Tuesday, 24 January 2012

City Beach

On Thursday, the Independent report into City Beach comissioned in September will be discussed at cabinet and will then go through the scrutiny system.

Firstly I think it is important to immediately dispel the myth that this report was only commissioned as a reaction to criticisms of City Beach, mostly unjust and unwarranted in my opinion, as it was always the intention to conduct a review after the summer period.

The Independent report undertaken by John Dales at Urban Movement is certainly comprehensive and covers every aspect of the scheme in detail. It was interesting that a key point of the report suggests that the term ‘shared space’ should not have been used as people do not like the concept rather than the actual design of the road.

This theory may have some merit as the High Street is ‘shared space’ in all but name and yet nobody has batted an eyelid.

In my view it is immaterial what the scheme is called but what ultimately matters is that this administration had the conviction to invest and regenerate in our seafront and respond with a scheme that is safe, well liked and a major improvement to how Marine Parade operated previously which I am pleased has been acknowledged in this report.

This report has also vindicated the original decision to have no formal crossing point between the Kursaal and Pier Hill and the report confirms that there is no evidence to suggest that no formal crossing in this area makes the scheme unsafe.

In addition to the recommendations on monitoring and communication the report makes six recommendations, which includes the enhancement of the existing informal pedestrian crossing facilities to courtesy crossings, where some adjustments to the design of the scheme need to be made.

It is only right that if an Independent Report is commissioned that you agree to implement all of its findings in full and I reiterate that commitment made at Full Council in December.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Parking on Pavements

Earlier this month the Traffic & Parking Working Party passed new measures to prevent parking on pavements in roads where cars continually obstruct pedestrians and have caused damage to the grass verge of footpath.

It was argued by some members that there should be a blanket ban on parking on pavements like there is in London but it was generally excepted that this would be too draconian and should only be applied to road where there is a significant problem. It was recognised by the committee that there are some roads in town that parking on the pavement was a necessity on very narrow road.

It was ultimately agreed that the council will introduce pavement parking restrictions when:

• There is evidence of a problem demonstrated by at least 5 complaints during the last 12 months or clear damage to footways or verges caused by parked cars

• Legitimate on street parking will not result in the obstruction of traffic (i.e. where there is an ideal carriageway width of 7.3m (recommended DfT guidelines) and no less than 7m

• There are no existing waiting restrictions or such plans under consideration

• Existing waiting restrictions exist, but short term loading / unloading occurs with vehicles on the footways (e.g. London Road)

• The scheme has the support of all Ward Councillors

If any resident feels that their road could benefit from these new restrictions then please get in touch and let me know.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Council Budget 2012 - 2013

Much has been said on the state of the national economy and as a result all local authorities from Lands End to John O’Groats are faced with making difficult decisions for the next financial year.

The economic situation across Europe has worsened and you only have to switch on the news or look at a paper to realise we’re nowhere near out of the woods yet. We didn’t get ourselves into this financial mess but we’ve got to be responsible for doing our bit to help the country get out of it.

This authority had begun the process of identifying efficiencies for the next financial year well before the current financial disaster struck and we were in a more favourable position than some others.

Around a third of the savings required of us have been achieved by our officers re-negotiating contracts and other corporate work stream initiatives which means that no leisure centres, arts or cultural facilities have had to be closed, weekly refuse collections are retained and we are proposing to ease the financial burden on hard pressed families by freezing Council tax, car parking costs and many other fees and charges.

Despite these tough times we still want to invest in the town and from within the Capital Budget the Conservative Administration is finding capital for the Cliff slip in the area where the proposed museum would go, for the Pier, our world famous landmark and for a much needed extra primary school and money to support our existing primaries under the pressure of higher pupil numbers.

Although we were required to make slightly less savings and efficiencies for the next financial year, no cost reduction measures are welcome or nice but we still have a responsibility to ensure that the authority lives within its means and remains sensible by not borrowing to fund day-to-day expenditure.

Blogging on Blogging

In June this year this blog will celebrate its third birthday. With the rise in use of social media, blogging has become an important way in which an elected politician or activist can communicate with residents.

Whilst there can be many pitfuls for politicians using social media I strongly believe that blogging has helped the public engage in genuine political debate.

I was pleased to see an article in the Southend Echo this week to reflect this growing trend. As the article mentioned, there are currently six councillors in Southend which use this medium to communicate with residents but I can claim with some pride to be the first southend councillor to start this trend.  

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Southend in Bloom

In my council mail yesterday I received a very nice letter from the Chairman of Southend in Bloom asking if I could help publicise and promote their annual competition.

The main objective of Southend in Bloom is to encourage residents to take pride in our town by creating and maintaining their front gardens and allotments. Southend in Bloom award prizes for the very best in their annual competition which forms part of the Royal Horticultural Society's Anglia in Bloom scheme.

I'm not sure how many residents are aware that Southend was awarded the silver medal last year.

From hanging baskets outside front doors to the neatest front garden, every little helps in improving our surrounding. I am happy to oblige in supporting this community spirited cause. Further information for Southend in Bloom can be found at   

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Councillors Allowances & Expenses

I mentioned in a blog post yesterday that I do believe that on the whole councillors in Southend have honest intentions and try to do their best for the town and the residents that they represent. I fully support complete transparency on allowances and expenses for elected politicians. So, this is a list of what it is possible to claim and what I do actually claim, with some notes for clarification and personal opinion.

Basic Allowance: Each elected councillor gets £8,402.00 per annum (before tax and National Insurance). My weekly council work varies based on how many local issues I am dealing with and how many meetings/committees are being held that week.

Special Responsibility Allowance: Since my promotion to the cabinet as the portfolio holder for Public Protection, Waste and Transport I receive an additional £10,503 (before tax and National Insurance) to cover the additional responsibility and workload.

I estimate that on average I am officially working on an average 25-30 hours per week. As I am also employed full time my allowances are taxed at the 40% tax rate.

Travel & Parking: Councillors are unable to claim for travel whilst on official council business within the borough. As part of my duties I have to on occasions attend meetings in London, Essex CC, Thurrock, Cambridge and sometimes at Norfolk CC. I could claim out of borough travel and car parking expenses but I choose not to.

I am also happy to put on record that I also receive a car parking permit (All members are entitled to this) whilst on official council business within the borough – and yes I do lead by example and pay for car parking when using car parks whilst not on council duty. Having a parking permit does not allow me to park in banned areas, such as roads with double yellow lines, or take up two or more spaces in a car park.

Communications: I strongly believe that my communications with constituents are vital and that that councillors should be as accessible as possible. All councillors are entitled to a telephone line for calls that need to be made for council business as well as a council provided laptop and internet connection. As I can access all my council emails through an online system, my home computer is adequate to the job so I do not have a council laptop and pay for my own internet connection. I also choose not to have a council blackberry as a portfolio holder.

What I do not claim:

Carer’s Allowance: Although I have a young daughter and occasionally need child care to cover when I am at meetings – I have never claimed, nor will ever claim any ‘carers allowance’. It is there to help more varied people become councillors which is laudible. But I do not need it and so will not claim it.

Out of Borough Subsistence: It is possible to claim for food during meal times and accommodation when you are on county council business. I do not and will not

Local Government Pension Scheme: The local government pension scheme is a generous one, as with most public sector pensions. No Southend councillor is entitled to join this scheme.

Councillors Meals: Although it wasn’t always the case, any councillors meals before any evening council meeting are not funded by the taxpayer and is not an allowance.

What I Spend Myself: All costs associated with my Street Surgeries are paid for out of my own pocket. As are dry-cleaning of suits I wear to many official meetings and functions that I attend as a councillor, web costs involved with keeping this (and other) sites running – and the time I spend maintaining them.

There are many, many additional costs that are incurred by doing the councillor job properly including leaflets and literature to residents. Again – no complaint from me. I love the job and do not begrudge a penny of it.

I am honored that West Shoebury residents have put their trust in me to be their local voice and view being a councillor as privilege not a right and did not get involved in politics for financial reasons. I simply think it fair that the sort of detractors like Independent Party leader Cllr Terry who portray councillors as being on the take and on a gravy train be faced with the truth to challenge their fiction.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Councillors Parking

Earlier this morning, I had the opportunity to lock horns with Independent Party Leader Martin Terry on BBC Essex over the issue of free parking for councillors.

On Friday, an article appeared in the Echo alleging that a new parking system to be introduced will mean that no councillor will receive a parking ticket from traffic wardens. The story also made the national news last Saturday and was featured in the Daily Mail as well as the Mirror and the Telegraph.

Towards the end of last year the Council’s parking contractors APCOA suggested the authority could make savings if it switched to a paper-free parking dispensation system as they suggested paper free systems offer potential savings in relation to all parking permits issued by the council. These include permits used by Council officers for use in the line of their duties, resident parking permits, carer permits and all other discretionary permits.

Very early exploratory discussions have taken place and APCOA was in the process of producing a detailed proposal for the Council to consider. The Council has yet to receive the proposal. Contrary to what has been reported, no decision has been taken to replace the current system where paper permits are issued to councillors.

Before the radio debate started, BBC Essex played some audio clips of residents views on councillors parking. The majority were of the opinion that councillors should pay for parking but claim the costs back on expenses.

Prior to issuing members with parking permits, councillors could only park for free at the Civic Centre and claim back on expenses any other expense for car parking whilst on official council business in the town.

Under the old arrangement there was also an element of trust in councillors to be ethical as there was nothing technically stopping a councillor using a council car park, have a meeting, do their shopping and claiming the total cost back on expenses.

This was a very costly way to administer these expenses as it cost £9 for each individual claim when the issuing of a parking permit to each councillor only incur a one off cost of £5 to administer. In times of austerity, I make no apologies in making these cost savings and making taxpayers money go further.

Sadly, Cllr Terry is a serial offender in accusing councillors of being on the take giving residents the impression that the Independent Party are whiter than white whilst being economical with the truth – especially when Cllr Terry claims over £7,000 of taxpayers money for being their leader whilst claiming he is an Independent.

In all the press coverage on this subject over the past few days, Cllr Terry has given the impression that the Independent Party are against free councillors parking and publicly claimed that all nine of his group have handed back their permits.

The sheer hypocrisy of the Independent Party knows no bounds as I can real, to date, that eight of them, including Cllr Terry, are still in receipt of their all areas parking permit.

I do believe in the main that councillors in Southend have honest intentions although from time to time we may not always agree but this is just another example of the Independent Party conducting their politics from the gutter.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Common Permit Scheme for undertaking Highway Works

A decision was taken by cabinet this week to introduce a Common Permit Scheme for all works onto the highway. Southend council has been working with a number of authorities in the East of England recently (Hertfordshire CC, Luton BC and Bedford BC) to develop the scheme which will allow each highway authority to co-ordinate and manage highways works in its own areas.

The permit scheme for all higways works will mean that any company, including utilities companies, will have to book occupation of the highway to undertake works rather than the present system of companies only giving us notice that they are going to undertake works.

I am of the clear belief that the implementation of a permit scheme will help drive up standards in the co-ordination of all highways works and also in the quality of repairs. The permit scheme will allow the council to tell companies when they can work on the highway and the length of time allowed for the works. Those carrying out works will also be subjected to a more rigorous inspection regime. Faliure to comply with any conditions within their permit will then result in a fine and reinstatement works imposed.

This will mean the end of companies digging up the highway without proper notification to the council and residents and lasting for months on end with no end in sight. In the words of the Leader of the Council at cabinet - Hallelujah!

Monday, 2 January 2012

Blue Badge Parking in Southend Car Parks

I came in for a bit of criticism from former Lib Dem councillor Jim Clinkscales in today's letters page in the Southend Echo commenting on proposals to charge holders of blue badges to park contains some inaccuracies following an Echo report on Friday.

The idea to charge holders of blue badges for parking who live outside the borough was proposed by Independent Party councillor Mike Assenheim at the Economic & Environmental Scrutiny Committee in November who asked me to look into introducing the charge. Being a former councillor Jim would be well aware that if a portfolio holder is asked to look into any issue and refused he and fellow opposition councillors would be the first to cry that I was being undemocratic regardless of how crazy an idea may seem on the face of it.

I told members at scrutiny and full council that I would look into the feasibly of this, as I have real concerns that any such proposal could be costly, unworkable, put further parking stress on side roads and put off blue badge holders living outside from visiting the town. I would also need to be persuaded that it would be the right thing to do because as yet I still remain unconvinced.

Hypocracy of the Indpendents in Southend

Intresting to read in todays letters page in the Southend Echo that Independent Party leader Cllr Martin Terry has publicly criticised a K Hanmore for having Lib Dem councillor Ric Morgan on his residents group committee.

I presume he will now publicly criticise and condemn his own party colleagues Cllr Ron Woodley and Cllr Mike Stafford for being the Chairman and Treasurer of the Burges Estate Residents Association and ask them to resign with immediate effect?

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Review of 2011

2011 was certainly like no other year that I can remember, with the world certainly a very different place at the end of the year than when it first began. There have been some excellent programmes over the past few days reviewing the year none more so than Alex Crawford's on Sky News on Friday and her OBE in the New Year Honour's List was richly deserved for her broadcasts on the Arab Spring and for being the first journalist to broadcast the fall of Tripoli.

After much searching, there does not appear to be any reviews looking back at 2011 from a local perspective so, after over 60 posts on this blog in 2011, I will attempt to round up the year based on events in Shoebury, Southend and in my portfolio.

In January, Southend Council was shortlisted for 'council of the year award' although the council were ultimately unsuccessful in their quest for the top honour. The Independent Party deceitful campaigning for the local elections started in the middle of January by claiming Westcliff, Friars and Thorpedene libraries were at risk of closure - all three libraries are still open.

In April, an application by Laura Millard to the High Court to force a judicial review of Southend Council's decision to grant planning permission for an extension to the runway at Southend Airport failed. The 'battle for the Civic Centre' was hotting up as campaigning for the local elections and the AV referendum intensified. Lib Dem councillor Ric Morgan told the local press that the Lib Dems in Southend had no policies and UKIP announced an electoral pact with the Independent Party further compromising their so called 'Independence' of political parties.

The AV referendum was resoundly defeated in May with Southend voting 'No' by 34, 365 to 13,488 and Cllr Derek Jarvis was re-elected in West Shoebury with a healthy majority of 825 and the Conservatives retained control of Southend Council. It was also reported that newly elected St Lukes Independent Party councillor Paul Van Looy would be spending very little time at the council representing his residents costing taxpayers approximately £840 per appearance. I was also asked to serve in the cabinet as the portfolio holder for Public Protection, Waste & Transport.

There was good news in June for Southend Airport as it was announced that that a 10 year deal had been announced with EasyJet with flights to commence from April this year. I helped bring a bit more resident engagement to local politics by moving the start time for the Traffic & Parking Working Party from 14:00 to 18:00.

Students across the town received record breaking A'Level and GCSE results in August. The Council's mobile CCTV car was involved in a collision with a young lad on City Beach promting further debate on the use of shared space and the Progress Road scheme won a Local Government News Award.

Shoebury hit the news in September and October as it was announced that the former Drill Shed in the Garrison would become the home for new Shoebury Heritage Centre. A debate was also started about the future of the Shoebury touring site, closed for a number of years,  following Tingdene's proposal to put an additional 32 mobile homes on the site.

After falling subscriptions, the Burges Estate Residents Association (BERA) - the political play thing for the Independent Party in Thorpe Bay announced that they were going to expand into Southchurch and West Shoebury wards.

Condolences and tributes were paid to Joseph Ball who was tragicly killed whilst crossing London Road with his Mum. A petition with 10,000 signatures has been received asking for a crossing on London Road, close to Milton Hall Primary School which will be debated at the next full council.

It was announced in November that the Olympic Torch Relay would be coming to Southend on the 6th July. Shoebury wasn't far from the news as it was announced that fishing would return to Friars Park after an abesence of 20 years, nursery provision would be available at the new HInguar School and local listing status was given to the ticket station at Shoeburyness Train Station, The Cage and the Victorian front facia of Hinguar School.

The use of local shopping areas and the future of the West Road Shopping Area were also in the news and continued into December when the Labour candidate for West Shoebury suggested that boarded up shops in West Road should have artwork displayed on them when no shop fronts are currently boarded up. 

The Independent Party in Shoeburyness hit the headlines in December when councillors Mike Assenheim and Anne Chalk decided to attend a party meeting rather than listen to local policing concerns. An advert placed by BERA in the December issue of the Thorpe Bay Oracle had to be referred to the Advertising Standards Agency following a flurry of complaints that I received over the Christmas period.

2011 was certainly a busy and intresting year. Finally, this leaves me to wish a Happy New Year to you all.