Tory political mischief making

A leading Tory has admitted to political mischief making in relation to the item they posted on their website and on Morpeth Matters regarding absence from Committee meetings by two Lib Dem Town Councillors. The comments prove a number of things.

  1. There is no ConDem pact as claimed by the Labour party.
  2. The Tories have not checked the facts behind the reasons for councillors’ absences, which would have been legitimate cause for their membership to be extended.
  3. They also have little understanding of the role of a councillor as they fail to appreciate that most of the work is done outside of formal committees.
  4. The fact that they want to “see the Lib Dems out of the Town Hall” demonstrates a political approach to Town and Parish Councils that is both inappropriate at local level and fails to acknowledge the good work that has been done by the Lib Dem dominated Town Council since 2007, including instigating and seeing through the Neighbourhood Plan process.

Town and Parish Councillors undertake their role out of love for and commitment to the area in which they live or work. Some of the Tory Town Council candidates do not actually live or work in Morpeth, so why do they not stand for their own Parish? It is a voluntary role and totally unpaid. It is also a four year commitment, which for those in employment, can mean that change of circumstances such as loss of work, threat of redundancy etc. can occur. Councillors also have personal circumstances to face, such as health issues and serious family illness.

One of the Councillors referred to was not only dealing with the sad situation of an extremely sick mother, but, due to change in employment circumstances had to work in Essex mid week when Council meetings take place. The other Councillor referred to also had a recent work change, including a lecturing commitment at Sunderland University on Wednesday evenings. He also has recently undergone surgery and had intended to come to full Council in December, but contracted an infection and was advised to rest. The Tory comments are therefore highly insensitive as well as politically “mischievous”.

Attendance at meetings is not a measurement of work level. Some Councillors never volunteer to join working groups to look into issues and prepare reports. Some Councillors turn up to meetings with their envelope of papers still unopened, so they cannot have done any of the necessary preparation and are ill informed. Councillors also do individual casework with constituents. So do not be fooled by attendance records alone.

Morpeth Town Council operates with consideration and feeling for all its members and staff, including the previous Tory councillor, who has to have been the worst attender ever and never did have her “foot on the pedal.” It is a sad sign of the times that the Tories do not wish to continue this philosophy and post derogatory comments without ascertaining the true facts.

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Political and Environmental Vandalism at County Hall

A wanton & disgraceful act of political, senseless vandalism took place within the County Hall environs over the weekend. All the mature trees in the 2 inner courtyards, about 20 in total, have been cut down in a covert operation, in which staff who were in the know were threatened with dismissal if the information got out. At least the vigilance of a local resident, walking his dog & seeing what was happening, called members of the South Morpeth Coalition. They in turn contacted me, so we took pictures of it happening, but too late to stop the destruction.

But why? No planning approvals have yet been granted for the site, including demolition of County Hall. The new Ashington HQ will not be ready until mid-2018, still more than 2 years away. The trees were healthy & the courtyards enjoyed by staff in their lunch hour. Staff will be occupying this building until the move actually takes place.

I have contacted the Journal, who will be running the story tomorrow, and the Morpeth Herald. I have also contacted the BBC & a Daily Mail reporter who is exploring the wider issues around the closure of County Hall. I am also challenging the Chief Executive as to why he authorised this subversive action.

It appears that other trees, adjacent to the main A197, are scheduled to be cut down shortly. I will be challenging that decision.

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Full Morpeth Schools suffer from party political fallout

Some of us recognised years ago that there is a problem with Morpeth schools being full and that this can only be made worse due to the planned growth of the town.

Local Conservatives claim they can show that the modelling used to predict need for school places is faulty, and this has been confirmed by an independent expert.  Anybody with an understanding of education in the town knows that there is a serious problem, but because of wrangling between Labour and Conservatives the issue is simply used as a punch bag by both sides.

Labour claim that the Conservatives asked them why they did not open any new schools. The answer given by Labour was that the Conservative government insists that all new schools must be Academies or Free Schools, so the County Council cannot build any new schools. Of course it is open to them to set up their own academy chain that could operate as arm’s length organisations such as Arch or Active Northumberland!

There is government some money available for expansion of schools and for major repairs to existing school buildings. However, instead of agreeing to look into the much needed expansion of schools, Labour insist that Morpeth schools have 20% of their places taken up by pupils from out of catchment and that parents should “allow their children to be educated locally”. Let them explain that to the parents from Pegswood, Ashington, Ellington etc. whose children already attend school in Morpeth and who may wish their brothers and sisters to join them. We cannot just throw those children out of their schools; that would not be right educationally or morally. We have to deal with the problem in a practical and reasonable manner. The right to parental choice is indeed government policy and has been for many years, but I do not remember Labour nationally wanting to remove that right. Furthermore, it is Labour who are insisting that Morpeth is the focus for more housing growth than local people want.

Local Education Authorities retain responsibility for “place planning”. They have the duty to ensure that sufficient school places are provided. However, Labour in Northumberland will not look into this while they are jealous of the success of Morpeth schools and while they consider that success to be a threat to schools elsewhere. A party that says that the best way to save rural schools or to retain pupils in schools elsewhere is; “not to build new private schools for parental choice” is simply demonstrating its’ prejudice.

There is no doubt that the Three Rivers Learning Trust that includes KEVI, Newminster and Chantry, could consider setting up a Free School. However, it is up to the County Council to work towards it with them, not ignore or deny the problem.

 

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FAILED ATTEMPT TO DELAY FINAL APPROVAL OF COUNTY HALL MOVE TO ASHINGTON

With only four months left before the May 2017 elections, and given that a move to Ashington was not specifically referred to in the 2013 Labour manifesto, an attempt was made by Northumberland Conservatives to put a motion to the Full Council meeting to delay final approval of the proposed move until after the election. The motion was to delay only, not to overturn the plan.

A delay to give the new council an opportunity to consider the plans afresh after May would improve democratic accountability and be entirely reasonable. The new council should not have to be bound by the previous administration’s actions, with them effectively “legislating from the grave” over a highly controversial and unpopular strategy.

Unfortunately, reasonable debate is impossible due to misleading and confrontational rhetoric on the part of both Labour and the Conservatives. Neither the Conservatives nor the Liberal Democrats had a full turn out because of illness and long-standing engagements.  But Labour turned out in force and their “Independent” friends gave them the majority necessary to defeat the motion. I had been ill for a couple of weeks and would definitely have voted in favour of the motion, but that would have made no difference.

Lib Dems believe that Labour’s proposal to move is a strategic error not in the best, long-term interests of Ashington, Morpeth, the wider county or the Council. For Ashington, massive public spending and using up land close to the town centre will squeeze out the potential for much needed private investment.

Whilst the Conservatives agreed with Lib Dem leader Jeff Reid, they only argued in terms of cost. Labour insisted that the move is part of their “Market Towns Initiative” that will see jobs decentralised to market towns. No explanations, no staff numbers, no details of their destinations or costs of their offices have been unveiled. Neither have they explained why decentralisation of jobs from Ashington is possible, but not from Morpeth. Potentially therefore, the decentralisation that all three parties wish to see is likely to be the part of  the package that would disappear after May if Labour are re-elected and find there is no money left after their Ashington bonanza.

The Labour leader, having mimicked the residents of Morpeth crying like children about the new houses, went on to say he would borrow £250million and that the former Lib Dem administration had ‘no vision’, and ‘lacked ambition’. He had to be reminded that the Lib Dems built the new sports centre in Ashington, the flood alleviation works for Morpeth and the Morpeth Northern Bypass.  We also proposed lending money to the NHS to get out of their PPI contract.

After 35 years of neglect by Labour it was the Liberal Democrats that showed interest in Ashington, but the public money spent on the Sports Centre should be enough to demonstrate public commitment.

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Latest re future car parking. “Promise” or “Threat”?

Some interesting new items appeared on NCC’s website today.

The planning portal now shows the application for the proposed commercial development on the former Fire & Rescue Service site and Merley Croft; both part of what is referred to overall as the County Hall site. The reference is 16/04292/FUL. Happy reading!

The second item is an announcement unveiling a “Huge parking boost unveiled for Northumberland’s market towns”. Apparently the regeneration of our market towns is “doing so well” that the Labour Leader, Grant Davey, has revealed plans for a number of multi-storey car parks to provide for “much-requested extra parking spaces.” Morpeth is listed as one of the “first towns to benefit.”  It appears that “exact locations and costs need to be further explored” and the projects will be included in the budget to be considered in February. So this is the announcement of an idea only at this stage, rather than the unveiling of a well-considered promise of a definite plan.

Cllr Davey recognised that “more people will live, work and visit all our towns so car journeys will continue to rise”. Indeed it will, since Morpeth is the focus for 25% housing growth. He says that “It’s important we look now at our future needs and address them”. What a great shame that the need for car parking was not addressed before “now”. Car parking can hardly be described as a “benefit” to Morpeth, but an absolutely essential part of the infrastructure necessary for a growing town.

However, here comes the “threat”. Cllr Davey said that “the car parks would be funded by the…administration selling the redundant County Hall site for developments….”  In other words, if the planning applications for the site are turned down due to robust objections being submitted, we have lost our promised car park. He points out that the administration “has already identified opportunities to generate more than £33 million in capital income”.  Indeed they have – mostly from Morpeth. It is not just the County Hall site that is being sold, but also the valuable Riverside North site (where the former Library and The Willows are) and the former Registrar’s office on Newgate Street. So the car park for Morpeth does not need to be funded from the sale of the County Hall site. The administration could reinvest Morpeth’s money in Morpeth. What a novel idea! Additionally of course, all the new homes being built in the town bring in massive amounts of cash in the form of the “New Homes Bonus”, as I have referred to previously on this blog. That too could be spent in Morpeth to create new car parks and rebuild Goosehill without having to depend on the sale of County Hall.

Let’s not forget that the County Council also borrowed millions of pounds to lend to Arch to buy Manor Walks in Cramlington. They should be investing in Morpeth with equal gusto and not expect us to submit readily to their outrageous proposals. The residents and businesses of Morpeth are not going to be fooled by the Labour Administration pretending to do Morpeth a favour. Election time must be approaching!

 

 

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Application for Retail Units on County Hall Site Submitted in Obscene Haste

So, the Outline application for the proposed retail development on the County Hall site was submitted to the Planning Department on Friday 18th November. It should appear on the County’s website five to nine days after it was submitted and once it has been “validated” i.e. once it has been checked to ensure that all the necessary paperwork has been made available.

It is interesting to note that the so called “consultation”, to which only part of the town was invited, was only held on Thursday 3rd November. Over 600 people attended the consultation, with many filling in the response forms then and there. Many others submitted their responses later, but within the timescale allowed, and some submitted detailed comments. Yet it appears to have been deemed that not only have all those responses been analysed, but adjustments made to the proposal after note has been taken of the community’s comments, all within 12 working days. Some hope! It has clearly been demonstrated that the “consultation” has been the charade we all assumed it would be.

Morpeth folk must not give up though. We must submit our valid objections to each of the applications for the site and not let them just walk over us.

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Tim Farron addresses Lib Dem North East Regional Conference 12th November

With his usual inspirational and personable manner, Tim made a number of highly significant and well received points at the North East Conference, including:-

*We are now the only party that is united and has the courage to say that our country must be open, tolerant and united. Liberalism has never been more needed, so we matter more than ever. There is an appetite among many for reasonableness.

*UKIP do not need to elect a new leader. They already have one; she is called Theresa May. She has chosen division. Labour; well, isn’t it going well! The idea is to make your party electable, as being in power best enables you to work for the people you care about. They have chosen not to be electable.

*In the Richmond Park by election, UKIP are not standing as they think the election, caused by the resignation of Zac Goldsmith, is about Heathrow airport. However, the theme of any by election is what voters make of it, and in this case it is Brexit, Richmond Park having voted to Remain.

*Brexit has become a good way to bury bad news every day. A good example of the bad news is the chaotic state of the NHS. The UK spends less money on Health and Social Care than Spain!

*The UK voted to join the Common Market, not the European Union. We have now voted to leave the European Union, but we did not vote to leave the Single Market. Everyone, even North Korea, can have “access” to the Single Market, but not everyone can be a “member” of it. We are going to lose jobs, more repossessed homes, and lose Doctors and nurses. Frankfurt, Paris and Dublin are preparing for businesses to move there from the UK. This is not Project Fear, but Project Colossal Understatement. Liberal Democrats will not betray our country.

* It would be an example of cognitive dissonance if the government have to appeal to, or seek advice from, the European Court re the Article 50 court case!

*Charles Kennedy was vilified when he voted against war in Iraq, but it is now accepted that he was right. This resonates with the situation today, This as an example of how it is necessary and appropriate to stand up for liberal values and what we believe. We are an open, tolerant and united party wanting an open, tolerant and united UK.

 

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Proposals for County Hall Site

We now have the County Labour Leadership’s proposals for the County Hall site and were shocked and dismayed that these are in direct opposition to a number of policies in the Neighbourhood Plan (MNP) even though the County Council agreed its contents and ensured it took on legal status only a few months ago – UNBELIEVABLE!

The proposals have now been made public. Over 600 members of the public attended a ‘consultation event’ at County Hall site, and made their feelings very clear. Subsequently a public meeting was held in a packed Town Hall, with people expressing their dismay and anger at the proposals. As well as their determination to object vociferously to unwanted proposals. Briefly, the proposals are in three parts:

A.    A replacement of Morpeth First School which is broadly accepted, as a rebuild for Goosehill is long overdue and, unfortunately, no alternative town centre site is available.  The other proposals are not what Morpeth needs.

B.    200 new homes on a site NOT designated for housing in the Neighbourhood Plan. This would mean the LOSS of land allocated for employment; Protected Open Space AND the area reserved for a future  Loansdean/Stobhill Link Road, seen as vital to cope with traffic as Morpeth grows, especially at the congested Mafeking roundabout ‘bottleneck’.

C.   A ‘commercial area’ comprising:

C1)    an ‘out of town’ supermarket, threatening the viability of the town centre and the shopping units already approved in the new Bellway development at Collingwood Manor, south of Loansdean;

C2)    a pub threatening the viability of existing establishments;

C3)    further retail units; AND,

C4)    a drive through ‘restaurant’ – yes, a fast food outlet opposite the proposed school!!

 People feel the need to “do something”. We need to see the actual planning applications when they come in and ensure that objections across town sing from the same song sheet.

 

 

 

 

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Information re Dark Lane Roadworks

We have previously provided information (see below) re the extensive road works planned in Dark Lane (near Morrison’s supermarket) to commence on 9th January to enable new sewerage to be installed. The County Council and Northumbria Water will hold a customer information session in the Town Hall on Tue 6 December (3-7pm). They also hope to hold a two hour afternoon session in the town centre once a week (either Tue or Thursday between 2pm and 4pm) from January to Easter to discuss any issues or concerns with the community. Venue to be confirmed.

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Arriva Bus Service to Lancaster Park to be Cancelled

Arriva have just announced that they are to cancel their bus services to Lancaster Park with effect from 22nd January 2017. They have concluded that they cannot sustain a consistently reliable service on the 33 and X16 routes, particularly with the unpredictable nature of congestion in Newcastle. They have therefore stated that they will “redeploy the time normally taken to operate the Service 33 to ensure improved reliability on Service X16 to Kirkhill and Newcastle.”   

This decision is significant as it paints a clear picture of just how difficult it is for residents (both current and future) to be able to depend on reliable bus services at a time when:-

·         Local and national policies insist that we should be reducing dependence on cars; and

·         The Mitford Estates application for land West of Lancaster Park claimed to be able to have buses calling into their development and to improve services to Lancaster Park.

 Did Mitford Estates and their consultants actually talk to Arriva?

 If a service is to be provided to the new development, would that actually mean that the X16 service to Kirkhill and Newcastle be reduced?

There is no joined up thinking here.

What we need is a round town bus service that connects residential areas to the bus station, train station and facilities such as the Health Centre.

 

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