Sunday, November 26, 2006

Mid Dorset and North Poole

Yesterday the Conservative Association in the Mid Dorset and North Poole constituency chose their candidate to fight the seat at the next general election.

The selection process was rigorous including interviews, speeches, tests in practical campaigning and questioning by a public meeting.

Mid Dorset and North Poole chose me. I'm honoured and delighted to have been chosen as the parliamentary candidate for the constituency.

Proposed development - 22 Exton Road

A planning application has been made to demolish the property divided in to two maisonettes at 22 Exton Road (on the corner with Ashford Road) and replace it with seven flats.

I understand that the residents local to the site are unhappy with the proposal and therefore we'll be distributing letters this week to help people object to the application.

There are no other developments of this type in the locality and, in common with similar recent application, it would appear to be totally out of keeping with the neighbourhood.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Street Trading in Bournemouth

There was a special meeting of Bournemouth Borough Council last night to discuss a proposal to promote an Act of Parliament which will place control of street trading anywhere in the borough with the council.

I've been campaigning for some time for some control to be placed on the pedlars in Bournemouth Square who sell goods from the moveable barrows. Normally these are cheap clothing accessories, mobile phone accessories or fake sunglasses and the like. The Council are unable to police them at the moment because they are able to obtain a licence from the police, for something like £1.25, which places them as a pedlar in the eyes of the law. This means that as long as they keep moving their barrow every hour or so, even if that movement is only a few feet, they can go essentially wherever they like in the town centre.

The consequence is that on busy Saturdays in the Summer and around Christmas you can end up with anything up to a dozen of them cluttering Bournemouth Square.

I'm very pleased to say that the motion to pursue the Act of Parliament was approved unanimously. This means that hopefully the Act should be given Royal Assent by the Summer of 2007, allowing the council to police this issue from July or August onwards.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Super Nannies?

The Government is apparently going to announce this morning that they are going to set up a network of 'Super Nannies' to assist parents with unruly children in the 70 most deprived areas of the country.

No, they're not going to be clones of the wonderful Jo Frost (see photo). Rather, child psychologists to whom parents and children will be 'referred'.

I can't think of anything more patronising than this idea. I heard an interview this morning with a spokesman from the NCH (National Childrens Homes) who said quite rightly that you can not force parenting skills on people.

A few months ago I spent the afternoon with two of my Labour council colleagues, Ted Taylor and Beryl Baxter, touring their ward, Kinson North. An area more different to Littledown and Iford you could not find in Bournemouth.

They took me to a number of fantastic community initiatives, not least amongst which was the Sure Start centre in West Howe. There, in a centre run in part by the community, parents are encouraged to engage with their children and, slowly, are introduced to parenting skills if needed. They aren't referred there, rather go along because they know it to be a useful source of help when they are having problems and because the rest of the community is so visibly supportive of it.

Surely the Government's investment should be in more of this kind of centre rather than employing psychologists to whom parents are forced to go.

Super Nannies? Just another symptom of our Nanny State.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Dorset - the government's forgotten county?

Did you know that Dorset receives less money from Central Government per head than any other shire county? That doesn't effect us in Bournemouth, or indeed in Poole, because we are separate unitary authorities.

However, the amounts that the two unitary boroughs receieve from Central Government are equally at the bottom of the heap when it comes to that league table. The issue has been raised by Cllr Brian Leverett, leader of Poole Council and his deputy, Cllr Ann Stribley. The issue is covered in a very good Echo article, available here.

We've long known that the South West and Dorset in particular gets a rough deal from Central Government. Under Labour distribution of national finances to local government has smacked of the worst kind of American pork barrell politics. The majority of the money has been sent to the Labour heartlands of the Midlands and the North.

And yet, the government seems to expect that we here in Dorset should be accommodating a disproportionate number of new homes. The reason? 'Because that's where people want to live and where the opportunities for employment are'.

Our infrastructure is already creaking under the strain of the influx of people. The concerns about gridlock around Castle Lane West at Christmas here are a great example of that.

A fair local government grant from Central Government would give Dorset's local authorities the chance to provide infrastructure appropriate to cope with the population growth. Yet the Labour Government appear to send money to areas where population is falling and where houses are being demolished because no one wants to live in them.

Dorset's local authorities need a fair grant settlement, and we need it now.

Labour appear to have forgotten that Dorset's on the map. I wonder if politics and where the majority of their seats are has anything to do with that?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Under age means under age. Doesn't it?

I don't normally comment on national issues on this blog, I try and keep it local as you probably know, however I just noticed this story on the BBC website, which made me do a double take.

Chief Constable Terry Grange of Dyfed - Powys police has suggested that sex between young men aged 16 - 20 and young girls under 16 may not necessarily be paedophelia, rather it's a 'grey area'.

How on earth can a Chief Constable be suggesting that sex between an older boy/man and a girl who is under age is any way acceptable?

If a young person is under age, then they are under age. Suggestion that a young man as old as 20 may not necessarily be doing something wrong by having sex with a girl under 16 seems to be opening a can of worms to me.
To my mind young people become sexually active way to early anyway. Talk like this only suggests that it may be OK for this kind of thing to happen. I can't see any circumstance where it is. I hope Chief Constable Grange withdraws his comments post haste.

Ward Improvement Funds - Who's used what

Talking about the ward development fund, I thought that I should do a bit of digging to see who has actually used their money.

Each ward in Bournemouth has had £5,000 per annum for the past three years to spend. Therefore these figures show how much is left out of that £15,000. The note in brackets denotes which party the ward's councillors, who sign off on the grants, come from.

Boscombe East (LD:2 C:1) - £15,000
Boscombe West (LD:2 C:1) - £11,500
Central (C:3) - £13,320
East Southbourne & Tuckton (C:3) - £ 5,000
Eastcliff & Springbourne (C:2 Ind:1) - £ 3,117
Kinson North (LD:3) - £12,400
Kinson South (Lab:3) - £13,078
Littledown & Iford (LD:2 C:1) - £13,066
Moordown (LD:3) - £12,285
Queen's Park (LD:3) - £11,276
Redhill & Northbourne (LD:3) - £ 4,100
Strouden Park (LD:3) - £11,689
Talbot & Branksome Woods (C:3) - £11,400
Throop & Muscliff (Ind:2 C:1) - £ 4,608
Wallisdown & Winton West (LD:3) - £14,000
West Southbourne (LD:3) - £ 7,576
Westbourne & Westcliff (C:3) - £11,082
Winton East (LD:3) - £ 4,000

Looking at the detail of some of the grants that have been made is also interesting, for example £8,000 of the £11,000 spent in Winton East has gone to the Winton Carnival. Whereas, the grants for Redhill & Northbourne have gone to 13 different causes and those for Throop & Muscliff have gone to 9.

If you live in any of the wards with substantial amounts outstanding, I would urge you to contact your ward councillors to ask whether it is already allocated and perhaps provide them with ideas for how the money can be spent.

It's a shame

Littledown Centre in need of funds

You may have read in previous posts that the Littledown Centre is in need of additional funds due to their exceeding their budget for the year by £550,000.

At the Area Forum meeting on Thursday evening, my ward colleagues Councillors Fudge and Ketchley put forward a request for funding of new picnic facilities by the childrens play area at the site. The cost of this is likely to be £4,000 - £5,000. As we have around £12,000 left in the fund this would be a substantial amount from it.
My immediate reaction was that while it is a good cause, it's another of those expenditure items that benefits people from across different wards rather than just those of us in Littledown and Iford. The ward fund is specifically to improve our facilities, if other wards want to chip in along with us, then that's fine, but to bear the cost entirely ourselves seems to me a little unfair.
I'd appreciate your comments on this one before making a decision as to whether to support the application for funds.

Littledown and Iford Forum

Thanks to everyone who came along to the Forum meeting on Thursday night.

Some interesting points were discussed, and a few new issues were raised. I'll try and address some of these in the next few posts.

Speakers from the Council gave updates on the recycling scheme and social services changes.

There were questions on Troika and parking (of course), but also a good discussion about what projects should be put forward for grants from the ward improvement fund. Unfortunately, it would appear that there are going to be more projects than grants.

More about this issue later.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Troika Development - Letter from Cllr Adrian Fudge

Some of you may have recieved a letter from one of my ward colleagues, Cllr Adrian Fudge, about the Troika development.

I've been asked by a number of people to clarify its contents, as it's largely about me, and I'm happy to do so.

In it there is a comment about my letter saying the Troika development was rejected on officers’ advice. This statement isn’t correct.

What Cllr Fudge is referring to is the proposed pro forma letter which we put out allowing people to object. In the letter it said: “I concur with the Planning Officer’s opinion, in his decision notice, that the proposed development is of an unacceptable scale and will have a detrimental effect upon the surrounding area.”

Essentially it is quoting from a letter which comes from the Chief Planning Officer each time a planning application is rejected and refers to the two reasons the planning board gave for refusal of the application. The Head of Planning asked me if I would change the term ‘Planning Officer’s opinion’ to ‘The Council’s opinion’ in case there was any confusion over the fact that the officers had recommended acceptance. I was happy to do this and the second half of the 2,000 letters we put out about the issue carried the amended version.

Otherwise my position remains the same, I believe that the expansion of the hospital alone on to the site would be the best use of it. Access arrangements would have to be improved, but in general it is the best use.

The alternative that Troika put forward and that Cllrs Fudge and Ketchley back is for 3,500 workers and 900 parking spaces. To me that simply doesn’t stack up, it would cause chaos locally.

The interesting points come in their sudden conversion to residents parking permits, which is something the Liberals have been quite opposed to up until now. The other issue is that the original plans did not offer the maximum number of parking spaces for the office development,

Fran Ketchley voted for that scheme and Adrian Fudge now supports it. They do seem to have gathered that this is going to be an issue. However, that maximum would still only suggest parking for around 1,100 out of 3,500 as far as I understand it.

I hope this clarifies any concerns people have about the letter.

More bin problems

I'm afraid I spent yesterday back on the media treadmill about bins.

This time it's as a result of the new system for checking that residents are putting the correct items in their recycling bins.

What will now be happening is that the refuse collectors will be opening and checking the contents of your 'big' recycling bin. If they note any items in the bin that are not recyclable then they won't be emptying it. Instead a sticker will be placed on it telling you that there are items in it that are not recyclable and telling you to ring a council number.

The idea is that you then call this number to be told what it was that shouldn't have been in the bin, offered 'help' with your recycling and then to arrange for someone to come back to empty the bin once you have removed the offending item. If you haven't I assume they still won't take the bin away.

I understand why there has to be a system to check that the right items are placed in the recycling bins. If there is too much 'contamination' in the bins when they arrive at the recycling plant then the loads are rejected and the council has to pay for the whole load to be sent to landfill.

However, again the introduction of the scheme seems to me to have some substantial flaws:
  • Yet again we are introducing a sensible policy using draconian language which is already causing concern to many of our older residents

  • What happens if the item that shouldn't be in the bin wasn't put there by you? The refuse collector can't tell and residents can't protect their bins from passers by putting items in them.

  • Given the problems with the telephone system set up to support the introduction of the recycling scheme, I certainly hope we are going to avoid the same delays and confusion that happened then.

  • Much of the problem lies with foreign students who simply don't understand and frankly don't care about what rubbish goes where. The likelihood of them calling the line, or if they do understanding the problem and what they have to do, is fairly remote I would think. What then happens with the waste that's not being collected?

  • In commmon with the selective collection of green waste bags, we are now going to have waste vehicles driving around making individual collections. That doesn't seem very green to me.

  • And when the council is already £3.65 million overspent for the year it all doesn't sound very cost effective.
Surely a better system would be to simply have a the waste people remove the offending article, put it in the little bin and take the waste. The refuse collector could then place a note through the door of the house it came from informing the residents they had made a mistake and asking them not to repeat it. If they did, after a number of weeks, then this system of not taking the waste could perhaps be used.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Troika Development - Fresh plans due?

Troika are about to bring forward fresh plans for the Wessex Fields site in Riverside Avenue. It’s likely that this will include more healthcare facilities as a result of their deal with the hospital and apparently some increased car parking facilities. I hope to find out more this coming week and will keep you up to date with developments.

AFC Bournemouth's Planning Applications

I’ve been waiting to see when the application for planning at AFC Bournemouth would appear in the planning lists. When it still didn’t appear at the beginning of this week, I thought I should start doing some digging as it had been over a month since it was first reported.

No one in the planning department could tell me what was happening so I went to the club direct. It appears that there have been some issues raised by the Environmental Impact Assessment which have caused delays in the plans being brought forward. I couldn’t find out exactly what there were, but would suspect it is more to do with the area to the rear of Bishops Close where the fitness facility will be built rather than the hotel or housing sites.

I was asked why I was interested and I explained that I was in touch with concerned residents in Thistlebarrow Road. They were quite clear that they had consulted fully with the owners of the houses either side of the one to be demolished and I explained that it wouldn’t just be those residents who were effected by the development.

The club appear very keen to mollify any opposition. I suggested therefore that they should be holding a public meeting to let local people discuss their plans and put forward their own opinions prior to finalising their plans. I intend bringing the issue up at the Littledown and Iford Forum meeting on Thursday.

Littledown and Iford Forum

A reminder that the Forum will be meeting this Thursday, November 16th at 7.30pm at St Saviours’ Church Hall on the corner of Colemore Road and Holdenhurst Avenue. Please come along if you can.

Rememberance Sunday

I attended the Rememberance Sunday service at Bournemouth's Cenotaph in the Central Gardens this morning. It was a moving and poignant event, recognising the enormous and often ultimate sacrifice given by our servicemen and women for their country.

It was heartwarming to see so many people there, the park itself was full as were the railings overlooking the gardens along Bourne Avenue and Avenue Road.
All the more disappointing then that on my reckoning only 35 of 54 councillors were in attendance. I'm sorry to say that I was the only representative from Littledown and Iford. I don't know where our Lib Dem colleagues were, I hope they were simply paying their respects elsewhere.
It was just heartening to see Margaret Rose, one of my predecessors as Conservative councillor for our ward on the dais with me however. Margaret continues to do much for our community and I was proud that there was at least someone else from Littledown and Iford there to pay our respects.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Money worries

Last night I attended a meeting of the Supporting our Economy Scrutiny and Review Panel.

The final item on the agenda, after reports on training parks staff to be more responsive, an update on the Winter Gardens and a review of the new Seafront Strategy came a report on an overspend in the Leisure Department, with particular reference to Leisure Centres.

Essentially the issue is that there is a projected overspend in the budget for our leisure centres of something like £550,000. Put in the context of a current overspend of some £3.6million across the whole council this may not seem too bad.

The report before the committee asked us either to recommend to Cabinet that the additional amounts be found from savings elsewhere or to reject the request for additional funding, thereby forcing cuts to the level of the overspend on the leisure centres.

My ward colleague, Cllr Fudge, who is the Liberal 'chancellor' of Bournemouth attended and told us in a highly politicised speech that he couldn't find savings elsewhere and if we were to recommend to the Cabinet that we accept the increased funding request we would need to tell him where the cuts would otherwise come.

There were a couple of points that a number of us, both Liberal Democrat and Conservative, didn't understand. The officer presenting the report could only tell us that the shortfall is because of increased utility costs (approx £150,000) and less income than anticipated (£400,000). Beyond that there was no further indication of exactly where the problem lies.

Similarly, no thought appears to have been given, yet, to where the cuts might be made if the increased funding is not available, nor what might be done to rejuvenate their income stream.

It wasn't this that astounded me, but that the request for additional funding was also being carried forward in to future years as there was no sign of matters improving.

The pressure was very much from Cllr Fudge that we should reject the additional funding bid and force the cuts on the centres.

That may well be what we should be doing, particularly given the magnitude of the funding crisis now facing the Council. I'm glad to say, however, that both Conservatives and Liberal Democrat members of the committee voted to ignore this pressure and insist upon the issue being revisited in a separate meeting at which we should be able to consider the funding request and the proposals for additional income generation and potential cuts if funding isn't allowed.

If I ran my businesses like this we would have gone bust years ago. How is it possible that the budgets set at the begining of this financial year have gone so awry? It seems to me they were never sustainable in the first place.

Cllr Fudge expressed himself happy at the end of the meeting, in that he could make great political capital from the fact that we (the Conservatives) had failed to make a decision. I fail to see how that can be when Cllr Angela Manton (LD - Strouden Park) proposed the motion to defer and I seconded it.

Much more importantly, I find it amazing that a problem of this magnitude can be treated with such flipancy and that the councillor in charge of our money can think that a Scrutiny Panel will agree to a decision of this kind without a thorough report on the causes and options in front of us.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Planning Application - 163 Harewood Avenue

I'm very pleased to report that the planning application that proposed the demolition of the house at 163 Harewood Avenue and its replacement with six flats has been refused by the Council's Planning Department.

As you may well know this is a large family house in an area where there are no flats at present.