Jonathan Wallace

About me, my life, my politics, my travels, my thoughts

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Accused of "grandstanding" but shaping the debate

When an application for opencast mining was submitted to Gateshead Council in 2011 at Birklands, in Lamesley ward, neighbouring mine, I was the councillor who put together the campaign to defeat the proposals. I wrote the petition and with Lib Dem colleagues, we delivered it to a large part of Lamesley ward and to my ward. I also arranged for the petition to go on-line. Labour were noticeable for their lack of interest in the issue. When I met residents, at least one Labour councillor was invited to the meetings. None appeared.

The application took nearly three years to go through the planning process, a delay which lay with the applicant's slow approach to providing all the information needed for the planning system to take a decision. Months ago I put my name down to speak at the planning committee as an opponent of the application. At the end of March, the planning officers informed everyone that they were recommending rejection of the application.

I was one of the first to arrive for the planning committee meeting. I had been phoned in advance by officers to be told that I could not speak as the ward member as the site of the application was not in my ward, even though the biggest impact was on my constituents. I was speaking therefore simply as an objector. Lamesley Labour Councillor Christine Bradley was to speak against the application as ward member. She told me before proceedings started that her comments were going to be focused on the applicant offering inadequate financial compensation to the community.

The officer presented their report about the application, outlining the reasons why it should be rejected. He explained that the transport route was acceptable and therefore was not being included in the list of reasons for recommending rejection.

As ward member, Cllr Bradley was first objector to speak. I was next. My comments focused on the inadequate transport route and the impact on local roads of the 70 heavy lorries a day that would go through villages in my ward. I said clearly that I disagreed with officers about the transport implications.

Planning committee members discussed a number of issues but most time was spent on the transport issue. It seemed that members, having heard my comments, shared my concerns. The rejection of the application for the reasons presented by the officers was approved but for one important exception. Labour Councillor Paul Foy moved that the transport problems be added to the list of reasons for rejection. This was agreed by the committee.

Later that day, my ward colleague Cllr John McClurey, informed me of an interesting conversation he heard before the planning committee meeting was held. A Labour councillor had loudly suggested to colleagues that I was "grandstanding" by planning to speak to the committee as the officers had already recommended rejection. John then intervened and pointed out that my name had been down to speak against the application long before the officers had made their recommendation. It was interesting to note however that this same Labour Councillor did not make the same criticism of Cllr Bradley. Was this one rule for Labour, one for the rest of us?

Given that my comments were confined entirely to the transport issue which the officers had indicated were not a reason to reject, it would seem that there was good reason for me to speak at the meeting, even with the recommendation to reject being on the table. And the committee agreed with me - a point demonstrated by their decision to add transport concerns to the list of reasons to reject.

So, who had accused me of "grandstanding"? - none other than Cllr Foy himself, the person who moved that transport concerns be added to the reasons to reject! Nice one Paul!

Sunday, April 13, 2014


Left on the shelf

One of my proposals for Marley Hill Community Centre was to set up a community library and 2nd hand book shop. We have no money at all to create this venture so we are completely reliant on donations of books and equipment. We were given 5 large cupboards by Gateshead Civic Centre and have received a number of books from residents (including a good part of my collection of history books). The Civic Centre also gave us some spare shelves though they were not made to fit the cupboards they gave us. So on Friday, Cllr John McClurey and I took electric saws and drills to the community centre and cut the shelves to size. The before and after pictures can be seen above and below.

We have now run out of brackets for the remaining three cupboards. John will make some more. We are not sure yet when we will open the library in its own right but the cupboards will be opened as part of the Easter Monday events in the Community Centre on 21st April.

Friday, April 11, 2014


Tree planting at Marley Hill

In December we had a permanent Christmas tree planted at the front of Marley Hill Community Centre. And then the storms came and partly blew the tree over. So this afternoon, my ward colleague, Cllr John McClurey, and I reset the tree. I brought up a couple of 2 metre high posts which I hadn't got round to using to fence in my livestock. With the help of a pile driver I borrowed from a friend, we installed the posts which now keep the tree upright.

In London we had a Norwegian spruce in a large pot which we never got round to planting in our garden there. The last time I was there with the car, I brought the tree back home to Gateshead so that it could be planted in the grounds of Marley Hill Community Centre. We did that job this afternoon as well. It is only about 1.5m high but give it a few years and it will be big enough to be decorated at Christmas.

Thursday, April 10, 2014


Tim Farron in Newcastle

My old university friend Tim Farron MP was back on his old Newcastle stomping ground yesterday. We went to Newcastle University together in the late 80s. Tim ended up doing a year as the students' union president. I went off to try to get elected to Parliament. A generation later he got to Parliament and became Lib Dem President whilst I ended up taking early retirement (at 46) from the rat race to keep hens and goats (and make food videos!) 

Tim was in town to launch the North East Lib Dem European campaign. I met up with him at a "pizza and plonk" party in High Heaton in Newcastle last night. Quite an good event. I rather enjoyed it. I then had to leave before the end to get home and close up my hen and duck houses before the foxes arrived.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014


First battle won in opencast campaign

Last week I was one of the objectors who spoke against plans to extract quarter of a million tonnes of coal from Birklands, in the neighbouring ward of Lamesley. A late change in the application saw the route for the lorries change to the A6076 (Stanley Road) and A692 (the main road through the villages in the south of my ward). The route also went through Lobley Hill and on to the A1.

The application has been with the Council since 2011 but the applicant had taken their time to come forward with the information required to reach a decision on their proposals. In that time, we have been campaigning in the areas affected by both the previously planned and the new routes - Kibblesworth, Lobley Hill and Sunniside/Streetgate. A week before the application came before the planning committee, we learnt that the -planning officers were recommending refusal.

At the committee meeting itself, I made the case that the transport route was totally inadequate and would impact severely on local villages and settlements. Interestingly, the officers had not recommended refusal based on the transport route. Instead, they reported that other planning policies would be breached by the application sufficiently to be grounds for rejection.

Once the speakers were finished, the committee members debated the application and sure enough, the biggest discussion was about the transport route. The result was that in addition to the reasons to reject outlined by the officers, members of the committee added inadequate transport route to the list. The application was then rejected.

So, the first battle in the campaign has been won but there are more battles ahead. The applicant has a right of appeal and there is a bigger application at Marley Hill on which a decision is expected in May. So the campaign to stop opencast mining on the doorsteps of our local communities is continuing.


Friends of Chase Park fair

Friends of Chase Park in Whickham invited me to bring some of my animals to their first Easter fair which was held on Saturday 5th April. Bill Quay Community Farm was invited as well and we shared the "animal" gazebo together. BQF brought rabbits and Welsh Harlequin ducklings (I have some eggs of this breed which I bought from BQF last month in my incubator which are due to hatch next week). I brought 21 quail chicks which hatched last month. All the animals were popular with visitors.

The fair was due to open at 1pm. I was there at 11am and for a time we thought it was going to be a washout - literally as the rain was quite heavy. However, by 1pm, the rain had stopped and the visitors started arriving.

I sold some of my eggs and jams, enough to make a small donation to the Friend's coffers. I was also able to promote the Marley Hill Community Centre monthly cafe and craft market.

The next Chase Park event is the annual May Fair (being held in June this year!) I am likely to be there again with livestock as well.

My colleague Cllr Peter Craig helping to dismantle the gazebos and tents at the end of the event. Peter helped to set up Friends of Chase Park a few years ago.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014


My last day on the Beamish Museum joint committee

One of my favourite outside committees on which I serve on behalf of Gateshead Council has been the one that runs Beamish Museum (or more officially the North East of England Open Air Museum). Alas, it is now coming to an end and new management arrangements are coming into effect. Though I will miss it, the reforms to the way it is run are a sensible way forward, even if I am not directly involved.

The museum is nothing like the stereotype of carefully displayed exhibits behind glass screens. It is hands on. It's all about experiencing past ways of life, not looking at it from a distance. Beamish contains a pit village, a railway workshop, a regency farm, a 1913 town centre, a Victorian railway station and a World War Two farm. People are carried around the huge site by trams, steam trains and steam powered buses.

Another significant feature is that the Museum pays for itself. It does not rely on revenue funding from the local councils of the region which set up the Museum in the 1960s. During the recent austerity years, even though it costs to get in, visitor numbers have been going up and are at record levels.

There are lots of lessons other museums can learn from Beamish.

I took the photo above of the inside of one of the trams on Friday, after the last meeting of the joint committee. It was still early at the time so there weren't many visitors in the museum at that point. In addition, the weather was awful - the one drawback of being an open air museum.

New attractions continue to be opened. Unfortunately, I missed the official opening of the pit pony stables on Saturday as I was attending the North East Beekeepers' Convention. And there is more to come. The next phase will see the recreation of a 1950s suburban area, and after that, a 1980s suburb will be built (to which I could donate lots of furniture, equipment and clothes from my own house - but only after I've finished using them myself!)

Friday, March 28, 2014


Food competition at the Marriott

I was invited (I think with my councillor rather than my self-sufficiency hat on) to a very enjoyable event at the Marriott Hotel, Metrocentre, Gateshead, yesterday, in which four teams of trainee chefs from Gateshead College went head to head in a competition to win a trip to London where they will serve up a meal in the London Marriott Hotel. A number of local food producers were also there as well. I had some very interesting and useful conversations with them.

Given that I am critical generally of society for letting too many people nowadays lose the ability to cook and become too reliant on ready made meals and industrially mass produced food, it was a joy to see a large number of young people showing off their catering skills.

All the guests had to vote for a team they felt produced the best dishes and the winner (Team B) was announced at the end.

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