Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Political Games

Some poorly played politics at the last Council meeting in 2008 with the 'surprise' LibDem motion looking to comment on the 'rationalisation' of the former Waters & Robson by Coca Cola.

My views on Coca Cola's take-over are spelled out in this blog and I would have liked to rehearse them in Council - but the way the LibDems brought forward the motion and refused pointblank to discuss it beforehand when asked leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

And - why single out Coca Cola? There are enough jobs under threat elsewhere - particularly with the new (LibDem-run) unitary council (probably 15-20 times the job losses with Coca Cola)

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Climate Change - is it natural or manmade?

My twopenn’orth on whether climate change is natural or manmade - drawing on climate models from geological history remembered from a Geology degree thirty years ago.... (OK – it won’t convince someone who believes the earth was created just a few thousand years ago – but you’ve got to start somewhere)

Earth seems to develop negative feedback systems to return its surface conditions to a steady state when disturbed – this is the (non-mystical) basis of the Gaia hypothesis.
Forget carbon dioxide levels varying over the past thousand, ten thousand or hundred thousand years (and try to ignore the suggestion that we are about 40,000 years overdue for an ice age on past indications), we are talking about processes taking tens if not hundreds of millions of years. I’m thinking of the Carboniferous Period (354-290 million years ago) and the Cretaceous Period (144-65 million years ago). From what we can glean from the geological record (it’s called ‘palaeo-climatology’) both were marked by small or non-existent ice caps, extensive shallow seas and higher average temperatures than now.
And both Periods are named for mechanisms which absorbed carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and trapped it in the earth’s crust.
In the Carboniferous, 'trees' from mangrove swamps were buried over tens of millions of years forming coal (oil and gas were formed in a similar way - though not from trees).
In the Cretaceous, micro-organisms flourishing in the warm seas deposited chalk and limestone trapping the carbon as calcium carbonate – again over tens of millions of years. I’m interpreting this in each case as periods with high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and a negative biofeedback mechanism which trapped it in the crust and – eventually – reduced CO2 levels, the earth cooled and the sea levels dropped as ice caps grew again.

So – it’s a natural process?

Trouble is – what we’re doing, by burning fossil fuels, is releasing carbon dioxide that took tens if not hundreds of millions of years to deposit in a matter of a one or two centuries (and that’s not counting carbon dioxide released when we make cement or concrete from limestone). This is simply too fast for the earth to develop new feedback systems!
We're getting the 'greenhouse effect' – global warming, ice caps melting, sea levels rising – including dramatic weather during the (geologically brief) transition period.
And this may well be enough to put paid to what we call ‘civilisation’ – and maybe also to the human race.
But unless the process is so extreme that the earth loses a lot of its water into space (in which case Earth will become like Venus), I think we can rely on negative biofeedback mechanisms developing to remove the carbon dioxide naturally, though it make take a few hundred million years!

To summarise – even though we are releasing carbon dioxide in one-millionth of the time it took to deposit it, it’s likely that biofeedback mechanisms will develop to re-trap the carbon dioxide naturally – but over rather a long time. It is not really the earth that is at risk from climate change – it is humans and human civilisation.

Oh – and a thought about offsetting carbon emissions by planting trees. It took the mangrove swamps of the Carboniferous – hundreds of millions of years, thousands of millions of generations of trees growing over most of the planet – to trap enough carbon as coal to make a difference to CO2 levels. Planting trees will trap a little CO2 while the tree is actually growing, though not when it reaches maturity – but unless the ‘offsetters’ have plans to turn their trees into coal – its nothing like a longterm solution.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

And pop go the jobs...

I see Coca-Cola is now looking to ‘rationalise’ Waters & Robson with a probable 49 jobs being ’restructured’. This follows on from Sanjay Guha (Coca-Cola GB President) saying (14-Nov):
“No business of course can offer cast-iron guarantees about jobs, particularly when there is bound to be an overlap between departments and functions” … “Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) will be considering how best to integrate the Abbey Well business within the CCE portfolio, and this integration may include job losses.” … “Our hope would be that this could lead to job opportunities for as many of Abbey Well employees as possible.”

And in a follow-up letter (28-Nov):
“The integration could mean job opportunities for many ‘Abbey Well’ employees, however we cannot rule out some job losses.” …. “We believe we have a responsibility to the local [Morpeth] community and we want to continue to make a positive difference.”

So – I guess they’ll offer a number of staff a move elsewhere in the country (world?), and make them redundant if they don’t want to move.

Doesn’t do a lot for the local Morpeth economy, does it?

Friday, 12 December 2008

Local Trains - Sunday Service

Northern Rail is running local rail services on Sundays in the run-up to Christmas again. And this year, they are running trains from Alnmouth - and including Sun 28th Dec.
Train services run from Alnmouth through Acklington - Widdrington - Pegswood - Morpeth - Cramlington - Newcastle to Metro Centre and back.
I hope that people will be using these trains to come into Morpeth for Christmas (and sales) shopping as well as going into Newcastle and to the Metro Centre
Train times:
Alnmouth 11:05 Acklington 11:12 Widdrington 11:19 Morpeth 11:29 Cramlington 11:38 Newcastle 11:50 Metro Centre 12:05
Morpeth 13:12 Cramlington 13:20 Newcastle 13:31 Metro Centre 13:42
Newcastle 10:14 Cramlington 10:25 Morpeth 10:33 Pegswood 10:37 Widdrington 10:42
Acklington 10:49 Alnmouth 10:56
Metro Centre 12:14 Newcastle 12:22 Cramlington 12:35 Morpeth 12:42
Metro Centre 16:05 Newcastle 16:13 Cramlington 16:28 Morpeth 16:35 Pegswood 16:39 Widdrington 16:45 Acklington 16:51 Alnmouth 16:59

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Trespassers will be prosecuted?

English Partnerships (or are they 'Homes & Communities Agency' yet - anyway), the owners of the old St George's Hospital site is suffering another bout of possessiveness.
They have put up 'no trespassing' and 'private property' signs all around the St. George's site, across Cottingwood Common and throughout the Bluebell (Howburn) woods.
Their security guards have been told to forbid dog walkers from the area - though the guards themselves think this is crazy and are on good terms with most of the regular dog walkers.
The people of Morpeth have had access to Cottingwood Common and Bluebell Woods for at least the best part of a century - and we need to get rights of access sorted and confirmed before things go much further.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Schweppes Abbey Well

I wrote back to Sanjay Guha of Coca Cola (Great Britain) following his comment on my Pop Goes the Weasel? blog entry:

"Many thanks for taking the time to consider my concerns and send me a response.

I take your points about maintaining local employment and the local base of the company, and I hope that the rationalisation process will permit this.

However you do not address my other concerns about the profit leaving the local economy. I base my comments on the work of the New Economic Foundation 'local multiplier 3' and other work which shows that money spent with locally owned companies contribute to the local economy more than money spent with multi-nationals.

Whilst investment from CCE may support local jobs, the fact remains that the loss of a 'head office' even of a small company from the area, and the region, will be reflected in a reduction in regional GVA - the main measure which Government is using to assess the progress of the region. I don't know whether you can arrange your profit centres to retain the profit from Water & Robson in the North East?"

and he has replied:

"Following our acquisition of the ‘Abbey Well’ natural mineral water source, I am now pleased to be able to share with you the details of Coca-Cola’s plans to develop the brand in the coming months and years.

"From early next year, water extracted at the Morpeth site will be available to consumers as ‘Schweppes Abbey Well’. By combining the track record of ‘Abbey Well’ as a quality natural mineral water, with the world famous, much-loved and iconic ‘Schweppes’ brand, we will give more consumers across Great Britain the chance to enjoy a high quality, British natural mineral water.

"As part of our sponsorship of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, ‘Schweppes Abbey Well’ will be one of the drinks offered at London 2012, meaning fans and athletes alike will be able to enjoy a range of drinks, including soft drinks, bottled water, juices and sports drinks during the games. ‘Schweppes Abbey Well’ will also be encouraging people to get active by offering them the opportunity to go swimming for free with further details to be announced next year.

"‘Schweppes’ has a history of nurturing other well established brands, including Rose’s cordials and Malvern English Water, to grow their sales and retain investment in their local communities. The ‘Coca-Cola System’ hopes to replicate this success in the Morpeth area, using the scale and ambition of The Coca-Cola Company to deliver growth and employment opportunities for local people.

"Now the deal is complete Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE), the local employer, will be considering how best to integrate the ‘Abbey Well’ business within the company. At this stage, CCE does not have any plans or proposals regarding the best way to achieve this. The integration could mean job opportunities for many ‘Abbey Well’ employees, however we cannot rule out some job losses. As a responsible employer, CCE will consult fully with ‘Abbey Well’ employees before any decisions are taken.

"I would like to thank you for your reply to my earlier email and address your other concerns.
While ‘Coca-Cola’ may be a famous global brand, we are also very much a British business.
The ‘Coca-Cola System’ operates in many areas across England, Scotland and Wales and we have developed strong relationships with the local communities where we are present. We believe we have a responsibility to the local community and we want to continue to make a positive difference. This includes Morpeth.

"Abbey Well is being integrated into our business structure and I appreciate you may have concerns. However, the Abbey Well business will remain in Morpeth and we will invest in it for growth as Coca-Cola Enterprises, as the local employer, continues to bottle the water here. We firmly believe that our investment will help sustain and build on the success of key business in the North East in the long-term.

"Our contribution to local communities goes beyond our operations. We have our own community investment activities and local community sponsorships, as well as charitable donations, employee volunteering and the provision of in-kind donations.
I hope - and expect - this will be the start of a long and rewarding relationship between The ‘Coca-Cola System’, Abbey Well and the Morpeth community and I hope you will agree that linking the ‘Abbey Well’ brand with ‘Schweppes’ opens up many more possibilities and sets ‘Abbey Well’ on course for a very prosperous future. "


Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Pop goes the weasel?

I see that Waters & Robson - the local Morpeth firm selling (amongst other products) Abbey Well mineral water have sold up to Coca Cola. Even if Coca Cola keep the Abbey Well brand (and I guess that is what they are paying for), I don't think they'll see any reason why it should come from or be bottled in Morpeth - that'll be 80+ local jobs at risk as the 'rationalisation process' cuts in.

Of course, it is a privately-owned company, and the directors have a perfect right to sell their property - but I'd have said that Waters & Robson, in some way, also belongs to Morpeth. The business has been linked to the town for a century and more. I think there's an issue of loyalty here.

And even if Coca Cola keep the business in Morpeth - the profits will go out of the town, out of the local economy.

This is what I can't understand when people look for the 'big name' multinationals coming to Morpeth: Costa and Starbucks will threaten our local owned cafes, Subway is squeezing our local sandwich shops, Next, Timpsons, W H Smiths etc will all take business from locally owned shops - and (to my way of thinking) the challenge to our local independent butchers, bakers, delis and greengrocers are Morrisons, Tescos, Sainsburys and M&S - not the markets.

Sure the 'big names' may bring more people into Morpeth (though maybe not so many, if Bridge Street looks identical to any other high street) - but those people won't spend that much in the local shops, and though the 'big name' stores may 'create jobs', their profits will go out of the town - and jobs will be lost from the locally owned shops.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Five Years of Fairtrade in Northumberland

Last weekend (Sat 1st) – we had a ‘Celebration of Five Years of Fairtrade in Morpeth’ – remembering that Morpeth was the first Fairtrade town in Northumberland, being awarded the status in 2003.

It was a good turnout – with some 50 or so people from all over Northumberland – from Wooler to Wideopen. Hannah Reed came up from the Fairtrade Foundation in London, giving us a preview of their new ‘Tipping the Balance’ campaign to be launched in Fairtrade Fortnight (23rd Feb – 8th Mar) next year. Also a forewarning of the Great Banana Event on 6th-7th March….

Fiona Hall MEP came along and Denis Murphy MP thought he was coming, but his staff sprang a surprise birthday party on him. (Happy Birthday for last week, Denis!)

And the newly formed Morpeth Leos – the ‘junior Lions’ from KEVI – came along with some entertaining Fairtrade games and quizzes. I was disappointed that they didn’t do the promised facepainting though.

We collected ideas and suggestions for what might be done to promote Fairtrade further – and here’s a transcription of what people came up with:


* Raising awareness of fairtrade amongst young people – going into schools and running ‘fun’ events
* Can school ‘shops’ and canteens be fairtrade?
* Northumberland – a fairtrade county?
* Hadrians Wall – a fairtrade zone?
* T-shirts & badges to promote fairtrade
* Councils offer free advertising on website and in publications for local suppliers, sellers of fairtrade produce, including discount coupons for products
* Develop more of a website presence
a web-based Northumberland directory of Fairtrade outlets
* Get someone uninhibited on your committee


* Local Schools
* Target young people - a Morpeth or Northumberland Fairtrade Facebook group
* Why just young people? Try involving U3A
* Pegswood Parish Council to persuade all community facilities (Uniun Building, Welfare, Project Centre etc) to buy fairtrade tea, coffee etc from the local Co-Op
* The large supermarkets
* Cramlington Fairtrade Steering Group seeks support
* The new Northumberland unitary Council
* Organise a motion in support of Fairtrade to be passed in the month that the new council comes into existence (April-May)
* Parish councils – and the new clusters of parish councils (formerly known as belonging communities)
* The new town councils being created in Wansbeck & Blyth Valley
* Town-twinning people: working on Fairtrade promotion with “twin” towns in Europe and elsewhere
* Churches – together with their sister churches in other countries
* Bed & Breakfasts, Guest Houses, Hotels
* Development Trusts


* Have more gatherings to bring people together – twice a year?
* Cramlington: Photo-Opp of Manor Walks security manhandling fairtrade activist distributing fairtrade leaflets outside the mall
* Fairtrade fair led by young people
* Fairtrade Fortnight 23rd Feb – 8th Mar 09
* Launch of Fairtrade Foundation “Tipping the Balance” initiative
* Bananas! Fri 6th Sat 7th Mar
Banana world record attempt held at all Morpeth schools simultaneously! Perhaps Leos could co-ordinate?
Banana Tour: An inflatable banana or people dressed as bananas visiting shops and supporters in Morpeth/Northumberland
Which building can we dress up as a banana?
* Fairtrade Question Time in run-up to European Elections (June ’09)
Traidcraft may be producing national policy briefing


* Morpeth Leos
Leos are visiting 7-12 year-old youth group in Longhirst to talk about Fairtrade (and take the games with them)
* KEVI Student Voice
* KEVI Student International Relations Committee

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Planning Applications are in Season

Traditionally - developers like to bring forward major planning applications over the Christmas break - and this year looks as though we are in for a 'bumper crop':

Tesco say they will submit their planning application for a store up at Coopies Lane 'in December'. No sign of the Sainsburys application which was promised for May/June past, though. There is revised Government planning guidance on retail development ('PPS3') due out 'early in the new year' - so maybe that is determining submission schedules, as well as the transition to the unitary authority.

Novera hopes to submit their application for the Tod Hill wind farm (reduced from 6 to 4 turbines in the recent exhibition) 'by midDecember'

Network Rail is finally expecting to bring forward a planning application for their proposals for provide more car parking at Morpeth rail station 'before Christmas'.

And - further afield, RWE is expected to submit the planning application for the new so-called 'clean coal' power station at Cambois very soon. This will be determined by the Secretary of State, not local councils - though the rumour is that RWE are keen to get the application in before the shift to the unitary, because they think they'll get a more sympathetic hearing from Wansbeck DC

So - there shoud be plenty of paperwork to read through over the Christmas break!

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Geoff wants your flood snaps & clips

Dr Geoff Parkin is leading a Newcastle University study of exactly how the water reached different areas of Morpeth and how quickly the flood levels.

He wants to do this using pictures, videos and descriptions contributed by the public.
By the end of November, he wants to collect from the public:
photographs showing flood levels at different times through the day
and descriptions of how, where and when flooding happened.
Photographs (preferably digital) and comments can be contributed by any of the following means:
Hand in to:
  • Stait Photography, 51 Newgate Street, Morpeth (who will copy photos from camera, memory stick etc onto CD free of charge)
  • Castle Morpeth Council FirstCall, 28 Bridge Street, Morpeth
  • New Life Christian Centre, 24 Dacre Street, Morpeth
  • Or any residents' meetings

Or post to: Geoff Parkin at 39 Mitford Road, Morpeth, NE61 1RG

Geoff Parkin - who is, incidentally, a Green Party member - argued strongly against the previous Env Agency proposals for Morpeth Flood Protection, advocating a comprehensive flood alleviation system of the sort that the Env Agency is proposing now, more than five years (and two floods) later.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Boys' Brigade 'Bargain Bazaar'

It is coming up to the time of year when that 'mother of all bring & buy sales' - the 'Bargain Bazaar' - organised by Morpeth Boys' Brigade and 6th Morpeth Scouts - is held.
This year it runs from Sat 22nd - Sat 29th Nov - with opportunity to bring items for sale to the hall every evening (6.30-8.30pm Mon-Fri) from 27th Oct
It has always been like an amateur version of Smail's Hardware Store - and this year, may help alleviate withdrawal symptoms in fans of Smail's with the shop still closed after flood damage.
And, personally, I'll be looking to do a lot of my Christmas shopping at the bazaar :)

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Blocked Drains - what the council did

Following on from NCC's 'drain unblocking day' on 9th Oct - several people told me that they hadn't seen the work being done. So I asked County officers for a report on what was done and this is what they said:

"I've checked with the team who did the work and can confirm that three gulley emptiers and one road sweeper/gulley emptier were used on Thursday the 9th to cleanse the road gulleys in the flood affected areas in Morpeth. The areas were split up into four locations and each crew were given a map/location plan of their area to cleanse. The CMBC road sweeper/gulley emptier attended to the Low Stanners area and cleansed gulleys with no problems requiring further attention reported. Overall two gulleys that require further attention were reported , one o/s Roch Catering in the Newmarket and one in Phoenix Court. We hope to resolve these two in the near future."

I also raised the question of the blocked storm drain at the end of Olympia Gardens:

"With regard to Olympia Gdns. we are aware of the blocked road gulleys and have a job sheet in the system to replace the existing gully pots with new ones with rodding eyes as at present we are unable to access the pipework to jet clear the blockage."

Perhaps the most important message is how best to report problems in the future:

"Any specific concerns relating to individual gulleys are best dealt with from now on by residents calling the Highways freephone number 0808 100 8 9 10."

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Greater Morpeth Development Trust

GMDT's AGM is coming up - Nov 12th at Collingwood School. Nominations for 'general community director' are invited - and there'll be an election at the AGM.
This is one of two 'general community' directors who sit on the board alongside directors nominated by each of the 'theme' groups - heritage, arts, economy, environment, enterprise, youth etc (I put etc cos I'm not sure if I've missed one out and mortally offended someone) - and reps from the local authorities.
For more info on GMDT, see their website

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Government reneges on promise to Morpeth

Sorry - couldn't think of a more original headline.

I'm livid that the Government is backtracking on the Minister's (John Healey's) promise on Monday 8th Sept that Morpeth would receive 'all possible help' from the Government.

Now Government is saying that there won't be any emergency flood funding - we'll get 85% of money spent by the council (eventually) under the 'Bellwin' rules - but there'll be no extra money, and the 'Bellwin' period runs out within a couple of months.

The excuse given is that they've blown all their money supporting the banks - and there's none to spare to make a decent job of flood recovery, and maybe use the refurbishment process to make improvements, in energy efficiency, better design against future flooding, improved drainage etc - so-called 'resilience'.

Is it just me who thinks that investing in flood recovery is more important, and will probably have a longer lasting effect than throwing money at the gamblers who run the global economy?

Anyway - there's an 'adjournment debate' on the Morpeth flooding in Parliament on Monday. Let's see what those great champions of Morpeth - (in strict alphabetical order) Peter Atkinson, Sir Alan Beith and Denis Murphy - have to say in our support.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Blocked Drains

Drains and gullies blocked by silt and sand brought through by the flood is one of the more frequent concerns of people are raising with me at the moment. Certainly seeing standing water in Staithes Lane is very unnerving...
So - I'm pleased to report that I'm told there'll be a grand gully clearing this week: the streets will be swept first - then on Thursday, massed ranks of gully clearing machines from all over Northumberland (well, Wansbeck at least) will descend on Morpeth and clear all the street drains out.

There should be notices going out beforehand to warn people to move cars etc to clear the streets.

Monday, 6 October 2008

All change must be resisted

I had a blazing row with a Morpeth shopkeeper in the Market Place on Saturday - and I really ought to apologise to him.
We've switched the Morpeth Farmers' Market from the 1st Sunday in the month to the 1st Saturday in the month - and last Saturday was the first one. We switched because:
i) the Town Hall isn't available at least till Christmas - and one of the main reasons for having the market on a Sunday was because we had use of the Town Hall
ii) customers have been asking us why the market isn't on a Saturday since we started
iii) a survey in Gateway magazine in the spring showed a significant demand to switch to a Saturday
iv) we've been losing traders over the past 15 months - producers don't want to work on Sundays, or they've been attracted away to the Sunday Quayside Market. And - as far as I know - the nearest markets on the 1st Saturday are Barnard Castle and Edinburgh
So - we'd discussed switching at the Markets Partnership, with Chamber of Trade reps enthusiastic about the idea, recognising that a successful market will bring people into Morpeth - and it's better to do that when the shops are open!
We had hoped to tell everyone at the Sept Market - but that was cancelled - so it was a scramble to get the message out. My apologies to anyone who turned up on Sunday looking for the market!
Anyway - the gist of the shopkeeper's argument was that the market represented unfair competition for local butchers and greengrocers who depend heavily on Saturday trade. I still believe that a farmers' market once a month on a Saturday will bring more people into Morpeth and increase trade - and increase demand for local produce which local shopkeepers can supply the rest of the month.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Extended opening hours for ticket office?

Northern Rail is working on a business case to extend the opening hours of the ticket office at Morpeth Station throughout the afternoon. Currently it closes at 12.20 each day. The business case follows a trial of extended opening hours for several weeks during summer of 2006.

After the trial, Northern told SENRUG (off the record) that it had been successful [despite the extended opening not being advertised or promoted in any way]
The ticket office not only serves the purpose of selling tickets (including advance purchase fares), it provides a staffed enquiry point re train running information (there is no other form of passenger information available at Morpeth) and gives access to the toilet and the waiting room.
None of these services are available when the ticket office is closed.

If you want to support the extended opening hours, you can write to Wayne Dixon of Northern Rail (Area Station Manager North, Room 44a, Central Station Offices, Newcastle NE1 5DL). SENRUG would appreciate copies of any letter submitted.

For Information: Northern Rail sell tickets for their own services on their trains. Thus they themselves do not get extra ticket revenue from having the ticket office open, as generally the conductor has no problem reaching all passengers on the afternoon trains. However, if they sell tickets for other operator's services (eg National Express or CrossCountry), they get a commission. If the extended opening hours means that more intercity tickets are sold, the extra costs incurred could be recouped by the extra commission. Not everyone has internet facilities at home for buying intercity tickets, and if you need to travel the next day for instance you can not use the internet as there is insufficient postage time. So far, Morpeth residents are denied the discounted "advance purchase" tickets, available up to 6 pm the day before, simply because the ticket office is not open and you cannot buy them.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Rail Service Disruptions

Thanks to Trevor Watson for drawing this to my attention - despite him having to cope with the aftermath of flooding...

Planned maintenance work on the East Coast Mainline mean that no intercity trains will be running direct between Newcastle and Edinburgh on weekends from Sat 27th Sept to Sun 2nd Nov inclusive

That's on weekends 27th-28th Sept, 4th-5th Oct, 11-12th Oct, 18th-19th Oct, 25th-26th Oct and 1st-2nd Nov:
National Express East Coast services will be diverted between Newcastle and Edinburgh via Carlisle on an hourly service. Coaches will replace trains between Newcastle and Edinburgh via Berwick-on-Tweed.

Northern Rail only runs services on Saturdays (though I hope they'll be running Sunday rail services through December like last year). During these planned works, they'll have buses replace services between Morpeth and Chathill every weekend. Trains between Morpeth and Newcastle will run normally except on Sat 18th Oct when they'll be replaced by buses.

CrossCountry services: Coaches will replace trains between Newcastle and Edinburgh via Berwick-on-Tweed

All the information is on the National Rail timetable website if you look hard enough.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Roadworks - latest

The Northumbrian Water Limited (NWL) road works in Castle Square and up to Mafeking roundabout is over-running (understandably) because of technical and weather. They’ve been working 7-day weeks and nights – and should complete the top part up to the roundabout very soon.
I must say the burst water main at Mafeking roundabout (13th) was dramatic - but quite frightening for people in Middle Greens affected by the floods last week. Almost as if some crazed tourist impresario had decided to make flooding in Morpeth a weekly event.

NWL will return during the October half term to complete the work at Goose Hill. Two way traffic will be maintained at all times - we're told.

No other roadworks are planned for the next three months (clear to Christmas) apart from the Back Riggs redevelopment and some repairs where the floods lifted the road surface (Gas House Lane, Chantry Place etc)

Monday, 8 September 2008

Anger, blame and fault

People are feeling angry about the flood - it's a natural reaction, and some of that anger will get directed at the councils or the Environment Agency or whoever. But I don't think it is meant - people just need an outlet - so it would be unwise for the councils etc to start feeling defensive or try to argue the point. It is too early to be rational.

As I understand it, the approach being followed will be to keep information flowing - about what has been done, what is going to be done next and giving indicative timescales.

It's also too early to determine what went wrong and what went right. The 'lessons learned' bit comes later - but we do need to collect evidence. And since everyone is bursting with their 'flood stories' (plus photos and videos) - I think it'd be a great idea to start collecting and recording them. Then later - we'll have a broad picture of what happened from lots of different angles.

Meanwhile - I don't think it was helpful for John Healey, the Minister who visited Morpeth to start talking about the refusal of the Env Agency's flood defence proposal a couple of years back. It's almost as if he is trying to blame the people of High Stanners for being flooded out.

What actually happened - as I recall - was that the Env Agency were just talking about flood defence in Morpeth Town, and a 3m bund along the river at High Stanners. The Green Party (led by then Town Councillor Geoff Parkin - a hydrogeologist by trade) argued for a more comprehensive scheme of flood protection and flood prevention - including upstream holding ponds etc. And with a public perception that a bund would destroy the character of High Stanners - the Env Agency withdrew their proposals.
And as a matter of interest - their new Wansbeck catchment strategy sets out a far more comprehensive approach including both preventative and protective measures as the Green Party argued for last time. I hope they'll accelerate their detailed proposals for Morpeth now.

And - for the record - I gather that the 'hundred year flood' we experienced over the weekend would have overtopped a 3m bund on High Stanners even if it had been built.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

The Flood - what the councils say

CMBC & NCC have issued a joint leaflet of advice for people whose homes have been flooded. I'll post it (with annotations) below - meanwhile I gather:
i) we may be getting a visit from the relevant Minister - John Healey MP - tomorrow (Monday).
ii) people who have been flooded out and are on the official list for rehousing should here from Castle Morpeth Housing by the end of this week. (Get in touch with your local councillor if they haven't)
iii) The FirstCall office on Bridge Street was flooded and is unusable - but the 01670 535000 number will be answered - and the Town Hall is being converted into an temporary information centre
iv) the wall that collapsed near the Leisure Centre was not part of the flood defence
v) there'll be newsletters published daily
and vi) there's a risk that we may have more flooding from Weds onwards

And so - the official advice:

IMPORTANT We are advised that mains water is safe to drink and use.
Please wash your hands after handling flood damaged material.

RETURNING TO YOUR PROPERTY - Advice from the Environment Agency
§ Take care as there may be hidden dangers in the flood water like sharp objects, raised manhole covers and pollution.
§ Flood water could have caused structural damage to your property.
§ Ring your buildings and contents insurance company as soon as possible
§ In almost all cases the insurance company will send a loss adjuster to look at your property. They will confirm what repairs and replacements are needed and covered by your policy.
§ If you rent your property, contact your Landlord and your contents insurance company as soon as possible.
§ If you do not have insurance, your local council should be able to provide information on hardship grants or charities that may be able to help you.



As a safety precaution, CE Electric would like to offer householders the following advice:
  • Switch off your power supply at the fuse box if your electrical installation is likely to be affected by water.
  • Do NOT operate equipment which is in water or while standing in water. Stay away from any live equipment submerged in water.
  • If your internal wiring or appliances have been affected by water, please have them checked by an approved Electrical Contractor before switching your power back on.

UTILITY ADVICE Gas leaks should be reported to 0800 111 999

HEALTH ADVICE from the Health Protection Agency
Infection problems arising from floods in this country are rare. Usually any harmful bugs in floodwater become very diluted and present a low risk, but there are a few precautions to be aware of when dealing with flooding which should prevent unnecessary additional health problems:
Wherever possible, try to avoid coming into direct contact with floodwater. If you have to go into the water, wear waterproof gloves and rubber boots and remember to be careful of potentially concealed hazards.
Wash your hands — this is the most important way to get rid of harmful bugs. Use warm, clean water and soap, then rinse and dry your hands after going to the toilet, before eating or preparing food, after being in contact with flood water, sewage or with items that have been in the water. Use cold water to wash if warm is not available. If there is no clean water, use disposable soapy, wet wipes to carefully clean all parts of your hands and dry them.
Use waterproof plasters.
Keep children out of the water
Don’t eat any food that has been touched or covered by floodwater or sewage.

What if I start to feel unwell?

If you feet unwell this does not necessarily mean that you are suffering from any infection. If you are concerned, then call NHS Direct on 0845 4647 or visit your family doctor.
Both the physical stress associated with overexertion in cleaning up premises and the mental stress caused by temporary relocation may make you feel unwell. Remember that tiredness, difficulty steeping and anxiety are normal in these circumstances and may go away with time. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, contact friends, relations or your family doctor. And keep warm — cold can lead to hypothermia.

What Castle Morpeth Borough Council’s doing now:
• CMBC Green and Clean teams have started to clear debris from streets in the affected areas in Morpeth
• Skips are being placed near to homes in affected areas for residents’ use
• The Council is currently assessing what needs to be done to assist residents and will be working with all key agencies to do this
• The council will continue to offer advice through FirstCall Castle Morpeth on 01670 535000.
• If you’re worried about what to do after a flood or about safeguarding your property if there is more rain, check the environment agency website on

What Northumberland County Council is doing now:
• The County Council’s Fire and Rescue Service are pumping out water from streets in Morpeth. • Alternative accommodation is being found for those who need it.
• Highways officers are inspecting bridges, roads, signage, ditches for damage and to ensure that roads and transport links are safe for use by the public.
• A clean up operation has begun — council staff are removing sludge and debris from the roads and pavements.
• Northumberland Care Trust and the County Council are assessing needs of vulnerable people to see what help and support can be offered.

The Flood – the bits I saw – Sunday morning

7:30am Market Place – to confirm that no one had turned up for the cancelled farmers’ market. Pleasant, dry morning – why did I cancel the market?

8am Water had cleared from the New Market, the Chantry, Terrace Car Park – but the Library and Gas House Lane still under water. Road surface ripped up by floods in Chantry Place and Wellwood Gardens.

8.20am Wellwood Gardens, Staithes Lane and the new Low Stanners Car Park still under water.

10am Phone call: “why are they pumping out the Waterford, when Staithes Lane is still under water? Priorities?”

10.30am Checked out Staithes Lane – water retreating but still there, and still getting run-off from Dark Lane. Water level in Low Stanners Car Park is same as river level. Car park was designed to soak away water and that is working, but the water level is too high – which is why there’s no pumping going on. There’s nowhere to pump to.

3pm Debrief for emergency team

4pm Briefing for Morpeth councillors…

Saturday, 6 September 2008

The Flood – the bits I saw - Saturday afternoon

2.30pm at the Red Bull: Staithes Lane was under four foot of water with several stranded cars, rising rapidly. Lots of run-off down Dark Lane from both Morrisons filling station and down Stanley Terrace from the bus station into Staithes Lane. Several elderly and poorly people trapped in both Staithes Lane and Wellwood Gardens, but no apparent plans for evacuation. High Stanners and Middle Greens were reportedly being evacuated.

3.30pm Text from Staithes Lane resident saying water was halfway up the stairs, electricity cut-off. Water from Terrace Car Park and Library moving up Dark Lane. Dark Lane flooding to north. One fire engine monitoring Terrace Car Park flooding. Phoned 999 call to alert rescue team on need for evacuation in Staithes Lane. Another fire engine arrived within five minutes – firemen starting ‘assessing problem’, identifying evacuation need.

4pm Third fire engine arrived. Water from Terrace Car Park now flowing down Dark Lane into Staithes Lane and Highways Depot. Dark Lane impassable to north. Burnside Terrace at risk from flooding from springs/drains in front gardens.

4.30pm Vet arrived to evacuate animals from surgery. No boat available for humans (or animals). River Wansbeck effectively flowing past the Red Bull with water up to window sills. Stanley Terrace becoming impassable. Decided to cancel the farmers’ market!

5-5.30pm Fire crew requisitioned a skip from Morrisons and used it as a substitute boat to start evacuation.

6.30pm Finish phoning round the farmers’ markets producers.

8pm Peak of flood. Reported 14 ft deep in some houses. Nearly all residents evacuated from Staithes Lane, though people left in Wellwood Gardens overnight.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

The Chin Syndrome

It’s public so I can’t back out now – I’m committed to shaving off my beard to raise money for the Mayor’s Charity Appeal (which happens to be Motor Neurone Disease and Hearing Ear Dogs, this year).

Cllr Irene Brumwell has been teasing me about my beard since she came onto the council five years ago – and, in a moment of weakness, I agreed to a sponsored shave in her mayoral year. And last Thursday at Full Council, she announced the deal which is that I should appear at the next Full Council (25th Sept) clean-shaven.

So – if anyone wants to sponsor me, please just get in touch.

I’ve had a beard of one sort or another continuously since I was eighteen. I grew it then to make me look older, and it seems to have done the trick. Unfortunately, I’m not sure it is reversible!

Actually, I’m relatively happy about losing the beard (apart from risking a cold chin) – G K Chesterton reckoned that shaving off a beard was a better disguise than putting on a false one – so with luck I’ll cast off my public, recognised, image as my term as councillor comes to an end.

Thursday, 28 August 2008


SHLAA - sounds like a type of fizzy apple juice – but it isn’t.
It’s the ‘Strategic Housing Land Area Assessment’ – and that’s just a way of assessing what building land is out there and how suitable and ready it is for development. Our vey busy strategic planners have consulted and collated and assessed a huge list of potential development sites in Castle Morpeth.

The list is on the Castle Morpeth BC website – available for anyone to see what is listed in their local area, and express their views back to the strategic planners.

So why not have a look....

But this is just an assessment to see what is there. Just because a site is listed, it doesn’t mean that it is Council policy for it to be developed. It’s just ‘evidence’ not policy.

And the assessment in terms of housing is just a way of measuring the land – it doesn’t mean that houses will be built on the site if it is developed.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Dave Hall cooking at Ponteland FM

Dave Hall was back at Ponteland Farmers' Market yesterday - and did another three superb recipes:

lamb with broad beans & mint: simple enough - using neck lamb fillet (from Jimmy Bell 'the lamb man') thin sliced and stir-fried, broad beans from Craigs of Tritlington - with shallots, mint, lemon and Feta cheese - and eaten with sourdough bread from Auroan. Very much an Eastern Med style

Romanesu cauliflower - that's the lime green, pointy one (again from Tritlington) with poached duck eggs (from Haydon Bridge), streaky bacon (from Moorhouse Farm) - and shavings of parmesan

and - Strawberry and Raspberry Vanilla Mess, a variant of Eton Mess with raspberries and strawberries (from Tritlington) - the latter macerated in Ponteland heather honey - with double cream, yoghurt and meringue.

All delicious - and all made in 10-15 mins using local ingredients available on the market. Dave is back again at Pont for a last time this year next month (Sept 27th) - I wonder what he'll give us then?

Dave is available through ExpoChef and his recipes can be found on his blog

Friday, 15 August 2008

Local food is less expensive

Food costs are going up mainly due to increasing oil and fuel prices. So it stands to reason that local food that hasn't travelled so far (lower foodmiles) is not going up in price as much as supermarket food, let alone imported or airfreighted food.
And again, organic producers who don't use petrochemical-derived fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides will have lower costs than non-organic producers - so expect the price difference between organic produce and non-organic produce to reduce.
Look to farmers' markets, farm shops and local shops with local suppliers for relatively low prices.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Considerate Constructors - Inconsiderate Car Drivers

I'm very disappointed that NCC has decided to close the Lumsden Lane alley onto the Market Place - after I lobbied so hard to keep it open.

The issue is 'conflict' between pedestrians and vehicles creating safety hazards. Yes - Maunsells' works vehicles and M&S delivery lorries have to be there, but the understanding arrived at through Dick Phillips at NCC was that the contractors and M&S would have staff to direct pedestrians during deliveries and he (Dick) would keep a watching brief.

That lasted nearly two weeks - but (and Dick has promised me photos - watch this space) apparently, car users and other lorries were still coming down to the hammerhead junction, parking recklessly and endangering pedestrians. And - reportedly, pedestrians did not seem alert to dangers from vehicles either. In fact - it was (to quote Dick) 'dangerous chaos'.

So - the access has been closed to both vehicles and pedestrians, so that access from Back Riggs onto Bridge Street and the Market Place is now very restricted. Boulevard's pizzeria, the Jewellers' Guild and the Wednesday Market are all suffering.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Both Sainsbury's AND Tesco's?

News on the Morpeth Herald website that Tesco's is proposing to build a store in Morpeth - http://www.morpethherald.co.uk/news/Traders-stunned-by-Tescos-Morpeth.4381449.jp
- up at Coopies Lane

Apart from planning restrictions which would not (as far as I'm aware) allow food retail on Coopies Lane (even the car show rooms had to jump through hoops to set up there) - IMO, a supermarket (whether it is Tesco's or Sainsbury's - or [Govt forbid!] both) on the edge of the town - would kill Morpeth town centre stone dead, in the teeth of anything the Dransfield development achieves.

And again - a retail consultant's report commissioned by CMBC identifies (after the Morrison store expansion takes place) that there is no demand for additional 'convenience' (ie foods etc) retail floorspace at all until 2025 and beyond.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Monbiot vs Scargill

And an interesting article by George Monbiot on relative C02 emissions from coal, nuclear and renewable technologies


His main point (IMO) is that Greens (and Govt) should define the acceptable CO2 emissions (and other enviro-costs) for energy generation - then let the experts develop the technologies to meet these targets

Monday, 4 August 2008

Abbey Meadows Blog

Just come across an excellent blog - a photo-based journal of wildlife - flora and fauna - in and around Morpeth. Latest posting features Carlisle Park

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Whorral Tip closing...

We're told:
"The household waste recovery centre at Whorral Bank will shut temporarily in September for work which will substantially increase its size. The site will close at 7.30pm on Friday September 12, and is scheduled to re-open at the end of February 2009.

"The nearest alternative public tip is on Castle Island Way on North Seaton Industrial Estate. This site is open seven days a week between 8am and 7.30pm (the site will close at 6pm between November 1 and March 31)."

CMBC is offering up its garden waste (green bin) and bulky waste collection schemes as alternatives - though they cost. I've blogged before about the possibility of sharing these with neighbours

BUT - this is also an excellent opportunity to find out about Freecycle (which I've also previously blogged):

Freecycle is a web-based network of people giving away things they don't want and seeking things they do want. A bit like e-Bay but without money changing hands, and locally-based.

As the website says:
"It's a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns and thus keeping good stuff out of landfills."

The Morpeth network currently has 2,571 active members

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Hiroshima Day - Weds 6th August

The Town Council will once again hold a short memorial service in the Amnesty Peace Garden of the Chantry, Morpeth, to commemorate the tragedy of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on 6th August 1945.

The format will be the same as in previous years:

assemble at the Chantry at 8:00 am and walk to the Peace Garden where there will be a brief address followed by a one minute silence at 8:15 am - to mark the exact time the atomic bomb fell - and finally the laying of paper origami cranes on shrubs.
Breakfast will then be served in the St George’s Church Hall.

The Rector or Morpeth, Reverend Robert Mclean has kindly agreed to lead the service this year.

Hiroshima Day is not a formal occasion, but a very sincere and simple acknowledgement of what happened and should never be allowed to happen again. Indeed, in the light of terrorist atrocities around the world, remembering tragedies such as Hiroshima may eventually make all nations realise the need for peace. The service has now become a respected observance in the town, and the Town Council welcomes all wishing to attend.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Considerate Constructors

The early signs are that the contractors (Maunsell), the County Highways Team, Dransfields, the Borough Council - most people involved in the Town Centre redevelopment are prepared to be flexible and try to minimise disruption.
A first indication of this spirit occurred yesterday: Maunsell have built their compound in Lumsden Lane car park and according to the plans, have left a hammerhead turning point for lorries and kept Lumsden Lane itself, leading into the Market Place, open for pedestrians.
Then on Friday, M&S suddenly realised that their delivery lorries might block the pedestrian route and create health & safety problems. On Monday, Maunsell reviewed possibly safety problems to pedestrians with their deliveries to the compound. The immediate maximum safety solution was to exclude pedestrians altogether by closing off Lumsden Lane - and the request to do so went into Highways.
And here's where the thoughtfulness and flexibility comes in - Highways delayed implementation a couple of days to sound out other views.
So - yesterday, I, together with the owners of Boulevards and Jewellers Guild (who depend on Lumsden Lane for passing trade) persuaded Highways (thanks!) to investigate a less drastic option: keeping the Lane open but monitoring problems. I hope M&S will work with us on this.
I also hope that lorry drivers and pedestrians are sensible and alert to the dangers - I don't want this new-found flexibility to lead to injury or worse!
Contact phone numbers for Maunsells and for Highways have been issued against any problems arising.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

BUG at County!

I gather a 'bicycle users' group' (or BUG) has been launched by staff at County Hall to promote cycling and lobby for better provision for cyclists. Main contact is Paul Martin, the red bearded librarian in Morpeth Library.

I'll post more information when I get it - meanwhile more power to their knees! (?)

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Post Office in confusion

Nice point made by Cllr David Parker at the public scrutiny meeting on proposed post office closures at County Hall yesterday (Friday)...
All the consultation on the proposed Network Change closures assumes the Morpeth Main Post Office is in Back Riggs - so post office users from Mitford or St Mary's Field are being referred to Back Riggs as their 'nearest'. Unfortunately - the Back Riggs Post Office is due to close at the end of October, and even if it is 'saved', it will be somewhere else in the town. So as David says - the consultation is flawed and should be withdrawn.
Personally - I think the consultation is also flawed because there seems to be no requirement to have a 'sustainability appraisal'. Government legislation requires all local authority plans and strategies to have an appraisal - I'm surprised that the Post Office Network Change strategy doesn't. Such an appraisal would immediate flag up things public transport access, and how other community activities and local businesses depend on the local post office.
Any delay in the closure programme would be useful - because it might give the new unitary authority a chance to get it's act together and 'do an Essex' to save the post offices. Or at least work with parish councils, community groups etc to provide 'Plan B' alternatives if the Post Office goes ahead with closures based on a very narrow concept of what a post office is about. It's reminiscent of the flawed analysis Beeching used when he just looked at ticket sales to determine which rail stations to close.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Dransfield start work!

Finally, the Town Centre development has got underway - well, the works compound has been constructed, and work on the new bus station should start next week (Mon 21st). For a while there, I was horribly afraid they'd stop with what they've got so far - the filling station and car park (which wouldn't have got planning permission on their own).
Dransfield are holding a 'prestigious ceremony' to launch the work - with 'local dignitaries, stakeholders and retailers' on 24th July - at the Comrades Club. Don't know if they'll give Irene Brumwell, the Castle Morpeth Mayor a pneumatic drill to 'cut the first tarmac' - I'd like to see that! Oh - of course, I got an invite - unfortunately, I'm 'not available to attend'. Such is life.
I don't think they'll starting on Back Riggs or the Sanderson Arcade proper till November or December, because the Main Post Office there isn't due to close till October. And I'm sure they'll ease up in the Morpeth Christmas shopping jamboree... after all, this is a private sector development, and it's in their interests to keep Morpeth a 'vibrant shopping centre'

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Sharing Green Bins?

The Council's 'green bin' scheme for residents needing to dispose of a lot of garden waste is proving very popular, and the cost seems acceptable to most.
However, there are a number of people (like me, and my neighbours in Olympia Gardens) who have small gardens and don't generate enough garden waste to merit a bin. We can, of course, take one-off loads of waste up to the Amenity Site at Whorral Bank - but that really only works if you have access to a car. You can get to the Amenity Site by bus (35 or 518 from Morpeth) - well, you'd need to walk down from the bus stop at the Pegswood roundabout - but you can't really carry that many bags of rubbish on the bus.
So - I wonder whether there's a demand for groups of neighbours to share a 'green bin' - and how easy that'd be to organise? I guess this is about 'community leadership' again...

Friday, 4 July 2008

Campaigning against Post Office closures

Good rapid response from the LibDems in starting a petition again closure of St Mary’s Field Post Office. And – of course, we should all be campaigning to keep all our post offices open. They are a community service not a business and should be considered as such.

However – I’m going to nitpick about the LibDems’ approach:
i) We need to campaign to keep all our post offices open. If we campaign heavily to keep a particular post office open – then Post Office plc will simply close another one whose supporters are not so loud. And often, it is the more deprived communities who fail to put together an articulate protest – and so lose out.
ii) I’m all for ‘community leadership’, but somehow it strikes me that councillors should be supporting and facilitating community campaigns rather than initiating them. But then, the LibDems got elected to the unitary authority, not me – so maybe I’ve got it wrong.
iii) And – it seems odd, that the political group in power is leading a campaign calling for action to be taken – that’s far more the action of an opposition political group. Maybe the LibDems haven’t yet got their heads round the fact that they are in power.

No sign of the LibDem-run unitary preparing a ‘plan B’ to take on the post offices (like Essex CC) if Post Office plc decides to close them – nor any sign of the unitary intervening in the imminent closure of Morpeth Main Post Office. These are the sorts of things I’d expect the political group in power to be doing – not raising petitions

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Shining at KEVI

The 'Shine Event' open day at KEVI today (Thursday) showed the huge range of activities - both lessons and extra-curricular - undertaken at the school. Besides the KEVI Gnomes and the Dark Knights - I was particularly impressed by the blues band, KEVI radio - and the very dynamic Classics group (who are apparently planning to branching out into Egyptology and archaeology next year).
But most of all - I want to know the secret of how the Student Voice organisation has grown from just three to over a thousand active participants in just two years. If I could only do that with the credit union, with the markets oe even with Morpeth Green Party....
Oh, and special thanks to Tim Murrey - my personal tour guide.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Chewing Gum - What can be done?

I’ve had a complaint from a local resident about the discarded chewing gum which speckles our streets. He compares us unfavourably with Denmark (where he has been living till recently), correctly saying that not only is it unsightly but also a health hazard. He was under the impression that the Borough Council is doing nothing about chewing gum – which is not the case. So I’ve got this update from Andy Rutherford at CMBC Green & Clean:

“Since the middle of February 2008, both the Morpeth Market Place and Merton Way shopping centre have been cleansed of chewing gum using the ‘gum buster’ machine. However we recognise that this machine is very slow and very labour intensive, so a rethink has been required to try and improve the performance and overall output. In addition to those issues the machine is becoming very unreliable with much time being spent in the workshops as many of the parts have become corroded over time.

“Green and Clean have now purchased a towable machine that removes graffiti and chewing gum as well as doubling up as a water bowser too. The machine enables a jet blast of bicarbonate of soda and very small aluminium particles to apply to hard surfaces ranging from sandstone, brick, metal or general masonry to effectively remove paint or gum substances. [Nic says: Hope the Market Place yorkstone flags can withstand the abrasion!]. Once the machine has been delivered there will be another program of gum removal in Morpeth Market Place and the main pavements in Bridge & Newgate Street
“Green and Clean are also going to pilot a product called ‘Gumm Shield’ which is a clear gel that can be painted onto pavements or sandstone and stops things such as chewing gum from sticking to them. It is hoped that this will provide a more permanent solution to the problem in future. However, we will see how effective this product is before we purchase any bulk quantities to apply to all high profile footpaths in the centre of Morpeth and Ponteland.”

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Dave Hall at Ponteland Farmers' Market

Had a good time at Ponteland Farmers' Market yesterday. We had Dave Hall, the South Shields lad who was a MasterChef Finalist last year (2007), along demonstrating recipes - and I got to taste all of them!

My favourites included:
  • a salmon, crab and coconut curry - a South Indian style dish made (in fifteen minutes) with coconut milk, chillis, mango and lime
  • a Thai-style hot & sour beef salad - flash fried strips of beef with a salad of spinach, coriander, tomatoes, avocado and spring onions - with a dressing made from peanut butter, fish sauce, soy sauce, rice vinegar and chilli
  • and - strawberries softened in melted honey and dusted vanilla salt!

Dave is coming back to Ponteland Farmers' Market on Sat August 23rd amd Sat Sept 27th with all-new recipes. Can't wait!

All Dave's recipes are on his website.

Borough Council Executive Board 'On Tour'

The Executive Board is meeting in the Lower School Hall at KEVI on Thurs 10th July from 6pm, with an open 'public questions' session from 5.30pm. Unfortunately - the public are not allowed to speak during the actual commiteee meeting (though there are ways round the rule), so after question-time, it's very much 'come and watch - but don't touch - democracy in action'.
The Executive Board is the main decision-making body of the Council - apart from Full Council itself. It meets monthly - usually at Longhirst Hall - but twice or three times a year, it ventures out to other locations in and around the Borough. Last year, we went to Whalton, Heddon and Ponteland. This year. it's the 'school run' with KEVI in July and Ponteland High School in September or October (watch this space).
The agenda this month includes
  • a homelessness strategy (which will be taken up by Castle Morpeth Housing, and hopefully outlast the Council)
  • launch of a consultation on a programme of grants for private sector housing renewal
  • a planning policy to involve artwork in development schemes
  • a statement on the overall financial position of the Council
  • and the decision to sign of the North East Declaration on Fuel Poverty
I'm presenting four of the agenda items - so never mind democracy - come and see me in action!

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Planning Aid North Community Roadshow in Morpeth

Fri 11th July 9.30am-3.30pm St George's Church

Frustrated or baffled by the planning system? Then this is for you!

Planning Aid North offer a free independent service of training, awareness, support and education for communities who want to become more actively engaged in the planning system and influence decision-making on developments.

This event is one of a series of introductory road shows Planning Aid North is running across the region.

Contact Clodagh McGuirk tel 0191 222 5776

Friday, 27 June 2008

Fallen Cherry Tree

The handsome cherry tree in Rotary Gardens fell down this morning - and was cleared away by the Borough Council's Green & Clean 'rapid response' team in about two hours.

It was a beautiful tree - especially in full blossom in spring.

The tree fell at around 10am - no vandalism was involved, it just seems that the ground was soft after rain, the roots shallow and there may have been a bit of rot in the trunk.

It fell across the path - fortunately no one nor any buildings were hit.

Council workman had reported the fallen tree within half an hour - and the Green & Clean 'rapid reaction' team were cutting up and removing the tree by 12noon. They had a 'chipper' but I hope some of the trunk wood was kept whole. Cherry wood can be superb for carving or woodworking.

Council policy is to replace fallen and removed trees with five new ones. The tree-planting season starts in November - and it is unlikely they'll ALL be planted in the Rotary Garden.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Back Riggs Redevelopment

Update 4th July - work is definitely starting. Dransfield will be posting progress reports on a dedicated website

Rumours are hotting up that work on the next phase of the Back Riggs development is imminent - I gather that a works compound is going to be established at the bottom end of Back Riggs car park from July 7th, and work will start on the new bus station (behind M&S) from July 21st.

Refurbishment and estension of the Low Stanners car park is underway - and should be complete by early August.

Lumsden Lane will be closed - though foot access to the Market Place will remain through the Sanderson Arcade. Stallholders at the Wednesday Market will be unloading and loading from Bridge Street - and keeping their vehicles in the New Market rather than Lumsden Lane. Unfortunately, the works compound for the Town Hall is where the stallholders' vehicles were originally planned to go.

The next stage of the Back Riggs redevelopment is construction of the new bus station and the extension of Morrisons. Then demolition of the old bus station and refurbishment of Back Riggs, and finally refurbishment of Sanderson's Arcade.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Town Hall Scaffolding - Update

Despite rumours and reports to the contrary - the 'Phase 1' work on the Town Hall was always planned to take six months (rather than six weeks) - and the scaffolding should be down by midAugust.
Meantime - there's a change in artwork on the hoardings. The Town Council's 'children's maps of Morpeth' have come down - and we're getting for images of famous people linked with Morpeth from the GMDT, that's: Willian Turner (happy birthday!), Vanburgh (who designed the Town Hall front), Admiral Lord Collingwood (who the flats on Dark Lane are named after) and Emily Davison (see the newly refurbished grave) - for some reason Jim Rudd has not be included. Watch out for these pictures coming out on mugs, keyrings and T-shirts soon...
The actual work on the Town Hall includes cleaning and restoring the stonework, replacing the mortar and repointing - and fitting a lightening conductor for the first time (which is rather worrying - but badge it up as part of the climate change action plan).
It is also intended to remove the 1960's style formica-work toilets in the Buttermarket and replace them with new toilets elsewhere in the building, and perhaps fit a lift in somewhere.
I'm assured that any work in the Buttermarket can be planned to miss farmers' markets weekends (July 6th, Aug 3rd) - watch this space...

Monday, 16 June 2008

Bus Fares Up

I see bus fares have gone up (by around 5%) - for the second time since Christmas. That makes around a 25-30% increase in the last two and a half years.
Public transport seems to be more about 'conspicuous consumption' than 'social inclusion'.
Let's just see how much of a protest we get - compared with the screams we get from car-drivers when petrol prices go up.
LGA research shows that bus subsides in England amount to about £2.5 billion pa and that the bus operators are making super-profits out of subsidies and concessionary fares, with a bigger return on capital investment than in any other sector (including water, electricity and gas). See current
DfT consultation

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Save our post offices - Save our communities?

The last stage of the Post Office's 'rationalisation programme' comes to the Borough next month. They'll be carrying out a six-week consultation from 3rd July (right over the holiday period) on which village post offices should stay open. Their criteria will be based entirely on a limited 'business case' model - looking purely at the cost-effectiveness of the narrow post office services being delivered.
This was the main topic at the Borough Parishes Meeting on Weds (11th June) - with the Borough Council looking to support parishes in making their cases on the PO criteria, and avoiding a 'divide and conquer' which would see parishes competing with each other to retain their own post office.
Unfortunately - there wasn't anyone from the Post Office there - but David Stewart from NE Rural Affairs Forum argued strongly that post offices were often the centre of a whole range of wider community activities, which will be (and are) lost when they close. He also outlined a range of 'Plan B' options for running post offices in village halls, churches, pubs or running mobile post offices in conjunction with other services (eg health, libraries, IT centres, council one-stop-shops). You don't necessarily have to use the term 'community hub' if you don't want too.
As he said - the Post Office is run with a subsidy which Government is withdrawing - that subsidy could be taken up by other (or groups of other) more local organiasations eg in Essex where the County Council is picking up the tab.
So - outcome from the meeting (as far as I'm concerned) was that we need parish councils and villages to identify what services are broadly linked to or depend on the post office and will be vulnerable if the post office closes (or disappeared when the post office did close). This is then evidence - both for the narrow-focussed Post Office consultation and for the unitary authority, care trust, police, parish councils, belonging communities and anyone else looking to provide services to rural communities. A bit of co-ordination and co-operation could do wonders.
Incidentally - not quite the same problem with Morpeth Main Post Office, but it is very vulnerable too. The Co-Op franchise runs out in October. I gather there are two or three potential new franchisees, but there is apparently no obvious site (50 m2) in central Morpeth. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Climate Change & Biodiversity

Just been to a very interesting seminar by Prof Bryan Huntley of Durham University - I was floundering a bit, but as I understood his case:

climate change is happening so rapidly that there is little chance of many species evolving to adapt, so the only prospect of survival is for species to migrate into new areas as climatic conditions change

he's mapped likely changes in climate (mean winter/summer temperatures, rainfall etc) across Europe - and then correlated similar habitats in present and future. He assumes that the future potential range of a given species is the future habitat which most closely relates to their current habitat - but it will become their actual range if they can move and adapt in time

he then argues that conservationists should be enabling species to make the move as their habitats shift. This means a major change in mindset from conventional conservation which seeks to protect 'native species' and existing ecosystems

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Riding on the 'Ashington Future'

SENRUG ran a charter train - the 'Ashington Future' - around the route of the proposed passenger service on the Ashington-Blyth-Tyne line on Saturday (7th June).
The two 'public' services were sold out within days on being announced - but I'm still sufficiently important to get a seat on the VIP service. This was stuffed full on MPs, MEPs, unitary authority councillors and council transport officers - as you'll have seen from quotes and photos in the press. I was a bit disappointed that apart from someone from SENNTRI - there were few or no regeneration or economic development people there.
I liked the choice of an ordinary two-carriage unit - which would be the normal train used on a local service, and I gather that the £6 return fare is about what the actual cost would be on a normal service.
I think the ease and convenience of the route surprised a lot of VIPs - and the whole exercise (sponsored by Wansbeck DC) was an excellent demostration of the potential of the passenger service.
Incidentally - SENUG petition calling for the re-opening of the Ashington-Blyth-Tyne Line to passenger services received 1292 signatures in total and has elicited a response from Government which includes the paragraph:
“Where, as with the Blyth and Tyne line, local and regional authorities are prepared to take the lead in drawing up a proper business case for reopening a particular line or stations and identifying funding, the Government will carefully consider the case.”

Friday, 6 June 2008

Dividing the spoils

One of the messiest aspects of winding up the Borough Council is dividing up the civic assets and ceremonial.

Some items came from previous councils eg Castle Ward (Ponteland) or Morpeth Borough Council - and could justifiably be returned to the relevant Town or parish council (if they want and can afford to keep them).
Some items were given in trust to the Borough Council and perhaps shoud be returned to the original donors or their families - if they can be tracked down.
Or there is a strong argument for establishing them in a (one or more) museum - if there were funding to do this.

Then there is the ceremonial - should we retain the Castle Morpeth mayoralty (aldermen, Freedom of the Borough) which dates right back to 1974 or give it up and have Town and parish councils creating mayors? Or even try to create Mayors of the emerging 'belonging communities'.

There are two ways of doing all this - either 'in-house' at the Borough Council before the end of March (when all Borough ceremonial disappears) - or by creating 'charter trustees' who will inherit all the Council's civic assets and maintain the Borough ceremonial is a sort of 'shadow' form. The snag is that government legislation is needed to create 'charter trustees' - and so we need to make a decision this month. The Civic Committee is meeting on Thurs 19th, and Full Council will be making a final decision on Thurs 26th.

And what are 'charter trustees'? From what I can gather (and I stand to be corrected):
* they will be the eleven unitary authority councillors representing area of the Borough
* they will rely on the new unitary authority for resources or they'll exercise a right to precept (raise their own council tax)
* only one of the eleven can be appointed Mayor
* while the power to appoint a Mayor of Castle Morpeth exists (even if not exercised) - the power of any parish or Town council to name their chairman 'mayor' is suppressed
On the other hand - the creation of 'charter trustees' will mean that 'division of the spoils' is not rushed.

In my opinion - most of the troubles of the Borough Council in the first fifteen years of its existence arose from a poor and unclear division of roles and responsibilities with the County, Town and parish councilsin 1974. We should at least try to avoid that mistake this time.