Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Be sure the truth will find you out!

Over the past couple of weeks local Conservatives have accused the Labour County Councillors for Stafford of blatant electioneering when they introduced the idea of the public voting to determine which projects should get a grant from the Local Members Initiative Scheme. This scheme, which has been running for a number of years, sees each County Councillor being allocated £10,000 to send on supporting local projects in their area. In the past this money has been given out on the whim of the councillor involved, but this new project now intends to end this practice.

Well tonight the real truth has been revealed. I went along to a “Councillor Question Time” in Stafford organised by the County Council. On the panel playing the role of the spokesman for the Conservatives was Cllr. Mark Winnington.
During the evening the new way of determining which projects would get funding under the Local Members Initiative Scheme was raised. Robert Simpson the Council’s Deputy Leader explained that Staffordshire was one of 14 Councils across the UK who are piloting schemes to get the public directly involved in deciding how local money is spent. He also said that the new voting process was also being tried out in Staffordshire Moorlands.

However when Mark Winnington spoke he told the audience the Conservatives on the Council had decided not to take part. In fact it turned out that they were the only political party not to get involved!
It’s funny that when the Conservative candidates in Stafford for next years County Council elections were making such a big fuss they conveniently forgot to say their party had decided not to take part. Instead they left everyone with the impression that they were being sidelined by Labour, who had just changed the process in an attempt to “buy” votes!

When I was a County Councillor I was always concerned that it could be thought that I was trying to buy votes as I was solely responsible for recommending who should receive my money. I personally welcome this idea that the decision of where the money goes is in the hands of the community, although I have to say there must be safeguards put in place to ensure small community groups are not swamped by their bigger neighbours, who because of their size, can secure more votes!

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Council's decision on polytunnels

Over the past couple of years the number of polytunnels being used by local fruit farmers has increased tremendously, or at least that’s how it appears. While I have to say I’m not against farmers diversifying and expanding their businesses this cannot be done without consideration for other people.

Not only are large areas of countryside around Bradley, Gnosall, Haughton and Derrington a sea of reflective polythene during the summer, but the tunnels also cause considerable water run-off and always seem to be accompanied by rubbish related to fruit grown and picking.

Last year I arranged for one local couple to meet with the Council’s Chief Executive, Head of Planning, the Leader of the Council, the Leader of the Labour Group and myself to tell us the problems they faced as they lived near to one of the fields that were covered by these tunnels. To cut a long story short, the Council’s Officers were instructed to go away and take legal advice has to what controls the Council might have over these structures, especially in light of a High Court decision which had found, in 2007, that a farmer in Surry did need planning permission for some polytunnels he had erected.

Since that time I have been pressing the Council for some feedback which I have to say from all the informal conversation I had had with various officers looked as if the Council were not in a position to insist on planning application being needed in Stafford. However how wrong could I be! I’ve now received an letter from the Councils Planning Manager saying that following further investigation, and in the light of other court cases the Council’s legal team and the planning department now did feel that the majority of the polytunnels in this area do indeed need planning permission and on that basis the Council had written to the farmers concerned pointing out this fact.

Hopefully sense will now prevail and that a middle way can be found to allow the farmers to carry on their businesses while at the same time allowing the environment to be protected and the effect these tunnels have on the lives of local residents be kept to a minimum.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Doxey Bridge temporary footpath causes concern

Well work on the replacement bridge at Doxey is well underway. A couple of days ago I popped down to see just what was happening and was amazed to see the whole of the bridge had been removed and there was just a gapping hole where the road used to be!

However what I found even more amazing was the state of the footpath the Council has installed to allow pedestrians to reach the temporary footbridge across the stream. This long path is surfaced with what looks like road plainings which have obviously been compacted. However in places this surface is coming loose. The path itself is extremely steep as it falls to the level of the stream and the climb back towards the road is hard work. A climb that is made even more difficult and quite dangerous with this loose surface.

As I reported in an earlier entry on these pages (22nd August 2008) Staffordshire County Council would not re-route the Rural Link bus service - which incidentally is now know as the West of Stafford Link since ABC Coaches took over the service – so passengers are forced to walk across this temporary bridge to complete their journey. As this service is used by some elderly travellers I am concerned that the poor state of this path is a real hazard. Carrying heavy shopping bags up and down the slope is bad enough, but trying to stay on your feet and avoid the loose patches is the last straw.

I have already drafted a letter of complaint to the County Council asking them to make urgent repairs to this path.


No Council cash in Icelandic banks!

Over the last few days the full extent of the crisis in the Icelandic bank system has dominated the news headlines. While hundreds of ordinary people have been affected by the Icelandic Governments decision to take control of the Countries banks many local Council’s are also facing the prospect that many million of pounds of their money is now also involved. While it is still unclear just how much public money is at risk it is thought the total could be around £1Billion!

This news certainly started alarm bells ringing and I was not the only Councillor to seek assurances that Stafford Borough Council did not have any money invested in Icelandic banks.
I really pleased when Malcolm Vickers, the Council’s Deputy Chief Executive who has ultimate responsibility for Council finances, told me that the Council was not affected. Indeed it turned out that the Council’s independent advisors had suggested earlier in the year that investments in Icelandic banks should be avoided, and at that time the Council’s Treasury Management Team had removed the banks from the list of those the Council would do business with.

During the conversation with Malcolm I also discovered that the Council had around £26Million currently invested, and I thought we were short of funds!

Saturday, October 4, 2008


Budget deficit predicted to increase but the Council still produce glossy magazines

Earlier this week Mike Heenan – the Council’s Cabinet member for Resources - was quoted in the press as saying that because the Council was facing a £1Million budget deficit he could not rule out future job cuts or reduction in services if “unreasonably high” increases in Council Tax were to be avoided. Indeed regular readers of these pages will remember I prediction last month that services would need to be cut or charges increased if the Council's looming budget gap was to be bridged! (14th September)

Well today two interesting items appeared in my post from the Council.

Firstly the Members Digest had a Cabinet report on the Council’s Financial Plan for each year until 2012/13. This makes extremely bleak reading as it shows the budget deficit rising year on year until it reaches over £1.7Million in 2012/13. It will certainly take a lot of job cuts and massive reductions of services if this gap is to be made up!

Also in the post was the latest edition of a full colour, eight page, glossy magazine the Council had produced for its staff. While I certainly think staff deserve to be kept informed of Council activities I do wonder whether producing a magazine of this quality was the right ting to do. Currently the Council are experimenting with paperless meetings, and have recently written to everyone who gets a Members Digest - including all the Parish Council’s in the area - asking if they would prefer to have it sent electronically so that the Council could save the cost of the paper and printing. Surely in a time when the Council needs to save money the same thing could be done with the staff newsletter which could be e-mailed to everyone's desk at very little cost!

I’ll certainly be asking questions as to how much these gloss magazines are costing and whether the money the Conservative Cabinet have spent in producing them would not be better spent on ensure services to the public are maintained!

Friday, October 3, 2008


New housing land website - good or bad?

Earlier today the Borough Council launched a new website aimed at giving local communities the opportunity to see, and comment on, the areas of land that have been put forward by developers or landowners as possible sites for new housing as part of the evolving Local Development Framework.

Currently Government housing targets means that over 10,000 houses will have to be built in Stafford Borough in the next twenty years, and the areas of land outlined on this new website is just the first step in deciding where these houses will be built. The Council’s Cabinet are at pains to tell everyone that if all these sites were developed then over 40,000 houses could be built and that no decision has yet been taken as to which sites will be used and which will be rejected!

Everyone at the Borough Council have been told to stress this message and to tell residents not to worry. However I do think this will be easier said than done. I know for a fact that in many communities rumours are already circulating that this or that piece of land is down for development and houses will be built there whatever anyone says. Launching this new website is certainly not going to help matters as more possible sites are made public. Unfortunately the Borough Council appears to have no alternative. They not only have to be open with residents about sites that are down for consideration in their neighbourhood, but also need to publish the information so they can get feedback.

I for one have certainly spent an interesting couple of hours looking at proposed sites in this area and will certainly be making my views know to the Forward Planning Team on what I have seen. I’ll also be toeing the Council’s line by telling everyone I meet that nothing has yet been decided about any of the sites and that now is the time to get their comments in if they want to influence the final decision, which incidently will probably be made early in the new year.

Comments need to be in to the Council by 12 noon on Tuesday, 11 November so there is plenty of time to look at plans. Follow the “New Houses - where could they go” link from the Borough Council’s website homepage -

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