Last Chance – Shotley Bridge Engagement Sessions

A final series of engagement sessions on the replacement/refurbishment of Shotley Bridge Hospital are taking place. To book in and share your views please email my.view@nhs.net or telephone 0191 389 8609 to give your details and preferred dates.

In addition to these clinical questions everyone can share their thoughts on what boils down to two possible sites; either a refurb of the existing building or a new-build at Puddlers Corner (the open space at the “Morrisons Roundabout”).

If you can’t, or don’t want to, get to one of these sessions you can still complete an online survey at https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/SBCH_Phase2

The hoped for timeline after this is:

April – May 2021 all available options worked out and made into a proposal

Summer 2021 Consultation Events about the options

September 2021 Decision made

2022 Building/refurbishment starts

2024 Project completed and opened

Snapshot – a week of policing in Consett

The following is taken directly from a report I received today.

On Monday morning police attended the area of the Jolly Drovers roundabout near to Consett following reports of a cyclist having collapsed and had stopped breathing. Police officers and nurses who were passing assisted with CPR and a defibrillator was brought from the station at Consett. The North East Ambulance Service also attended and thankfully the male was resuscitated and has subsequently been recovering at hospital.

On Wednesday police attended and address in the Consett area following a reported breach of Covid legislation. Whilst engaging with the occupant, police identified a notable quantity of suspected drugs and associated paraphernalia within the address. The occupant was arrested for possession of controlled drugs with intent to supply and an investigation is ongoing.

On Saturday police officers in Consett noted a vehicle of interest whilst out on patrol. Officers indicated for the vehicle to stop and it made off from the police car, including driving along a footpath in the Genesis Way and area and driving through the wrong side of a pedestrian crossing before making off. The driver was located and arrested. He was charged with dangerous driving, disqualified driving and having no insurance. He was also remanded to court.

Bad News for Consett’s Swimmers

The woes of Consett swimming pool became clearer tonight in a briefing for local councillors.

Nearly a year after the pool closed for the first lockdown, it has been announced that repairs costing between £1 and £1.5 million are required, and these will include the provision of modular stainless steel panels to form a comprehesive new “basin” for the reconstructed pools.

The problems, it is reported, all arise from “shoddy workmanship” in the construction, and have dogged the pool since the Leisure Centre opened in 2015.

The pool was commissioned as part of the Academy and Leisure Centre complex by a partnership between Durham County Council and the government backed partnership “Building Schools for the Future Investments”. Back in 2009 this partnership had selected Carillion to build all Durham’s new schools, and so the Leisure Centre was pre-destined to be built by the ill-fated company.

Less than three years later Carillion had collapsed. That left Consett with a deteriorating pool and a two year hiatus whilst it is resolved. It also left the county council with a conundrum. How do you seek redress from a company which no longer exists? And while you explore what legal avenues may exist, do you leave the people of Consett without swimming facilities?

The only good news I can take away is that we were assured by the cabinet member for regeneration that DCC will foot the bill for these swimming pool repairs up front, whether or not compensation can be gained through legal channels. It won’t be quick, but it will happen.

That’s good news, because if I was a betting man my money would not be on getting any money back.

The council representatives were also very cleat that:

  • The defects arise entirely from faulty workmanship and have nothing to do with the site.
  • They will try to make as much provision as they can for local swimmers through the Louisa Centre Pool.
  • This time the pool will be re-built by a specialist contractor procured exclusively by Durham County Council, and the council is confident that the facilities will be no less good than the ones we believed we were getting back in 2015.

However you look at it, this is a very bad position for our town. We all need a lift as we look forward to the relaxation of lockdown rules, but it isn’t going to come in the form of a re-opened pool. The Leisure Centre will be able to reopen but it will be Spring 2022 before the pool does.

Scams, scams, scams

You’ll never keep up with all the latest scams around, because there’s always someone out there wanting to rip you off (as well as the vast majority of people who are decent and caring).

I’m always a bit wary if the email, text or phone call I get takes me by surprise and try to stop and think about the likelihood that an approach is in my best interest. Like anyone I get it wrong sometimes, but caution will seldom be a mistake. You can nearly always undo caution. An impetuous decision can be very hard to undo, and if its a bad one may live with you for life.

Today I got the message below from Action Fraud warning about a very topical scam about a subect nuch in the news. But a scam can just as easily feel topical to you just because it’s connected to something local to you, like a problem with your internet or a contract you’ve recently started/stopped. Or it may appeal to our love of a bargain. The scammers just work on a numbers bassis. If they phone, text or email enough people they’re bound to trigger someone into a response – Just work hard at not letting it be you. And if it is, don’t keep it to yourself. A problem shared is a problem halved, and a problem shared save someone else from your kind of damage.

We’re warning the public to be vigilant of unsolicited emails promoting cryptocurrency (Bitcoin) investment opportunities. We’ve received over 750 reports this week about Bitcoin-related phishing emails that use fake celebrity endorsements to try and lure victims into investment scams. The links in the emails lead to fraudulent websites that are designed to steal your money, as well as personal and financial information.

How you can protect yourself:

  • Investment opportunities: Don’t be rushed into making an investment. Remember, legitimate organisations will never pressure you into making a transaction on the spot.
  • Seek advice first: Speak with a trusted friend or family members, and seek independent professional advice before making significant financial decisions.
  • FCA register: Use the Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) register to check if the company is regulated by the FCA. If you deal with a firm (or individual) that isn’t regulated, you may not be covered by the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) if things go wrong and you lose your money.
  • Report suspicious emails: If you have received an email which you’re not quite sure about, you can report it to the Suspicious Email Reporting Service by forwarding the email to – report@phishing.gov.uk

What you’re worth depends on where you live in County Durham

Some people would say that’s a simple truth, and true everywhere in Britain, but I doubt they know just how starkly true it is in Labour run County Durham.

A report to the next cabinet meeting shows just how unevenly the council’s investment money is spent, from a measly £52 per head in Teesdale, to £3,881 in and around Durham.

It makes a mockery of the Labour council’s “Altogether Wealthier” aspirations, and of Keir Starmer’s claim for a Labour Britain, “I want it to be the best it possibly can be, for everyone in every community.”

Here are the figures, taken from this month-s report to cabinet and the 2017 poulation figures for each of the Area Action Partnerships concerned:

AAP AreaPopulationSpend Spend per head
Three Towns Partnership25204£     4,800,000.00 £       190
4 Together17692£     2,600,000.00 £       147
Bishop Auckland and Shildon42760£ 136,000,000.00 £   3,181
Chester le Street54326£   20,000,000.00 £       368
Derwent Valley46526£     6,800,000.00 £       146
Durham68279£ 265,000,000.00 £   3,881
East Durham119356£ 219,000,000.00 £   1,835
Great Aycliffe and Middridge26824£     8,300,000.00 £       682
Mid Durham33710£   38,700,000.00 £   1,148
Spennymoor 21955£   21,000,000.00 £       957
Stanley33734£   10,400,000.00 £       308
Teesdale25017£     1,300,000.00 £         52
Weardale8342£     2,900,000.00 £       348

Figures taken from February 2021 report to Cabinet and Office for National Statistics for population in Durham’s Area Action Partnerships.

The potential time-bomb under Durham County Council’s finances

What follows is the text of a speech I delivered today at County Hall. Surprisingly council agreed!

This motion looks dry, but is actually dramatic. It’s about a potential hole in the council’s finances that will be there for decades. It’s about this council’s risky hidden investments.

These investments are headleases, and this is what has happened.

By agreement, investment firms have lent money to developers to build developments in Durham. Simultaneously the council has agreed to take control of, and make the payments for those developments. It will pay large and (and sometime increasing) amounts over a very long period to those private investment companies and hopes to meet its own payments from the tenants’ rents. It could make a profit. It could make a loss.

In the long run, council tax payers will either reap the rewards, or shoulder the loss.

So where are these headleases in County Durham? The public isn’t meant to know that. The council has made all these agreements behind closed doors and never released the papers, but just enough can be discovered in the public record to make out the broad outline.

The smallest, for just £5 million, is at Merchant Park in Newton Aycliffe and has been publicised.

The bigger ones have all been kept under wraps. They are all close to the riverside in Durham City. That may be why the council didn’t want it to be public.

The Land Registry shows two 35 year headleases at Riverside Place and Freeman’s Reach, sub-leased from the council by the Passport Office and National Savings. Unfortunately both have only taken a 15 year lease so payments are only secure for the first 15 years, not the following twenty. Then everything  will depend on whether they still want city centre premises, and the rent will presumably depend on the going rate for office space at the time.

The leap from these smaller headleases to the £120 million affair at Milburngate is of an altogether different order. Although there is no council press release, the investment company, Laselles, is very pleased with the arrangement. Their web page says they are looking for other similar schemes which will give them “long-term, inflation-linked income streams”.

No wonder they are happy. The council isn’t going to miss a payment and can’t go bust!

What about the developer. They will be happy too. They build the development and move on without much risk.

And the council? The council may be happy, but it also collects the risk. And unlike the investment company’s secure inflation linked income stream, the council gets an uncertain, market-linked income stream which may not match its liability.

To weigh-up the risk we need to know the nature of the development; we need to know what will be there, who’ll be renting it and what the prospects look like.  

Here’s what Laselles says. “the development includes 5,000 square metres speculative office building, alongside 153 built-to-rent apartments.

“Tenants already secured include leisure operators such as a cinema, restaurants and a hotel.”

I wish every one of these tenants success, but I fear they face a challenging future in post Covid Durham.

We can all work out why the council’s cabinet didn’t want a waste-land near its flashy new headquarters building, or so close to its much vaunted Aykley Heads flagship business park.

We all want new business and leisure opportunities for local people. But I believe it was a bad financial mistake to let bullish optimism  over-ride cold commercial logic. If the private sector didn’t want the project it was almost certainly a risk too far. And that was true even before Covid.

Finally, and worse than just a mistake, was making decisions like these behind closed doors, and then keeping them buried from view.

That’s why I have brought this motion. The people of Durham deserve to see a clear-eyed analysis of where recent changes in commercial and social behaviour leave us.

Council tax-payers will pick up the bill if things go badly. That’s why the review needs to be in public. The people who foot the bill need to know the truth.

The case for this motion is unarguable, and I believe that the portfolio holder should accept it. I hope he will.

The motion under debate reads as follows:

This council is aware that that the council has taken multi-million pound headleases in respect of four developments in County Durham:

1.         Two office developments at Freeman’s Reach, Durham City

2.         An industrial development at Merchant Park, Newton Aycliffe

3.         The major development currently under construction at . Milburngate, Durham City

Council is also aware that at the time of approving these headleases, cabinet took into account the significant transfer from the private sector to the council of both the potential risk and reward that could flow from these developments. At that time cabinet judged that the potential rewards outweighed the possible risks.

In the light of the coronavirus pandemic and the significant changes that are taking place in both commercial practice and consumer behaviour as a result of it, council requests that a report be brought to the next meeting of Cabinet after 1st February 2021 setting out the cabinet’s latest detailed assessment of these changed circumstances and their likely impact on the council’s budget in future years in terms of:

·         The current and future expected range of commercial activity to be undertaken by leaseholders/tenants of these properties

·         Potentially changed lease or rental levels for each of these tenant types

·         The likelihood of the council being able to re-let the properties where the leases of current or contracted occupants come to an end before the council’s headlease itself ends

·         The revised best and worst-case scenarios the council envisages in terms of Income and expenditure from these investments.

Press Release on Consett Swimming Pool

Anger rises as Consett Swimming Pool faces longer closure delays

It may be hard for people outside Consett to understand why the people of the town are so concerned about the closure of their swimming pool – after all aren’t all swimming pools closed for a month? – but for the people of Consett a month-long swimming pool closure is nothing. Their pool has been closed since March this year and looks likely to be closed long after March 2021.

Already the project to repair the pool is way behind target. The plan was for a specialist report to be completed by the end of September and procurement of the repairs to start in October. That hasn’t happened. A report has been part-completed, but the results of tests carried out on some of the construction products are not expected until December. Only then will the procurement process even start to be considered, so the original hopes that the pool might re-open in the spring look completely unrealistic.

Meanwhile local people feel they are being kept in the dark, with statements from the council that information cannot be released for legal reasons, and real difficulty in piecing together even the little bit of news they have been able to find out.

Liberal Democrat Councillor for Consett, Owen Temple, said “It’s a nightmare. It took me over three weeks to get a response on the simple question of whether or not the specialist report had been completed, and in the meantime I am fielding enquiries from residents who are missing their regular exercise, or in the case of one Mum, seriously concerned about the effects on the mental health of her daughter of being prevented from pursuing her ambition to become a top-flight swimmer.”

“The county council needs to give a much higher priority to resolving this problem. It’s no good exhorting people to ‘stay safe – stay active’ through Covid if the council itself leaves Consett’s pool to drift through it.”

Released on November 4th 2020 I have posted it here so that anyone wanting to know the true position of our swimming pool is kept in the picture.

Swimming Pool information black hole

I am pressing Durham County Council for further information on the position of Consett’s Swimming Pool and the broader issue of whether the loss of water from the pool is wreaking further damage on the building as a whole.

After being assured that a specialist report would be completed in September, I have still not been able to find out whether that report has been completed and whether the process of getting tenders for the remedial work has started.

It’s very unsatisfactory. There’s no way the council can give us any indication as to when the pool will be open until contractors have been appointed. I understand that the information the council can give may be limited because of potential legal proceedings in respect of any construction   failures, but whether or not the specialist’s report has been completed can hardly be deemed top-secret.

Meanwhile other councillors and I continue to get a stream of contacts. Many of those are casual swimmers keen to use the pool again, but for me the saddest was an appeal from the mother of a young swimmer who had just reached competitive standards and is now suffering real distress at being halted in their tracks.

I understand that there is a Covid crisis going on, but am deeply frustrated by the sheer lack of information. Simple issues of communication with people should still be possible, and if issues like our swimming pool slip to the back of the queue our recovery from this crisis will be slower than it needs to be.

It’s totally unacceptable that information isn’t leaking out about the swimming pool at anything like the rate of its water.

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: https://owentemple.mycouncillor.org.uk/2012/12/18/black-hole-under-belle-vue/

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 – my.view@nhs.net
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.