Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Happy & Successful New Year to all readers

Once again, many thanks to all of you for taking the time to read my blog this past year. It has been an interesting year for me as a blogger, with an increased readership and an all-time high for hits on one day in November – the day after I was hauled before the East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s Standards Committee over comments made by others on the blog.

To see the story rocket around cyberspace and be re-posted on so many blogs and websites, including by Tim Montgomerie on conservativehome, and to read all the comments, emails and messages of support, meant that the minimal censure the Committee imposed became somewhat meaningless. The wider debate in the media clearly indicated that freedom of speech will not be stifled.

The wonder of Google means that many of my old blogposts still get regular hits, and the increased use of Facebook and Twitter (follow me at #paul12clear) has resulted in many more re-postings.

2011 has been a really good year for me personally, with many ups - but surprisingly few downs. Amongst other achievements, I have managed to get the new company website up and running – and, yes, it has its own blog which can be found here.

One of the year’s highlights was being re-elected to represent Howdenshire in May’s local elections. The fantastic numbers of votes I received from all the parishes (including the Gilberdyke Parish Council election) that make up Howdenshire, vindicated the stance I had taken on a number of issues. These ranged from wind farms, landfill sites, affordable housing and flood relief, to senior Council employee early retirement packages. The election saw an increase in the Conservative majority and brought some really good new councillors to County Hall. The age profile of councillors was brought a little more into line with the area demographics with the election of the youthful duo of Josh Newlove (Labour) and Bradley Birmingham (Conservative) both of whom are in their twenties.

The election result was tempered a little by the ERYC Council Leader’s decision to remove me from my previously held position as Chairman of the Goole and Howdenshire Local Action Team, and from the Council’s Planning Committee. The level of support I subsequently received from the public was very humbling and sometimes came from unexpected quarters. I’m really enjoying my role as a backbencher, but people keep reminding me of that famous quote of Arnold Schwarzenegger – “I’ll be back!” - Who knows?

If I could give an award to the community of the year it would be to Spaldington, who went into battle against not one, but two wind farm companies seeking to build giant wind turbines at each side of their village. This community raised in excess of £80,000, employed their own barrister and expert witnesses, and showed true teamwork in putting together a fantastic case at the public enquiry, with the result that one wind farm application was thrown out by the planning inspector and the other conditioned in such a way that the turbines will not be able to operate at full capacity because of noise. It has been an honour and a privilege to work with the people of Spaldington.

A close second would be Gilberdyke, where we have seen a great example of the community taking responsibility for themselves in the construction of the flood relief culvert. This, coupled with the snow clearing efforts at the end of the previous year, shows that localism is alive and kicking here and in many other East Riding villages. The Government’s Localism Act should enable more power, decision making and spending to cascade down to the local level – I for one will be pushing for this to happen in Howdenshire over the next year.

One of my most satisfying experiences was in my role as a governor at Howden Secondary School and Technology College. As a part of ‘Team Howden’ we pulled the school out of special measures in record time and the pupils achieved their best ever exam results at the end of the year. I have every confidence that the momentum will continue and that this year will be even better.

I’ve also enjoyed doing a number of fundraising activities, including the Humber Bridge Midnight Walk (dressed as Elvis!) and speaking about my ‘African Odyssey’ to a number of groups. I had received many requests to talk on this subject and this was the year I finally bit the bullet. I look forward to doing more talks next year, beginning with the W I in February.

In conclusion, I will continue to engage with the community and champion free speech via my blog and other social networking media, or by ‘Witchcraft’ (as some of my colleagues would have it), and who knows - we may see a couple of other ERYC Councillors blogging in the coming year?

It has been a pleasure to represent Howdenshire, and East Riding residents during 2011 and I will do my utmost to speak up for, and fight their causes during 2012.

I wish you all a very Happy and Successful New Year

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Democracy prevails in Gilberdyke - but at what cost?

I don't normally allow posts by others on my blog, but Gilberdyke Parish Council Chairman Nick Norris (pictured) has asked me to post the following on his behalf regarding this past week's Gilberdyke Parish Council by-election.

Congratulations to Chris Newsome on winning the Gilberdyke Parish Council by-election and I look forward to working with him in the future.

Needless to say Gilberdyke taxpayers have had to stump up some £3,000 to pay for this by-election, an election called by just 10 Council tax payers as is the minimum required. The 10 in this case were family and neighbours of Mike Whitley, the losing candidate of the two who stood for the election and someone who has form when it comes to using £1,000’s of taxpayer’s money to further his own agenda.

The Gilberdyke Parish Councillors were democratically elected in May of this year; Mr Whitley failed in his quest to be elected by a considerable margin at that election. Due to one of the Councillors having to step down on health grounds a vacancy arose, and the decision of the 10 in calling the by-election after just 7 months means the taxpayer is saddled with having to pay for two elections in the one year.

I fully agree with the democratic process and everyone’s right to call for an election, and for anyone to put their name forward and be able to lay their case before the electorate. What I do not condone is the actions of a person, whose family and friends calling an election which resulted in that person receiving so little support - namely 83 votes out of a possible 2,557* and much, much fewer then he polled in the May election. This, when Chris Newsome was prepared to be co-opted onto the Parish Council at no cost to the taxpayer before the election was called.

I also have real problems with Mr Whitley when in his by-election literature it states that those Gilberdyke Parish Councillors elected in May, had somehow prevented a fair election at that time. I am tempted to ask for this disingenuous and offensive statement to be investigated, but to what end? For him to be reprimanded or censured after a lengthy investigation, costing and ultimately wasting even more taxpayer’s money.

I take the view that this by-election result shows conclusively that the Gilberdyke electorate has seen through Mr Whitley’s wild accusations, and seen his actions in delaying the flood relief work for what they were – the pursuit of a personal agenda that has resulted in increased costs and wasted time. They have also seen through his frivolous vexatious complaints about Parish Councillors, and particularly our ward Councillor Paul Robinson to the ERYC Standards Committee, they’ve seen through his threats, his complaints to the police, his letters in the press and statements on his website.

The Parish Council now has the opportunity to move forward on many important projects, and hopefully will not have to spend time on defending itself against the constant barrage of complaint and question from Mr Whitley as it as in the past. But unfortunately he will not be totally absent from our thoughts as we have to find some £3,000 from next year’s budget to pay for this by-election, so we will not be able to do as much as we’d planned.

The only reason that I have taken the time to compose this letter is that prior to the election result even being announced, Mr Whitley while standing alongside me actually said to another person present, ‘To be honest I didn’t think I had a chance of winning’. This admittance only confirmed to me that he was well aware that every single person within the Parish of Gilberdyke would have to pay for this election however he didn’t really care about the result.

Finally I would like to thank the people of Gilberdyke for sending out a clear message to Mr Whitley that enough is enough.

*Number of Gilberdyke voters at 1st December 2010

Nick Norris

Chairman, Gilberdyke Parish Council

Friday, December 09, 2011

November sees record high for Blog readers

Many thanks to all my blog readers for achieving the 2nd highest number of hits in a single month during November, the highest ever on a single day on 10th November, plus the highest number of 1st time visitors in any given month - Why you may ask? My altercation with the East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s Standards Committee over allowing third party comments on here…

Many thanks once again for all your support!

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Gilberdyke Flood Relief Work Restarts After Delays

After all the delays, frustrations and the waiting, construction of the East Riding of Yorkshire Council funded second and third phases of the new Gilberdyke surface water drainage system is underway and should be complete within a few weeks. This £85k to £90k investment includes a 300mm diameter culvert which will connect the previously flooded properties on Westbrook Close and Westbrook Road to the new 900mm diameter culvert, funded by Gilberdyke Parish Council as phase one of the overall scheme. This first phase was completed some months ago by the same contractors and performed as designed during the heavy rainfall experienced on August 3rd this year - which offered some peace of mind for the residents flooded in June 2007.

Once complete this new drainage scheme will take a significant amount of surface water out of the village during heavy rainfall, reducing the pressure on the Yorkshire Water system, and existing surface water systems (which have also been improved by the East Riding of Yorkshire Council, the Lower Ouse Internal Drainage Board and Network Rail), therefore almost all Gilberdyke and Sandholme residents will benefit from a reduced flood risk in the future.

Although the conventional wisdom is that this type of work is best not done in the winter, but the on-going delays resulting from the mischief making from a very small number of residents have left the Council and their contractors with little option but to push on regardless.

I know that the delays experienced on the first phase did cost the Gilberdyke taxpayer more financially, and has had a knock on effect - but we are very lucky that this section was up and running before the rains seen in August.

Credit for this should be given not just to the Parish Council and the Flood Action Group, but also the Lower Ouse Internal Drainage Board, the East Riding of Yorkshire Council Land Drainage section, the consultants Mason Clark Associates, and the contractors L & K Warkup – all of whom had to put up with so much, but prevailed.

I hope that fewer problems are experienced on the second and third phases and the work is completed as soon as possible.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

No respite for Spaldington as yet another wind farm planned

Many will be aware that the Howdenshire village of Spaldington has for this past two and a half years been fighting off two wind farm companies each wanting to construct overly large wind turbines close to the village. One application was granted consent recently at appeal but the other was dismissed....

One would have thought the residents had gone through enough and could do with a break, take time to reflect and time to recoup their financial losses.

I was therefore staggered this weekend to receive a letter from RWE npower renewables informing me that they had recently started to investigate the potential for wind farm development on land near Spaldington, and that they would be submitting a planning application to the East Riding of Yorkshire Council next week for an anemometer mast.

The letter acknowledges that the company is aware of the recent appeal decisions on the Spaldington Airfield and Spaldington Common Schemes and have studied those applications, and they are giving careful thought to how their proposals would fit with the consented wind farm. They also state that they are taking into account the reasons for refusal for the Spaldington Common wind farm to ensure they can work with the community and key stake holders to design a wind farm that is suitable for the area. They then purport to recognise the importance and sensitivity of the recent decisions…. Is this some sort of sick joke?

The community of Spaldington is still trying to recover from the imposition of one wind farm next to their village, having failed in their gallant attempt to fend off two wind farm developers at the same time, despite the village funding their own team of expert witnesses and a barrister at the recent Public Inquiry. So before the dust has settled, before those residents have the chance to reflect on what has been a difficult and costly year for them, we have another wind farm company putting forward plans for an alternative site next to their village.

My message to RWE npower renewables is simple, this may well turn out to be a wind farm in the right place, but where is the sensitivity you talk about in your letter, could you not wait until the residents of Spaldington had been given the time to reflect on their difficult year over the Christmas period? Your actions are akin to fighting over a dead man’s estate before the funeral has been held – you should be ashamed!

Friday, December 02, 2011

Am I a victim of 'Double Standards'?

Regular readers of this Blog will be aware of my most recent run-in with the Standards Board - the body who believe in principled local politics, which was set up at your expense to champion and promote high standards of conduct amongst our local politicians - but when is a politician a politician?

After a lengthy and protracted investigation by a highly paid consultant- for which you the taxpayer have to pick up the tab, I was cleared of all of the plethora of spurious and salacious allegations made by the complainant, Mr Mike Whitley, apart from one point for which I received the most insignificant sanction possible, a ‘censure’.

The points at issue appear to be that my blog is somehow considered an ‘official blog’ (as detailed in the Committee’s determination) and through it I conduct ‘the business of the council’ - and whether the Councillors code of conduct can be applied to those of you who comment on posts that I publish. It is clear and obvious that the answer is no in each case with some serious implications for free speech and the rule of law arising from the judgement.

You might have thought that the decision would be the end of it, but no. The details of the case have to be published in a local newspaper. So yesterday, the East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s Monitoring Officer published a notice detailing the findings. This included all the discredited allegations made against me.

In making his complaints Mr Whitley attempted to hide behind anonymity but was not allowed to do so – given that ruling, it is inconsistent that the complainant’s name was withheld from the notice. This means that the details of the unfounded accusations are laid bare for everyone to see but not the name of the person making them.

In many situations this would be perfectly acceptable but one of the reasons Mr Whitley was not allowed to hide his involvement is his habitual use of the Standards Board. He has made two other unsubstantiated and thoroughly discredited allegations against me and many separate complaints against other members of Gilberdyke Parish Council – all of which had to be investigated at taxpayer’s cost before being thrown out. He also made complaints about me to the Police which were without foundation and also dismissed. Not forgetting a complaint to the Police against the contractors installing the new culvert in Gilberdyke - they were accused of fly tipping the excavated soil at the side of the dyke! The motives for all this I cannot comment on.

Readers will be aware that Mr Whitley is a failed political opponent of mine, and the complaint was made in the run up to the May 2011 elections. Are these the actions of a concerned citizen or a political campaign using the taxpayer to fund a cynical attempt to gain some sort of electoral advantage? It’s not for me to decide.

These facts could not be tested as a part of my defence. Political exchanges between Councillors are considered to be ‘Rough and Tumble’- all part of the process. However this does not apply to candidates who are treated as any other member of the public. There are no standards applied to those would-be politicians seeking office.

So in a nutshell I cannot allow you as my blog readers to express your moderate opinions - but an unelected candidate can make wild, unsubstantiated accusations against me, and my fellow Parish Councillors including such things as embezzlement, misappropriation of funds, hiding money and siphoning off money, and make so many vexatious complaints to the Standards Committee and the Police. All of which are time consuming and costly to investigate – but when these accusations are found to be untrue the complainants name is kept out of the public domain – DOUBLE STANDARDS perhaps?