Friday, 27 September 2013

The Forum

The new Forum library opens to the public on Monday morning and yesterday I had the opportunity of a sneak preview. I had visited a couple of times during the building work and had been impressed by the sheer scale and layout of the building and was not disappointed with the finished article. The Forum has a children's library, lecture theatre, Focal point Gallery, display area, café and fiction on the ground floor, non fiction public library on the first floor, university teaching accommodation on the first floor and college teaching accommodation on the second floor with a public square and screen outside. It is the first library in delivered in partnership between local authority, university and college in the country and has been built on time and on budget. It is an excellent example of true partnership working which will continue with it's on going joint management arrangements. It has transformed the old and derelict Farringdon car park and is the final part of the puzzle comprising the college building, university building, university accommodation block and multi storey car park. It opens up to the public access to over a million academic publications owned by the uni and college and with major investment in new materials demonstrates our true commitment to the future of the public library service in the Town. I urge everybody to visit as soon as you can - I guarantee that if you like libraries you will love the Forum Southend.

Pavement politics!

During my time as Leader I have been fortunate in having a hand in some major developments and investment in the Town which will be good to look back on in years to come. But as a local councillor nothing beats the thrill of intervening on behalf of residents who feel aggrieved and delivering for them. Sometimes the action taken can, in the general scheme of things, seem quite insignificant but it really does make the hours in the council chamber worth while. Many of these interventions involve the personal affairs of residents which I would not dream of airing on this blog but last week threw up a good example of the difference a ward councillor can make. At the end of last week I was notified by residents living in Cottesmore Gardens that council workers had started to take up the existing paving slabs to replace with black tarmac. Now whilst there are situations where tarmac is unavoidable it does not in my view enhance the street scene and in common with many residents I prefer slabs. No prior notice of this work had been given to ward councillors and residents were of the view that the general quality of the slabs was reasonable. Fortunately the work was at an early stage and having checked for myself that the existing slabs were generally of good condition I was able to persuade officers to reverse the decision and reinstate the short stretch were work had started. This has pleased the residents and me and leaves the funding available for a more deserving area.

Gwen Horrigan

It is unfortunate to see the current speculation about the future of my ward colleague Gwen Horrigan. In my view Gwen epitomises much of what is good about local government. For about 20 years she has served the residents who have elected her tirelessly taking a particular interest in housing and the armed forces. She is much loved by residents across the Town as has been immediately evident on the occasions I have canvassed on her behalf. I would have to say that on the doorstep she has had a more positive and widespread reaction than any other councillor I have worked with - and obviously that includes me! As mayor she (supported by her husband Pat) was tireless in her enthusiasm and dedication to the job. Unfortunately recent months have seen a deterioration in Gwen's physical health of and we can only hope that with the care of her family and others this can be reversed. Gwen last attended a council meeting in May of this year. The rules provide that if she misses a period of 6 months her term will come to an end and it will then be a question as to whether or not residents trigger a by election. Accordingly at the moment she is still within the very time limit intended to cover situations like these so why the speculation. Surely her service to the Town demands we all show a little patience. Arguably I should be keen for her to step down - at present we cannot rely on her vote leaving the chamber potentially with no effective majority and in circumstances where we would be hopeful of winning any by election it would reinstate an effective majority. It would also mean that my ward colleague John Lamb and I would have help in dealing with ward issues. But I still think that Gwen deserves better and I am happy to wait for her to make her decision and am confident that when and if she decides she cannot return she will stand down. In the meantime do we really want the cost to the town of a winter by election?