Sunday, 31 August 2008

Cunning plan revealed

Following my interview on BBC Radio Tees last week, the Council has now announced the details of their cunning plan to rid North Road of rogue car dealers. I was asked not to reveal the details of this scheme when I went on the radio last week, in case it scared off the traders before the Council got to them.

Bill Dixon, the lead Cabinet member in this matter, has now announced the plan here on the BBC Tees website. Draw your own conclusions about why it's ok for Bill to reveal now what I was asked not to mention on Thursday.

Whatever, let's hope this does some good. I've been going on about this in Council, in Focus and with officers for over a year now and credit where it's due, the Council have gradually been getting their act together. I just have a nagging feeling that the slippery traders will keep one step ahead.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

On BBC Radio Tees tomorrow morning

My next-door-neighbour-until-recently, Matthew Davies, is no longer presenting the Breakfast Show on BBC Radio Tees. I appeared several times on the show and neither of us ever gave the game away that we'd be discussing the interview later in the day at home.

Well tomorrow I'm on again, with another interviewer, to discuss the problem of rogue traders selling cars on North Road, in my ward. It seems it's not just the Echo that picks ideas up from this blog.

So, if you want to listen in, I'll be on just after 8am.

Update: here's a link to the BBC Radio Tees online listening page. Find the "Listen Again" section and click on "Fri" under John Foster's name. You have to skip forward 1 hour and 4 minutes to hear me!

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

I ride the DETC

This afternoon, the long-awaited, over-budget, imaginatively named Darlington Eastern Transport Corridor opened. Eager to sample the delights of riding alongside it, I hopped on the bike and gave it a whirl.

Approaching along Haughton Road from town at about 3pm the traffic was backed up to the railway bridge by the College - so this evening's rush hour should be fun! The majority of drivers continued along Haughton Road, not realising until it was too late that the DETC was open. But since it's a single lane highway until just before the new roundabout, I imagine these traffic queues will be typical. The lights changed quite frequently, though, so no one had to wait too long. The photos show some early explorers along the "throughabout" and the sign which shows that Darlington is at long last part of a National Cycle Network route.

The cycle path shares the pavement circling the new roundabout/throughabout, so it was quite easy to access the DETC. Unfortunately, when I reached McMullen Road, that was as far as I could go. The path from there to the A66 Ring Road has not yet been laid.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Cars on North Road revisited

One of the first speeches I made in Council after my election last year was to ask for action to be taken against the rogue traders who sell their cheap, auction-bought cars on North Road. Usually there are up to 20 cars at various points between the old Shell garage and Northlands Church in my ward.

These cars are unsightly, interfere with residents' access to their houses and undercut legitimate car dealers who pay their rent, rates and taxes.

Eventually, earlier this year, a couple of traders were prosecuted or handed fixed penalty notices for having more than one car for sale within 500 metres of each other. For a while, car numbers dropped, sometimes down to just half a dozen on sale.

Unfortunately, it can be very difficult and time-consuming to track down the true owners of these car and achieve a successful prosecution. Over the past month or so, numbers have risen again. A couple of weekends ago (Sunday is the worst day) there were 29 cars for sale. This inevitably produced a rash of justifiable complaints from residents.

I contacted the Council and Bill Dixon, the lead member, to ask for a fresh campaign against this nuisance. Yesterday I was informed that action by the wardens has secured another fixed penalty notice. Furthermore, although the environmental enforcement team is apparently short-staffed (why?) a cunning plan has been hatched to rid us of this menace. I won't publicise the details of this campaign yet, but the stated intention of the officer responsible is to "target the vehicles and provide public reassurance...our aim is to make sellers and buyers stop using this area."

Monday, 18 August 2008

Give me strength!

Sometimes I do wonder...On Saturday, in my shop, a customer refused to have her delicious freshly-baked scones put in a recycled paper bag: "I don't like recycled bags", says she, "You don't know where they've been."

Friday, 15 August 2008

Town Centre open despite fire (and BBC)

Despite the BBC telling everyone that Darlington Town Centre is closed and that people should stay away, the effects of the huge fire at the Kings Hotel have not stopped this weekend's Market Spectacular and most of the town centre is, or soon will be, open for business.

At the moment the Cornmill Centre is shut and obviously the shops under the hotel are closed, but the rest of the town centre is open.

The fire seems to have been contained to part of the top floor, but the water and smoke damage to the whole building must be immense. Thank God no-one was hurt.
Lunchtime update: although the police have now closed the pavement opposite the Kings Hotel outside the HSBC bank, the Cornmill is now open again, the sun is out and the market stalls look great.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

What Arriva have done to one lady

Most Darlington Councillors will have similar stories to tell.

Arriva's new bus routes are causing real problems for many people - particularly the elderly. So, here are one lady's emails to me. Mrs S. is 77 years old and lives just round the corner from me in Larchfield Street.

The first email arrived a couple of weeks ago:


Hello there

I have sent this email to the council and Arriva.

Arriva was the only that replied but said that I should have gone to the
meetings and the Dolphin Centre.

I did all this; I was told by all of them that we were not losing this bus.

What a lie !

Can I please give my utter disappointment in the bus changes.

I live on Larchfield Street and it was myself, with Cllr Roberts that fought
for our bus stop.

We are all elderly people and needed this bus.

This bus took us to the town, then the hospital, Willow Rd, Cockerton,
Faverdale, onto Aycliffe.

Now we have no bus at all !

I am so angry about this; it took me to Willow Road surgery, my doctors.

But I have to walk over the town now or get a taxi - I don't walk far.

We are all in our late 70 /80.

This was a good service why they have taken it off. It is stupid.

Please can you intervene in this please."

I replied to Mrs S. to sympathise and explain that Arriva is a private company but that I would do what I could. I emailed Alan Milburn MP, since he was representing the views of his constituents to Arriva. I received this reply from his assistant:

"Thanks very much for passing this on. I had a very positive meeting with Arriva on Thursday of last week and they have agreed to go away and look at some of the changes they have made to services, in particular Sunday and evening services. I will let you know in more detail what is happening when I know. "

(Wonder why she said "I had a very positive meeting..." and not "we".)

Then this evening a further email arrived from Mrs S.:

"I am heart broken - I saw them take down my bus stop in Larchfield Street -this is cruel.
I am forced now to get a taxi £4 a time on my pension what kind of people are you ?

I am 77 and struggle to walk - because we had a pass you say; you don't have paying customers, this is punishing the elderly again.

Please give us back the 16

So, not much chance of a flexible, accommodating response from Arriva, if they're already removing their bus stops!

Arriva's arrogance and total lack of regard for their social responsibilities is appalling.

Then, guess what also happened this evening? I received a cold sales call from Arriva. The sales person wanted to know if I used their buses. I said no, I cycled everywhere in town and drove my car or took the train if I was going out of town. The sales person told me her company had a new timetable in operation, and to encourage me to use their buses they would send me some money-off vouchers for use on Arriva buses!!!

Breath taking. I told the sales person what I thought of Arriva!

Water Feature clean up

Such a shame the water feature on High Row in Darlington is known imaginatively as "The Water Feature". Couldn't the Council have come up with a cute name for it: Stairway to Heaven, The Market Steps, Williams' Folly or something?

Whatever, when I was splashing about in it on Tuesday it was looking very sad: blackish-green slime had appeared in a matter of a few weeks and was spreading fast. This is a job for Street Scene, I thought. Democratic Services kindly directed my request to the appropriate officer and the very next morning there they were: three vans and half a dozen blokes cleaning it. Well done Street Scene, but a few scrubbing brushes would have done a better job than the pressure hose and why didn't anyone else notice what a state it had become?

Now our "Expensive Chinese Marble Steps With Bar Code Imagery And Water Tumbling Down Them" are clean(ish) again: just in time for this weekend's glorious Market Spectacular, when the town centre will be taken over by market stalls from across the country and Europe with street entertainers too. Fun for all the family, it says here.

Green Computing for Individuals, Businesses or Government

Here's a great piece of FREE software which I have found to be highly effective. It sits on my desktop and applies energy saving policies (standby, hibernation or shutdown) to my computer after a defined period of inactivity. The interface also displays information on how much energy has been used or saved, how long the user has been working or not, as well as what CO2 reductions have been achieved and how much money the user has saved.

Users can share their carbon savings via the global carbon disclosure network, (which is in the process of redevelopment). This site acts as a global carbon disclosure forum which can be joined by businesses or governmental institutions running the souped up versions of this software, as well as individuals. The site uploads information gathered by the power management software and updates their profile as well as placing a carbon footprint on a googlemap feature showing their location.

The software is available from the CCS website:

And they're a British (well, Scottish) company too.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

"The beginning of the end"

That's how one retailer in the Indoor Market described how he felt today when I went down to canvass views on the new Tesco store. I've known some of these guys for 20 years or more, during which time the Indoor Market has been allowed to deteriorate to become a shadow of its former glory. At the moment, with household budgets under pressure, we're all suffering from a significant fall in consumer spending. The news about Tesco is the last thing we need.

It seems that the Tesco store will be much bigger than you might think. The application for an alcohol license is for three shop units, numbers 52 to 54. Not only is Rymans now closed, but so is the unit directly behind it. The third shop in is a large remainder bookshop, but this is not on a lease: it's on a short-term licence. So this has also been made available to Tesco. These three shops together would be the size of a small supermarket, not an Express convenience store.

Tesco would effectively take over the whole of the ground floor on the left hand side of the Tubwell Row entrance. That's a hell of a food shop!

Want to visit the CCTV control room?

Fred Lawton, my fellow North Road ward councillor, has organised a visit to the CCTV control room in the Town Hall for residents of North Road ward this Thursday, August 14th at 7pm. There are still places available, so if anyone wishes to go along for what is a highly informative and interesting tour, please contact Fred: or 01325 467413.
PS: you don't have to live in North Road ward to join us at this late stage.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Tesco coming to town

Two years after we stopped them opening a massive hypermarket at Feethams, and a year after they were refused permission to open a store on North Road, Tesco look like they've have finally made it into Darlington.
They have applied for permission to convert units on the ground floor of the Cornmill Centre into a Tesco Express. A lease agreement has been reached with the owners of the Cornmill.
Opening onto Tubwell Row, less than 100 metres from the Indoor Market, the new store, even with a slimmed down range appropriate to its size, will be severe competition for the market and other food shops in town.
It certainly casts doubt on outline plans for a food store on the Feethams site, the consultation process for which is just coming to an end. With Tesco in the Cornmill, who would open a store at Feethams?

Friday, 8 August 2008

Give that man a 99

Dontcha just love the Echo? Whoever wrote this headline in yesterday's paper about a leakage of chocolate ice cream from a tanker lorry deserves a 99er:

"Clunk, lick - every trip: Sundae driver's nasty choc as ice cream spills onto road."

I expect there were some cones on the road.

Later in the same edition is the regular Echo Polnocy column. Written in Polish, with no English translation, I recognised two words from this week's column:

"Nick Wallis, czlonek gabinetu do spraw zdrowia i rozrywki powiedzial..."

What's he up to now?

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

It's back!

For all my readers from outside Darlington, frustrated at being able to read about the saga of the rising bollard, but unable to catch a glimpse of said creature, here is a nice photo of it. Yes, it's back: surrounded by unsympathetic tarmac instead of its lovely cobblestones, but once again rising and falling as our French engineers intended. A miracle of modern technology, it proudly guards the entrance to the Skinnergate pedestrian area.

Unfortunately, there is still nothing (apart from the law of this great land of ours, which some people clearly believe doesn't apply to them) to stop drivers turning left out of the Bondgate car park and careering down Skinnergate regardless.

So, as well as the bollard, here's a photo of a car-less Skinnergate, with shoppers using the street as intended, and a nice red car which, nevertheless, just had to get to Argos.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Still no bollard

The Duke Street rising (not) bollard is still shy: hiding away in its little hole in the ground. There is evidence of investigative work (after more than a month of waiting) with some cobbles having been dug up and replaced by tarmac. But repairs are still awaited. For a couple of days at the start of this week a temporary barrier was moved into place, but that didn't last long and yesterday and today Skinnergate has been full of cars and vans driving through or stopping to shop.

On Monday, July 21st, I sent the following email to Cllr David Lyonette, the Cabinet Member responsible for this matter, copied to three officers, but, of course, I did not receive a reply:

There was some email correspondence between myself and officers last week concerning the broken bollard on Duke Street, which controls access to the Skinnergate pedestrian area. This is due to be mended within the next couple of weeks. However, since last week I have been approached by several retailers and cafe owners from the area to ask if a temporary barrier could be installed.
As the schools break up and kids are in town, and as the weather improves and tables and chairs are being put outside (Arcadia, for example), there is genuine concern that there may be an accident on Skinnergate while so many drivers flout the law and drive through during the day. Pedestrians and cars do not mix well - and kids running around outdoor tables and chairs mix even less well with cars! See for some examples from a ten minute stroll I had down Skinnergate this afternoon."

This afternoon I even saw a white van enter the Pedestrian Heart from Bondgate (which doesn't have a bollard, working or not) and park outside HSBC. The driver strolled into the bank, where I was also headed, carried out his business at the counter, climbed back in his van, negotiated a three-point turn among all the pedestrians and drove back out down Bondgate.

Do these people think pedestrian areas are some sort of outward bound challenge, with points awarded for successfully achieving their target. Some councillors are opposed to cyclists in the Pedestrian Heart: it's selfish, arrogant car drivers they should be worried about.

Focus time

With no Council meetings for the past couple of weeks, the main political activity has been in the ward. The latest North Road Focus (number 106) as usual stimulated a steady stream of phone calls and emails from constituents about local problems. During the past week I have been contacted about bus routes, litter, dog mess, anti-social behaviour, a dangerous wall, a planning appeal and the travellers' site.
Unfortunately, just as the nice weather makes delivering more enjoyable, it also allows some anti-social families to open their front doors and windows, sit on the pavement outside their houses, drink and play music loudly, much to the annoyance of their neighbours. Last year Gurney Street was plagued by a couple of families, this year the problem has moved elsewhere in the ward.
Many of the streets in North Road ward are of small Victorian terraced houses opening straight onto the pavement. In these circumstances, by their selfish and socially unacceptable behaviour, a couple of problem families can transform a hitherto pleasant street.
The complainants have to keep a diary of their neighbour's behaviour, to provide evidence for the ASB team to act on. One of the problems is that the wardens are only on call up to 10pm and the police just don't respond to calls about late night noise. People feel powerless in the face of anti-social provocation and believe the police don't take their problems seriously.