Saturday, 27 September 2008

The Performing Right Society: even more annoying than utilities salesmen!

Over the past three months or so I have received at least a dozen letters at work from The Performing Right Society Ltd. Every letter tells me I must pay for a licence if I want to play recorded music either to my customers or to my staff - even if it's just in the staff room or kitchen. The thing is - I don't!

I looked into this a while ago and for a small business like mine it would have cost over £400 a year to play a radio in the staff areas alone, and a lot more if I played music in the public areas. So we all work hard, distracted only by the gentle sounds of intelligent and sociable conversation.

The letter, replete with large bold letters, for those who need to be SHOUTED AT to make sure they get the message, tells me I have to PHONE and tell them if I don't play music, or they MAY CONTACT ME AGAIN.

Why should I? It's like the police sending me a letter telling me I mustn't break the law, but could I please phone them to tell them I'm not!

Monday, 22 September 2008

It was clearly in!

Not that I'm biased or anything, but, as my photo shows, and as any fool can see, the ball was clearly in.
Thanks to Lux from Hob Nob Anyone?

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Rise Carr Social Club: developer's consultation

Yesterday afternoon, from 3 to 6.30pm, I attended the consultation exercise held in the foyer of the old Rise Carr Social Club building. The owners plan to develop 20 flats and bedsits within the building, for rent. A representative from the architects' firm was there, together with a freelance planning consultant, Mike Cox, who used to be Chair of Housing on Middlesbrough Borough Council.

Many local residents attended: younger residents helping the more elderly along and everybody seeming to know everyone else. It was clear what a good community spirit there is in Rise Carr despite, or perhaps because of, the perception that "the Council never does anything for us round here". Which, apart from the investments made in North Park in recent years, is substantially true.

I had expected there to be objections based on increased pressure on car parking in Eldon Street and Lansdowne Street. And indeed there was. However, being able to see the full colour plans and internal drawings for the scheme, the residents had more pressing complaints: that of a lack of privacy which would be caused by having new windows at first and second floor levels knocked into the north, east and south walls of the building. I was invited into one resident's house and it was immediately apparent just how intrusive windows in the north wall would be: looking straight into the gardens, kitchens and bedrooms of the residents at the top end of Lansdowne Street.

The developers said they would raise the sills of the offending windows and install obscured glass up to half the height of the windows, in an attempt to protect residents' privacy.

Other comments from residents concerned the need for a gate to prevent unwanted access to the rear of the building, which would be exposed by the new scheme. There were also concerns about where rubbish bins were to be stored - something the architects didn't appear to have considered!

Some people were concerned about the type of tenant who might be attracted to these units and the potential for noise. Some thought there were too many units proposed in a relatively small space.

Generally, people wanted the club replaced before it deteriorated physically and became a magnet for anti-social behaviour. The preferred option would have been demolition and its replacement with terraced housing to match the rest of the street. Failing that, some residents would have been happy with the removal of the top story from the building, to bring it to a more sympathetic height.

The developers were given plenty of food for thought and were left in no doubt that the local residents expected to see their concerns reflected in the final plans for the site when they go before the Planning Committee. Otherwise there will be objections and I shall be happy to support the residents.

Tellingly, however, at one point the planning consultant said the dvelopers would be quite happy to go to appeal if necessary, and "win it there": a recognition of what we have seen elsewhere recently, with the Snooker Club and Skipbridge appeals, that local feeling counts for nothing when the inspector from Bristol arrives in town.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Coffee in Darlington - and the world

A couple of months ago I blogged about Caffe Nero flouting planning regulations when it opened its new shop on Horsemarket. Well, someone has just left a comment on that post, and you'll all miss it because who's going to scroll back two months just in case someone else has posted something? The comment was from Annabel Townsend, and she's got a blog called "Doctor Coffee".

Always keen to publicise other Darlington blogs, I shall add "Doctor Coffee" to my links on the right. This blog is written by a young Sheffield Uni Doctoral student from Darlington. She writes (at great length) about everything you could possibly want to know, and plenty you didn't know you wanted to know, about coffee, barristas and fishnets.

Bel also blogs about food. One of her posts makes the same point that I have made several times in Council and elsewhere about the lack of commercial waste recycling in Darlington. And here she is blogging about supermarkets and the market in Darlington. It's all good stuff, but give yourself a good chunk of time to read it!

Sunday, 14 September 2008

North Road catch-up (4): Pendleton Road

As a ward councillor, I sometimes get asked to sort out some small problem that really doesn't need me to take action: but I'm always happy to help out where I can. Perhaps the complainant doesn't know where to turn for help, or perhaps - and this is a real indictment of "local democracy" - he or she thinks no-one in authority will take any notice of their complaint, so they turn to the ward councillor to sort things out for them.

One such problem arose recently in Pendleton Road. There is a small building there belonging to Northern Gas Networks. I know that because there's a plaque on the door saying so. As you can see, one of the walls beside the steps had fallen down and was potentially dangerous - young children play around the area.

A local resident contacted me to ask if the wall could be repaired and if the rubble which had spread around could be cleaned up. This resident also told me that the street sign at the end of the road, and the signs indicating the cycle path, had been stolen from their posts, as you can see from the third photo above.

I went to investigate, spent a couple of minutes tidying up the rubble and phoned Northern Gas Networks on the number shown on the plaque. NGN confirmed over the phone that it was their problem, thanked me for bringing it to their attention and promised to get it sorted out. A couple of weeks later the wall was repaired and my neat pile of rubble removed, though, as you can see, they came with one coping stone short! I've phoned them again...

As for the missing street signs: here we have a slightly different story. I emailed the Highways Department, and, as is often the case with this particular department, got no response whatsoever.
So, after a week, I asked Democratic Services (the Council Department which, among many other things, assists councillors in their duties) to repeat my request to Highways. This time, a reply was received, promising to get new signs made and installed. So far there has been no action on site, but no doubt there will be soon! Otherwise, just like the resident got in touch with me, so I shall get in touch with Dem Services and get them to crack the whip!

North Road ward catch-up (3): Car sales campaign working?

The Council's campaign against rogue car traders on North Road, which started last Monday, seems to be having some effect. It's early days yet, but last Wednesday when I checked there was only one car for sale on the whole stretch of North Road, and that was in the Harrowgate Hill ward - and it had a yellow warning sticker on.

Sunday is usually the busiest day of the week, when there have been over 20 cars on sale sometimes. Well today there were only five cars for sale, three in Harrowgate Hill and two in North Road.

The campaign will have to be kept going: we need to get the numbers of cars on sale reduced even more, and make sure they don't come back, but so far it seems to be working. I feel quite pleased with my contribution in keeping the issue before officers and the Cabinet member. It can be hard work as a back bench Lib Dem councillor to get anyone with any power, whether it's an officer or a Cabinet member, to take any notice of you. But I think I've played my part in getting the Council to take action over this issue.

Darlington: A cycling demonstration town?

At the last Full Council meeting I pointed out that, for all its excellent rural and suburban cycle routes, if the Council was serious about increasing cycling in Darlington it would have to make it safe for cyclists to commute to work or shop in the town centre. Cllr Lyonette's helpful response was to recommend I purchase a cycle map of the town.

These videos, made by Mike McTimoney, show his experience of cycling to work in Darlington. Mike avoids the death trap that is the inner ring road and also the stretch of North Road from Morrisons to town, which is pretty hairy. Look out for the two cars certainly breaking the 20mph speed limit on Salisbury Terrace, and the white car which just has to squeeze past on Larchfield Street. The recently refurbished Greenbank Rd/Woodland Rd junction would have benefitted from a cyclists' refuge ahead of the traffic queue.

Darlington: before the Pedestrian Heart

Love the the video.

I like this one too, but the owner doesn't allow the video to be embedded:

Saturday, 13 September 2008

North Road ward catch-up (2): Fancy living here?

Earlier this year the Council refused the owner of this and two of the other workshop units in Whessoe Road planning permission to return the units to residential use. The owner has now appealed against this decision. The Planning Inspector from Bristol will decide.

I would guess this planning application is connected to the new legislation that imposes full business rates on empty commercial properties. Some commercial landlords have even resorted to pulling their buildings down, rather than be faced with having to pay full rates on hard-to-let properties. Sunderland's Alexandra Business Park is just one of many places across the country where buildings are being demolished.
The Government's intention was to force commercial landlords to re-let empty property quickly. But in the current recession the potential tenants aren't there, so landlords are facing steep bills. Problem is, if so much property just gets pulled down, not only is this an eyesore, but where will the available property to let be when the credit crunch eventually lifts?

A number of these workshop units opposite B&Q have been empty for some time. Unable to attract commercial tenants, even for these high-visibility units, the owner wants to return them to residential use. I don't think I'd like living here on a busy road with no garden or yard, in a predominantly commercial area. Still, it would be handy for Morrisons and B&Q.

Friday, 12 September 2008

North Road catch up (1): Rise Carr Social Club

Rise Carr Social Club has been closed for some time, having become unviable as a place of entertainment. In one of my earlier attempts to widen my range of interests and accomplishments and meet women, I once went salsa dancing there: and a dim, gloomy evening it was too (the ballroom wasn't great either).

Now the owners intend to convert it to apartments for rent. The target market will be young people from the local area who are not yet able to get on the housing ladder. The developer has contacted local residents and councillors to give us the chance to comment on these proposals before final architect plans are prepared.

So, if you want to see the initial plans and make your views known, the developer and architect will be in the Social Club between 3pm and 7pm next Wednesday afternoon, September 17th. The external aspects of the building will be improved, the brickwork looks as though it is to be clad, the windows and the entrance area modernised and the external downpipes will be removed.

Of course it's a shame that once proud and busy local social clubs struggle for financial viability. Customers have so much more choice about where to spend their dwindling cash. But apart from the sad loss of a social facility, as far as I can see, the only drawback might be pressure on parking space in the area, though there is usually plenty of unused kerbside space along the side of the Phoenix Centre and North Park. If local residents have any concerns, please don't hesitate to get in touch with me or Cllr Fred Lawton.

Where's our busker?

This evening an email arrived from Yash Suri, whose daughter, Sandi, has her film "I For India" showing at the Arts Centre later this month. Where, Yash asks, is our Post House Wynd busker? I realised then that I hadn't heard him for some time, perhaps all year.

It seems our Bryan Adams soundalike has a starring role in the film, as he strums his songs and sings at full, croaky volume. Yash is keen to invite him to the first showing of "I For India" in Sandi's home town, a year after its initial release.

So, if anyone knows his whereabouts, please let me know. And get yourself along to the Arts Centre on September 29th!

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Just to repeat...

Not everyone , unsurprisingly, can be bothered to trawl through the numerous comments which have been posted, mainly anonymously, on this blog over the past couple of days.

So, for the benefit of those people, I would like to repeat here a posting I made this morning in one of the comment threads:

With regard to my original post about Happy Hour promotions at Darlington Football Club, in a post which no longer has a title, I wrote:

"I am happy to repeat my apology for the heading on my original post, which I have removed. The heading was intended to be controversial: it was not intended to cause offence and I apologise to anyone, including anyone at Darlington Football Club, who was offended. I am happy to acknowledge that the football club itself suffers very little from alcohol related problems and its bar is well run and stewarded.

I have already expressed this opinion to the Echo, though it remains to be seen whether they print it.

I have also acknowledged, in my original post, that the football club needs help to survive.

However, I still maintain my original position: I believe it is unfortunate and it sends out the wrong message, for a family-oriented sports club to promote Happy Hour drinks prices. I acknowledge that the promotion is not as long-lasting or as cheap as in some of the bars in town, but the football club is a leading organisation in the local community and my personal view is that it does itself no credit by joining the Happy Hour drinks culture.

This opinion is not shared by many, mainly anonymous, posters. However, I have received, through emails, telephone calls and personal conversations, from people who would never get involved in a on-line blogging debate, considerable support for my views.

Alcohol consumption, particularly among the young in this country is too high: it causes immense individual and social problems and something needs to be done about it. The Government has wittered on for some time about a mandatory restriction on Happy Hour promotions, but has so far relied on the drinks industry to take voluntary action - to no great effect.

Next month, the football club is the venue for a conference on the problems caused by excessive alcohol consumption. I am sure the club in no way condones binge drinking. However, I still maintain it should be setting an example here by not using the phrase "Happy Hour" to promote its bars."

For the time being, until I think anonymous posters will refrain from using certain words beginning with f, c and w, and until I am satisfied that further threats against myself or my business will not be forthcoming, I shall leave "comment moderation" on. This means that comments will be reviewed before they are posted. I hope to lift this restriction as soon as possible.

I shall not be near a computer (oh, great joy!) for the rest of the day, so if you choose to post, it may not appear until this evening.

Just a quick note for the people who wanted to close my business down, or picket it: perhaps you could have given some thought to the people who work for me: most of them loyally and enthusiastically for many years. They would not thank you if you chose to pursue this course of action.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Labour Cabinet admit ETC problems

At last night's Darlington Borough Council Cabinet meeting, Labour portfolio holders expressed their concerns about the problems being encountered by "long-suffering Darlington motorists" (to quote Leader John Williams) along Haughton Road towards the Eastern Transport Corridor.

While it was asserted, justifiably in my experience, that travel into town from the A66 was now noticeably quicker, and that traffic congestion through Haughton was reduced, Labour councillors demanded that officers addressed the problems of severe congestion heading out of town from the inner ring road to the ETC.

Clearly there are severe problems, but I'm not convinced tweaking the timing of the lights at the Throughabout is going to solve the problem. It's the lights themselves that are the problem. When the temporary roundabout, without lights, was in operation during the latter stages of the construction process, there was no problem.

The lights hold up the traffic. There are only four roads joining the Throughabout, so why wasn't an ordinary roundabout installed? The problem is compounded because traffic wishing to access the ETC cannot join the queue to do so until about 50 meters from the Throughabout, so there is no free flow of cars onto the ETC.

Once again, as was the case with Hurworth School, the Pedestrian Heart and the building of the ETC, Labour councillors are trying to shift the blame onto officers. But who approves their plans? Who is elected to ensure that the professionals get the job right? Who, once again, has failed to do just that?

Open again

Having had a day to consider the future of this blog, I have decided to re-open it. The many people who disagree with my criticism of the football club may continue to post their views on here, if they wish. However, while I have left about 30 earlier posts on here, I have removed or blocked another 25 or so which contained personal threats or obnoxious personal abuse.

In a liberal democracy I am entitled to my views, even if I am in a minority of one. You are also entitled to your views, if they are expressed in a reasonable manner. If you threaten me or if your posts contain extreme abusive language, they will be deleted.

Monday, 8 September 2008

I for India

Too long ago, I employed a young lady from the 6th Form College on Saturdays. Over the years there must have been more than 100 16-18 year olds working for me, but a few stand out as something really special. One of these was Sandi Suri. When she's back in Darlington she often comes in to see me and tell me about her burgeoning career as an independent film maker. Her dad, Dr Yash Suri, has also popped in from time to time over the years and is always keen to recount the exploits of both his talented children.

Well, later this month film buffs in Darlington get a chance to see her acclaimed film, I for India: the story of her parents' arrival in this country, and Darlington in particular. For forty years, Sandi's dad kept a film record of his life here and it's this archive material than Sandi uses to create her film.

It's on at Darlington Arts Centre on Monday, September 29th at 8pm. Sandi herself will be present and will host a question and answer session after the screening. It should be a good evening.

On the radio again

I've just been on BBC Radio Tees talking about Darlington FC's three hour "Happy Hour" cheap drinks promotion on match days. The story was reported in this morning's Northern Echo and the radio producer was on the phone at 8.15 asking me to come on air at 8.30. Apparently, "a row has broken out".

The football club's response to my criticism is that it has to compete with other establishments in the town by offering cheap drinks. Well, I don't accept that. Darlington Football Club is not a bar on Skinnergate, or a pub on Neasham Road: it's a sports club with a family image and a large proportion of its fans under the age of 18.

The drinks industry as a whole claims to be cleaning up its act by reducing the availability of cheap drink promotions. For a family-oriented sports club to be introducing these sorts of promotions is irresponsible and potentially harmful both socially and in terms of individual health.

Excessive alcohol consumption and binge drinking is a massive social and health problem and Darlington Football Club should be taking a lead in campaigning against it.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Throughabout chaos

I don't drive much, but once a fortnight I go over to a Cash and carry in Stockton to buy catering supplies. Yesterday afternoon I set off at 3.30. By 3.45 I had finally got through the laughingly named "throughabout".

Queues to get out of town stretched right back to the inner ring road - and this was a couple of hours before the rush hour. Today's Echo and D&S Times carry stories about the lengthy tailbacks that build up on Haughton Road.

A spokesman for the Council says they expect the delays to reduce when people get used to using the new road.

Don't make me laugh! Plenty of people were using the new road yesterday: but you can't join the queue to get on it until about 50 metres from the junction. So all the traffic that wants to access the new road is stuck in the huge queue waiting to go to Albert Hill or Haughton or Darlington College. And that traffic is held at the lights which are set so that traffic for the ETC gets priority. But traffic wanting to use the ETC is stuck in the queue!

The queues and delays will reduce, because drivers will go back to using North Road and Yarm Road to get out of town.

Interestingly on my way back into town at 5pm, I used the ETC and sailed through: much quicker than the old crawl into town along Haughton Road. The traffic leaving town was gridlocked. Clearly this is all part of the Council's cunning scheme to increase peoples' use of the town centre. Make it easy to get into town, but impossible to get out.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Untitled post!

Apologies to anyone who was offended by the wording of my original title for this post. I have removed it in deference to their complaints. I have also removed the offending word from the post below.
This afternoon, someone from Darlington Partnership, acting on behalf of Darlington Football Club, emailed me the poster above, asking me to display it in my business. Ok, it advertises three upcoming fixtures and they need all the support they can get, but what's at the top of the poster? Cut price, "Happy Hour" drinks for a total of three hours before and after each match.

Now, the drinks industry claims to have a new-found awareness of the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption and the need to protect young people in particular. I thought they had signed up to an informal understanding to limit "Happy Hour" promotions. See here, here and here for some articles on the subject.

Furthermore, nominally at least, DFC is a sports club and might be expected to show a greater regard for the health of its patrons. And DFC has always claimed to be a friendly, family club. This image sits uneasily with an advertisment which offers cheap drnks at the ground on match days.

Now, as a member of STAR Northern Royals (Supporters Trust at Reading for northern exiled Royals fans) I usually have a pint in a friendly pub before Reading matches, meeting up with other Reading exiles from the area. But, given my age, I prefer to watch the football rather than spend half the game in the toilet. So one is enough.
Darlo: I have no problem with you having a bar at the ground, it's all part of the matchday experience for many adult fans. But don't base your marketing campaign on the availability of cheap drinks. Show some responsibility!