Friday, 13 March 2015

City Beach

It was interesting to see the report in the Echo indicating that the current administration is seeking funding to extend the City Beach project. It included a quote from Lib Dem Graham Longley, who is the relevant cabinet holder, extolling the virtues of the current City Beach scheme and proclaiming its safety.

As the relevant cabinet member he obviously speaks on behalf of the rainbow administration and it is nice to see their apparent conversion to become supporters of this project as previously when in opposition a number of their members were prominent whingers about the scheme.

I also support a further extension although this news was in poignant contrast with the other recent article on the seafront referring to the breakdown of negotiations relating to the proposed expansion of the Sealife Centre. I was surprised that Cllr Woodley seemed happy to speak to the press trying to vindicate the actions of his Administration in failing to sign the deal.

I am not privy to the ins and outs of the negotiations but what is beyond doubt is that Stockvale Limited have, through their investment in Adventure Island and the Sealife Centre, been prepared to spend substantial sums of money to develop and enhance the attraction of our seafront. This has operated to the benefit of other businesses in the area and also the council, who have been able to herald such impressive visitor statistics. I wonder what the seafront would be like without Stockvale and its investment?

The failure to deliver a deal on an extension to the Sealife Centre is a matter for regret and rather than rushing to justify his position to the press I would have preferred Cllr Woodley and his colleagues to be concentrating on bridging the gap and brokering a deal which was acceptable to both parties. He previously said he would broker a deal between the football club/Sainsburys and Propects which he appears to have failed to do, but surely resolving a dispute whether the council is directly involved is within his power.

In the meantime investment in the infrastructure on the seafront is to be welcomed but the council must not forget that the first priority must be to ensure that there are attractions in place to tempt residents and visitors to our central seafront.

This is such an important issue I am minded to rush home to meet Mrs H in our second kitchen to discuss it in more detail. Oh hold on we don’t have a second kitchen – suppose that’s why I will never be asked to be leader of the Labour Party!

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Southend UKIP

I have so far avoided commenting at any length on the recent events in Southend’s UKIP group – it felt a bit like kicking a dying dog – but there comes a time when it is difficult to avoid.

I don’t pretend to have any detailed inside knowledge and base my thoughts on public council meetings, recent newspaper coverage, political blogs and the tweets of their ex group leader, but the whole situation becomes increasing bizarre and it is interesting to contemplate the reaction of the Ukippers and their “Independent” party chums if it had been members of the Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat groups who had been acting in this way.

It is important to remember that in recent campaigns both UKIP and the independents have been happy to run campaigns which have attempted to play personalities as much as policies – making highly critical comments on the ability and motivation of main stream party councillors and urging support for their “new politics”. In football parlance they have been successful playing the man rather than the ball.

In such circumstances you set the bar high if you are then elected. What have we seen from UKIP’s Southend councillors? Infighting, division, poor attendance and a failure to do what they were elected to do namely represent their residents in an effective manner and provide a credible opposition group helping to hold the administration to account. If you don’t believe me spend a few hours watching the last couple of full council meetings, available on the council’s website to assess for yourself their attendance levels and contribution. Admittedly you probably need to feel mentally and emotionally strong to endure the pain, even with a medicinal glass of claret – and that is just surviving Leader Cllr Woodley’s budget speech!

We have now seen a major spat between the then UKIP group leader and his successful opponent over the candidature for the general election in Rochford and Southend East, either the biggest example of sour grapes ever witnessed or serious misconduct (depending on whose account your believe), the suspension of four fifths of the party’s councillors, the permanent expulsion of the ex group leader and a completely divided and ineffective group.

Based on the national press these problems are not unique to Southend and in a few weeks we will be urged to elect new UKIP MPs who will once again try to ride on the back of an anti-Westminster wave. If anyone needs a salutary lesson on why a vote for UKIP would be a disaster look no further than recent events in Southend. Imagine if a group of inexperienced and newly elected UKIP MPs, with no established party organisation and without older and experienced voices, held the balance of power. It is the stuff of nightmares.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Parking fiasco

When I decided to name this blog “A view from Nelson Street” I had in mind taking the opportunity to comment on the Town and the activities of its council and therefore using the expression “view” metaphorically rather than literally. Little did I know that I would also have the chance to scrutinise the activities of Southend Council by simply looking out of my office window across Nelson Street.

Nelson Street is a picturesque road, close to the Town Centre but with an interesting history which gives an insight in to the proud history of the Town. However the road surface has deteriorated and is currently very poor resulting in it being featured in the road maintenance plans of the last Administration.

The months have passed and on the morning of Monday 23rd February signs appeared on lampposts in the street indicating that the parking bays had been suspended from 23rd February until 31st March for maintenance works to be undertaken. Quite an extended period to lose the income from well used parking bays.

The road is home to a number of professional firms as well as a Bank but no notice of the works or closures was given to any business in the street. To make matters worse there was no sign of any workmen or materials and no notices on the pay and display ticket machines located in the road. The lamp post signs were not obvious and unsurprisingly drivers continued using the bays and buying and displaying their parking tickets. Almost immediately the parking attendants appeared and tickets were issued to drivers. Why? If the intention was to suspend use even in the absence of any actual work would it not have been reasonable to put signs on the ticket machines as at least one person has bought a ticket before being warned as to the risk from a shout from our office window. Even a few parking cones to physically block the bays would have been easy to arrange.

Why suspend parking and lose income until necessary and was it unreasonable for the parking attendants to show some restraint where drivers were showing valid parking tickets? I raised the matter that morning with the Town Clerk and relevant Director (as did other firms in the road) but by Thursday nothing had changed – no sign of work, no better signage and tickets being issued to unsuspecting visitors. I raised it again and am pleased to confirm that officers responded swiftly and efficiently, suspending the restrictions until shortly before the commencement of the work, notifying offices in the road as to what is intended, and cancelling tickets issued during the week.

So eventually well done to officers but the buck for this fiasco must stop with the relevant portfolio holder Cllr Terry. Rather than spending his time searching for photo opportunities in the Echo perhaps he should be doing the job the Town pays him handsomely to perform.

In the meantime if they are going to muck up like this it is vaguely amusing that it should affect the road in the Town that houses the offices of 3 former leaders of the Council in myself, Charles Latham and David Dedman and previously the late Norman Clarke. Perhaps the lesson is that if anyone wants to be a leader of the Council in the future it is worth lining up a lease on offices in Nelson Street!