Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Neighbourhood Watch in Eastrington

Last night I was invited along with Tony Froggatt, the former Neighbourhood Watch Development Officer for the East Riding to a meeting of the Eastrington Neighbourhood Watch.

Neighbourhood Watch schemes are very positive, with the Eastrington scheme being very much a good example of how residents can have a significant input into crime prevention by being the ‘eyes and ears’ within their communities.

(pictured with Neighbourhood Watch Members Francoise Siganos, Tony Froggatt, Sue Boyeson and Gina Walker)

I was asked to present Sue Boyeson with a belated award from HANWaG (which sadly ceased to exist from last autumn). The honour is the Norman Godfrey Award which is given to Neighbourhood Watch Coordinators selected by a panel of experts with a community and crime reduction back ground.

The award is given to one person in the Humberside Police Authority Area who have given their time energy and commitment to their community, which Sue as given over 20 years. During this time not only has she had a family to run but she has given her time to improve the quality of her village and local residents. Sue has also had a difficult time with her parents being ill which led to a difficult decision of stand down as the area coordinator. Sue continues to be active with other community projects in her community.

Sue said, “Last night was a positive meeting and I was pleased to see Tony and Paul who used their precious time to join us. I woke feeling as though I'd dreamt the evening; it wasn't until I saw the award on the mantelpiece that it hit home. I am delighted with the award and feel that it is a positive way to promote the benefits of volunteering ones time. Also to highlight the need to continue the hard work that everyone manages to achieve in Eastrington."

Sue added, “There isn't an' i' in team - this award, I feel is for everyone involved with Eastrington Neighbourhood Watch.”

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Has the ‘Big Society’ crept up on us this winter?

Many people ask what the ‘Big Society’ is all about?

I for one, think the ‘Big Society’ has its roots in the past - when we lived in a different world, a world where we had a strong sense of community, where people willingly helped each other and took responsibility, and where we didn’t have restrictive Health and Safety legislation or the ‘Compensation culture’.

If it is about people coming together to help themselves and others within their communities - what occurred before Christmas with Parish and Town Councils, volunteers, residents, farmers and businesses all working together to clear the snow and ice, and grit roads within their communities – could well be a great example of the ‘Big Society’.

We saw 112 Town and Parish Councils across the East Riding taking full advantage of the £175,000 made available by the East Riding Local Strategic Partnership and administered by the East Riding of Yorkshire Council. Not all applications were approved to the full amount requested but all town and Parish Councils that submitted a bid were awarded some of the grant. – with £113,235 being awarded to date.

Some Parish Councils were proactive before the money was made available, and had already taken the lead in organising teams of volunteers - including diggers and equipment provided by local businesses and farmers to clear the snow and ice … in these cases the funding certainly enhanced the work those Parishes were already doing - particularly in allowing them to buy in salt and grit, but most importantly it provided an incentive for other Parish Councils to become involved.

Those residents who picked up shovels to clear snow and grit footpaths and streets independent of the Parish Councils should also be recognised for the tremendous work they did.

As a Ward member I was very proud to spend time working with some of the Howdenshire Parish Councils, residents and the volunteers - I was impressed with the way so many people were able to achieve so much in a relatively short space of time. (pictured with the Holme on Spalding Moor volunteers)

Before going further - I would like to recognise the sterling job carried out by the Council’s gritting teams in keeping the strategic road network of over 800 miles clear during the recent period of heavy snow, without the commitment and expertise of our staff, from the loaders and drivers up to the managers - this would not have been possible.

But whilst the council strives to ensure a strategic network of key routes are open many roads and paths are left untreated. This is where Parish and Town Councils, local farmers and contractors, residents and volunteers were able to make a positive contribution towards helping their local communities.

If one looks back to the past, previous Authorities did things slightly differently in having farmers with snow plough attachments on the front of a tractor on standby to clear the snow from minor roads. I am not saying this is something this Council should look to do directly, but I do know that two Howdenshire Parishes have undertaken to in the future employ a local farmer to clear snow from the minor roads in the Parish as soon as practicable to do so after it falls. There is also significant interest from local businesses in getting involved in this too. Providing the tractors are insured and they are allowed to use red diesel for the task, it would seem a win-win local solution to a local problem, and perhaps something we should look to develop and promote further.

To further support residents, the council also provides salt in bins or piles at many locations throughout the East Riding (some town and parish councils also fund salt bins in addition to these). The council fill the bins at the start of each year and again when they are notified that they need refilling. However, the speed at which they can be refilled does depend on prevailing conditions with the priority being treatment of the defined roads.

I hope the East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s Environment and Transport Overview and Scrutiny Committee will be able to look at this whole issue and more guidance be developed for communities, farmers and businesses.

Whilst recognising the positive impact of the £175,000 of funding, I feel that possibly more important was what the Council did prior to this when issuing the guidance on clearing snow and ice from footpaths sent to all Ward members and Parish Councils at the very beginning of December – many will recall it was a leaflet appropriately titled ‘CLEARING SNOW’. This was produced after the Council received many queries from residents, businesses and Town and Parish councils seeking guidance on how to help with snow clearing during periods of bad weather, during the previous winter.

It was also becoming obvious to the managers and Portfolio holder Cllr Matthew Grove that we were facing a large number of residents potentially trapped in their homes by the shear volume of snow fall. It was a case of the council recognising the limitations of our own service and seeking other ways of helping our residents.

I certainly feel this positive guidance went a long way to allay the fears of people being sued and demonstrates how the Council applauds and fully supports such community spirit that we subsequently saw.

I also feel the guidance is in tune with the sea change nationally - which we are seeing under both the ‘Big Society’ and Localism agendas, and shows the Council is engaging with both.

There are countless stories of the good work done by Parish and Town Councils, volunteers and residents. No Town or Parish Councillor is paid to do anything in his or her community, never mind clear snow.

Although the task was great as we had not seen the amount of snow or the freezing temperatures for many a year, there was some criticism that some paths and roads were not cleared or the work not done quickly enough, but it was never going to be possible to remove the snow and ice from every street and footpath. By and large the comments have been positive and people have been grateful for the work having been done. Personally I found the work carried out by the communities to be very humbling.

It has also sent out a clear message that Health and Safety and the ‘Compensation Culture’ is not going to stop communities working together to help each other in times of need – and perhaps the ‘Big Society’ has crept up on us without us realising.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Gilberdyke Flood Relief Scheme - The pipes have been delivered!

The pipes have been delivered – this being the first sign of the work starting on the new culvert running behind Gilberdyke’s Scalby Lane and Chestnut Drive, to enable the surface water to run out of the village during times of heavy rainfall.

This is the first phase culvert, that once complete will allow the East Riding of Yorkshire Council to install and connect the next two phases of the new drain up to the properties on Station Road, Westbrook Road and Westbrook Crescent that were flooded in 2007.

The whole project will lessen the flood risk to all properties in the village by reducing the pressure on the Yorkshire Water pumped sewage system during times of heavy rainfall, which we saw during the floods.

There were times in the past 2½ years when I wondered if the village would see this work start, but needless to say after all the obstacles put in the way of the Parish Council and the community as a whole we are moving ahead.

Thanks to Eddy Allen of the Lower Ouse Internal Drainage Board, East Riding of Yorkshire Council Drainage Engineers, Gilberdyke Parish Councillors, members of the Gilberdyke Flood Action Group and most importantly the residents for sticking with this through some particularly difficult times.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Happy 2011 to all readers.

Many thanks to all for taking the time to read my blog – during the year there has been a steady increase in visits month on month and 102% increase over the previous year. To have well over 3,000 people read my blog in one month is amazing and something I never thought or expected to happen.

2010 has been an interesting year with a great many ups and very few downs. I have enjoyed my role as a Councillor and also as a Conservative over the year, with the obvious highlight being the General Election result in May - especially seeing Andrew Percy returned as the MP after gaining Brigg and Goole from Labour, and David Davis increasing his majority in Haltemprice and Howden.

I have continued to pursue a number of issues and causes close to my heart: The Gilberdyke Flood Prevention Scheme, Agricultural Composting and its associated foul smells in parts of Howdenshire, anti-social behaviour and reoffending, the renewable energy agenda which certainly included windfarms and how the planning system can be improved to see greater distances between turbines and residences, Broadband speeds and the Wallingfen Way Project.

I have very much focused on issues around young people and how their voices can be heard in the decision making processes, including the Question Time Events at the Secondary Schools, and talking to gangs of young people on the streets of Goole and villages and towns across the East Riding. I continue as a Governor at Gilberdyke Primary School and look forward to the challenges ahead as a newly appointed Governor at Howden Secondary School and Technology College

One highlight was certainly being invited to speak to the Hull and Humber Chamber of Commerce lunch – I can’t ever remember feeling as free in what I said or made to feel as welcome.

Over the year I have been privileged to work with some great fellow Councillors, MPs and Council Officers and Officers from Partner Organisations and business people, Parish Councils and or course the most important people - Gilberdyke, Howdenshire and East Riding Residents who provide me with plenty of casework!

As we move into 2011 there is much to do and some hard work ahead. As a Council we have some tough decisions to make as we cope with reduced funding, but this will hopefully be tempered by the increased powers devolved to the local level though the Localism Bill.

Of course we have the Council Elections in May which will no doubt be an interesting time for us all.

I am not going to make any predictions for the coming year – mainly because I only got 3 ½ out of 10 right for last year - so I don’t want to tempt fate!

Happy New Year to you all!

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Council has power to decide if wind turbines are too close to homes

Following my motion that was approved by the East Riding of Yorkshire Council at the Wednesday 13th October 2010 Full Council meeting, where I requested that “the Council asks the Secretary of State to give urgent consideration to reviewing the government’s planning guidance on renewable energy as clarification is needed on national minimum distances between wind turbines and affected residences taking into account the size of the turbine.”

In his reply the Minister of State at the department of Energy and Climate Change, Charles Hendry MP says:

“There are no plans for the government to introduce a proximity rule. The assessment of an application to develop a windfarm already includes, amongst other things, an analysis of visual and landscape impacts to ascertain whether the location and height of the wind farm is acceptable.”

“The Government considers that these impacts are best assessed on a case by case basis so that local factors can be taken fully into account, regardless of whether applications are dealt with at a national or local level. Where applications are dealt with at the local level, we believe that councils should have the opportunity to decide these matters on behalf of their local community.”

Minister for Decentralisation, Greg Clark MP, in a very similar reply reiterates this, and also indicates the Government’s plans to put forward a “simple and consolidated National planning framework covering all forms of development.”

On face value this would appear to mean that the buck stops with the East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s Planning Committee as to where wind turbines are located in relation to dwellings.

This will hopefully contribute to a positive outcome for Spaldington residents, when the two separate wind farm schemes close to the village are heard at appeal in the Spring. The proposal was for sites on either side of the village, with the community being in the middle of a 12 turbine windfarm of 126m high turbines. There would have been 24 houses within 775m of the nearest turbine and would have been the closest of any wind farm developments in East Riding to nearby homes.

The decision of the Planning Committee in September was to refuse both applications; therefore if the Ministers are to be taken at their word the decision to refuse these applications should be upheld by the planning inspector.