Friday, 31 May 2013

Community Leadership

The Town Council prides itself on being democratically elected ‘community leaders’. In my last post, I challenged some of the assumptions about democratically elected – basically, if the choice of candidates is limited, those elected cannot really claim a strong mandate.

Similarly, I’d argue that ‘community leadership’ has to be earned – only vicars, priests and ministers automatically assume the mantle of community leaders upon appointment. There are many forms of ‘community leadership’ too – the roles of patriarch and gatekeeper are popular amongst ‘cooncillors’ of the old school across the North East.

But as far as I am concerned – the Town Council’s community leadership should be about listening to people, about encouraging and nurturing organisations – and giving credit where credit is due. Morpeth is blessed with a wide range of a community organisations, skilled volunteers and community activists. The Town Council Civic Awards are potentially a great way recognising the community life of Morpeth – but they need to be about the award recipients not about how great the Town Council is to present the awards.   

We should not be so insecure that we are forever pushing ourselves forward and making sure the town council’s role is recognised. If Morpeth is doing well, then due recognition will come to the Town Council naturally without our chasing after it. And for me – that is true ‘community leadership’.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Elections, Mandates and Community Leadership

So, as sort of expected, the yellow vote collapsed in North ward with only one out of three existing town councillors getting re-elected. However, since they took four seats in both Kirkhill and Stobhill wards – they have nine of the fifteen town council seats, and calculating that they took 51% of the total town council votes cast across the town, the yellows are claiming a significant popular mandate. I’m not so sure… 

In Kirkhill, they only had four relatively weak blue candidates and a red paper candidate opposing them. And in Stobhill, there were only six candidates for five seats – so four yellows were effectively elected unopposed and the blue paper candidate was elected rather than the fifth yellow. It is interesting to look at the proportion of town council votes not used…

Every voter had one county council and five town council votes: a total of 4669 county council votes were cast (about 40% turnout), implying a total of 23.345 town council votes available to those who actually voted. But very few voters used all five of their votes: in fact 8893 votes (38%) were not used. Breaking that down by division – in North ward, 27% of town council votes were unused; in Kirkhill, 32% of votes weren’t cast; and in Stobhill a massive 57% of town council votes were not used. Active voters were not voting for the town council candidates on offer – presumably because they didn’t like any of them. It is a huge vote for ‘none of the above’

Admittedly the yellows had 51% of the votes used, but they had twelve candidates – when you work it out on ‘votes per candidate’, they came third behind the Greens and Inds (two candidates each) and ahead of the reds (one candidate) and the blues (eight candidates). Not really that much of a mandate.

So overall – I reckon that politicians across the board let the voters down in offering a comprehensive choice of candidates and the Town Council as a whole has a lot to prove in terms its role as ‘community leaders’. But I’ll leave that for the next post.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Four more years?

Well! That was interesting - thanks to everyone who voted for me - and in fact thanks to everyone who voted at all. As they say - if you don't vote, you can't complain about the council (or government).

So - re-elected to the Town Council for another four years, which means I'll either get a civic funeral or reach 20 years as a town councillor. And Ron got elected too - so Morpeth now has two Green Town councillors!

And I came second in the County Council elections, missing out by 99 votes to David Bawn the Tory candidate. I'm not bitter - and I can't complain about eg Labour voters wasting their vote, since I railed strongly against tactical voting during the campaign. All I will say is that having me as a County Councillor would have been better for the local economy in an immediate sense. Half of David's councillor's allowance will go straight back to central government as tax - whereas if I'd been getting it, nearly all would have stayed (and been spent) in Northumberland.

Back to the Town Council then - I think democracy in Morpeth showed up well , with all Town Council seats contested - compared with, ooooh say Alnwick, where they didn't have enough candidates nominated and are looking for seven people to co-opt onto their 18 seat town council. That said, I am arguing strongly that the 9:6 majority of LDs on the Morpeth Town Council is not really earned since in Stobhill, there were only six candidates for five seats - so that four of the nine LDs effectively had a walkover. That isn't to say they wouldn't have won against more substantial opposition, but in North ward, two out of three sitting LD councillors lost their seats. 

So - in my role as informal convenor of the non-LD members on the Council, I'll be reminding the LDs not to behave as though they have a strong mandate and that they need to be inclusive.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Behind the Leaflet III – Jobs AND Profits

I’m running out of time now before the elections (Vote for me!) – so this’ll be the last post in this series spelling out the bullet points behind my election leaflet:

“Commit seriously to local procurement, supporting local business and jobs, and keeping what money it has in the county
“If NCC decides to outsource – contract to local businesses, keeping both jobs and profits in the county”

The ‘jobs and profits’ tag is a paraphrase of the New Economic Foundation ‘Local Multiplier 3’ (LM3) which they actually developed with Northumberland CC a while back. Basically it argues that money spent with local businesses rather than with national or international companies (eg local shops and supermarkets) – because the wages, procurement and profits of local businesses are three times more likely to stay in and be ‘recycled’ the local economy than (at least procurement and profits) spend by nationals and multinationals. Relatively speaking, the big companies effectively drain money out of the local economy. 

So – even on a tight budget, NCC has a lot of money to spend in its operational budgets – we’re not talking about job guarantee funds or anything here – we are just talking about the money NCC spends on its day to day functioning. The more of that money that is spent in the county – or at least in the region – with locally owned businesses, the better the local and regional economy will be. The variously Development Trusts across the county are potentially particularly good vehicles for local service delivery.

And – if NCC does continue down the route of commissioning, contracting and outsourcing services and functions rather than keeping them in house – it’d create and protect  ‘more and better jobs’ (to borrow a phrase from the North East Independent Economic Review) if it commissioned local businesses rather than national and multinational conglomerates to take on the work. Creating and supporting local businesses is the only way out of the ‘branch economy’ mentality which has dogged the North East for well over sixty years and led to many ill-conceived ‘inward investment’ schemes. 
And better still – since a lot of businesses taking on outsourced work employ the people that have been made redundant by the outsourcing process, because they are the ones with the expertise – they know the job – NCC should make advice on in setting up businesses – better still cooperatives or social enterprises - part of their well-honed redundancy package. 

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Behind the Leaflet II – Putting People First

Second in this series spelling out a little more of the thinking behind some of the bullet points in my election leaflet 

“Put people first in social services – the system may be complicated and cut to the bone, but that’s not a reason to make things confusing or even more difficult for service users”

OK – Government funding is such that health care, adult care, family support, education, the adoption service, benefits etc etc is managed through different funding pots by different agencies with different structures operating over different areas. Much of the work of social workers, health care workers, police, benefits advisers goes into multi-agency liaison panels, case conferences and general coordination of activities and interventions. And when things go wrong – the media and the politicians generally blame the workforce for not co-ordinating their activities better.

But all this necessary mechanism is just that – machinery for operating the system and managing budgets and resources. The people in need, the people being helped by these services, shouldn’t have to learn the system to get help. They shouldn’t be passed from one support worker to another according to how funding streams divide up the work, even when liaison between those support workers is great and they can signpost people to one another. 

From the point of view of the vulnerable and confused people – and their frustrated relatives – the appropriate help should be available from one or two people who can build up a good relationship. They should never be told “I can’t help you with that – you’ll need to get in touch with…”

The government has argued for better coordination between agencies whilst cutting resources, fragmenting services and abolishing the structures they co-operated too. I’m suggesting something a bit different – more like a ‘personal shopper’ system.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Behind the Leaflet I – Localisation of Welfare Benefits

Of necessity my election leaflet has a number of fairly cryptic bullet points which refer to ‘hidden’ manifesto ideas behind them. In the run-up to the local elections on May 2nd (Vote for me!), I intend to use this blog to spell some of these out in more detail. So – 

“Manage the localisation of welfare benefits with carefully thought-through schemes that support claimants through a difficult transition.”

The present government is devolving a number of benefits to local authorities to deliver – at the same time changing their character and criteria and reducing the amount of money available. The Green Party are obviously campaigning on this at a national level – but at a local council level, all that can be done is to manage the transition well, creating the minimum of bureaucracy-caused hardship. As Chair of Northumberland Credit Union, sitting on the county Financial Wellbeing Partnership – I’m on the fringes of these matters already.

I’ve already blogged about the localisation of council tax benefits – mainly concentrating on the unforeseen impact on parish council precepts. The government has awarded a ‘discretionary fund’ amounting to about 90% of the money previously spent on council tax benefits, then set a number of criteria prescribing how this should be allocated. NCC has topped this up by upping the council tax on second homes, so is mostly able to meet claims. But because this changes the local council tax base, it has turned parish precepts into a regressive tax, with lower taxes in areas with lots of second homes and higher council tax where there are a lot of people getting council tax benefit. 

As regards the cuts to housing benefits linked to house occupancy, the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ – I’m told that there are about 3,500 households affected in the county, with an estimated £38,000 per week reduction in benefits. The Government has awarded NCC £415,000 for ‘discretionary payments’ – but that won’t go far… I gather that many housing benefits recipients have said that they will ‘absorb’ the reduction – but housing associations are preparing for a spike in arrears when they do their four-weekly assessments at the end of April.

However – the Northumberland Emergency Transition Support scheme is perhaps more interesting: it replaces the former Social Fund Crisis Grants with a system of interest-free loans, ASDA food vouchers, food parcels and – as a last resort – cash. Claimants can claim up to twice a year (as opposed to three times a year under the national scheme). The assessment has been outsourced to DAWN and Voices, and is very stringent, I gather in the first ten days of the scheme running (it started ion 2nd April), there were 324 applications and only 9 were granted awards.   

So – the Council is in for a tough time running a local benefits system prescribed fairly tightly and under-resourced by the government, and will see real hardship and poverty in the county if they get it wrong. Isn’t this something candidates should be aware of and talking about? 

Monday, 22 April 2013

Voting Positively...

Nice to get a mention in the LibDems leaflet - must mean I'm worrying them. Of course they've just added 'Greens' to Labour under their "can't win here" list - but that's just normal negative campaigning tactics.

OK - in 'safe seats' in parliamentary elections like Wansbeck, the argument "can't win here" may be valid - at least until we get PR for Westminster (though the LibDems have messed up prospects of that) - but in small local elections like Morpeth North, where maybe at total of 2-2500 votes will be cast - anyone can win (if they get enough votes - I reckon you could win with around 700 votes). 

And I'd have thought the argument "Vote LibDem to keep out the Tories" was a bit worn these days - though of course the parliamentary situation is totally different from the County Council.

So no! There's no need to vote tactically against a party - no need to settle for 'second best' - vote for the person you want to be your county councillor for the next four years. 

Sunday, 21 April 2013

On the Doorstep II - Speed Limits, On-Street Parking and the School Run

Well - more feedback from canvassing:

Along Mitford Road, residents seem to be coming to terms with the floodworks in their gardens - many have recruited an enterprising agent to deal with the EA and the contractors - though there are reports of poor communication between the EA and contractors and instances of poor people skills shown by the workforce.

Aside from that - main issues seem to be the speed of traffic coming past the schools from the Low Ford bridge and car parking by parents collecting children from the Middle Schools. I remember working as the ward town councillor with former County Councillor Stuart McKellar about ten-twelve years back on the former issue - there needs to be a 20mph zone outside the schools (at the very least) and probably one of those light-up 30mph signs that they have on every other road into the town. The problem as I recall is that the curve of the road from the west (which makes the approach to the schools blind and therefore even more dangerous) means that there is not enough of a sightline for speed restriction signs to be visible enough, though apparently a better case could be made if a child was killed or injured on the road. At least that's what the Highways Engineers and police said at the time - maybe it is worth revisiting without the need for a sacrifice.

And - twice a day - despite car parking being available at the Rugby Club, the whole street is lined with cars picking up children. And because lots of school buses are coming through, most of the cars are parked up on the pavement, so that the children (and other pedestrians) have to step out into the road - into the traffic - both to get round the cars and also get into cars. It is a nightmare. Although the Middle Schools do attract children from way outside Morpeth, I'd guess that most of those come by school bus. So - if there were safe routes for children to walk or cycle to the schools, there'd be no need for this mayhem. Someone suggested opening up Carlisle Park and the river promenade along High Stanners for cyclists (maybe only during the school run periods?) - so that children had a mainly off-road route to the schools.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

A Water Folly

The new water feature that replaced the Red Bull pub on the corner of Staithes Lane was tested for the first time this week. 

In keeping with the apparent intent the create a Versailles of Superstores or at least pose a local challenge to the Alnwick Gardens - the fountain is evidently capable of projecting a narrow jet of water some twenty feet into the air. The test was a half-power with merely a ten foot high jet and conditions were a bit windy - which isn't all that unusual on that corner, particularly since most of the surrounding buildings, trees, walls and hedges have been demolished and replaced with an expanse of tarmac.

So - I gather - the unfortunate workmen who were deputed to roleplay Morrisons' customers or simply passers by on the pavement were thoroughly soaked as the water sprayed over the steps, the ramps, the balustrades and halfway across the road (giving passing cars an unexpected patch of wet road on which to brake as they approach the pedestrian controlled lights). 

So - NCC Highways have decided that the water feature can only be turned on in near windless conditions. At least that means the rarity of the event will make it another visitor attraction for the town.

 But even that might not be the case: while out canvassing this evening, I just happened to meet someone who designs urban public realm water features and he told me that it was a well-established fact that even in still air, the spray from a fountain travelled horizontally as far as the fountain is high. A twenty foot fountain will generate spray over a twenty foot circle even in windless conditions - and that he would not have put such a feature in that location.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Lord Adonis agrees with me...

In my election leaflet (available through all good letter boxes in your area now), one of the things I argue that the county council should do is::

"Introduce a countywide ‘oyster-style’ card for bus, train and taxi travel"

ie an integrated smart card for public transport.

Meanwhile, Lord Adonis has been heading up the North East Independent Economic Review commissioned by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership - the Review recommendations are now published, and one of the main recommendations on transport is:

"A key priority, which needs to be agreed by mid-2013, is the joint commitment of the bus operators association and Nexus/the LA7 to introduce competitively-priced all-operator smartcard ticketing for the North East, as good as or better than London’s Oyster, to be available by autumn 2014."

ie an integrated smart card for buses across Northumberland, Tyne & Wear and Co Durham.

Great minds think alike!

Friday, 29 March 2013

On the doorstep… car parking, flooding and the paddling pool

I’ve barely started canvassing (well it’s cold out!) but a number of issues have already been raised with me, including:

  • Car parking at the Registry Office in Cottingburn: aside from the workforce parking, it is used as free longstay car parking by the general public. There are no regulations for the County’s traffic wardens to enforce – and no car parking for people using the Registry Office. The official line is that all Registry Office appointments are now at the Town Hall so no visitor parking is needed. But that is evidently not the case in practice. In any event, what is NCC doing allowing unregulated free car parking with access from Cottingwood Lane?
  • Flooding at Lancaster Park: the drainage on the central field has been engineered wrongly and the field and footpaths flood regularly threatening nearby houses. I raised this at MTC recently but for some reason the press quoted other councillors not me. The wider issue is that there are flooding hazards all over Morpeth that won’t be addressed by the EA town centre scheme – and many likely to be made worse by development in the future. I’m working to make sure all these hazards are featured in the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan.
  • Crafting Centre: Morpeth could do with a centre equipped for crafting – from woodturning to silversmithing to silkpainting – as well as selling local crafts like the Chantry or the new gallery up at Northgate. Such workshops could not only offer facilities for local people but they could combine with local B&Bs etc to offer weekend or weeklong ‘interest holidays’ for visitors.
  • Carlisle Park Paddling Pool: It’s great the Town Council runs this and it is hugely popular during the summer, but it is open from the end of May to mid September. Apparently, this is a quirk of the insurance cover (which is substantial) – but it has been suggested to me that it’d be better to open at beginning of May and run through the early September.

So – not everyone is talking about the traffic lights, but don’t get me started on that…

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Schroedinger's Cash

It seems there are remarkable similarities between banking and the famous thought experiment intended to demonstrate the Uncertainty Principle.

Savings are both held by the bank and used to make loans - and you can only be certain whether the money is there or not when you 'open the cash box' to withdraw it. 

Certainly that is the way Northumberland Credit Union works, the loans we make are from the capital we hold as members' savings - and it is a matter of fine judgement predicting the amount we can lend against likely demands for withdrawals - at present we have around 68% of savings out on loan, and we reckon that we could lend out maybe 85%. But our members repay weekly or monthly so the money comes back in steadily, and since people know that if they default, they are effectively stealing their neighbours' savings, we don't get that many bad debts.

On the other hand, banks have been tending to go for riskier loans because they get a higher rate of return (if and when they are repaid) and can lend out their 'capital' ie the money in their customers' current and deposit accounts several times over - on the assumption that the cash box will never be fully opened.

And of course - the government will fund the compensation scheme repaying customers' savings (up to £85k) for both banks and the credit union, if the cash box is opened, everyone suddenly wants their money back, loans aren't repaid and the bank (or credit union) goes bust. In other words, savers will get a bit of a tax rebate.

But now the government and the EU are asking the banks to 're-capitalise' - that is find extra money to cover the losses they've made when the high risk loans they've made defaulted. And there are really only two ways to get 'capital' in - one is to borrow more, which is just digging yourself deeper into a hole (so is really only an option for sovereign governments not banks) or to take in more deposits. But then, those deposits could in theory be withdrawn by both the new depositors and by the existing depositors whose money was lost when the original loans weren't repaid. In other words, the banks' capital is never really their own money.

This situation is quite different and should not be confused with illegal 'ponsi' schemes much loved of confidence tricksters, where money deposited by would be savers is used to pay high interest rates to pre-existing savers rather than investing it.

Of course - I'm not an economist so I may have this all totally wrong... 

Sunday, 10 March 2013

For a ha'p'orth of telephone line...

Hurrah! After years of lobbying and cogitating - passenger lifts have been installed at Morpeth Rail Station! And they did a thorough job taking a full six months or more to complete the job. So now we have smart, functioning lifts waiting to be used - except that they are out of service because a telecoms company (it might be BT, I don't know) hasn't got around to installing the telephone line for the emergency phone. And of course, it wouldn't be safe to operate a passenger lift without and emergency phone - so passengers still have to lug their bags up and down the stairs, and the northbound platform remains inaccessible to wheelchair users etc.

And Hurrah! Live information boards have finally been installed on the station, again after several years of lobbying by SENRUG and others. So for the past three - four months, passengers have been clearly told where they are (Morpeth Station) and the time. Unfortunately, when a train appears or is imminent - the screen shows a fascinating but uninformative array of gobbledegook, possibly even unintelligible to an IT database specialist. Again - I am given to understand the problem is the final telecoms link-up hasn't been completed successfully.

All a bit of a shambles really...

Monday, 4 March 2013

Traffic Lights or Roundabout?

Well - the main workshop being held Phil Jones, the consultant brought in to carry out the transport review of Morpeth, is on today. The 'Lights Out' campaign were out in force over the weekend trying to 'bounce' the study into a quick and narrow conclusion, but Phil (and election purdah) are making it quite clear that the report won't be out till after the local elections. Arguably - the yellows 'running' the Council would have come to precisely a quick and narrow decision if the blues hadn't backed the 'Lights Out' campaign so vigorously and made it a political issue.

But of course, in truth, neither a mini-roundabout nor traffic lights is really going to address the roots of the congestion issue. There is simply too much traffic crossing the Telford Bridge - and we need more fundamental solutions than a choice of traffic management options, because we are likely to have even more traffic trying to get through the bottleneck, regardless of the specific impact of the new Dark Lane supermarket and whichever operator takes over the existing supermarket. And the much vaunted Northern Bypass - due to be opened in 2016 at the very earliest - isn't going to make that much difference in my opinion. Large and heavy vehicles from the south will still need to come through Morpeth because the A1 River Viaduct won't take them. Drivers that don't use the Seaton Burn junction and dual carriageway spine road into SE Northumberland are hardly likely to drive past Morpeth and use a single carriageway bypass. And as St. George's, Northgate and Fairmoor are developed - the new bypass will become a clogged access roard - exactly the same mistake (though smaller) as building the Metro Centre and Team Valley Ind Estate along the Gateshead Western Bypass.

And - a lot of the Telford Bridge traffic is going to places in Morpeth not passing through. Morpeth relies on people coming into the town but we need them to come in on foot, by bike, by bus, using park & ride schemes, car sharing - any way that will being people in without getting congested with cars. Maybe we need more home delivery services (including the independent shops?) so people don't need cars to get their shopping home. And we certainly need to plan and locate facilities to reduce the need to cross the river. There's a lot more to it than a simply choice between roundabout and traffic lights - so I'm glad the study is a Transport Review not a Traffic Management Study. And I hope Phil is allowed to come up with some radical suggestions which will be taken seriously by the next administration of the County Council.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Unintended Consequences

For the past five years, the yellow-controlled Town Council has been very careful in setting its Council Tax, keeping to an increase of 2% a year and planning the Town Council budget accordingly – even though that 2% represents only around £2 a year on the Council Tax for a Band D property. So for 2012-13, a precept of £541,500 was calculated increasing the Band D Council Tax by £2.05 to £104.22.

However and meanwhile – the blue-yellow Coalition Government decided as part of their localisation agenda that Council tax benefit should be determined locally. So they gave the funding to councils to manage at their discretion, keeping back just 10% because, after all overall spending levels must be reduced, setting just a few priorities so that elderly and vulnerable people should not lose out, because after all, localisation should only be taken so far.

The yellow-run Northumberland CC decided that no one should lose out on council tax benefit, so they raised council tax levels on 2nd homes and topped up the government grant. Effectively they modified their council tax base so that more was to be collected on 2nd homes and less on homes of people eligible for council tax benefit. Which averaged out fine across the whole of the county – but unfortunately town and parish councils work out their share of council tax based on just the few properties in their area. So – the parish councils with lots of 2nd homes (mainly in the north of the county) found they had a higher tax base and could collect more money without putting their share of council tax up. But the parish and town councils with lots of council tax benefit claimants in their area found their council tax base cut sharply – by as much as 15-20% in Blyth and Ashington – so that they would need to increase council tax sharply just to keep their income levels the same. So the localisation of council tax benefit ended up as a regressive tax – hitting the poorest hardest – at local level up and down the country, not just in Northumberland.

“Oh dear!” the blue-yellow Coalition Government said “this won’t do” – and they gave all the Councils a special grant to cover the unexpected council tax deficits of parish councils in their area. So yellow-run Northumberland CC got an extra £600k which they agreed to pass on to the parish and town councils this year – because after all, it is an election year – though they could make no promises about future years (and neither would the blue or red leaders).

The reduction in the Morpeth council tax base meant that Morpeth Town Council were £41,387 short on their planned £541,500 precept assuming a 2% council tax increase – so they were promised a £41,387 grant from Northumberland CC. And – though they could have reduced their overall budget, or increased the council tax by more than 2% (which is after all only around £2 a year on a D-Band property) – the yellow-run Town Council decided to blow the whole £41,387 grant this year to keep the tax increase down to 2% even though this possibly means an increase of 10.4% next year just to keep the Council’s income levels the same, because after all this year is an election year and who knows? Something might turn up next year. On the other hand, Pegswood PC agreed to increase their council tax sharply keep their £20k in reserve for next year.

So – that was all alright and on 24th Jan, Morpeth Town Council agreed a precept of £500,113 – an increase of 2% - and informed the County Council who actually collect the council tax by the deadline of 26th Jan. 

Unfortunately, the yellow-run County Council Executive were also worried that what with the new benefit rules and having to chase 2nd home owners for more council tax, they might not be able to collect as much as they should. So on 28th Jan, they agreed to increase the allowance made for non-collection from 0.5% to 1.8%. The unintended consequence of this is that now Morpeth Town Council will have to increase council tax by 3.5% to collect £500,113. But no, this won’t do for the yellow-run Town Council who intend to stick to the 2% increase by hell or high water (even there’s just £1.50 per year difference for a Band D house) – so they are calling a special Full Council for 20th Feb to reduce their precept to £493,580 (and taking the extra £6,533 from contingencies next year) if the Northumberland CC Full Council meeting on 27th Feb confirms the Executive recommendation to increase the allowance made for non-collection from 0.5% to 1.8%

So – don’t say no one explains what is going on!

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The Vision Thing

“Without Vision, the people perish”

There a Visioning Workshop for the Neighbourhood Plan tonight and it hasn’t been that well publicised let alone talked up, so I’m just wondering how many people will turn up. A poor turnout would be a real shame… maybe it’ll just be one small step on the way, perhaps setting up a vision that people can criticise – we certainly can’t expect a finalised version from one small workshop.

Of course the Neighbourhood Plan hasn’t really grabbed people (yet?) – perhaps it is too long term (20 years) for people to grasp, especially when so much coming up in the next couple of years – the town centre flood defences, the new supermarket, the Northern Bypass and perhaps development on St George’s – all of which has almost to be taken for granted. And it seems that most people can’t really come to terms with planning – except when confronted with a planning application on their doorstep – let alone start making distinctions between the County-wide ‘Local Plan’ and the Morpeth and surrounding parishes ‘Neighbourhood Plan’.

But – if we do get to have a say in what we want Morpeth (and the surrounding area) to be like over the next 20 years – and perhaps the Neighbourhood Plan does give us that opportunity – what would our vision be? In what is supposed to be a provocative article in ‘Inside Morpeth’ (which unfortunately has not come out in time for tonight’s workshop) – I set up some ‘Aunt Sally’ visions:
a dormitory town for Tyneside commuters
an elite shopping centre
a clustered community of retirement and convalescent homes
a traditional market town for the rural hinterland
an employment centre for South East Northumberland
All of these have an element of truth but they are pulling the town in different directions – if we have the power to plan, we need to choose (as far as we can) what to plan for.

Then again, the NP Local Environment Group (which I chair) has been highlighting what makes Morpeth special, why it is an attractive place to live… Their vision is to identify what contributes to high ‘quality of life’ (quite different from ‘standing of living’!) in Morpeth – and what can be done to protect and enhance it. Development that doesn’t ‘kill the goose that lays the golden eggs’.

And finally – there’s a whisper that looking ahead to 2030+ takes us into the realm of climate change and peak oil – and we need to be paying attention to the Transition Towns movement when it comes to planning.

Tonight could be the start of an interesting debate. 

Saturday, 26 January 2013


I really need to reactivate this blog - and not just because there are local elections (Town & County) coming up in May!

No - there's a lot going on in Morpeth that need discussing eg the Neighbourhood Plan, the Morrisons/Dransfield development, the Northern Bypass, the flood defence scheme, the market - and a whole lot more. So I'll get cracking... watch this space.

Meanwhile - an amusing incident (well I thought so) at the Town Council last Weds: the coalition government has brought in a new 'code of conduct' which puts a lot of stress on financial interests but not much else. Well we were setting the Town Council's bit of the Council Tax (more about that in another post) - and evidently. because all the councillors pay council tax (and have friends who pay council tax), we all had to declare a 'prejudicial interest' which should exclude us all from taking part in the decision. So instead we had the spectacle of the whole council granting itself a 'dispensation' from the code of conduct so the council tax could be set. Unfortunately there were no members of the public or even press to report the comedy - however I understand the County Council (along with every council in the country) will have to go through with the charade.