Monday, May 29, 2006
Life in Opposition
Obviously the Tories have all the Cabinet portfolios, although they've created some strange and challenging ones! "Housing & Communities" covers a multitude of sins and I wonder whether the new Portfolio holder really appreciates what he's let himself in for.
Back in the good old days (i.e. last month) when we were still running things, we had a LibDem cabinet and opposition members, mostly Tories, chairing the various Scrutiny Panels. We also had an Independent councillor as Chair of Planning Development Control. It seems to make sense in this new age of cabinets and scrutiny for the opposition to have a significant role in the scrutiny process. Not any more! The new administration has given the Chair of Principal Scrutiny to a LibDem (as required by the Council's constitution), one other Chair to an Independent and kept the rest for themselves. I suppose scrutiny is so much nicer when it's done by your friends. Our new Cabinet seems to think so.
Monday, May 22, 2006
St Swithun's Day comes early to Winchester
Swithun's alleged relationship with rain is well known - if it rains on St Swithun's Day (15 July) it's supposed to rain for forty days. Ever since I wrote a piece for this blog about the south of England drought and hanging baskets in Winchester it has rained every day.
Has St Swithun's Day come early to Winchester this year? Is it my fault?
I hope not.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Hanging Baskets - the Controversy!
Yes, it's finally time to take a stand on one of the big issues for Winchester. Hanging baskets - tourist attraction or waste of scarce water?
Like most people, I appreciate the floral displays in the city. They certainly add colour and variety to shops and offices in the city centre. These displays have been subsidised by the City Council (when it was still under our control) to the extent of buying and selling on to businesses the planted baskets and troughs; and more significantly through maintaining and watering them throughout the summer.
We were able to identify funding for this for the next two years and planned to work out new arrangements with "Winchester in Bloom" for the future.
The south of England drought caused us to re-think the issue of hanging baskets. These are far less water efficient than troughs and were felt to be environmentally irresponsible in this year's circumstances. So, controversially, it was announced that the City Council would not be subsidising hanging baskets this summer.
Now, the new Tory administration has apparently decided to go ahead with hanging baskets anyway. We will be pressing them to do this in as water efficient a way as possible. If drought measures come into force, as many fear, we could see withered and dying flowers in the baskets in our city. Not exactly Winchester in bloom and not a much of an advert for the new "environmental" Conservative party!
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Annual report from Cllr Brian Collin
Over the past 12 months, I have had the honour to serve on the City Council’s Cabinet. My portfolio has been “Healthy and Inclusive Communities”. Not reflected in the name is a lead role on Community Safety or, as the Government puts it “Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships”. I prefer to think positively about it and call it community safety.
We have had a very good year on Community Safety.
The new licensing laws (sometimes labelled 24-hour drinking – though no pubs in Winchester applied for 24-hour drinking) were implemented successfully. There were no administrative hitches. And at worst, nothing changed. In truth it seems as though the City Centre is slightly better now as the numbers of people all coming out of pubs at once has gone down and the same number of taxis are able to get more of them home safely and without fuss.
We have focussed on responsible drinking. The first item in our Community Safety Strategy is to Create a Safe and Enjoyable Late Evening economy. Drinking is fun, for most people most of the time. Drinking to excess causes problems and we held a very successful Community Safety conference which got all partners and representatives of the community (people from OB Neighbourhood Watch attended as well as the Chair of BF Parish Council). WE heard from young people and 20-somethings about novel ways of getting younger drinkers to ensure they reduce the risks they take when going out for a longer time to drink and ensure they get home safely. The medical message was also there strongly.
The police have had an excellent year in reducing overall crime slightly more than their target figure. Violent Crime has gone down in the City area by 30% this year alone. We are hoping and working to make sure that’s a permanent reduction and not just a fortunate downward blip.
I am also proud of the record of the Council last year in Social Inclusion.
We successfully implemented the Neighbourhod Warden Scheme in Highcliffe and Stanmore. There were 3 wardens and their manager and they’ve made a visible difference to the communities there. There’s less anti-social behaviour; less vandalism and graffiti and what does happen is cleared away quickly. The wardens engage with young people and sometimes even arrange for things they can do – such as football competitions in the summer holidays. They’re in this section on Social Inclusion, but they have a major impact on Community Safety too.
In Highcliffe, led by the Wardens, we implemented a Teen Shelter. For years – generations, kids had been hanging out in an area called “the Circle”. In previous generations, there was less on-street parking – fewer people had cars. Now the Circle is too congested to play and we had complaints of damage to vehicles and, when the residents remonstrated with the youths, they were confronted by foul and insulting language. This is now a thing of the past. The Teens have their own area and so far they are treating it with the respect it deserves. The wardens will make sure they keep it well.
We implemented the Alcohol Exclusion Zone in the City Centre and Orams Arbour. This removed all the on-street drinkers and drunks from the High Street and Abbey Gardens. Abbey Gardens is now a pleasant place to sit, relax and have sandwiches at lunchtime or sit and chat in the evening. There are no drunks there. We have had some displacement issues into the River Park area and we are now investigating what should be done about it.
I have had responsibilities for the development of new communities. There are three major ones in the City Council’s area; Whiteley, Knowle and the future major development of 2-3,000 houses West of Waterlooville. I took over the West of Waterlooville Forum which was in a very difficult situation. It’s a combined body for Havant members (Waterlooville is in Havant but the development area is in the Winchester District) and Winchester and County members to discuss the new community and I’m pleased to report that it was a success this year. We did all the things needed to plan for the new community and the developer, who until January had been rather truculent and not particularly cooperative has changed their project personnel and has come up with an imaginative and very appropriate design for the new community which I’m sure is an improvement.
In Health, we have continued to make progress involving many new initiatives and the overall partnership can claim to be ahead of the targets set for health improvement and avoidance of disease.
So I’m claiming that my portfolio has made significant improvements to the lot of the citizens of Winchester and therefore of Olivers Battery over the past year.
Other areas of the City Council’s work have also gone on. Planning and Development Control are important areas and we have seen earlier this year, the publication of our Local Plan. This was a success for Olivers Battery in that it ruled out for another 6 years any development in the fields to the south and east of Olivers Battery, rising towards Yew Hill. I am grateful for the support of many residents in writing to the Inspector to ensure he heard your voices in support of the City Council’s plan that that area should remain countryside and not be developed.
You will hear about waste disposal from David Baordman this evening, so I won’t go into that in this statement. We had a visit from East Hants District Council (which happens to have a Conservative administration) and from Eastleigh (Lib Dem) who both have a similar collection system and they both declared that our system was better than theirs. We have high hopes for improved recycling rates and less landfill.
There has been a multitude of individual case work issues for me and David Spender to attend to. I’m always pleased to be helpful to anyone.
Sunday, May 07, 2006
Report to Oliver's Battery Annual Parish Meeting
City Councillor’s Report to Oliver’s Battery Annual Parish Meeting
8th May 2006
Not so much an “Annual Report” but a “6 Month Progress Update” in my particular case. Robin Darbyshire moved to London in August 2005 and, naturally, resigned as one of our city councillors. I was delighted to be selected as the Liberal Democrat candidate for the by-election that took place on 29th September; and even more delighted to win.
Since then, I have been learning my way around the City Council and reporting regularly to the Parish Council’s monthly meetings. I serve on three of Winchester City’s new Scrutiny Panels: Environment, Local Economy and Resources. These are the mechanism by which backbench councillors, such as me, can watch over the work of council departments and hold members of the City’s Cabinet to account.
I have also been active in promoting the needs of Oliver’s Battery, together with my City Council colleague Brian Collin and our County Councillor Charlotte Bailey. Issues that I have been dealing with include:
Uneven pavements in Oliver’s Battery Road South (with Charlotte)
The need for a hard surface by the Sunnydown Road bus stop (also with Charlotte)
Campaigning to protect the No 5 Bus Service (with Brian & Charlotte)
Rubbish by the shops
Rubbish in Badger Farm Road
Possible new sporting uses of the Recreation Ground (with the Parish Council)
Implications of the new Bus Passes for the Over 60s (with Brian)
Repair and replacement of street signs
The new Southern Park & Ride site near to Junction 11 of the M3 and possible effects on OB (with Brian)
On the latter topic, I was pleased that Brian, Charlotte and I were all able to join representatives of the Parish Council at a Briefing Meeting with the County’s Environment Department. The public consultation period on the new Park & Ride site is scheduled to begin in May and will provide a good opportunity for residents to make their views known. I certainly had the impression from the meeting that the county was still capable of being influenced on site selection and some of the details. Overall I believe the new proposals will be a benefit to those of us who live in this parish. Reducing traffic on Badger Farm Road and improving the Oliver’s Battery Road South junction are both likely outcomes of this 3-4 year project.
Brian Collin and I are now holding a regular monthly “Councillors Advice Centre”. This takes place at Badger Farm Community Centre (next to Sainsburys) on the 2nd Monday of every month from 6.30 to 7.15 pm. Please feel free to drop in if you have any questions or issues you’d like to raise.
In an attempt to find more ways to communicate with local residents I have now become a “blogger”. For the uninitiated among us, this means that I have created a Web Log or online journal. It’s an opportunity for me to comment on issues relating to our area and to the City as a whole and gives readers the chance of responding too.
You can find it at obbfcouncillor.blogspot.com
Finally, I’d like to pay tribute to Brian Collin for his support, guidance and sheer experience, all of which have helped me through my first 6 months as one of your City Councillors.
Friday, May 05, 2006
The morning after.....
Liberal Democrats (Brian Collin) 837
Percentage Turnout 54%
LIBERAL DEMOCRAT HOLD
....which after 3 recounts came as quite a relief. The full results are at http://www.winchester.gov.uk/General.asp?id=SX9452-A781A657
Not a good night from a Liberal Democrat perspective. The Tories now control Winchester for the first time since 1987 and we find ourselves in opposition. Well, that's politics! A big thank you to the people of Olivers Battery and Badger Farm for helping see off the toughest Tory challenge we've ever faced.
Strange story of the night, as yet unresolved. Apparently the hot sealing wax used to seal the ballot box in Bishops Waltham got into the box and set the ballot papers on fire. Water was then poured in to extinguish the flames! The count for Bishops Waltham (an Independent held seat) has been postponed until 10.30 this morning. I wonder how the counters will cope with charred and soggy ballots?
Thursday, May 04, 2006
Still time to vote!
Must go now, work to be done!