Friday, 10 December 2010
The last time there was a flood in Morpeth because of snow melt was in March 1963. Then there was twice as much snow, it melted over 2 to 3 days and it was accompanied by heavy rain. And the ground was frozen so it couldn't soak up any of the melt.
Today there is only the equivalent of 3" of rain held in the snow, there is no rain forecast and it will probably take 2-3 days at these temperatures for a total melt (we are in December, not March, so the average temperature is a lot lower).
75mm of rain over 3 days equates to approximately 1mm/hr. We are told that the Wansbeck can cope with more than 4mm/hr before there is any worry of possible flooding - even before the flood alleviation measures are built. For it to flood ALL the snow would have to melt within 15 hours and enter the river!
I'm told that the river level may rise a foot or so, but that is all.
Watching the water level.... http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/floods/riverlevels/120694.aspx?stationId=8139
Wednesday, 8 December 2010
The Morpeth Herald campaign – like all press-run, yes-no, petition-led campaigns – does oversimplify things, but the principle that car parking should be charged for is basically correct.
On the other hand, the Council needs to be more careful about why it is charging for car parking: from my fading memories of Castle Morpeth BC, I recall that if charges are simply to raise revenue, they are liable to VAT (20% from next month), but they aren’t liable of they are part of a comprehensive traffic management strategy. And, if it is revenue raising, they do need to recognise they are in competition with free private sector car parking in Cramlington, Ponteland and elsewhere.
I put forward a compromise position – that all county-run car parks in Northumberland should by liable to charging, but some could be ‘zero-rated’ – for inclusion in the Morpeth TC response, but my fellow councillors didn’t appreciate the subtlety of the position.
Then again – the pattern of shopping imposed on us by supermarkets and malls almost requires the use of a car. Which is why you have people living within 20min of Morpeth town centre driving in to do their shopping. A car parking strategy which – integrated with other planning and transport strategies – tried to modify this would certainly get my support.
The Chamber of Trade continue to get way with their classic 1984 ‘doublethink’ arguments: i) car park charging in Morpeth is keeping people away and ii) there is not enough car parking provision in Morpeth to cater for all the shoppers. The end result is that Morpeth has a reputation as ‘the town with car parking charges’ when Hexham, Alnwick, Corbridge etc have equal or greater charges – not to mention Newcastle.
Given that the RAC reckons it costs average £113 a week to run a car, 50p an hour or £2 a day doesn’t seem an awful lot extra, even if you don’t get a permit. So – it must be the principle not the amount, or the inconvenience – and the time restrictions. I guess people don’t idly browse or take a leisurely coffee if they are limited to ‘two hours on the meter’.
But – on a third hand (?): car parks in town centres are very valuable properties, and a hard-strapped Council has a responsibility to maximise the return on their assets. Car park charges generating anything less than a reasonable return on the asset value of the site – let alone free car parking - are effectively a Council subsidy for car users. Council tax from non-car users, who are generally less well off than car users (especially if they are paying full fare on public transport!), is subsidising car users.
I am looking forward to the introduction of civil enforcement of on-street parking – ie car park attendants rather than traffic wardens giving out parking tickets – which goes with the strategy, though.
Sunday, 28 November 2010
Yes, as we Greens have been saying for sometime, measuring economic wellbeing by the rate at which we consume resources is shortsighted in a world with limited resources. It doesn’t make sense that a flood or an oil spill mark increases in economic activity.
And a financial system which depends on ‘market confidence’ remains subjective, even if those subjective view are ‘anonymised’ by the abstraction of ‘the market’. As someone said, money was created to obviate the need for trust between people - but you still need to be able to trust in the system.
So yes – the present method of measuring the economy is obsolete and needs to be replaced.
And – yes, we need efficient and productive use of resources, but in an engineering rather than an economic sense, and we need systems which conserve and re-use resources, and draw more heavily on renewable resources.
But we also need to assess ‘social and environmental’ well-being, and the New Economics Foundation, amongst others, has developed several indicators for this. But the aggregating and weighting of the various components of these indicators carries embedded policy decisions (a bit like the Index of Multiple Deprivation).
Then again, we need to recognise the difference between standard of living and quality of life. Studies show that above a certain level of income, subjective contentment does not correlate with income. On the other hand, a high quality of life can be achieved when living quite simply.
Happiness and contentment are states of mind, like tranquillity, and all we can do is try to create the conditions which bring about those mental states. But – we need to identify those conditions first.
Friday, 12 November 2010
So, although NCC report that:
"Morrison’s have now re-submitted the application and the formal 28 day consultation period will commence form today and finish on the 9th December 2010" - the parallel applications elsewhere in the county have not been delayed, and the NCC Licensing Committee will be hard pushed to come up with reasons why Morpeth Morrison's should be treated differently.
The only grounds for objecting to licensing applications are:
I think that my argument that this subverts the PubWatch network and that supermarket cashiers are not trained to deal with 'people under the influence' in the way that bar staff are - should hold up, but concerns about light pollution and boy racers in well-lit carparks would be stronger if it were a variation on a planning permission rather than a license.
And that is where Morrison's are manipulating the system - as well as the sheer weight of a national move, they are using the narrower licensing regulations to pre-empt a variation in planning permission, to move towards 24-hour opening.
And they are not the only ones: word has reached me that M&S in Sandersons Arcade have applied for a 24-hour alcohol sales license, and an acohol license for their restaurant - also a move towards 24-hour opening.
Tuesday, 9 November 2010
This seems a bit excessive to me on a number of fronts:
i) buying cut price alcohol and drinking at home is already damaging the pub trade in Morpeth and elsewhere, the habit of 'preloading' or drinking before you go out is particularly pernicious
ii) who wants to buy alcohol at six in the morning? Or from a supermarket at 10 or 11pm at night? Are we going to have people popping in to Morrisons for a carry-out on their way home from the pub? Pub staff are used to managing customers who have had too much, and will refuse to serve them. Can we expect supermarket checkout staff to do the same?
iii) And why seven days a week? That's longer than the current opening hours? Ah! Is this part of a cunning plan to extend the opening hours of the supermarket? Are we going to have a 17-hour supermarket in Morpeth?
Anyway - they applied (to NCC) so quietly, that no one has objected so far - and the objection period runs out on Friday (12th). So the Town Council will be discussing it at their meeting tomorrow (Weds 10th) and will probably ask NCC to extend the consultation period.
Sunday, 31 October 2010
I guess with the Northumbrian witch trials of the 17th century, there is a historic basis. Then again – I don’t know if Rapper Dance traditions are similar to Morris Dance imagery, but if they were – there could be cultural justification for a ‘Find the Moor in Morpeth’ promotion.
Fundamentally though – we do need to be careful that popular imagery does not colour the way we think about any group of people.
Wednesday, 13 October 2010
Damside closed from Staithes Lane to Telford Bridge Sunday 17th, 24th, 30th Oct
..... Morrisons and the Sanderson Arcade won't be pleased!
"Essential maintenance works are about to be carried out to the A197, Damside, Morpeth. The work involves the removal of the existing surface, laying new surfacing and road markings. Due to the traffic sensitivity of this particular road and the extensive disruption these works would cause during the normal working week, the decision has been made to restrict the carrying out of the works to Sundays only.
The works are intended to be carried out in stages over three consecutive Sundays, starting 17th October 2010. In order to comply with safety regulations relating to required safe working zones for operatives a temporary road closure will be required during the course of the works . A fully signed diversion route will be put in place over this duration. Please find attached a copy of an O.S. plan showing,coloured red, the extent of the surfacing works and the temporary diversion route that will be put in place during the operations."
Sunday, 20 June 2010
This year, they are focussing on recycling electrical goods – working on the premise that we get too attached to toasters and TVs etc to throw them out when they fail: “our modern reliance on electrical goods and the emotional bonds we form with them prevent people from recycling unused items”. Personally, it’s more a combination of laziness and the strictures of the WEEE directive that stops me from getting rid of electrical goods.
I see the County Council will accept electrical goods at their ‘household waste recovery centres’ and there are lots of charities (eg British Heart Foundation) which will take working electrical goods for re-use.
However, I really don’t like the loose way the term ‘recycling’ is used – true recycling, which is breaking something down into its component materials for re-use is (for me) the lowest level acceptable way to dispose of waste. Electrical goods do contain valuable metals and semi-metals that are worth recovering. But, I’d far rather see more use being made of local repair and refurbishment facilities – creating local jobs and keeping money in the local economy, than wholesale scrap work. And I’ve written several times before about the excellent Free Cycle system, which allows people to give away unwanted stuff, while eBay and Amazon have really rehabilitated the secondhand goods market.
So – before we think about recycling: what about re-sale and re-use, then adaptation and refurbishment, then repair and cannibalisation – and only as a last resort scrapping for component materials.
Of course, it does mean that we need to get the designers to work on adaptability, refurbishment and most importantly design for repair – so that you don’t have to throw away eg whole car headlamp units for want of a lightbulb.
Wednesday, 16 June 2010
OK – enough of the Robert Pollard-style punditry, what happens next?
Well – they went with the least worst option – working on the assumption that one supermarket application had to be approved – with evident sacrifice of the views of the Staithes Lane residents for the perceived greater benefit for Morpeth. And there was an implicit heavy dependency on getting another go when the full application comes in.
I guess we can expect appeals against refusal from both Sainsbury and Tesco’s – and the political cynicism is that they will be persuaded to drop their appeals for deals to become the operator for the Dark Lane site and/or to move into the former M&S Food Only store on the Market Place. I’d also say that there’ll be a bit of a race to bring this forward before the public sector recession hits – and it’ll hit Morpeth bad in the next 18-24 months.
So – I’d imagine Mark Dransfield is quite keen to crack on with his development.
Meanwhile – I still do not recognise that even an edge of town supermarket is needed or will not damage town centre trade.
Sunday, 16 May 2010
Press release from Northumberland CC about the relaunch of Ponteland Farmers' Market on 22nd May (guess which bits were in my original draft?):
Ponteland Farmers’ Market will be celebrating its 10th birthday on Saturday 22nd May with a change of venue and a full-scale re-launch.
The market is moving to the Merton Way Shopping Centre from its former base in the Memorial Hall, where it has been for most of the past ten years.
Market supervisor Robert Hindhaugh, says:
“We hope that this move to an outdoor location in Ponteland’s main shopping centre will help to rejuvenate the market. We already have bookings from a number of producers and can expect more to sign up if the market goes well.”
Producers booked for the day so far include:
Castle Bakery, selling fresh bread and pastries;
Curly Farmer Fine Food, selling cakes, pates, scones etc;
Middle May Lamb selling Organic Lamb;
Patterson’s of Eyemouth, selling fish and seafood;
Richard Dennis, selling fudge;
Vince Frain, selling plants, herbs, shrubs etc;
The Women’s Institute (WI), who will be trading from the Merton Hall; and
Zest Catering, selling pasties, chilli, homemade soups.
and with a bit of luck a local microbrewery
Words put into the Council executive member’s mouth by their press office:
“We are very keen to promote sustainability through self-sufficiency and farmers markets are an excellent way of helping to support local enterprises, as well as greatly reducing food miles.
“We hope that this re-located market will have the added benefit of bringing more visitors into the shopping precinct at Ponteland, thereby supporting local trade as well.”
There will be some added attractions at the market to celebrate its 10th anniversary including a special birthday cake, plus cooking demonstrations by the ‘Cool Food Dudes’ from Real Food Works.
(photo courtesy of NEEFM)
Saturday, 8 May 2010
OK - it was slightly disappointing to get just half the votes I got at the last General Election, and slip back almost to my 1992 levels. And it was galling to be patronised again by the other parties - "You are doing a really brave thing - keep it up" - when I had graduated to being attacked and slated because I was beginning to make an impact. And - although I'm assured otherwise - I feel I've let down my supporters and donors by losing my deposit again.
Still and all, it was a good result for the Green Party - we've got an MP at long last! And media-willing, Caroline Lucas should carry the Green message into people's awareness. Her comment on the hung parliament and the FPTP voting system is a good beginning:
“The first past the post system has created a situation where people cannot vote positively for the candidate or party whose policies they most agree with. Instead, they are forced to vote in fear, working out how to vote to keep out the party furthest away from them in policy and values. This leaves us a grotesque democratic deficit and a poor basis on which to govern.”
Cameron and Clegg be warned!
Meanwhile - it's back to local activity and campaigning for me, but carbon emissions are still increasing - and at the risk of sounding like something from Flash Gordon - 'we've only three or four years to save the Earth'
Monday, 3 May 2010
This is fascinating on a number of levels:
i) they feel threatened by me: when other parties' feel safe they patronise me, they only attack if I'm making an impact
ii) of course, I'm going to get more than 500 votes (I sincerely hope!) - and from feedback I'm getting, I'm taking votes from the red party as well as the yellow.
iii) they still don't understand that green party policies are fundamentally different from yellow party policies
And of course - this time, with the real chance of a couple of Green MPs being elected - the national Green vote is going to be important. Green MPs with three million votes behind them would have a much louder voice than if we only got say half a million votes nationally.
So - vote Green in Wansbeck, it isn't a wasted vote - and as it says on my election leaflet "Don't settle for least worst - vote for what you believe in!"
Friday, 30 April 2010
Well – you can find out my response at the time when the show is broadcast on Sunday, but as they say ‘repartee is what you think of on the bus back home’ – so this is perhaps what I should have said:
“The Green Party manifesto addresses the recession, jobs, threats to public services, climate change and peak oil. We are trying to move towards a fairer, more equal, greener, lower carbon society. Our spending plans – centred on the Green New Deal – focus on this; where we propose cuts – they cut schemes and projects that do not contribute to these aims.
We are told that any government will need to introduce taxes equivalent to 6p on income tax – but while the other parties are taking an ad hoc, vote-garnering approach – but we propose to use the tax system constructively towards creating that greener, more equal society.
“So – yes, we will increase taxes – as would every other party – but we will be rehabilitating progressive taxation and Green taxes. The rich and those generating environmental damage will bear the brunt.
Our taxes to reduce inequality include:
• 50% income tax on earners over £100k
• abolish the upper limit on National Insurance contributions (and raise the lower limit)
• increase Corporation Tax to 30%, but reduce it to 20% for small firms
• base inheritance tax on the wealth of the recipient rather than the value of the estate
and – crack down on tax havens, tax evasion and tax avoidance”
That’s what I should have said – but then Mark asked two other questions, and I knew I only had 45 sec total time, so I think what I actually said was OK.
Thursday, 29 April 2010
– but I have to write something about the Morpeth Chamber of Trade’s intransigence over the proposed Morpeth Friday Market, as reported in this week’s Morpeth Herald:
Chamber of Trade representatives have been to every meeting of the Morpeth Markets Partnership since last September and have been fully informed about the trials for the Friday Market. They were fully consulted about the second trial and agreed to help distribute the council’s survey to their members themselves. And they have known from the beginning that the Council was looking for organisational responses which were not to be restricted to the survey form.
And representatives of the Chamber of Trade were present at the Markets Partnership meeting where the survey results and feedback were discussed in detail. And those reps agreed to report back to their members and produce an organisational response as quickly as possible.
Yet – three months after the second trial began, they still have not submitted a formal organisational response. Now as far as I am concerned, no reply and the coverage in the Morpeth Herald constitutes an adequate response – but I believe that the county council officer actually responsible for making the decision has been told by his political masters not to make a decision until a response from the Chamber of Trade has been received.
So the Friday Market is stymied….
Monday, 26 April 2010
But, despite media claims that this is all new constitutional ground, coalition-building is a well-practiced skill in local government. Councillors from different parties negotiate a published common programme, share Cabinet seats and committee chairs and then work together.
As a councillor on Castle Morpeth BC, I was involved in a ‘traffic light’ (red – yellow - green?) coalition, then an all-party alliance and finally the so-called ‘unholy alliance’ – a Lab-Con led coalition. And they worked, the work programme was reviewed annually and CMBC pulled itself out of a big, dark, financial hole.
(It is unfortunate that the members of Northumberland CC have not been able to work together in a similar way. An all-party coalition was really the only hope for that ill-fated monstrosity.)
But ill-judged negative campaigning and a lack of trust between parties is a huge barrier to coalition-building. It too a full year of negotiation to build the CMBC all-party alliance and just one ill-tempered election campaign to destroy it.
And that is the other side of the proportional representation coin: it is very rare under PR to get an outright majority, political parties campaign on ‘shopping list’ manifestoes with one eye on likely political partners. Across Europe, mature PR systems tend to have one or two ‘natural parties of government’ in alliance with different smaller parties which colour but do not dominate the policies of the coalition government. And we are beginning to see that sort of approach in the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Greater London Assembly.
Curiously, the LibDems – as fierce proponents of PR – do not seem to have grasped the need to modify their campaigning approach to take into account the need for coalition-building. They’ve blown it in the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly – and arguably on the Northumberland shire unitary. We can only hope they’ve learned lessons for the next parliament, though the signs are not promising.
On the other hand, the Greens have always done well as junior coalition partners, in Germany, France and Italy. And in the Scottish Parliament and the Greater London Assembly, their constructive opposition has enabled several Green policies to be implemented. And this is how the two-three Green MPs we can expect in the new parliament will behave – and a strong Green national vote will give them that extra clout.
So (political slogan bit) – don’t settle for ‘least worst’ - vote for what you believe in – vote Green!
Thursday, 8 April 2010
We need major investment in public transport – and in rail even more than buses – to encourage people to switch from using cars. Apart from the carbon emissions argument, good quality rail travel is healthier, less stressful and more sociable than car travel. The Green Party proposes to reallocate the £30bn earmarked for road building over the next 10 years to investment in public transport, which incidentally will create considerably more jobs. At the very least, transport budgets ringfenced by mode makes no sense if you are trying to develop an integrated transport network.
Locally, this re-allocation of investment would allow:
• opening of the ABT line to passengers including links to Morpeth and Woodhorn
• opening up of the Leemside line
• and various other loops to increase the capacity of the ECML
Increased capacity would enable improvements both in local and long distances services, and in also intermediate services such as direct links to Durham and Hexham. I am also keen to see a new semifast service between Newcastle and Edinburgh stopping at all the principal stations. There would also be investment in rolling stock to make best use of the capacity of the existing network.
We also need considerably increased capacity if there is to be any significant shift of road freight back to rail. Again, rail freight and railhead freight depots will create more local jobs than road freight does.
Public transport overall needs to be more coherent, with simpler, more transparent – and integrated – fares. It may be that the only way to do this effectively is to follow Green Party policy to re-regulate bus services and return the railways, both track and operations, to public ownership. At any rate, successive governments’ use of fare increases to manage demand must end.
I realise that I am rather unlikely to be elected as MP for Wansbeck, but the other parties have been stealing policies from the Greens since we were first formed. A strong Green vote would encourage them to steal these policies too.
Friday, 2 April 2010
It makes a nice contrasts with those banks which accepted Government handouts and subsidies - and then felt it was OK to pay bonuses to their staff.
The Green Party has endorsed the 'Robin Hood' tax campaign - taxing bank transactions at 25p per £10,000 to provide a ringfenced revenue stream. However - we woukd like to bring in much stronger policies. We want to separate high street banking from merchant banking, and from currency and commodity speculation - and we want a 'Tobin' tax which also taxes banking transactions, but designed deliberately to discourage financial speculation. Like all real Green taxes - it is intended to change behaviour more than raise revenue.
Saturday, 27 March 2010
About two years ago, when the recession was still a credit crunch, someone in government thought 'people may be having problems paying their mortgage, what can we do to help them?' So about a year ago, Northumberland CC got about £76k from Government with the guidance 'use this to bung an interest-free loan to anyone having problems with their mortgage (or rent)'
And now - after a lot of effort to make the thing practical, we've got a three-way arrangement: NCC provides the money, CABx money advisors assess and authorise applicants, the credit union lends the money from the NCC pot and manages the loan. So if you want an interest-free loan of up to £5000 over five years to help with your mortgage or rent payments - this is for you.
But - the people who come to the CABx for debt advice are usually in more trouble than that, and wouldn't be able to repay such a loan. So how to get the message out to people with temporary problems who will be able to repay such a loan, and keep up with the mortgage payments in the future?
A nice-sounding idea from Government - but not really thought through, but we'll do our best to make it work
Tuesday, 2 March 2010
And we're getting hundreds of plug-in points in the North East too - not only in the Tyne & Wear conurbation, but a whole series strung along Hadrians Wall.
So yes - electric vehicles are quieter and cause less pollution on the roads, but there's the rub. Until we get electricity generation sorted out - with the right mix of low carbon renewable energy - electric cars will just increase carbon emissions at the power stations. And if our power grid is creaking now - how can it possibly take the strain of the extra demand from hundreds of thousands of electric cars.
No - I'm afraid electric cars may be another form of greenwash, from people scared to admit even to themselves the scale of change needed to reduce CO2 emissions by 34% by 2020, let alone 80% by 2050. I rather think we need start planning to massively reduce the need to travel - and that goes for freight transport too.
Or - if we are going for electric cars, then we need a low carbon generating network first.
Friday, 26 February 2010
Then no market on Good Friday - and not on Friday 9th, because that is Gathering Weekend, and the Market Place will be full of jugglers, centurions, punch & judy men and rioting peasants. (Not to unlike a normal Friday and Saturday night in Morpeth then?)
There will be some stalls from the Wednesday and Farmers' Markets at the Gathering too...
So, there'll be a final deliberation by the Markets Partnership on Weds 31st - and if the decision is yes, the Friday Market will be permanent from Friday 16th April.
So - get hold of a copy of the Council's survey (the only one that will be counted this time) - fill it in, and get your views heard.
Friday, 19 February 2010
I guess re-enacting the Miners' Strike would be too recent....
Anyway - if you fancy being a revolting peasant - there's a rehearsal next Tuesday (23rd Feb) 7pm-8:30pm at Morpeth Town Hall, contact Tamsin Lilley for more info.
Monday, 8 February 2010
The actual market last Friday had about 16 stalls - but was fairly quiet. It was pouring with rain though. The weather on the Saturday for the farmers' market was better (if a bit cold over 4-5 hours) - and so far I've heard no indication that having three markets in the week diluted trade that much.
I see Northumberland CC has posted a voxpop video of responses to the first trial of the Friday market (last Oct) on U-tube:
Saturday, 2 January 2010
The Survey tracks ranks local performance across key indicators, including labour and housing markets, environment, education, health and even weather. It 408 (ex-)local authority districts drawing on data from a number of sources, including the ONS, DEFRA, the Met Office, the Department for Transport, Department of Children, Schools and Families and Experian.
They don’t add in access to beautiful tranquil countryside and coast, or the availability of local food and distinctive locally-owned shops – or we would have been even higher.
On the other hand, the data is all pre-local government reorganisation, and it could all go much more horribly wrong when the public sector cuts really start to bite from 2011 onwards.