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.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

I don't do it for the money - part II

Yes - Borough Councillors have unanimously voted for a 2% increase plus £1,000 in basic expenses - and we sneakily waited till after the local elections to do it.

For the record - that means the basic allowance for being a Borough Councillor is now £4,568 a year. And I get an additional £2,668 a year for being 'Executive Member for Improvement'.

That's a total of £7,236 a year - not quite enough for me to employ a nanny to fit me a new kitchen.