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.