The Curse of Carillion – Consett swimming pool closed till 2021

Whilst swimming pools across County Durham are preparing for a return of swimmers, Consett’s is being drained to prepare for an investigation and subsequent repairs. According to the county council the issues arise from the construction company (Carillion – which Durham County Council gave a monopoly on school building across the county) which has left them with “a number of latent defects” and the pool is unlikely to be open until April 2021.

This closure follows an earlier issue just before the Covid crisis when the learner pool had to be closed becasue of problems with the floor.

The current problems include continuing cracking of tiles, leaks and unexplained water loss, electrical cabling, and the glare control system on the roof which has never worked.

Elsewhere in the Leisure Centre there have been problems with floors in both the Sports Hall and Squash Courts.

I would like to think that there is no pattern here which suggests that the constructor and/or the site have left the people of Consett with a huge problem. I cannot be so confident. And if there is such a problem, Durham County Council, its leader and senior executives will be culpable.

“I told you so” is never a strong line for politicians. The system all too often appears to be designed to delay and obscure the release of information. Despite that, I cannot help hoping there was nothing prescient in an article I wrote seven years ago, even before Planning Permission was given for the Academy and Leisure Centre Project to be built at Belle Vue. Read it here:

The County Council chose the site – against the advice of most local people. The County Council chose the constructor, giving it free rein across every school in its “Building Schools for the Future” plans. If chickens do head home to roost, they’ll know where the hen house is.

The latest communication on Shotley Bridge Hospital

What follows is a statement from the Clinical Commissioning Group for County Durham, lead organisation in the replacement project.

It has been confirmed that the delays mentioned will result in the first spade in the ground being six months later than originally planned.

“Everyone at NHS County Durham Clinical Commissioning Group (the CCG) hopes that you have been keeping safe and well during the recent weeks and months.

We wanted to share an update on a particular project that so many local people helped contribute to last year, as well as let you know about what will be happening moving forward.

Developments since May 2019
Since the last period of public engagement finished in May 2019, the CCG have taken on board comments that people made. We have applied particular focus to considering a broader range of services that could be provided in the future, such as low level Mental Health and a broader range of wellbeing services.
There has also been continuing dialogue with clinical colleagues and service managers from County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust (CDDFT) who provide services such as Chemotherapy, Inpatient based care, Urgent care, various therapy services (such as Physiotherapy and Podiatry) and more. This work continues to provide key elements, around which future plans are framed.
Our local GPs and other primary and community care staff have also played a central role in conversations considering what arrangements (around Hospital based services) they feel help support care and treatment for their patients across North West Durham.
Alongside all of this, our ‘Reference Group’ which involves local Councillors and MPs – and is chaired by the Chair of the Health and Wellbeing Board – has regularly met to feed into the discussions.

Impacts of COVID-19
Understandably, this work has been disrupted over the past few months. Staff from CDDFT have been prioritising the frontline patient care that is required, as well as supporting their teams. Staff within the CCG were also deployed to support primary care services during the peak of the pandemic locally where needed.
This has meant that the work is now slightly behind our original schedule. But all of the partners involved remain committed and determined to keep moving forward together.
The health and care system across County Durham responded quickly and appropriately to the COVID-19 pandemic. Services were changed at pace to ensure that primary care, hospitals and social care were prepared to manage COVID-19 and then to be able to care and treat patients in the safest way.
COVID-19 has not gone away. The challenge for the health and social care system is now to continue safely managing services and care for COVID-19 patients while restarting and recovering those services which had to be paused, to ensure there is safe, quality care available for all of our communities. This means that some of the changes introduced as part of the response to the Pandemic need to remain in place to provide this protection to both those accessing healthcare and the health and social care workforces.
There needs to be a period of reflection and learning to understand the impact of the Pandemic on the shape of care and services in the future. Therefore, it is felt that the clinical model which was developed pre-COVID should be reviewed and further considered to take into account the changes which have taken place. This is part of the local response as well as adhering to continuing national guidance on the safe delivery of services and safe working. We also want to more fully understand what these changes mean for patients and staff alike, and how we can be assured that the communities of County Durham have access to the safest and highest quality services in the future.

Future Conversations
As a result, the CCG and other local partners are planning to undertake a further programme of engagement during the autumn of 2020.
This engagement will be focussed on the views of local people, helping us to re-visit the review of the clinical model and inform future services and their delivery.
We recognise that the current situation, with social distancing in place, will impact on the ability for us to reach out into the community as we previously did in sports and community centres in the short term. However, we also recognise the pressing need to progress with the plans for future service delivery as swiftly as possible, and so are exploring alternative communication channels to get your feedback and input.
For the time being, the majority of information and opportunities to engage will be based online, by email, over the telephone or through the post to ensure we are adhering to national guidance on social distancing. Should the situation develop during the period of engagement, we will consider what else is again possible and appropriate.
We will be providing further information based on clinical opinion about future services and their provision as well as how to contribute to this phase of engagement soon. We will also provide a plan on when the subsequent public consultation will start and how you can get involved in the conversation.
So please keep a look out for the information when it comes out and where possible we are always grateful for your help and support in sharing this with friends, family and colleagues. If you are able to help connect us with specific local groups who may be interested and who can help in developing the plans based on their knowledge and experience of health and care services that is very much appreciated too. A useful point of contact going forward will be the same email address that was used as part of the previous public engagement –
This work and the feedback captured will all help move us forward towards the formal public consultation that will follow in summer 2021.
Thank you for your time and continued support.

The coning of Consett

Many of us, myself included, were taken by surprise this morning by an array of cones preventing parking in parking bays and loading bays across the town.

Following clarification from County Hall the changes across the county and the reasons for them can be seen here.

I remain concerned that changes in some streets will have a seriously adverse effect on traders. I will therefore be looking to ensure that the measures will be reviewed as councillors have been assured:

“In planning for the return of people to our town centres we have had to assume almost a worst case scenario that large volumes of people would return and therefore our actions, implemented this morning, provided as much additional space as possible, but on a temporary basis.  In the following days, as the demand from the public becomes more established, we will adjust the measures and try to provide a balance between the needs of pedestrians with parking and loading spaces.”

Warning from Track and Trace

If someone contacts you claiming to be from the NHS track and trace, please remember the following.

Contact tracers will never:

  • ask you to dial a premium rate number to speak to them (for example, those starting 09 or 087)
  • ask you to make any form of payment or purchase a product or any kind
  • ask for any details about your bank account
  • ask for your social media identities or login details, or those of your contacts
  • ask you for any passwords or PINs, or ask you to set up any passwords or PINs over the phone
  • disclose any of your personal or medical information to your contacts
  • provide medical advice on the treatment of any potential coronavirus symptoms
  • ask you to download any software to your PC or ask you to hand over control of your PC, smartphone or tablet to anyone else
  • ask you to access any website that does not belong to the government or NHS

In respect of the last point, the key websites are:

or, if you are contacted,

Coronavirus Community support fund opening today, May 22nd

The National Lottery Community Fund are delighted to confirm that the Government’s new Coronavirus Community Support Fund will open for applications at 10am on Friday 22nd May. This new funding stream makes available £200m in Government funding that will be aimed primarily at small to medium organisations in England. The Fund has two key objectives: to increase community support to vulnerable people affected by the COVID-19 crisis, through the work of civil society organisations and to reduce temporary closures of essential charities and social enterprises. Read the press release here

Durham’s Household Waste Recycling Centres to re-open on May 18th.

All 12 of the main Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs) in County Durham will reopen on May 18th. The council will also resume its bulky waste goods collections from this day.

Please be considerate. There may be more demand than can easily be catered for so initially at lease please only take waste to HWRCs if it cannot be stored safely at home and no alternative disposal options are available.

Sites are expected to be extremely busy once the HWRCs reopen. There may be traffic management schemes where necessary. To ensure social distancing, people will be asked to keep two metres apart at all times and a limited number of cars will be allowed on site at a time. We’re all going to have to be patient!

No lifting assistance will be available from staff on site so you may want to take a passenger from the household if required. We will also be asked to wash our hands before and after our visit.

As before, waste permits will be needed for vehicles other than cars. These can be applied for on the council’s website.

Something you can do to help stem the Covid tide

You may be doing this already. If so polish your halo and read no further, but less than 5% of the population are doing this so a lot of readers could usefully latch onto it.

There’s a health tracker which you can put on your mobile phone just to report in once a day to say whether you have had a test for Covid, and whether you’re still feeling fit and well. Using it Kings College London and the NHS can help pinpoint how the virus is spreading, helping to predict hotspots and other research.

Its very easy to join in. Just visit and swell the 2.7 million.

Waitrose and M&S Food are not the answer for Free School Meal vouchers

Only in Westminster could they dream up a system which offers parents of children on free school meals (on the occasions when there head teachers can acces them) vouchers for Waitros and M&S Food.

For people who live in remoter parts of North West Durham the local Co-op foodstore would be a lot more use, or Lidl if you live in Crook, but check out the supply website and you’ll find the list:

What supermarkets are available?

  • Morrisons
  • Tesco
  • Sainsbury’s
  • Asda
  • Waitrose
  • M&S food
  • Aldi

Many communities across the country, whether it’s Tow Law in the Durham Dales or Portree on the Isle of Skye, rely on Co-op foodstores for their main supply.

In Crook, they lost their old Co-op foodstore and it was replaced by – yes, you’ve guessed it, Lidl. No advance there then for our Free School Meal kids.

The people of North West Durham chose a different political party last year. Now is a chance for that party to recognise this specific need on behalf of the people of Nort West Durham.

Household Waste and Recycling Collections during Covid-19 Crisis

Services are holding up well, including collections over the Easter period, a very busy time for the council. Extra vehicles and crew (including from garden waste and bulky goods rounds) as well as volunteers from highways, leisure, clean and green and neighbourhood protection are being used to help meet social distancing requirements. Staff have really appreciated the many compliments and thanks they have received from the public.

Unfortunately there is no capacity to collect additional refuse so please don’t leave it out. The exception to this is dry recycling. If placed in a clear plastic bag, so loaders can see what is inside, then in accordance with existing policy this can be taken, when left to the side of the recycling bin.

Ways in which residents can assist are as follows:

  • For collection day in tight streets, please ensure that cars are parked to allow access by the collection vehicles.
  • Ensure bin is presented for 7am (normal bin collections times may have changed as we comply with social distancing).
  • Please don’t overfill the bins, materials that fall out pose hazards to collectors, delay their progress and can end up littering which then subsequently requires resource to deal with.
  • Please recycle as much as possible, (squashing down the contents) and avoid contamination.
  • If you or your family are unfortunate enough to have coronavirus symptoms then please separately double bag materials such as tissues and wipes, and leave for 3 days before putting in the refuse bin.

Garden Waste Collection – Move to Saturday and Monday Collections

The current service to over 55,000 customers had to be postponed for a month, to allow the resource to be deployed in support of the main refuse and recycling rounds which operate Tuesday to Friday. This has allowed 10 vehicles and 30 crew assist the main refuse and recycling crews, and provides capability to ensure social distancing.

Whilst the challenges to delivering the core refuse and recycling services haven’t gone away, the council does recognise that the garden waste collection service is separately paid for and highly valued by residents. People are also now spending more time in their gardens if they have one. The council has therefore looked at times when it has spare capacity – namely Saturday and Monday where it will provide a garden waste collection. We have worked to plans in place where so we can deliver the service on these days over the next four months.

All customers are being advised of the new arrangements, which have been kept straightforward as possible so that what are normally Tuesday and Wednesday collections are collected on a Saturday. What are normally Thursday and Friday collections will be collected on a Monday. The council is allowing provision for customers to request a refund, however as the service is still being provided (albeit on different days) it very much hopes that most will stay with it.

Under the revised dates, garden waste collections will begin for some customers on Saturday 2 May with others collected on Monday 4 May, Saturday 9 May or Monday 11 May, dependent on their collection calendar. In addition to bespoke e-mails and letters, over the next few days information on the revised dates will be uploaded on the mydurham website.

It is proposed to review the position in four months’ time. The peak of the growing season will have passed, and hopefully the peak of the pandemic too. This will allow consideration to remaining collection arrangements for the rest of the season.

Household Waste Recycling Centres

Nationally the vast majority of household tips are closed. This is not surprising as delivery and depositing of household waste is not included in the legally permitted reasons for leaving home which are restricted to shopping for basic necessities, medical need, travelling to work (where it can’t be done at home) or daily exercise.

The council is continuing to monitor the national guidance and changes to regulations and at some stage anticipates that they will re-open.

In the meantime, and whilst the facilities are closed, the council is encouraging residents not to embark on large DIY projects, that will generate waste or if this is unavoidable to have in place arrangements for safe storage.