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.