Thursday, November 30, 2006
The money being spent at the moment barely covers the costs of reactive repairs and energy, and there was until recently no programme of planned replacements.
In 2000 the proportion of columns in Southampton over 30 years old was 54%, twice the national average, and a report in 2003 estimated that an investment of some £1M would be required annually ad infinitum to bring the stock eventually within its 25 year design life.
The City Council is bidding for Government money (PFI credits) to finance the replacement of Southampton's streetlights. There is a pot of £600m put aside by Government for the whole country and the Council is hoping to be awarded about £1m of this money to replace 28,000 streetlights and illuminated road signs.
Southampton's Conservative Councillors in principle approve of this proposal, especially insofar as it involves new or extra money. In addition we feel that this opens up lots of additional opportunities. We would like to see the business community informed and involved so far as possible. They may have a real contribution to make. There is talk of advertising revenue, commercial use of the columns, and that kind of thing.
Other ideas and benefits include, prevention of crime, promotion of public safety, prevention of accidents and more efficient use of energy.
Other councils have introduced new streetlights with plugs fitted to the top to which Wireless (WiFi) CCTV cameras can be attached. This would allow CCTV to be put in where there is problem with crime in an area. Cameras could be removed and put elsewhere if the problems are then resolved.
In effect this would mean, for very little cost, CCTV cameras could be put in any area of the city to reduce crime and catch criminals. This would have a big impact on dealing with crime and disorder.
I have proposed that WiFi CCTV is included in the Council's PFI bid and am delighted that this has been agreed.
The local agents of the owner were about to serve notices on the travellers but they left before this was done. The site has been secured by bailiffs.
The City Council is now liaising with the company regarding cleaning up the site.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
The meeting is to discuss the parking situation in Silverdale Road. Feed back will be given on the recent survey of residents' views. There will be a presentation from a council officer about the sorts of options available to help people park.
Cllr Brian Parnell will be chairing the meeting. I am hopeful that some positive solutions can be found.
The swimming pool, which is behind Freemantle Community Centre, also needs the fabric of the building to be rebuilt.
Shirley Swimming Pool
There is also a Health Centre on the site. A meeting is being organised to ensure that the site will be designed and used to meet its full potential.
The matter will also be coming to the Full Council Meeting January.
The site at the Junction of West Quay Road and Mountbatten way is worth £3m. However the Lib Dems have agreed to sell it for £2m, £1m lower than it's market value.
Furthermore should the Police move its headquarters from the Civic Centre to a new building on the site, this will leave a back hole in Council finances of nearly £300,000 a year, from lost rent.
I asked the Lib Dem Cabinet member for Resources David Beckett about this a few weeks ago in a public meeting and he wasn't even aware that the decision was coming up! I think this is outrageous!
Why should the City Council be giving another public body £1m of council taxpayer's money. I wonder if it is even legal. The Council has a duty to ensure that it gets the best prices when disposing of land. Only in exceptional circumstances can they sell it for less. One reason is if they are contributing significantly to the wider social good. I am not sure how strongly one could argue this point in this situation. Will the £1m we are giving them be spent directly on front line policing in Southampton? If the Police need more money to buy the land then they should petition the Home Office and not the local council. Also what is happening to all the money the Police will make when they sell their land in Hulse Road for flats?
I am the Vice Chairman of the Council's Resources Scrutiny Panel, which amongst other things scrutinises Council property decisions. The panel has the power to call in controversial decisions and question the reasons behind them. I have requested that the Chairman of this panel calls the decision in, so that it is delayed and a proper discussion can be had.
I would like to know why the Lib Dems are writing out a cheque for £1m with taxpayers' money.
I also want to know what the plan is to replace the lost revenue if the Police move out of the Civic Centre. This will leave the entire west wing of the Civic Centre empty. What is the plan for the building? Will it remain empty like the magistrates courts has done for the past 6 years? I think we deserve the answers to these and other questions before such large sums of public money are given away.
Update 30/11/06: The Chairman of the Resources Panel indicated that she was going to call this decision in. Subsequently however she has changed her mind. Apparently a 6 minute dicsussion on the subject at a meeting on Tuesday was sufficient to convince her that no further debate was necessary!
The Government today announced what funding it will provide local councils next year. There is an informative article on epolitix.com.
Once again Government funding will be insufficient to match spending demands on local councils. Every year the Government requires local councils to do more and more but fails to provide sufficient money. The Government has forced up council tax by astronomical levels since 1997. It is a stealth tax pure and simple. The Government has wanted to spend more money and rather than directly raising taxes, they have under funded local government, imposed spending obligations on councils and forced up council tax to pay for it. The Government then pretends otherwise.
This is causing enormous distress to those on fixed or low incomes, who are finding a disproprionate amount of their income is going on tax bills.
Locally in Southampton the Conservatives commit to keep council tax increases below the rate of inflation. We are working on our budget proposals now in preparation for the budget meeting in February. Conservatives will seek to protect our vital front line services like social sevices and education whilst at the same time eliminating bureaucracy so tax can be kept down. Like last year I will do a posting on the detail of Conservative budget proposals.
Every year Labour and the Lib Dems produce an inflation busting council tax hike and then do a deal with each other to implement it. I wonder if this year will be any different.
Each planning application has a reference. All the paperwork can be viewed online. Click HERE to see details of all planning applications under consideration by the Council.
The following Freemantle Ward applications are being discussed:
06/014341/FUL - 78-79 The Avenue & r/o 3 Archers Rd
The proposal is to demolish Archers House, 1A Archers Road. Redevelopment of the site to provide 79 dwellings, a terrace of 8 houses and 4 three and four-storey buildings (including accommodation within the roofspace) to provide 71 flats (56 x one-bedroom, 15 x two-bedroom) with associated parking, landscaping and a new vehicular access from Archers Road.
Archers House was until recently offices for the Social Services department of the Council. It was orginally built as a nurses' home.
The site is massive and this development will have a big impact on the area. Only 37 car parking spaces are being provided for. This is not sufficient and will lead to more parking problems in the area. I have written to the Council asking that greater parking is provided for. I have also written strongly urging that the planning panel require as a condition that the development is properly in keeping with the 19th Century character of the Avenue Conservation Area.
06/01442/FUL - 14-20 Shirley Road
This is an application by the Society of St James to change the use of this building to a drug rehabilitation centre and needle exchange. This application came before the planning panel recently for a site in the High Street. It was rejected by the panel following presentation by local restaurant owners.
I have objected to this application. I have pasted my letter of objection below so you can see my reasons.
I would like to object to the above planning application.
This is a very controversial application. The last time this application came forward it was rejected by Councillors on the planning panel.
I recognise that it is a social necessity and there is a serious drugs problem in the city.
I also have a great deal of respect for the work done by the Society of St James.
However it will inevitably impact on the residential area about it.
My ward colleagues and I have received no communication or information about this application. We have not been consulted or had the opportunity to discuss the matter.
I am very disappointed that we have not been consulted, given the nature of the application. In the past we have been consulted over similar matters and it was a worthwhile and constructive exercise.
I would ask that the decision at the very least is deferred to a future planning meeting so ward Councillors can be properly informed and dialogue can be had.
I did wonder about doing a posting on this application given its nature. However it was pointed out to me that if I didn't I would be guilty of the same thing that I am acusing the Council of.
UPDATE 30/11/06 - The application for the drugs rehab centre is being postponed until a future meeting in January. This will allow for further consultation.
Saturday, November 25, 2006
The Council introduced a no right turn into Brunswick Place from London Road some time ago. Since then cars have either been cutting right down Carlton Place and through Bedford Place or have been going left down Bellevue Road, down Kings Park Road and then turning right into Brunswick Place. The former is causing further traffic congestion and the latter is extremely dangerous.
The no right turn at the end of London Road was intended to force cars round the Charlotte Place Roundabout and reduce congestion along London Road. If this is to work it should be made much clearer to motorists. Also the Council needs to stop right hand turns out of Kings Park Road before there is an accident.
In Carlton Place bizarre modifications have been made to the road layout at the junction of Carlton Crescent. There appears to be a taxi rank there now, although I have never seen a taxi parked in it. There are no road signs so motorists are left confused as to where they should and shouldn't be driving.
Hundreds of thousands of pounds of tax payers money has been spent to so far on London Road. Now the Council are asking for another £700,000 to make more changes along London Road. The main change seems to be to make the pavements enormously and pointlessly wide. The Council are unhappy with the work by the contractor they have used up until now and so they are planning to spend even more money on procuring the services of a new company to do the additional work.
Would it not make more sense to can this project and rather than spending the money on frustrating motorists, spend it on repairing some of the road in our city suburbs that are in a terrible state of repair?
Full details of Council plans for London Road can be found by clicking HERE.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
There are six caravans and associated vehicles on site and they are believed to be part of a group that have been evicted from a number of sites in Southampton, most recently the Library car park at Lordshill.
The land that they are on is owned by Sixt Rental whose registered office is in Derbyshire. They had operated a vehicle rental business from the property.
Action is being taken to remove them. I will post an update when I have more information.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
The City Art Collection
As well as briefing looking around the gallery, I had a look at where the art is stored and also where paintings are restored.
The Boat on the Lake, by French Impresionist artist Renoir, was generously donated to the City last month.
I had a close look at Renoir's Boat on the Lake which was recently donated to the City. The painting doesn't have a frame at the moment! Although it soon will have and it is planned to be displayed in January next year.
The city has an art collection of over three and a half thousand paintings worth a staggering £130m. Only about 200 paintings are ever on display at any one time. A few are loaned out. The vast majority however are kept in storage. On average a painting might remain in storage for 4 years before it is displayed!
At the moment the city's gallery costs the tax payer about half a percent on their council tax. Really though with such a valuable asset it should be making money and not losing it. I wonder whether the Council could make significant sums of money by lending paintings out to businesses and wealthy individuals.
Furthermore the art collection really should be insured. The Civic Centre is a very old building and parts of it leak. It would be a terrible waste of public money if the paintings suffered water damage.
The Magistrates Courts
Built in the 1930s the Civic Centre consists of four blocks. The east block houses the Guildhall. The north block or arts block consists of the art gallery and library. The south block consists of the municipal offices. The west block of the Civic Centre opened in 1933 and houses the former law courts and the city central police station.
The west wing, originally courts, now hosting the police station, and the monumental clock tower.
Tragically the parts of the building that house the former law courts have been closed for the past eight years. The building needs serious repairs to the roof which could cost millions of pounds. The building has a steel frame. Rusting steel is expanding and putting pressure on the stonework.
The police plan to move out of the Civic Centre in a couple of years time. When they do the whole west block will be empty. It will be a tragedy for such an amazing building to be empty and mothballed.
One idea is for the west wing to be used as a heritage centre and linked through to the art gallery. It could house a Titanic exhibition and show off some of Southampton's incredible history. Such a venture would cost significant sums of money. However if heritage grants are available then it might be worth pursuing. If the building is left it will deteriorate further and we do have a duty to maintain such a fantastic building for future generations.
Neil has been working very hard in Coxford Ward, since his selection earlier this year, as the Conservative candidate in next May's Council elections. In particular Neil has been helping residents with problems of crime and anti social behaviour.
Neil's interests are in education, promoting Southampton's heritage and the protecting the environment.
Friday, November 17, 2006
On Wednesday Cllr Edwina Cooke was awarded the title of second best Mayor of the year by the Co-Operative Bank.
Councillor Edwina Cooke was Sheriff of Southampton in 2004-2005 and became the 783rd Mayor of Southampton in May 2005.
Edwina attended a staggering number of events in her mayoral year. In total she completed about 1000 functions on behalf of the city. Leaders of all political parties paid tribute to Edwina and congratulated her for her fantastic achievement.
Highlights of Edwina's mayoral year included awarding Freedom of the City to the Normandy Veterans and the Burma Star Association on VJ day, awarding Freedom of the City to the crew and officers of the world's most famous passenger liner the QE2, and riding a bucking bronco!
She was first elected to Southampton City Council in May 2002 as a Councillor for Shirley Ward. Her interests are Heritage, Housing, Conservation of the City Parks and Common, and supporting local shops and post offices. Edwina moved to Southampton in 1957 when her employer, Cunard, closed its offices in Liverpool. Whilst with Cunard she sailed on many of the great liners. Leaving Cunard to take become a self-employed Sub-Postmaster, Edwina worked at the Upper Shirley and Bitterne post offices. She became Regional President and then National President of the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters, and was the Federation's first woman President in its 97 year history.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
One of the proposals is to conduct as feasibility study and develop a business case for the eventual relocation of the Regents Park Community College as a mixed school onto the St Mark's CE Junior School site on Shirley Road, with the former Civil Service Sports Ground to be used as playing fields.
The site would be developed as a Learning Campus together with St Mark's CE Junior School in partnership with the CE Diocese of Winchester and St Mark's CE Junior School through Building Schools for the Future. (A Government fund which will be available in 2009/10)
Furthermore, the Learning Futures proposals call for the relocation of Regents Park Community College to the St Mark's site, including early discussions with the trustees of St Mark's Junior School (the owners of the St Mark's site; the Director of Education for the Winchester CE Diocese and Bovis Homes (the current owner of the Civil Service Ground).
£30,000 has been allocated to conduct the feasibility study. However no additional funding has been put aside for the purchase of the former Civil Service Sports Ground. This would need to happen for the project to be successful.
In 2003 a sum of money was allocated to the Strategic Reserve to acquire the Civil Service Sports Ground from it's former owners the Civil Service Sports Association. However the funds were insufficient and no progress was made. Then earlier this year the land was sold to Bovis Homes.
In tomorrow's Council meeting Conservative Councillors will be calling for additional funds to be allocated from spare resources within the current capital programme to be added to the money already allocated in the Strategic Reserve for the potential future purchase of the land, for the purpose of providing playing fields for the St Marks and Regents Park Schools.
The Learning Futures consultation has revealed that there is considerable support in the community for having new schools on the St Mark's site. This won't work however unless the Council acquires the former Civil Service Sports Ground. If the Council can acquire the land from Bovis Homes then this will strengthen the Council's position when applying for funding for new schools in 2009.
Conservatives will be calling on Labour and Lib Dem Councillors to support us in tomorrow's Council meeting. If they do then we can save the last remaining green space in Freemantle for local people and help pave the way for new schools for our local community.
UPDATE 17/11/06 - I am delighted to report that the amendment carried all party support. We are now in an excellent position to purchase the site in the very near future.
Monday, November 13, 2006
Tomorrow I am off to London for a day's pensions and investments training. This is for the Hampshire County Council Pension Fund Panel that I serve on. Then on Friday we have a pension fund panel meeting.
Wednesday afternoon is Full Council. The big item on the agenda is the approval of funding for the Council's re-organisation of secondary school education in the city. Click HERE for the Council agenda.
On Saturday, Cllr Royston Smith and I are having a tour of the city council's art stores, followed by a tour of the old magistrates courts. The magistrates courts are part of the Civic Centre but have been mothballed for a number of years. I am quite excited about looking around the old law courts as I have never seen them. They were described to me today as being a bit like the Mayor's parlour but much, much bigger. The purpose of the tour is to see whether the rooms can be used for something like a heritage centre or to display more of the city's £130m art collection.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
The Conservatives intend to table a Sustainable Communities Bill after the Queen's Speech. This will call for local councils to develop their own spending priorities and allow them the freedom to come up with local solutions to local problems. Click HERE to read the article in Friday's Guardian.
I spent the weekend down in Devon in the small town of Ottery St Mary. Every bonfire night local people perform a bizarre ritual in which they run through the streets carrying lit tar barrels.
It's a pretty dangerous looking activity. There is a fire engine on stand by and a hoard of St Johns Ambulance people. I haven't heard of or seen anyone get seriously hurt. This year I saw one of the barrel rollers use his head to support the barrel causing his hair to catch fire. He didn't seem to notice but luckily his friends quickly patted it out!
It is a unique and fascinating experience. However, as the ominous yellow signs that dot the town say, you go at your own risk.
Below is a short video I found on YouTube, which gives a feel for the event:
Over the last week issue of climate change has dominated the news.
The Stern Report concludes that if we (businesses, governments and individuals) act now make the right choices we can avert the dire consequences of climate change.
The report argues that the cost of action to reduce greenhouse gasses is about 1% of global GDP each year. If we rise to the challenge we can have economic prosperity and preserve the planet.
In the past radical environmentalists have argued that we must make a stark choice between a consumer economy and destroying the environment or radically changing the way we live our lives and returning to some sort of pre industrial subsistance way of life.
Today there are those who deny that there is an overwhelming scientific consensus about the effects of greenhouses gases and who instead argue that it is a grand plot by politicians to provide an excuse to squeeze more tax out of us and interfere even more in our lives.
Unless you are a scientist it is difficult to truly know what is what. However I do feel that if we tackle greenhouse emissions we win either way. If the scientists are right and we rise to the challenge, then we will have saved the planet for future generations. If the scientists are wrong then we will have prevented the unnecessary waste of huge amounts of energy through investing in more efficient technologies. I for one am happy to pay the price.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
A review is needed and although only a few Labour MPs voted against the Labour whip in yesterday's Commons vote I expect many more wanted to.
Even Defence Secretary Des Browne agreed with the need for an inquiry and said so after the vote.
I didn't watch it on television but did get a chance to read some of the debate as recorded in Hansard. I thought William Hague was brilliant. Despite attempts by Labour MPs to wrong foot him, he effectively slapped down all the feeble arguments against a proper review of the situation in Iraq. Labour were saying that by questioning the situation we are undermining our troops. What nonsense! There hasn't been a Commons debate on Iraq for 2 years. Some of the Labour language is so similar to that used by George Bush. You are either with us or against us, both Bush and Labour say. Everything is portrayed as black and white in an effort to destroy intelligent, rational debate.
We need a proper inquiry, perhaps not right now, but certainly in the near future. In calling for this the Conservatives are doing what they should be doing, acting as an effective opposition. I was disappointed that our local Labour MPs felt that they had to support the Government on this issue, rather than doing what was right.
For the 12th year running auditors have refused to sign off the EU's budget. It becoming such a recurring theme that it doesn't even attract any media coverage now. Dan Hannan MEP has written a piece on it on his website, called "We are heading for an amicable divorce."
The matter of the Civil Service Ground is still unresolved, howver there is a cross party view that the land should remain as green space and not be built on and that the public should have access.
The future of the land is tied up in the review of secondary education which is currently on in the city. The picture on the future of the schools will become clearer later this month when the Lib Dem Cabinet Member for Children's services outlines her preferred approach.
One idea being pushed is that the land could be acquired for St Marks school or a new school(s) on the St Marks site.
Alan Whitehead muddies the waters when he says "In 2004 the City Council approved the sale of the former Civil Service Sports Ground in Freemantle to a housing developer."
This is simply not true as he well knows. The land was not owned by the Council. It was owned by the Civil Service Sports Association which entered into a private arrangement with Bovis Homes to sell the land to them.
Council planners have designated the land as green open space in planning terms and will resist any attempts by Bovis to build houses or flats on the land. The only danger in planning terms is that planning rules from Government now are so prescriptive and there are Government central and regional planning targets exist which the Council must achieve. A developer might try and push an planning application through on appeal on these grounds. If this happened I would hope we would do everything we could to fight it each step of the way.
Labour have sought to make this a partisan issue in the past. I really hope that they don't try and do so again as it is very unhelpful and in no one's interest.