Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Planning News


Steel Store Ltd (formerly JW Recycling) on Albert Hill have submitted a planning application to operate a waster transfer station out of their premises.
The site is sensitive because it overlooks the Skerne opposite Rockwell Pastures, and in particular houses in Inglewood Close, Martindale Road and Deorna Court. As I blogged in February, residents have complained about the wood-chipping operation there. This has not only been very noisy, but fragments of wood and metal have been sent flying into the area by the river popular with walkers and cyclists. After we passed complaints on to the officers, the company was warned and the Health and Safety Executive involved.

They currently recycle waste wood. The company now wishes to include other wastes including glass, ceramics, carpets, metals, green wastes and general wastes. They say they won't accept fridges, freezers, monitors, flouresent tubes, asbestos, tyres, TVs, gas canisters, toxic materials, or oils.
Frankly, I want to know a lot more about their plans, particularly what constitutes "green waste and general waste". If residents have questions or would like to make representations, they can contact planning officer Andrew Harker on 388624, or via email at andrew.harker@darlington.gov.uk The plans can also be viewed at the Town Hall under planning reference 07/00340/FUL.
I'll update when more information is available.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Nearly there...


The CCTV camera in Nightingale Avenue is up and (almost) running.


Now we're just waiting for BT to make the connection, which should happen imminently, and the camera will be linked in to the control centre at the Town Hall. In the meantime, the camera is swivelling nicely, and giving every impression that it is functioning normally.


The Dispersal Order is still in place, and I'm chasing the outcome of a review on the potential for closing cuts on the estate which are the source of anti-social behaviour and real hassle for local people. When I have more information, I'll blog again.

Appeal


There's not much I can add to this picture - the banner is up on one of the bungalows on Whinfield Road. The story was covered in the Northern Echo earlier this month. 4-year old Riley suffers from chronic granlomatus disorder (CGD), a condition which affects his body's ability to fight infection and which will force him to spend a life in and out of hospital if a match cannot be found.

Unfortunately it would appear I'm (just) too old to take part, but if you're aged between 18 and 40, in good health and weigh more than 8 stone, you can be tested to see if you make a match. The donor clinic will take place at Whinfield Primary School in Augusta Close on Wednesday June 6 from 4pm to 7pm.
For more information on how to register as a donor, log on to www.anthonynolan.org.uk or call 020-7284-1234.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Bristol Rovers 3 Shrewsbury 1

Time to crack open another bottle of Pinot Grigio and belt out Goodnight Irene once more.

Great to see that some happy Gashead has already updated our Wikipedia site to reflect our regained League One status.

UPDATE

A chance to experience 3000 Rovers supporters give their own peculiarly-haunting take on the ballad below..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PjKx4ekMpVw

Friday, May 25, 2007

New Layout

I've changed the blog's template, which I hope will make it easier to read. I've also added labels to the toolbar, so you can see at a glance all the times I've been nice to my friends in the LibDems, for example.

Over the next few weeks I'm planning to add video clips too, but that will require more expert help from Mark B...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

New Statesman Awards


I'm really chuffed that this blog has been nominated for this year's New Statesman award in the 'Elected Representatives' category. The nominator has said that this is,"An interesting blog with more comments than many other elected representatives' websites."


The comments are down to all of you, of course, and I think they keep this blog fresh.


I'm under no illusions that I'm going to win, of course, up against 26 MP's, 1 Welsh Assembly Member and another solitary councillor. If you wish, you can post your own comments on the awards website - any positive ones would be greatly appreciated, and may help the blog get through the shortlisting process!

Lies, Damned Lies... II


On 18th April, I blogged about Direct Line's dodgy statistics, which claimed that average car parking changes in Darlington were an incredible £3 for 2 hours. I rang Direct Line to challenge their statitistics (which made Darlington apparently the 19th most expensive place to park in the country), and ask how they came by their numbers?


To be fair to the media team at Direct Line, they were unfailingly helpful, and I have been told that because "Upper Archer Street charges a set fee of £3.50 per day (or £14 per week) ... drivers will be charged this fixed rate rather than a hourly fee and it seems this is bringing up the overall cost of 2hrs parking to £3 in Darlington."


With a lot more science, we have calculated the average cost of 2-hour parking in Darlington, based on the cost in our short- and long-stay spaces. (I have the breakdown if anyone wants it). The actual figure is £2.22. If you do the figures to include the Cornmill and Sainsbury's (where parking is free) then the total is £1.73 for two hours parking.


In reality, most people who want to park for 2 hours do so in a short stay car park, where they are charged just £1.80 for up to 3 hours.


Of course, Direct Line got their bit of regional media exposure, and moved on. It's left to local councils and traders to pick up the pieces after misleading bits of research like this have done damage to the reputation of a town centre. I would hope that next time, the local press report stories like this with a lot more circumspection.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Opening Up

'Doing things differently' is a key pledge of the recently-re-elected Labour Council.

We've listened to what the poeple of Darlington have said, and promised to look at how the Council operates, to ensure that transparency and openness are at the heart of everything we do.

A key test will be how Cabinet meetings operate. Not everyone is aware that Government rather than local rules dictate the formation of Cabinets. Parliament wanted to sweep away the old Committee system in local government, which was too closely associated with delay, and with whipped votes decided in advance. Unfortunately, that also spelled the death-knell for debate regarding key decisions. Cabinet meetings are turgid affairs, with a single party moving and agreeing decisions. That the opposition can challenge Cabinet resolutions by bringing in Scrutiny and ultimately Full Council has been rarely deployed here in Darlington.

It will be shortly announced, however, that the Leaders of the Tories and the LibDems, together with the independent Chair of Darlington Partnership and one of the Scrutiny Chairs will all sit at Cabinet meetings and be able to question and debate the proposals. They can't vote because of the framework laid down by Parliament, but this change will help hold the Executive to account. I expect there to be greater interest in Cabinet meetings, and probably more referrals to Scrutiny as a result.

Be prepared for further developments in the same vein over the next few weeks. Overall, this should be very good for democracy in the town.

A Letter from Tesco


Presumably as part of Tesco's charm offensive to win planning approval for a convenience store in North Road, I received a letter from their Property Communication Manager at the weekend.

The site isn't in my ward, but the company have surveyed 2,300 homes within a 500 metre radius of the old Shell garage, which would certainly include quite a few Haughton West residents.

The results according to Tesco were striking - the split for and against a new Tesco Express was 60/40. 57% of respondents said they would walk to the store. Helpfully, Tesco have offered to allow the comment cards to be viewed, in case there are any doubts as to the veracity of the findings.

This is a genuinely difficult matter to resolve. Prior to the election, the three Labour ward councillors in Harrowgate Hill surveyed their residents thoroughly, and found that local people were opposed by a margin of 3 to 1. The further away you move from the site, however, the stronger the opposition became. The Planning Committee certainly should take particular heed of the residents who live in the immediate vicinity of the old garage, who have had to put up with a lot of vandalism and anti-social behaviour on the site.
UPDATE
After recommending refusal of the first application, DBC officers are suggesting that the amended proposals are approved by Councillors. The matter will be sorted out at Planning Application Committee next Wednesday.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Annual Council

Annual Council last night, with a lot of new faces on both sides of the Chamber lapping up the atmosphere.

A timeless element is added to this meeting with the election of the Mayor. The office of Darlington's ceremonial, non-political Mayor goes back 140 years, and there are a slew of former Mayors amongst both Tory and Labour Councillors. They know that it's a gruelling but immensely rewarding job, and much appreciated by local people. Our new Mayor Cllr. Marian Swift will be a first-class ambassador for the Borough.

Of course, if the shadowy businessmen behind the elected Mayor campaign have their way, this will be the last such occasion, as our ceremonial Mayor is consigned to the dustbin of history.

From the comments made on both sides before and after the meeting, I think that if a vote had been taken last night then there would have been an overwhelming majority in favour of retaining the ceremonial Mayor. Of course, it is the people of Darlington and not Councillors alone who will decide, and a lot of work to be done to explain to them exactly what they have to lose.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Back on the road(s)

It's Annual Council tonight, when the appointments for the year are made - I've been given Cabinet responsibility for Highways and Transport once more.

I have to say that I'm delighted - the coming 12 months will see several key projects come to fruition, notably the Eastern Transport Corridor. Overseeing the completion date and budget will be a key task, as will work on Haughton Road to ensure that the benefits of the new road in reducing congestion are fully realised.

Tackling congestion elsewhere will be a top priority, with bids in to address trouble spots across the town.

Our work as a Sustainable Travel Town and Cycling Demonstration Town will also enter a new phase. A cycle/pedestrian bridge will be built across the East Coast Main Line on Haughton Road, and I hope there will be substantial progress on the cycle path along the Skerne towards the town centre. Parking needs sorting out in several places on the outskirts of the town centre. Finally, we have set out an ambitious set of targets to implement 20mph zones in our manifesto in 7 places around town, which needs following through.

All-in-all, it should be an exciting year.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Le French Market


Into town yesterday with AJ to wander around the third and last day of the French Market. Needless to say, the stall owners were impressed with my own unique brand of "Franglais"...
I've found that if you steer clear of the bread, there are some reasonably priced items on sale - I came away with some excellent cheese and bargain strawberries.
It was good to se town packed, and the Pedestrian Heart layout particularly suited the long line of stalls along High Row. A couple of stall owners told me that they'd done very good business during the visit.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Statement from Alan Milburn MP


Clearly feeling the hand of history on his shoulder, (or is it the clunking fist?), Alan has put this statement out at lunchtime,


“I will be supporting Gordon Brown to be the next Labour leader and Prime Minister. It is important that the whole of the Party now unites around Gordon. I do so in the hope and expectation that his leadership will rebuild the popular coalition of support that brought us three election victories under Tony Blair and can win us a fourth under Gordon Brown. Winning will mean New Labour uniting around new leadership and renewing our policy programme so that we can meet the challenges Britain faces in the future. I intend to play my part by supporting Gordon as leader and by contributing to that process of policy renewal.”


I have always thought that the Party needs to unite around Gordon, and to that end, a single challenge from the Far Left, be it Meacher or McDonnell is to be welcomed. A decisive victory for Gordon would demonstrate to the entire Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) that the backbench nonsense since the last General Election will not be tolerated, and that the Party demands a united approach from the PLP.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Final Speech




It was clear from the outset that Tony's appearence at Trimdon Labour Club was going to be an occasion which defied political conventions. Driving up to Trimdon, it felt somehow as if I was going to the funeral of someone close, accompanied by all those familiar feelings of sadness and anger and regret. Yet the mood in the hall was relentlessly upbeat, and a casual observer from Mars would be forgiven for assuming that we were celebrating another famous election victory. And to explode the funeral metaphor, the corpse was very much alive and kicking.


As befitted the occasion, Tony's speech was like no other - either delivered by him or any other departing Prime Minister. Movingly, he seemed to be struggling against his own emotions throughout - little wonder. There was the expected reference to the achievements of Labour in government since 1997. He covered the problems too, and articulated how lonely it must be at the top when ultimately all you can do is to trust your own judgement.


At the end, he wound up with a paeon of praise for Britain and its people. Talking to a senior local reporter afterwards, he felt that that part of the speech seemed loose and didn't work. I felt that was the point - entirely unscripted, Tony was simply telling us what had helped motivate him in politics for so long.


Afterwards, one final chance to cheer and clap, and then he and Cherie were gone. We mingled once more like mourners, exchanging anecdotes about the election results across the region, and then called it a day.

Still waiting



Still waiting and nattering. Lord knows what the fire regs number is for the room, but here's praying there's no alarms.

Trimdon Labour Club



This is probably the last time that Trimdon will be the centre of the media scrum that has engulfed the village.

Tony is due at 11.45am.

No MP's here, (presumably all in the Commons) but the hall is heaving with local party members and various bigwigs from the trade union and local authorities around the region.

Hand made placards (all supportive) are ready as the usual M People music blasts out.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

On the road

I shall be blogging remotely again tomorrow from a special (but poignant) occasion. Log in at 10am and I should have more information then.

UPDATE

I'll be blogging at Trimdon Labour Club from 11.15am. I understand Tony's speaking at 11.45am

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Letter from the Minister

Gillian Merron MP, the Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Transport has written to the Chief Executives of all Local Authorities outlining the results from the Sustainable Travel Towns (Darlington, Peterborough and Worcester).

Our approach has been to champion smarter travel choices, and to promote individualised travel marketing, now in its third year. The results, as Gillian says, are startling;

Town Mode Impact on Trips

Darlington Public Transport + 14&
Peterborough Public Transport + 13%
Worcester Public Transport + 22%

Darlington Walking + 29%
Peterborough Walking + 21%
Worcester Walking + 17%

Darlington Cycling + 79%
Peterborough Cycling + 25%
Worcester Cycling + 36%

Darlington Car - 11%
Peterborough Car - 13%
Worcester Car - 12%

Hard evidence that the policies being pursued in Darlington are helping to cut congestion and promote transport trips which will reduce the town's carbon footprint. Across the country, local authorities are being strongly encouraged to examine how smarter choices could work for them.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The day after...

Firstly a big thank you to everyone who voted Labour on Thursday here in Darlington. Rather than getting down in the gutter with the opposition, we tried to communicate how with Labour, the Borough could continue to progress. I look forward to helping implement our manifesto over the next 4 years.

A quick comment on the turnout - I haven't seen the overall figure for the town but across the board it looked good, and in no less than 5 wards it was above 50%. The idea that the body politic in Darlington is somehow sick, with apathy ruling, is patently nonsense.

There are lessons for all the parties after Thursday's remarkable results: -

Labour

We suffered some serious losses, and I would be a fool to try and pretend that the outcome was all about Labour's national unpopularity. Wherever I canvassed, I met some residents who felt that the Council had not listened adequately on key issues like Pedestrian Heart. For the reasons I've blogged before, I feel that the opposition have unfairly tarnished us with that brush, but now we must demonstrate overtly how we place openess and transparency at the centre of everything we do.

That being said, with a big swing against the party (15% was being mentioned during the Count), to hold seats in Harrowgate Hill, Pierremont, Cockerton East, Haughton East and Haughton North was an astonishing achievement. Both the Tories and the LibDems now know, if they didn't before, that we're not a party that rolls over when faced with intense competition.

Conservatives

The recriminations were beginning as matters drew to a close at Friday lunchtime. Opportunities to supplant the ruling party decisively come along once in a generation, and the Tories know that they blew it. Some clever candidate selections in Harrowgate Hill and Pierremont were wasted as they complacently assumed that seats would fall into their hands without a great deal of effort. Amusingly, in advance of the result, the Tories had scheduled a Group meeting for 2pm on Friday, presumably to discuss their tactics in the light of a hung council. Pure hubris, and little wonder that the LibDems steamrollered them in Hurworth.

LibDems

As the results in Central and Lingfield came in, a senior LibDem muttered to me, "what if we'd put out the 'it's a two horse race' leaflet there? In fact that rather missed the point - the LibDems threw the kitchen sink at Labour in Haughton East and Harrowgate Hill and came away with nothing. Labour has rumbled the LibDems' campaigning template, and more to the point, so have local residents. It's not clear where they go from here.

BNP

Made no impact whatsoever on the election campaign, other than in North Road, where they got a mention which had nothing to do with their activity. The North East is the weakest area for BNP activity, and these results bore that out.

Independents

Made big gains in neighbouring Stockton and Sedgefield, yet ended up getting wiped out here. Despite having personalble candidates like Bill Maybrey in Middleton St George and Eric Thompson in Heighington and Coniscliffe, they made no impression whatsoever. There seems to be no enthusiasm for independent candidates in Darlington.

Friday, May 04, 2007

The Count

I always find the Count an emotion-shredding experience. This morning was such a highly-charged event, however, that putting it into words is genuinely difficult.

Firstly, apologies that "blogging from the Count" didn't quite live up to the billing, but I hope I got a few key results across. As the Count began, it rapidly became clear that we had done very badly, and colleagues across the town were fearing for the worse. When the first few results trickled in for "safe" wards like Central and Lingfield, where our majorities had been slashed, things looked really bleak.

In the three Haughton wards, Pierremont and Harrowgate Hill votes looked too close to call. The Hurworth came through early, and as word spread that the LibDems had won by a landslide, the Tories looked ashen.

Candidates huddled round their various counting tables, trying to make sense of the thousands of ballot papers being counted. At one point, my friends and colleagues in Haughton East and North were convinced they'd lost and looked gutted. For me, I gave up watching the counting of my own votes after my experience at the last Count, but I was beginning to get really worried.

Then the key wards declared. Chris McEwan and Geoff Walker held off the LibDem onslaught in Haughton East. After some confusion, Haughton North was won by Tom Nutt and Veronica Copeland - thoroughly deserved. Disappointingly we lost a seat in Pierremont and (to everyone's surprise) Park East. The news that Liz Hart and John Vasey had gone down in Harrowgate Hill was somewhat offset by the news that Mark Burton, a first-time candidate, had split the Tory Cartwrights and come second - an amazing result. Labour lost a further seat in North Road (where Bill Holmes had stood down) despite many hours of hard work by the Labour candidates. Finally, by the narrowest of margins, we conceded a seat to the Tories in Cockerton East.

Overall result: - Labour 29, Tories 18, LibDems 6. Labour majority of 5.

I'll blog on the implications of all this a bit later...

Prediction

Labour to retain control of the Council!



Hurworth Parish

Allan, Foster, Holme, Hughes, Jones, Lawman, Pattison elected. Well done Ian (396 votes)



Northgate, Cockerton West, Central, Eastbourne, Lingfield all for Labour but with hugely reduced majorities. Tories likely to win at least one in Pierremont.



Hurworth

Indications from both the Tories and the LibDems suggest that the LibDems have picked up both seats.

Elsewhere, the Tories look to have comfortably held College.



Squeaky bum time.

It's looking tight in all the predicted contests. Faverdale will be declaring imminently - Tories think they've walked it, so no surprise there.



Thursday, May 03, 2007

Results Blog

Time to settle down with something strong to watch the BBC's election night coverage, to see what what might be in store for us tomorrow.

I shall be blogging directly from the count. There are strict (if arcane) rules concerning the secrecy of counts as they progress, so anything I blog will have been gleaned from comments from the parties, rather than my own observations. I hope that's clear.

I will be blogging principally on the following;

Predictions - anticipated results, based on intelligence from the candidates and parties. These may or may not prove to be correct!

Results - announced results.

Seats - a running total of the number of seats won by each party (or none in the case of the independents). A party needs to win 27 seats to form a majority in the Council Chamber. A few wards to look out for (in no particular order):

Haughton North. Labour/Tory marginal, currently held by Labour's Tom Nutt and Veronica Copeland.
Haughton East. Labour stronghold, but a strong (if typically fibbing) challenge from the LibDems. Held by Labour's Chris McEwan and Geoff Walker A real test for the LibDems.
Harrowgate Hill. Three-way marginal. Labour are standing John Vasey and Elizabeth Hart and new local candidate Mark Burton. The fate of the White Horse Hotel dominated local politics, which the Tories have tried to exploit.
North Road. Labour defending one seat, LibDems two. During the campaign, the LibDems senstaionally lost their leader after he signed the BNP's candidate's nomination papers. This may not have a major impact on his vote, however. Hopefully, the BNP won't benefit from the fuss.
Pierremont - formerly a three-way marginal, although the LibDems effectively threw in the towel by only fielding a single candidate. Currently held by Labour's Steve Harker, Patrick Heaney and Marian Swift, who is due to be next year's Mayor.
Cockerton East - once a swing Tory/Labour marginal, now held by three Labour councillors.
Hurworth - the only Tory/LibDem marginal. Loads of bad blood between the parties.

When I blog, the page layout will look odd, but I'll sort that out afterwards. See you at 9am!

Polling Day


Needless to say, it's been a very long day.

Candidates and party members in Haughton work as a team at election time, so I've been taking polling numbers, "knocking out" (trying to persuade Labour voters to go to the polls) and last-minute leafletting in the three Haughton wards.

I'm sticking to my resolution not to make rash predictions about the outcome of the Council elections. I would however make the following observations;

(1) The LibDems threw the kitchen sink at Haughton East, with a blizzard of leaflets containing all the usual fibbing polls and misleading comments that we've come to expect.

(2) As expected the Tories concentrated on Haughton North. For the most part their two candidates stood around the polling station sporting rosettes at Whinfield School, when they didn't have to return to work.

(3) Turnout was good. A very high proportion of the postal voters seemed to have returned their ballot papers (over 80% in Park West for example). After a slow start, voting was certainly brisk in Haughton North. I expect the turnout in several seats to be in excess of 40%.

(4) It wasn't difficult persuading Labour supporters to turn out. Alan Milburn joined us for a couple of hours at lunchtime, and he got a very good response touring Haughton North with Cllr. Tom Nutt and party campaigners.

A small piece of intelligence - the LibDems have apparently told the Northern Echo that they expect to do very well in Harrowgate Hill (a three-way marginal) and Hurworth, where they claim to have taken both seats. Perhaps more sensibly, Labour and the Tories are keeping their cards closer to their chests in public, although I understand the Tories have been very cocky privately about Labour losing control over the past few weeks.

After months of speculation and breast-beating by the opposition, however, the result of the count at 9am will be all that matters.

Vote Labour in Darlington Today...



Whatever your colours, or none, however, please do cast your vote. I have to bite my tongue hard every time someone proudly tells me that they never vote. You can make a difference today.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Referendum Campaign to Tories - "Bog off, you're useless!"

Those of us in Labour are becoming used to figuratively wiping the spittle from our eyes after rants from Mayoral Referendum campaigners like Harvey Smith.

I suspect that it will be rather a new sensation for Darlington's Tories, however. In a curious piece on the Town Liar, Harvey describes the Conservative opposition as "dismal and pretty wishy-washy."

Warming to his theme, he adds, "The Conservatives and the remainder of the opposition have had so much to go at but achieved so little. If you cannot do anything with the issues out there at present what confidence do the voters have that your party and its representatives have the ability to make the right decisions for the people of this borough as a whole. This is why apathy rules."

Of course, Harvey Smith's tactics are painfully clear - he needs there to be dissatisfaction with all the political parties in Darlington if the Referendum is to have a prayer in September.

It does, however, leave those Tory candidates who campaigned for a referendum in a curious position. I wonder whether David and Kate Davies, the Cartwrights and Jan Mazurk share Harvey's analysis?

A warning

Voting Tory can seriously damage your public services. That's the message emerging from the actions of newly-elected Conservative Councils around the country.

In Hammersmith and Fulham, for example, the Tory Council is promising to reduce the Council Tax by 3% a year - how? - by shutting mental health day centres, cutting the vulnerable children's budget, and slicing £150,000 from occupational therapy visits for the sick and old. As Polly Toynbee in the Guardian put it, "They are not green or clean, but cutting nearly £1m from street cleaning; nor caring for the weak, but charging £200 more a year for meals on wheels."

Croydon has cut 10% from the voluntary services budget. In Harrow, the Tories have put a £12 daily charge on their day centres for the frail. In Havering, they have just stopped school uniform payments for poor children.

In Camden, run jointly by the Tories and the LibDems, things are little better. Despite receiving the most generous grant settlement in the country, they are closing four after-school clubs, stopping door-to-door recycling on council estates (but continuing it in Hampstead), cutting £200k from social work in hard-pressed schools, and meals on wheels will cost 20% more.

To paraphrase Neil Kinnock in one of the greatest twentieth century speeches - if the Tories win on Thursday, I warn you not to be ordinary, I warn you not to be young, I warn you not to fall ill, I warn you not to get old.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Corporation Cup


A "proud dad" moment. My eldest son James has been a committed swimmer since he was four years old. He now swims competitively for Richmondale, and has taken part in the Scottish National Championships for the last three years.

James trains at least seven times a week, which often involves getting up at 5.30am for early morning sessions. I am constantly in awe of his staying power.

The premier race for juniors in Darlington is the Corporation Cup. First awarded in 1935 after being presented by "the Corporation of Darlington" (hence the name), it takes place annually over 100 metres. In last night's race, James beat the cream of talent in the town and came home with the cup.
Over the years, James has accumulated hundreds of medals from umpteen galas, but this was something special. Fantastic!