• 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.

     

  • Public Toilets – Pt II

    The public toilets issue continues with the Echo Newspaper picking up the story today.

    Thanks to Echo reporter, Hsin-yi who did a wonderful job of pulling the article together from our information. As you can see from the Echo News website, the piece has gained a lot of attention from readers, who are equally as disgusted by the actions of the councils. As we remain in times of austerity and the daunting mishandled Brexit process, now is not the right time to be spending huge sums of money without proper financial justification.

    This is my opinion of course, but alternatives were put forward and simply dismissed out of hand.

  • 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

  • A Few Words from the Managing Director

    A number of us local councillors run blogs in our spare time, as an aim to keep the wider public informed of our actions, intentions and views. So it is interesting to see that the MD of Rochford District Council has now decided to write a blog.

    One of his first blog posts is about homelessness. A worthy topic of a blog post, however, I’m sceptical of how this will pan out and there may have been second thoughts since there have been no updates to the blog since August. As many blog writers know readership falls heavily if there are large gaps in new content.

    I have mused if the move is an unusual one and how, as Managing Director, if he will be able to maintain an apolitical view on the workings & decisions of the council.

    If the blog continues it will be an interesting read, and one that will be heavily scrutinised by ALL parties I’m sure.

    Watch this space

  • Police Crime Commissioner is put in the dock by Councillors

    Last nigh Essex Police Crime Commissioner, Roger Hirst, gave a briefing to District and Parish Councillors in the Rochford District. The council chamber was fairly full (rather like Southend Police Cells! More on that later) and attended by 13 opposition members and just 9 Conservative members. 

    The presentation started with a brief slide show from Roger Hirst on the revenues received by selling off the police estates and the investment that the police have made in modern technology. I wonder what they will sell off when everything has been sold, but I'm sure someone has already thought of that.

    Members were invited to ask questions to Mr Hirst once his presentation had finished and there was plenty of those!  A usually vocal (ahemmm), Cllr Newport remained quiet throughout, as I had the insight to present my questions to the PCC prior to the meeting and which I had already had responses from Chief Inspector Westley.

    There were some interesting questions presented to the PCC and he was challenged on accusations (as the Echo reported) of the police being too busy to collect CCTV evidence from a recent crime scene. A slightly embarrassed Mr Hirst, could only accept that the police were 'guilty as charged'

    A recurring theme of Councillors went on to report to Mr Hirst that the spiraling drugs problem across the district is not being addressed. (one of the questions I had already put prior to the meeting) Concerned Parish Councillors reported how the lack of police presence in Hullbridge has seemily led to open drug dealing outside the primary school and the persistant Parish Councillor repeatedly told Mr Hirst that the lack of police presence in Hullbridge was acutely noteable. 

    CCTV evidence was another topic of conversation, as members informed Mr Hirst that there seemed to be a reluctance by police to process footage. Mr Hirst explained that the current technology that the police have means that it is cumbersome for the police to process this evidence. 

    Other challenges made to Mr Hirst were made on the 101 service and the severe delays on getting through to report crime (some references to 1hr plus), one example given the caller was asked if they could be called back and to wait until at least the next day! Again the evidence put to Mr Hirst was damning and there was little defence from Mr Hirst only that they need to do better.

    I think it was an uncomfortable evening for Mr Hirst and his defence was weak. He is clearly a 'hands up' guy and he can only be commended for admitting where there are failures - I think he has his work cut out. Will he be able to get the confidence in the police service restored any time soon? I'd be hesitant to think so. 

    If your interested to know more on how the evening went Cllr Chris Black will be reporting here

  • Meeting the needs of our residents with affordable housing

    There must be more that we can do to meet the needs of residents with affordable housing right? Well today on my journey home from London, I read this article.

    If you want to skip to the interesting part - the article discusses Community Land Trusts. Is this the way forward for to help people get their foot on to the property ladder at realistic prices?

    More information on Community Land Trusts here - http://www.communitylandtrusts.org.uk/

  • Toilet Petition Now Live!

    Not being one to give up so easily, there is a petition now live on the council's website. You can find the petition by clicking the button below.

    With over 300 signatures already added we need a further 1200 to get a debate in full council, where Councillors will be forced to explain the logic (if there is any!) and the costs of £330k that the taxpayer will foot.

    Do you know a friend, relative or neighbour who doesn't have internet access? No bother! Some of our local businesses are holding paper petitions for people to sign. Full details below.

    Hicke​y's DIY, 9 London Rd ,Rayleigh SS6 9AX


    Ashley Knotts Barbershop, 221 London Rd, Rayleigh SS6 9DN, UK

  • Is this a clear case of wealth before health?

    Something I rapidly learnt over the course of 1 year – nothing moves quickly in local government. I have to say though I find the following appalling.

    So I’ve decided, not to celebrate but to commiserate on this Echo News Reportthis Echo News report & this Echo News Report which goes as far back as 1999 that air pollution around Rayleigh was at unsafe limits

    The environmental pressure group (Friends of the Earth) claims the official figures show that despite improvements made by car manufacturers to cut down exhaust emissions, the level of air pollution on the stretch of road will still be above safe limits in 2005. reported the “plan to act over poor air”,

    In 2007 the council responded to the problem with

    Rayleigh councillor Mavis Webster said she would also raise the issue with Essex County Council’s cabinet member for transport, Norman Hume.

    and in 2015 another response from the Tory council

    The annual average level of nitrogen dioxide – a pollutant associated with exhaust emissions – is just over the Government guidelines.

    Mr Gordon said: “Without powers or funding I don’t know what we are expected to do about it. The levels are not dangerous.

    It is not something for people to worry about.”

    Cheryl Roe, district councillor and chairman of the town council’s environment committee, hopes the Rayleigh Area Action Plan, which was submitted to the Government in December, will go some way to alleviating the problem which she says people do worry about.

    She said: “The pollution needs to be looked at. We need to ease the flow of traffic through the town centre and stop people getting stuck for so long.

     

    Still waiting for something to be done? Here we are 18, yes 18 years later – no credible plan in place and still no action from the Tory led council. This should send a clear message to our residents that the health and well being of our residents simply does not matter!

  • A Clean Air Zone for Rayleigh?

    Rayleigh has a cloudy history when it comes to Air Pollution and now the Government has been forced to up the ante to solve the increasing problem with Air Pollution across the UK. Whilst we all probably realise, London suffers with poor air quality, we are in fact (and have been for a long time) facing an illegal limit of NO2 right in our own town. 

    You may have read my previous posts on air pollution or seen our campaign to increase the air quality monitoring across the district. Now, however the UK Government has launched another consultation on how to reduce the pollution in our towns and cities.

    The highlights of the document are the ways in which this could be acheived

    • ​Exploring innovative retrofitting technologies and new fuels;
    • Buying ULEVs and encouraging local transport operators to do the same
    • Encouraging private uptake of ULEVs via ensuring adequate chargepoints
    • Encouraging use of public transport, cycling, walking, park and ride schemes, and car sharing
    • Improving road layouts and junctions to optimise traffic flow, for example by considering removal of road humps
    • Working with local businesses and neighbouring authorities to ensure a consistent approach
    • Charging certain types of vehicles to enter or move within the zone

    Now I don't have any prior knowledge of what our local council could be doing about our particular problem (as that would be a Tory decision), other than the already published AQAP - but in the Government's consultation it's suggested that charging vehicles to enter a clean air zone (i.e Rayleigh Town Centre) would be the quickest way to get the problem under control.

    On the basis of the failure to act and armed with the knowledge that even OUTSIDE of the AQMA, there are indications from our own sampling that there is more illegal pollution in our town, there is a possibility that we could see a clean air zone set up in Rayleigh with some of the dirtiest polluting vehicles being charged to pass through our town centre.

    Watch this space for future developments or sign up below for future updates!

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