The seat I wanted but will never have

No, it’s not North West Durham! That remains up for grabs.

It’s the one I rescued from a Blackfyne skip, and as previously reported have returned to County Hall. Oh to be a fly on the wall, or even a bum on the seat, and find out whether it ever gets put to use, but here’s the evidence that it really did make it back home.

Delivering the seat small

Meanwhile I have ordered myself a new one.

Only 204 days to go

Politicos know I can’t be talking about the General Election which is just 75 days away. So do I really have another life?

This morning I went for my first run of the year, a year in which I have promised myself that I will do the Great North Run again. I have plans in mind for a local charity, but think I’d better see how the legs and the lungs go before I commit too heavily to that.

In the meantime, give me a toot or a wave if you see me (slowly) passing. There’s nothing like a bit of encouragement.

Christmas comes early

With 32 days to go till Christmas, the Dust Town Dogs switched on Consett’s Christmas Tree lights yesterday.

Dust Town Dogs

I know that because there’s a window on Medomsley Road with the countdown on a slate, and I’m grateful for the reminder of how the days are flying by and barely a present bought. Meanwhile, I understand, plenty of presents were dished out by Santa on Saturday morning, wearing his earliest green outfit which he had dusted down for Consett.

Because it was also Christmas Fair time at Consett Methodists, I only caught bits and bobs of the various bands and performers who graced the Middle Street stage, though I enjoyed what I saw. And now it’s 31 days to go.

Ten bob a year

Or 50p to younger readers. That’s what Medomsley Parish Council agreed to pay the Consett Industrial and Provident Society each year to lease the allotments in Bramwell Terrace to the rear of Villa Real Road.

The agreement was made in 1920, getting on for a hundred years ago, and was only designed to run for seven years. And from what I have come to understand it’s the same agreement that governs it today – though Medomsley Parish Council has long since been merged out of existence and its eventual successor is Durham County Council, and as far as I know Consett Industrial and Provident Society exists only for those who raise their eyes to the brickwork in Newmarket Street.

So the burning question now is, is Durham County still paying the ten bob? And if so, to whom?

I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting to get involved in this sort of matter when I offered myself  for election as a county councillor. Nor is it top of my list of jobs – but it is a real privilege to get to know more and more about my adopted home town, and to stumble across these oddities.

Ten bob for the thoughts of anyone who’d like to share their knowledge of either Medomsley Parish Council or the Consett Industrial & Provident Society Ltd.

Happy New Year

OK, I know it’s a bit late but between Christmas and then escaping for a week at the start of the year I’m only just getting back into the swim.

As we start 2011 many of the same issue overhang us as in Consett have done for the last eighteen months, with only the precise amount that there is (and is not) towards the Academy clarified; Academy, Sports Centre, Council presence in the town, the Masterplan all continue to be issues in the medium to long term. Other issues have been with us even longer like car-parking, job opportunities, housing (especially for the young).

Now I’m back in the seat I will resume normal service of trying to let you know what’s going on. I was particularly touched that my blogging black-hole provoked one enquiry into my health, and a real sense of loss of their “most consistent source of information”. Thank you, too, to those readers who used the email link to send me queries and issues as they arose.

All the best for 2011.

Pre-Christmas Quiz – The answers

Two readers correctly identified the coat of arms as that of Consett Urban District Council. One also correctly identified the figure as that of St Ebba.

For those of you interested in what you never thought you wanted to know, here it is.

Consett Urban District Council Armorial Bearings

Granted by Letters Patent dated 17th September 1955



Argent a representation of ST. EBBA proper supporting with the sinister hand a PASTORAL STAFF Or between in chief TWO SWORDS in saltire also proper hilts and pommels Gold and in base a MINER’S LAMP likewise proper two FLAUNCHES SABLE each charged with a FURNACE fired also proper and for the Crest issuant from a MURAL CROWN flames enveloping a SWORD proper hilt and pommel Or MANTLED SABLE doubled Argent.


Consett urban area is split by an old Roman road named Dere Street (along part of its length it is known as Watling Street), and where the road leaves the district is the site of a Roman camp known as Vindomora. This later became known as Ebchester, named after the camp and the church – that is St. Ebba’s Church.
The crossed swords mark the settling of German swordmakers and the making of what are still considered some of the best of their type – Shotley Swords.
The sword in the crest speaks of Consett steel, a sword being used because it is heraldic and because sword steel is the finest of its kind.
The black flaunches and the miner’s lamp, speak of steel.

Pre-Christmas Competition – last call


Anyone who would like to win a copy of my more famous namesake’s “Passing Through” album (see The Other Owen Temple link on the left hand side) should email me by the end of November to let me know whose coat of arms this is.

As a tie-break please also name the figure standing in the centre of it.

 And if more than one of you gets both right I’ll draw lots.

Four dubious pleasures all in one day

It’s not often the council treats its councillors to a diet of sex, alcohol, gambling and (whisper this one – a sandwich lunch) in the space of just six hours, but that’s what happened today.

When I was handed the bundle of 282 Powerpoint slides at the start of the licensing committee’s training session I feared the worst, but I have to say the QC doing the training was very good and I came away with some interesting new insights. For instance – which of us knew anything about one of the previous government’s wheezes “Alcohol Disorder Zones”. Not many I suspect since none have been declared since their inception in 2006. As the trainer put it, “which local authority is going to declare its status as an AZD”? The answer is clearly “none” and now this government is abolishing them – if you can abolish something that has never occurred!

One matter which will return to Consett, however, is the lap-dancing club issue. Back in 2005-6 the council had no power to refuse a licence to the lap-dancing club, Red Velvet. At the time a lot of people, myself included, were pretty annoyed that the law prevented people from having any influence over, or right to make representations about, this proposal because of arcane rules about “vicinity”. Well, the position is apparently very different now following a change in the law, a change which has been adopted by the county council with effect from December this year.

Whilst nothing has been decided and the council is still considering its policy in this area, the change in the law will pose an interesting question for our town which has the only such venue in County Durham. There was very real concern before Red Velvet opened and predictions of public disorder and misbehaviour, but the council was powerless to prevent it from being granted a licence. In the four years since then I’ve not been made aware of any significant disorder resulting from the club, but despite this I understand that the council’s licencing committee could very well find itself in a position where it could decline to licence the club in future (subject to the policy it adopts). That will unfold over the coming year.

Lies, damned lies and statistics

At the County Council cabinet meeting on Tuesday we were given a run through the County Durham Residents’ survey.

I got Mrs T to look at the methodology because she’s a statistician, and she was pretty complimentary about everything except the report’s tendency to make comparisons between this survey and earlier ones. The reason why they can’t be compared is that they used completely different methods and comparisons are not safe.

In fairness to the Deputy Chief Executive’s report, it does say

direct comparisons are of limited value between the Resident’s Survey and previous, similar, exercises because of methodological differences

and in delivering her report  she did explain “you usually get a better result with face to face surveys” (like the latest one).

Despite that the report goes on to make just those comparisons! Well, I suppose this is politics. How else could you explain the claim that the new survey results

show that since 2008 residents’ ratings of services have improved and satisfaction overall has increased substantially.

Here are ten fairly random results which you may find interesting:

  1. Across the county almost four in five respondents (78%) are satisfied with the way Durham County runs things
  2. The area where the satisfaction level is lowest is the Consett area (Derwent Valley Partnership)
  3. The highest levels of satisfaction with services are with Refuse collection (92%), primary education (91%) and street lighting (90%)
  4. The lowest level of satisfaction with services is with repairs of roads and pavements (47%)
  5. 39% of residents agree that they can influence decisions but 45% disagree
  6. 59% of residents feel that the council provides good value for money but 41% feel it does not
  7. 62% of people in County Durham believe the council is “remote and impersonal” but, surprisingly, fewer people think so in Teasdale and Weardale (52%) compared than in Durham City (72%)
  8. 85% of people of residents agree that Durham is an attractive place to live
  9. 54% of residents say they are concerned about Climate Change, but 34% say they are not
  10. Finally, 10% of residents say thay have contacted their local county councillor to influence the decision making process but 24% say thay would be interested in doing so

I’ll be expecting the phone to ring tomorrow.

If the cap fits ……

Andrew Marr, former political correspondent for the BBC, has made some pretty hard-hitting comments about bloggers. I couldn’t resist quoting them here:

Most citizen journalism strikes me as nothing to do with journalism at all.

A lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed young men sitting in their mother’s basements and ranting. They are very angry people.

OK – the country is full of very angry people. Many of us are angry people at times. Some of us are angry and drunk.

But the so-called citizen journalism is the spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night.

It is fantastic at times but it is not going to replace journalism.”

Most of the blogging is too angry and too abusive. Terrible things are said online because they are anonymous. People say things online that they wouldn’t dream of saying in person.

Room for improvement, then.