Saturday, June 12, 2004

Opening of New Exhibition 

This morning I attended the opening of a new exhibition at the Ancient High House which chronicled the life of William Palmer – the Rugeley posioner. The exhibition was a joint venture between the Borough and County Council and was of the usual high standard one associates with the High House. Mark Hartwell – the Council’s Heritage Sites Manager – should be justly proud of the way he is developing not only the High House but also the other heritage sites across the Borough. My only worry is that as budget constraints continue to bite the heritage sites do provide an easy target to make quite substantial savings. It is clear they will never make a profit, but as a Staffordian I proud of the towns past and think it should be displayed for all to see.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Opening of the Ballot Boxes 

The opening of the ballot boxes for to-days Euro elections was an anticlimax. As usual the event was held in the large sports hall in Riverside Centre in Stafford. Representatives of all three main parties were there trying to get an idea of who the vote had gone. Counting votes in Euro elections is always a funny business. Because many parts of Europe don’t vote until Sunday tonight event was only so the number of ballot papers could be checked. Unfortunately the counters had been given instructions to count the papers face down. It was interesting to watch how the representatives of the political parties handled this situation. Most just stood around chatting but one or two did try to see what was happening. Labour Party representatives had all been given forms on which they were supposed to tally the votes. On Elaine Kidney the wife of Stafford’s MP seemed to be taking this task seriously and at times it appeared she might try to jump on the counting tables to get a better view of what was happening. At the other end of the spectrum one labour worker said he was likely to be thrown out of the party as he had a blank sheet of paper!

James Cantrill, a Conservative Councillor had drawn the short straw for the Tories. His instruction was to get a random sample of two hundred votes to try to gauge Tory support. He wandered backwards and forwards around the hall snatching what ever information he could, and at the end of his sampling came to the conclusion that it was a complete waste of time but if he was right the Conservatives at taken 40% of the vote. Everything will become much clearer on Sunday night when the count proper takes place!

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Moral Justice in Planning 

Tonight’s planning meeting was interesting as the first item on the agenda was the proposed development of two huge warehouses on the Primepoint 14 site. The public seats were packed. Despite the prospect of the development bring hundreds of jobs to the town the Planning Committee through it out, with only two Councillors voting for the scheme. The arguments revolved around the fact that the sheds were far taller than the outline permission on the site allowed and that the developer should know better than submitting a plan that breached this size limit. Also the fact that the warehouses were being built purely as a speculative venture, and that no jobs were guaranteed did not help the case. What was surprising was that as only two Councillors had voted for the plans there was not enough supporters to ask for the decision to be taken up to full Council.

Having sat through that debate my item was more mundane, but just as important to the applicant. I was visiting the Committee to support a application in Haughton to renew the outline permission to build two houses on a site within the village. This application should never have got as far as the Planning Committee and should have been approved by the officers under their delegated powers. In essence it was just a renewal of an earlier successful application, but changes in Government planning guidance meant the rules had changed and the plot was now considered green field!

I spoke in support of the application and appealed to the Committee’s sense of moral justice. Luckily all but two committee members agreed with me and the application was past against the officers recommendations.

Walking the Street 

I spent most of today and yesterday walking the streets in Doxey delivering newspaper for the Euro elections. As County Councillor for Gnosall division I have a keen interest in Doxey as it will be amalgamated into my County area by the boundary changes which come into force next May. Thankfully by the time it went dark tonight we had only failed to deliver to about 30 houses out of a total of well over 1000 so the exercise was worthwhile. It certainly got me out on the “patch” and I did meet quite a few local residents and also picked up some case work.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Church Eaton Parish Council Meeting 

To-nights meeting of Church Eaton Parish Council was certainly livelier than normal. I should have known something was afoot when six members of the public turned up. When the Chairman reached the public question time item and opened the meeting for comment all hell broke loose when the owner of the local pub accused one of the Councillors of reporting the builders working on an extension at this premises to the health and safety executive. You can imagine the reaction as the councillor protested her innocence. After quite a frank exchange of views the Chairman managed to regain control by pointing out the matter in question was not on the Council’s agenda and as such could not be discussed. As both the Borough and County Councillor for the Village I was surprised as that was the first time I’d heard there was a problem with the building work as no one had complained to me about it.

The rest of the public question time passed more peacefully as one resident asked about grass cutting, and the other four raised a problem over a planning application. I both cases I offered to find out more information and in the case of the planning application agreed to arrange a meeting between a member of staff from the County Council’s highways department and the Parish Council Chairman and the local residents.

Staffordshire County Council Peer Review 

Staffordshire County Council are currently undergoing a “peer assessment” to gauge just how well they are performing. This morning I, along with about ten other Councillors were “interviewed” by three members of the review team. One was the review team manager, an other a Labour Councillor from another authority, and the third – the Chief Executive of Oxfordshire County Council.

I felt somewhat out of place and certainly out numbered by my colleagues as all but one were Labour Councillors and all of these were either Cabinet Leaders or their Deputies. The other Councillor was the ex-leader of the Conservative Group and Chairman of the Resources Scrutiny Committee. You can imagine that very little criticism of the Council was voiced, and at times I felt like a lone voice during the far ranging discussion.

After the meeting which lasted for one and a half hours I popped into to see Roger Carr the officer which leads the Council improvement team and who was responsible for setting up the meeting. It turned out the review team had asked for a mixture of front and back benchers and that I was the only opposition back bencher present as the others had sent their apologies at the last minute.

All in all it was an interesting 90 minutes as I certainly learnt how the controlling group and especially the cabinet saw itself!

Monday, June 07, 2004

D-Day Service 

Last night I attended a church service at St Mary’s Church in Stafford to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the D-Day landings. The service was attended by the Mayor of Stafford – Cllr Frank Finlay – and a number of the Council members. Also in attendance were representatives of ex-servicemen’s organisations from across the town. Although the church was in no way full the service was well attended and gave all those present the opportunity to remember men from Stafford who had fought in that D-Day conflict.

On guard outside the church was a lone anti ware protestor. I’m not sure who the man is but he is a well known Stafford character and can be often seen sitting on his camping chair in the Market Square. I have had a number of long conversations with him about his views on the Iraq war and was interested in his account of his time as a solider. Although he could easily be dismissed by many as an eccentric he does make some valid points about the way this Country was dragged into the Iraq war and the future for our troops that are still in that Country.

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