Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A National Trust House For The Future 

I’m pleased to say that’s tonight’s meeting of the Borough Council’s Planning Committee approved the plan to build a new modern house on the old riding school site at Bradley. I had called the application in so that it could be decided by the committee rather than left to the delegated powers of the officers. I’m pleased I did because the officers wanted it refused.

The application had been made by the architect firm of Glenn Howells on behalf of Dennis Foster – the past owner of Bradley’s Fosters Nursery. The application made use of a section of the Governments Planning Policy Statement No 7 which made it possible to build houses of unique architectural merit in the countryside which could well be against the policy of the local planning authority. The plan the committee discussed certainly fitted into this category. For one thing it was against the Borough Council’s policy and that was why the planning officers had recommended it be refused. However the committee saw just how unique the proposal was. For one thing the house had the backing of CABE – the Governments Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. For another it included some unique features, such as heat pumps to provide heating and hot water, solar panels for electricity, and a reed bed to provide on-site sewage treatment. To top that off the structure which has mainly glass walls would be made of glass which cleaned itself! The plan also included thirty-five acres of landscaped grounds with newly planted woods and new lakes.

This house will certainly be a National Trust property of the future and one I feel the Council can be rightly proud of taking this once in a lifetime opportunity and approving it’s construction against the wishes of the officers.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

County Council On The Move Again 

A head of steam seems to be building up over the possible relocation of the County Council to new offices in the old St. George’s Hospital. It appears from the press reports that the Council are considering moving all their town centre offices to one site and St Georges is top of their list. However the worry is what will happen to the empty building that are left. Again the press are speculating that these will be handed over to the developers of the St. George’s site as part of the deal. What is worrying is that many of these buildings are listed. There is also concern that the St George’s development is just one of a number currently being undertaken by the developer and that the inclusion of the town centre sites to this existing portfolio is just too much. Personally I am more concerned that, while the new offices being considered by the County Council will give them better accommodation, their location will not be as convenient for the public as the present town centre ones. I am also concerned that some Departments in the County Council are constantly changing offices. As a County Councillor I was never told this was going to happen, but usually just stumbled on the move by accident. The usual excuse was that the move was necessary to improve efficiency and save money, but the cost of moving, any building and decorating works, or indeed an new furniture was never accounted for. Now having made a number of moves over the last few years it now looks as if all that expense is to be forgotten and the whole organisation decamped en-bloc to a new home. I have to ask just how much money will this cost and certainly will be asking for that information if the scheme comes off.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Eagle Inn Letter - More Than Meets The Eye? 

An interesting, anonymous, letter has appeared in this weeks Newsletter calling for the Eagle Inn to be demolished. What is disappointing is that the letter was factually incorrect. The writer argued that the pub, which had only just been described as listed, would cost Stafford Council Tax payers too much money to repair. However this argument is easy to rebuff. Firstly the building was listed in 1951- so the description of “just listed” is far from true. Secondly the building is still owned by St Modwen’s the developers of the Tesco site so any rebuilding of the pub will have to be funded by them. Indeed from the very outset the “listed” nature of the building was known to everyone as was the responsibilities this bestowed on the owners. The more cynical readers will no doubt be asking – just as I am – what was behind this letter and why was it submitted to, and printed by the Newsletter without the writer being identified. Could it be that this false information was intended to help build the case for the buildings demolition and less the public outcry when the demolition plans are finally published.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

A Letter From The Council After Five Days 

At long last I’ve heard officially from the Council that the Riverside Development will be going ahead. A letter came this morning. That’s only five days after I was telephone by a reporter from the Express and Star asking for my comments on the news. It’s obvious this Council will take the time to issue a press release to the local papers, but can’t find time to let the Councillors know. I know that many of my colleagues are feeling more and more isolated and not part of the decision making process or indeed have any opportunity to influence what is happening. Getting notification after five days just confirms this view.

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Future of the Bethany Homeless Hostel 

Today I had a meeting with Mac Macoig, The Borough Council’s Principal Housing Officer responsible for housing strategy. Part of that job is overseeing the Council’s homelessness policy. As you might expect given the developments of the last few day the meeting was to talk about the Bethany Homeless Hostel – or should I say the lack of it! – and what the Council were planning to do to ensure the needs of the homeless were meet in the Borough.

I always enjoy talking to Mac as he certainly seems to know his job and usually has all the information on a particular subject either locked away in his brain or at his fingertips. I was also pleased to know that he had read my web site and knew my thoughts on the future of the Bethany Hostel after the fire.

The meeting lasted for well over an hour and we talked about the proposed replacement hostel, what was happening to the residents who found themselves homeless after the fire, and what the Council were proposing in terms of providing support for the homeless in the future. I have to say the plans for the new replacement hostel are impressive, although I could not agree with him that the old “Eagle Pub” should be demolished to allow an even bigger building to be put on the site. The need for this larger building just comes down to money. By providing an extra couple of rooms the income increases and the project becomes more viable. I have to say that while I do think there will be an outcry over any plans to knock the pub down, an even bigger stumbling block to the development of the new building will be whether or not the Housing Corporation stumps up some cash towards the scheme. I came away from the meeting feeling this might not be the case and that pressure will have to be brought to bear on that organisation if the money is to be made available.

However the good news is that everyone who was living in the Bethany Project at the time of the fire appears to have been found accommodation – even if this is in temporary bed and breakfast, and that the Council’s Principal Housing Officer for Strategy does have a strategy in place to deal with the future homelessness needs of the Borough. If it will work is another question – but then again only time will tell.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Still Some Sanity In The Planning Committee 

It’s nice to know that there is still some sanity in the Planning Committee. At tonight’s meeting they refuse an application to build a stable block at a farm in my Ward. I’d already taken the Committee out on a site visit, after which they asked the applicant to resubmit the plans, as they appeared to be out of scale. Tonight’s meeting was to look at the plans again. I was totally shocked hat the Officers had recommended approval, as the stable block was to be built just seventeen metres away from a new set of barn conversions. The farmer, who had sold the barns to a development company sometime ago was rightly annoyed as when he got permission for the conversion the council planners banned him from keeping livestock with 50 metres of the development. To make matters worse the proposed stables were to be built on part of the car park for the barns. This mean that any horse standing outside the stables would by on the access road to the complex. I was concerned that the Committee would support the officers recommendation but common sense prevailed and they rejected the plan with only one Councillor voting for it. However I have to say that one swallow does not make a summer and I'm sure that in future bloggs I'll be saying what a stupid decision the committee has made!

Monday, August 08, 2005

Riverside Development Given The Go Ahead 

I was telephoned tonight by a reporter from a local daily newspaper to get my comment on the news that John Prescott's Office had decided the new Riverside development could go ahead. The news was particularly disappointing as I truly believe the size of the development is wrong for Stafford. Don’t get me wrong I’m not against the site being developed. I’m not even against the plan to build apartments, shops and a cinema on the site – all I object to is the size and design of the new building which will dwarf the rest of the town. I’m also worried that little though has been given to the lack of car-parking. Even the traffic consultants employed by the developers to draw up a traffic impact survey highlighted this shortcoming. At the Council meeting when this development was discussed I pointed out that there was a shortfall of over 1000 spaces, but this was brushed aside by the conservatives who were intent on getting the plans passed.

Tonight’s telephone call also highlighted once again the way the Council is being run. It comes to something when a Councillor learns what is happening from the local press rather than from the Council itself!

Bulldozers Set To Move In On Old Eagle Pub 

More information is coming to light about the future of the Bethany Hostel and the provision for the homeless in Stafford. Having spoken to the borough Council at some length I’ve now found out that the fire was caused by one of the residents. Obviously the question must be asked why this situation was allowed to develop and why the staff on duty at the time did not prevent it, or read the signs that this situation was developing. I’ve also discovered that the plans for the new hostel include the demolition of the old Eagle public house, which is a Grade II listed building. I am extremely unhappy that this is being considered. St Modwen – the current owners of the building knew very well what their commitment to the building was when they purchased the site, and I feel they should me made to honour that commitment. By giving the building to the Borough Council they have effectively passed the problem on, which is an easy way out. I’m also concerned that yet another piece of Stafford’s heritage will be lost for good if this building is demolished. All the earlier plans I’ve seen for the new hostel show clearly the Eagle still in place so why it is important it should be demolished now is beyond me. I’ve fixed up a meeting for later in the week at the Borough Council to get more information about the new hostel and to seek further assurances that everything is being done to support the town’s homeless while this new building is being constructed.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Canal Embankment Landslip 

This morning I went to visit a local couple who live near the canal in Church Eaton. They rang me ask for my help in find a away to get British Waterways to reinstate the embankment on which their home is built. Over the past couple of years a large section of this bank has slipped into the canal. While at the moment the land slip is not affecting their house parts of their garden has disappeared. They’ve tried to get British Waterways to carry out repair work without and success. They say that drainage pipes which run through the garden are causing the land to slip. The couple have pointed out that the drains are not theirs and that the consultants they have employed have rejected British Waterway’s suggestion. The couple have also raised the matter with the Country Landowners Association who are looking at the legal position. For my part I’ve promised to write to British Waterways and will be seeking the advice of the Borough Council’s legal team.

Bethany Hostel Fire 

Stafford's Bethany Project Hostel for the Homeless has been burnt out in what police think was an arson attack. The fire started just after 2.00am but luckily all the residents and the staff escaped without injury. The building itself was set to be demolished next year, so this fire has now hastened its end. In its place a new smaller hostel is going to be built. Unfortunately the demise of the building so far ahead of its planned closure date now means the Borough and County Councils have to face the problem of how to provide accommodation for the existing residents until the new hostel is built. The last time I spoke to Council Officers about where this accommodation was going to be found it was clear they had no firm plans but at least they had the time to consider all the options. This included running down the number of residents in the existing hostel to the very minimum before closure finally happened. Unfortunately the luxury of time, and the lower numbers of residents needing housing has now been removed so no doubt there will be something of a panic in the Council Offices over the next few days as an alternative plan is put in place. Everyone concerned must ensure the ex-residents of the Bethany get the very best support possible and that everything is done to ensure accommodation is available for other people who may become homeless in the future.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Ambulance Trust Under Threat 

The news has broken that the Government is planning to half the number of ambulance trusts in the UK next year. This will be achieved by merging existing trusts to form bigger units. The thinking behind this plan is that the larger trusts will be more cost effective and will provide a better service. Unfortunately Staffordshire will almost certainly suffer. Staffordshire Ambulance Trust is one of the smallest in the Country and could well be merged with the West Midlands and run from Birmingham. However it must be remembered that Staffordshire was last week awarded three stars for its quality of service while the West Midlands only managed one. I cannot imagine that should the merger go ahead the same level of service will be maintained. I for one will certainly be joining the “Hands off Staffordshire” campaign which has been started by GPs, patient groups, politicians and community leaders.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Playing Field Grant 

I’m really pleased that Church Eaton Parish Council has been offered a grant of £3000 by Stafford Borough Council to help refurbish the Village playing field. Like many small rural villages Church Eaton face an uphill struggle when it comes to providing and maintaining their children’s play area. This is especially galling when you consider that in the urban area play areas are provided and maintained by the Borough Council. This means that in the rural areas residents are paying twice for the same service. They pay their Council Tax to both the Borough and Parish Councils. So getting this grant certainly helps to redress the balance. I have to say that the credit must go to Trevor Houghton – the Parish Council Chairman – who has worked incredible hard to get the Borough to pay up. Now the Council have plans to apply for money from other sources including the National Lottery. I really do wish them luck, because if they can pull it off they have great plans to make further improvements to the play area and give the children of Church Eaton a facility of which they can be really proud.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Rural Villages Under Seige 

Once again Church Eaton is under pressure from a developer. This time a plan has been submitted to the Borough Council to build a large detached house on a piece of garden land at Alleys Lane. The application certainly caused a stir at tonight’s Parish Council meeting. After some discussion it was agreed that the Council would object on, amongst other things, the size of the property and the effect it might have on the flooding problems being experienced in the Village. As I expected I was asked if I could call the application in so it could be considered by the planning committee. This application is just the latest in a series all of which focus on developing existing garden sites. I can certainly understand the residents and the Parish Council’s frustration over the way the village is being charged and like them are worried that in a few years its unique character will be changed. Unfortunately this change is being driven by both national and local planning policies and guidance and small communities like Church Eaton will end up being the losers.

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