Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Wexham's Airport Amnesia

Understandably for the significant number of residents living under or near to the flight path the news of Ryanair’s imminent arrival at Southend Airport linked with the greater awareness of flights in the summer when windows are open and gardens more used, has caused concern.

Such a situation obviously gives the perfect opportunity for some politicians to try to take advantage of the situation, linked with a convenient mistelling of history, to try to curry electoral support.

Accordingly it was no great surprise to read Lib Dem Councillor Peter Wexham’s latest comments in the Leigh Times.
Peter comments: “There is not much than can be done about it now because Southend’s Tory controlled council, at the time, made the lease very easy and flexible for Stobarts…I for one voted against the extension…and then during the negotiations we put forward a motion that there should be no night flights unless it was an emergency..but that was rejected by the Tory council. The airport company are free to do as they like because they are allowed so many night flights a month”.

What Peter does not mention is:
1. The existing airport lease contained almost no effective restrictions, particularly on flight numbers, night flights, noise levels or flight direction;
2. The current operators acquired the lease of the airport without discussion or agreement with the Council as landlord. If we had not negotiated a new lease with more effective restrictions they would have worked the airport within the current restrictions, no doubt to include more freight and significantly higher numbers of night flights;
3. This was not a new airport. It has existed for years and the runway was in place when most if not all of the affected homes were bought by their current owners. When I was young in the 70s the noise levels were far greater than now and permissible under the previous lease;
4. Whilst some of us representing wards to the west of the Town were concerned the reality was that the majority of councillors across ALL parties were strongly supportive of airport expansion because of the economic benefits. The grant of a new lease was inevitable and the option was either to stick our head in the sand and vote against any realistic compromise as it salved our personal conscience (like Peter Wexham) or to work with the situation as it was and concentrate on negotiating the best restrictions we could get which was the approach of me and my colleagues.

The Lib Dems therefore proposed no night flights cynically knowing that the airport would never accept this because of the obligations to the successful repair companies on site.

On the other hand we negotiated a stringent set of controls relating to noise levels, flight numbers, limited night flights, passenger numbers and uniquely directing that at least 50% of all flights took off and arrived from the north. This was enshrined in both the terms of the lease but also the planning conditions on the runway extension.

We also created a Monitoring Committee to check the airport played by the rules. Rather than bleating perhaps Cllr Wexham should be ensuring that Committee meets as soon as possible and that the restrictions are enforced. In the meantime he might care to point out to residents that the situation would have been far worse if left to him rather than the efforts of the then Conservative Administration!

Friday, 8 June 2018

More parking issues!

I have already moaned about Southend Council's current car parking policy but here we go again!

Mrs H made one of her regular trips to the hairdresser yesterday which meant using the Shorefield Road car park.

She needed 3 hours which of course meant paying for 4 at a cost of £4.50 So not a good start.

She is an intelligent woman but did not appreciate from the instructions, which are far from clear, that she needed to enter the required parking period before paying her money.

She inserted £4.50 In cash but then had to go back to the beginning to enter her car reg and period required. There was no apparent option to return her cash or to reject the coins. The machine having apparently swallowed her money then required further payment before the ticket was issued.

So £9 for a 3 hour stay.

Her complaint email went to SBC yesterday and she has received an acknowledgement so we now wait for what happens next.

Whilst not wanting to labour the point again, car parking charges are an important element of the Council's budget and to maximise their potential they need to be reasonably and fairly priced and payment machines easy and logical to use so as to encourage rather than discourage potential users.

On the experience of me and my wife to date this challenge is not currently being met.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Proper priorities

The Leigh Times recently dropped through my letter box including an article by new Council Deputy Leader James Courtenay. I have a lot of time for James and indeed appointed him to his first cabinet post. However I am concerned about the work apparently now being put in to formulating a vision of the Town for 2050 which he was championing.

This followed an earlier meeting which I attended addressed by the Town's Chief Executive which was talking about work focussing on how the Town will look in 50 years.

In circumstances where we are constantly being told that the Council's budget and staff have been cut to the bone and we are facing massive and urgent issues which need immediate action to include the challenges of social care, the decline of the High Street, the pressures on the Town's infrastructure etc, I would question the urgency of this work.

If I was adopting my fall back "Yes Minister" synacism I would say that this is a local government officer policy made in heaven. No pressure and more importantly no accountability on the basis that by the time the target date is reached most of those involved will be dead or elsewhere and certainly the officer group will be long gone.

Never mind about engaging the public with hypothetical speculation about the future, when in any event changes to life which we can't currently even contemplate will have take place to change the way local government is provided. I would suggest time would be better spent developing a deliverable plan for the next 2-5 years which engages with the public and delivers on some of the challenging areas I have indicated.

Or would it be better simply spending month's and precious council resources going in ever decreasing circles and ending up looking up our own backsides!

Friday, 1 June 2018

Parking!

When visiting the Town Centre I generally try to do my bit for the Borough's balance sheet by parking in one of the Council's car parks however I have to admit that yesterday I finally lost patience and used the multi storey at Victoria's.

I have commented previously on some strange strategies on town centre car parking but I can no longer bite my tongue on the issues of charge rates and pay on exit.

At the outset I fully acknowledge that for historical reasons the Borough is dependent on car parking income as an important element of its budget. However with the Town Centre struggling this has to be balanced against other issues.

To attract users car parks must be priced competitively and in my view pay on exit is essential to give the perception of value for money and also to ensure that visits are not capped by the need to return to the car. It is why in my 7 years as council leader we avoided increases in charges for 6 years and introduced pay on exit in Tyler's Avenue with a view to rolling it out elsewhere.

So what has happened. Pay on exit seems dead in the water. I know that for some reason certain council officers were not enthusiastic but that is why we have elected members.We also have the ridiculous policy that with certain town centre car parks you can pay for 2 or 4 hours but not 3.

Yesterday Mrs H and I were in town and knew we would need 2 and possibly 3 hours to do everything planned but not 4 hours. Paying a significant amount to pay for 4 hours did not appeal and accordingly we defected to Victoria's where the fees were less, it was pay on exit, and I ended paying for the slightly in excess of 3 hours that we required.

In my view the current approach to charging is not making use of the Council's car parks appealing or user friendly. It is part of the wider issue of the Town Centre on which I will be commenting further in due course but in the meantime it would be nice if the approach to car park charges could be rethought with a priority being the users.

In the meantime Victoria's I will be back!

Friday, 4 May 2018

Elections 2018

Since stepping down from the Council I have taken a step back from the cut and thrust of local party politics (or rather in the case of attacks from our opposition parties - the thrust of a stick of wet celery) although I do continue my active involvement in Southend West Conservatives and more particularly West Leigh Ward so I had my reminder of the "fun" of it all at last night's local election count.

First it was great to see West Leigh Conservative candidate and current Mayor Fay Evans pull of a comfortable and well deserved victory. Fighting elections as the sitting Mayor always poses particular challenges as it involves a difficult balance between important mayoral duties and campaigning - however her continuous hard work on behalf of residents was clearly recognized by voters and in a week's time she will have reached the end of her mayoral term and the ward will be back to full strength to build on this result over the coming months.

Particular congratulations to James Moyies who made creditable start in rebuilding Tory support in Thorpe. I am sure that this progress will be a great foundation for a potential victory in the seat next May.

It is interesting that the diminishing strength of the Southend Independent Party is build on Thorpe and more particularly the Burgess Estate Residents Association and the impression from this side of the town is that this relates more to Ron Woodley's previous work as a Residents Association Chairman rather than anything he and his colleagues have achieved on the Council.

As I have said before I cannot see how an Independent "Party" offers any long term solutions in local government and contrasts with the usual independents in the past who are often one issue individuals or collectively represent a single residents group or other organisation. If they are a "party" and have shared policies (which would seem to be the case in Southend from the election material distributed over the last few weeks) then their candidates are not any more "independent" then any other local party group which, certainly so far as the Conservatives are concerned, operate independently from any central party control. If there is no central belief or ethic then the voters are signing a blank cheque for a potential Councillor with no clear understanding as to what they will do simply because they like the concept of "independence"!

Finally my golden turkey award for the worst post declaration speech of the night must go to Martin Terry. (Anyone who wins this award when one of the other potential candidates is Howard Gibeon has certainly hit new highs - or rather lows). Firstly to bleat about negative campaigning is gloriously ironic bearing in mind that Cllr Terry and his party colleagues have turned negative campaigning in to something of an art form. But even better was his proud reference to his long period as a councillor and how this must indicate what a good job he has been doing. That would be slightly more credible if he acknowledged that having been elected and reelected as a Councillor in Westborough he chose to do the chicken run to Thorpe a few years ago no doubt worried that he would be unable to retain his seat and anxious to seek the protective arm of Cllr Woodley and his comfortable majority. Oh well that's a politician for you - even an "Independent".

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Parking Charge Madness!

The view from my office here in Nelson Street includes an opportunity, in moments of distraction, to watch activity in the road to include the regular motorists who drive up this one way street in the wrong direction and the use of the “on street” parking spaces.

Due to the firms of solicitors, accountants etc. based in Nelson Street there are inevitably regular client comings and goings and the spaces are generally well used with helpful parking income for Southend Borough Council.
For as long as charges have applied there have been coin operated ticket machines which as far as I can tell have been used by the vast majority of people parking in the street.

Now I am not claiming to be a great supporter of the design of the pay machine the council has adopted in more recent years, and I am sure that I am not the only person to be confronted by machines which are out of order or refuse to accept coinage, but on the occasions where they are in working order they are at least usable.

However recently it has been all change in Nelson Street with the latest bizarre “improvements” which have resulted in the pay machines being covered and reasonably small notices being displayed requiring those parking to either download an app to their smart phone to make payments or to phone and pay by card.

The result has been some people missing the signs and assuming that charges have been suspended resulting in parking tickets being issued, or being generally bemused and confused and either taking a risk of parking without a ticket or parking elsewhere.
Indeed for those without a smartphone or without immediate access to a credit card it would appear that the Council now wishes to make Nelson Street a non-parking areas.

Parking charges are very important to the Council and encouraging visitors and residents to park and pay should be encouraged by making the process simple and accessible. For heaven sake let’s stop this mad system now and ensure that we have well maintained and simple to use pay machines in place so that any frustration we face in paying parking charges ise not increased by an apparent reluctance on the part of the Authority to accept our money.

Friday, 8 December 2017

West Leigh catchment dilemma

I can only sympathise with the Council as it tries to broker an acceptable resolution to the problem on junior school catchments. This is a problem that has been building over recent years and reflects that with anticipated growth in school numbers the Town’s most popular schools, which are already bursting at the seams, will not be able to accommodate the children in their catchment area.
The problem is particularly pertinent in West Leigh which as the most westerly ward in the Borough has its nearest primary school (West Leigh) located towards the most easterly side of the ward.

Even in my years on the council this meant that in years with higher admission numbers the school could not cope with the numbers in its catchment area resulting in “distance” becoming the deciding factor. However because the school is not located in the middle of the ward this meant that the children living towards the borough boundary with Castle Point did not receive a place notwithstanding that they were “Southend” children and lived in catchment.

Their only options were then to attend a school in another area or, if they wished to attend a Southend school, journey past West Leigh and on to Darlinghurst or Fairway even though this journey was far longer than it would have been for many of the children actually allocated places at West Leigh.

This must be wrong and it seems to me to be right and courageous of the Council to try and address the problem – particularly when quite rightly the issue of school catchment areas is so emotive to parents.

My preferred solution in the short term is that in years where numbers allow the children in the current catchment take priority, but when this is not the case the priority runs from the Borough’s western boundary towards the school until all available places are taken.

I appreciate that this will create a situation where some children who live quite close to West Leigh will be forced to attend another school, but that must be fairer than expecting the children towards the boundary to undertake an even longer journey.

In the mid-term the issue of primary places in the west of the town does need to be addressed and it is a pity that the previous idea of a new school at Belfairs could not be pursued.

It is the kind of problem that makes life as a local councillor challenging but potentially rewarding.