Nick Clegg’s New Year message

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Just a couple of weeks into his leadership Nick Clegg has set out his vision of a Liberal Britain to strive for in 2008; a Britain in which the poorest children have as much spent on their education as those who go to fee-paying schools; a Britain where toddlers are protected from the intrusive invasion of advertisers seeking to brainwash them, and adults are also liberated from the invasive demands of a government which requires them to submit their personal information to a vast database for its ID card scheme.

You can read Nick’s message at http://www.libdems.org.uk/news/nick-cleggs-new-year-message.13694.html or watch and listen to it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRFJ7K2SiSo&feature=user

If Nick is right, and I believe he is, there is a great opportunity for us to communicate with millions of people who want a liberal Britain and share Liberal Democrat values.

If you are one of those who wonder whether you might want to join the Liberal Democrats, please get in touch. We promise you’ll be under no pressure. Better still, you might just find what a liberating thing it is to work with others who share your values and want to build a better Britain (and a better world) to live in.

Glenroyd House update

Glenroyd House has finally got conditional permission for a change of use for a limited part of the building. That part will become offices for Derwentside Community Volunteers and the Citizens Advice Bureau.

 Changes of access to make an entrance alongside the current Rosemount entrance, together with a much more limited use of the building, made the application more acceptable to councillors as a whole.

 I myself had written to the committee requesting that two conditions were applied:

  • Limitation of hours to use between 8.30 a.m. and 6.00 p.m.
  • Rear access via Larch Street other than for deliveries to be prevented by locking gates

I’m pleased that both limitation of hours and requirement to regulate traffic at the rear entrance were included in the conditions, as well as the requirement for a detailed revised scheme for parking.

 I also understand that this agreement will result in withdrawal of the appeal against the refusal of the previous application. That will both save the council time and money, and prevent the risk of a successful appeal. That in turn saves local residents from the possibility of the unfettered development previously sought. 

 I have no doubt that a permanent home for both the Derwentside CVS and Citizens Advice Bureau in Consett will benefit local people. It was also important, however, that the interests of Glenroyd’s immediate neighbours were taken properly into account.

Provided that the two organisations now deliver on their promises for the buildings and the grounds, this eyesore should be returned to useful service for the people of Consett, and a pleasant “treed” space in this key central location.

Shotley Hospital: Real Progress or just More Talk?

Shotley Hospital © Copyright Colin Edgar and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The Foundation Hospital trust, which runs County Durham’s Acute Hospitals and currently owns Shotley Bridge Hospital, has made a joint statement with the Primary Care Trust which is responsible for planning to meet the health needs of local people.

The good news is that in the short term they have agreed:

  • To have a long term plan for Shotley by April 2008
  • That in the meantime no changes are planned to Shotley’s services

The long term is still not clear, though in an interesting move  they have started discussions about whether Shotley Bridge Community Hospital should continue to be owned by the Foundation Trust or should become owned by the Primary Care Trust.

 I have received a letter from the Chief Executive of the PCT writing about Shotley Hospital in which she states, “the intention is to work with a range of stakeholders including staff, public and the district and county councils to plan the future”. You can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll be working to make sure that that happens. I’m confident that you’ll be doing the same.

Planning Appeal – Medomsley Road

The accountancy practice which applied for a change of use at 279 Medomsley Road has appealed against the council’s decision to refuse the application.

 Basic details of the case can be seen at Derwentside District Councils website on http://www.derwentside.gov.uk/index.cfm?articleid=8427&step=4&ref=1/2007/0614 . Full details and all papers relating to the case can be viewed by appointment at the Council Offices.

 Many local residents have objected to the proposals on the grounds of increased traffic in the back street and parking difficulties, which is fundamentally why the planning committee turned it down.

 If you want to make your opinions known to the Planning Inspectorate, you should first visit the council offices to make sure you have a good grasp of the issues, and particularly the grounds of appeal which hinge around:

  1. Disputing that the change of use will increase traffic or parking problems
  2. Stating that the traffic dangers have been overstated
  3. Arguing that local residents had not claimed “loss of amenity” and that that was a ground for refusal “concocted” by council officers.

Communication with the Planning Inspectorate about this case can be made on paper or electronically through http://www.pcs.planningportal.gov.uk/pcsportal/ViewCase.asp?casename=APP/V1315/A/07/2058102&caseaddress=COO.2036.300.2.8879612

More Money for local projects

Derwentside District Councillors voted tonight in favour of setting up a “community initiative fund” to be allocated on a ward by ward basis, and with the aim of enhancing the physical fabric of the community. It is intended to average out at £20,000 per councillor across the district and will be worth £1.25 million overall.

 Whilst very welcome, I expressed one concern. If the rule “only one project per ward” is applied strictly it may result in sensible smaller projects being missed and “grandiose schemes” being preferred to use up the allocation.

 As I pointed out, it’s not very logical that a £20,000 project will be perfectly aceptable in Consett East because that ward only has one councillor, whereas on the other side of Sherburn Terrace in Consett North we’ll have to spend £60,000 at a go because we are a three member ward!

 Further details will be produced in a second report and I’ll keep you informed of what comes out of it.

 In the meantime you may have some thoughts on the issue. Please let me have them.

One final aside. As the rules stand all three councillors will have to agree on just one project. Now that really will be a test of coalition government!

Glenroyd House back on the Agenda

This week’s Development Control meeting on Thursday December 13th at 2.00 p.m. sees Glenroyd House return to the agenda.

In August an application to turn the whole building into offices, accessed just via the narrow sidestreet (called Larch Street), was knocked back unanimously by the Development Control Committee. That decision is now under appeal at the Planning Inspectorate.

The new application is for a much more limited use of the building and would involve the Derwentside Council for Voluntary Service and the Citizens Advice Bureau using a smaller part of the building for their office activities. Crucially the application proposes a new shared access with Rosemount Care Home. This is a much safer access as it is sited away from the bend and can be made wider than the Larch Street access.

This, allied to the greatly reduced number of rooms to be used (and therefore reduced numbers of staff and visitors) makes the application much more acceptable in my eyes. If you want to look at it and make your own judgement, just click this link: http://www.derwentside.gov.uk/index.cfm?articleid=8427&step=4&ref=1/2007/0901

Even though the application is much better than the previous one, however, I have written to ask the committee consider two additional conditions. One is that the hours of operation are limited to 8.30 a.m. to 6.00 p.m.. The other is that the rear entrance onto Larch Street has locked gates. The application says that fewer than two delivery and maintenance vehicles a week will us the Larch Street entrance; in that case, only locked gates will prevent other users from using this inadequate access and causing the problems that caused residents so much distress over the original application.

Berry Edge Residents Association

As its secretary, I attended the regular monthly “first Tuesday” meeting of the Berry Edge Residents Association on December 4th. The meeting sought to progress two items that have been on the agenda regularly during the life of the association: the parkland and waste ground to the rear of Albert Road, and some arrangement to make it easier for people to cross busy Albert Road.

Berry Edge Gardens

 The meeting received an outline of the joint partnership between the residents association and Groundwork West Durham and Darlington  to transform the area into “Berry Edge Gardens”. The first step is to seek an Awards for All grant from the Big Lottery fund to organise consultation with residents and draw up proposals for greening the whole area, part of which is currently a wasteland.

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Crossing Albert Road

On the issue of a possible island or other arrangement to ease the crossing of Albert Road, especially for the elderly, infirm, or parents with young children, County Councillor Clive Robson had received results of a second traffic survey on Albert Road. On average 5639 vehicles per day had used the road of which around 105 recorded speeds above the limit. The written report by the highway engineer raised a number of problems with regard to possible solutions and offered little positive hope. Councillor Robson would seek further information from him, however, in the hope of being able to move this forward.

 

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The next meeting of Berry Edge Residents association will be on January 8th, 7.00 p.m. at the YMCA in Parliament Street.

 

Lib Dems talk rubbish!

Derwentside Lib Dems put out the following press release today: 

“Lib Dems have distributed two and a half thousand of Derwentside’s recycling information “wheels” in Consett. The clever little device tells people exactly what they can and can’t put in their twin-bins, and is a must for everyone keen to improve their recycling. If you want one too, ring Derwentside’s customer services on 01207 693693. “Councillor Owen Temple met some confusion on the doorstep while handing out the wheels. People were especially surprised that they must NOT put plastic supermarket bags in their wheeled bins, the opposite of what they were once told. It turns out  it’s because some people had put dog dirt and soiled nappies in plastic bags in the recycling bins which was completely unfair on the workers who have to sort the recycling materials. “Commenting, Councillor Temple said, “I’m sure that if people knew about their fellow citizens who have to sort out the recycling waste, they would make even more effort to get it right.”

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Unitary Council Elections

At last the government has got something right on this whole unitary debacle. We know they got it wrong when they believed the County Council’s claim that local people wanted just one “super-county” council for the whole of County Durham, but give them some credit – they spotted something fishy in the way the County Council was trying to change its proposal after the event.

As a result we will have elections in May 2008 to elect new councillors to shape the direction of the all new, all singing, all dancing council! These councillors will then continue as members for the first four years of the new council, meaning that they will be elected for five years in total.

 Whichever side you were on, for unitary or against it, we should all be pleased that the setting up of the new council will not be left in the hands of its original architects. We need a breath of fresh air to blow through County Hall.

Shotley Hospital

Effective date: November 28th 2007

Well done Healeyfield Parish Council for organising a meeting to explore the future of our very valuable local hospital, and well done Laura Robson, Edmund Lovell and John Arthurs for venturing out to Derwentside to hear what local people think of the run down they feel is going on.

 The packed meeting made its feelings very clear, and if assurances were few and far between, at least these senior personnel from the Acute Hospital Trust will be very clear on local opinion;

  • Local people believe that the facilities at Shotley are deliberately being run down by the Acute Hospital Trust
  • To a man and woman it is determined that people in Derwentside should continue to be served by the facility
  • People want their elderly relatives and friends to get their post-operation recovery care at Shotley Bridge, not shipped out round the county. They are angry at the closure of Ward 4 which leaves insufficient beds to cater for Derwentside patients
  • People want the day surgery provision to be maintained and extended. They do not believe that Derwentside is unique in the country in having a declining need for Day Surgery
  • We want assurances that the Minor injury unit will be retained

Now the District Council needs to play an equally public role in insisting on making the voice of local people be heard in the stakeholder group consultation which the Primary Care Trust has promised to undertake. You can be assured that I will be pressing the District Council to make good its promise of all-party inclusion in that group.