I did think the move to a once a week edition of the Courier was a bad move, but on relection I didn’t buy the paper every day and some times thee just wasn’t enough news in it to justify an edition. But I am enjoying it, particularly the page that has been given over to local MP’s and Councillors – Talking Politics.
The 29th June 2012 edition was written by my MP, Linda Riordan. I agreed with much of what she said under the heading of “It’s time to give our economy a kick start“. I am a member of the Copley Valley Environmet Protection Group and as such am aware some might think I am anti-building, it being that we oppose CMBC and their partners GenR8′s plans to build in the Copley Valley. But that assumption would be wrong. In the distant past I worked in the building industry and realise how large a sector of our economy it and how many people it employs.
But I would add a caveat to that, the building that is required is for a certain section of the housing market. We read often in the press that there is a shortage of housing and yet we see houses on the market for years – houses at all price levels. In Copley we have an 8 bedroomed listed property for sale at £800,000 and a member of my family struggled to sell a house at £50,000.
I agree with Linda in that the sector of the market that has the greatest need is the social housing market.
I grew up in a council house and it wasn’t until I married that I bought my own home. Building new homes for rent would employ the same amount of builders, plasterers, joiners and plumbers and more importantly it would meet a need. It would fill a gap. The Thatcher sell off of council houses was not in itself a bad idea, giving people a chance to buy their own home and giving a sense of social mobility must be a good thing. The mistake was not to ring fence the money generated and not to re-build this section of our housing stock. This is where the focus needs to be.
I suggest too that Local Authorities should be building these houses again. This will mean the profits generated would be able to be kept within the communities and used to generate and regenerate neighbourhoods that have been neglected. Conversley the Copley scheme generates profit for a private company, not even based in Yorkshire.
I am certain at this point the question “but where will the money come from?” will be raised. Well there seems to be no problem in finding money to build a new library, convert the Piece Hall into an Italianate Square or fund the surveys in preparation for the Copley Valley Development, so why should it be any different to build social housing? Think of all the local jobs that could be secured. Long term we would again need a team of joiners, painters and plumbers to maintain the houses. These teams where possible could also be employed by the council to maintain the other neglected assets we own. Notice I say assets, because when we have a growing number of these homes along with public buildings, we have in fact got assets.
Next question will be “where should we build these new homes?”. Well as I said earlier, I grew up in a council house, I lived in Ovenden. Look at Google Earth, look at Ovenden Way. Many of the houses on the lower part of that road have been demolished and not replaced. Same with Ovenden Green. Go up to Illingworth and have a look at the Furnace Estate, same story. Empty plots where homes used to be.
Re-developing these areas will have other significant gains. The local schools will be kept going with pupils from the new families. The shops will have customers again and all these jobs will be secured. We may well attract new people and talents from outside our area to contribute to our town.
I have concentrated on an small area I know well, but am sure Calderdale will have other such neglected, once populated areas.
Linda is on to something with the “Let’s get Britain building again” campaign. But we need to make sure this opportunity is not wasted by focussing on generating profits for private companies at the expense of a neglected, needy section of our society.
All we need now is the will to make this happen.
Maintenance Review Survey and Report
This document is the third one provided by CMBC in support of their desire to relocate Halifax Central Library. The first two documents are about Northgate House and barely mention the Library except to say that they share some services, especially boilers, electricity and telephony which is supplied via Northgate House.
Well on first glimpse this at least looks to cover the library, currently a contentious issue in Calderdale. This document is from 2010 and straight away begins by contradicting the 2005 survey by stating the “external envelope of Northgate House and the Central Library are in poor condition”. It later though states that the external is basically sound with requirement to give attention to the top 4 courses of cladding.
The document goes on to state that the fire alarm system is not up to date – 5 years after the initial survey stated the same. Why are CMBC allowing our assets not to be maintained in this way? It doesn’t really matter what was planned back in 2005, these updates should have been done straight away – safety of people should be paramount. Neglect in this manner could lead to harm or death of staff should the worse have happened and a fire be not picked up by the inadequate alarm system. CMBC have a duty of care to their staff as well as the residents, users and visitors.
2.3.2 mentions a requirement for a maintenance budget – I find it difficult to believe that CMBC do not have a maintenance budget for our assets. However on the evidence that so many of our assets are now seemingly deteriorating and this is being used as justification for demolition I am clearly wrong. An organisation this size cannot be allowed to neglect public assets and this is something that CMBC should be pulled up on now – not after they have knocked down the evidence of their neglect. And for the record -”we are where we are” and ” people have moved on” are not acceptable excuses.
2.2 At last some figures – An 8 year commitment for both the Library and Northgate House combined is £915,000. Compare this with 8 years lease for the Broad Street Development at £300,00 a year and it would save us £585,000!
2.4.1 An interesting first mention of air conditioning. Comments from other forums suggest there is no air conditioning in Northgate House, yet here is suggested that the chillers be maintained! Is it just not being used to save a few pennies at the expense of the workers comfort?
2.5.2 Refers to the cost to separate Northgate House and the Central Library and estimates the cost to be £830,000.
3.1.3 “generally the building is fully utilised, all rooms and corridors are in occupation” yet CMBC claim that it is surplus to requirements?
3.2.14 Mentions £18,000 being spent on windows – this must be the ones to lower lever mentioned in an earlier document and is therefore another £18,000 to come off the bottom line – “every little helps”! oops sorry wrong building – Tescos is further along the road.
The report details the boilers in use in Northgate House and does not suggest they need replacing! This is because they have already been replaced, yet (sorry to harp on about this) no reduction in the bottom line has been made – it still stands at £15m.
Halifax Central Library
Section 4.0 finally begins to address the Central Library issues, this is page 22 of a 37 page report (including appendices). Why have these reports been included in the consultation for the library when the focus is on Northgate House?
Visitors to Halifax who have walked up Gaol Lane will have noticed an area that has been fenced off alongside the library. According to this report it will cost in the region of £12,500 to fix this problem – why hasn’t this been done as part of a preventative maintenance program? (I am now certain the answer to this question is because there is no preventative maintenance program).
Costs re : Library
Backlog Maintenance £67,000 – Given how much we have saved with having no maintenance performed on much of the building I think we have got away with it quite lightly!
After the Backlog maintenance has been done it will cost us £61k for the following 3 years maintenance. I would have thought with a building of this size that is not a lot of money. Also the same 3 years for Northgate House would be £161k
Then in 5.2 there are costs to keep both buildings operational for 3 and for 5 years as follows
- Three Year Commitment for Northgate House £379k
- Three Year Commitment for Central Library £128k
- Five Year Commitment for Northgate House £687k
- Five Year Commitment for Central Library £228k
These figures include the backlog maintenance.
So the figures for 3 years to maintain both buildings is £507k, then to maintain for a further 5 years (8 years in total) £915k.
Compare this with the costs to lease space in Broad Street for 8 years at £2.4m!
Whilst reading through these 3 reports I have had in mind the figures being quoted to refurbish Northgate House – £15m and The Central Library – £6m. In the light of these reports I believe these figures to be highly inflated, they are being used to strengthen the case to demolish the buildings and make Northgate available to developers.
I understand from a contact that the idea to redevelop Northgate came from a senior member of The Economy and Environment Dept. at Calderdale MBC. No surprise there then as if we are not demolishing and re-building then we don’t need so many staff – they are justifying their jobs. But it does make me concerned as to the involvement of the cabinet in all this. The first question I would ask cabinet is “have they read the reports?” Then I would ask if they understood them? This is what they are elected for – not rubber stamping grandoise vanity projects
I have constantly mentioned the boiler replacement that is clearly claimed as part of the costs for refurbishment in the consultation for the library and also in the first 2 of the reports-but not the 3rd one. You may ask why I keep coming back to that, well I am of the opinion that this is being used to inflate the figures when in reality it is work no longer required because it has already been done. Now if this is the case then one must ask oneself what other work has already been done? I am not suggesting the work should have been avoided, especially that which is for the safety of CMBC staff, but we are not going to be paying twice for it – are we?.
I would also ask what work has been done to the electrical system? There has clearly been problems noticed and the reports state that these should be attended to urgently, if this has been ignored then we run the risk of harming users from faulty equipment. This would cost us dearly if it came to claims. Plus, and this is something that CMBC do not seem to have grasped – CMBC staff are an asset and in the same way as our buildings should be cared for and looked after – this is a duty not just inflicted on organisations such as CMBC but it is surely a duty of each of us to look after each other.
My conclusion after reading these documents is that we cannot afford to demolish either Northgate House or the Central Library. There is no proof that retailers are queuing up to move into a shopping complex on Northgate, in fact we hear that the Penning Centre on Horton Street is having trouble finding occupants for it’s planned development and businesses in Woolshops are currently having trouble with some closing. Why then do CMBC think that Northgate will be any different. In the first 2 reports this has actually been mentioned along with the risk of Northgate House standing empty and falling into disrepair. How will that enhance our town centre?
Alongside this CMBC need to consider the changes that are affecting other town centres. Halifax’s retailers are not alone in experiencing difficulties attracting customers, especially as their competition now comes not just from surrounding towns but also from the internet.
Reading materials themselves may well be changing as many more people are using electronic devices to read books, this could change completely the requirements for the Central Library in the very near future. Perhaps, and I realise this suggestion will not make me popular in the DBOL group, but perhaps in the next 10 years we will not need such a large library!
There has been too much haste in pushing these plans through, The cabinet Member with the responsibility for Economy and Environment was saying there were no plans to relocate the library as recently as July 2011, yet a few weeks later architects were drawing up the sketches for the new library. I get the impression that instead of the consultation being conducted openly and transparently with all the relevant information being made available to us to enable us to make the right decisions, we are being fed part of the facts. We are being sold this scheme as the saviour of our town centre.
I would suggest that CMBC scrap this consultation altogether and start again. Make the case that they apparently firmly believe in and allow the public to share the vision and if it is decided that this is the correct thing to do then good! The current management style of bluster and bullying, of smoke and mirrors and of spin is not acceptable.
Sort it out CMBC – with honesty, openess and transparency – it’s not a lot to ask for.
At the time of writing this there has been some movement in the position of some of the local political parties. According to a letter and an article in the Halifax Courier, the local Labour Party have stated that they are in favour of a full consultation on the Central Library. This came from a meeting on the same night as the Cabinet Meeting I mentioned in my earlier blog “I’ll Huff and I’ll Puff and I’ll blow Northgate House down”. It appears to me that if this was always the case and the Cabinet intended to ask the public the important question to either refurb or demolish The Central Library then it would have saved a lot of hassle at the cabinet meeting if they had said that instead of attempting to waffle an answer that did not adequatley answer the question posed.
However we are now in a position where seemingly the Labour part of the cabinet support asking the right questions – it’s now apparently up to the Lib Dem’s to show they do actually believe in democracy.
I originally opposed the demolition of the Central Library because of a petition of 15,000 + signatures presented to the previous administration of CMBC. As I said in my ealrier blog, it was reply to questions posed regarding the costing of the refurbishment that prompted me to read the documents provided. In this blog I aim to continue commenting on the supporting documents for the initial consultation regarding the Central Library. The first two documents focus on Northgate House though – not the Library.
Much of this second documents echos the first but in much more detail. Again the issue of the boilers is mentioned which have now been replaced. No mention is being made of this in CMBC’s claim that the refurbishment of Northgate House will cost £15m.
In the Feasibility Study and Options Appraisal 2005 by White Young Green, a survey of the condition of Northgate House was undertaken. The findings included particular concerns about:
· the roof (which “would normally only be expected to last 15 years”) and its deficient thermal qualities,
· the basic nature of the mechanical and electrical installations (“at the end of their serviceable life”),
· boilers, (See my blog “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow Northgate House Down for why this isn’t currently a valid concern)
· lighting (“in very poor condition”),
· emergency lighting system (“in danger of becoming obsolete”),
· IT system (“requires replacement”)
· and windows (“considered necessary to replace”). Again it has not been mentioned by CMBC that some of the windows have already been replaced.
· The report also commented that the lifts and associated control equipment will need to be completely renewed.
A Maintenance Review Survey and Report 2010 by Summers Inman included a review of the condition of both Northgate House and the Central Library and Archive. This concluded:
· “Occupation of both Northgate House and the Central Library and Archive for a further three years would require maintenance budgets of £507,000.” So £507k for 3 years or £169k a year seems a bargain when compared with £300k a year to lease space in BroadStreet!
· “Occupation for a further five years would require a maintenance budget of £915,000.” Or £183k a year – still a saving and at the end of this 5 years we still have the asset.
In 2011 the Council produced a document called “Northgate House – estimate of budget for full refurbishment” which updated the cost estimate for refurbishing Northgate House from £14.5m to £15.5m.
White Young Green Feasibility Study and Option Appraisal
In this document we read that 1.2 Refers to 25 Year life of Northgate House, 1.3 states it is “structurally sound”.
In 1.4 We read the roof has a 15 year lifespan, then we have done really well with it to last 29 years.
1.8 Refers tio the replacement of the boilers. Boilers already replaced within last 5 years and so is not a concern – except that the costs need to be removed from the bottom line
1.9 This is interesting as Service interdependencis are known of between the library and Northgate House but what is the nature of these between Northgate House and Princess Buildings? It is of interest as, as far as we know there is no plan (disclosed) to demolish Princess Buildings and so there must be some plans to cover this discrepancy, could this also include Central Library were it to remain? Northgate House is, later in the document mentioned as bing for disposal – is this the same building? If so then why haven’t officers or members flagged this up? Have they read this document?
1.12.1 Bears repeating “Option 1, to refurbish NH is most financially advanteageous option at a cost of £9,377,713…” This goes on to talk about £2.414m to provide a temporary decanting building for staff – not needed as CMBC have extra capacity at other sites that they aim to use if Northgate House is demolished.
1.14 Refurbishment of NH will re-vitalise and maintain an important part of Halifax town centre. One thing that is not mentioned is that if Northgate House is demolished then the impact on retailers in Halifax will be a factor. Each day staff use the town’s cafe’s and sandwich shops. They use the newsagents and chemists. The use the Post office and so on – all this trade will be lost.
1.15 Key advantages
1.15.1 Improved image for CMBC -goodness knows they need one!
1.15.2 Most sustainable option
1.15.3 Lowest cost option
1.15.4 Minimises staff re-location costs and disturbance
1.15.5 Dependent buildings un-affected
1.16 Disposal of Northgate House could result in the site being empty for a considerable period of time.
3.6.5 Mention of windows not lasting another 25 years – but they might last 10 then? Windows are one of the major expenses being used to justify demolition.
4.18.1Note that IT and telecommunications systems serve not just Northgate House but also “other” CMBC buildings(not identified).
4.18.3 Besides Power Supplies to the Library emenating from Northgate House there are also Power Supplies for Princess Buildings.
4.19.3 “In terms of disposal of Northgate House we would comment that the external works required inclusive of services modifications withing interdependant buildings would make the option to dispose of Northgate House more expensive that the simple option”.
6.3 If the disposal of Northgate House is be considered viable the following interdependencies will need to be addressed;
- Power Supplies derived form the YE substation within the Northgate Building Serving the Library and Princess Buildings.
- Standby power Supply from Princess Building via Northgate House and the Library
- Formation of a new telephone exchange which is presently located within Northgate House
- Formation of a new WAN hub within the council property portfolio (eg Mulcture House) on the assumption that the Princess Building will not be retained in the Conucil’s tenure along with Associated WAN equipment
7.3.7 Interesting comment that solar panels will not be cost effective. Perhaps now with newer technologies this might not be such an issue?
7.3.9 “Comfort cooling only provided to process rooms – Telecommunications/IT rooms. From comments I have read elsewhere including facebook the staff seem to think that the costing includes Air condiditioning for the whole building!
8.0 Onwards is to do with re-building NH and is not a realistic proposition. This being the case i have not commented on any of the other options mentioned in the report.
9.0 onwards covers re-building as 5 separate buildigs – not viable as above
These are interesting
As per earlier we no longer require temporary buildings, this knocks (2005 figures) £1.443,440 off the bottom line plus another £716,720 as groundworks are also not required. As described, planning fees and building regs are “in-house” functions and therefore not really money leaving the organisation so a further £22,000 off the bottom line. Further, professional fees, planning fee and building regulations for temporary building not required so another £264,838 to come off the bottom line.
A total of £2,446,998!
Obviously there will be costs to remove staff to other buildings whilst refurbishment is done – these are not included in the costs contained in the document.
Reading through this document has further proved to me that we cannot afford to demolish Northgate House. It is ironic that these documents are provided in an attempt to justify demolition of the library when the first 2 documents do no such thing. Perhaps the third one will?
Also to be borne in mind is what CMBC intend to do should Northgate House be demolished. they intend to lease space in the new Broad Street Development at £300,000 pa for a minimum 20 years. This equates to £6m and this again should be taken into account when assessing the validity of demolishing Northgate House.
I attended Calderdale MBC cabinet meeting 9th January 2012. An enlightened move by the current coalition council was to instigate a public question time before the cabinet get down to the real business on the agenda. Beginning at 6PM the first 30 minutes is given over and any questions are, if possible given a verbal answer and then within 7 days a written, usually more concise reply is posted to the questioner. It works well and is I think something to be encouraged and for the foresight of the council, something to be congratulated on. I’m not so convinced though that certain conservative members are such big fans – although they do make use of it as questioners -and I am fairly certain that officers find it an intolerable bind. So that’s good enough for me to applaud and encourage it.
I went along as I knew some folk intended asking questions about the councils proposed demolition and re-location of the Central Library. The first half hour was dominated by very valid questions about council funding for Calder Valley Club, a club for disabled adults and I think it fair to say they got their point over really well. Unusually for these occasions the question segment of the meeting was allowed to run over and stopped just over the one hour mark.
It was obvious that Councillors did not answer the important question “will the public be asked if they want the Library demolishing or not?” with a straight forward yes or No. This wound up some members of the public somewhat but it was something said by Councillor Ashley Evans that got me thinking.
As part of the consultation so far, the public instead of being asked “do we want a new library?” are being asked “what we want inside the new building”. A bit of a cart before the horse scenario. But there are some supporting documents available alongside this part of the consultation and Councillor Evans referred to these as costing for the refurb of Northgate House and The Library.
Well I have had a look at the first one of these documents Northgate House – Estimate for Full Refurbishment.
Firstly the documenty was written in 2004, 8 years ago and is only 4 pages long.
The first question I would ask is;
- What maintenance has been undertaken in the 8 years since this document was written?
I belive this is an important and overlooked question as some of the work mentioned here is clearly from neglect in the regular maintenance of a public assets. Now CMBC have a growing reputation for this neglect that is beginning to bite them in the backside. So far neglect has been noticed in
- Northgate House
- Halifax Central Library
- The Piece Hall
- Sterne Mill Bridge
- Wainhouse Terrace
- Elland Public Baths
- The Halifax Borough Market
In the case of Sterne Mill Bridge and The Elland Public Baths this neglect has been used as justification to close the structures to public access.
Any work that has been done since then is money taken off the bottom line of the £15m being claimed as the figure to refurb Northgate House.
We know for instance that in the last 5 years the boilers have already been replaced yet this figure does not seem to appear as a subtraction from the total at any point. Boilers of the size required will carry a hefty price tag and have been included in the estimates.
Surplus to requirements
Initially we were told that the buildings were in such a poor state of repair that demolition was the preferred alternative. These buildings are only 30 years old and so questions were asked about this in the local press. In particular the question “if they are so poor then where are the signs stating so as required by HSE?”
Then towards the end of 2011, Councillor Janet Battye the leader of the council wrote an open letter in which she said that Northgate House was surplus to requirements. This is interesting because in the document “Northgate House – Estimate for Full Refurbishment” there is mention of a change to the Council’s brief to include the potential for a “higher occupancy rate”. If we no longer need this work to be done then this should also be reflected in the prices being suggested for refurb – funnily the estimate only ever goes up.
Included in the estimates are Planning Fees and Building Regulation Fees.
These fees are payable to Calderdale MBC! They are internal charges and so do not actually mean the council will be paying out any of our money – another cost to come off the bottom line!
Also included is the cost for temporary buildings to house staff whilst the work is being conducted. The alternative to refurbishment is demolition – if we demolish the building the staff will be housed elsewhere (CMBC claim they have enough extra capacity elsewhere to cope with this) Therefore this cost is a constant and so can be removed from the bottom line as it isn’t an extra cost. (Are you getting the idea there is a theme here?)
I understand it is law to put such a massive scheme as this out to European tender, this is to ensure the public get best value for money. As work is apparently very scarce at the moment due to the recession we can expect very keen prices to be tended and the Estimate given by CMBC to be reduced.
Another facet to this is a letter written to the Halifax Courier by a former councillor. This gentleman claims that instead of £15m being the figure for refurb, contractors have suggested the figure would nearer to £6m! Also although I haven’t mantioned the figures for refurb of the Central Library yet, the figure from CMBC is £6m – the figure from contractors is supposed to be £3m!
Should CMBC go ahead and demolish then they intend to lease space in the new Broad Street Complex for a “Customer First” facility at £300,000 per annum for a minimum 20 year period. This (without taking into account any future rises from the developer) means another £6m to come off the bottom line of the refurbishment!
I have only looked at the 4 page “Estimate” and there is to come a 90 odd page document to look at. But my conclusion is that these figures are heavily skewed towards helping CMBC justify it’s desire to demolish Northgate House.
There is a growing distrust of our council in Calderdale and the early management of this scheme and consultation is doing nothing to allay these fears.
I well remember those heady days just after New Labour were elected in 1997, Tony Blair was still a regular guy next door with no grey hair and in opposition Billy Haigh, to prove his cred with the youth wore a baseball cap and we all laughed. Shortly after Tony B made a statement something along the lines of “the best place for a child to be brought up is within a married family”.
Following this Billy H said “It’s ok for a child to be raised by a single parent”.
A totally unnecessary exchange of views – I suggest not even views they had serious concerns about. But because one had spoken out the other had to say the opposite. Like an old married couple – only with perhaps more in common than most old marries couples.
This is the problem with party politics, it is unusual for them to agree on issues – petty ones like the above or major ones like finance or The NHS, and it appears that the driving force in these differences seems to be that the other party said this …. so we have to say the opposite.
In my work against the planning application for the Sowerby Bridge/Copley Valley project I run the website http://www.copleyvalley.co.uk . I wrote to all the candidates before the last election and asked what they thought of the scheme. Of those who replied I had one who said what they thought and then added “but if I am elected, I shall follow the party line”.
When it comes to local politics then I can say that I have seen some of this being worked out in CMBC. My first ever visit to a full council they were discussing something – I admit to not remembering what but it makes no difference to this tale. Ex-leader of the council Coun Baines (conservative) asked of the new leader, Coun Battye (Lib Dem) why they did something in a certain way. The answer was that they had not changed the way it was done since the previous party did whatever it was. A nonsense question asked to cause mischief?
Then – in a moment straight out of Yes Minister, Coun Whittaker (conservative MP for Calder Valley and at the time also a councillor) waded in and asked why the council were consulting with the electorate about cuts instead of showing good leadership and just doing it. The thing was that it was exactly what the Lib Dem/Conservatice coalition claimed they were doing in Westminister – it had seemingly passed this particular MP without him noticing it at all.
I’m sure that, besides making themselves look complete prats – they were probably doing what had been decided or suggested by the local party. I think it was just an attempt at point scoring – a silly game when serious issues needed to be addressed. I’ve no doubt that this is not just the preserve of any particular party and that they all partake at some point.
Party politics is wasting time that should be devoted to proper, effective government. When a candidate-either local or national-is elected then they should be doing what is best for the electorate. The electorate are their first priority, not the party.
I read with interest the coverage from Doncaster and their elected mayor. His personal politics may not be mine or yours but the possibilities about the way the council could operate were very interesting. You see, because he was not a member of any other party represented on the council it meant that he could choose from any other councillor to take any post. If say there was a position that needed certain skills and knowledge then he wouldn’t be constrained by looking only at the people in the ruling party – he could ask any other councillor and find the best person for the job. I understand that he is having difficulty doing this because………..other parties are not playing ball – but the possibilites are there for all to see of a better way to work in Government.
This is why I am interested in a change in politics – more candidates could stand as independents and the electorate could be educated that just ticking the box you usually tick might not be the best way forward. Instead look at what the candidate stands for – look for the best person for the job. Nationally just because a candidates family are well connected doesn’t mean the candidate will be able to do the job better than one who has worked to get where they are and wish to do the best for the country. Locally, just because a candidate has good standing in the local (enter favourite colour here) party doesn’t mean they will be the best person for the job. I can understand why the leading 3 parties would find this a problem as it would upset the status quo – but perhaps that is what is needed to get more people to engage in politics.
2011 has been a remarkable year so far and it’s not over yet.
The Middle East has experienced what is being called “The Arab Spring”. Normal people in states that often do not have such public displays have taken to the streets in protest against often corrupt and authoritarian regimes. In Egypt President Mubarek has been arrested and is on trial caged and on a stretcher in Cairo for corruption and ordering the armed forces to shoot on members of the public – it looks like Joe Public is suddenly growing up and saying “No – that is not good enough” and demanding more, demanding that they are given the freedoms they are becoming aware of as the world is brought into their living room curtesy of the internet. Using social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter the protests have spread.
Here in the UK we have seen the public in utter disgust at the hacking of murdered teenagers mobile phone and those of the relatives of the 7/7 victims. The Murdoch empire, News International is at the centre of this storm and it looks like more is to come as the involvement of senior politicians with executives from this media organisation become apparent. It looks like this is going right to the top of our Government with the Prime Minister having to answer questions about his appointment of an ex-News Of The World editor. It also appears it wont stop there as other newspapers have been up to no good too.
But you might say – this blog is about local issues – what are you on about?
Well quite a few people are calling for our own local Government to come under proper scrutiny. For an independent body to investigate such things as the Sugdens Mill debacle, The Sita waste contract and the claimed £6m that the taxpayer has paid more than necessary for collecting waste. For an investigation into the Northgate House plans and what involvement council officers have had in attracting proposals from Gregory group, the Milner Royd Allotments poisoned veg and also into The Sowerby Bridge/Copley Valley Scheme and the way officers have worked to make the case for the planning committee to grant the application and why a Councillor should say she feel she is being blackmailed.
We now know that planning officers requested from the Sowerby Bridge Community Forum a letter that was actually sent to the Courier and claimed this was a letter of support for the Copley Valley planning application, even though it was not addressed to CMBC and was not even signed. The group who the letter was sourced from was itself set up by regeneration officers and each time I have been has had a planning officer attending! Some of the members of the group were very concerned that this letter was sent in their name at all, seeing as they have never been allowed a vote for or against the Sowerby Bridge/Copley Valley Scheme.
It may not be during 2011 but I hope that we in Calderdale get our version of the Arab Spring, that the bright searchlight of truth is shone into the murky recesses of Calderdale MBC. I really do believe that the coalition of Lib Dem and Labour have made steps in the right direction in making local Government more accesible and more transparent, particularly with the way questions can be asked at cabinet (though I suspect they might have regretted that step when The Copley Village/Valley Environment Protection Communty Action Group have so regularly turned up and made use of the opportunity). The problem seems to be with the council officers who play not by the Councillors rules but by their own.
If all is honest, open and transparent then good – if as many suspect there is something to hide then bring it to the surface and let the taxpayer know just what has been going on. In the same way that those who are commiting crimes against the public elsewhere I hope any officer or member found to be supping with the devil – past or present should be called to account for themselves and be held responsible.
Obviously we are not in the same dire position as those in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrian, Syria etc but what we share with those brave souls is a desire for truth, open and honest government.
A major slogan of the demonstrators in the Arab world has been Ash-sha`b yurid isqat an-nizam (“The people want to bring down the regime”)
Caution – comment about something not to do specifically with Calderdale.
I started writing this before the events of the last few days and the riots that are affecting our country. What I am calling for here is not what is happening in London, Liverpool, Birmingham etc. The people doing these criminal acts are not, in my opinion doing it for any real reason. Not because they have no job and wish to protest, not because they are concerned about the cuts. I think they are doing this just because they think they can get away with it. They attend because they hear basically that there is a party going on and they want to be part of it. The thieving and arson is criminal and should be treated as such – thanfully it looks like it will be.
Now having said that I hope The Prime Minister is starting to realise that the cuts he and his Government are intent on making will affect the number of policeman available for emergency situations such as this. The quoted figues of 6000 policemen on the streets of London one night and 16000 the next are impressive and are no doubt needed – if we cut the number of officers available to be mobilised then we risk the chance of situations like this being completley out of control.
Lastly, speaking of out of control – I hope the irony of the Cameron and Johnson party trying to give the impression of controlling this situation when whilst at University and in The Bullingdon Club their “high jinks” alledgedly included smashing a window and setting fire to the toilets, is not lost on anybody. True or not – they are still upper class rich twits who belonged to a gang even though they called it a club!