Friday, 27 July 2012

Council Teas

It was disappointing to note that one of the Labour group decided to attempt to make mischief on this issue, particularly as the coverage in the Echo contributed to the concerns expressed by many members of the public. Council teas were traditionally provided to members, senior officers and the media before the major council and scrutiny meetings. This gave members the opportunity to discuss the coming business in a less formal and confrontational manner and also addressed the problem faced by members who work full time and would come straight to the Civic Centre from work with no opportunity to eat first before participating in a potentially lengthy meeting starting at 6.30 and often continuing until 10pm or beyond. It was the Conservative administration which scrapped the teas, not because it resulted in a significant saving in the context of the overall council budget, but because it gave an outward message at a time of economic hardship. The change has not been wholly successful as now members tend to arrive a few minutes before the meetings with no time for discussion and for those who come straight from work there are no food outlets in the Civic Centre or immediate vicinity. Accordingly the Chief Executive with the agreement of all 4 group leaders decided to offer a tea for the first meeting of the year to judge the potential demand. It was always anticipated by the Leaders that members would make a voluntary donation to cover the cost which is what happened. The reason for the trial is that the numbers need to reach a certain level before the provision of catering is economically viable. There is little point in having these leader agreements if members of the groups do not support them or at least flag up potential disagreement in advance. The result of the fur-ore was a low take up but for what it is worth I remain of the view that food should be provided at the Civic Centre before these meetings but on the basis that it is charged to those who take it up at cost.

The Museum in the Cliffs

I was pleased to see that the planning application for the new museum and related cliff stabilisation was passed by the council's Development Control Committee with strong backing from all 4 party groups. This proposal addresses 3 issues. Firstly there remains a need to carry out further and significant stabilisation works in the area because of the continuing challenge of the soil conditions which exist along the cliffs from Belton Way to the Town Centre and threaten further land slips if the wrong weather and ground condition combine. Secondly the area of the current slip is unsightly and prevents safe public access in a central area which is important to the Town's public face. Thirdly it provides a proper home for a dramatic new museum to house the important Saxon King relics as well as other items and gives space for traveling exhibitions which will not only enable us to bring the Saxon King relics home but also greatly expand our tourist offer particularly in the context of trying to attract visitors for longer than a day. The Council has allocated scarce funds to carry out the required stabilisation but this does not include the reinstatement of the cliff as the funds for this are way beyond our resources. However by sinking the museum behind the stabilising wall we increase the effect, have a proposal which is more likely to attract funding and then have the opportunity to reinstate the cliff over the top to allow public access once again. It is simply wrong and misleading to suggest that we are able to stabilise, scrap the museum and reinstate the cliffs to their previous state.

Pier Building open at last

It has been a repeated pledge of our administration that we would reinstate a building at the end of the Pier and that in doing so we would follow the wishes of the public in the consultation carried out some years ago. It has not been easy. First there was extensive work to the structure of the Pier together with the necessary fire detection and protection systems, the withdrawal of the promised funding and yet another boat collision. However we have got there and the new building is a dramatic sight from the shore being a perfect blend between the listed pier and the dramatic and modern building. Having been in the building it provides some dramatic display space both inside and out and marvelous views to the sea and shore.The first of a busy calendar , a Southend Comedy Festival, has been a great success and promises to return next year. If you have not done so yet I would urge you to visit the end of the Pier and enjoy the perhaps forgotten pleasure of a stroll into the estuary with great views all round and the treat of the new cultural centre to reward you at the Pier head.with

Olympic Flame burns bright in Southend

It was great to see that the slightly damp weather conditions did not dampen the spirits of the thousands who watched the passage of the Olympic Flame across the town to include the amazing performance of the choir of 2000 singing the new anthem commissioned for the event. I would challenge anyone to dispute that the view of the flame holder standing in front of the choir in full voice with the tide in and pier stretching out behind was simply fantastic. As one of those traveling with the flame was happy to say more than once it was the most dramatic and effective sight he had witnessed in the torch's journey to that point. It was also great to see that in the BBC's recent 30 minute documentary the choir were pictured towards the end of the programme with a snatch of the anthem seeing the programme out.