Category Archives for Opinions

How Can We Help The High Street

*Update - I've received a 'request' to modify this post from Rochford District Council Strategic Director, I will leave you the reader to draw your own conclusions why I have received this request, but I am pretty certain it's not for the reasons alluded to!

From: "Angela Hutchings" <Angela.Hutchings@Rochford.gov.uk>
Sent: 31 December 2018 14:38
To: "Rayleigh Town" <clerk@rayleightowncouncil.gov.uk>
Cc: "Daniel Kudla" <Daniel.Kudla@Rochford.gov.uk>, "Shaun Scrutton" <Shaun.Scrutton@rochford.gov.uk>
Subject: Corrections to website post required


Dear Kerry I have today noticed the post (screen shot below) on Cllr Newport’s website which states that colleagues from RDC will be attending a meeting at Rayleigh Town Council to “present their strategy for helping our struggling retailers and their vision of our High Street”. This is not the case. The invitation came from you to RDC (myself and my Econ Dev colleague Dan Kudla will be attending) to discuss concerns which the TC has about its High Street and for us to share some ideas. The text of your email is copied below in red for ease of reference.


Hi Rayleigh Town Council is concerned about businesses in the town centre as a number are up for sale and shops often become cafes and restaurants or remain empty for a while.  It would be good if we work together to try to come up with any ideas or a strategy to preserve our High Street.  We know that this is a nationwide issue and we are more fortunate that some other town centres but we need to help businesses as much as we can as Councils. Would a representative from the Economic Development Team like to come to one of our Full Council meetings to discuss this?  


I shall be grateful if you will please ask Cllr Newport to amend his website as I am concerned that it is setting expectations for members of the public which will not be met on the night. Many thanks, Angela

In Rayleigh, we can be reasonably proud of our High St, but we can not be 'asleep at wheel'. We're in uncertain times for our High St and I don't think we can afford to be complacent of its ongoing success. 

I've recently spoken to many local small business owners in Rayleigh, who are equally as worried about the future of the High Street, after all, this is their livelihoods. With many businesses 'quietly' up for sale and empty retail units we have to do something before it's too late. Drawing on these informal discussions I've put forward to Rayleigh Town Council, that an invite should be extended to Rochford District Councils economic development team (which they've accepted) to present to the Town Council their strategy* ideas for helping our struggling retailers and their vision of our High Street. 

This doesn't just fall to one council or another, this needs community involvement. The retailers want you to shop in our town, but they too need to provide the services and products you want - so it's an all round effort that's required. 

I'm looking for members of the local community to get in touch with me and put forward their ideas and questions so I can ask Rochford District Council on their behalf and hopefully together we can boost our local trade. 

The meeting will be held on 25th February at 7.30pm at the Town Council offices.


Like him or loathe him Mike Ashley talks about the future of the High Street

Free Hospital Parking…..for Wales

Unfortunately I’ve recently had to visit hospitals in Essex and Kent for various reasons. Whilst travelling to local hospitals might be feasible by public transport, travelling to Kent by public transport isn’t the easiest, so inevitably we’ve traveled by car. Hit by expensive car parking charges, sometimes I wish we were more like Wales (except from the rain) – free prescriptions & now free parking at ALL their hospitals.

More on this here

All NHS hospital car parking charges scrapped in Wales http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-45347166

Pot Luck on Potholes

Today I write out of sheer frustration on the situation with our potholes on our Counties roads. There doesn’t seem like one short journey you can make on our roads when it is sheer ‘pot luck’ if you don’t inadvertently hit a pothole in the road. I know, as I’ve just been presented with a bill from the garage for nearly £200 due to part of the suspension on our car being damaged. I’m convinced this occurred during a journey along the A130, or was it the A1245, now come to think of it, it might have been the A129….mmmmm maybe it was when I was driving through the High St. You get my drift, they are everywhere!

Speaking to a local resident recently, he told me how he hit a pot hole on the Hullbridge Road and it caused his air bags to go off! Not just one but a few of them.

Well, I’ve had enough of this ‘dodge the pothole’ game, I’m writing to our County Councillors to see if they will step up and get our roads repaired. Essex Highways May have limited funds but are we getting our share? Time to find out.

A Criminal Misuse of Public Money?

Disclaimer – All views are my own, as this is written on my own website, paid for with my own money – These are NOT the views of any Council that I am a member of or a view of the Liberal Democrat Party. They are simply written as a personal view of a Rayleigh Resident. Hope I’ve got the point across….

There is an idea by the Police & Fire Crime Commissioner, that town and parish councils could now ‘buy’ their own Special Police Constables, to police their local area. Each ‘Special’ would cost the council (or taxpayer) £1000. This is an idea that has been put to Rayleigh Town Council. The role of the ‘special’ is something like this

Call me cynical, but isn’t this just another way to extract additional money out of the taxpayer? We already have community policing teams, that are paid for from our council tax and the PFCC is now asking if we are willing to pay more in our council tax to increase policing. So it’s a double ask. The town and parish councils have to find the money from somewhere, right?

If we are so hell-bent on having additional policing, I think someone has missed a trick here. With some crude calculations, I worked out that the £135,000 that has been spent by the district on new public toilets and the £20,000 estimated from the town council to maintain them, then this could have funded 155 special constables for 1 year. Or over the 10 year lease of the toilets, around 15 specials for 10 years. Each special averages 40 hours per month, so on this basis it would have provided funding for around 4 FULL TIME specials for Rayleigh for the next 10 years.

Did we have a choice? No, because we weren’t asked. Could, therefore, new toilets be a criminal misuse of public money?

Specials play an important role in the police service, and if you are interested in becoming a special you can find full details on the Essex police website here

 

 

Infrastructure, Housing and the ‘Outsiders’

As landowners eye the potential rewards for putting forward their land for development, we are still faced with a lack of infrastructure to accommodate further housing needs.

Have we been blind to the ‘unlocking’ of land in here in the Rochford District with ‘bigger’ infrastructure investments taking place right beneath our noses? Crossrail is due to commence in December 2018 and there are the second Dartford Crossing plans.

These major infrastructure projects have the potential to unlock our District to people who can’t afford to live in London but want to be able to get from ‘A to B’ in reasonable times. Will this put further strain on the supply of ‘affordable housing’ and is this a challenge our ‘local’ residents will now face as they try to compete for the same properties?

Some might argue that this competition already exists and I would agree to a lesser degree, but we could see a further deluge of ‘outsiders’ coming into our areas. Our housing policies must be robust to ensure that those who already live in our district are not priced out.

Will our district be able to cope with this housing crisis in the years to come? This is something that we need to work hard on to ensure that the District prospers for all.

 

Pavement Promotion Problems

Tonight’s review committee meeting brought up the issue of the pavement promotions problems. The reference to ‘pavement promotion problems’ is really to A boards.

A boards clogging up pavements

The blight of A boards through the High St (Rayleigh) seems to get increasingly worse – however, this may only be a ‘perception‘. Taking in to account the number of reports the council receives about this specific problem, it could be that we actually think this is a bigger problem than it is and it would be interesting to hear what residents think about this problem.

A person displaying an advertisement in contravention of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 Act and Regulation 30 of the Control of Advertisement Regulations 2007 shall be liable, on summary conviction of an offence under section 224(3) of the Act, and be liable to a fine and criminal record.

Other unauthorised advertising in our district was also raised as a concern, from banners to illuminated signage located in inappropriate places, if its not approved by the council, at some point the owner (land owner, business owner etc) could be prosecuted and the council could even apply to recover some of money made through the illegal advertising through the proceeds of crime act. A criminal record is not something I’m sure a business would want to advertise!

If the matter proceeds through the Court, as well as leaving the offender with a criminal record, a successful prosecution allows the Council to apply for a Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) Confiscation Order.

Update on the Mid and South Essex Success Regime

One item on the agenda at last nights full council meeting was

To receive a presentation from Dr Celia Skinner, Chief Medical Officer for the three NHS Hospital Trusts, Southend, Basildon and Broomfield, providing an update on the latest plans to reconfigure and redesign hospital services across the three sites to meet growing demands and pressures, prior to the end of the public consultation period in December 2017.

The last time the success regime came to council, as reported by the late Cllr Chris Black, we were extremely doubtful of the proposals that were being presented to us. This time it really didn’t get any better, as these dodgy double glazing salesman in white coats tried to persuade us of their new master plan.

It didn’t start well for the success regime as the motion at the last meeting included inviting Dr. Caroline Howard back to the Council along with the Success Regime team. It was not to be, as they had decided to uninvite Dr. Howard and proceed with their brief presentation. After some debate, the Chairman decided that the presentation should proceed.

I don’t think that I was the only one that was perplexed as to why Dr. Howard was absent from the meeting. Was it that she was simply unavailable? was she ill? had she disappeared? Should someone file a missing person report for her? No, panic over,  there she was sitting at the back of the room, prepared to listen to the new sales pitch. Dr. Celia Skinner quickly explained that she was best placed to give us an update on the changes that had been made to the plan and Dr. Howard had contributed towards some of these changes. Regrettably by this time, my confidence in the new plan had been lost due. I couldn’t help feeling that by not allowing Dr. Howard to speak they had something to hide.

It seemed to me that we could read the glossy brochure but not have the small print explained to us by someone knowledgeable.

Isn’t there usually more than one side to a debate anyway? The presentation concluded and Cllr Webb eagerly jumped in with a motion which was seconded by Cllr Gooding. (I didn’t catch the full motion as it was quite long…). At this point, we were unable to ask any questions of the regime and it swiftly brought the ‘debate’ to an end.

The success regime duly ended their time in the council chamber assuring us that next time they would bring along clinical leads – ahhh so we may get some clinical evidence to support that these changes are in the best interests of patients. We will wait and see. For now, I will reserve judgment.

 

 

 

The Final Flush – Crown Hill Toilets

Monday night's Rayleigh Town Council Full Council meeting was a discussion amongst other matters about Crown Hill Public Toilets. (Item 19)

We had spent the afternoon discussing with the Town Clerk that this item SHOULD NOT be in private & confidential as it was in the public interest, however it was feared by the Clerk that some Councillors just wouldn't be capable of avoiding naming the contractor who may be awarded the tender for the building of the new toilets.

So at the start of the meeting the Town Clerk duly asked the members as to whether they would like to discuss this in P&C (Private & Confidential) - you won't be surprised at the response (was I hearing sighs of relief by members?) For what was to follow was something of a car crash way of dealing with public finances.

The floor was swiftly handed over to the RDC officer to run through the pre lease agreement and lease - this was worse than sitting through an omnibus of Eastenders on Sunday afternoon.

No one in the room having legal expertise (to my knowledge), we were assured by the RDC officer that the lease was all good. The town council had taken advice from their solicitor but clearly the lease was NOT complete as the conclusion to the discussion was for delegated powers be granted by the members of the council to the Town Clerk and Cllr R Dray. At this point I remained certain that the signing of the lease would be dependant on the consideration of the cleaning and maintenance costs.

At this point I remained certain that signing the lease would be dependant on the consideration of the cleaning and maintenance costs

As we moved on through the agenda the next to be discussed was Item 19 (d) ..... the costs of cleaning & maintenance of the proposed shiny new toilets. Due to the period of time between the last Policy & Finance meeting and the Full Council meeting, there was not enough time to obtain quotes for the cleaning. So there were no costs to be scrutinised at this meeting. This demonstrated a decision that was being made in a certain degree of haste although other Councillors had commented this outside of meetings previously, it appeared that no one wanted to be vocal about this fact!

Cllr Chris Stanley quickly informed the Council he would be withdrawing his support and I quickly followed by informing the Council that I would be voting against the decision due to no costs being available for the cleaning and maintenance.

....a decision that was being made in a certain degree of haste

The overall majorities decision to vote for the signing of the lease, effectively gave the green light for Rochford District Council to spend in excess of £150,000*** on a new toilets for Crown Hill. Rayleigh Town Councillors Chris Stanley & Cllr James Newport being the only ones that voted against signing the 10 year lease that will burden the Town Councils budget for the next 10 years for cleaning and maintenance. The majority of the other present Councillors were all too willing to condemn the historical Crown Hill Toilets building to the history books, with only a couple of Councillors willing to ask any probing questions about the lease.

*Rayleigh Town Council

**Rochford DIstrict Council

***Figures taken from RDC report here

I'm voting against due to no costs being available for the cleaning and maintenance"

Cllr James Newport (Victoria Ward)

What conclusion can we draw from this? In my opinion the taxpayer could now be saddled with a hefty bill for cleaning and maintenance for the next 10 years and it could be said that this could cost the Town Council in provision of areas of it's work in the future. Maybe the provision of public toilets will be at the expense of pretty flowers and Trinity Fairs in the future.

HOW THE COSTS STACK UP

  • £130,000 for refurbishment (RDC Cost)
  • £15,600 for fees (RDC Cost)
  • £13,000 for contingency (RDC Cost)
  • £20,000 (provisional) budgeted p/a for cleaning & maintenance (RTC Cost)

What is the future for the existing toilet building? No one yet know - will the building be viable for a commercial use? If not will it be cited as a problem for the town, followed swiftly by a wrecking ball?

More questions? Feel free to comment below

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