Thursday, 28 June 2018

Leigh Town Council - The farce continues

I was not a supporter of the formation of Leigh Town Council and nothing that has happened in subsequent years has changed my view. It was formed at a time when our long campaign to escape the clutches of Essex County Council and to return Southend to the status of a unitary authority was reaching fruition.

So at a time when we were cutting the levels of local government reducing operating costs and increasing accountability Leigh Town Council was formed to undermine that progress. I accept that since Southend Council agreed that LTC should take over the running of Leigh Community Centre they appear to have done so effectively however they represent a very expensive basis for a community centre operating committee.

One of their supposed strengths was the absence of party political affiliations. The result of this is that the process has not had the support of the party machines which, like or not, does help improve communication with the public, and has meant that most voters have absolutely no idea what their potential candidates stand for or wish to prioritise. This has resulted in poor voter turnout (even by local government standards) and often a chronic lack of candidates. In addition we have the farce of Lib Dem SBC councillor Carole Mulroney purporting to serve on LTC as an "independent".

My scepticism was fuelled by a recent edition of the Leigh Times which reported that following 2 recent councillor vacancies and a complete absence of any call for by elections 2 new councillors had been co-opted albeit by a meeting where only 5 of the 14 remaining councillors attended! So much for democracy.

In addition the LTC clerk was quoted as suggesting that an attendance of 77 residents at the Council's Annual Meeting was credible and reflected the interest in the affairs of the Town Council. Far be it for me to add a touch of realism but this pathetic attendance linked with the reluctance of electors to call for by elections to select the councillors to represent them or to vote unless in the polling station already for another more significant vote, in fact demonstrates that the majority of the community are either opposed to the cost and insignificance of LTC or are simply apathetic - not particularly caring one way or the other.

The time has come for the electorate to be given the opportunity to vote on the future of LTC but this time there should be a threshold of at least 50% of those voting and 40% of the total electorate before this costs group is allowed to continue.

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


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!