Saturday, 29 December 2007

Bus Service to Morpeth Station

Did you know that the M3 bus service provides a direct link from Lancaster Park to Morpeth Rail Station?
Well - for reasons best known to themselves - NCC and Astley Coaches who run the service are keeping it a secret. The bus destination boards and the bus stop timetables just show it as the 'Stobhill bus' not the 'station bus'. John Earl writes:

"I was once again on the M3 bus to the station in Morpeth this week, and it seems ludicrous that this bus runs around almost empty, partly because no-one has seen fit to label it clearly as the station bus. If the inhabitants of Lancaster Park knew that it was a direct link with the station, for the same price (i.e. £1) as going to the centre of town, and therefore a quarter the price of a taxi, I`m sure that more people would use it and it might mean a few more leaving their cars at home. Could you contact the people who could label this correctly on the timetables (at present it is only labelled to Stobhill)?"

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Sale of Hood Street Hall

The Hood Street Brethren are closing down - and selling off the Hood Street Hall. Local residents may want to watch out for planning applications in the new year!

The Hall has been on the market since the summer and I understand that an offer has been received at the asking price.

Since the two elderly sisters living in the ground floor flat have been given notice to quit by 31st December, it's likely that a sale will go through early in the New Year.

One thing that surprises me is that the Brethren are not looking to rehouse the sisters themselves - but are expecting Castle Morpeth Housing (the newly created housing association that has taken over the Borough Council housing) to find somewhere for them. In fact I've been lobbied to chase up Castle Morpeth Housing on this.

Now I know that the Brethen are focussed on the 'rapture' associated with the Second Coming almost to the point of disregarding conventional Christian 'joy of creation' in this life - but you'd think they would find the resources to rehouse two elderly women themselves rather than depend on the state - especially given the amount of money they'll be getting for the site.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Unusual Christmas Presents - No 112

An advert coming by way of SENRUG

The North Eastern Tile Company of Pickering in North Yorkshire can now supply a complete set of tiles for a North Eastern Railway Map of the type still seen on the walls of Morpeth station.

The Craven and Dunnill factory of Ironbridge which made the originals has been defunct since the Second World War, but the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust has started up a tile museum through which limited production of the originals is now possible.
They are all hand glazed, and to quote from the brochure
"the glazer`s skill still dictates whether or not all the map tiles have exactly the same glaze tint, and they still work to a metronome`s rhythm to achieve such perfection."

A three quarter size map is recommended for the average house, though no doubt you could get the original size in a large bathroom!

The address is Foundry Cottages, Wrelton, Pickering, York YO18 8PF.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Christmas Stamps - from Dave Pope

Dave Pope has circulated these comments by email and I thought it worthwhile to post them here:

Royal Mail has traditionally alternated between sacred and secular designs for their Christmas stamps and this year it is the turn for a religious image. Royal Mail has issued two sets of designs this year. The main set of designs, available in all the main denominations is of angels, which is vaguely Christian but not explicitly so and certainly not specifically Christmassy.

They have also issued a 'Madonna and Child' design for first and second class only. Post Office staff have been instructed to only sell this design if people specifically request it, but obviously people can't request it if they don't know it exists! If people don't buy these stamps, Royal Mail will claim there is no demand for religious Christmas stamps and not produce them in future.
Please therefore ask for 'Madonna and Child' stamps when you do your Christmas posting and also tell your friends, contacts etc. to do the same.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Morpeth - a plastic bag-free town?

A number of people have spoken to me about making Morpeth a ‘plastic bag-free’ town – following the lead of places like Modbury.

About 17.5 million plastic carrier bags are used worldwide each year, with the majority ending up on landfill sites. Discarded plastic carrier bags block gutters and drains, choke farm animals and marine wildlife and pollute the soil as they gradually break down. Plastic bags clogging the drain network was a contributing factor to the recent floods in Mumbhai (formerly Bombay).

A plastic carrier bag can take between 500 to 1000 years to break down and many of the ‘degradable’ bags (eg photo-degradable) actually only breakdown to inert plastic dust.

Unlike Modbury, neither the Town nor the Borough Council can actually ban the use of plastic bags – and while certain stores are promoting “bags for life” as an alternative to a plastic bag, the chain stores are very unlikely to adopt ‘local Morpeth’ practice, especially when they use plastic bags for advertising.

However consumer and peer pressure can be very powerful. Both Councils can encourage shoppers refuse plastic bags and help traders provide alternatives.

A starting point is to make the Wednesday Market plastic bag free. The two Councils are planning to provide 3-4 months-worth of both re-usable cotton or sisal bags and genuinely biodegradable bags (made entirely from cornstarch and fully compostable) to market traders from February. Whether the initiative expands or carries on after that will depend heavily on the response from shoppers, market traders and shopkeepers.

From a Green point of view, the immediate impact of reusable shopping bags is fairly minor - removing plastic bags from our lives won't make us a sustainable culture anymore than saving the polar bear will stop global warming - but it is a powerful symbol. The disposable plastic bag is the icon of our unsustainable lifestyles. Campaigns to ban them help people to start questioning how and where products are made, how they are transported and where they go when we're finished with them. It makes us look at all consumer goods in a different light.

Friday, 7 December 2007

English Partnerships & St. George's Hospital III

English Partnerships has taken over the St George's Hospital site and intend to bring forward a new planning application for 200 houses and employment provision in February.

The existing planning permission for 150 houses (including re-use of existing buildings) and employment land is apparently not economically viable. Unexpected costs include connection to mains sewage, higher than expected refurbishment costs to existing buildings - and the Borough Council is asking for a higher proportion of affordable housing.

  • Of course the Hospital has a private sewage network which might cope with 200 houses - but EP are thinking ahead to Stage 2 of the development which will add a further 250 houses.
  • It's a shame too that the NHS Trust has been so strapped for cash over the last ten years or so that they haven't been able to afford even minumum maintenance on the empty buildng - so they've gone to wrack and ruin. A classic case of pennywise, poundfoolish - as in so much of government these days.
  • And - emerging Council policy on affordable housing requires 50% of new housing developments to be affordable - so there's some interesting horse-trading to come.
NCC Highways are happy that The Drive is adequate access to the proposed development if the junction onto Whorral Bank is enlarged.

  • This will apparently involve widening the junction, putting in a righthand filter and possibly a min-roundabout. It isn't clear yet whether they intend taking a bite out of Tommy's Field, the Easter Field or the garden at the end of Thorp Avenue (or all three).
  • It's not clear too that NCC Highways are taking into account traffic flows from whatever development appears on the site of the Mount retirement home - currently being marketed for NCC by DTZ
The new development will probably retain the Tower, Superintendent's House, Chapel and cricket field. English Heritage has said that most of the buildings are of no particular merit and do not rate 'listing'.

The second stage development of 250 houses, a small retail centre and employment provision is planned for the site of the remaining hospital buildings, but this depends on the Northern Link Road (from A1 across Fulbeck and Bluebell Woods to Whorral Bank) being built.

  • The road is currently earmarked in a regional funding programme - likely to come forward in the next five years or so. But private sector funding is also required - which would come from this Stage 2 development. And - although NCC have plans for the road - they have not yet even applied for planning permission.
English Partnerships hopes to get an outline planning application for Stage 1 submitted in February, with determination by the Borough Council in May. Then they'll prepare a Development Brief and market the site. They hope to have a developer on site by Aurumn 2009.

  • They have shown a willingness to consult - I hope this extends through the pre-application and application process into the preparation of the Development Brief.
  • They say that they have no intention of building on the open land (cricket field, common, race course) in either Stage 1 or Stage 2 (and that will probably take us through to about 2015).

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Howard Road Zebra Crossing II

NCC Highways evidently made a mistake when they tried to short circuit consultation on moving the Howard Road Zebra Crossing.

The idea came forward (well OK - I suggested it) during the consultation on the broader traffic calming scheme (which proved very popular) - and NCC Highways, understandably seeing it as an 'add-on' only consulted the immediate residents (Howard Road, Howard Terrace, Greystoke Gardens - and possibly Maritime Place).

Unfortunately - a lot of people in the streets to the north of Howard Road (who were consulted on the original scheme) also use that crossing. Many of them apparently use it to get to Dark Lane - walking to Morrisons, the Library and - with children - Goosehill School.

Following the outcry - NCC Highways have decided they do not have enough data on traffic and pedestrian flows, so they are shelving the idea of moving the crossing until they can collect that data. Of course, they can't do that until everything has calmed down after the town centre development finishes.

So - the main traffic calming (including a 20mph speed limit) is going ahead - probably in March. Traffic calming in Dacre Street will be put in place at the same time. But - the zebra crossing definitely won't be moved - until the idea is reconsidered in about 18 months time.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Howard Road Zebra Crossing

As you may have seen in the recent ‘Focus’ newsletter, the County Council are planning to move the zebra crossing on Howard Road towards the Wellway junction as part of the traffic calming measures. This was an afterthought to the original scheme – and the County Council only consulted residents of Howard Rd, Howard Terrace and Greystoke Gardens on the move.

Of course, other people in the area use that zebra crossing – in particular parents taking children along Dark Lane to Goosehill School – so you should also have views on the plans to move it. It may be that there’s a need for two crossings on the road.

The formal consultation is over, but if you have strong views please contact John Mather (tel 533978 at the County Council and/or me urgently.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Thinking 'outside the car'

Can you imagine living with a car?

See this academic survey on 'car-free eco-towns'

Sunday, 25 November 2007

English Partnerships & St George's Hospital II

See also post on Sept 30th: I quote from and paraphrase [where the English is too tortuous] the developers' letter....

"English Partnerships is proposing to redevelop the former St. George’s Hospital site [which it has 'inherited' from the Dept for Health]. This site represents an excellent opportunity to provide a sustainable mixed-use redevelopment within Morpeth.

"On behalf of English Partnerships, David Lock Associates are holding a public exhibition about the development process and give an opportunity to local people to influence the redevelopment of St. George’s Hospital.

"The public exhibition will be held at: The Corn Exchange in the Town Hall on Wednesday, 5 December 2007 from 11am - 7pm

"There will also be opportunities during the day for tours of the site at 12 noon & 2 pm (meet on site at Cottage Row, near security compound)."

Stakeholders - like me and other councillors - are invited to an evening presentation with subsequent Answer and Question Time. I'd be happy to receive and suggestions for questions!

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Boys Brigade Bazaar

I meant to post this during the Boys Brigade Bazaar - but didn't get round to it.

This annual event is the hidden star of Morpeth's fairs and jumble sales. It lasts all week - this year from Sat 17th - Sat 24th Nov - and completely fills the Boys Brigade Hall (an old chapel) on Manchester Street.

You can get everything from glass & china to gadgets to prints & pictures to toys to electrical goods, not to mention books, cds, videos and computer games. If you can imagine Smails having a sale of surplus stock - but allowing customers to rummage through the stock rooms - you'll start to get the picture.

It's a great social event (and I usually get a fair bit of my Christmas shopping done there). But for me the best thing is that it promotes re-use and repair of things which is better than recycling.

It's one of the 'greenest' events in Morpeth - and its been going since 'green' was just a colour between yellow and blue in the rainbow [no political metaphor intended].

And now - you can get the same thing all year round with 'Freecycle' - a web-based exchange of unwanted goods. The
Morpeth Freecycle™ group (currently with over 1800 members) is open to all who want to "recycle" [actually re-use] unwanted but serviceable items rather than throw them away. Whether it's a chair, a fax machine, piano or an old door, feel free to post it. Or maybe you're looking to acquire something yourself. Just one main rule: everything posted must be.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Ecover Refill Point at Morpeth Wednesday Market

Have you been along to Morpeth Wednesday Market recently? There last few weels there have been 15-18 stalls - it's looking like a real market.

One new stall I'm particularly excited about (well - I don't get out much) not only sells Ecover products - but has barrels to refill bottles from.

Although Morpeth has a great reputation for recycling, we shouldn't forget that re-use (and repair) is better than recycling....

Sunday, 30 September 2007

St George's, Cottingwood Common - and English Partnerships

I gather that English Partnerships have now taken over the whole St George's Hospital site from the NHS as part of the Government's plan to develop unneeded NHS land.
]My understanding of the planning situation is that there's no chance of development beyond the 150 homes already approved until a new access road is constructed]
English Partnerships seem to be taking their responsibilities for the site seriously - and in the past week or so there has been some friction between security guards and dogwalkers etc on the St George's site. I understand that the site manager for English Partnerships has now been given instructions to allow free access (within reason) to walkers and dog-walkers.
However - it does raise issues about future access to the site. NCC have a webpage showing existing rights of way, but there are a number of footpaths and access points which are not covered by these.
There is a process whereby additional rights of way can be established by groups of people if they can demonstrate that they have used the route for 20 years or more. I'd like people who regularly walk at St George's or on Cottingwood Common to get in touch with me so that we can identify any further rights of way and points of access that need to be defined before English Partnerships get going with development plans.
I've been told that Morpeth Antiquarian Society have registered 'Cottingwood' as a Common - and I'd like to hear more about this.
I'm also aware the the Morpeth Walking Festival will include some walks up onto the Cottingwood site, and that GMDT will soon be issuing walking guides which includes at least one involving the site.
Time for some joined-up thinking....

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Good Food Shop

Sad to see the 'Good Food Shop' on Back Riggs closing today. It was perhaps the most successful business run from that shop - and was building an enthusiastic customer base.

There is a growing demand for locally sourced produce in Morpeth building on our monthly farmers' market - and though our butchers, greengrocers, delis and local farm shops do all stock and promote local produce - Phil's enthusiasm for food and knowledge of local producers was something special.

He struggled a little bit when having to choose between imported organic produce and local non-organic produce - but generally went for local produce.

I understand that Phil doesn't want to make a big fuss about the Trading Standards and Food Standards Agency inspections that made life so difficult nor about the reluctance of the landlord to fund the improvements to the building that the inspectors required - so I won't go on about them.

Though I will comment in a general sort of way that it seems to me that absentee landlords and sky-high shop rents which is inhibiting the success of local businesses far more than car parking charges.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

David Towns on Green Taxes

My Conservative colleage in the "Unholy Alliance" - young Cllr David Towns - shows himself up a bit by displaying a profound ignorance of the nature and purpose of Green taxes in a letter to the Morpeth Herald this week (20th Sept). It's understandable - the way New Labour (and the John Major government before them) have used the term - anyone could get confused.

Ever helpful - I've submitted a letter clarifying what Green taxation is about - and here it is (just in case the Morpeth Herald don't have room for it):

"Cllr Towns (Morpeth Herald letters 20th Sept) fundamentally misunderstands the nature of Green taxes, but he’s not alone. A well-designed Green tax should be revenue-neutral because people should switch from the activity being taxed to the Greener alternative. Investment up-front (eg in the rail network) should ensure that adequate alternatives are in place before the tax is imposed and any initial revenue would be ringfenced to subsidise alternatives (eg bus services) until usage levels make them commercially viable. I’m as frustrated as he apparently is that New Labour have brought the idea into disrepute by mislabelling some of their stealth taxes as ‘Green’ – and that so-called ‘Green taxes’ imposed by successive Conservative and Labour governments have not been sufficiently punitive (nor linked to resourcing alternatives) to change behaviour. The LibDems are confused too, if they think that Green taxes can be used to reduce income tax. In fact, the only UK example of a real Green tax that I can think of is the London congestion charge, brought in by Ken Livingston (at the time an Independent) with the backing of Green Party members of the Greater London Assembly."

Friday, 31 August 2007

Unitary Proposals could export jobs

A couple of years ago, Northumberland County Council carried out some groundbreaking work on local procurement with the New Economics Foundation.
This “LM3” study showed that money spent on procurement with local businesses benefited the local economy by three times as much as money spent with businesses outside the area.
And yet, proposals for the new unitary authority suggest outsourcing service delivery to a joint company shared with Cambridgeshire and Hampshire, likely to be based in Hampshire.

Outsourcing may possibly save money for the council but if it exports jobs and drains money from the county then its going to cost the local economy far more than is saved.

In fact, I’m surprised that the NE Chamber of Commerce is supporting proposals which could do so much damage to the local economy quite so strongly.

The County Council have a good reputation for local procurement and supporting social enterprise. The District Councils have some very good teams in place delivering high quality services, which are likely to be broken up in the restructure.
If we’re going ahead with the restructure, and if outsourcing is a must – then surely it should be possible to create local businesses to deliver services saving jobs and supporting the local economy in the process rather exporting jobs to the south.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Roof falls in on Council

Well OK - the Town Hall ceiling collapsed on 16th August.
That is to say, an area of plaster fell from the ceiling on the first floor hall way which gives access to the Mayor’s Parlour, Chamber and Kitchen. As a result of the partial collapse, other areas have been further damaged and are at risk of falling.
Repair work began this week (w/b 27th Aug). Meanwhile the whole of the first floor of the Town Hall is now closed until at least Monday 24th September, though if repair and cleaning work go well - it may be possible to re-open earlier.
Events downstairs in the Town Hall (eg the farmers' market on Sun 2nd Sept) are unaffected and will go ahead as normal.
Any link between this event and the plans for a single unitary for Northumberland is coincidence not augury.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

You can't get from Morpeth Station

... at least not at weekends from September to November.

Engineering works are being carried out on the ECML every weekend from 15/16th September through to 3rd/4th November.
No trains will run north of Morpeth on these dates.

GNER services to Edinburgh will be diverted via Carlisle and there will be coaches connecting Newcastle with Morpeth, Alnmouth Berwick and Dunbar.
On Saturday 27th October and Saturday 3rd November, the Newcastle – Cramlington - Morpeth trains will be replaced by coaches.

Meanwhile, construction work seems to have started already at Morpeth: The northbound platform is currently being moved back 3 inches, to allow greater clearance between the tracks.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

You can't get to Morpeth Station

Transport 2000’s recent “Weakest Link” survey found rail passengers in the North East citing poor bus links, difficult-to-cross roads, insecure cycle parking and a lack of cycle paths as barriers to using their local train station.

Morpeth Station was particularly highlighted.

It has seen an 8% growth in passengers in the last year with Virgin XC and GNER InterCity services stopping and is increasingly popular with commuters.
However, the car park is full by 8:30am and there are no cycle storage facilities at all.
And the northbound platform is notoriously inaccessible for wheelchair users.

Dennis Fancett, the Chairman of SE Northumberland Rail User Group said:

“The southbound platform has a bus turning circle marked ‘bus only’ but no buses call there; buses only serve the main road which is a short walk away. There are no sign posts to the bus stop. To get a bus into town you have to cross the main road with no pedestrian facilities. We’d like to see the bus company working to get the buses actually into the station complex.”

Meanwhile Northumberland CC has reportedly got bus operators to work to the train timetable, and even take account of delayed rail services at the newly refurbished transport interchange at Prudhoe Rail Station.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Transport and Mr Bateman

My friend Norman Bateman has written an interesting letter in the Morpeth Herald (23rd August “Rail: Time to think again”) attacking Government policy on fuel and road tax duty and the prohibitive cost of rail travel. Characteristically he makes a provocative aside claiming that the Green Party policy on CO2 emissions is anti-car to the exclusion of all else.

I have, of course, written a rebuttal letter for the Herald – but I can develop some of the ideas more here.

Transport does generate about a third of CO2 emissions in the UK, but it is the only sector where emissions are growing – and growing fast. And of course, air travel is the most damaging because not only does it generate high levels of CO2, it emits them in the upper reaches of the atmosphere where the ‘greenhouse effect’ occurs. So policy needs to focus of emissions arising from transport.

Mr Bateman is quite correct is saying that the first focus must be on reducing the need to travel. We should be decentralising our provision of health, education, shops, work, leisure etc facilities. And we should be insisting on local produce whenever possible. If we’re serious about planning ‘sustainable communities’ – then we should be providing far more than just houses – even if they are ‘eco-friendly’.

And Mr Bateman is correct in saying that current fare structures militate against using lower emission modes of transport. It is ridiculous that short hop air fares are cheaper than rail fares; that a shared taxi is cheaper than travelling by bus or that road freight is more cost effective than rail freight.

Unfortunately, Mr Bateman then succumbs to the popular usage that spending on rail infrastructure is ‘subsidy’ while spending on roads in ‘investment’. In fact, the train operating companies actually pay the Government for franchises to operate and pay Network Rail for use of the track. It is these payments and the notion that the trains should be run to make profits for shareholders that keeps train fares up, while the road network is almost entirely operated as a state-funded public service with the result that the real cost of operating a car has decreased by around 10% in the last ten years.

He also comes up with some curious ideas about discounting fuel tax on heavy lorries and increasing Vehicle Excise Duty. Since the real problem is vehicle use, not vehicle ownership – it would seem a better idea to minimise Vehicle Excise Duty and maximise fuel tax. But – not before investing in public transport – bus and rail - to make it an adequate alternative to car use, and making it easier and safer to travel by bike or on foot.

Unfortunately at present, Government policy on transport – be it aviation, rail or road – is totally at odds with Government policy on climate change and reducing CO2 emissions.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Consultation on Morpeth Cottage Hospital

The 'preferred options' for the future of Morpeth Cottage Hospital and 'improving health services in Morpeth' have been published for consultation. Cheery green and blue leaflets should be widely available - or else contact Diane Gonsalez tel 0191 219 6030 email

There'll be public meetings - in Morpeth Town Hall - on
Weds 5th Sept at 2pm (with a publicity stall on the market too)
Mon 10th Sept ar 6pm

Deadline for comments is 5th October.

In essence the proposals are:

i) close the Cottage Hospital on its current site
ii) build a new NHS outpatient clinic in Morpeth - with increased capacity and more equipment (MRI scanner, X-rays, ultrasound, echocardiography) than currently at the Cottage Hospital
iii) provide patient beds for end-of-life care and for 'slow stream rehabilitation' in an existing nursing home in Morpeth
iv) transfer the stroke rehabilitation and other in-patient beds at Morpeth Cottage Hospital to a 'dedicated unit' at Wansbeck General Hospital

Monday, 30 July 2007

Town Centre Development - Latest Schedule

Latest schedule issued by Dransfield on town centre redevelopment:

Highways works incl widening Dark Lane, two new roundabouts and a 'pedestrian crossing facility' (do they mean a footbridge?) - due for completion midDec

Longstay car park on site of Retreat and south end of Geoff Brown's field - 115 parking spaces - due for completion 16th Nov

If all goes to schedule - the roadworks shold be finished and the new car park will be available for the run-up to Christmas

New petrol station will be built on the north end of Geoff Brown's field - starting 1st Oct, completion 29th Feb '08

Through the summer - there'll be preliminary work in Back Riggs to install new gas, water and electric services before the main development starts

Next stage will be construction of the new bus station (behind M&S)

Contact numbers for the contractors:
Thorntons (demolition of The Retreat) 01670 860335
Lumsden & Carroll (highways works) 0191 377 4500
Turtons (petrol station) 01924 477324

Monday, 23 July 2007

Northumberland Car Share Scheme

Northumberland County Council are hosting a pretty good car share scheme open to anyone to join - but for some reason, they are keeping it secret...

Car Sharing in Northumberland

A car with 2 people in it is twice as efficient as a car with one person in, takes up half as much road space and emits half as much CO2.

Northumberland Car Share is a free and simple to use internet service provided by Northumberland County Council to encourage people to share their journeys.

Sharers can find potential matches by becoming a member of Northumberland Car Share at The site has been built and designed for every possible user, whether they are a driver/passenger or would simply like to find an alternative to getting out and about. The system tells them if anyone is going in the same direction, leaving it up to the user to make contact through e-mail or telephone to arrange to share the journey and cost.

Registering with Northumberland Car Share also allows members to search and be included on the national Liftshare database which has over 110,000 members and 20 million trips.

The scheme has been designed to be as safe and secure as possible, and no personal information will be revealed on-line. In addition, women can choose to travel only with other women, and men with other men.

For more information check out the

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Will it be 2nd July?

A strong runour that work will begin on the town centre ('Dransfield') development on 2nd July...

5th July: No signs yet - but contractors are drilling holes in Wellway, in preparation for installation of storm overflow tanks to stop the road and the Cotting Burn flooding. This will involve a 7m deep hole being dug all the way along Wellway. I'll certainly be taking more care on the way back from the Tap & Spile while its on.

Meanwhile - NCC are starting the resurfacing of the A197 from Makeging Roundabout to County Hall on July 8th - 24 hour working for three weeks. The road won't be closed, but there'll be a 10mph speed limit for the duration.
All lining up nicely for the Britain in Bloom inspection on 16th July!

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Shopping Trolleys on the Loose!

I gather M&S shopping trolleys have been sighted in various locations around Morpeth - some considerable way from the Market Place. And apparently, M&S staff have shown little interest in retrieving them.

As far as I'm aware (don't frequent supermarkets much myself) Morrison's and Lidl's trolleys don't wander because a deposit system is used, while Co-Op customers are just too community-minded to go off with trolleys.

So - why don't M&S introduce a deposit system - or are they making so much money in Morpeth they can afford to lose the occasional trolley?

Saturday, 2 June 2007


So what have I sold my soul for in signing up to the "Unholy Alliance". Well I've been given a portfolio on the Executive Board - I'm now the Executive Member for Improvement!

Improvement of what you might well ask? Well - it used to be called "Corporate Governance" but that was considered too obscure for the public to understand.

So, the name was changed to "Improving the Council" - as in "Executive Member for Improving the Council". But that was quickly abandoned either because it seemed too heavy a burden for one councillor - or because it gave cause for too much public ribaldry (and we can't have that!)

Perhaps it's best described as the bits left over from the other (more obvious) Executive Member - Environment, Economy, Communities - I dunno?

So - Improvement? What do you think needs improving?

Friday, 1 June 2007

An Unholy Alliance

I quite like the idea of being part of an 'Unholy Alliance' - as the Tory-Labour coalition now running the Borough Council has been dubbed. It's particularly interesting because - at least for the moment - the two parties seem to understand and trust me and the two Independents rather more than each other...

You have to feel sorry for the LibDems though. They've been 'in power' at the Borough Council - as part of coalitions with the Independents, with Labour, with everyone - for over eight years, and now when they have a huge election triumph with their highest ever number of seats, they find it's their turn to be in opposition.

Of course it didn't help that they went around before the election saying they couldn't work as part of an all-party coalition again - and their 'no holds barred' approach to electioneering seemed to overlook the point that they'd need to be working with at least some of the other parties after the election. You'd have thought that a party committed to proportional representation would have worked out a more integrated approach to coalition-building - and that holds true for their recent performances in the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.

So - I've backed the "Unholy Alliance" because I think that the Tories and Labour need more help with their "Green" policies - and that the LibDems will make an effective opposition.

I sincerely hope we won't revert to inter-party squabbling and that we aren't in for a year(s)-long election campaign for a future Unitary Authority.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Nuclear Power, Energy Supply & Climate Change

I usually put my more strident rants on my Bile blog - but I think this one - triggered by the Energy White Paper published yesterday - needs to be here...

Of course, slowing climate change is about reducing carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gas) emissions, not purely about changing energy sources.
We could reduce CO2 emissions by
  • reducing road traffic levels and aircraft use,
  • building more energy efficient housing
  • and by using energy more efficiently in industry.

And that's all before even thinking about social changes towards a lower energy lifestyle (see Transition Towns). Even when you consider electricity generation, the technology exists for lower powered computers, fluorescent lighting etc, not to mention uses (like heating) where electricity is simply inefficient.

So – when a Government is prepared to spend just £18M a year in energy conservation grants but several billion pounds on replacing nuclear weapons (which are contingency against a less certain threat than climate change) and several hundred billion pounds maintaining a military operation (partly) to safeguard oil supplies – you have to wonder at its priorities.

What I'm getting at is the suggestion that we need nuclear power to counter the threat of climate change is cr*p - I won't get into the arguments about nuclear waste, the threat of accident, the threat of terrorism, the impossibility of insuring nuclear power stations or even the fact that uranium extraction from its ore generates significant levels of CO2 - let's just say there are other alternatives in the timescale we've got.

As to security of supply – sources of high-grade uranium ore (eg West Africa, Siberia) are not exactly politically stable, any more than sources of oil and gas.
And current nuclear power stations are designed to produce weapons-grade nuclear fuel by reprocessing. That’s one of the reasons why the Americans doubt the Iranian civil nuclear programme so much. Development of entirely ‘civil’ nuclear power stations will take much longer than the 20 year window we’re told we have.

Of course if photovoltaics, wave or tidal power could have been used to create weapons of mass destruction, they’d have been fully developed by now.

And I guess it is coincidence that the Government have published planning reform for major infrastructure projects and a strategy identifying the need for new nuclear power stations across the country.

Friday, 18 May 2007

Political Shapings

Well - Cllr Milburn 'Dougie' Douglas is our new mayor - and - if the votes go as expected on Monday night (21st), we'll have a Con-Lab coalition running the council (with support from the Independents and myself) with the LibDems in opposition.

It's a shame the all-party alliance has folded - but aggressive political campaigning during the election made it near inevitable. In some ways, returning to a conventional administration-opposition arrangement may lead to more debate in public - which will be a good thing if it casts more light than heat.

However with the possibility of Unitary Authorities looming over us - we'll most likely to have a full year's election campaign - and that won't do anyone any good when what we may need a well-managed transition.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Steam Train in Morpeth

Sat May 19th:
The charter steam train listed in the diary (over there) is coming up from Cleethorpes and is due to be at:

Newcastle Central: arr 14:05 dep 14:07
Benton North Junction 14:16
Newsham 14:33
Hepscott arr 14:47 dep 15:17
Morpeth arr 15:26 dep 16:29
Newcastle Central arr 16:50 dep 16:53

See website

Friday, 4 May 2007

Election Outcome

Some big and (possibly) unexpected changes - with Independents and Labour losing out and the LibDems making some big gains.

The Town Council now has 13 LibDems 1 Labour and 1 Green (Nic) - but I'm sure there'll be no party politics played

The Borough Council has 12 Conservatives 12 LibDems 6 Labour 2 Independents and 1 Green (Nic) - and with 17 councillors needed for a majority coalition - we can expect to see Labour 'courted' by both Conservatives and LibDems - could be interesting. And who is going to be the next Mayor now that Geoff Proudlock has been voted off the Council?

I expect my Councillor Website will be re-activated soon - but I'll keep this blog going for the bits I'm not allowed to put on the website.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Interactive Leaflet 9 - Unitary Authority?

We may be getting a change in local government in the next couple of years with the abolition of both District and County Councils and their replacement by either one or two ‘unitary authorities’.

There's a consultation of 'key stakeholders' going on at the moment - that doesn't include the general public or any community organisations - deadline 22nd June - with the Government announcing what we're going to get in July.

Of course - its outrageous

- its outrageous that the government is imposing this change without any sort of referendum, but then we did give them the 'wrong answer' on regional government, so we can't be trusted

- its outrageous that the County Council pre-empted any discussion by declaring they'd be bidding for a single unitary authority within hours of the Government announcement, and brought their Cabinet up to speed a few weeks later - and then fudged the full council decision

- its outrageous that the District Councils 'played the game' by counter-bidding with a two unitary model, again without any real consultation (though as a loyal member of CMBC Executive Board, I'm of course fully behind the two unitary bid)

- its outrageous that Government 'bottled it' and did not choose a single option for consultation, thereby blighting any chance of co-operative working between County and Districts for another six months

But outrage won't get us far... Some parties are suggesting a private referendum - but this would take £120,000 of tax payers money with no guarantee that the Government will pay it heed.

So - we must try to get the best out of what is on offer...

As we see it, this change is all about
  • more cost-effective centralised services
  • meeting the different needs of urban and rural Northumberland
  • and local accountability.

As a party, we feel that local accountability is most important and we’ll be looking to maximise this in all options under consideration.

And, whatever the outcome, the Town Council will become far more significant under unitary government so the results of this election are really important.

Saturday, 28 April 2007

Housing Need Survey

Some 11,000 households across the Borough have received a housing needs survey from the Council.

Unlike most consultations and surveys - this one is important because it'll be used by the Borough Council to claim money from central Government to help fund affordable housing schemes - and we have a real problem with house prices in Morpeth.

So - if you get a form, please fill it in and return it - even if you don't think 'housing need' applies to you - the Council needs to get a full picture of the situation.

Although the survey is several pages long and rather intrusive - it is fairly easy to fill in because it is asking for facts rather than views and opinions.

Deadline for returning the forms is Weds 2nd May

Friday, 27 April 2007

Interactive Leaflet 8 - Climate Change

As the Greens have been saying for the last twenty years – climate change is not only real, but the biggest threat we have to face and we’ve got to do something about it. That includes both reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for the floods, storms, droughts and heatwaves we can expect.

Yesterday evening (April 26th) the (Conservative) Leader, (Labour) Deputy Leader, Chief Executive and councillors from all parties signed up to the Nottingham Declaration on Climate Change, which is an agenda for local action in response to the global issue. It is a bit waffly – but does commit the Council to working on climate change through all its activities – preparing an Action Plan within the next twelve months.

If re-elected, I’ll work to make sure this carried into real action even if climate change stops being ‘flavour of the month’ with the mainstream parties.

What's going on at the Morrison Road junction?

Back last November - NCC carried out a survey on traffic calming in the Hood Street -Fenwick Grove area which I helped publicise...

I found out the results of the survey in January and posted them on my website -

NCC Highways had 80+ responses to their consultation. The responses were almost unanimous in support of the changed priority and raised junction at the intersection of Morrison Road with Fenwick Grove, but some 26% were opposed to proposed modifications to the junctions of Hood Street, Olympia Gardens and Fenwick Grove with Howard Road

They are therefore only going ahead with the changes to the Morrison Road - Fenwick Grove intersection, which is what is being done now.

Speed monitoring in the area showed average speeds under 20mph in Hood Street, Olympia Gardens and Morrison Road and just 21.8 mph on Fenwick Grove. With this evidence, I think that the police would agree to making the area a 20 mph zone without further traffic calming measures.

Following lobbying from Howard Road, Terrace and Greystoke Gardens residents lead by Peter Allan - NCC Highways are likely to consult on traffic calming proposals for Howard Road in the next financial/municipal year (ie after April - probably in Oct/Nov again) - which may well include proposals for such a 20 mph zone.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Interactive Leaflet 7 - Fairtrade Morpeth

Both Ron and Nic are strong supporters of fairtrade and are proud that Morpeth was the first town in Northumberland to achieve Fairtrade status back in 2003. See the Fairtrade Foundation

The Town and Borough Councils committed themselves to supporting fairtrade as part of that process – but have really done very little towards deepening that commitment since.

If elected, Ron and Nic will work to get real ongoing support for fairtrade from both Town and Borough Councils.

Getting around town...

Have you seen the proposals from Gateshead Council for a ski lift to carry people between Gateshead town centre and the Baltic on the Quayside?

It set me thinking that we could do something similar in Morpeth

- how about a ski lift down from Lancaster Park?
- or maybe a cog railway or funicular alongside Curly Kews?

...they'd certainly be an attraction to the town.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Interactive Leaflet 6 - Development in Morpeth

The next few years are going to see massive changes in Morpeth.

The Town and Borough Councils are going to need to work together to keep Morpeth going during the various redevelopments.

Both Nic and Ron are committed to keeping the ‘special character’ of Morpeth, supporting locally owned shops and the markets, improving bus and rail services and taking a sensible approach to car parking.

We'll try to keep you updated on reports on progress (or even start) of the Back Riggs development - and all the other works planned for this year. It'd be helpful if others could share what information they have through this 'blog'.

We understand that delays in the Back Riggs development have been largely caused by the late arrival of a separate Morrisons negotiator joining discussions.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Interactive Leaflet 5 - Local Plan

Nic was first elected to the Borough Council in the aftermath of the catastrophic failure of the last Castle Morpeth Local Plan.

This time round, he is at the heart of the Council’s preparation of its new Local Development Framework (LDF).

The LDF is a 20 year plan setting out where housing and industrial developments are going to be, mapping out the new Green Belt around Morpeth and defining policies to protect the landscape and wildlife.

It’s probably the most influential policy the Borough Council is responsible for.

So, we’ll certainly need one or two Greens on the Council to make sure it comes out right this time.

Monday, 23 April 2007

Interactive Leaflet 4 - Rail Services

Both Ron and Nic are strong supporters of the SE Northumberland Rail User Group (in fact Nic was involved in setting it up) and we’re very impressed by what it has achieved. Again, if elected we’ll work to make sure that both Town and Borough Councils actively support SENRUG in its campaigns and projects.

Saturday, 21 April 2007

Interactive Leaflet 3 - Greater Morpeth Development Trust

In our view, GMDT is the last, best hope for Morpeth as a market town.

Three years ago, Nic said that a ‘community-led solution’ was needed for the Chantry and Town Hall.

The Trust is that solution and, potentially, much more.

We must protect Morpeth’s assets and keep them in the hands of local people, but not be afraid to use them to boost the local economy.

If elected, Nic and Ron will encourage both Borough and Town Councils to continue working through and with the Trust.

Friday, 20 April 2007

Go Green ....... Vote Green!

Nice of the Newcastle Journal & Evening Chronicle to launch their 'Go Green' campaign in support of our local election campaign...

Of course - the campaign is flawed from the start if it assumes that individuals can transform things just by 'doing our bit' in recycling, saving energy and reducing car use. Individuals can only take things so far - and even consumer pressure has its limits. We need local and national government to start changing too

And of course the only way to get our politicians to react is to vote Green - that way you either get elected Green politicians who understand what needs to be done, or at the very least, pressure the other parties to take on Green policies (even if they don't really understand them)

So - to restore meaning to the Conservatives' new slogan - If you want to Go Green - Vote Green!

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Interactive Leaflet 2 - All-Party Coalition

For the past two years, the Borough Council has operated under an all-party coalition and as a result it has been more effective, wasting less time on trivial inter-party squabbling.

Nic was closely involved in creating the coalition, and has been on the Council’s Executive Board since it was established.
As a lone Green councillor - he has no political claim to the Executive - but the whole Council voted him on in recognition of the contribution he makes.

The Green Party generally works through consensus-building and co-operation.
If re-elected, Nic will continue to encourage cross-party working.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Morpeth Freecycle Network

Here’s a good idea…..

The Freecycle Network is a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (& getting) stuff for free in their own towns. Each local group is moderated by a local volunteer. Membership is free.

When you want to find a new home for something -- whether it's a chair, a fax machine, piano, or an old door -- you simply send an e-mail offering it to members of the local Freecycle group.

Or, maybe you're looking to acquire something yourself. Simply respond to a member's offer, and you just might get it. After that, it's up to the giver to decide who receives the gift and to set up a pickup time for passing on the treasure.

There’s a very active freecycling network with over 1100 members centred on Morpeth – see

Interactive Leaflet 1 - Markets

I'm going to post text from our leaflet to give blog readers a chance to comment on what we've said - one section at a time - starting with Markets:

Nic has championed Morpeth Farmers’ Market from its launch in 1999 and we think it is one of the best things the council runs. And of course, it’s ‘green’ both to buy local (low foodmiles) produce and to support local businesses.

As Chairman of the Castle Morpeth Markets Partnership, Nic has overseen the major investment in the Wednesday Market and its transfer onto the Market Place. We’d like to see lots more done to develop both markets so by re-electing Nic, you can help make sure he’s there to carry on the job.

Monday, 16 April 2007

Green Candidates standing on May 3rd

We’re concentrating on the new Morpeth North Central ward – where there are three Borough Councillors to be elected and five Town Councillors. We’re asking for one of your three Borough Council votes and two of your five Town Council votes

In Morpeth North Central:
Nic Best – standing for Castle Morpeth BC and Morpeth Town Council

Nic has served for eight years as a Borough Councillor and ten years as a Town Council for Morpeth North ward – and he still wants to be re-elected. Most recently, he has been a member of the Borough Council’s Executive in the all-party alliance and Chairman of the Markets Partnership. He is also Chairman of Northumberland Credit Union Ltd and a governor at Stobhillgate First School and he still finds time to do his ‘day job’ working for the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

And: Ron Forster – standing for Morpeth Town Council
Ron is Northumbrian born and has lived in Morpeth for nine years. He’s the minister of St George’s Church, is married to Shirley and has two sons, one at university in Edinburgh, and one in his final year at King Edward VI School. He was involved in the Morpeth Churches Action Group to save the Mount, is active in the Wansbeck Music Festival, on the Morpeth Gathering Committee, the Fair Trade Campaign and has been a school governor at Goosehill First School. In his spare time he enjoys drumming, playing in a ceilidh band and supporting Newcastle Falcons Rugby.

In Ponteland West: Peter Snowdon – standing for Castle Morpeth BC
Peter is a freelance documentary maker and his films include work on Palestine, on the foot & mouth crisis and on windturbines.

And in Stannington & Mitford: Paul Lawrence – standing for Castle Morpeth BC
Paul has travelled extensively in Iraq, Iran, Kazakhstan and Kyrgistan. He has a particular interest in Green social care policy and works at TyneMetro College.

After the Gathering

So - been out and about over the weekend at the 40th Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering. It looked a great success - and the weather was - errmm... too hot for me if anything.

The Calvalcade was a highlight - and I particularly liked Lord Greystoke's choice of a green feather in his cap. The horses are still missed though...

The concerts were great - and there seemed to be more entries for the competitions this year. Perhaps there's more prestige in winning at the 40th Anniversary? But for me, the musicians' sessions and singarounds in the pubs were better than the concerts - and that's not just because of the beer - Northumbrian music is more music for sharing in than performing?

One gripe - the cafes and tea rooms, not to mention the shops, were nearly all closed on Sunday - with people wandering the streets looking for somewhere to eat. I know when you are running your own business you don't want to work seven days a week - but it did seem like a lost opportunity.

And lastly a word of astonishment - I really don't know how Kim Bibby-Wilson does it - and survives! I hope she feels the success.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

So when are the threatened redevelopments and roadworks going to start?

Apart from the Back Riggs redevelopment, Northumbrian Water are planning major refurbishment of waterpipes in Morpeth over the summer - and the County Council want to resurface our roads.

We'll post any information about when and where that we can glean - watch this space

The current word is that:

Dransfield will be starting work 2nd week in May (plus/minus a week)
- starting with the new car park and petrol station on Dark Lane (Geoff Brown's Field) and a new roundabout at the end of Dacre Street. This is scheduled to take 12 weeks - so that'll take till early August

Work on constructing the new bus station and on the Sanderson Arcade would then start in September.

Northumbria Water are proposing to start work in early June - starting on Spelvit Lane. They've told the County Council Highways people that they'll keep off the main roads

There are also going to be major works on Wellway - installing water-holding tanks to reduce run-off rate and liability to flooding. This will involve very deep pits. I'm told this work will progress along Wellway in 7 metre sections - starting in August after the Dark Lane/Dacre Street roadworks are completed.

Meanwhile the County Council are planning to resurface the road between County Hall and Mafeking Roundabout - this will either start in the next couple of weeks - or be delayed until Feb/March next year

We're told that all security fencing etc used on these works will be robust enough to take hanging baskets towards Morpeth's entry in Britain in Bloom!

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Ashington-Blyth-Tyne line - petition to no. 10

SENRUG (South East Northumberland Rail User Group) has set up an online petition to 10 Downing Street through the 10 Downing St website, to campaign for the re-opening of the Ashington Blyth & Tyne Railway Line.

They reckon they need 200 signatures to be taken seriously, and perhaps 1,000 for government departments to really take note of what we are doing. The petition is open for a year until April 2008, but it would be good to exceed the above numbers quickly.

SENRUG also have information that there are now two studies going on into different aspects of the ABT re-opening:
  • A study into re-opening the Morpeth - Choppington - Bedlington Station section to passenger services, led by the North East Assembly and Wansbeck District Council. This should report back in May 2007 and SENRUG are involved as a non-funding partner in the study.
  • A study into re-opening the Ashington - Bedlington - Northumberland Park section led by NEXUS and using the same consultants.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

More development in Manchester Street?

Rumour has it that up-market pizza chain “Pizza Express” has made an offer for the Boys’ Brigade Hall in Manchester Street.

I gather that an earlier offer from J D Wetherspoon to turn it into a chain pub was refused point blank because of the building’s history within the temperance movement.

Now I enjoy a good pizza as much as most (as though who know me will agree) – but in my view we have enough pizza outlets in Morpeth - and some very good ones too. And they have the added advantage that they are locally owned, so money spent there stays in the local economy. Money spent at a Pizza Express (or any other chain) would mostly go out of the area – on national or regional procurement, on national office admin and on profits to shareholders.

We don’t appreciate how lucky we are with Morpeth’s wealth of locally owned shops and businesses (though ‘wealth’ might not be the right word in some cases) – they make Morpeth special, keep our local economy going – and we should support them.

Saturday, 31 March 2007

What do you think of the market so far?

There’s a survey about the Morpeth Wednesday Market in the latest issue of the Borough Council’s ‘Gateway’ magazine. I’m hoping that people will take the opportunity to respond to it – because (if re-elected) I’m likely to be working on further development of the market.

I’ve been on the Castle Morpeth Markets Partnership – which includes Morpeth Town Council, Morpeth Chamber of Trade and the Greater Morpeth Development Trust – since it was set up – and I’ve been chairman for the last five years.

So – I’m one of the ones to praise or blame for the transfer to the Market Place and the investment in new stalls etc. Of course, I think it’s a big improvement – though it could be even better – and I think we’re bucking the trend which is seeing markets across the country in decline. But – complete the survey or get in touch with me direct to tell me what you think…

If you haven’t seen the survey – and it’s only one page – get in touch and I’ll send you a copy.

I’ve also been responsible through the Markets Partnership for Morpeth farmers’ market – which I’m immensely proud of, and think is one of the best things the Council runs. There should be survey about Morpeth (and Ponteland) farmers’ markets in the June issue of Gateway – but you needn’t wait till then to tell me what you think about it.

If you’ve not been yet – do come along and see what Morpeth farmers’ market is about – Sunday 1st April and Sunday 6th May.

Election Imprint: Promoted by Nic Best, 57 Olympia Gardens, Morpeth on behalf of MidNorthumberland Green Party

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Taking the credit

I was much amused as usual by the latest edition of the LibDem's 'Focus' newsletter. As always their use of partial truths to create a misleading impression is masterful and a lesson to all of us aspiring politicians.
Of course, 'Chancellor' Cllr David Parker has played a pivotal role as 'Executive Member of Corporate Governance' (which includes finance) in helping the Council's financial recovery. But he could not have done it on his own - it is the cross-party working in an all-party coalition which has made to recovery possible.
And I'm proud of my minor role in bringing the party groups together.
I take it as a sign of success of the coalition that different parties are each trying to take credit for what the Council has achieved over the past few years - rather than blaming each other for failures. I only hope the election campaign doesn't sour relationships between the parties too much - we (if I'm re-elected, 'they' otherwise) will have to work together again afterwards.
Oh - but it does rile me a bit seeing the LibDems trying to take credit for South East Northumberland Rail User Group's (SENRUG) successes. This is an apolitical lobbying group with no connections to any political party. I was involved in setting it up - but I've deliberately taken a back seat since - limited myself to being the contact between SENRUG and the Borough and Town Councils.
Election Imprint: Promoted by Nic Best, 57 Olympia Gardens, Morpeth NE61 1JQ on behalf of MidNorthumberland Green Party

Staying in touch...

Well - my website has gone down for the election period, so I hope my 'regular readers' have transferred.

It'd really boost my confidence if people could either respond on this blog or
email me direct to let me know this is reaching you.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Sardine Man is a Geordie!

The North East has apparently the worst (Durham-Newcastle) and the sixth worst (Morpeth-Newcastle) crowded commuter trains in the country.

If only Northern would put the finally-being-cascaded 158 units on at peak times every time, but they don`t. Why not? It seems as though the 158s will go everywhere else before being allocated to North-East routes.

There’s an opportunity to complain loud and long at the joint Northern Rail and Virgin XC passenger forum on Morpeth station next week - April 4th, 3pm-6.30pm

Transport 2000’s national survey results are on their website

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Cheap Rail Travel to and from Newcastle

Northern Rail have introduced their ‘Duo’ ticket on rail services between Morpeth and Newcastle.

The Duo gives you one return train ticket, plus a second for half the price when two adults travel together.

It’s available:

Monday to Friday - outward 09:30 onwards - return any train same day except for trains timed to depart between 16:01 -17:59 inclusive
and on any trains on Saturdays, Sundays & Bank Holidays (except that normally Northern Rail does not run trains stopping at Morpeth on Sundays and Bank Holidays).

Price of Duo: £6.90
Price of Two Adults: £9.20
Duo Saving: £2.30

Friday, 9 March 2007

No bus stop shelters please!

Northumberland CC have offered to provide a number of perspex bus stop shelters - some replacing the concrete and wood structures maintained by Morpeth Town Council

The Town Council have consulted on a variety of locations - with a split in views between people who want the shelters and immediate neighbours who have fears of 'unruly gangs of youths' congregating at the shelters

So - without any clear policy in place - the Town Council have just deferred any decisions, so no new shelters for the time being!

Update 5th April:
Characteristically - the County Council have largely ignored the Town Council's dithering - and the bus shelters are being installed.
No agreement about maintenance yet. The Town Council's contractor cleans the old style bus shelters.

Think you could do better than existing councillors? Council seats up for grabs!

On May 3rd – all 33 Borough Council seats and all 15 Town Council seats will be up for election.

Get your nomination papers now! They’re available from 14th March from Annie Howliston, the Borough Elections Officer – tel Firstcall on 535000 – and need to be returned by 4th April.

There’s no deposit or charge to stand in the local elections (though you may want to spend some money on a leaflet) – and you need just ten people from the ward to sign your nomination paper for the Borough – and two signatures to stand for the Town Council.

And – recent legislation means that 18-year olds can now stand as candidates.

Elections are conventionally the time when people vote out the politicians they are dissatisfied with, though it may be difficult to vote on party lines when there’s been an all-party coalition for the past two years. On the other hand, a lot of people have expressed the view that they could make a better job being a councillor than ‘the present lot’ (and sometimes they say ‘excluding you, Nic, of course!) – so this is your chance! Why don’t you consider standing for either Borough Council or the Town Council?

Workload and Pay

I’d estimate that Borough Council work takes 12-15 hours a week what with committees and case work, and rather more if you are on the Executive, a Committee Chair or represent the Council on an outside body.

For this, you get a councillor’s allowance which will be around £3,500 before tax this coming year, plus travel expenses.

The Town Council is rather less work – two committee meetings a month plus any ad hoc working groups you volunteer for – but there is no allowance or expenses paid at all.


You don’t have to declare for a political party to be on the Town Council – but on the Borough Council, you do not have the right to be on any committees unless you are a member of a political group.

Of course, I’d be very happy to hear from people who’d like to stand for the Green Party

– but I’d better mention the leaders of the other parties who would also probably like to hear from prospective candidates:

Conservatives – Peter Jackson,

Labour – Alan Sambrook,

LibDem – David Parker

– and if you want to stand as an Independent rather than for a political party – there’s the ‘Independent Group’ – led by John Beynon.

Good luck – and I hope to hear from you!

Election Imprint: Promoted by Nic Best 57, Olympia Gardens, Morpeth NE61 1JQ on behalf the MidNorthumberland Green Party

Thursday, 1 March 2007

Consultation on Local Plan

Another consultation - this time ‘Local Development Framework Preferred Options’ – deadline for comments 31st March.

Don’t be put off – this is the Local Plan – probably the most influential policy the Borough Council sets – it last fifteen years and defines where and how many houses will be built, where and how much employment land will be allocated, defines the boundaries of the Green Belt – and sets the framework for all Planning Committee decisions.

The new process the Government has set up for the LDF is ‘death by a thousand consultations’ – starting with a consultation on how to consult! But it’s now getting more interesting.....

This document sets the outline high-level policies for Castle Morpeth 2006-2021 – and you’ll get one more bite at this cherry in the Autumn, with the ‘Submission Draft’ which really says “is this what you said?” bore it goes off the Government for approval. Then there’ll be various Area Action Plans (Morpeth, Ponteland, Coastal Villages), specialist Supplementary Planning Documents etc – which I’ll try to keep reported here – but this is the main strategy document.

That’s ‘Local Development Framework (LDF) Preferred Options’ – deadline for comments 31st March to Its downloadable from the Castle Morpeth BC main website .

It covers nine areas:
i) Development Strategy – where we build and where we don’t
ii) Housing – how many and where, and how we get affordable housing
iii) Employment & Tourism
iv) Retail & Services
v) Environment – including the new proposed Green Belt around Morpeth
vi) Heritage & Built Environment
vii) Energy Conservation, ICT and Transport – including rules for wind farm locations
viii) Planning Obligations
ix) and Monitoring & Implementation

Do have a look at it – and get in touch with me if there are any aspects you’d like to discuss….

Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Consultation on Community Strategy

Castle Morpeth Local Strategy Partnership is currently consulting on a Sustainable Communities Strategy. Deadline for comments 23rd March.

OK – it’s yet another consultation – and because it has to fit the Government ‘Sustainable Communities’ template, and has to be ‘aligned’ with the Northumberland Local Area Agreement (don’t ask – or rather do ask – but not just now!) – it comes across as high level, vague jargon.

But don’t be put off! This little strategy and the action plan that emerges from it is going to determine the priorities for how any money is spent in Castle Morpeth over the next few years. So have a look and make sure it covers the things you think are important

The strategy and response form etc are downloadable from the main Castle Morpeth BC website

Deadline for responses – 23rd March – to Ailsa Coverdale

Traffic Warden Sighted in Morpeth

A traffic warden was on duty in Morpeth last Thursday.
The Chairman of the Town Council gave him an official welcome - read all about it in the Morpeth Herald (with pics!)

Seriously - there actually was a traffic warden in Morpeth last week: there are eleven traffic wardens covering the whole county - one has managerial responsibilities and two are on longterm sick - leaving just eight to actually do the job.

And there is a job to do!

Morpeth is terrible for cars parked on pavements, cars parks on double yellow lines etc - we need proper enforcement of on-street car parking.

Castle Morpeth BC is working to convince NCC and the Police to 'decriminalise enforcement of on-street car parking' - which would mean that our enthusiastic car park attendants would have powers to write tickets for cars parked illegally on the road - as well as in the Borough Council car parks. But it's a long slow process.....

Monday, 26 February 2007

Climate Change and Local Authorities

The Borough Council agreed to sign up to the Nottingham Declaration on Climate Change at Full Council last Thursday (22nd Feb) – with a commitment to producing an Action Plan by next March (2008), but a suggestion that all we’ll be doing is ‘badging up’ things we are already doing.

Obviously, I feel we should get as committed to taking action on climate change as possible while its still ‘flavour of the month’ with the other political parties. We’ll see how things go….

Meanwhile - the Local Government Association (see has set up a "climate change commission" launched today (26th Feb) intended to make sure that councils are in the lead in delivering climate change policies. Everyone can give evidence to this commission and point out what local authorities should or could do.

In my view – there’s a lot councils can do to sort out our own act before taking on a self-declared leadership role:

bypasses are a big problem: The Lancaster northern bypass supported by Lancashire County Council produces 25,000 tonnes of CO2 each year which when costed at Treasury rates over the normal 60 year life of the road comes to £44M. There are dozens of these bypasses around the country

* airports: Councils often support airports (e.g. part of Newcastle Airport is in Castle Morpeth). Councils have to be far clearer in taking on the role of saying "enough is enough" (I understand that Uttlesford DC has just done this for Stanstead)

* cycling, walking, public transport: Castle Morpeth BC adopted a green travel plan when it relocated to Longhirst Hall, but I’m not aware it has been implemented in any real sense.

* procurement: There’s a lot of scope here. Currently, it’s getting more centralised and the main pressure is to cut costs. If we’re serious about climate change, we should be including carbon counting or eco-auditing as part of the procurement process.