Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Ex-Mayor rides out of town on last Stagecoach!
Former Mayor Cllr. Steve Foster has decided to call it a day and announce his resignation from the Borough Council. The second such resignation from Labour's ranks in as many weeks has sparked speculation that the party is culling it's deadwood in preparation for next year's elections. Last week Ron Reynolds announced his resignation as Councillor for the Westoe Ward, and Steve Foster's announcement now sees two former members of the Council's Cabinet making way for newcomers. Cllr. Foster is a bus driver for Stagecoach Busways in the town, and it is not known whether or not he will be seen more regularly in that role. The local bus depot has been a fertile recruitment ground for the Labour Party, having also provided Jim Foreman and Gerry Graham in recent years.
"Did they jump or were they pushed?" is the popular question at the moment amongst the local populus.
Members of the Labour Party in Westoe Ward will choose a new candidate tomorrow evening.
Nobody to suffer?
BUDGET cuts aimed at recovering a multi-million pound deficit in council cash could affect every department, councillors have been warned. read more - here
Coun Ed Malcolm, who chaired the committee meeting, said the council will do everything in its power to make sure people do not suffer. Unfortunately, having read the report in the Gazette, it is patently clear that someone ought to have suffered, and that "someone" includes all those Council officers who allowed the social care and health budget to overspend by GBP 11 millions! Just where in the Council's stewardship of our money does the word accountability fit in? It seems that those in charge of both the service department and the finance department will not be deemed accountable for a clear breach of their responsibilities and failure to adhere to guidelines in complying with budgeted spending plans.
By accepting a measure of collective responsibility, the underperformance of certain individuals is effectively masked, whilst additional pressure will be created in ensuring that the next set of spending plans will be strictly controlled and adhered to. What worries me is the fact that these controls will need to applied and maintained by the same people who failed to exercise sufficent prudence in the last financial year!
What role do our Councillors have in this matter? This is a question that I have posed on a number of issues over the past twelve months, where it seems, to me at least, that our elected representatives are failing in their duties to examine, question, challenge, and inspect the recommendations of officers, and be ready to assert the will of the people as directed at local elections. In other words, the policies that were offered to and accepted by the electorate need to applied in decisions at Committee and full Council level. It is the responsibility of elected Councillors to seek decisions which match the aspirations of their party's policies and the community as a whole. It is the responsibility of appointed Officers to offer viable working practises which allow the policies of the elected representatives to be administered and to seek guidance from the leaders of the political parties on policies to be applied, as servants of the Council it is not the responsibility of Officers to create, devise, plan, or alter policies in any manner which has not had the approval of the electorate.
Perhaps this is why Cllr. Malcolm is welcoming further traning for our elected representatives, it seems (as I know only too well) that certain of them are uncomfortable with modern information and computer technology, and others find it difficult reading and understanding committee reports! Perhaps there is a strong case for taking this back to the political parties and urging them to find a more informed and educated type of candidate before offering them to the electorate, after all quality tends to be held in higher esteem than quantity!
For the sake of all of us, it would be nice if the ruling political party could take a very tough stance on financial and budgetry matters, we as council tax payers are very hard pushed already, and with the planned revaluation of properties not too distant, would appreciate moves on policy that would see a zero increase in the Community Charge for next year. It must be rememberd that only about 20% of us are making a contributuion to the Council's spending through this charge, the rest coming from central government, so some prudence of the type that would make Gordon Brown proud would be most welcome.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
The writer of this blog is currently unavailable for intermittent periods, whilst helping to nurse and care for his mother, who is writing the final chapter in her book of life.
Regular updates will resume as soon as is practical, intermittent updates may appear in the next few weeks.
Some graphics which currently do not show, ought to reappear when the image hosting service sorts out a problem with it's server.
Sunday, November 27, 2005
Christmas switched on in South Shields
The festive season officially began with the switching on of the "Christmas Lights" in South Shields yesterday afternoon. I really do want to emphasise that they are Christmas Lights, not "winter lights", or "festive lights", or "seasonal lights", or any other sort of politically correct term. We have the sort of town and community that will not be offended by celebrating the Christian festival of Christmas.
The lights were switched on by Tommy the Trumpeter (aka Ray Spencer, Customs House Director), and the Mayor of South Tyneside, Cllr Bill Lynch. further entertainment was provided with the Metro radio Roadshow, as well as the Silly Billy Xmas Roadshow, Robbie Williams tribute, and talent show winner and star of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang-Leyci Whiteman.
Unfortunately things did not go to plan again, with only half a display showing at the Town Hall, I won't embarass officials by publishing my picture, but a small army of technicians were in attendance this morning to try and rectify the problem!
Cllr. Eddie McAtominey had declared in advance that this Borough would not be joining the politically correct legions who are busy banning the use of the term Christmas (in case it offends religious minorities), and I take my hat off to him for this gesture. This argument is totally counterproductive and helps destroy rather than enhance multi-culturalism. Those areas, such as Brent in London, who have adopted this stance should take cognisance of the fact that Christianity is probably the minority religion in their area of responsibility, and by calling their decorations anything other than Christmas decorations, they are in fact offending Christians, regardless of their race or colour.
I think if I lived in such an area I would feel ethnically, culturally, racially, and religiously excluded, and would enjoy testing the motives of these politically correct fools. Multi-culturalism depends upon recognition of peoples ethnic, cultural, and racial diversity and the ability to tolerate differences and use the positive aspects to knit communities together.
If our Borough, for instance, wished to do something to help celebrate Eide, or Diwali, or The Feast of Tabernacles, I would be all for it as something which "adds" to the overall life of the community. The secret to successful racial integration and multi-cultural unity is found in areas such as South Shields, which has always tolerated each other's values.
Further pictures of our Christmas lights - click to enlarge.
Saturday, November 26, 2005
Temple Park village green
Council opposes Village Green for Temple Memorial Park
I have had some time to ponder over the news revealed by the Shields Gazette on Thursday that the Borough Council intends to formally object to the application to apply "village green" status to Temple Memorial Park.
I was one of the most vocal protestors about a year ago when plans were outlined to build a "super School" on the park, which was gifted to the people of South Shields by the Church Commissioner's to act as a memorial to those who lost their lives in the last war. At the time a covenant was included to ensure that the park be kept in perpetuity for leisure purposes, and many people were incensed and outraged that future developments would run counter to this principle.
After featuring the issue many times in this blog, and contacting many Councillors, helping with the protest at the Town Hall, and publicising our efforts with the help of the local media, that battle was eventually won when the Council reconsidered it's plans. It is now apparent that the Council sees problems for future generations if it is unable to further develop the land "for leisure purposes". One has to consider, for example, the current poor state of repair of Temple Park Leisure Centre, and the likelihood of it needing further work in the years to come.
The awarding of "village green" status may make the replacement of some current facilities, or improvement to current buildings almost impossible in the future, and for this reason I have to agree with the action being taken by the Council.
It is time now for Mr. Pattison and others to sit down with the Council and endeavour to come to a compromise agreement, maybe along the lines of setting up a charitable trust (with very strict conditions on how the Memorial Park may be developed) that will ensure the long term safety and security of Temple Memorial Park. Whilst we all wish to see an end to developments which are not in keeping with the sentiments of the original covenant, it would be irresponsible of us to completely blight the land for future generations who would wish to pursue leisure activities there.
Thursday, November 24, 2005
Redhead's landing reply
Gates firmly locked by Lucas! (Redhead's Landing to remain "out of bounds")
The Chief executive of South Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Council, Irene Lucas has finally made a written statement after months of campaigning and lobbying by myself and others.
Writing to South Shields MP David Miliband she says
"Following your enquiry, you may be aware that we have also received contact direct from members of the public about this issue.
Due to the nature of these enquiries, it may not be easy to provide a quick and definitive response but I hope the following may be of use to you in the interim.
Further investigations have been made into the ownership of the slipway and we are clear that it is not owned by the council. We are continuing in our attempts to identify the actual owner.
The slipway does not appear on the definitive map as a public right of way, nor do we have any other evidence to prove it as such. For the moment therefore it is not viewed as a public right of way. Similarly, it is not a public highway in the sense of a vehicle carriageway due to a formal stopping up order dating back to 1937.
Recent letters in the Shields Gazette claim that the council has an obligation to open the gates as part of planning permission granted in 1990. Our solicitors advise that this is not the case as the condition attached to the 1990 planning permission is invalid.
A number of photographers appear to use the landing and one of them, has now submitted an application to have the slipway added to the definitive map as a right of way. We are in contact with him about how this needs to be done. I expect that it will be some time before it can be proven that it has (or has not) enjoyed continued uninterrupted use as a footpath for 20 years and until then the Council will seek to identify the most appropriate outcome to address the range of access and anti-social behaviour issues associated with the site.
I will contact you again in due course."
I am afraid that I find Ms. Lucas' reply to be a shambolic rebuff to our MP and an affront to the intelligence, a symbolic slap in the face to those of us who have enjoyed public access to Redhead's Landing for countless years.
Her letter to David Miliband simply reiterates all that we already know, it does not reveal anything new or useful, other than to confirm Neil Carter's legal advice, which I still question.
By implying that the provision of proof for uninterrupted use as a place of public access for at least twenty years will be difficult, she displays a lack of local knowledge and history which we will confidently counter. There are many from at least two generations before me who can attest to having unfettered access to this landing, even as children!
The legal argument that enforcement of the planning conditions would be invalid is based upon the risk of injuries to members of the public caused by the present condition of the slipway, granted it is a place where caution should be exercised, it is slippery when wet, there is an accumulation of debris and rubbish, it has no lifesaving equipment (not a condition asked for in 1990). We could apply some of these descriptions to the Groyne slipway and the rocks around the Groyne, the South Pier, Trow Rocks, Marsden Rock, or even Cleadon Hills when it rains. Yet nobody would wish to suggest that the public lose their access to these amenities in case they injure themselves!
We were told that a lot of the debris and rubbish on the landing was as a result of flytipping, but not a single officer of the Council could explain how flytipping could occur during the long periods when Tyne Slipway Engineering Ltd. had locked the access gate! Nobody was able to explain the large amounts of rubbish placed just behind the gates, whilst a large area near the river edge was perfectly clear and useable.
One would have thought it useful to question those Councillors, who are still alive, and who served on the Planning Committee in 1990 which agreed to take enforcement action to keep the pedestrian access gate open, and find out exactly why they made that decision, they must have had a good reason to insist upon a pubic access gate being kept open at all times!
Furthermore, it should be incumbent upon the landowner to provide the necessary safety equipment, and the clean up of the landing, as well as providing full public liability insurance cover for those visiting.
Ms. Lucas also writes
"We are continuing in our attempts to identify the actual owner",
this investigation, if indeed it is happening, has now been ongoing for a number of years, if one bothers to research Planning Committe minutes going all the way back to the 1980's and 1990's. One wonders how much energy and vigour is being put into this investigation.
Ms. Lucas' final point
"the Council will seek to identify the most appropriate outcome to address the range of access and anti-social behaviour issues associated with the site. "
How many more months will pass whilst the Council identifies it's options?
Will they consider acquiring the landing and making it available once again as a place of public access to the river, and add it to the Catherine Cookson trail? What will they do about the most anti-social element in this saga - Tyne Slipway Engineering Ltd. - who have arbitrarily locked the gate over the course of a number of years?
At risk of repeating myself, the greatest danger is that Tyne Slipway Engineering Ltd. will eventually use the 2004 Land Registration Act and make a claim to the title of the land, thus ensuring that the public will never again be able to access the riverside from Redhead's Landing. This could feasibly happen due to the "head in the sand" stance of South Tyneside Council.
One further batch of questions;
Why are the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Council unable to provide answers to my questions and enquiries ?
Who has been responsible for taking the current decisions about locking the public access gate - officers or Councillors?
Which committee meeting were these decisions taken at? (I have not seen any minuted references to this decision on the Council's Website).
When will some Councillor of ours have the sheer nerve to challenge officers and make some serious headway into this problem. Indeed, when will some of our elected representatives show some leadership and start taking decisions, formulating policy, instead of meakly following recommendations?
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Eilleen baubles for Ron?
Meanwhile Cllr. Eilleen Leask had a rare photo opportunity when she appeared on the front page of todays Shields Gazette, she is one of those Councillors who perhaps work quietly and efficiently amongst their communities without seeking much publicity for their efforts or, more unkindly, is seen as voting fodder by the ruling Labour Group.
She is also fondly remembered by the writer of this blog as being particularly unhelpful at the time of the Trow Quarry and Temple Park protests when she said
"Do not email me, I will not reply"
Today she is promoting the use of a Christmas Tree for the Horsley Hill Residents Association where people will be able to hang a bauble to remember a lossed relative or friend. I salute this, it's a fine, novel idea, particularly for those who have lossed loved ones near the Christmas period over recent years.
Cllr. Leask is pictured perhaps saying a fond farewell to Ron Reynolds
Click thumbnail to enlarge
Coun Leask said: "I think it's a wonderful idea and a special way in which residents are able to pay tribute to their loved ones, who are no longer here to share this special time of year."- Read more here.
Just remember folks, it's all "tongue in cheek"
Two recent stories combine nicely this evening, the so called "shock" resignation of Councillor Ron Reynolds and a rare appearance in the Shields Gazette of Councillor Eilleen Leask.
Cllr. Reynolds the former Lead Member for Lifelong Learning and Leisure apparently is resigning his seat in protest at government policies on education, indeed he goes so far to say that he will leave the Labour Party if the current White Paper on education makes it on to the statute books. There were some symbolic tears in the Gazette's report from Cllr. Waggott and Cllr. Iain Malcolm who said
"But I respect his decision and the Labour Party will be selecting a very strong candidate to follow in his footsteps."
It would not surprise me if the members of the Labour Party in Westoe Ward already have a good idea of who this very strong candidate is, it certainly looks like an ideal opportunity for someone like Scott Duffy (David Miliband's aide) to get his foot in the door.
Cllr. Reynolds will be not so fondly remembered as the man who proposed building a new "super school" on Temple Memorial Park last year, a proposal which aroused so much anger and resentment from South Shields residents. Following this fiasco, he was removed from his position as Lead member for Lifelong Learning and Leisure and replaced by Cllr. Jimmy Foreman.
Full resignation story - click here.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Fantastic Free Offer!
As a special "thank you" to the 400,000+ readers who have visited the Curly's Corner Shop suite of websites during the past year, I am making available this superb 2006 South Shields Calendar as a FREE download. This .pdf file prints superbly in A4 size and looks great on high quality matte inkjet paper or heavyweight high gloss photopaper. Just staple the top, or use a file binder (available from your local stationer).
The calendar features twelve magnificent views of South Shields, previously published on the websites, as taken by myself, to reflect the seasons and events of the past year. This calendar will happily grace any wall in your office or home.
Download it free - here.
Monday, November 21, 2005
Beach Road mental home
Mentally ill frighten residents!
A plan to convert a large residential property in Beach Road, South Shields, has aroused fears and anxieties amongst neighbours. The scheme involves converting the large terraced house into four bedsits for those recovering from mental health problems.
Members of the Council's Planning Committee discussed the proposal at their meeting on Thursday 18th. November, when they discovered to their shock that residents nearby had raised a number of concerns and expressed their fears in a number of objections.
Here are a number of comments culled from the Committee papers, which are available here.
Worried for his family's safety due to previous incidents.
Safety and disturbance concerns.
Feels residents of the home would bring down the down the area in the eyes of visitors when they stand outside smoking.
Concerns that residents of the home are frightening people.
Drinking and litter problems in the rear lane.
Objects to the increase in the number of residents which will increase the likelihood of problem behaviour.
It would undermine the confidence of residents
Litter has been noticed behind Beach Road, indicating consumption of alcohol from these residents
The residents of the present home are a source of problems within the area with drinking occuring down back lanes, rubbish being thrown into gardens and persons knocking on doors wishing to lend items.
The proposals represent further piecemeal development which will erode the character of the area
The proposals will set an unwanted precedent.
(You can understand these worries when you see my picture !)
The Shields Gazette reported that John Coing, of nearby Salisbury Place,
said the property was a source of many problems, including drinking in back lanes.
He said: "You can't liken this to a normal family home, it's going to be entirely different.
"I appreciated the candour of one of the planners when I asked him what he would do if this application was made at the bottom of his road. He said he would strongly object to it."
The applicant, William Brosnan, who lives in Beach Road, admitted there were problems with anti-social behaviour in the area.
Pictured here is the area and the sorts of people who are really worrying local residents (click thumbnail to enlarge)
Councillors were unable to immediately agree to the officers' recommendations to approve the application and have decided to visit the area and add to the residents fears, further discussions will take place in December.
I have to agree with local residents, it must be seen as a massive problem to have these people with mental health problems in your area! Considering that they walk through it, over it, on it, past it, by it, or along it, each and every time that they go to the Town Hall, can someone please explain why these Councillors on the Planning Committee really need to arrange a visit to Beach Road? Surely they are already aware of the multi-occupancy problems, or do they walk around with their eyes closed?
Miliband's plan to purge Tory Councillors
South Shields MP and Cabinet Minister for Communities and Local Government, David Miliband has hatched a scheme to rid the Conservative Party of a huge swathe of it's most loyal and devoted local councillors. Couched in the best "spin speak" of New Labour's liturgy, his internal memorandum to "two jags" Prescott proposes an end to the two-tier structure of district and county councils that operates across much of the country.
It also dovetails nicely with the current ideas to reduce the number of police forces in a process of "regionalisation", which is already running into trouble - Cleveland Constabulary, for instance, has vowed to fight for it's independence rather than joining a regional force with Durham and Northumbria.
The key to the reform would be the creation of all-purpose unitary authorities to replace either the counties or the districts in the 34 English shire counties, most of which are under Tory control. Alongside these new unitary authorities will also be the regional assemblies, those unelected producers of hot air which refuse to go away, even after "two jags" received a black eye from the electors of the North-East when they convincingly rejected his proposals for an elected assembly in last year's referendum - Read more here.
It seems to me that larger bodies for larger geographical areas are what New Labour are driving towards, it kind of goes against the job title "communities and local government" don't you think David?
Sunday, November 20, 2005
Labour's 'dirty tricks' over secret Cameron dossier_________________________________________________________________
The Government was accused of waging a "dirty tricks" campaign last night over a potentially explosive file on David Cameron's personal life.
Allies of Mr Cameron cried foul after the Treasury issued an unprecedented statement revealing that it held sensitive security information on the Tory leadership front-runner.
Officials said the information was compiled when Mr Cameron was recruited as a special adviser to the Conservative chancellor Norman Lamont in 1992.
The existence of the file was revealed in an unusually detailed response to a Freedom of Information request by The Sunday Telegraph. - Read more here
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Signs of an overtaxed nation?
Being involved in retail at the Corner Shop teaches you a thing or two about life, politics, economics, and the bigger picture.
Taking a stroll through South Shields town centre at lunchtime today I noticed that diy giant B&Q was offering 10% off everything this weekend, (I understand that this is the third such event that they have had in the past couple of months), Woolworths were also offering 10% off everything, Marks and Spencer were announcing that they were now opening on Sundays (they have never been keen in the past) and Christmas gifts could be had at three for the price of two , W H Smith were selling all of their hard backed books at half price, and the sports shop opposite had reduced it's sale items by a further 50%.
It seems just the right time for the clever shopper to pick up a real bargain! However all is not well within the retail sector of the U.K. very few of our high street shops have reported any growth in profits over the past twelve months, the exceptions being Tesco, Debenhams, and to a lesser extent Marks and Spencer. Most retailers are reporting like for like sales reduced by almost 3% compared to last year and the trend towards lower prices, discounting, and special events is likely to continue as they struggle to increase footfall. This lack of boyancy or retail "buzz" is not restricted to the regions, but is also very prevalent in the nation's capital, London, where, despite the influx of foreign visitors and a wealth of attractions, there is still stagnancy in the retail market.
B&Q's parent group Kingfisher recently reported sales down 3.4% like for like, pretax profits down GBP 78 million, and Woolworths reported losses increased to GBP 36 million,and like for like sales down 4%.
So, we see up and down the nation, like for like sales are less than last year, retail profits squeezed, and yet at the same time personal debt is rising at an alarming rate! (Total consumer credit lending to individuals in September 2005 was GBP190.8bn., total lending in September 2005 grew by GBP9.0bn.)
What does this information tell us?
Yes, it tells us that there is a lot of "buy now pay later" going on; but if there is no growth in retail sales value, and wages are only growing by an average 2% per annum, savings, pensions, and investments are suffering, and the household final consumption expenditure is also heavily squeezed, it tells us that our disposable income is going elsewhere not into the cash drawers of the retailers!
So where is it going? Who is the benefactor of our hard labours? Who is gaining a growing proportion of our wage?
The answer is the Treasury and your local Council; the solid indications are that the decline in household final consumption expenditure, and the decline in retail growth and the increase in personal debts are a direct result of a nation suffering from over taxation. For every extra pound taken in taxation, you have one less to spend in the shops, and our taxation is taken from an ever increasing variety of sources now (p.a.y.e., national insurance, road taxes, tv licence fees, Council tax, VAT, excise duties, death duties, inheritance tax, etc., etc., - ad nauseam.)
Yet, as we spend less and borrow more, New Labour presses ahead with plans to tax us even more heavily, the delayed revaluation of property will go ahead in 2007 after Council taxes rise by an average 10% in 2006, plans to introduce an identity card scheme will see fruition with us paying for it, and motorists will face more congestion charges, speed cameras, and toll roads.
With government taking an ever increasing slice of the nation's pie, it's difficult to see where the next meal will come from. We rely on a growing economy to provide revenue for increased service spending, but this strategy is put at an ever increasing risk by such heavy levels of taxation.
Most wanted website today is Most Wanted!
It's true! Since publishing details of the Most Wanted website, the Crimestoppers Charity has created such a huge storm of interest that both of their sites have become swamped by requests and their servers cannot cope with the demand.
So if you fancy being a sleuth in South Shields you will have to wait a few days until their problems are sorted out. The site is a spin off from programmes like Crimewatch and is the modern day equivalent of "Wanted" posters that used to be pinned to trees and billboards - Read more here.
I guess by making this post I will have added to the problem. Try not to click on the links in the BBC article for a while.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Council Tax Inspectors
Valuation inspectors set to invade your privacy!
Council tax inspectors will be able to enter people's homes and take photographs even of their bedrooms, it emerged yesterday.
Whitehall documents reveal that they will be allowed to "obtain factual information from internal inspections" as part of the enormous exercise to revalue 22 million properties in England.
Anybody who believes that Labour renounced socialism in the late 1990s should consider the Government's plans for council tax. It is true that Tony Blair's greatest triumph has been to persuade the British electorate that his party has mended its ways under his leadership. Labour, Mr Blair would have us believe, is no longer the enemy of enterprise and private property, no longer the champion of the state against the individual. One glance at the Council Tax (New Valuation Lists for England) Bill, now before Parliament, should show how very far from the truth that picture is. - Read more here
Sunday, November 13, 2005
Remembrance Sunday 2
Deputy Mayor leads Civic act of Remembrance
On a very bright but chilly Sunday morning deputy Mayor Cllr. Ed Malcolm led the town's civic Remembrance Sunday ceremony after a parade from the Town Hall up the hill to Westoe Cenotaph.
A large crowd was assembled to view a diminishing group of distinguished ex-servicemen resplendent in their berets and medal boards, men and women who had served their country in times of conflicts such as the Second World War, the Korean War, the Falklands War, and the first Gulf War. The South Tyneside Pipe and Drum band led the parade followed by a troop from the Territorial Army base in Northfield Gardens and representatives from our other uniformed training services, T.S. Collingwood Sea Cadets, the Air Training Corps and the St. John Ambulance service.
The Reverend Glynn Lister conducted the service of Remembrance and the Salvation Army band provided the music for the hymns. Most unfortunately there was a technical problem with the radio microphones and p.a. system which produced nothing but loud screeching and crackling noises; the Council technician charged with overseeing the system had arrived at the same time as myself, to the sound of the bagpipes approaching what used to be Westoe Bridges, leaving him no time to run any sound checks. It was rather embarassing, we were unable to hear the Reverend Lister but knew exactly the importance and sentiment of the occasion.
Further drama ensued when one of the girls of the Air Training Corps suffered a faint as we all stood motionless during the two minutes silence, she was quickly attended to and was fit enough to rejoin her colleagues at the end of the ceremony.
Click thumbnails to enlarge
Curly would like to express his special thanks and appreciation to Cllr. Ed Malcolm for an unconnected matter.
Remembrance Sunday - how we remembered in South Shields_________________________________________________________________
Please wait while video loads, to play video just hover your mouse over the video panel.
Saturday, November 12, 2005
Police and politics
Police pressured into politics!
It is getting a little easier to see through the muddied waters created by Tony Blair and Charles Clarke this week in advance of the debate over the Terrorism Bill. It is now looking as though the Tories were perfectly right to voice concerns over the politicisation of the Police forces after Charles Clarke's admission that he had asked the Association of Police Chief Officers (ACPO) to write to MPs in their police authority area, making themselves or relevant senior police officers available to MPs, of all parties, who wanted to know their local police attitude on these issues. - Read more here
This was a desperate move from desperate men wanting to force their own views through Parliament. To use ACPO in this manner opened the door to accusations that the government was politicising the traditional neutrality of the Police force. This country relies on the impartiality of it's Crown servants to administer and police the laws of the land without hinderance from the legislature. If we are to move to a situation where the Police forces act at the bidding of the ruling political party of the day, then we can be reasonably compared to Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia.
Tony Blair extolled us all not to allow the terrorists to change the British way of life, yet, hypocritically, he has tried twice in the same week to do just that!
Friday, November 11, 2005
Oppose Prescott's tax plans!
A few days ago I posted in this blog my concerns about "two jags'" plans to tax the view from your windows, I believe I managed to publish this story before the morning papers (use the link in the title to remind yourselves)
This appears to be another of Prescott's left hooks to the jaw of the Council taxpayers, and I am pleased to note that the Conservative Councillor for Cleadon Village and East Boldon, David Potts, (pictured in an ornate conservatory) concurs with my views on this point, he has kindly sent this release for inclusion in the blog;
Coun David Potts, this week criticised the plans by John Prescott to increase council taxes on homes with scenic views, patios, greenhouses, large garages and conservatories. The proposals were revealed in internal Whitehall documents on the forthcoming council tax revaluation in England.
The Government has so far spent £60 million on revaluation, of which an
estimated £45 million has paid for a new American computer system -
so-called 'Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal'. Conservatives have used
Parliamentary Questions to obtain the technical IT documents. They reveal that the Government is using it to collect a whole new range of 'value' indicators on individual homes. This in turn will allow the Government to impose higher council tax on properties with those indicators.
The new 'dwelling house codes' and 'value significance codes' being
* Number of bedrooms.
* If located near a golf course, a conservation area; or with a view of a
sea, hills or lake.
* Conservatory type and size, including greenhouses and UPVC/hardwood
* Number of garage spaces and car parking spaces.
* Large patios or gardens.
Coun Potts explained,
"Under Mr Blair, council taxes across South Tyneside have already soared by 63 per cent - taking a typical bill to £1242 a year. Future hikes are on the way, engineered by Whitehall, in the form of the delayed - but not
cancelled - council tax revaluation.
"A new American computer system will allow John Prescott's bureaucrats to identify homes with garages, green houses, large patios or gardens, with scenic views or in a Conservation Area. This in turn will allow Labour to increase council tax on these homes, by pushing them into a higher council tax band.
"This is a sinister echo of the ancient 'windows tax', rather than a fair
charge for the use of local services. These plans are the ultimate stealth
tax - taxing those who have worked hard and improved their homes, and making council tax even more punishing for families and pensioners."
This does not make pleasant news at all for pensioners on the Lonnen with a stunning view over the whole of South Shields and the sea front from the front window, and views over the golf course and Cleadon Hills through the kitchen windows! Then there are thousands of people in the Horsley Hill Ward, Marsden and Whitburn Ward, and Beacon and Bents Ward, with equally great views over the coastline and riverside, perhaps the Labour Councillors for these areas ought to be urgently writing to Prescott opposing his foolhardy plans on behalf of hard presed South Tynesiders who only wish to pay for their services and NOT the view from the window!!
Road / News congestion in South Shields
I first posted on the threat of a "congestion charge" on 1st. October this year (use the link in the title to remind yourselves), now I'm not sure if the Shields Gazette are finding it a little difficult to get stories from our spinning machine in South Tyneside but they've just picked up on this sneaky little plan.
Motorists in South Tyneside face the prospect of congestion charges if a bid for Government cash is successful.
The council has joined forces with neighbouring local auth-orities to apply for a share of the Government's Tran-sport Innovation Fund.
Successful councils must use the money to improve transport and reduce road congestion.
Among the measures they would be encouraged to look at are road-user tolls, workplace parking fees, congestion charging and other parking controls. - Read more here.
We already have been told that we have the safest roads in Great Britain, so perhaps with this grant money they intend to cement this position, I am glad, however, that at least one of the political parties on the Council thinks that the whole idea is "utterly ludicrous".
The Conservative Group on South Tyneside Council has labeled the concept of congestion charging in South Tyneside 'utterly ludicrious'. The comments come after news that South Tyneside Council has joined forces with neighbouring local authorities for a share of the Government's Transport Innovation Fund to tackle congestion.
Coun David Potts said,
"We wouldn't have any congestion in the Borough if it wasn't for this Council's ridiculous obsession with speed bumps, roundabouts, and chicanes. We find the whole concept of congestion charging utterly ludicrious. Our town centres are already like ghost towns, with many traders struggling to scratch a living. Congestion charging would sound the final death knoll for commerce and enterprise in South Tyneside."
Personally, I will be glad to see the introduction of more free parking space in the town centre with the opening of the new Asda next year, amove on their part which will help stimulate business, any other plans aimed at further taxation and restriction of motoring will be seen as yet another attack on ordinary folks in this "war" against car users. If public transport was clean, quick, efficient, and cheap it might go some way to reducing the amount of cars on the roads, but how many people want to carry ten bags of shopping on the bus?
Thursday, November 10, 2005
A night in the cells gave me a different view of the cops_________________________________________________________________
By Boris Johnson
I don't know whether my old chum Matt D'Ancona has ever been incarcerated without charge. I do not suggest that he should be. I merely wonder whether I could briefly enter the woeful testimony of a man who has. There will be many loyal readers of this paper who will be appalled that any of its writers could have had their collars felt, no matter how fleetingly. I want to stress that it is a matter for shame. - Read more
Boris has a wonderful wickedness in his humour whilst still conveying the serious nature of yesterday's defeat for Tony Bliar.
Blair Battles back
Blair Battles Back
Following yesterday's House of Commons defeat, Prime Minister Tony Blair has started to feel the full force of the British press which has gone into a feeding frenzy, with many commentators starting to count the days towards the Prime Minister's demise.
According to the BBC the
Prime Minister thinks that MPs are "out of touch"
Tony Blair has accused some MPs of being out of touch with the public and of failing to face the terror threat.
Mr Blair met his Cabinet after a vote on anti-terror plans brought his first Commons defeat as prime minister.
He told ministers there was a "worrying gap between parts of Parliament and the reality of the terrorist threat and public opinion". - Read more here
Reuters makes the point that further rebellions within the Labour Party ranks are now more likely following yesterday's vote.
Blair heads for clashes on future reforms
Tony Blair set himself up on Thursday for high-risk clashes with his party, refusing to compromise on future reforms despite a first parliamentary defeat that raised doubts about his ability to govern.
Forty-nine Labour MPs rebelled on Wednesday against government plans to let police hold terrorist suspects for up to 90 days without charge.
Commentators said the shock vote marked a turning point for a once-invincible leader who has seen his authority wane since the 2003 Iraq war, despite winning a third term in May. -Read more here
In the North-East four MPs voted against the government and a further two abstained, one of whom was a "teller" Hexham MP Peter Atkinson . South Shields MP and Cabinet Minister David Miliband showed his loyalty by backing the Prime Minister's plans. - read more here
You can view a full list of how MPs voted - here
For those interested in following the rest of this (or any other Parliamentary debate) you can watch live on your pc - here
Oh no, I've just noticed.....Jimmy has his picture in again!
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
Blair defeated on anti-terror
Blair defeated on Anti-Terror Bill
Tony Blair has suffered his first major defeat in the House of Commons since becoming Prime Minister. Labour MPs turned against their leader in a show of strength for democracy and liberty when they joined The Opposition in defeating the government's proposal to hold suspects for ninety days without charge under new anti-terror laws.
This clause in the Bill was recently defeated by a single vote in the House of Commons, yet despite a couple of concessions by the Prime Minister, and an enforced turnout by Cabinet Ministers, the vote was lost by a majority of 31, with 49 Labour MPs voting against the Treasury Bench.
Read more - here.
The following are comments from the Curly's Corner Shop Message Board
Surely it isn't right to detain anyone for this length of time without charge. I think it's a terrible attack on one's liberty. Suppose at the end of ninety days you are released without charge? In the meantime, you will probably have lost your job and livelihood. Suppose I tell the police that my neighbours are behaving in a suspicious manner, and that they are muslim, they could be at risk of a long detention for virtually no reason (the police are very nervous and jumpy about anything islamic at the moment). Just think how the local muslim community might react against me, the police, or the state - it is likely to produce even more terror!
Surely if the police have any reasons or suspicions strong enough to make an arrest, then a charge must follow in a reasonable period of time. I'm sure that, even while investigations continue, a "holding" charge can be laid with the possibilities of further charges to follow. There are adequate provisions within our law to deal with those suspected of planning a crime (conspiracy to comitt acts etc.) there really is no need to start introducing a draconian police state type of measure.
My greatest worry about this bill, is the fact that it has been almost "sponsored" by the police and the secret intelligence services. They should be spending their time applying the laws given by the people, and not drafting new laws to help themselves in the job given to them by parliament. This new bill would pave the way for some very grave injustices and would have been lauded by the likes of Beria, Malenkov, and Stalin.
With this bill we are talking about people (any people, not just terrorists) being held wthout charge for "questioning" for ninety days. This is unjust, and not necessary. We have plenty adequate laws to hold peole after a charge (virtually any charge) has been laid against them.
We also have a "shoot to kill" policy in place!
Shields' beach loses "blue flag"
Once the pride of the North-East, the clean bathing waters at South Shields beaches have lost their European "blue flag" status, thanks due mainly to Northumbrian Water.
The number of floods experienced around Tyneside in the past year, emptying their foul contents into the River Tyne, have affected the samples of bathing water taken for anaysis. We all know only too well, how long it takes for Northumbrian Water to get it's house in order when it comes to drainage and flooding.
Coun Jim Foreman, lead member for lifelong learning and leisure, said: "While Sandhaven has again achieved the mandatory bathing water standard, it is disappointing that water quality samples taken during the 2005 bathing season failed to reach guideline quality. - Read more here
Once again the Shields Gazette featured the pictorial qualities of the Lead Member for Life Long Learning, I think it's about time they put his portrait in the top right corner of the front page, he's starting to get as well known as Binns! (My picture shows Jim's well honed surfboarding skills on his recent holiday to Corfu!)
I have had a number of requests to make available, once again, the Armadillo Video, featuring the British squaddies at the Al Fawr base in Iraq. Set to the tune of Tony Christie's "Is this the way to Amarillo?" the video spoofs the version made by Peter Kaye. It's a very high quality video and the file size is 26 Mbs, so it's for broadband downloaders only, if you are a dial-up user it may take MANY hours to get this file.
I have also made available a Thomas the Tank version of "Is this the way to Amarillo?", believe me your children will like this! The quality is not as good but the file size is only 17.5 Mbs.
Armadillo Video - download here
Thomas the Tank video - download here
Monday, November 07, 2005
Guy Fawkes Night
What can one say about last night's fireworks display on the beach behind the Ocean Beach Pleisure Park? It was big, it was spectacular, it was popular, it was well received? Yes all of those!
You can also say it was the ONLY large scale organised fireworks display in South Shields, and there are reasons for this which I have explained earlier, much to do with Health and Safety and the official desire to severely limit our good citizens from organising any such events that might harm themselves or others.
You can also say that almost a third of the town's population made their way to the seafront for this "exclusive" event, causing a traffic gridlock almost as big as that experienced at the end of the Great North Run. It's a shame that it wasn't held on November 5th. (Saturday), because if it had been, parents would not have been in such a hurry to get the children home and into bed ready for school the following morning.
You can also say that some traditions attached to Guy Fawkes Night were sadly missing, there was no bonfire, nor a "Guy", such a shame, if this is to be the only such public event of it's type in the town. If the authorities are to continue with their efforts next year to virtually wipe out all private or smaller organised Guy Fawkes diplays (on the grounds of safety of course) then perhaps we could start planning to include a bonfire at next year's event - the remnants, if well supervised, could be quite quickly cleared away by Neighbourhood Services the following morning. Perhaps we could also start organising a competition between art students to produce the best Guy?
When I was a child we had an average of two or three bonfires in every back lane, yet we didn't burn the town down! The Fire Service in the 1960's certainly did not have the resource that they have now, yet every fire was dealt with (either by adult supervisors or the Fire Brigade) by morning. I'm not suggesting that we allow those practises to return, but a little loosening of the shackles would be welcome. Also in the 1960's fireworks were available in abundance and a number of accidents happened every year, at least the regulations governing the sale of fireworks have helped to prevent such accidents this year.
I would like to see the minimum age for purchasing fireworks raised to 21, and a rule enforced whereby registered retailers are not allowed to supply fireworks more than 14 days prior to November 5th. and December 31st. Nor would they be allowed to sell their remaining stocks after the said dates.
We can still manage to maintain the traditions of celebrating the discovery of the gunpowder plot, and include all of the elments that we enjoyed over the years, it just takes a "can do" attitude!
Fire crews in South Shields had one of the quietest bonfire nights on record, much because of the campaign organised by themselves in concert with the local Council and Northumbria Police - Read more.
I personally enjoyed last night's show and photographed it from a point on the South pier looking towards Trow Point, rather than joining in the crush on the covered promenade as I have done in past years.
Click the thumbnails to enlarge.
Sunday, November 06, 2005
Redhead's Landing - it's place in art_________________________________________________________________
I have just had a visit from a gentleman in South Shields who has often used Redhead's Landing over the years, with a group of friends, as a point to photograph shipping in the Tyne. He has given me photocopies of letters which have been sent to South Tyneside Council protesting about the locking of the pedestrian access gate, and pleading for it's reopening. I wonder what our Council is doing to help restore access here, anything or nothing at all?
It surprises me from how far and wide people visit Redhead's Landing to access the river, some of these letter writers come from as far as Sedgefield and Ashington!
Redhead's Landing has also been used by the celebrated South Shields artist Ron Thornton, whose book "The River Tyne from Sea to Source" includes a watercolour which he painted at the landing.
By continuing to lock the pedestrian access gate we will deprive people of such artistic merit from the opportunity of expressing their feelings of this great river which serves us all.
Here is Ron's picture - click to enlarge
Truant's parents to face fines
Headmaster Jimmy to give them a caning!
Parents of pupils who persistently pass up on their education by playing "hookey" will now face the wrath of Headmaster Jimmy Foreman. Failure to send your children to school will result in a strongly worded letter from the Education Authority, a second "offence" will result in an even stronger letter warning of the possibility of a fine, failure to comply with this will result in "six of the best".......oops! sorry, I meant a fine of GBP 50.00. If this fine is not paid within 28 days it will be doubled. - Read more here
Coun Jim Foreman, the Council's Lead Member for Lifelong Learning and Leisure, said:
"The overall picture is one of improving school attendance.
It is particularly pleasing to note the significant improvement recorded by those schools that in the previous academic year recorded the poorest attendance.
Our aim this year is to continue this forward momentum, build on the improvements shown across the authority as a whole and to ensure that all our young people are engaged"
Considering that the parents of most of those who "play the nick" don't have two pennies to rub together, I wonder how difficult it might prove to collect the fines? Best make sure that the letter has a picture of Cllr. Foreman on it, that should frighten the little beggars into going back! After all, if they aren't going to school, it's unlikely that they'll read the Gazette, so they won't be able to see the headmaster's face staring at them every night!!
(Who writes Jimmy's scripts for him? He can never manage to orate in this fashion after three pints and a game of fives and threes - like the best headmasters he knows his maths!)
Prescott plans to tax the view from your house!
New Labour's stealth tax policies continue to astonish and amaze me, the latest plans include computer aided models used to revaluate your property for Council Tax purposes. Those living close to a park, or with views over a river, sea, golf course, or countryside will see their property launched into a higher tax band.
Similarly, extra charges will be applied if you have more bedrooms than average, conservatories, large patios or gardens, roof terraces or balconies.
Read more here.
Saturday, November 05, 2005
King Street goes continental!
A further splash of colour has been added to King Street to coincide with the opening of Waterloo Square, a "continental market" is lining both sides of the pedestrianised main shopping area.
I have to compliment the local Council in it's efforts to provide something different to attract shoppers into the town centre and help prevent the drain of custom away to out of town retail parks, but I do have some reservations. We had a taste of the continental market last year, but this event is on a larger scale with more participants. There are a larger variety of goods and produce available including Dutch pancakes, German bratwurst and frikadellen, Italian wines, Spanish Paella, Tunisian fruits, nuts and couscous, fish from France, chinawear, leather goods and textiles.
Despite pouring rain during my visit yesterday I found lots of interest and plenty of shoppers having a look, but it appeared that there wasn't a lot of money changing hands.
The traders themselves were made of sterner stuff than those who normally populate the Friday market (many of whom couldn't be bothered to turn out in the rain) and they made rather more effort than British market traders in decorating their stalls and presenting their goods in a very attractive fashion, there are some lessons to be learned here!
For those looking for something a little "different" for a Christmas gift perhaps, they might well find it here, however, for those just looking for a taste of continental foods they might well have been put off by some rather steep prices. The wines available could be purchased for half the price in your local supermarket or off-licence and if you were looking for some garlic you would be unlikely to be wanting a whole bag (pink or smoked) for GBP 5.00, when a single bulb of garlic at Asda costs just 25P.
Herein lies the crux of the problem - the adventurous spirit is there, but it isn't quite tailored to suit the needs of the local shopper! A little further market research would show us what our shoppers are looking for in November, Christmas gifts for family, friends, and children!
Perhaps for future years we could consider a Christmas market in King Street and the Market Place, rather like the Victorian Market in Grassington, North Yorkshire. In Grassington, the Victorian market takes place on every Saturday in December, traders, shopkeepers, and local children all dress in Victorian costumes and Christmas gifts with an "olde worlde" feel and character are on offer. The tiny village is thronged with visitors and coach operators running excursions are generally fully booked by the end of September.
Should we consider such a venture, market traders could be offered a discount on their site rental for agreeing to appear in period costume, the King Street Traders Association could be persuaded to participate and local schools could be encouraged to add to the festive atmosphere.
The main focus could be moved towards "Christmas shopping with a difference" and we would be offering something that people in South Tyneside and other local towns would want and appreciate. Yes it would involve a great deal of planning and project management, but I think the rewards would be very worthwhile and do much to combat the effects of the Metro Centre and Eldon Square
Continental Market pictures - click thumbnails to enlarge
Waterloo Square - a new shopping experience
Two units in the new Waterloo Square shopping development in South Shields opened their doors to customers this week and were trading at a brisk level, despite the poor weather. BHS and Desire by Debenhams opened on Wednesday, both stores have a great new fresh ambience about them, and they both offer a small restaurant to relax in whilst shopping, there are plenty of parking spaces available right outside, and the site of the former Sutherland's garage has been transformed into a car park as well (pay and display unfortunately).
The quality of the merchandise is a little higher than we are used to in South Shields, and having read one letter in the Shields Gazette from a reader bemoaning this fact, I have to say that these slightly more upmarket shops ought to be welcomed. There are still plenty of other shops in the town centre to cater for the bargain hunters, however, we have desperately lacked this type type of outlet since the closure of Binns in King Street some years ago. There is a place for this type of shopping in our town and I believe that they will prosper and do well.
My one criticism relates only to the attitude of the mangeress in Debenhams who was a rather glum and sour faced individual who was unhappy at my request to take photographs inside her store, well, if she doesn't want a little bit of free publicity then it's her loss. I would have thought that Debenhams would have preferred someone with a little more enterprise and outgoing personality, I did not encounter any such problems at BHS.
BHS and Debenhams have aimed at the female share of the market with little in the way of ranges to attract male shoppers, the other two units, River Island and Next will open their doors in the next couple of weeks. Further development in this area will take place during the next twelve months when Asda builds a new larger supermarket on the site of the Coronation Street car park to give the town centre a huge boost and help to stem the flow of shoppers going to out of town retail parks.
Pictures of Waterloo Square - click on the thumbnails to enlarge.
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