Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Morpeth Wednesday Market is the greenest

Morpeth Wednesday Market has just won a national competition for ‘Greenest Market’ organised by the National Market Traders’ Federation and judged by FoE.

The entry was put together by the traders – with photos of all the stalls and write-ups from each of them – with just the finishing touches added by the market manager. I hope the press coverage will include the stallholders, but there were a lot of bigwigs (including me!) appeared for the photo call this morning.

The entry covered the obvious things like recycling waste, biodegradable bags and composting the street sweepings. Then there were less obvious things like minimising the use of generators, the predominance of local traders selling local produce (a carry-over from the farmers’ market) and even led lights in the Christmas Lights display.

But for me – it is also ‘green’ that the traders support the market so well, and the Markets Partnership (which I admit I do chair) helps engage local people in addressing problems and developing new ideas. Although it is run by the remote County Council, you feel the decisions are taken locally. I gather the Council are looking to create local Markets Partnerships for the markets in Blyth and Berwick, and perhaps in Ashington and Bedlington where I understand they are planning to take back in-house the markets licensed to Spook Erections.

So – congratulations to the stallholders who won the national award for the Morpeth Market!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

A Christmas Carol for Morpeth?

A nice press release (which I've edited down a bit) from my employers, CPRE:

CPRE is encouraging people to spend their money locally when buying Christmas lunch this year. Charles Dickens’ three visions of Christmas are a useful reminder of how we have changed our food buying habits in recent years, and what future Christmases could look like if we don’t reconsider how and where food money is spent.

Christmas Lunch Past
Bought from a variety of local shops owned and run by knowledgeable traders, stocking distinctive produce that bolstered the local economy. Little packaging and virtually no waste.

Christmas Lunch 2009
The same big names in cloned towns and high streets and retail sheds spreading across the country. The model of ‘big and cheap is better’ retail is concentrating our food shopping into the usual few chains. Job cutting efficiency combined with excess packaging and needless waste.
[though Morpeth is luckier than most in still having a variety of local shops not to mention an award-winning Wednesday Market and an excellent farmers’ market]

Christmas Future?
If we don’t support the shops and markets the future could belong to the retail giants. In their relentless expansion they could squeeze out remaining local traders and any real choice of where to shop. We will forget what fresh, seasonal food tastes like.

In contrast, local food can offer incredibly good value and it doesn’t need to be the expensive option. Local food bought from farmers' markets, farm shops, pick-your-own farms and box schemes also tastes superb with wholesome, fresh seasonal foods aplenty. The variety on offer is the spice of the season.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

A tale of two consultations

An interesting contrast in consultation approaches in the last few weeks between Northumbria Police and their proposals for a new Morpeth police station on their existing site and the Primary Care Trust with their superclinic proposal on The Mount site.

The PCT are going for planning permission by March ’10, so they can get construction underway before the money is taken back by Government. So – they wanted to identify and head-off all problems as early as possible. So they put up a single draft proposal and sketch plans, as a basis for discussion. And they had some of the people who’d actually be working there talking over the plans and listening to what people said.

And the proposal itself is probably the best redevelopment of The Mount site, given that it will be redeveloped. The proposal doesn’t sprawl out over the Easter Field, and the building - though probably not very pretty – won’t be highly visible.
Scope for energy efficient buildings, grey water systems – and possible a ground source heat system under the Easter Field. Cleaning up the Easter Field and returfing it – it was left in a mess after construction of Easter Field Court – would be a possible community gain bringing the field back into use for children. Some concerns about bus and pedestrian access, especially the distance from the bus stop to the entrance - though I was told there’d be facilities for cyclists. And a 95-space car park which may be available for park and ride at weekends. There’ll need to be some work to the junction too – I’d like to see (pedestrian-friendly) traffic lights there.

Compare the mess the police made of their consultation: they want to sell off a chunk of land to pay for a new or refurbished police station – which will actually have a very small footprint. However they put forward four options – two of which involved building on Goosehill School – with very vague suggestions as to how the land sold off could be developed, housing, a supermarket or a hotel were all mentioned.
Then they had stiff in-house project managers and planners at their consultation who explained the development options and answered questions but didn’t really talk with people.

Being Morpeth – this approach obviously raised a real storm which focussed on a perceived threat to Goosehill School and inappropriate development on the edge of the town, in the flood plain. So – I don’t think the police got any real feedback on the proposals for the police station – which was what they really wanted.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Continental Market - not as good these days?

I thought this weekend’s ‘Continental Market’ in Morpeth was more than a bit disappointing. There were far fewer stalls than in past years, and prices were sky-high. They used to be a bit pricey – but £12 a kilo for cheese and £3 for an ordinary loaf of bread is taking the mickey.

And that is the point – we can get better cheese cheaper in the Cheese Shop, we have a baker on the Weds Market, one on the farmers’ market and two bakers in the town all selling as good if not better bread cheaper. And the other stuff on sale:
pate and dried sausage we can get at Morpeth Deli or Gebhards, or the monthly farmers market – again cheaper
dried fruit and nuts we can get at Julian Graves or Morpeth Deli
we can get better sweets, chocolate, fudge – again cheaper – at the excellent sweet shops Morpeth has, or again the Wednesday and farmers’ market
- and even the wine on sale was nothing to write home about

I’m biased – but I think both our Wednesday Market and our monthly farmers’ market have more atmosphere and offer a better range of products and considerably cheaper prices. So – I suggest that the Chamber of Trade review their regular booking of this ‘continental market’ (which is apparently based in Manchester anyway) and start supporting our local Northumbrian makets.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Morpeth Friday Market – the story continues…

Evaluation of the Morpeth Friday market trial:

NCC reported that the logistics of running a Friday market worked OK and the costs were pretty well covered by rents received – so it is practicable. Meter records show that the car parks in Morpeth were 87% full at peak occupancy over the market Fridays, though this excludes season ticket and permit holder who do not use the meters.
The response to the NCC surveys was disappointing with only six shopkeepers and seven members of the public responding: the shopkeepers were 3 to 2 against the market, with one uncertain, the public were 6 to 1 in favour of the Friday market.
The market traders had a petition of over 200 market customers in favour of the Friday market, and a survey of shopkeepers with 87 returns, showing 80 in favour and 7 against.
The Chamber of Trade’s own survey had 26 responses with 6 for, 18 against and 2 undecided. There is obviously a mismatch between the shopkeepers surveys carried out between the market traders and the Chamber of Trade.

Terry Garnick for NCC concluded that another trial was needed, since there is little firm evidence on the impact of the market on Morpeth, and there was a poor response to the impartial NCC organised survey. However, with the opening of the Sanderson Arcade and in the run-up to Christmas, there were too many extraneous factors to make a fair assessment. He therefore proposed to suspend the Friday market for the present and run a second trial Friday market in February, with the intention of making that permanent if the assessment then was positive. He would also bring in advice from NCC Regeneration team to ensure a proper assessment is carried out. However, he pointed out that he would need clearance from councillors to go ahead with this proposal.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Denis Murphy

I am quite sorry to see Denis Murphy standing down as MP after 12 years in the job. Despite his reputation as ‘MP for Ashington’, he has been a consistent and enthusiastic supporter of the Morpeth Fairtrade Forum – and he strongly backed the formation of Morpeth & District Credit Union, now Northumberland Credit Union. And, he has always responded to my letters and requests, even if only to pass on a Minister’s reply.

And in election campaigns, he has always been friendly and considerate, even to the point of ‘endorsing’ me on a couple of occasions, suggesting that he’d prefer me to be MP than any of the other candidates.

So, as I gear up for what will be my fifth General Election campaign – I will have seen three Labour candidates, four LibDem candidates and five Conservative candidates. There really should be an award for consistency and persistence!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Friday Market - what do you think?

Tomorrow (Fri 6th Nov) is the last of the six week trial period of a Friday Market in Morpeth. There'll be no market on Friday 13th (understandably), the Chamber of Trade are hosting the Connental Market on Fri 20th (and Sat 21st) - then if the evaluation of the Friday Market is positive, it can return on Fri 27th.

But that's the point - unlike many Council-led consultations, this isn't predecided. There'll be a meeting of the Markets Forum on 18th Nov - when both enthusiasts and doubters will be able to report their experiences. NCC has carried out surveys of customers, traders and shopkeepers - and I'm pleased that the Chamber of Trade is having a meeting on 16th Nov to collate their evidence.

I'll be chairing the Forum meeting - and I'd appreciate any comments or more particularly experiences of the Friday market to feed in. I'm going to try to be systematic, looking at:
i) the practicalities of running the market on Friday (from NCC)
ii) the results of the surveys
iii) feedback from Chamber of Trade, Morpeth Town Council, GMDT and any other organisations with evidence
iv) feedback from the Friday traders, shopkeepers - and Wednesday traders
and v) feedback from the public

I hope that will cover everyone concerned - if not, let me know!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Party Leaders' Knock-out Competition?

Here’s an idea about Party Leaders’ Debates in the run-up to the General Election – a bit off-topic for a blog about Morpeth but….

I’m not happy about debates between Party Leaders being televised because they imply a presidential style of election, and people have enough problem understanding that they are voting for someone to become MP, and only indirectly for someone to become Prime Minister.
And… they will only feature the major two or three parties, which makes things even more difficult for us minor parties.

So why not have a knock-out series of debates in the style of the FA Cup?

The leaders of very small parties would be drawn against each other for debates televised on say Five – and a phone poll would take one of them through to the ‘next round’. And just like the FA Cup, the leaders of the major parties would enter the competition in later rounds – and the ‘final’ debate would get broadcast on BBC1 – the media equivalent of Wembley Stadium.

Well – I think it’s a good idea…

Monday, 26 October 2009

Happy Birthday Morpeth Farmers’ Market!

Morpeth Farmers’ Market celebrates its 10th Anniversary on Saturday 7th November.

There’ll be a real party atmosphere on the market with competitions, buskers and a birthday cake provide by Country Markets (aka the WI). And there’ll be a chef doing demos throughout the morning using what ingredients he can cadge from the market stalls – a bit like a live version of ‘Ready Steady Cook’.

And the Barnacre alpacas will be back.

It’s hard to imagine it’s been going so long. I’d been a councillor for just six months when Castle Morpeth BC first started the Farmers’ Market in November ’99. And apart from a five month gap during the foot & mouth crisis, missing one market on the day after the 2008 flood and the occasional January market date that was too near New Year - it hasn’t missed very many months.

Initially it was held in the Town Hall, then after refurbishment of the Morpeth Market Place it was split between the Town Hall and the Market Place. Then in October last year, it was switched from a Sunday to a Saturday and is now located entirely on the Market Place. And it is still thriving when other farmers’ markets are in a bit of a decline.

I think a lot of people don’t realise just how lucky Morpeth is in still having locally owned shops. These have always sold local produce, but I think the farmers’ market has raised an awareness and appreciation of local food with a wider public.

In fact, a number of businesses – including Doddington Dairy Ice Cream and Northumberland Cheese Co – which started selling through farmers’ markets are now supplying the local shops, and in some instances supermarkets – so the wheel has come full circle in a sense.

And several producers from the farmers’ market – like Jimmy Bell and Janet Lawlor – are now selling at the Wednesday Charter Market too – which I think is part of the reason why that is flourishing so much, against national trends.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Remembrance of wars - past and present

It looks as though there will be rather more awareness of the Remembrance Sunday parades this year - with increased awareness of death tolls in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I'll be wearing both red and white poppies again this year. As far as I am concerned, the red poppy commemorates all those who have died or suffered in wars on all sides - not just the soldiers. And the white or 'peace' poppy (and I have a few available if anyone wants one) is to highlight that war is not a solution - for example, it is rapidly becoming obvious to everyone that the 'war on terrorism' will not be won by military means.

In Morpeth, Morpeth Town Council are taking on full responsibility for the main Remembrance Sunday th Nov) parade and service for the first time (though they have run smaller parades in Morpeth in the past when the Castle Morpeth Mayor attended a service elsewhere). There'll be a lot of people attending - so let's hope it goes well. We are still not allowed to lay a wreath of white poppies though - because the British Legion considers that this would be a 'political act' - and Remembrance Day is supposed to be apolitical.

Then on Weds 11th -Armistice Day - there is the two minute silence at 11am. Over the past few years, there's been a campaign by the British Legion to turn this into a mini-Remembrance Day service. And, the Town Council will be making a civic event of it at the Town Hall. I disagree with this - for me, the two minute silence should be held, but it should be held as a simple pause in the middle of the working day.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Let's Talk about Death

Message from the NE Director of Public Health… please complete the survey

North easterners are being asked to tackle a taboo and talk about death as the region launches the UK's first ever charter on end of life care.

The pioneering charter sets out proposals for the kind of care and support which people who are dying, their families and carers, can expect. Once agreed, it will guide those who plan and provide end of life care or support.

NHS North East has worked with a range of partners across health, social care and voluntary sectors, plus patients and carers, to produce A Good Death charter. A public consultation on the charter will run until December. It aims to gather the region's views and start a discussion about death and dying, an issue which is often avoided and ignored, despite being the one common inevitability we all share.

Professor Edwin Pugh, consultant in end of life care in NHS North East, says: "Death and dying is taboo, its reality is put off until the last minute. We live in an increasingly death-denying society, despite the fact that all of us will die. Death and dying is seen as a medical problem. Almost six in 10 people die in our hospitals, even though most people wish to die in the comfort of their own homes. The launch of this charter is the start of a process to make sure our society, and the support services people rely on during these difficult times, respond with compassion to the needs of those people who are dying and their loved ones. This is not principally about dying - it's about ensuring we live life to the fullest of our potential, with meaning and value, in whatever time we have."

The consultation on A Good Death centres on a questionnaire available at and research will also be carried out by an on street team in towns and cities across the region.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Crunch Time at Low Stanners

I understand that Mark Dransfield’s application for a supermarket on Low Stanners is designed mainly to pre-empt applications for edge of town supermarkets by demonstrating that a site nearer to the town centre is viable, and by providing the necessary level of ‘choice’ required by national planning guidelines.

But the three applications cannot be considered together – so we could end up with three new supermarkets in Morpeth.

Mark (I’m sure he doesn’t mind me calling him Mark) is only going for outline permission, so a lot of his plan is ‘indicative’

- but some of these ‘indicative’ elements are essential to demonstrate that the site is viable – and it would be useful if these ‘fixed’ elements of the indicative design are made clear. In other words – what can’t be changed once outline permission is granted.

I have been lobbied heavily by residents of Low Stanners, especially Staithes Lane, whose main concerns are:

  • Traffic levels
  • Noise and light pollution
  • Overnight security in the car parks (including recycling centre)

There is also a strong lobby opposed to the demolition of the Red Bull Inn, for both community and heritage reasons. This proposed demolition seems only to be part of the indicative design, it needs to be clarified whether demolition of the Red Bull would be included in the outline permission.

Choice and Need
Morpeth has Morrisons, Lidl, M&S (main store from November), Iceland and a significant number of independent food shops – not to mention a thriving market. It is not clear to me that there is not already adequate choice meeting local need.

Traffic and Car Parking
The scheme has a loss of 29 longstay car parking spaces (194 down to 165), and it is a moot point whether the 300 short stay car parking spaces will allow or encourage people to shop in the town centre whilst parking at Low Stanners – or whether they would just be shopping at the supermarket.
The longstay carparking will probably fill up 7-9am and empty 4.30-6.30pm – that is there will be two two-hour periods with 80 vehicles an hour joining or leaving Dark Lane from Staithes Lane. In addition, Dransfield estimates that there will be 14 lorry deliveries a day between the hours of 7am and 10pm (approx) – so on average there will be four lorry deliveries during these peak congestion periods.
The suggestion that traffic lights be installed at the two junctions is welcome

It is not clear whether the proposal has been endorsed by the Env Agency. Currently there is 60% impervious cover on the site, with 40% allowing soak away. The development will have 100% impervious cover so that all rainfall will need to runoff and so will be entirely dependent on effective gulleys and drainage channels. The prospect of contaminated runoff entering the Cotting Burn or the Wansbeck will be increased.
The loss of hedging and trees will also reduce local water soakup.

Trees and Wildlife
The Cotting Burn and Wansbeck are designated wildlife corridors – including significant widths of the bank to be effective. Re-alignment of the Cotting Burn is very likely to disrupt wildlife and will destroy the local habitat. Locating the rear of the supermarket – with lights, smells, noise etc for 16-20 hours a day – hard on the river bank will disrupt the main Wansbeck wildlife corridor, as well as threatening the tranquillity of the riverside walk.
Loss of trees and established hedgerow will also destroy key habitat in the wildlife corridors.
And construction work will also disrupt wildlife

It is not clear that this site will be ‘integral’ with the town centre shopping ‘hubs’, with primarily short stay car parking, it might just as well be an out of town supermarket
The 'indicative' layout does little to integrate the development with the town centre.

It is also not clear that Library-Willows site along the river is a suitable site for the proposed new Health Centre, Library and Info Centre complex. Certainly displacing that development from this site will delay the replacement facilities for Morpeth Cottage Hospital.

I hope the councillors on the North Area Planning Committee make the right decision for the right reasons! It's a tough one

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Drought in the Bus Station

Hanging baskets got everywhere for the Britain in Bloom competition - including at the end of each of the bus bays outside the new bus station.

Unfortunately, Heighleygate staff (contracted by the Town Council) to water all baskets could not get to these. The bus drivers reckoned it was too hazardous to bring the watering equipment onto the bus apron. So - unlike most of the hanging baskets around town, they've shrivelled and died.

Put it down to 'teething problems' with the bus station, and do it differently next year.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Fungus damages Tree

Local people may have noticed the largest of the cherry trees in the Rotary Gardens on the corner of Wellway has been cut down. Apparently it was badly affected by plum fungus (photo) to the point where it could start dropping branches on people.

NCC are proposing replace the tree - using a native species of appropriate fullgrown size, but not a cherry which would be susceptible to lingering fungus in the gardens. Any suggestions?

I'd quite like a see a crab apple tree....

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Setting a Premium on Insurance

Following on the varied experience of insurance companies in response to the flood, my attention has now been drawn to a curious situation with Castle Morpeth Housing and its tenants regarding insurance:

Obviously CMH insure the buildings themselves, and have arranged a good deal for contents insurance for their tenants with their insurance company.
And – ever keen to save money, they encourage their tenants to claim on contents insurance for any damage to fixtures and fittings – which is all above board under the terms of the policy.

However – where routine maintenance is behind schedule or not a priority (and my informant tells me their estate hasn’t seen any significant maintenance in the last eleven years), then the lack of maintenance can lead to more frequent damage and hence claims than might otherwise be expected.

And here’s the nub: my informant says they have had to make four claims in the past five years, and now their premium is so high (even under the CMH-negotiated scheme) that they can’t afford it – and are running the risk of having no contents insurance.

And worse – if and when CMH contractors do a bad job or accidentally damage fixtures and fittings, again CMH encourage tenants to claim on their insurance. Now normally, in such circumstances, the insurance company would make a claim against CMH, and the tenant would not lose their no claims bonus – but because they are also CMH’s insurers and get good business from them - they seem reluctant to do so, and the tenant has to cough up higher premiums.

Now it seems to me that there is a systematic problem here – CMH are quite reasonably trying to save money on their maintenance budget, but in the end it is their tenants who are having to pay out extra. CMH needs to rethink it’s policy.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Problems with the Low Stanners Scheme

The trouble is – if too much detail is put into the outline planning application – then we are locked into a rushed scheme which may not be the best possible option. I’ve heard a number of concerns:

i) the urban design of the site – with the supermarket backing onto the river – is poor, and not well-integrated into the town centre or the river walks.
ii) Loss of the Red Bull to provide access for delivery lorries. A building is going to be needed at the ‘front’ of the site as i) – I reckon at a pinch the Red Bull could afford to lose the modern extension but stay in place
iii) Traffic levels: we’re told there’ll be about 14 delivery lorries a day, which could be kept between the hours of 7am and 10pm – that’s about one an hour. Then assuming access to the 167 space longstay carpark is concentrated 7-9am and 4-6pm, that’ll be 80 additional vehicle movements an hour along Staithes Lane for four hours a day.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Mark’s Cunning Plan

When the Morrisons & Back Riggs development started, Government planning guidance required retail developers to prove that a ‘need’ existed and that the location of the development was the nearest developable site to the town centre (the sequential test). A consultants’ study ‘demonstrated’ that the expanded Morrison’s would meet the ‘food shopping need’ of Morpeth for the foreseeable future.

Unfortunately, the Government then moved the goalposts – and now require demonstrable competition and proof of ‘demand’ – though the ‘sequential test’ remains. So Mark Dransfield’s ‘cunning plan’ is to use his ‘Low Stanners’ proposal to demonstrate that a second supermarket – providing competition – can be built close to the town centre, so that the out of town proposals from Sainsbury and Tesco are thrown out.

For some reason – the existence of Morrisons, Lidl, Iceland, M&S, three butchers, two bakers, two greengrocers, two delis and a cheese shop in Morpeth town centre does not meet the Government requirement for ‘competition’. And, the rumoured appearance of a small Sainsbury’s on the Market Place when M&S move into the Arcade isn’t likely to change this.

So – all Mark needs is outline planning permission with enough detail to show the plan is viable. The siting of the supermarket, carparks, delivery access etc ideally needs further consideration…

And I’m not sure he has the OK from the Environment Agency yet.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Culture Shock! Shopping Hours in Morpeth

Well - so the refurbished Sanderson Arcade will open on Nov 12th, with the new M&S and the town centre car park opening a couple of months earlier.

I gather that the Arcade will be open 9am-8pm Mon-Sat and 11am-5pm on Sundays - which will come as a bit of a shock to the independent shopkeepers on Bridge St and Newgate who are struggling to cope with 9am-5pm Mon-Fri and 9am-2pm on Sat. Of course the supermarkets and some chain stores already open long hours, seven days a week.

Morpeth is already busy at weekends - especially with summer visitors - so maybe we need a bit of a rethink about the best times to open, though I know it is difficult for small shopkeepers and coffee shops to cover long opening hours.

However - having shops open till 8pm will help towards filling the notorious 'dead zone' between the shops closing at 5pm and Morpeth's 'evening economy' starting up around 7pm.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Accident and Emergency

A specialist A&E Hospital at the Moor Farm roundabout in Cramlington is being proposed by the Northumberland & North Tyneside Health Trust (NNTHT). The formal consultation is running through till next month.

Their argument is that for serious ‘blue light’ emergencies, a concentration of specialist care is better for patients that having that care spread across three (local) general hospitals. The general hospitals will still offer ‘walk-in’ A&E care, and patients will normally decanted out to these more local hospitals after 2-3 days, but the specialist hospital will have consultants available 14 hours a day, seven days a week.

Newcastle Hospitals Trust (NHT) points out that their new regional trauma centre and other specialist hospitals are only eight minutes away (by ‘blue light’ ambulance) from the proposed site, and there is a risk of duplication of function.

NNTHT need a catchment area of 0.5million pop to provide enough accidents and emergencies to make their new hospital viable both financial and in providing sufficient professional challenge for the concentration of consultants. That’s why North Tyneside was added onto Northumberland in the first place. And that explains the choice of location, which is a population-weighted mean – it’s the place that’s nearest most people. So – as usual, sparsely populated north and far west Northumberland miss out.

I’m concerned about transport access: Moor Farm roundabout is already one of the most congested points on the Northumberland road network and walking, cycling and public transport access is poor. As far as I can tell, there has been no assessment of traffic impact, and the Trust has only just thought about talking to the Highways Agency. Even disregarding the need for car-free access, there’s a serious risk that ‘blue light’ ambulances will get snarled up in congestion of the hospital’s own making.

Then – there’s the standard climate change question: I’ll (generously?) assume they’ll go for a low carbon operation, but will they design and build to cope with the inevitable climate changes that will occur within the 50-60 year planned lifetime of the building?

As usual – watch this space….

Friday, 19 June 2009

Nothing to do with us!

According to NCC Public Transport team, the new Morpeth Bus Station is nothing to do with them. Apparently it is an integral part of the Sanderson Arcade shopping centre, so is owned and run by Mason Owen, in their local guise as the new Centre Manager. This - so I'm told - has come as a bit of a surprise to Mason Owen.

NCC has magnanimously agreed to include the bus apron in their gritting schedule, but that's about all.

I gather both sides - bus operators on the one hand and developers & contractors on the other - are keen to establish communication channels at the right level, but haven't quite done so yet. Seems a little late in the day...

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Supermarket Sweep

Mark Dransfield and his team hit Morpeth yesterday - talking to residents of Staithes Lane, and then the Town Council - don't know who else besides.

Essentially, he's worried about his investment in the town centre development if Sainsbury's or Tesco's get permission for an out-of-town supermarket. [When he talks about Morpeth as 'our town' - think of it as ownership as well as identification]. So he's bringing forward a planning application for a supermarket on Low Stanners in the hope that this will stymie planning permission for the out-of-town supermarkets.

Essentially - the Highways Depot will become an extension of the existing car park with bridges over the Cotting Burn, and the supermarket will be roughly where Robson Prescott's (the vets) is now. The car park will be two storey, with the lower level half underground - with flood water storage tanks below that. Delivery lorries will access along a widened Staithes Lane - which will require the Red Bull pub to be demolished.

He has backing from the Chamber of Trade and he was lobbying the local residents and the Town Council yesterday. And he's doing a very complicated dance with the County Council: they have their eye on the site for a new library, info centre and health clinic (replacing the Cottage Hospital). He is now trying to convince them that the NHS/NCC land along Gas House Lane (Terrace Car Park to The Willows) could be used for this. (He suggested the Willows could be relocated to the Easter Field, next to Easterfield Court - obviously doesn't know the history of that site)

Anyway - the timing is very tight: for this scheme to have any bearing on the Sainsbury decision, the planning application has to be in before the Sainsbury application comes to committe. I thought that was Thurs July 2nd - but Mark assures me it is now Thurs Aug 6th. BTW - our two 'local' Morpeth councillors on the ten-member Northern Area Planning Committee are Cllr David Woodard (lives in Ulgham) and Cllr David Moore (lives on the west edge of Morpeth).

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

518 bus success

Back in 2005, NCC in partnership with Arriva got some money from government ('Kickstart' programme) to put on an extra #518 bus from Newcastle to Widdrington Station to give a half hourly service. It was unfortunate at the time for Northumbria Coaches who had introduced a parallel service out to Widdrington Station backed by their own money, just four-five months earlier.

However, apparently, the route is now a commercial success so Arriva will be running it without subsidy. And - NCC & Arriva have been awarded Kickstart 2009 funding to extend the half hourly service out to Amble, while out of the own pockets, Arriva will take the risk of funding the rest of the route Amble-Alnwick.

So - a half hourly #518 service from Newcastle to Alnwick via Widdrington and Amble starting from April '10.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009


You knew (roughly) what Crime & Disorder Reduction Partnerships (CDRP) were about... the clue was in the name. But LMAPS?

Local Multi-Agency Problem-Solving partnerships apparently....

If it takes two traffic wardens 45 min to patrol three streets, how many traffic wardens does it take to patrol Northumberland properly?

Monday, 8 June 2009

"It was a good result for us"

Just in case you didn't hear... the Green Party got just over 34,000 votes in the North East in the Euro-election, up from 4.8% in 2004 to 5.8% of the vote this time. Best results were 6.9% in Northumberland and 7.5% in Newcastle. The three existing MEPs (one each Lab, Con & LibDem) were re-elected.

Nationally, the Green vote went up by 44% (relative) to 9% with our two MEPs being re-elected - and we missed out by a couple of thousand votes on getting MEPs elected in the North West and East of England.

Thanks to everyone who voted Green - and stick to the habit when it comes to the General Election!

Monday, 1 June 2009

What is this Euro-election about?

What is this Euro-election about? How are you going to use your vote?

With the media full of the MPs’ expenses scandal, there has been little or no coverage of any European elections. And what coverage there has been has been rather hi-jacked by the Euro-sceptics who are still fighting the 30-year old battle about membership.

Votes in the Euro-election on June 4th will determine the political make-up of the European Parliament for the next five years. In the lifetime of the next European Parliament, we need to:
  • restructure our economy to start reducing carbon emissions – starting with the Copenhagen Summit in December
  • deal with the global recession
  • prepare for peak oil – and water shortages
  • develop immigration and aid policies that can cope with the impact of climate change on the developing world
  • revise the Common Agricultural Policy to adapt it to the impact of climate change

So – are you going to use your vote to protest about MPs expenses, or to whinge about EU membership, or maybe not vote at all because nobody has told you what it’s about?

Or are you going to vote for MEPs who will take the work of the European Parliament seriously and face up to the real challenges that we face?

Look at what the real issues are – and vote Green

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Tamsin needs help with Banks

Tamsin Shaw, a postgraduate student at Leeds University has contacted me through this blog. She is doing a postgraduate degree dissertation looking at the interactions between industry and communities, in particular exploring H J Banks Developments (Shotton and Delhi mining sites, in particular) and the communities around the Cramlington area. She’d like to hear from anyone who has been involved in any of Bank’s Liaison Committees or other community engagement work.

Contact her at or mob 07817 405 621

I was on the Liaison Committee for the opencast near Pegswood for a while – nominated from CMBC – and Banks’ were very good indeed at consulting, keeping people informed and funding a community chest - considerably better than their competitors by all accounts! However Shotton is their biggest venture by far (so far as I’m aware) so it’ll be interesting to see how they progress.

And it doesn’t really address fundamental opposition to opencast coalmining in the first place.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Investing in the car industry is wrong

This is an article by Cllr Prof John Whitelegg, which I think is so good, I'm going to post all of it...

We live in interesting times. Almost all the largest world economies are assembling packages of financial support for the car industry and financial incentives to persuade citizens to throw away an older car and buy a new one. The recession and the rise in unemployment is a personal disaster for many and the pressure to “rescue” industries is intense. Sadly global thinking and decision taking on this matter is way out of line with evidence and with the need to identify opportunities out of the mess rather than continue on the same lines that created the mess.
Investing in the car industry is wrong. We need large scale investment in things that create real jobs in real communities and have a huge impact on the big things that we are all trying to address including peak oil, climate change and poverty eradication. Investing in renewable energy anywhere in the world is a “no brainer”. It will create lots of jobs in every community. Designing, equipping and retro-fitting every building with whatever is needed to reduce energy use by 50% is also a front-runner for climate and job creation success. Investing in high quality streets for walking and cycling and public transport will do the same but throwing cash at an early 20th century industry based on moving objects that weight about 75 kg in a metal container weighing about 1 tonne is not very intelligent. We can restructure cities, mobility and accessibility and in one highly co-ordinated policy deal with road safety, health, obesity, climate change and peak oil but it looks like the answer is, as usual, “no”.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Farmers' Hustings

Euro-election hustings organised by the NFU last night. It was a cosy affair with less than a dozen farmers and just three candidates, me, Fiona Hall for the LibDems and Martin Callanan for the Tories.

I was surprised that there was no one from Labour or UKIP there, though someone unkindly said the only food & agriculture policy UKIP has is a dislike of Brussels sprouts.

Anyway it was far more a discussion than a question & answer session. Main messages to would-be MEPs was that the CAP should be common ie applied equally across the EU and a policy ie with a clear, relevant intention. I’d already tried to make the distinction between the intention of a policy, the systems put in place to achieve that intention and the way those systems are implemented. Much of the bad press the EU gets is (IMO) down to the way our government (and particularly DEFRA) chooses to implement Directives etc. Sometimes it feels as though a policy is being deliberately sabotaged.

Main message to the farmers was that there’s lots of Euro-money for research but very little in the old Structural Funds. Unfortunately, our Government isn’t helping farmers work with universities to tap into these new funding streams.

And there is a lot of research to be done into adaptation of farming practice to changing climate: the CAP needs to be revised to focus on food production and security adaptations to climate change, and a low carbon economy. I believe the Greens are the only political party thinking in these terms.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

A challenge from Susan

A comment from Susan Scott which deserves a fuller response than it would get as an add-on to an article. She writes:

“I appreciate your aims but your plans for transport do not appear to make provision for a person like me with severe mobility problems who would not get anywhere without a car. They do have some advantages!”

I wholeheartedly agree. There are uses for cars, and helping people with mobility problems is one of them. And if we could reduce the number of people choosing to use a car when they do not need to – then life would be a lot easier for those who do need to – in terms of less traffic congestion, safer roads and easier parking.

And I am suggesting that we provide alternative forms of transport or reduce the need to travel not just making it difficult or expensive to use a car.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Retail Demand and Assessment

So - we now have planning applications in from both Sainsbury's and Tesco's for edge of town stores out at Coopies Lane (and north Hepscott) - which M&S are expanding into the new town centre development, Iceland are returning to Bridge Street and Morrisons are about to expand too. Recession? What recession?

If they all happen, we may get plenty of choice for a while - but people seem to forget that 'competition' is only one stage in the market cycle, and a temporary one at that - cartels and monopolies are also part of market forces, and where there is competition, there are losers.

We already know that any jobs created are likely to be offset by job losses in shops put out of business or forced to cut back, and they'll be low-paid part-time jobs in the main anyway.

The White, Young, Green consultants' study on retail provision in Morpeth published by CMBC last September does not even include the local shops - butchers, greengrocers, bakers etc - in Morpeth as part of their assessment. They just looked at supermarkets for food shopping.

Morpeth shopping is special - is still special - precisely because we have locally owned shops like this. There are few market towns that have them. Even in Northumberland, Hexham, Alnwick and Berwick are in a steeper decline that Morpeth as far as shops go - partly because they all have edge of town supermarkets.

We should value what we've got and shop locally - for the good of the town and the local economy.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Expenses and Voting

The MPs' expenses debacle has really undermined the public's faith in the political process and in politicians. And I can't say I blame people for losing faith. On the Borough Council, we were subject to ultra-strict rules about what we could and couldn't claim for. I couldn’t even get my moat cleaned, let alone pay for a second home in Longhirst! So I'm pretty appalled at what many MPs have been allowed to get away with.

The polls are suggesting that many people will either not vote at all, or are looking again at the smaller parties. I’m encouraged that more people may choose to vote Green, but I’m also worried – if the turnout is really low it makes it easier for the BNP look as though they have a lot of support.

So – please do vote – but think very carefully about who you choose to back.

‘For evil to triumph, it is enough that the good should do nothing’ [or something like that]

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Oxygen of Publicity II

They were back again yesterday (Weds) – the BNP - with a stall outside the Town Hall and placards pasted on the hoardings. And they’d brought their own film crew this time, to make sure Morpeth features on their website.

I suppose in a way, it’s a compliment to the way that Morpeth Market brings people into the town now that they should think it worth their while to have 8-10 people out leafleting the market. Though from the comments I got, the market traders were barely aware they were there. And, by and large, people seemed to be ignoring them.

A number of people did complain to the NCC Information Centre (formerly Firstcall) though and as far as I can make out, similar action was taken as last time:
A couple of police were in evidence quietly patrolling the market
The Market Supervisor made a report to his boss which (I hope) will be incorporated into the routine monthly ‘tension monitoring’ report that all local authorities make to the Home Office
They were made to remove the placards from the Town Hall contractor’s hoardings, since they are private property and clearly marked ‘No Posters’

So – Phil’s hope that they wouldn’t come back was over-optimistic but at least they were ignored.

Monday, 13 April 2009


Off topic for this blog but...

Is anyone else wondering why the Somalis have suddenly resorted to piracy? There is no tradition of piracy along that coast as far as I'm aware.

Could it be that their land is wasted by war and desertification and the seas are poisoned so that the local Somalis cannot support themselves by traditional fishing and farming? And so some are resorting to piracy - just as some are becoming economic migrants.

And yet the West is prepared to spend a fortune on the military to deal with the symptoms or piracy - and deal with the symptoms of illegal immigration - but is not prepared to provide aid to re-establish the local economy, or address desertification, or respond to the threat of climate change.

And it is worth noting that the US and French Special Forces killed pirates but we have no reports of the pirates actually killing anyone. Protection of property is obviously the priority.

And while I'm ranting - watch out to see if we get any reports of the 12 alleged terrorists siezed in the North West being released for lack of evidence. For some reason this doesn't seem nearly as newsworthy as the initial raid.

OK - got that off my chest...

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

A late April Fool or what...

Tesco's - the company promising to bring an 'eco store' to Morpeth - has got a great new incentive for people to buy low energy light bulbs - they are giving extra airmiles away with every purchase! See Guardian OnLine

Either its a belated April Fool - or Tescos really just don't get it! Which does not bode well for their 'green' approach to a superstore on the edge of Morpeth.

And they are not the only organisation who just can't get to grips with what reducing carbon emissions is all about - let alone the sheer scale of what reductions are needed to avert irreversible climate change.

The whole "everyone doing their little bit" approach is simply not going to be enough - we need structural changes and we need a clearer understanding of what reducing carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 really means.

Monday, 6 April 2009

The Joys of Automated Translation

Proposals by major supermarkets to build in Morpeth are now international news - as witnessed by this blog entry. The auto-translation into English gives an unusual twist to the arguments (I particularly like Morpeth Bedroom of Switch...

'Giants Sainsbury’s and Tesco both penury to unsnap immense stores on the acrimony of Morpeth - where developers are currently edifice a flagship 26-unit, Edwardian-style shopping gallery at the bygone Sanderson Arcade in the burgh mid-point.

Now Morpeth bedchamber of switch has voiced fears that the supermarket plans could opprobrious the ascendancy of the burgh mid-point intrigue and critically jeopardise the town’s together monogram. Sainsbury’s recently staged a non-exclusive demonstration of its £30m plans destined for a 300-job, 35,000sqft foodstore on farmland at Stobhill. Tesco has submitted a planning utter to sculpture a 200-job, eco-friendly 20,000sqft co-op give credence to on Morpeth’s Coopies Lane industrial class - painstaking to the locate proposed at want Sainsbury’s.

Yesterday chairman Stuart Lishman said: “We paucity on the contrary look at Berwick, Alnwick and Hexham to consort with how anybody planning ascendancy breeds tons more, and also what the colliding on their burgh centres has been when confound after confound appears next door to the nonconformist supermarket.

Morpeth bedchamber of switch says the two companies father not made unsnap how tons jobs want be wrecked in the burgh mid-point as a effect of their projects, or commented on the cool colliding on existing businesses.

Morpeth bedchamber of switch has a impost to demand retail unfolding in the burgh mid-point, and a long-standing map out of adversary to out-of-town retail developments such as those proposed at want Tesco and Sainsbury.

“We be convinced of that such schemes want critically detract from the multi-million bray unfolding in a moment being carried abroad with the Sanderson Arcade intrigue. He said: “The mind-boggling talk has been that there is an high-priority need destined for a unripe supermarket, providing greater –ílite destined for burgh people. We unhesitatingly be convinced of that the together monogram of our burgh want be critically jeopardised if retail giants, whose on the contrary by reason of is profit, are allowed to sculpture their new warehouses on its disguise acrimony.”

Last Stygian Tesco corporate affairs executive, Doug Wilson, said its proposed Coopies Lane locate was the essential accessible destined for a unripe co-op give credence to. More than 80% of people who attended our demonstration said they were in forgiveness of our plans. In the meantime, shoppers want be prolonged to return Morpeth in their droves to go to Kingston Park, Ashington, Cramlington and Alnwick.'

Thursday, 19 March 2009

The oxygen of publicity

I've received a number of queries about the BNP stall that appeared briefly outside the Town Hall yesterday.
They had not sought permission from anyone to be there - and the County Council, who are responsible for pavements (being the highways authority) are on record as saying they wouldn't give anyone permission to run a stall of that size on the pavement there. However the general opinion amongst the Borough Council Exec was that to take any action to 'move them on' would just have given them more publicity - the notorious 'oxygen of publicity' which the Thatcher government tried to deny the IRA.
Congratulations to the group of KEVI students who argued with them though - rapidly showing up the BNP in their true character.
We did send a Community Safety Officer along to keep an eye on things, and of course, the CCTV on the Town Hall entrance will have a full record. And - and not many people are aware of this - the Borough Council are required to submit regular 'tension monitoring' reports on political, racial and religious activity that could create 'community tension' - so this will be reported routinely to the Home Office.
Personally - I think the BNP would not make any headway if the mainstream political parties and media were doing their job and addressing the concerns of the public. Offering simple, single solutions to complex problems is a hallmark of fascism - but in a 'soundbite' world - the media tend to lead us to expect them.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Age of Stupid - take action now

I went to the premiere of ‘Age of Stupid’ at the Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle last night. It’s a film looking back from 2055 to now and asking why we did not do anything about climate change while we still could.

The key message for me was the timescale we have to work with. It isn’t enough just to set a target of 80% cut in carbon emissions by 2050 and work slowly towards that. Apparently, unless carbon emissions peak by 2015 and then are reduced rapidly – the global temperature increase will be enough to release greenhouse gases trapped in permafrost and the ocean depths, and climate change will be unstoppable.

2015 – that means action, not just commitments, need to be taken by the Government elected at the next General Election, by the European Parliament elected this June and by the current US President. It is the biggest threat we have to face and every political and policy decision taken from now on, must move us towards a local carbon economy.

The Stop Climate Chaos Coalition, a multi-NGO the protest group backing ‘Age of Stupid’, are pinning their hopes on the UN Climate Change Conference to be held Copenhagen in December. And they are looking for people to lobby government.
I’m happy to support them – but I know the only real way to get politicians to take action is through the ballot box. If they feel their vote is threatened, they’ll listen. So my message is – vote Green in the upcoming European elections, in Mayoral elections, in local elections – at every opportunity. You might not get a Green elected (every time, though it sometimes happens) – but whoever does get elected should get the message.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Morpeth Goes Bananas

A hundred and sixty-three Morpethians ‘went bananas’ on Friday and Saturday. They all took part in the world record attempt on the greatest number of people to eat a Fairtrade banana within a 24 hour period.

The attempt was part of Fairtrade Fortnight 2009, and was organised by the Fairtrade Foundation to raise awareness of the plight of banana growers in the developing world. Over 370,000 people took part nationally.

57 people signed up in Price’s greengrocers on Newgate Street who were giving away free Fairtrade bananas all week to support the attempt. A further 65 people signed up at the Fairtrade coffee morning last weekend, and 24 at the Farmers’ Market this weekend. And 17 took part virtually, signing up through a Facebook event.

When so many people take part in an event like this, it confirms that Morpeth’s status as a Fairtrade Town is not just a tick-box exercise, but that people here are really committed to Fairtrade.

Thanks to everyone who took part, especially to Price’s greengrocers who have been loyal supporters of the Forum for over five years.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Nuclear Power a Red Herring?

So far most of the nuclear power discussion has been about grid electricity.

Even if the UK replaced all its nukes it would only offset a small proportion of current CO2 emissions (something like 5%) because other major energy consuming sectors use other sources of power than the grid eg gas home heating, industrial use of gas, coal and oil, aviation fuel for aircraft, petrol and diesel for cars and lorries.

The proponents of nuclear will actually achieve little or nothing in terms of emissions reductions (if they get their way) if overall energy consumption continues to rise - nukes will just provide the power taken up by the increased consumption.

What we really need is across the board demand reduction through a massive programme of efficiency improvements, new technologies and a switch to low carbon grid generation if we are to cut UK emissions substantially.

Nuclear is a red herring in this debate - and retains the serious drawbacks of risk, waste and its own form of non-renewable fuel – uranium. ‘Peak uranium’ looms in about a hundred years time at present consumption rates.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009


Congratulations to KEVI which has just won the ‘Most Sustainable School’ category in the Chronicle (regional) Environmental Awards.

Well done to Victoria Najafi and everyone involved.

It is, of course, a credit to the whole town, with lots of support for the school coming from local councils and other organisations.

27th March...

In response to an anonymous comment implying that the school only pays lip service to eco-status "successfully burning in excess of 100 tonnes of imported coal in its 60 year old boilers, with a whopping 0% insulation rate throughout the building. And a continues 24 hour do-not-switch off any of the 800 PCs system."
- a school spokesperson pointed it that there has been considerable modernisation with actions and systems matching the words: "The boilers have actually been replaced and the PCs are all switched off at the end of the day"

Friday, 13 February 2009

New Specialist Emergency Care Hospital

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust is developing a plan to build a new £75M Specialist Emergency Care Hospital 'close to the A19 and A1 on the Northumberland and North Tyneside border' (would this be Seaton Burn?).

It is planned that the new centre will have 210 beds, a Critical Care unit, operating theatres, blood sciences, radiology including MRI and CT scanners, maternity and a full range of support and ancillary facilities.


There’s a series of public meetings about this – the Morpeth one is 25th Feb 2.30pm - 3.30pm Morpeth Cottage Hospital, tel 0191 2031296 for more info

It may well be a good scheme, but an immediate concern the springs to my mind is about access by non-car users. NHS has lots of fine words about sustainability, carbon reduction and reducing car dependency, but does it put them into action:
i) how does this location relate to the NHS vision:
"NHS organisations are exemplar in leading the population-wide shift to more active and low carbon travel such as public transport, cycling and walking”
ii) would the hospital comply with the NHS Carbon Reduction Strategy for England (January 2009), Section 3 'low carbon travel, transport and access' (all five Key Actions).
iii) and of course, the location must be approved by the NHS Sustainable Development Unit

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Access to the new bus station

The new Morpeth bus station opens next Tuesday (17th) - and demolition of the old bus station starts straightaway, so lets hope there's no 'Terminal 5' type problems, because there is no fall-back cover if something doesn't work first time.
Access will be from the T&G Allan passageway from Newgate Street while the demolition and redevelopment continues in Back Riggs. Should be a bit of a boost for the Newgate Street shops.
The Comrades Club, HealthiChoice and Ladbrokes are persistently remaining open in Back Riggs at the centre of the chaos. They'll be accessed from Bridge Street.
Friday 13th: possibly a slight hitch: apparently the bus bays have not be laid out in a deep enough chevron, so that passengers will have difficulty getting on and off if buses are parked in adjacent bays. But - I'm sure they'll sort it by Tuesday...

Monday, 9 February 2009

Bus Fares Up Again

I see Arriva has quietly increased its bus fares. If petrol had gone up, motorists would be march - sorry, driving - on Downing Street and there'd be more than a hint of revolution in the air.
Bus fares go up - and there's not even a mention in the press, let alone a peep out of the bus passengers. Not sure what the average increase is - and admittedly some fares have increased - but some increases are quite steep. Highest I've found so far is Longhirst-Morpeth return which has gone up 11%
And this all at a time when we are supposed to be switching too public transport
Then again - the buses are full of older passengers taking advantage of the free travel for over-60's. This is going so well that Arriva has renegotiated their deal with Castle Morpeth BC, and is getting an extra £70,000 to cover the cost of concessionary travel. It's a great scheme - but the funding from central Government to local authorities doesn't really cover the costs.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

No Action on Cycleways in Winter

Remember the correspondent who raised the issue of cycle paths not being maintained or gritted or kept free from overhanging branches.

Well, his UTube video illustrating the hazards has been viewed over 2000 times, and he has had replies from the Netherlands and Germany all expressing surprise about the conditions of our cycle ways.

However there has at yet been no response from Northumberland CC.

He writes: “What to do? The council doesn't seem to bother. May be we should lobby that they don't build any new bicycle paths. If cycle paths are not maintained they provide a false sense of security and suggest to car drivers that we should use them. This in turn makes them more aggressive towards cyclists on the road.”

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Leisure Centre Re-Opens

Riverside Leisure Centre will be open again on Monday 9th February, both dryside (i.e. sports hall, studio, gym) and swimming pool.

The centre will be open for bookings from Monday 2nd February 2009. All routine club bookings will be honoured to their original sessions prior to closure in September. To confirm bookings, clubs should contact Riverside Leisure Centre from Monday 2nd February tel 01670 514665. Please note that this number will not be in use until Monday 2nd February due to the installation of the new booking system.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Some things to watch out for...

With the flood recovery activity, the Dransfield development and Castle Morpeth BC desperately trying to get things done before it disappears, there's a whole load of starts, completions and re-openings to look out for over the next couple of months.

Here are some, according to me best sources of information:

within the next fortnight: work on fixing 'anchor points' in the Market Place - these will allow market stalls etc to be fixed to the paving slabs, making them more wind-resistant

end of January: Riverside Leisure Centre re-opens

16th Feb: New Bus Station opens. I'm told that the bus operators are getting a site visit 1-2 weeks beforehand 'to see if their buses will fit'

mid-end of March: The Chantry re-opens

end of March: Morpeth Library re-opens

end of March: Phase 2 work starts at the Town Hall (depending on planning permission). This should include installation of a lift, clearance of the Butter Market (and new toilets being fitted), renewal of heating pipework and overhaul of electrics

Monday, 5 January 2009

Cycleways in Winter

A comment received from a local resident:

“As a regular commuter into Morpeth I am shocked about the state of our cycleways in winter. It is not the first time this year that the cyclepath into Morpeth had black ice or was covered in frozen snow. I clearly think we should lobby to have our cycleways cleared in winter. Not only from snow and ice, but also from hedge cuttings. My daughter fell this morning and I know of at least one other cyclist who fell on the Whorral bank cycle path due to icy conditions.”
I received this on 11th Dec – and forwarded it to the local county councillor, but when I followed it up with the local resident on 4th Jan, he replied:

“I didn't get much feedback from the people I contacted in Morpeth More encouraging was the response from the Cycle Touring Club, who mentioned the video in their weekly newsletter. The video has now been watched 1895 times and I had replies from as far away as the Netherlands and Germany. In both countries they were surprised about the ridiculous state British cyclepaths are in.“
I appreciate that the additional cost of clearing all cycle ways in winter would be forbidding, but I think, we should identify some key routes to be cleared. There seems to be a lot of encouragement from the government for sustainable transport and I wonder if there would be funds available for projects like this.”

Friday, 2 January 2009

Flood Protection Scheme

Lots of rumours going around about the timetable for the Environment Agency's Flood Alleviation (Protection & Prevention) Scheme for Morpeth. The version I've heard is:

  • consultation on options for scheme: March - June '09
  • early summer - decision on preferred option and design work carried out
  • construction work to start in early 2011, depending on the scheme design - and it will take about two years to complete
  • Cost will be £10-15M out of a total £600M national pot - and the money has been earmarked for Morpeth
Incidentally - the EA flood defence work was delayed nationally because the Government cut the funding. They cut the funding because DEFRA (under which the EA comes) was fined by the EU. DEFRA was fined because of delays in making Single Farm Payments to hard-up farmers. The delays were caused by Government trying to introduce the new single payment scheme in one year instead of five years (as happened in most European countries).