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Run run as fast as you can!!!

I see The Halifax Courier and The Yorkshire Post are reporting Cllr Amanda Byrne, conservative member for Sowerby Bridge is stepping down as deputy leader of the local tory party and also not standing at the next election.

The stated reason is basically job pressure. One wonders how much this pressure has been increased by recent developments such as;

  • The Sowerby Bridge Copley valley project planning application (that she is on video record as backing) receiving the nod from planning committee (that includes her collegue Cllr (I was a copper in the 70’s – I saw a man die etc)) Martin Peel.
  • Because of the above her main employer Lloyds Banking Group no longer need her attendance at the secret planning board. Job done.
  • Could it be that the her relationship with the Sowerby Bridge Community Forum and its emerging use and abuse by planning officers to deceive the planning committee is a bad story too far?
  • or is it just the fact that at the time CMBC officers took the decision not to inform allotmenteers that they may be ingesting poison veg from Council owned land that Clr Byrne was cabinet member with responsibility for Economy and Environment? (see my blog Milner Royd without a paddle).

Whatever the reasons as I stated in my last blog, I believe Sowerby Bridge will be best served by a Council member who lives in the ward and is therefore fully aware of the problems of traffic, litter from the profusion of take-aways and bad behaviour from the worst of the nightlife that residents have to endure. Not one who lives in leafy Holywell Green.

I will also state that as councillors once elected too often toe the party line that I believe the next elected member, for the good of  Sowerby Bridge would best be an Independent! (now that would put the cat among the pigeons).

But my last question for today is…………………is it CMBC that is a sinking ship or the local tories?

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Playing away from home?

I grew up (as much as a guitarst ever grows up) in Ovenden, that much maligned North Halifax area. We moved there when I was about 4 from Pellon and lived in a council house. As a teen we moved onto Ovenden Grove and I became aware of some of the rougher characters.

I recall walking home late at night whilst a full blown shouting match was going on in one of the houses. The streets seemed busier than they were during the day as suddenly people were siezed with the need to walk the dog – mainly with-in ear shot of the barney that was going on. Cheap entertainment at someone elses expense?

I once sold a guitar amp to a friend – we took it to his house and then went out somewhere. By the time he got back the house had been broken into and the amp taken. The council came and boarded the broken window up, my friend asked when the window would be re-glazed and was told that they didn’t bother re-glazing straight away as usually the thief would wait until the insurance had been claimed and the goods replaced. Then they would come back to steal the new items too. then perhaps the council would re-glaze the windown.

I married and we lived in Lee Mount. I felt more secure than when I lived on the Grove but even Lee Mount had problems. On a Friday night I would be happy if it was raining. If it was sunny then we could expect gangs of youths to be in the park until the early hours, partying. They would then make their way home causing havoc as they passed through Lee Mount.

I now live in Copley – it’s great! Nice people, little crime – busy road but to me it’s like being on holiday each day.

I am convinced you can only know a place, its people and problems when you live there.

Calderdale has 51 councillors and 40% of these do not live in the Wards they represent. Skircoat Ward has all 3 Councillors in the ward – it’s neighbour Sowerby Bridge had none until the last election – it now has 1.

Obviously this is because someone who is part of say, The Labour Party is unlikley to succesfully stand in Skircoat but will stand a better chance in Illingworth. But as I pointed out – how can they really understand the needs of the residents of Ovenden or elsewhere if they live in a nice residential part of Halifax?

The Cabinet of Calderdale MBC has 8 members. Of these only 3 live in the area they represent.

In my work for the campaign against the unpopular Sowerby Bridge/Copley Valley scheme I have come across council officers who live in North Yorkshire and Greater Manchester. Perhaps the worse offender of “playing away from home” would be the Ward Champion of Skircoat Ward who lives in Cumbria!

I think this needs an overhaul – Council candidates currently only need to be proposed by people who live in the Ward – I think added to that should be the stipulation that the candidate should reside in the ward. Then they really would have more in common with the people they represent and their impetus to resolve these problems would be greater as it directly affects them.

When it comes to senior  Council officers, well they have zero allegiance to the borough – it seems to be the norm that they stay for a relativley short time then disappear – with or without a golden goodbye. In fact the current Director of Economy and Environment is on record as saying he intends to be here for 5 years. So the recently approved Sowerby Bridge/Copley Valley Project will not have been finished before he goes. He will not have to deal with any of the fall out of his and his officer’s decisions. It is the residents who will.

I can’t really blame him – he will no doubt be adding to his CV that HE “brought in this £64m scheme against public wishes and against massive opposition and expert recommendations” and he will move on to another post to inflict misery on another borough. It’s the system that stinks that allows this to happen time and time again.

It must be stopped – a professional should be held responsible for the things that have gone wrong. So if as predicted the roads around Halifax become grid-locked due to the traffic generated from the SBCV Scheme then, as he and his officers have been warned about this then they should be held responsible for their decisions – even if they have moved onto another more lucrative post.

Go straight to Northgate House – do not pass go – do not collect £200.

One of my favourite views in Halifax is from The Magnificent Town Hall, looking down towards Southgate precinct. Stand with your back to the Town Hall, or better still look from the small window by the reception in The Town Hall and look down towards Southgate. The view takes in Princess Building and The White Swan Hotel and in the distance the Halifax borough Market that was built between 1891 and 1896 – this is a view more apt for a large city rather than a small town like Halifax. Now as we all know the Victorians knew how to build, they knew how to build aesthetically and how to build for the future. I can remember the market thriving, as a teen  on a Saturday I would visit with a friend who did impressions of one of the grocers we would mingle with the shoppers and the grocer would shout something like “Potatoes 30p a pound” and my friend would shout “potatoes 20p a pound” from the other side of the stall. Well it amused us – as did the chase!

Later I remember one Christmas the market had a Victorian theme day and all the stall holders dressed appropriately, hot chestnuts were sold and an Austrian oompah band played – It was a really good atmosphere. The traders appeared to be busy and it was a good place to be on a cold winters day. We do have older buildings in Halifax but the Market is and should remain a key hub of the town.

Then in this weeks Halifax Courier we read “(Councillor) David Hardy (Lib Dem, Elland) said: “The best way to preserve properties like this is to give them new life. Then they’ve got another 300 years in them.”

Brilliant – this impressive structure has another 300 years in it – those Victorians certainly knew how to build didn’t they. But it seems that The Market is under threat as Calderdale MBC have not been keeping up with the maintenance of this Grade 1 listed building and urgent work is needed if it is to be retained – as it should be.

Contrast this with Northgate House – built in the 1970’s for what is now Calderdale MBC and seemingly similarly neglected since then if recent reports are to be believed. The council claim £15m (yeah you read it correctly fifteen million pounds) need to be spent to update the building. We are told this includes new lifts and replacement windows – maybe even air conditioning.

16000 people signed a petition against the demolition of The Central Library at Northgate, Halifax when the Council was conservative held.. This building was only built 30 years ago along with Northgate House and yet incredibly, Calderdale MBC were considering knocking it down. The petition was handed into the council by Coun Barry Collins (Lab). We are told that this led to the Council reviewing their ideas regarding Northgate.

After the conservatives lost control of the council and were replaced by a Lib Dem/Labour coalition, the Lib Dems on their website stated;

“The need for change is demonstrated by the previous Conservative Cabinet’s:

  • Making a complete mess of the award of the new waste contract, betraying Kerbside and risking millions of pounds of public money;
  • Failing our most vulnerable children by not getting a grip on safeguarding services;
  • Wasting millions of pounds on high-paid consultants; and
  • Trying to bulldoze Halifax central library.

Now I’m sure we can all agree with those aims – but now in 2011 with a Lib Dem/Labour coalition we have the council again looking at demolishing Northgate House and according to reports in The Halifax Courier – the library too. And one of the lead players in this is …… Coun Barry Collins.

The Gregory Group – the ones building the Broad Street development want to knock down Nortgate House and The Central Library and in their place build ashopping centre – the key business of which will be Primark.

A 30 year old building is planned for demolition – why? Surely it’s cheaper to update Northgate House than it is to build a new one? It is certainly more environmentally friendly.

In my opinion this is because the Broad Street development has not managed to attract any other occupants to it’s office space – in the same way it was unable to attract retailers and so became purely a lesuire destination + an NHS clinic. This development must be seen to succeed as CMBC have pinned all their hopes on it as being a shining light of how good they are at attracting developers. But who will be meeting the cost of moving all those office staff into Broad Street? What will be the costs of the new build? If it is to be a PFI agreement then you don’t need to look too far to see who benefits from them (clue – it’s never the customer).

It seems to me that we are being pushed into this scheme in order to justify the councils claim that one of their big projects – Broad Street is a big success and that we should all be so impressed with CMBC.

I’ve seen the Broad Street Development grow into the monstrosity that now dominates the skyline (wait until the light pollution is switched on) and I can well believe that building is specified to last 30 years (which just happens to be the normal timespan of a PFI agreement) but 30 years ago they didn’t build for todays throw away society.

If there are any plans for Northgate we should be able to see everything – how much it will cost to move into The Gregory Groups buildings – and how much the projected costs are for the term of any PFI agreement. We should be allowed to see what the quotes (not just figures made up to support the case to tear down and re-build) actually are and from whom. We should also demand that any agreements with Primark are real and not just dreamed up. I know that CMBC claim they are open and transparent – though that has not been my experience – but we need to keep them on their toes – ask every question and share information so that CMBC cannot get away with acting in the dark as though we are not bright enough to understand what is best for us and our town.

It’s our money these people are playing Monopoly with.

 

 

Milner Royd Allotments – without a paddle

Well I was undecided which topic to address for my next blog, but feel my arm has been twisted following an article in the Halifax Courier 13/07/2011.

To put you in the picture, in 2005 as part of the Sowerby Bridge/Copley Valley Project, Calderdale MBC commissioned surveys on the land they proposed to develop. In amongst the surveys were the results of contamination found in the Milner Royd Allotments. Test pits contained high levels of  various chemicals including arsenic, lead and hydro-carbons. All obviously hazardous to health.

Calderdale MBC being a caring, considerate and professional organisation took the decision not to inform the allotment holders. Instead they continued to charge the allotment holders for the land and kept the information to themselves. It wasn’t until 2011 that the folk who had been busily working to improve their plots, spending their own money to provide what they thought was food that they knew was good for their families, found out about the results of the tests. One of the allotment holders noticed he and his daughter were suffering from regular bouts of sickness and so they went for blood tests. They also requested that some of the produce was tested again to see if the contamination was still evident.

Following interest from The Halifax Courier and also TV’s Look North, CMBC became concerned about the health of the allotment holders and recommended that they stop eating their produce. I attended a meeting of the scrutiny committee that was open to the public. This was called quite rightly by the new ward councillor for Sowerby Bridge, David Draycott and was chaired by Councillor David Hardy.

This meeting was well attended and had many of the allotment holders present. Whilst attending meetings about the Sowerby Bridge/Copley Valley Scheme, I had noticed that one of the Ward Councillors Amanda Byrne, was never there. I had begun to think she may be a myth. But there she was at the Scrutiny Panel and she was very vocal. She repeated “We are where we are” and statements like “people have moved on since 2005” that to me sounded like an excuse for not addressing the council’s failings of the past. It wasn’t until later that I was told that in 2005 she was the cabinet member with responsibilty for Economy and Environment that it began to make sense. What she should really have been saying was “You are where I have left you – shame you don’t have a paddle!”

The decision was taken to have more tests done and we are awaiting those results.

So to the recent Courier article and what made me decide to write about this on-going catastrophe. All the allotment holders in Calderdale, including those at Milner Royd have received notice that their rents are to increase by 25%. In a complete PR disaster these unthinking, un-caring public servants are actually increasing the charge for growing crops on known poison land. The fact that CMBC are knowingly renting these contaminated plots out, contravening Health and Safety Legislation (not to mention the duty of a human being to stop someone ingesting poison) makes CMBC culpable and no amount of back covering should protect them from the results of this. Indeed it should be the person/s responsible for making the decision that are personally responsible for this act of deriliction of duty to protect members of the public from harm.

I have spoken to some of the allotment holders and asked what they would like to happen. The ones I spoke to didn’t want to lose their allotments at Milner Royd, they have worked hard convert what was for some just weed filled waste land to something resembling an allotment. They actually referred to the area as an oasis. They claimed that they could grow crops there, not for eating but to help clean the soil. It was thought it could take 3-4 years but could be done organically. Concern was made that CMBC might be hoping to move the allotment holders onto another site in order to use the area for the Sowerby Bridge/Copley Valley Project, perhaps making it possible to move the road to the other side of the pumping station.

Perhaps it would be a good start for the Council to speak to the allotment holders and ask their opinions and soon.

 

15th July 2011 Update

According to todays Halifax Courier, the Milner Royd Allotment holders have been told they will not be asked to pay this year! So a step in the right direction.

Welcome

I decided to make available a blog as I seem to have stuff to say about the political climate in Calderdale. In particular, through opposing the Sowerby Bridge/Copley Valley Project, (See http://www.copleyvalley.co.uk for details). I am very concerned about the way Calderdale MBC (AKA The Council) are managing various aspects of Calderdale. This concern seems to be shared by a growing band of people, primarily being vocal through the Halifax Courier website comments underneath appropriate news articles.

Calderdale MBC’s Planning Department seem to be creating waves in the way they manage planning applications and the pro-active way they push through applications against the public will. Historically I hear of Brighouse’s Sugden’s Flour Mill and more up to date we have the Sowerby Bridge/Copley Valley Scheme. But it doesn’t stop there we also have CMBC’s interest in Northgate House requiring update and this seems to involve knocking down a 30 year old building and also the Central Library and archives building. It is claimed that Primark are interested in this site. Also we have the council paying for surveys in preparation for the Sowerby Bridge/Copley Valley Project that CLEARLY stated that The Milner Royd Allotments were on contaminated ground and that this contamination was being taken up by the gardeners produce.  So CMBC took the decision NOT to mention it to the Allotment holders!

Besides this CMBC have also recently awarded a contract to SITA for waste collection that has reputedley cost the tax-payer £6m more than necessary.

So as you can see there is plenty to cause concern in Calderdale – much of it involves the Economny and Environment directorate.

I’m new to this blogging lark so you’ll just have to put up with any gaffs I make 😉

Mick