Saturday, 26 January 2013

Alleyway Clearance

This morning I was delighted to attend an Alleyway Clearance organised by the Westborough Community Association (WCA) after receiving an invite from Chairman David Webb.

Members of the WCA were joined by ward councillors Paul Collins and Martin Terry in the clean up operation.

When I arrived the clear up was in full swing and a large amount of rubbish, which included dumped car parts, had already been removed. This community clear up is just one of many that is undertaken across the town by local community groups which is supported by the council by supplying the willing volunteers with the appropriate equipment and then disposing of the rubbish. This, I suppose, is the government's vision of Big Society in action.

If any other community group out there wishes to organise a community clear up event and requires further information then please get in touch.

Reporting Back

Thursday, 24 January 2013

In The News This Week...

Another example of when me and my fellow ward colleagues in West Shoebury promise something we stick to our word...

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Council Budget 2013-14

On Tuesday, my fellow cabinet colleagues and I will consider Southend Council's 2013-14 draft budget. There has been much written in the press and local blogosphere on the draft proposals looking at many different aspects but I want to touch on some of the high profile aspects in this post.

Firstly, I accept that some of the proposed savings proposed will not be popular but the economic situation has worsened across Europe and Government is telling us that it is going to take the country longer than had previously been thought to put things back on an even keel.

It is also worth pointing out that I am part of a minority administration and that the opposition collectively can vote down any aspect of the budget if an alternative saving is proposed.

One proposal which has already generated much debate this week is the proposal to withdraw the £130,000 funding for the Airshow. This doesn't mean that we do not want the Airshow and there always remains the possibility that private enterprise may still come forward with the funding which may enable the Airshow to continue.

If no private funding is forthcoming, to lessen the impact of cuts to front line services in times of austerity then it leaves very little option but to suspend the Airshow until the period of austerity ends. I personally enjoy the Airshow but many businesses have privately over the years said to me that they do not need the Airshow as they will busy anyway due to it being a bank holiday weekend.

The other proposal which has attracted much debate is to cease providing one roll of black sacks to each household every six months. I have heard many theories that by removing the black sack provision will result in increasing rubbish being dumped and litter being deposited on our streets.

I do not subscribe to this view, I may be proved wrong, but the evidence suggests that this may not be the case. I think it is worth mentioning that as and authority it is costing taxpayers £3 Million a year in landfill costs for black bag waste. This is a colossal amount when you think that all items can be recycled at home with the exception of nappies or used tissues.

With the cost of landfill taxes rising further and further we need to divert as much as possible from black bags into recycling. Pink recycling sacks, white textile bags will continue to be provided free of charge as will lining bags for the blue food waste recycling caddy's where 99.9% of household items can be deposited.

It has been proposed to increase council tax by 1.75% and not take up the offer of the governments 1% council tax freeze but was a necessity to prevent further cuts to front line services. On balance this is probably the correct decision but do accept that times are tough for many people and an increase in household bills will be unwelcome and trying to explain how the governments council tax freeze not being built into base causes problems in the future is an almost impossible concept to sell or explain.

There are some more positive aspects to the budget as we are proposing to cut parking charges in local shopping areas by creating a 30 minute charge of 20p and an hourly rate of 50p in place like Thorpe Bay Broadway.

The Council is also pushing forward with a capital programme which will deliver improved facilities and boost growth locally.
These include:
  • a four-year programme of repairs to paths, roads and tracks within Southend's parks
  • restoration of the Borough's war memorials to repair damage caused by acid rain and the salty coastal environment
  • the expansion of child care places for two-year-olds
  • capital investment to support the Council's Short Breaks programme for disabled children
  • £4.5m of sea defence works
  • £2.13m of improvements to the Kent Elms, Bell Corner and Tesco roundabout junctions on the A127 and
  • £500,000 investment towards making Southend a "wireless borough"
One thing that is certain is that the debate has only just begun with much dialogue to be had before a budget is agreed by Full Council in February.

Tour De France Comes to Essex

This week the sport of cycling has been in the news for all the wrong reasons following the Lance Armstrong confession on Oprah Winfrey to doping in all of his seven Tour De France wins.

With Briton's Bradley Wiggins the current Tour De France champion and the success of the British cycling team at London 2012, never has there more interest in the sport.

These revelations have somewhat overshadowed  the announcement this week that the 2014 Tour De France, road cycling's premier event, returns to Britain for the first time since 2007 but more importantly it will also be passing through Essex.

On Monday 7th July 2014, Stage 3 of the Tour De France will go fro Cambridge to London, which will snake south through Essex, east of the M11. It will pass close to Great Abington - around 10 miles from Haverhill - before working its way past Saffron Walden, Takeley, Epping and onto the Olympic Park and central London. Click on the map above for the full route.

After the Olympic Mountain Bike event was held at Hadleigh Farm, it is a welcome boost for the county that the leading world cycling race will be coming to Essex.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Parking in Bus Stops

There has been much debate this week after the story of Mrs Hatton hit the press following her car being clamped after being issued a fixed penalty notice for stopping in a bus stop.

On this occasion the council were completely right to issue a ticket as stopping in a bus stop is an offence under section 243 of the Highway Code at it explicitly states that that you should not stop or park on a bus stop, tram stop or taxi rank. The Traffic Management Act 2004 gives authority for councils to enforce this by way of a fixed penalty notice (FPN).

With officers, I have reviewed the case and in this instance if Mrs Hatton had driven a matter of a few yards just passed the bus stop she could have dropped her father off without receiving a fine.

I know some may see the issuing of a fine harsh but this needs to be put into context as I regularly receive requests from bus passengers with mobility issues, mums with pushchairs, parents with children and drivers to put yellow lines and box markings on bus stops so buses do not have to alight in the middle of the road from all over the town and my own ward included.

The £70 FPN issued to Ms Hatton could have been reduced to £35 if she had agreed to pay it within 14 days. It is worth noting that another motorist who received an FPN for parking in the same bus stop at the same time immediately paid the fine.

Instead she chose to appeal the FPN, but even when we quite properly rejected her appeal we still gave her the chance to pay the reduced £35 rate as long as she did so within 14 days.

The letter informing her that her appeal had been rejected contained all the information she needed to appeal the fine further before the Traffic Penalty Tribunal. She did not pay the fine and she did not indicate that she was going to go to the Tribunal, so in March last year the council wrote to her informing her that the £70 fine had now increased to £105 and was payable within 14 days.

Again there was no response so in July last year the county court issued an order for the recovery of an unpaid debt of £112, including the fine and a £7 court registration fee. Mrs Hatton had until July 26 to pay the fine or file a statement if she believed she had grounds for not paying.

When no payment was received and no further contact was forthcoming the matter was passed to the councils bailiffs on December 17. The Council has acted correctly and lawfully throughout this whole process, but in recognition of the fact that Ms Hatton appears not to have understood the appeal process fully I have negotiated with officers to give her 14 days to pay the original £70 FPN and will then take no further action.

It is interesting that following the agreement to allow Mrs Hatton a period of time to pay the original £70 fine I have received numerous emails in my inbox with the overwhelming majority believing that the council should make her pay the full amount plus bailiffs costs. I believe taking into account all the information and circumstances following a review of this case the resolution that the council has proposed on balance is right.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Targeting Posties in Retaliation not the Answer

There is widespread anger at Royal Mail for inflicting the closure of the Shoebury and Leigh Delivery Offices due on the 11th February.

I am disgusted at this decision and more so at the shoddy treatment by Royal Mail to residents in their handling of the closures. I am also acutely aware that the majority of postmen are deeply concerned at the proposals with real fears that this may lead to future job losses.

Many Posties have supported the campaign led by Cllr Hadley and I here in Shoebury to try and prevent the closure of the Delivery Office in George Street with some even signing our online petition.

If these closures do go ahead as planned their is naturally the temptation by some to want to get even with Royal Mail. Targeting rank and file Posties as suggested by two Independent Party councillors this week isn't the way to go about it.

By banning Royal Mail from chaining mail trolleys to fences or lamp posts and issuing tickets to vans parked briefly on yellow lines will only increase burdens on Posties with inevitable consequences and further damage to our daily delivery service. Also it is highly likely that any fines incurred will have to be paid for by Posties out of their wages.

Whilst it is tempting to poke fun at Cllr Aylen and Cllr Assenheim for this suggestion I am going to resist as like me and all other councillors they too are concerned by these proposals.