Monday, 31 March 2008

I don't do it for the money you know!

Given the kerfuffle about MPs expenses - I thought I'd post details of the councillor's allowances and expenses I've received this year (Apr '07 - Mar '08):

Basic Allowance £3,498 and 'Special Responsibility Allowance' £2,258.62 (that's for being 'Executive Member for Improvement') - both of which are taxable, plus £302.30 in expenses (mainly bus fares) paid only when used tickets etc were submitted.

Morrison's Filling Station

Update 19th April: The amended retrospective planning application is available on the CMBC website - and the deadline for comments is 28th April. It is likely the application will be considered at the Development Services Committee on 13th May.

Update: 1st April - word from CMBC Planners:

We are in discussions with the architects with regard to amendments to the current design.
The MORRISONS sign on the gable of the kiosk has been removed and the illuminated signs around the car wash have been permanently switched off.
We have asked for a less garish colour to the yellow around the canopy and have also asked that the brightness of the illuminated signs is reduced.
We have advised that the petrol pumps can be used between 7am to 11pm, outside of these hours the signs will not be illuminated.

Original Post:

I've now submitted the following comments on the retrospective application for signage & lighting at the new Morrison's Filling Station on Dark Lane - Applicn CM/20080188 (deadline for comments - 3rd April)

As ward councillor for Morpeth North Central, I would like to raise the following objections reflecting comments raised with me by constituents to granting retrospective permission on the above application:

the level of lighting is excessive and poorly directed. It creates as serious light pollution problem when viewed from Dacre Street or Fenwick Grove. In contrast, street lighting and the lighting in the new Dark Lane car park has been designed to be at an appropriate level and to illuminate only those areas which need lighting. I understand that recent Government guidance makes light pollution a statutory nuisance.

the colour and size of the signage is too vivid for a gateway to the town which has until now reflected the natural character of the river valley. This is not an urban setting. The signage and colour of the nearest Morrison’s filling station at Cowgate in Newcastle is in an urban setting, but seems much less virulent

the maximum opening hours of the filling station should be 7am-10pm to avoid light pollution becoming a problem, and to retain the character of this part of Morpeth. Opening any later may result in the late evening activity in the town centre sprawling outwards and becoming more difficult to manage.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Safe & Sound?

One of the golden rules for politicians in an election campaign is to avoid contentious issues and try to be seen to be agreeing with everyone. So I should be avoiding the proposals for Barnabas Safe & Sound to take over buildings in Dark Lane – but I’m not going to!

Barnabas are doing a great job on limited resources – and are actually helping young people in a permanent way – not just providing a temporary hang out. And – after initial hiccups, their past and current projects (eg the accommodation on Oldgate) have settled down well, without too many problems for the neighbours.

I know that large, rowdy groups of youngsters gathering around benches, in parks or even on sheltered walls can be frightening, especially for older people who feel fragile and vulnerable. But gathering in groups isn’t an offence (except under martial law eg in China). Littering, vandalism, under-age drinking and recreational drug use are crimes and offences – and these can and are dealt with whenever reported. But intolerance is as much anti-social behaviour as abuse and rowdiness. Treating youngsters who feel they have nowhere else to go as criminal pariahs will only teach them disrespect of the law and older people – if it doesn’t actually steer them into actual criminal behaviour.

Barnabas – and the other youth initiatives in Morpeth – are working to provide alternatives for young people, and perhaps as importantly, helping them get to know adults as people and possibly friends, not just authority figures.

I will, of course, be helping people who are worried about the new centre to make their concerns heard as clearly as possible – and maybe it won’t materialise in Dark Lane. But we do need a Barnabas Centre in Morpeth – and it has to be somewhere!

Quite apart from the planning permission, Barnabas still needs to raise a lot of money to make this project happen – any sponsors out there? I think they are also looking for volunteers to work with the young people – which could be a more constructive way of overcoming fears.

Well – that’ll probably lose me a few votes… but what are the other candidates saying?

Saturday, 22 March 2008

National Bus Pass Scheme

From 1st April – over-60’s will be able to travel free on any local bus services anywhere in the country (from 9.30am).

The Borough Council will be issuing new passes to over 8,000 current bus pass holders. New applicants (including the 290 who have applied since 15th Feb) will get a temporary pass for the moment which will be replaced when the new ones come through.

And – anyone in Castle Morpeth with one of the new bus passes can also buy a Nexus card giving free off-peak travel on the Tyne & Wear Metro. These cost £25 for a year pass and must be purchased in person at a Nexus Travelshop (eg at Central Station, Haymarket Bus Station, Monument).

Friday, 21 March 2008

The Millennium Green

March 2008 Newsletter from the Millennium Green Trust has just arrived. (Of course, you know the Millennium Green – off Newgate Street, behind Gebhards and next to the Old Bakehouse Yard.)

There are new signs at the entrance to Old Bakehouse Yard and the water trough in front of the seating area. The pump keeping the trough filled will be solar-powered.

The whole setting will be re-landscaped in the next few weeks and planted with herbs to help commemorate William Turner’s 500th anniversary this year. Watch out for a mulberry tree we are planting soon which also links to Turner’s botanical interests.

For more information, contact
Rod Mathieson

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

The Station Bus?

Following on from previous posts – I see the M3 Bus Service (Lancaster Park to Stobhill Grange) is now labelled as ‘Morpeth Rail Station’.

Given that it’s election season – I’m going to take full credit for that change which obviously happened entirely as a result of one letter I wrote to Astleys who operate the service.

It does mean that my newsletter leaflet coming out next week (look out for it!) already has one item out-of-date. That’s the price you pay for being a dynamic councillor, I guess.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Future of Back Riggs Post Office

It’s looking grim!
The Co-Op has pulled out of the franchise arrangement and the Back Riggs Post Office is scheduled to close at the end of October.

Morpeth has to have a main Post Office. It’s part of its function as a market town, especially as more and more rural village post offices are closing.

I’m sure if local government wasn’t in quite such a turmoil, Northumberland would be one of those fifty plus councils asking Essex County Council how they are planning to run post offices.

Maybe sometime in the future, a local post office would be part of a ‘community hub’ in several villages, alongside a library and a council one stop shop. But that won’t be for a few years (if ever).

And we’ve got just seven months. We urgently need both a new location for a main post office and a new franchisee. Maybe GMDT or Business Link should look at it? Though I’m not entirely sure that having the post office in the Chantry would be a good idea.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Signs & Lights

Looks as though Morrison’s have overstepped the mark with their new filling station. They needed separate planning permission to put up those gaudy yellow signs, and the pricing sign – and they didn’t get it before they erected them. So there’s a retrospective planning application (CM/20080188) seeking permission. If refused they’d have to take the signs down.

Now – I’ve had a number of complaints, mainly from Dacre Street and River View, about the excessive lighting at the filling station – and I would see this as an opportunity to get this looked at too.

I’d also hope that another couple of issues could be addressed at the same time:
i) whether the LPG tanks create a safety hazard in their current location (or at all)
ii) whether rumours that the station is going to operate on a 24-hour basis, and whether planning permission is needed for this

Comments? There’s about three weeks to get objections in.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

What’s a DPPO then?

The Borough Council is currently consulting on introducing DPPO’s in Morpeth and Ponteland. It’s mainly an initiative from my Unholy Alliance colleague Cllr Glen Sanderson, but I see in Focus that the LibDems are enthusiastically taking credit for the idea.

A DPPO – Designated Public Places Order – gives the police powers to confiscate alcohol from anyone drinking in the defined public place, which is this instance will be the whole of Morpeth.

Of course, the police can already sieze alcohol from under-18’s drinking in public as the recent haul reported in the Morpeth Herald shows. However, the DPPO is supposed to make it easier for the police to handle mixed groups of youngsters – some of whom may be over 18.

I gather that particular locations like pavement café-style tables, or special events can get exemptions from the blanket order.

So – what do you think?

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

LibDems go for Moore rather than Les

Another of those amusing LibDem newsletters has just arrived. The most (almost the only) interesting item of news was that sitting County Councillor Les Cassie has not been selected to stand in Morpeth North in the upcoming election.

Two possible reasons I can think of:
i) Les has had enough after just two years as a County Councillor and one as a Borough Councillor, which is surprising since I’d have thought he’d committed himself for four years on each or
ii) They badly want Les elected, and don’t consider Morpeth North a safe seat – which I think I’ll take as a personal compliment

Either way – it is a bit of an insult to the electors of Morpeth North to think that just any LibDem candidate parachuted in has a chance of winning. I’m sure their new candidate, David Moore, is a good chap, but does anyone know anything about him?

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Morpeth Northern ByPass

I went to the NCC exhibition on the Morpeth Northern ByPass in Morpeth library this morning. Apparently the principle of the bypass is decided and agreed, and the consultation was part of the preparation of a detailed bid to Government for funding. The outline scheme is already included in the regional 10 year list of transport proposals and this is the next stage.

Of course, with such a long process, you need to keep re-assessing the need. They are claiming that the scheme will take 18% of current traffic off Telford Bridge, but traffic growth is such that ten years later we’ll be back to pre-bypass levels. I need to check the height & weight restrictions on the A1 bridge over the Wansbeck too – we may still have large vehicles coming through the town. I’ve asked if the 2006 traffic survey analysis is available – watch this space.

And then there are a number of other implications to the scheme:
i) it is vital to plans to open up the English Partnerships-owned land at St George’s to further development. Proposals are for a total of 650-800 houses with some industry and shops.
ii) it is also pretty important to the development of industrial sites at Northgate and Fairmoor
iii) the line of the new road will almost certainly be the line of the inner boundary of the new Morpeth Green Belt
iv) preservation of the wildlife corridors along Cotting Burn, Kater Dene and How Burn are critical to maintaining the character of Morpeth town centre, river and parks. Wildlife affected will include red squirrels, deer and badgers
v) the new A1 junction could give improved access to Lancaster Park and Fulbeck for burglars from out of the area.

I’m fully expecting this to be an election issue in Morpeth North – so I’m keen to hear what people think.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Intimidation and anonymity in Middle Greens

I’ve received an anonymous letter drawing my attention to the fact that youngsters gathering around a bench in Middle Greens are causing passers by the feel intimidated. A solution of relocating the bench is proposed.

While I appreciate why the letter is anonymous, it makes it difficult to find out more information – and I’m concerned that people think I would be indiscreet with people’s names in this situation.

I’m sure the situation is serious, and information about criminal damage and antisocial behaviour has quite rightly gone to the police. Certainly the recent police purge on underage drinking in Morpeth has made an impact. But, the Borough Council also has powers relating to antisocial behaviour – actions other than moving the bench might be possible if I could talk privately to the complainant.

So – I’m passing the letter on to the Borough Council’s ASB officers and to the Town Council who are responsible for the bench. I’m not inclined to report back through the Morpeth Herald as was suggested – that route may generate more heat than light.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Election? What Election?

On May 1st, voters in Morpeth North Division will have an opportunity to elect just one councillor to the new unitary authority for Northumberland.

This will be a ‘transitional authority’: it will take on the responsibilities of the County Council straightaway, and over the coming year, it will take on the responsibilities of Castle Morpeth BC and the other District Councils in Northumberland, until on April 1st 2009, the District Councils will be abolished.

So, please think carefully before voting. The councillor elected will be effectively replacing the existing County Councillor and all three Borough Councillors currently representing Morpeth North. And, it looks as though there’ll be no further elections for five years, so you’ll be stuck with whoever is elected though to 2013! [OK - the Electoral Commission is talking about revised boundaries and an election in 2010 - but the Government is resisting this]

The Morpeth North unitary authority councillor will be one of just 67 councillors in the whole county. They will, at the very least, be representing you on an Area Committee, an Area Planning Committee and an Area Licensing Committee. With just three other councillors (representing Morpeth Kirkhill, Morpeth Stobhill and Pegswood), they’ll be the only voice of Morpeth on the new Northumberland Council.

Northumberland County Council has published a ‘blueprint’ of how they see the new council working - download from here.

Morpeth Town Council will not be abolished. In fact, it may well take on additional responsibilities when the Borough Council goes. Your five existing Town Councillors will continue to represent you – in all probability for five more years, through to 2013, as well.