual. I heard some raised voices outside and turned around to see Bill and Russ and one of the members down there arguing outside. They came in and sat in front of me but said nothing? The chair of that meeting used his chair’s acceptance to slate us newly elected county councillors and praise the old ones. He also allowed the member who had been remonstrating with Bill outside to continue his rant in the middle of the meeting. It was another shambles of a meeting in my view with Party politics being put above anything else, especially the needs of residents! Straight after the meeting the member who had been doing all the shouting walked straight over to Bill and started on him and his family again! He also motioned to me so I took him to one side for a ‘talk’ while Bill and Russ got out. I could see they were visibly shaken by this episode. Went in Thursday 11th for IT security training. Seems we will soon be getting all agenda’s, minutes and papers through our lap tops. Well I know one or two members who might not like that! Friday 12th and after one or two false starts, because of a VIP in the area, we had our meeting with the deputy Leader of NCC elect and the head of regeneration, again elect. I immediately put the case for the Tesco redevelopment to be reactivated and allowed to proceed because for one reason it was a commercial decision not one based on politics. Our development had to be commercially sound, in other words ours had to be commercially viable and financially self-sustainable. I had spoken to the new Ceo of Arch and knew the reason for the delay in seeking planning permission and there was nothing sinister, it was down to a clause Tesco had put in their contract when they sold the site to Arch. That was now about due to run out so planning permission was needed to progress the development. I argued quite strongly for this and it seemed to be quite well received. In fact it was suggested there might be a willingness to include some extra, more social stuff into this project! Music to my ears! I also argued for a sports development in the town based on the work I had been doing for about a year. Using the land WBTC had been bequeathed the option on off Mr Rutherford, the farmer and Burnt Tree Farm. Again it seemed well received and the only other suggestion was that other Town sites might be looked at. Fair enough, if anyone can find a better site so be it! We were told there was sympathy for Bedlington within the new administration as it has quite obviously been ignored and neglected for many many years by successive administrations at all Councils. We were also given a very slight glimpse of what the new council might start to look like as there is a push to change quite a bit of it around. Not unnatural for a new administration to want and do. Introducing more local accountability was something I personally liked and supported. Other bits like Arch were going to be subject to a review, again given the asset base of Arch and its remit not an unnatural reaction for the new administration. Back to work at the weekend and another long weekend. A posting on social media caused quite a stir…. Seems our meeting was being reported by someone who’s sister-in-law works at County Hall as one where we pledge allegiance to the Conservative Party? Nothing could be further from the truth really! Turns out this posting was a complete plant by unscrupulous people to influence public opinion against us? Now who could that be? Anyway turned out just about everyone went onto the same page and gave us their support, irrespective of these scandalous allegations! Monday 15th and I went in for IT training. Bill was there too so we had a few hours of a two to one session as no one else had turned up! Getting to grip with the new kit we have been given to use it not easy because I still have to use all my old stuff too…… I did start investigating the seemingly promised extra parking which a couple of my constituents have asked me to find out about. I found the person dealing with this and now have a definitive answer to the question. Don’t think it’s what these constituents want to hear though, can’t be done. I have also been prodding people about restarting the Bedlington redevelopment and I have been promised a press release is imminent! I have also just had a meeting the Town Council officers. I offered them the money in my Small’s Scheme, which is for local improvements, as long as they matched it. Seems to me we both get double the hit for the same area we each have responsibility over. They liked the idea especially when I suggested over a couple of years there should be enough to think about a new youth venue as well as a building on the land the Town Council have been offered by Mr Rutherford. That needs to go to their full council for approval of course and I am slightly constrained by the fact that my funding can only be used for capital projects. Still it should mean we will see well over £100K spent in the West Ward over the next few years and that’s a whole lotta improvement! I had to put in a holiday for the day of the full council meeting because this meeting starts at 3.00pm and I finish work at 2 then home for a shower and change I felt it would be cutting it too tight. When I got to County Hall I saw Russ and we went upstairs to check our dockets and see if the contained anything. When we walked into the members lounge it went from room temperature to sub-zero in seconds! The members lounge was filled with labour members who stared, grimaced and pointed our way but never spoke to us directly! I think Russ was a bit put out and he forcibly introduced himself to the other Bedlington Labour councillor. We then went downstairs into the council chamber; this was filled with Conservative members. As we took a seat Bill came through and joined us. The chamber was pretty full not just with public but also some ex councillors who obviously wanted to get a gripe in. As the meeting progressed it became more and more about ex administration members trying to use their inside knowledge to score points……pathetic! The Leader and admin were elected unanimously and after a few bits of business the new Leader proposed a change to the way local government, at the very local level, works. Essentially it was all about giving the Area Meetings some teeth and powers. One point was that in Bedlington the most eastern ward, Cambois and Sleekburn, was to go with Ashington and Blyth while the Central, East and West wards jointed up with Cramlington in a new Local Area Council. I voted in favour of this new type of administration for us because the old way of doing things had never been Bedlington friendly! Russ and Bill voted against but there was a large majority for it anyway. The problems some saw with the new ‘boundaries’ was mentioned and the Leader said this could be addressed as we progressed. Near the end of the meeting we had to ask the press and public to leave as there were a couple of items to consider in closed session. Once the meeting had finished Bill and Russ left while I went up into the reception which was being held in the Civic Head’s dining room, one which the Labour councillors had spurned. I didn’t want the buffet but I did want to speak to the lady who will be chairing this new Local Area Committee (LAC) for our area. As I had been ‘given’ the vice chair getting to know what was going on and how it intended to develop was my first concern. I spoke to Christine D for quite a while and we swapped contact details. Looks like she is as ambitious for her area as I am for mine! The very next day it was back to county hall for decision making training. This was mainly planning training and declaration of interests. So after talking about pre-determination, pre-disposition and bias we had quite a few questions for the County solicitor. Another of my constituents has been in touch and again it’s a housing issue of which I have no real inroads. I will go and see her and look at the problem then try and make my mouth go at the right people to see if we can get something done for her. Mad weekend at work again and for once I was way behind where I normally am on Sunday. It did get sorted but while some left early I couldn’t and had to stay to finish my work off. Tuesday and back up to county hall this time for more IT training. Our It trainer asked about putting other training on when we get to grips with the county council systems and I jumped at it. At the moment I’m running three calendars, an almost fulltime job and council work. It was the annual Meeting of the Town on Wednesday so after a day at work, then catching up on my computer work I changed and went down to the community centre having been invited by the Town Council. The meeting started at 6.30pm and probably half the people there were there for the presentation about removing Humford Dam. When that presentation was over there were quite a few questions for the presenter, mainly anti this initiative. Once that was done the chair asked the new county councillors to talk about our work. I started and used the opportunity to talk about the new changes to the way local government was about to work. I used the points which had just been so vociferously talked about to illustrate why I had voted for this change. Bringing it right back to how it would impact onto people here worked and there was general agreement with the way I had voted. Afterwards during the refreshments a lot of people said they now understood what I was trying to do and supported it. Again just being honest with people is clearly the way to go as they do appreciate the candour! I put this message out on social media to explain why I had voted for the chance to start again with the way the second tier of local government works. “Seems there is quite a furore about these new Local Area Councils and I can understand why. In fact it was discussed by myself, Bill and Russ before the meeting. I voted for the change! Let me explain why and I don’t want to defend or attack the proposal. First the vote was about change to the way local government operates, the ward issues are only a very small part of that. In fact once the inconsistencies were pointed out and the fact that in some cases it was almost streets which would see dividing lines down them the administration, which had been in office for about 30 minutes by then, admitted it wasn’t all set in stone and changes and tweaks could be added. There has been what I would consider to be a perfectly sensible compromise suggested for the ‘Bedlington’ area issue. Secondly, I believe this change substantially benefits my constituents and that was the main reason I voted for it. Breaking the umbilical cord which has bound Bedlington and Ashington together for 50 years and which has only resulted in our providing the nourishment for the growth in Ashington has to be cut and I would dance with the devil to make that happen! Thirdly because this is a new structure there are no preconceived positions, it’s all there waiting to be fought for and I would rather be fighting for wins rather than pyrrhic victories all the time! In fact I have been ‘given’ the vice chair and have already discussed approaching this with honesty and openness with the chair and she agreed. Lastly I believe better decisions are made with local knowledge and some have cited that or the lack of it as the reason there are geographical inconsistencies contained within the proposal. The proposal was that these new Local Area Councils have much more local decisions making powers devolved to them and I would rather that than see our questions, needs and concerns dismissed by people who have never stepped foot in Bedlington! That’s was what was happening and this change would mean for many decisions which affect us we take control over them. They are the main reasons I voted for this proposal but at the same time I said I would work with Bill and Russ to seek a sensible resolution to the geographical problems this has thrown up for Bedlington as a whole.”
  11. It was decided by the owner and management of the home.
  12. Happy belated birthday Foxy............flipping heck thats gonna cost me a pint tonight!
  13. It was an idea discussed in the late 90's when we tried to get a heritage walk through Bedlington organised to go alongside that heritage themed investment..........
  14. As far as I know Bedlingtonian once a "shire" was awarded it cant be rescinded?
  15. This is going to be a diary of my time as County Councillor for the Bedlington West ward. It will be a warts and all journey and I will be as honest and candid as I possibly can be, given that some of the things I will have to do will be overseen by confidentiality clauses because of one reason or another. Already had one which I can’t really mention in detail, that being the departure of the Chef Executive of the council. Anyway having never ventured into this writing realm before I have been advised to write a short bio. I ran a business in Bedlington for 20 odd years and in the late 90’s took over as chair of the Bedlingtonshire Chamber of Trade. During the next 2 years we built that into the largest CoT in the North East and pressed for better partnership working with local and regional government. One was much easier to attain than the other! Wansbeck District Council which was our local council was 100% Labour members in those days and for some reason best known to themselves looked at us as the enemy? This was apparent in many ways, probably the most recognisable was when WDC reneged on its commitment for a Xmas lighting competition between the major towns and in the end took lighting displays which Bedlington residents had bought as extra displays to brighten up our town and put them up in Ashington! I had to be physically restrained that day having ran events and been gunged in green ‘yak’ to raise money for the Bedlington Xmas Lights appeal only to see it disappear over the Stakeford Bridge! Many stories about those times suffice it to say the newspapers called our committee the Bedlington Fairy Godmothers and WDC…..Scrooge! In the two years I ran the CoT I was threatened with court action by two different chief executives of Wansbeck District Council, both times I told them I would welcome the chance to counter-sue and both times their supposedly rock solid cases were dismissed before any official legal proceedings. Once was over the extra Bedlington Xmas lights when I advised the Bedlington Lights committee not to pay the extortionate bill what had been presented to them by WDC and the other time was when WDC decided to take away concessionary fares for pensioners on public transport and the CoT did what it could to support them in that fight. That plain fact was the WDC was 100% Labour councillors at the time and they wanted to save the £160K cost of bus passes for the elderly. It did seem a lot of money but in the same budget they wanted to slash that out, they INCREASED their own entertainment allowances to £240K! I was starting to get my eyes opened for me! I also put Bedlington on the Front page of the Sunday Sun and some nationals too. I got NASA to put a “Welcome to Bedlington” invite on the Mars landing vehicle and wrote up a humorous piece for the press saying any Martians would get discount rates on car, TV’s, clothes, food etc when they visited Bedlington. BBC and ITV ran the story as did all the broadsheets and tabloids. What I wasn’t prepared for was the radio and TV interest and I did interviews in places as far apart and South Africa and Canada, North America and Germany, France and the United Arab Emirates. The thing went viral and WDC was extremely noticeable by its absence. I didn’t have that much trouble with WDC after that? Moving on and after returning from a 10 year sabbatical in France I again got myself involved in community issues. WDC had been dissolved and replaced by Northumberland County Council even though that was against the wishes of 52% of the people in a referendum! No change there then! So all of a sudden Bedlington which had always played second fiddle to Ashington in Wansbeck Council was now not even on the radar being part of the much larger county authority. One of NCC’s first actions was to sequestrate the £500K the members of the Bedlingtonshire Golf Club had paid to buy out the council from their golf club and which was supposed to be ring-fenced for a Bedlington capital project. Its second order of business in very short order it seemed was to close our community centre! This was something I again felt strongly about and with some friends set up the Bedlingtonshire Development Trust, a charitable organisation created to put in an asset transfer bid to save our community centre from going the same way as the Golf Club monies! That done and being the only organisation to go correctly through the whole process, including submitting a 20 odd page fully costed business plan, it was a bit of a shock when the Centre was awarded to the Town Council which had never really taken part in the asset transfer process. Course the Mayor and deputy Mayor at that time were also NCC councillors, one being secretary to the executive and the other being Civic Head or part of the team that decided who got the Community Centre. Just to add insult to injury I was asked to attend a meeting with the Mayor and his cronies where he asked for the Trust’s business plan! Dear God these people have no shame and I hope there is a picture building up here! So with a fully legitimate Development Trust the decision had to be made whether to wind it up or see what we could do with it. We decided on the latter and readers can see for themselves what we got up to over the next few years. http://bdt.bedlington.co.uk From the Bedlington Terrier seats to enterprise lessons for youngsters, from putting in new easier access gateways to the community allotment to paying for Xmas lunches for our seniors, from buying expensive kit for Mind Active to putting on professional entertainment for our seniors, the Trust has integrated itself quite strongly into our community and delivered some really excellent projects. Four years ago I stood for County Council and Town Council as an independent, basically against the same person. Whilst the majority of people gave me their trust and elected me to the Town Council they elected another political appointee, this time a Labour one, as their county council representative. I congratulated him at the count and said he had an open field to get something moving in the Town and I would help as much as possible. Over the next 4 years he earned himself the nickname the ‘Invisible Man’ because he was hardly seen in the Town never mind anything else. That made my mind up to stand again! As for my time as Town Councillor. The first two years were made up of infighting as the Labour group tried to lay the law down through their majority vote. Wouldn’t have been so bad but what was proposed by them and carried was absolutely nuts and in my view contrary to the benefit of the Town. For the last two years I chaired the council and anyone can go to the WBTC web site (http://westbedlington.org.uk ) and see for themselves the transformation which took place.
  16. Thanks Eggy.........I will definitely have to get a better one now, my i4 is steam driven by comparison! Thanks Orloff.........
  17. Wouldn't imagine a self proclaimed voice of the people would Denzel...........
  18. Thanks Ex B. Working almost fulltime, running the Town Council and trying to help out wherever....... Thanks Steve good luck.........
  19. Thanks Eggy............I was assured by the assessor who examined my nomination papers 'Independent' would appear after my name! I do have a witness too......... I can only assume............................
  20. Thanks very much....... and yes Orloff....... May 4th.........Bedlington Independent's Day!
  21. What did he say about one of his predecessors being sacked...........
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