Thursday, 27 March 2008

Question Time photos

A couple of photos have appeared in my Inbox from the Question Time event at the Queen Elizabeth 6th Form College a couple of weeks ago. Apparently there are others knocking around somewhere in Democratic Services: if any more appear, I'll add them later.

The event featured Dot Long, Barry Armstrong and myself, plus the politics teachers and students.
If you've never been in this part of the building before, I hope the group photo gives a little flavour of how impressive the hall is.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

On the job!

Readers of this blog will know I have been campaigning in Council for action to be taken against the rogue traders who sell cars on North Road. Council wardens have taken action, with some success, but the problem persists. The practice is illegal if the same person offers two or more cars for sale within 200 metres of each other.
The message does not seem to have filtered down to the police.

The first photo shows three cars parked up for sale on North Road a couple of weeks ago.
The second photo shows the two police vehicles parked nearby! They were checking for speeding motorists. As you can see in the third photo, the minder of the cars is showing a punter the choice in full view of the police. I strolled across and feigned interest in the cars. The young minder told me he was just looking after them for the owner.
The fourth photo is taken looking back down North Road from the nearby pedestrian crossing, which Fred and I were investigating due to reports of vehicles crossing the lights on red, thereby endangering pedestrians trying to cross the road. You can see the cars for sale just down the road and the police car moved to a side street: ready to pounce on speeding traffic.

What the photo doesn't show is that, parked behind the police car is another car, in which is sitting the younger minder of the cars for sale with two other men, presumably one of whom is the owner of those cars.

I alerted the police in the car to this, but they were on traffic duty and dealing with illegal rogue traders wasn't their responsibility.

Friday, 21 March 2008

The Best of the North East

Wasting away precious minutes of my life on Google this morning I came across this website. All the best in north-east websites (allegedly). So many award categories - but no politics or community campaign sites, unfortunately.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Road stays open

As part of the plans for the new £6.5million North Road Primary School, Pendleton Road South, which is already closed to through vehicular traffic, was proposed to be closed to pedestrians and cyclists too, and paved over, so that pupils would have direct access from the school to their playing fields across the road. The photo shows me on the cycle route along Pendleton Road South.
However, school planners came up against the immovable objects of the disability and cycling interests.
At a meeting in the Town Hall last week, Gordon Pybus, spokesman for the disabled in Darlington, proved himself a doughty negotiator in insisting on the rights of the disabled to use the road without having to detour around the new school playing fields. At the same meeting, officers responsible for cycling provision within the town also argued strongly for road to remain open, since it is part of a direct cycle route running parallel to North Road.
Last night, at a meeting of North Road School Governors, the Head announced that, given the need to move ahead quickly in order to meet deadline for submitting a planning application, it had been decided to replace the road with a cycle and pedestrian path directly along the route of Pendleton Road. The path will have to be fenced in to maintain the security of the school site. Pupils will have to pass through two locked gates and over the new path to get to and from the playing fields.
The end result represents a success for the pedestrian, disabled and cyclist users of the road. The Governors were upset at this decision and voted by a majority to write to the Council expressing their disquiet at the decision.


Tuesday evening's monthly Cabinet meeting returned to its usual lacklustre self after the relative excitement of the budget period. Stepping in at the last minute for our leader, I collected a massive stack of papers several inches thick from my over-burdened pigeon hole. No way could I get through that lot, so I picked out a couple of papers from my areas of interest.

The first was on Climate Change, where a plan, full of good intentions but woefully short of real meat, has been produced and will be discussed with stakeholders across the Borough before feeding into the sub-regional strategy. I urged Cabinet to go beyond the Government's targets of a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, especially in the light of the recent Tyndall Centre report that, even if this target were to be achieved, global temperatures would rise by some 4 to 5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, against a target of 2 degrees. I pointed out that Hilary Benn has asked his Climate Change review group to investigate whether Government should be toughening up its target to an 80% reduction.

Veronica Copeland said she would be working hard to ensure the achievement of current targets and would see if there was any way these targets could be bettered. I'm afraid good intentions just don't cut the mustard. Hard, scientifically-based proposals which will require tough decision making is what's needed. One thing's for certain, if the Cabinet are brave enough to take the decisions which are needed, we'll support them. Thus far, I see little evidence that the political will is there.
Also somewhat off-putting was the vigorous headshaking from the Conservative member, who does not, it appears, accept that climate change is anything more than a natural cyclical re-adjustment in the earth's temperature.

My other contribution, which, as usual, was greeted by much heavenward eye-rolling from Labour members, was on the transport report in which I noticed that, although as a town we are making good progress on reducing car usage and increasing both walking and cycling - statistics to which I personally contribute as a born-again cyclist - our strategy is being undermined by an increase in the number of cars entering the borough from outside.

I asked what action could be taken to reduce the flow of traffic from outside, especially since, if the new shopping centre is built, we can expect even more cars from outside the borough. I didn't get an answer in the meeting, though the officer responsible was kind enough to talk to me about his ideas afterwards.

I must say, it is rather worrying that every time I hop on my super Marin I am apparently in mortal danger of being mown down by a 4x4 from North Yorkshire. Something needs to be done about this. Man the barricades, I say.

Monday, 17 March 2008


For the second weekend in a row I visited the Lib Dem controlled city of Liverpool. This time it was my first visit to Anfield to watch my resurgent Reading take on mighty Liverpool FC who are on a long winning run. It's still difficult to believe that after years of standing on the South Bank at Elm Park, I'm now watching The Hoops on parade at all the top grounds in the country

When the packed ground stood up, raised their scarves aloft, and sang "You'll Never Walk Alone" the hairs on the back of my neck were at attention. Sunderland play orchestral music at full blast, the Boro mindlessly chant "Der der der; Der der der; Der der der der; Der der der", but to be in a stadium with 50,000 people singing their anthem was something else altogether.

Ok, we lost, but we scored a great goal, had a good day out and played well enough to keep alive our hopes of staying up for another season.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

An Inconvenient Truth

Off to the Friends' Meeting House last night for a showing of the Al Gore ("the former next President of the USA") polemic, "An Inconvenient Truth". I suspect most of the 40-50 people in the audience didn't need convincing of Gore's argument, but it was interesting to finally get to see the film which has caused such controversy. The evening was organised by Friends of the Earth and ended with a lively discussion with local politicians and environmental activists.

Two negative points from the evening. Firstly, the Northern Echo promised to attend, but didn't turn up, much to the disappointment of Kendra Ulyatt, the dynamic new co-ordinator of Darlington FoE, who has dragged the local group up from the brink of folding to having a healthy and growing membership and level of activity.

Secondly, although 4 of the 5 Lib Dem councillors were there, only Gerald Lee for the Conservatives and Veronica Copeland for Labour turned up. I expect the other 47 councillors have already seen the film.

The debate was lively, and Veronica and her officer minder had to take a lot of flak from the audience, and rightly so. Veronica dealt with it in good humour, even though her answers betrayed the lack of urgency and initiative on environmental matters that characterises the Labour Council in Darlington. Unfortunately, ticking boxes and achieving minimum standards is just not good enough any more, and this Council needs to be so much more dynamic and innovative in doing its bit to tackle climate change. As was said more than once, we know the science and we have the technology to solve this problem. What we lack is the political will.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

QT at QE

Off to Queen Elizabeth 6th Form College this morning for a Question Time event for their Politics students. Almost 100 were in the audience, not bad for a 9am start!
Allison Carling from Democratic Services kicked things off with a presentation about the structure of the Council and, somewhat disconcertingly, a slide show of mug shots of the Cabinet Members and Scrutiny Chairs.
Then myself, Barry Armstrong for the Conservatives and Dot Long for Labour took to the stage. Dot was standing in at the last minute for Jenny Chapman, who was unwell. Luckily, the politics teacher told us that Dot was arriving late, which meant I could correct him about her name before he introduced us. I suspect the school secretary needs handwriting lessons, or a hearing aid, because the teacher was convinced our esteemed Labour colleague was called Councillor Dotty!
Each councillor was given a few minutes to introduce themselves and say how they first became interested in politics. Then there was a series of questions from the floor, with each councillor having a minute or so to reply to each question. Unfortunately no debate was allowed, and students couldn't ask supplementary questions - just like Full Council, then.
As far as I can remember, questions were asked on proportional representation, relationships with the MP, how councillors represented their constituents, elected mayors, whether all the parties were gravitating to the centre, whether there were party whips in the Council Groups, lowering the voting age and involving women and minorities in political activity. So the emphasis was very much on structure and administration rather than policy, though I managed to slip in an invitation to the Friends of the Earth film show tonight, in case anyone was interested in real politics.
The students were thoughtful and interested and the morning finished with a large group photograph (I'll post one when they send them on). They plan to make this an annual event. By that time my poor voice might have recovered from the strain put upon it at the Riverside on Saturday, following our last minute winner against the Boro.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Hidden Darlington (1)

On warm summer days my favourite place to wander out to at lunchtime is the Quaker Graveyard behind the Friends' Meeting House on Skinnergate. After a busy morning at work there's nothing better than half an hour eating lunch, or dozing off, in this beautiful, peaceful corner of the town centre. I find that many people don't even know it's there.

I have never, though, visited it during winter. Today I was delivering Focus around the town centre, as you do, and decided to take a break there. If possible, the graveyard is even more attractive now than in summer. A veritable carpet of snowdrops, interspersed with clumps of crocus flowers and the start of the daffodils, were set off perfectly by the low late winter sun.

The regimented rows of identical Quaker gravestones, dominated by the Pease and Backhouse families, have a pleasing simplicity which allow nature to blossom all around. I hope you like the photos.
Addition: here's a link to the local Quaker website, including photos and a map.