Tuesday, 29 December 2009
Following my recent blog posts the Council's performance improved in the town centre, though most residential streets remain treacherous. Thankfully, it hasn't snowed for a few days, though more is forecast later in the week.
But maybe the fact that the Council finally pulled its finger out and cleared the town centre pavements might just have been due to Arriva threatening to stop running their bus service unless the Council did something to make the pavements safe, after a dozen passengers were injured as they alighted the buses.
Monday, 28 December 2009
Wednesday, 23 December 2009
My friend asked the Council employee to repeat what he'd said, so he could record it. The salt bin was filled half an hour later!
What a shambles this has been. Try telling the shoppers and retailers in the town centre that they are the priority: we had to wait FIVE days for the town centre pavements to be cleared. And then they say they don't have enough salt to service the villages.
Tuesday, 22 December 2009
1. When the decision was taken to pedestrianise much of the town centre, a retailer on the Town Centre Board asked what steps would be taken to ensure that the newly pedestrianised areas, which include many steps, ramps and slopes, would be kept safe during the winter months. The Town Centre Board was assured by officers that a hit squad would be available to descend on the town centre whenever conditions required it. Clearly that hit squad no longer exists.
2. A retailer in the Indoor Market, speaking this week with a town centre Street Scene employee, was told by that employee that the reason the town centre pavements, wynds and pedestrian areas were not cleared of snow and ice for five days was that the grit-spreader, which hitches up to the back of one of the mechanised street sweepers, was broken and unable to dispense grit and salt. It seems the breakdown was reported to senior staff a couple of weeks ago, but nothing was done about getting it repaired, despite the employee insisting again later that it needed to be repaired.
I simply report what I hear. But clearly there has been no clearing of pavements - so something went badly wrong.
Post House Wynd has been particularly treacherous, with its downhill (or uphill) slope compounded by slippery cobbles and a sideways slope from the shops towards the centre of the Wynd where the drains run.
I cleared the snow and sludge from outside my shop after the first snowstorm, until a passing workman informed me I could be sued if someone slipped on the bit I'd cleared, but I couldn't be if I just left the snow and ice there. I'll have to make some enquiries about that!
Friday, 18 December 2009
This is an age-old problem here, though previous attempts to solve it were undermined by a former Independent Councillor for the ward, who lived in that street and who refused to accept that there was any such problem. Indeed, much like the current Labour leadership in the town accuses me of being "a disgrace" for bringing to Council's attention that there are issues which need addressing in the town, so the Independent Councillor accused his Lib Dem colleagues of "talking down" the ward by trying to get additional cleaning resources here.
At last, though, we seem to be getting some action here. My Labour opponent for the Darlington Constituency, Jenny Chapman, (a Labour Party colleague of the complainent's husband) also got involved and together we got Street Scene on the job. They counted thirteen piles of dog muck along the short stretch from North Road to Harrowgate Hill School! The mess was cleared up and washed down the same day.
Now we have to work with the environmental wardens to start educating and punishing those responsible. It really beggars belief that there are so many people who are just so lazy and anti-social that they can't be bothered just to take an old plastic bag with them to clean up after their dogs.
All this takes place right outside people's houses. In our Christmas Focus hitting the streets next week we have asked local residents to keep a look out and report any miscreants. It is really quite disgusting and no parent, pushing a pushchair and walking with young kids to school, should have to cope with this muck on our pavements.
Sunday, 13 December 2009
Well, if you live in Malton, North Yorkshire, I guess that might be true, but if there's one thing Capt Legrande is not, it's a local Conservative in Darlington.
Thankfully the Tories use such a small font, in an attempt to get as much mind-numbingly boring stuff as possible down on their glossy paper, that it is quite difficult for anyone to read this with anything less than the Hubble telescope. With their income in 2008 being almost £35,000, and no doubt rising even higher as their General Election appeal hots up, despite their tumbling membership, we can expect a blizzard of literature from the local Conservative Association over the next few months.
Remember on their last leaflet, Edward was described as a "local Councillor", which again is only true if you live in Ryedale. By the time of the election he'll probably be slumming it on Charles's floor, so he can claim to be living in the constituency. Well, he wouldn't want to anything naughty like deliberately trying to mislead the voters, would he?
As always, the leaflet is titled "intouch". Sadly, this isn't possible, since the candidate's contact details cunningly omit any telephone number on which to contact him. And when they invite us to meet Eddie at one of his famous Q&A sessions in the town, they fail to tell us where any of them will be.
Still, never mind, for the blue rinse brigade the leaflet contains the usual photo of Edward in his favourite blue jumper taking a relaxing break from campaigning on a High Row seat (that's right, a seat on the pedestrianised High Row which the local Conservatives wanted still to be a road).
Thursday, 10 December 2009
Wednesday, 9 December 2009
The publication today of the Oneplace (the website for the Comprehensive Area Assessment) report from the Audit Commission specifically highlights this issue as being something Darlington should be concerned about. Sadly, Cllr Dixon will no doubt continue to have his head firmly buried in the sand, thereby hindering effective action to tackle this problem.
To quote from the Oneplace assessment:
"There are big differences in the health of people in different parts of Darlington. The number of pregnant teenagers has fallen but is still too many. The number of children and young people admitted to hospital is far too high. This is in particular linked to under age drinking but is also for other reasons including unintentional and deliberate injury. The council, with its partners, has plans in place to tackle these areas but it is too early to say how successful they will be."
"...alcohol abuse issues remain particularly in relation to under age drinking. There are too many young people admitted to hospital for alcohol problems. Alcohol misuse often leads to anti social behaviour, crime and health problems."
Overall, Darlington Borough Council, while not doing anything badly, does nothing exceptionally well. Overall we are assessed as performing well, like most Councils in our region. However, the Labour Council has constantly been reminding us that, under the previous inspection regime, based as it was on meeting Government targets and ticking the right boxes, Darlington was a "Four Star" local authority. Under the new inspection regime which has a much broader remit and assesses the overall performance of the Council, we have slipped to scoring 3 out of 4 on most measurements but only two out of four on "managing resources".
Perhaps now we'll hear a little less boasting from the Council, a bit more realism, an acknowledgement that most areas of the Council's activities could and should be improved and that there's more to being an excellent Council than ticking the Labour Government's boxes.
Tuesday, 8 December 2009
Saturday, 5 December 2009
It meets the "Streamlining and Efficiency" criteria which the Labour Group is so keen on, but opinion is divided about how effective it is.
What Street Scene does excel at is providing a quick and flexible response to Councillors' requests. When I arrived home from work on Thursday evening there was a message on my ansaphone from an elderly lady living in Askrigg Street who had slipped and fallen on a pile of rotten leaves which, perversely, had chosen her front gate and wall to pile up against. I went round to see her and indeed, there was a huge pile of sodden leaves stretching across the pavement with all sorts of other rubbish stuck in it.
I emailed Carol Carter at Street Scene and at 9.45 the next morning Council workmen arrived to clear up the leaves. That's what I call service.
However...all is not well in Street Scene. I get frequent emails and complaints from staff in the organisation who say it is badly managed, that the generalist agenda means skilled work is being done by people without sufficient training and experience and that the harder-working, and generally older, staff are given the worst jobs to do because otherwise those jobs wouldn't get done properly. There is also disquiet among the workforce about the use to which the information gleaned from the satellite tracking devices which every vehicle and cart has is being put.
It's difficult to know how widely these views are held, or whether it's just a disaffected minority which is complaining. Maybe the new flexibility of the organisation, replacing the old rigid demarcation lines, makes some employees, who preferred the certainties and structure of the old organisation, feel that things are now badly organised.
Residents' surveys carried out by the Lib Dems always throw up numerous complaints about street cleanliness, dog muck, refuse collections etc. Yet, at the same time, the Council's customer satisfaction surveys show a generally positive and improving picture here.
I guess a visible frontline service of this nature, battling against a culture in which, unlike places like Holland, for example, a significant minority seems to think it has the right to throw litter out of car windows, flick cigarettes and chewing gum onto the pavement, doesn't have to control its dogs and feels free to fly tip where it likes, is always going to bear the brunt of any residents' complaints.
I would be interested in hearing your experience of this service, either here or by email.
Wednesday, 2 December 2009
The Lib Dems' taxation proposals published earlier this week include green taxes aimed at air travel. It's a start, at least. And it is the Lib Dems who lead the way in other aspects of the fight against climate change, as I'm sure you'll all want to read here.
Tuesday, 1 December 2009
Monday, 30 November 2009
The announcement is nicely timed for Jenny Chapman, cabinet portfolio holder for children's services, just before she faces the local Labour Party at their parliamentary candidate hustings on December 5th.
Sunday, 29 November 2009
That cunning plan didn't quite work last week, however, because the Mayor hadn't been properly briefed. After Labour had moved the motion to abolish these forums, the Mayor called Lib Dem Councillor Fred Lawton as the first speaker. Fred made his usual thoughtful, measured contribution. Then Gill Cartwright was called and instructed to move her amendment, which effectively ended debate on the original motion.
During the debate on the amendment, Fred Lawton, quite correctly, stood to speak. Immediately the Leader of the Council leapt to his feet, bellowing "Point of Order" because Fred had already spoken once. At first he was supported by the Borough Solicitor, who actually seemed to take over chairing the meeting from the mayor, as she instructed Cllr Lawton to "Sit down then!"
Fred, who, as a long standing trade unionist is thoroughly versed in the nuances of Lord Citrine's ABC of Chairmanship and correctly stood his ground, insisted on his right to be heard. He was, of course, perfectly correct. His original speech was before Gill's amendment was moved, so he was absolutely entitled to speak on the amendment too. Eventually the Borough Solicitor had to give way and Fred was allowed to speak.
The lesson for the future, if we want councillors to have more than one chance to speak, is to refuse to move any amendments until the end of the debate on the original motion, before the summing up by the mover of the motion. That way, everyone gets the chance to speak more than once. Not "streamlined and efficient" as Labour politicians like, but much more open and democratic.
As the discussion paper said, "Some members of the public regularly attend (forum) meetings mainly to pursue their own personal issues." Well, there you are then, we can't have ordinary members of the public expressing views the Labour Party disagree with, can we?
Feisty Conservative Councillor Gill Cartwright moved an amendment to refer the abolition of these forums to public consultation. Her party leadership called for a named vote on the amendment: the first one since I was elected. There was a complete split along party lines, with all Lib Dem and Tory councillors voting for the amendment. Inevitably, the vote was lost and a long-standing part of the democratic process in Darlington was consigned to history.
Labour tell us that many of the functions of these forums are carried out by the theme groups on the Darlington Partnership, so they are no longer needed. But the membership of these theme groups is selected by the Labour leadership: need I say more?
Unfortunately, Labour have become so entrenched as the party of government in Darlington that they believe only their views count.
Friday, 27 November 2009
This morning Fred and I had an excellent meeting with Andy Casey, a young Highways Engineer who, having been with the Council for just a year, has not yet been infected with the "Ward Councillors shall be the last to know" virus.
His proposed solution, to which I suggested one amendment, should, we believe, solve this problem by encouraging traffic to use the uninhabited Fitzwilliam Drive instead of Leyburn Road. Until Cllr Lyonette signs the plans off, they cannot go to public consultation but we hope this will be done soon and that, if approved, work can be completed by next summer.
My suggestion was for a further slight remodelling of the junction of Fitzwilliam and Leyburn to help reduce the problems experienced in the south part of Leyburn Road where cars frequently and illegally turn left from Fitzwilliam Drive.
Residents of Leyburn and Pendleton Roads will be fully consulted and have the opportunity to comment on the plans.
This was a remarkable about-face and Nick is to be congratulated for admitting that he had changed his mind in the intervening period, though maybe the threat of the Lib Dems bringing our own motion committing the Council to 10:10 had something to do with it.
I did, of course, welcome his action and expressed the hope that he would follow my lead in other matters over the coming months.
Friday, 20 November 2009
Wednesday, 18 November 2009
During this year we have had the fastest growing membership of any Lib Dem local party in the region with a one-third increase since last year's AGM. This is due partly to our relentless Focus delivering to parts of Darlington hitherto untouched by grassroots Liberalism and partly to our work in Newton Aycliffe finally showing results since we assumed responsibility for the Sedgefield constituency a couple of years ago.
We also elected a new Chairman last night: Councillor Malcolm Dunstone brings his cheerful personality to the position. I expect a renewed emphasis on embracing and involving our members and a continued drive to increase both our membership figures and the number of local government candidates in the run up to 2011.
A number of new members were elected to our Executive and as Regional Conference Reps, though, apart from Malcolm assuming the chair, our other officer positions remain unchanged, as you will be able to see on our website later today.
Monday, 16 November 2009
Of course, I have to be careful here. The last time I criticised a drinks promotion some jumped-up Labour councillor accused me of using the Council Chamber to advertise the nightclub in question, bless him! And the time before that, half the supporters of Darlington Football Club turned on me for criticising their club's happy hour policy.
As the BBC said this morning, and as Colin Shevills confirms, Darlington has the highest level of under-18s in the whole country admitted to hospital for alcohol-related reasons. This sort of promotion, aimed specifically at students, will do nothing to help improve that sad statistic.
Bill Dixon, however, has his own analysis of the situation. Just as he says people who are worried about anti-social behaviour in the town have been watching The Bill too much, so now he says we're no worse than anywhere else for alcohol-related hospital admissions, it's just that we have more accurate figures on who is admitted to hospital and for what!!!
This is just plain nonsense. All data relating to alcohol-related hospital admissions is routinely collected across the country. There's even a National Indicator for it. Take a look here, Bill:
Or you could take a look at page 7 in this report:
Sadly, Cllr Dixon's comments about the causes of the fear of anti-social behaviour and his dismissal of official figures for alcohol consumption in the town make him no longer suitable to be charge of the Council's policies on these important matters.
Indeed, Fearless has raised the possibility that he might withdraw the service unless at least 70 people sign up. So, far from being the public service he's presenting it as, in fact it's just a money-making exercise which will be withdrawn if it doesn't turn a profit.
He continues to sow fear by suggesting in the Echo today that Sir Ian Blair himself would sign up if he moved to Skerne Park and was burgled and had his back door kicked in. Well, frankly, Francis, I don't see how your service, "patrolling the neighbourhood, driving around at 3mph, looking out", is going to stop any burglaries. Unless the local villains tend to stroll around in masks wearing stripy jumpers with a bag of swag over their shoulders, that is.
Sunday, 15 November 2009
Saturday, 14 November 2009
The BBC has picked up the Darlington private police force story and made it their second lead in the morning's news bulletins, as a number of current and former senior police officers make their views known. Sir Ian Blair, never one to shy away when there's a microphone or camera nearby, said there should be no role for the private sector in patrolling our streets. Simon Reed, vice-chairman of the Police Federation, also speaks out, saying there could be confusion of roles and a lack of accountability.
The comments from the public on the BBC website already number over 500 and climbing rapidly (1.30pm). Whether he anticipated this or not, Francis Jones has certainly stirred things up a bit and put Darlington in the headlines, though perhaps not for the sorts of reasons we might like. I don't like seeing Darlington portrayed as somewhere with "lawless streets" where residents have to pay out of their own pocket to get protection from rampaging youths.
It really is time we heard some positive stories about crime and policing in Darlington from the police and Council. This is becoming a bad PR story for our town.
Friday, 13 November 2009
But while some residents are clearly keen on this and while the local police inspector does not seem concerned about the emergence of a private police force in the town, many of his officers are less enthusiastic. I understand that Fearless Francis has approached local pcso's and Community Partnerships asking for an invitation to attend local PACT (Police and Communities Together) meetings to explain what services he can offer local communities. My understanding is that these requests have been turned down.
Local community police officers and pcso's that I spoke to last night felt that a heavy-handed private response to reports of kids hanging out in parks and on the streets could simply have the effect of driving these kids around the town and remove the opportunity for youth workers, the police and anti-social behaviour officers to carry out constructive work with them.
Nobody wants crime and anti-social behaviour on our streets and I've seen enough of it in North Road to know the intense anxiety it can cause to many people. But I still believe this is for the police and the Council to deal with, taking appropriate action according to the specific circumstances, not for a private police force to do, seeking payment from vulnerable people to simply move kids on without support from the professional services.
Conservative Councillor Gill Cartwright says this on her blog:
"Clearly, Sparta security have seen a gap in the market and filled it. I will follow them with interest and I would be very interested in getting feedback from people who use the warden service. I think though that people should be getting this service through the local authority and not have to pay privately."
We have yet to hear any public comments from the Council or Labour politicians in the town.
Thursday, 12 November 2009
Nowadays Fearless Francis charges local residents £3.50 a week each to "look after" their property and reassure people it is safe to leave their homes at night. According to one resident, "Francis has a fearsome reputation - I have heard of him taking on three blokes at a time. More than that, he is a lovely bloke who will look out for us."
The emergence of this private police force on our streets could be seen as a consequence of the Council's short-sighted decision to take the town's ASB wardens off the streets and replace them with office-based staff. We know the police are the best equipped and best-trained people to deal with these problems, but we also know they just can't respond to every call. They don't have the manpower, as we saw a couple of weeks ago in Springfield Park.
Where there's a vacuum, you can be sure someone like Fearless Francis will spot an opportunity and step right in. There is no doubt, as I know from North Road, that residents miss the wardens. Limited though their powers were, they provided a reassuring presence, particularly for elderly residents.
I do find this development worrying for two reasons.
In a generally peaceful town like Darlington the fact that there are some people who feel so unprotected in their homes and businesses that they are prepared to pay for private protection reflects poorly on both the Council and the Police. Maybe, as Cllr Dixon is fond of telling us, people have no reason to feel scared: it's all down to watching too many episodes of The Bill. But the fact is that some people do feel intimidated and in need of greater protection and clearly the authorities are not succeeding in meeting this need.
I have been out on patrol with the Police, and previously with the wardens, and I've had a number of meetings with the Anti-Social Behaviour team, and there is no doubting the sincerity and professionalism of their officers and their wish to provide a good service. So, why do so many people think that service is not being provided?
But secondly, it is worrying that a private police force can roam our streets at night, breaking up groups of kids who may be gathering peacefully. Will Fearless Francis and his private police have the training to deal appropriately with the young people they come across? We don't want decent, law-abiding kids to be targetted by a group of former night club bouncers roaring around the streets in their white vans. The police can act appropriately. Do these security guys have the training to act appropriately in each different situation they'll come across?
And what about kids they do find who have been drinking or are in some sort of trouble? What will they do then? The police would take them into Gladstone Street to be seen by youth workers and anti-social behaviour officers - for their own protection if necessary. Fearless Francis will just be moving them on. And since they have no powers of arrest, and no back-up from trained personnel, they can only achieve this by intimidation.
Our streets should be made safe at night, but at the same time they shouldn't be patrolled by private police forces. I don't think this is what we want to see on the streets of Darlington. But neither do we want a continuation of the levels of anti-social behaviour which have provoked this response. This is a tricky situation, and I am concerned that so far there appears to have been no response whatsoever from the Council about what is now happening on our streets at night.
"In fact Mr Jones' security staff, although trained, can only react to an incident in the same way as a member of the public could."
Monday, 9 November 2009
Sadly, although one of the photos shows Andy Scott (probably, hard to tell with his back to the camera), surveying the Springfield Park play area, presumably after the local Lib Dems got the Council to clean it up a couple of weeks ago, there is no-one pointing in any of the photos and no-one looking glum. They'll never get into Glum Councillors if they carry on like this.
Saturday, 7 November 2009
After what can only be described as a heart attack inducing fuel stop for pizzas, chips, kebabs and pitta breads we piled into the van at Gladstone Street and headed for the anti-social behaviour hot spots, from Mowden shops, back up through Northgate, North Road and Harrowgate Hill.
At the 5pm briefing the teams had been specifically tasked with finding under-age drinkers and bringing them back in the vans to Gladstone Street. The strategy is to keep them safe and off the streets, but also to put them and their parents in touch with youth workers and anti-social behaviour officers.
After a quiet start, when we just cruised the streets and back alleys stopping the occasional small group of teens clutching tell-tale white plastic carrier bags, the radio messages started coming in and we dashed off to deal with reports of anti-social behaviour in Albert Hill, North Road and Cockerton. Whenever we came across groups of kids who looked as if they might be carrying booze we would stop and carry out quick searches of bags and clothes. Whenever the officers found any alcohol, as long as at least one person in the group was under 18, it was all tipped away down the nearest drain. Then after a bit of friendly banter with the kids and warnings that we'd be around all evening, both them and us went on our respective ways.
One group of young Polish kids aged about 15 or 16 were drinking outside one house. They claimed the adult living there was supplying them with booze. What the police found was confiscated, but nothing was found in that gentleman's house to link him with the kids' drinking.
A number of youngsters, boys and girls, were brought back in the van to Gladstone Street. Their parents were called in and they were all interviewed by a youth worker and a member of the Council's anti-social behaviour. All the kids will be called in again in a week or two for a fuller interview aimed at finding appropriate means by which the team might try to alter their drinking behaviour.
Two lads, aged 16 and 17, were well gone after 6 to 8 cans of lager each. But for one of them, when interviewed, it was apparent that the whole process was actually reinforcing his street credibility. It proved his toughness to his peers on the street that he'd been brought in by the police. And for a couple of young girls, caught drinking on the streets of North Road ward, the whole thing was just a joke. Maybe the further work with some of these kids will be effective, but it was clear that they felt they had to drink, either to prove their toughness, or because they didn't believe they could be having a good time unless they got drunk.
I'm not sure that lectures on liver damage and warning about future job prospects if they keep getting involved with the police, were having much effect. But they can't just be left out there on the streets, where they are exposed to potential danger and where they can prove an annoyance to local residents. The police and youth workers are battling against a sub-culture of drinking for which this country, fuelled by a drinks industry which glamourises alcohol and targets drinkers with its cheap lager, wine and alcopops, has a sad reputation.
The team work between the various agencies, and the humour and understanding shown by the police, was impressive. It was a good operation, but I don't know whether it will prove enough to actually alter the behaviour of the young drinkers we found last night. The agencies are battling against a culture and an industry with far more muscle than we have.
Wednesday, 4 November 2009
Sunday, 1 November 2009
His blitz on the dwindling ranks of the Labour Party membership (Rob kindly tells us they have 216 members - I bet that admission has endeared him to the local party membership secretary!) in the constituency through the Echo and telephone canvassing no doubt has them reeling, though one member apparently promised to vote for him because he took the trouble to phone him up (don't always believe what they tell you on the "doorstep" Rob!). Rob also thinks they have 28 councillors: has someone resigned recently?
His blog is clearly aimed at the rank and file of the local Labour Party rather than their elected leaders, containing as it does questions about inadequate facilities for young people in the town, traffic congestion and the need for economic stimulation, all things the local Labour leadership have been responsible for, and apparently failing at, on the Council for many years.
Keep it up, Rob. I'm looking forward to next week's postings on Centre Left, containing, as it surely must, searching questions about the Eastern Transport Corridor and Pedestrian Heart overspends and the appalling education record over which Labour presided for so long.
His plea to his questioners on his blog that they stick to "the issues" from now on rather than try to find out more about him as an individual will likely fall on deaf ears. A blog, if nothing else, reflects the personality of the writer and is so much more than a vehicle for discussing the minutiae of policy or "issues". People want to know about YOU, Rob. They will want to know whereabouts on the Mowlam-Milburn axis you fall, not the latest details of Labour policy on economic regeneration.
I thought this year's event was exceptionally good, with booming music from Holst to Star Wars via Bowie and Neil Armstrong which complemented the firework display perfectly.
The crowd was well behaved and appreciative, though unlike Nick, I didn't hear anyone praising the safety announcements, but there you go: I obviously hang out with a more reckless crowd!
I don't remember seeing so many fairground rides and hot food takeaway stalls before, so there was plenty for teens and families alike to enjoy as well as the 25 minute firework display. This also meant there was less of a crush on the way out, as many young people stayed on to enjoy the rides rather than surge for the exits.
Will this event survive the cull of Council services to come over the next couple of years?
Thursday, 29 October 2009
Last week the three North Road ward councillors were given a guided tour of the new North Road Primary School, to be re-named Northwood Primary. The photo above is inside the new school hall.
With living walls, sedum roof, biomass boiler, brown water recycling and just about every carbon reduction device you could think of, this will be a remarkable change in environment (as you can see in the photo below which shows both old and new schools) for children and teachers alike.
The school is on target to open in January. The site is a hive of activity - yet strict rules (even the mobile phones of both workers and visitors have to be turned off on site in case their ringing causes a distraction and hence an accident) have meant that there has not been one single accident during the whole construction phase.
Here is a selection of photos taken on the day.
First: the outdoor steps leading up from the playground to the first floor outdoor corridor and classrooms. The roof is green because it is covered with living sedum plants, which provide natural insulation, aid water run off and look green!
Second: looking back from the wildlife pond area across the playground. The pond area will have outdoor teaching areas and the obligatory newts, both of whom are currently being cared for off-site.
Third: the sloping roofs, all planted up with living sedum: a sloping design which is continued in the flower beds in the playground. You can see that the walls are all clad in hardwood.
Four: the existing North Road Primary School seen from the new school playground, a lovely looking Edwardian building no longer suitable for modern educational practice. The old school will be pulled down and the land used for new school playing fields. The new biomass boiler is the silver object at right centre. The taller building on the far right, clad in angled wood planks, is the school hall.
The outdoor corridor at first floor level. The vertical windows to the left are for the classrooms. The windows below are skylights for the main ground floor corridor below. Wood cladding everywhere.
"Posing the question of "just what can opposition councillors achieve" the answer, for Mike Barker at least, appears to be: quite a lot.
He's certainly a very active councillor, constantly attacking Labour's control of his beloved Darlington.
His blog is a little persistent in its sniping, with not much light relief from the barrages and broadsides, but this is a minor quibble.
Like lots of other Lib Dem councillors, he's got the art of blogging down to a tee."
So, in an attempt at providing some light relief, my next posting will include a photo of your North Road councillors in big boots and hats standing in front of a real living wall of herbs and other plants in the new North Road Primary School.
Basically, the new business plan has to cope with the possibility of a very low Council Tax increase next year (officers are even contemplating the possibility of a zero increase being allowed by the Government, with a General Election due next Spring), and a significant reduction in the grants we receive from central government from 2011-12 onwards, perhaps as much as a 10% cut in our grant.
Our existing Medium Term Financial Plan is based on a 4.9% Council Tax increase next year and a 2% increase in our central government grants from 2011 onwards. You don't need a calculator to work out that, in the very worst case being contemplated, the overall reduction in our income, compared to our existing plan, could be over 15%!
How does the Council propose to deal with that? Well, the detailed decisions will be incredibly difficult to reach and will have to be made by the politicians, but at this stage officers are planning a three-pronged approach.
1. Out-sourcing many Council services to other public sector bodies, the voluntary sector or the private sector.
2. Working together with other Councils in the region to achieve economies of scale in the provision of services.
3. Cutting services.
One thing's for sure, although officers are determined that Darlington will retain its individuality, the Council will look very different in the years to come from how it looks now and there could be a significant reduction in the number of directly employed Council staff and in the services they offer.
Tuesday, 27 October 2009
Monday, 19 October 2009
The Darlington Labour Group's portfolio holder for Climate Change has already rejected my call on him at the last Council Meeting to sign Darlington up, despite Ed Miliband urging all Labour Councils to join, and despite the fact that 50 Councils have already done so, with more joining every day.
Sadly, the Labour Group in Darlington look more and more out of touch with public sentiment on this, as on so many other issues, though I suspect the real reason for his rejection of my call was because it came from a Liberal Democrat. They do think they know best, this Labour bunch. As I said to them in cabinet, they've simply been in power so long that they think they can do no wrong and they see no need to act on proposals from outside their own little clique.
Friday, 9 October 2009
These opportunities were well illustrated at Tuesday's Cabinet.
First up on the agenda was a petition from residents of Albert Hill calling on the Council to do something to stop the opening of a residential half-way home for psychiatric patients in their street. Unfortunately, since under planning law there was no change of building use involved, the operators of this home did not have to apply for change of use planning permission so there were no grounds on which the Council could object to these plans.
Two women from the area addressed the Cabinet, a process which one of them admitted was daunting. Nevertheless, they both spoke eloquently and passionately - without notes - and argued their case extremely well. The Leader of the Council and Chief Executive both listened sympathetically and responded accordingly. In the end, though, to their obvious disappointment - "So you're not going to do anything to help us, then?" - the women had to accept that the Council was unable to help.
Cllr Nick Wallis tried to sooth their anger by suggesting that the Council might propose something next year as part of the Sustainable Communities Act process which would call for legislation to increase local authorities' rights to intervene in this sort of proposal. Unfortunately for the Labour Group, much of the women's anger was directed at their Labour ward councillors who, they said, had done nothing at all to support or help their residents.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of this particular case, I do believe it is unacceptable that the only recourse which local people have in a case like this is the gathering of a petition. There should be legislation which guarantees local people's rights to be consulted when changes like this are proposed in local communities.
The value of speaking in Cabinet for the opposition parties was well illustrated by the massive local press coverage my call for Cllr Williams to resign over the Pedestrian Heart scandal received.
During the meeting I also spoke about plans for the Council to make land available at Blackwell Meadows for Darlington College to build two new sports pitches to replace those which would be swallowed up by the new Central Park University buildings. I pointed out that the town was short of playing pitches and that more was needed than just a like-for-like replacement. I also asked that the Council use its best endeavours to ensure that the College's football pitches were made available for wider community use.
I also spoke in support of changes to the Council's cycling strategy which should finally see the completion of the cycle route running from the town centre right up to Harrowgate Hill. I welcomed the imminent completion of the John Street link, not least because it will make my rides up to North Road ward both safer and more enjoyable. I also welcomed the proposal to introduce forward stopping lines for cyclists at some junctions, though I pointed out that this should have been done already at the Greenbank Road/Woodland Road junction when that was re-designed last year. I asked that the Darlington Cycling Campiagn be consulted about which junctions should be selected for these improvements.
There was also discussion about the Food Festival, which I might blog about separately!
Thursday, 8 October 2009
Saturday, 3 October 2009
Last year it was fun, exciting and had a real buzz as people packed in. This year the bean counters have taken over and spoilt the show. Don't expect any criticism to appear in the Town Crier though. As usual the Council will lie about the number of stalls and the visitors, just as they do with their Continental and Speciality Markets where they routinely claim 300 stalls when actually there are less than 100.
What they don't realise is that people aren't fools. The good people of Darlington won't pay good money for something like this and they won't believe the Council's hype about it either.