Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Bypass plans delayed

A1 Mar 15 2

Highways England have not made friends recently following their announcement that improvements to the A1 between the Team Valley and Birtley are to be delayed by a year. Everyone was expecting a start date of 2019 but Highways England have decided that with work also taking place on the A19 in Sunderland, somehow the region cannot cope with two sets of major roadworks. Well, no one likes roadworks but they are a necessity if we are to have the improvements installed. The plan for the A1 is to increase the lanes to three in each direction on a road that is currently carrying well above its planned traffic load.

Highways England's proposal is to get the A19 work out of the way and then start on the A1 improvements. In other words, they are going to spread the pain over an additional year. My fear is that when an infrastructure project slips, there is more time for the government to reconsider and cancel it.

This is not good news for Gateshead.

No deal Brexit to cost Gateshead £1.09 billion

A report by the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics has predicted that Gateshead's economy would lose £1.09 billion over five years under a hard Brexit. The North East economy as a whole would lose £8 billion. Our region is the only part of the UK to export more manufactured goods than we import and our biggest market, by a long long way, is the EU. A no deal Brexit that means we are outside the Single Market will cost the North East dearly. Even a negotiated deal will not give us the quality, free trade arrangements we have now. We have to me a member of the club to get the full benefits.

Cutting down the Lords is not enough

The report by Lord Burns on the size of the House of Lords is due shortly. There are currently 800 jobs-for-life members of the upper chamber, bigger than the elected House of Commons. The chances are that there will be a substantial cut in numbers. How this is to be achieved is yet to be announced but expect a great deal of cooperation between Labour and Tories to protect their members at the cost of everyone else.

Axing numbers however is not enough genuinely to reform the Lords. A legislative body made up entirely of life appointments (or in the case of hereditary peers, 92 individuals elected by other hereditary peers already in the Lords) is an affront to democracy. How people get into the upper house is the electoral elephant in the gilded chamber and this is to be left untouched.

We can thank the Tory/Labour old pals act for failure to reform the Lords in the Coalition years. Labour worked with the Tory right to destroy the chances of introducing a reformed and elected upper house, something Labour are supposed to support.

Ultimately, no matter what is done to the numbers, without direct election, the House of Lords will remain an undemocratic body that represents the few rather than the many.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Video - Planting Up Whickham

I filmed this on Sunday 22nd October when I joined the volunteers at Church Green, Whickham, to plant up the flowerbeds. There should be a good display of flowers next year.

Derelict buildings and building on countryside

Dunston Hill School Peter Maughan Kevin McClurey Oct 17 (2)

The old Dunston Hill Primary School closed its doors for the last time a few years ago but the building has been left to become derelict. It is right in the heart of Dunston and residents have watched the weeds grow over the past few years. Nature has now started to reclaim the walls as well which are now developing their very own mini-woodlands. There was talk of a cancer treatment site run by a charity on the site but nothing has been happening on the site other than the increasing dereliction and the growth of an unplanned urban mini-forest. What is so odd is that the council are very keen to sell off sites it no longer needs to get a capital receipt and the income that accrues to the council from the building of new houses (new homes bonus and council tax). We are wondering why this site appears to be viewed differently.

Yet, up the road, Labour are pressing ahead with their love of executive homes on the greenbelt. The site to the south of Whickham highway was removed from the protection of the greenbelt by Labour who want over 550 upmarket homes built on this area of countryside. Labour are ignoring the urban core in favour of bulldozing the greenbelt.

Photo above: Cllr Peter Maughan and Kevin McClurey outside the derelict Dunston Hill School.

Dunston Hill School derelict Oct 17 (2)

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Dunston Hill delivered

Having spent my time on Tuesday evening printing the next Dunston Hill and Lobley Hill Focus, I spent Wednesday afternoon delivering the patch there that I normally do. Annoyingly, I was 5 leaflets short. I'll have to make a return visit at some point to finish off the delivery.  The Focus leads on the news that the finalised plans for building nearly 600 executive homes at the top of Dunston Hill could be ready for a decision in December. The back page lead is about the need for action over the derelict Dunston Hill school which has been allowed to fall into ruin.

No Mates MP and her Italian Job

Laura Pidcock Journal 26 Oct 17

Last week, Conservative MP Douglas Ross was criticised for refereeing a football match in Barcelona, missing a Commons debate on Universal Credit in the process. Since all Conservative MPs were whipped to abstain, his absence from the debate made no difference to the result. Nevertheless, his appearance on the pitch rather than in Parliament attracted criticism, including from Labour MP Laura Pidcock.

Laura's fancy footwork on the Parliamentary pitch since here election as a North East MP in June included a foot-in-mouth incident in which she announced that a sort of leftwing McCarthyism would be applied to her friends - she would never allow anyone who has been or is a Conservative MP to be her friend. This posh girl's next bit of fancy footwork, leading to a Parliamentary own goal, was reported in the Newcastle Journal this morning. Having tackled Douglass Ross over his absence abroad last week, class warrior Laura decided to jet off to Venice for a couple of days (while Parliament was sitting) thus missing an emergency debate on Universal Credit. Oooops! Plenty of people have been blowing the whistle on Laura's hypocrisy. But that won't stop Laura's career progressing. She looks like an ideal candidate for promotion to the premier league of Labour politicians. The front bench beckons!

Is this an appropriate use of public funds?

When I first heard the news of the McCarthy-style letter to UK universities by Tory whip Chris Heaton-Harris asking for information on European studies and who was teaching a syllabus that did not reflect the narrow world of the Brexit extremists, my first thought was that this was a questionable use of public money. MPs can use Parliamentary stationery and postage to support their activities as a constituency MP or as a minister. I was having difficulty matching CHH's letter to any of these legitimate uses. And then today, we learnt that CHH was writing a book (presumably about Brexit). I'm not sure it will be a contender for the Booker prize and I doubt it will be a blockbuster but it does strike me that taxpayers should not be paying for the research for a book.

I'm glad to see that Tom Brake has taken up this issue. Hopefully CHH will repay the public money spent in pursuit of his book's research. It could be used as the first installment of the so-far unseen £350 million a week extra for the NHS.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Printing the next Focus

Focuses in office Oct 17

I was in the Lib Dem office in Consett again last night and tonight. Our next Focus is now ready to be delivered. I do my patch tomorrow.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Getting my hands dirty

Planting Up Whickham Oct 17 (11)

10am this morning and I was on Church Green in Whickham to help with the planting of the flower beds, organised by Planting Up Whickham. Time to get my hands very dirty. By the time we had finished, thousands of plants had gone into the ground. Thanks to everyone who took part. And thanks to St Mary's Church for the lunch!

Planting Up Whickham Oct 17 (8)

Planting Up Whickham Oct 17 (7)

Planting Up Whickham Oct 17 (5)

And yesterday Focus delivery was in.....

Delivering in Whickham South Oct 17

I was in the Whickham part of my ward yesterday with a bundle of 450 Focuses to deliver. My usual 3 patches were done and I was back home by 3.30pm. That's my deliveries done for this Focus. There will, of course, be more Focuses coming up.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Delivering Watergate Estate

Delivering Watergate Estate Oct 17

I delivered 370 Focuses this morning in Watergate Estate in Whickham. I have delivered this patch so often that I could do it with my eyes closed! Tomorrow I have another 3 patches to deliver in my own ward. Hopefully the rain will hold off.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Printing Focus

Focus printing Oct 17 (4)

I spent the morning in the Lib Dem office in Consett, printing my latest ward Focus. I returned to the office this evening to do the folding. Delivery starts tomorrow though the weather may not play ball. The lead story is the re-opening of Chase Park. Page 2 leads with the takeover of Whickham Library by volunteers. Fly-tipping and new powers to fine people is also covered. There's also a bit about Vince becoming leader of the Lib Dems.

Focus printing Oct 17 (3)

Focus printing Oct 17 (1)

Give us what we want or we'll kill ourselves

There is a strange negotiating position being proposed by the extreme Brexiteers: if the EU does not give Britain what the government demands, Britain should slash its wrists. In other words, Britain should have all the advantages of a membership of the club without having to pay the membership fee and without having to abide by any of the rules that go with being in the club. And if the EU should not acquiesce to these demands, Britain should walk away without a deal in some kind of peacetime Dunkirk. It's interesting to listen to the extreme Brexiteers explain their thinking. Apparently, the EU needs us more than the UK needs the EU. This argument is based simply on the fact that the EU sells more to us than the UK sells to the EU. Somehow, in the eyes of these people, the UK is an economic superpower rather than the middle ranking power that we are. These people in effect suffer from a political inferiority complex.

The EU has a population more than 7 times that of the UK. The EU economy, even without the UK, is the biggest in the world. As part of the EU, we magnify our national power but outside, we face an economic superpower, the EU, that can largely dictate the agenda. The extreme Brexiteers cannot explain why it is that the UK in the negotiations is having to answer to the EU, not the other way round. If their make-believe world were real, the EU would have to accept our terms, not the other way round.

So a no-deal Brexit is being touted by the extremists. Their inferiority complex is pushing the government to threaten an economic suicide for our nation. The danger now is that these extremist notions will start to get traction within this shambolic government.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Say hello, wave goodbye - the boundary proposals for Gateshead

I attended the Gateshead East Lib Dem branch meeting to give a report as Leader of the Opposition on Gateshead Council last night. An interesting discussion took place on the boundary proposals for the Gateshead constituencies. I have to confess, I had not had time to see them before going to the meeting so members there gave me the details. Given the Parliamentary arithmetic of the current House of Commons, it is not clear yet whether or not the DUP, or indeed many Conservatives, will allow the proposals to go through. It may be a case of saying hello to them and then waving them goodbye, just like the Soft Cell song that takes me back to the 1980s. Nevertheless, we need to proceed on the basis that they will be implemented.

The previous proposals of the Boundary Commission, which were put forward last year effectively took a wrecking ball to Blaydon constituency. Two towns in the constituency would have been split up, one ward was to be joined up with a gigantic Durham county constituency the size of a small country and a chunk of Newcastle was to be added in. A large part of Gateshead constituency was due to be merged with Jarrow but individual wards would have been flung off elsewhere. There would not be a single constituency that would have been wholly in Gateshead. Dog's dinner is a description that springs to mind.

The revised proposals show some improvement. There is now to be a Gateshead West constituency based geographically on Whickham and the Team Valley. Blaydon will be less fragmented but loses Birtley and Whickham to Gateshead West while picking up 5 wards in western Newcastle and Burnopfield from County Durham. The 5 wards in the Felling area becomes part of Jarrow (not that unusual a move as two of the wards are already in that constituency.)

There will now follow 6 weeks of shouting, grumbling, unhappiness and so on during the consultation on the proposals. Assuming they go forward to be implemented, and at the moment that's quite a big assumption, watch out for the bloodbath as Labour use the opportunity to cull their more sensible social democrat MPs in favour of those who are lovingly signed up to the Corbynistas' socialist revolution (Venezuela style).

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Saltwell Park in top ten

Gateshead's main park, Saltwell, has been voted into the top ten parks in the UK. "The People's Choice" competition was run by Keep Britain Tidy and 73,000 people nominated their favourite. Well done to the staff and to the Friends of Saltwell Park group which was, it is fair to say, the model for Friends of Chase Park in Whickham which was set up more recently. The existence of friends groups is often crucial when applying for funding for improvements and new facilities.

Labour however are planning to sell off part of Chase Park for housing, including one of the entrances. We are still fighting them on this.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Volunteering with Planting Up Whickham

This morning I headed down to Whickham to help Planting Up Whickham carry out a maintenance day on Church Green. The flower beds were stripped and my job was to transfer all the dumpy bags of garden waste to the compost heap in Chase Park. This job always falls to the person with the biggest land rover! I could not stay for long however. I had a meeting of the Whinnies Allotment Society at 11am where I was re-elected to the committee. I'm clearly living the high life!

North East for Europe Rally

North East in Europe Rally Oct 17 11

Yesterday afternoon I attended the North East for Europe rally in Newcastle. 2 hours of speeches. Lord John Shipley was the Lib Dem speaker. Good speeches also by Natalie Bennett, former Green Leader, and North East MEP Jude Kirton-Darling. Former Gateshead East MP Joyce Quinn was also a speaker as well. Labour speakers at pro-Europe rallies must be in a difficult position. Labour are split on Europe and their current show of unity is a mirage which they can only get away with because the Conservatives are making such a mess of Brexit negotiations.

Two hecklers added their thoughts to the proceedings. The first claimed that everything said at the rally was "all lies". (Don't mention £350 million for the NHS. I did, but I think I got away with it!) The second heckler shouted about how we beat all those Europeans in the Second World War. (I wasn't aware that we had been at war with all Europeans, especially the French.)

The rally ended with calls for a referendum on the Brexit terms (not something I heard the Labour speakers demand) ringing in our ears. Alas, it's not just the Conservative government that needs to be persuaded of this. Brexit supporting Corbyn needs to be persuaded. And at the moment he's not budging from the bed he is sharing with the Conservatives on this.

North East in Europe Rally Oct 17 5

North East in Europe Rally Oct 17 1

North East in Europe Rally Oct 17 2

North East in Europe Rally Oct 17 3

Friday, October 13, 2017

Ryton Focus delivery

Ryton Focus Oct 17

It has been a few weeks since I last delivered a Focus newsletter and I was feeling the withdrawal symptoms. Yesterday I got some significant relief when I went to Ryton and delivered 500 copies of our latest ward Focus. I now feel so much better!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

"I know nothing"

Tyne Bridge Apr 16

"I know nothing" was one of the famous lines from "Fawlty Towers". Manuel tells everyone he knew nothing of Basil's winnings on a horse-racing bet. In what appears to be a repeat of the classic series, Gateshead Council's Labour leader Martin Gannon announced over the weekend that he "knows nothing" of the discussions that have been taking place between the government and the three north of the Tyne authorities about devolution. I have a lot of time for Martin (I appreciate that in Labour's ranks, that could be the kiss of death) but on the devolution issue, we are poles apart.

Martin led the opposition within Labour to the devolution settlement offered to the North East Combined Authority in 2015. At one point we were in the situation that the rest of the region would press ahead with devolution leaving Gateshead behind. Then the other 3 south of the Tyne councils backed away from devolution to general acclimation from sections of the Labour party which take more pleasure in kicking the government than they do with achieving anything positive for the North East. Yet there were sections of the Labour Party not happy with the dinosaur approach of their southern cousins. The three north authorities therefore opened up discussions with the government for a separate devolution settlement which would smash the region into two pieces. The bridges across the Tyne join the region up. If a split devolution settlement goes through, these bridges will form the border instead.

A split devolution settlement will leave the North East significantly weakened. Devolution is meant to take on functions such as transport and planning. North and south of the Tyne are fully integrated in terms of transport. Planning issues in Gateshead directly affect Newcastle and visa versa. The point of devolution is to bring functions together and away from government departmental silos. A split devolution settlement will be like an engine with 6 cylinders but only 3 of them working, therefore unable to drive forward the region.

It is worrying that Martin was telling the media over the weekend that he knows nothing of the contents of the north of Tyne proposals. He should get a grip and find out what's happening because what will be decided north of the Tyne will directly affect us here, more so than any other of the south councils. Labour have torn themselves apart unnecessarily over the devolution plans. Don't let them tear apart the region, with the help of the Tories, as well.

This really makes my blood boil!

Fly tipping Sandy Lonnen Oct 17 (5)

I discovered this heap of rubbish on the Sandy Lonnen, near Whickham, yesterday morning. Those who engage in the vile, selfish, anti-social, irresponsible, thoughtless, nasty, reckless, disgusting activity of fly-tipping deserve everything they get when they are caught and prosecuted. They really make my blood boil. I checked through some of the dumped packaging but couldn't find anything that identifies the culprit. I've reported the incident to the council and hopefully it will be removed soon.

Fly tipping Sandy Lonnen Oct 17 (3)

Fly tipping Sandy Lonnen Oct 17 (1)

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

We have lost our balls

Theresa May tells us that on Brexit, "The ball is in their [EU's] court." Meanwhile, the EU Commission's Margaritis Schinas tells us, "The ball is entirely in the UK's court." Both can't be right. The missing balls highlight the overriding problem the UK faces in the negotiations. Forget the fantasy world in which the extreme Brexiteers believe we are a massively powerful nation on the world stage only held back from our superpower status by our membership of the EU. The reality is that we are a middle ranking power whose membership of the EU made us part of the most influential and powerful international organisation on the planet. Compared to the EU, we are small. Therefore, the negotiations are between a modest ranking power and a giant. Far from the EU begging us for a free trade deal and their needing us more that we need them, as claimed by the Brexit extremists, the reality is that the UK will have to make the vast majority of the concessions. Far from taking control, the UK will be under the direct influence of the EU and, thanks to our withdrawal from EU institutions, we will have no direct influence on the decisions of the EU.

The reality of this situation is dawning on the Tories. So far they have backed down on everything: payments to the EU, parallel discussion of the divorce settlement and future trading relations, a transition period and so on. The Conservatives (and Brexit loving people in Labour such as Corbyn) can whack their balls into the EU's court but the advantage lies largely with the EU.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Looking at the issues surrounding Universal Credit

We had a presentation this week at Gateshead Civic Centre about the role out of Universal Credit. Later this month, UC will arrive fully in Gateshead. The presentation looked at how UC has been created from the merger of 6 separate benefits and will be paid monthly in an attempt to reflect the circumstances of those in work who receive their pay and have to budget a month at a time. I have no particular problem with that but the key issues in my view are the 6 week delay in making the first payment and the rejection of most applications to have the housing benefit element paid directly to landlords (in many circumstances they are social landlords).

Whatever the reason for a household being on the breadline, failing to pay benefits for 6 weeks simply makes a bad situation worse and in no way reflects the typical circumstances of households in employment. While it is typical for someone's salary to be paid partly in arrears, there must be very few employers who pay two week after the end of the month.

Where pilot schemes for paying UC have already gone ahead, rent arrears have mounted. I did ask at the presentation what the outcomes of applications for direct payments to landlords were but the answer was that nearly all are rejected. Since the taxpayer is providing this money to cover a person's rent, it seems reasonable to require that the money is actually used for the rent payments rather than other purposes. Ideally, the recipient should be budgeting for this but if, for whatever reason, they don't, the taxpayer, footing the bill for this benefit, should have a realistic expectation that the money they pay for a recipient's rent is used for that purpose.

So, ending the 6 week delay and allowing more direct payment of rents are two key issues to solve before UC will work properly.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Urban garden in Gateshead

Gateshead Quays Dec 16 (2)

On Thursday I attended a meeting of the Gateshead Newcastle Partnership at the Civic Centre. One of the issues to consider was the proposal for a temporary urban garden at Hillgate, on the Gateshead Quays, which will coincide with the Great North Exhibition next year. Much of the garden will be built from disused shipping containers. There will be the inevitable shops, bars and cafes incorporated into the plans but it looks to be an interesting addition to what will be on offer during the Exhibition. No cost will fall on the taxpayer so Gateshead will not be footing the bill. I suggested the garden should become permanent rather than temporary. I live in hope!

Checking out the Chase Park improvements

Whickham windmill Chase Park Oct 17 (2)

I paid a visit to Chase Park in Whickham yesterday to have a look at the results of the renovation work that has now been completed. I was here a couple of weeks ago at the official re-opening event but as I had a stall to run and a goat to look after, I did not get to see the improvements. Yesterday I was able to walk around the park and see for myself what's been done. Everyone can be justly proud of what's been done, especially the Friends of Chase Park under whose management the work took place. So here are a few of the photos I took.

Chase Park Whickham Oct 17 (1)

Chase Park Whickham Oct 17 (5)

Chase Park Whickham Oct 17 (7)

Chase Park Whickham Oct 17 (9)

Chase Park Whickham Oct 17 (11)

Self-Sufficient in Suburbia summer edition

When I'm not doing politics, I spend my time living the good life, growing my own food and doing my bit to protect the environment by living more sustainably. During the general election, this was the issue on which Labour chose to attack me. As is so often the case with all those "socialists" from relatively well-heeled backgrounds, they talk the talk of living in a particular way, but don't walk the walk. 

Anyway, I want to motivate others to do their bit as well so I produce a regular video about our self-sufficiency activities called "Self-Sufficient in Suburbia". I finished editing this one yesterday, covering the summer months. It includes the arrival of our new bees, lots of recipes (pigeon burgers, fish pie, quail egg salads etc), surplus produce swaps, a visit to the Glendale Show and lambs to slaughter, plus lots more.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Monarch collapse shows UK flying too close to the sun

The collapse of the airline operator Monarch earlier this week cannot entirely be blamed on Brexit. The terror threats to Tunisia and Turkey effectively closed down the company's more profitable routes, leaving Monarch to try to earn a living on the highly competitive routes to places such as Spain and Portugal. However, the company also had to carry the increased costs of Brexit caused by the fall in the value of the pound after the referendum.

The future of the UK airline industry will be hit hard if the UK collapses out of the EU without a deal. The Open Skies policy will no longer apply to Britain and our carriers will have difficulty operating in the huge European market. Some companies have already started to shift their operations and HQ functions abroad (well done to the Brexit extremists for exporting our jobs). Air travel is a classic example of how nations need to cooperate and work together within international agreements and structures. The Brexit fantasists who believe we can simply leave the EU without a deal have not yet answered the question about how Britain will be able to continue functioning if we have been cut off from Europe. We may get the answer to that in March 2019 when it's too late to stop a slide over the cliff edge. The collapse of Monarch will simply be a bad bumpy landing in comparison.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Is this the beginning of the end?

I was one of those who, up to today, believed that Theresa May would stay on as Prime Minister at least until the UK had left the EU in March 2019. The Conservatives would then choose a new leader and then struggle on to the end of the Parliament, avoiding the risk of the election and hoping time would expose the Corbyn Labour Party for the unrealistic dreamers they have become. I am now changing my mind.

After today's speech by May to the Conservative conference, an event more akin to an episode of "The Thick Of It", the likelihood of an imminent Prime Ministerial resignation has grown. With her set falling apart around her, her choking on her words and a prankster whose fake P45 will probably be on most of the front pages of the press tomorrow morning, standing ovations from her cabinet colleagues may not be enough to save her. I almost feel sorry for her - almost but not quite. Her predicament was brought on by a serious miscalculation on her behalf. She sought to bounce the British public into giving her a greatly increased majority by crushing the opposition through an unnecessary snap election. She came out weaker. Sympathy is in very short supply.

The Boris Johnson vultures are circling. Perhaps she will soon be picking up her P45 after all.

Take pride in your roaring lion

lion Kenya Nov 07 no 2

Britain has been rather successful at adopting as our own, foreign symbols which in reality have origins that have nothing to do with our home islands. For example, St George, patron saint of England, was Turkish; Christianity, originating in the Middle Eastern provinces of the Roman Empire, was brought to Britain by the Romans and again later by European missionaries; lions, native to Africa and a very few small areas of Asia, have become our national symbol. It was noticeable that UKIP over the weekend launched their new symbol, a lion, to replace the pound (presumably because of the slide in its value since the referendum!) There was a great deal of ribbing on social media about UKIP's decision to adopt a foreign animal rather than giving the role to our native fauna (hedgehogs were suggested as a British alternative).

So now we have Boris Johnson calling for the British lion to "roar" after Brexit. The lone British lion is a mighty beast, through Johnson's Brexit-tinted spectacles, able to live as a mighty independent animal free to wander and hunt at will, unshackled by the constraints of Europe. I wonder however whether Johnson is aware of how lions actually live. They live together in prides because being in a bigger group is more effective and gives a better chance of survival for each individual lion. Animals that leave the pride tend not to survive for long.

Looking at the plans for Beamish at Sunniside History Society

We had a great issue to consider last night at the monthly meeting of the Sunniside History Society in Sunniside Club. Nick Butterley, project manager at Beamish Museum, gave us a fascinating presentation about the new developments which are now moving on from the planning stage to the actual cutting of turf and laying of foundations. Over the next four years, a 1950s town, extensions to the mining village and a Georgian coaching inn will be built. The houses in the 1950s town are airey homes from Kibblesworth. The first building expected to be completed will be the community centre but there will also be a cinema. I am particularly looking forward to riding on the trolley bus. One of the worst decisions taken by local and central government a couple of generations ago was to scrap trolley buses in favour of the combustion engine.

The presentation resulted in a great many questions from the audience, not surprisingly. Role on next June when the first new exhibit is expected to be opened.

The second section of the meeting was a viewing of the DVD we have made about the Fugar Hidden History project which was well received. We will be making copies of the DVD for sale over the coming weeks.

Monday, October 02, 2017

The roundabout from hell - but not yet

Heworth roundabout Oct 17 (2)

I had a meeting this afternoon in Gateshead Civic Centre. My colleague Cllr Ian Patterson was there as well. So when the meeting was over, I gave him a lift back to Pelaw. Such car rides can often turn into useful catch-up sessions during which my group members can tell me all about what's happening in their ward. So Ian used the opportunity to update me on the plans for replacing the Heworth roundabout on the Felling by-pass. Work will not now begin until after Christmas. The roundabout will disappear and water proofing repairs will take place to the railway bridge.

When the work does begin, it will be the nightmare roundabout from hell, best avoided.

Heworth roundabout Oct 17 (1)

Calling time on tower blocks?

In Gateshead we are in the unusual situation of having council house rents that are higher than those in the private rented sector. There has also been a rise in the number of vacant council properties.  At the start of April, there were 502 vacant council properties compared to 441 at the start of April 2016. 124 of these empty homes (25% of all vacant properties) were located in four tower blocks: Eslington Court, Redheugh Court, Regent Court and Warwick Court. Meanwhile, demand remains strong for council owned bungalows and family homes.

With such a concentration of voids in four tower blocks, we have to ask ourselves whether or not we should retain them when they are so difficult to rent out. In effect, money is going into keeping empty properties which we have no realistic chance of filling with new tenants.

This was precisely the point I raised at full council on 28th September. I added to it the likely cost of additional work that will almost certainly result from the Grenfell inquiry. To be fair to Martin Gannon, leader of the council, he accepted that the future of difficult-to-let blocks needs to be reviewed and work is now underway on looking into this.

Demolition may or may not be the solution but my ideal scenario is that the blocks are retained as housing though the likelihood of retaining them in the social rented sector is remote. It may be that to retain housing stock in Gateshead (we lose government funding if we have a net loss of housing), we may have to look to transfer them to the private sector. One further possibility could be that the council continues to retain ownership but invests in a refurbishment that results in flats that are let at a market rate, therefore outside the social sector. This has a number of advantages: the rents will provide an income to the council and housing will definitely be retained in the borough. The drawback is that the council carries the risk if the venture is not a success. This scheme is not all that fanciful. The council is preparing to do exactly the same with the Derwentside former aged persons unit which is to be converted into apartments to be let at a market rent.

I returned to the issue of the future of council tower blocks this afternoon in a meeting about Gateshead's preparations for a Grenfell type event in the borough. The future of these buildings is yet to be decided but much thought needs to go into what is a difficult issue to tackle.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Learn about Beamish Museum's plans on Tuesday

Beamish Museum June 2017 (1)

Beamish Museum have great plans for new developments, including a 1950s town and a Georgian coaching inn. Find out more with the Museum's presentation to Sunniside History Society, 7 for 7.30pm on Tuesday 3rd October at Sunniside Club. £1/person. All welcome.

Launching the Fugar Project DVD

Sunniside History Society Fugar DVD launch Sept 17 (3)

As the new chairman of the Sunniside History Society, I attended an event yesterday morning to launch the DVD about the Fugar History Project, our biggest piece of work over the past 3 years. The society got a grant of £10,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the production of the DVD was the final part of the project.

The launch event went ahead at the Marquis of Granby, next door to Fugar. Those invited were the people directly involved with the project, plus the chairman of the Oak and Iron project John Rundle, and MP for Blaydon, Liz Twist: yes we do get on despite politics!

On Tuesday, at the society's monthly meeting, we will be showing the DVD again so that members will be able to view it.

Sunniside History Society Fugar DVD launch Sept 17 (2)

Meanwhile, I was able to present Colin Douglas, my predecessor as chairman, with a bouquet of flowers as a thank you for his 17 years in the role. He is going to be a hard act to follow!

Pie, peas and 3rd place in Swalwell quiz

Swalwell pie and pea supper Sept 17

Friday evening saw the latest quiz at the Swalwell Community Centre, complete with pie and peas. This is the third one we've done. At the first one we came out on top. In the 2nd, we were runners up. On Friday, you guessed it, we came third. At current rate of progress, we are expect to be in last place within a year!

Macmillan coffee and cakes at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital

Macmillan coffee morning QE Hospital Sept 17 2

Two good reasons to visit ward 11 of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead on Friday. Firstly the nursing staff had organised a Macmillan coffee and cakes event. I used the opportunity to stock up with cakes. Secondly, my friend Richard (I am his carer) had been told he was being discharged and so I needed to collect him to take him home. So thanks to the staff for the cakes and for looking after Richard over the past month.

Macmillan coffee morning QE Hospital Sept 17 3

Macmillan coffee morning QE Hospital Sept 17 1