October 2012

Weekly Diary for October 2012

Tuesday 2 October

7pm: We had a local Highways Panel meeting at the Town Hall in Brentwood. For those of you who have followed this diary for the last few months, the local Highways Panel has been a bit of a farce. For those of you old enough to remember, a chap called Brian Rix used to make a good living out of this and for those of you belonging to my generation, this panel has been likened to the Dead Parrot Sketch from Monty Python. I suppose seeing is believing so I would refer you to the Brentwood Council website which shows a continual loop of this meeting for the benefit of the communities’ enjoyment and entertainment.

Thursday 4 October 2012

6pm: I was at Pilgrim’s Hatch Environmental Partnership reporting to the committee on various items arising from Council meetings over the last month. This included an update on the possibility of the Partnership working in conjunction with the newly formed Shenfield Partnership assisting the Borough Council with environmental improvements to grass cutting and hedge trimming. Also mentioned was the possibility of Partnership members attending various meetings of the Borough Council as representatives of the Partnership. The meeting ended at 07.05pm whereupon I travelled to Shenfield library to attend a meeting of the above mentioned Shenfield Environmental Partnership. I reported back in my role as their County Councillor on various items concerning Shenfield such as pothole repairs, road works, a tragic fatal accident on one of Shenfield’s roads and environmental improvements as mentioned at the Pilgrims Hatch meeting.

Friday 5 October

From 9am until 10am I was at a meeting with ward colleagues and officers at Brentwood Town Hall discussing the possible impact on residents, shop-keepers and commuters when cross-rail starts work next year in Shenfield.

11.30am: I attended a meeting between my officers and my Deputy Chairman to discuss the Agenda for the Overview and Scrutiny Committee I am chairing on Monday 15 October.

Monday 8 October

I was standing in the middle of the Ongar Road with a ‘hi-vis’ jacket on assisting parents, teachers and pupils of Bentley St Paul’s school to access the church for their Harvest Festival Service. This is an extremely dangerous crossing with vehicles travelling sometimes in excess of 70mph and no crossing facility in place. This has been the subject of many meetings and debates. The last lollipop person was removed some 10 years ago allegedly because it was too dangerous to operate without signal assistance. The Police assisted for some time but they were charging the school £200 every time they turned up. The school could not afford to carry on with the cost, and therefore parents, teachers and governors take the responsibility for seeing the children safely across the road every morning and every afternoon.

7pm: I attended a residents’ meeting called to discuss the pending planning development proposal to a large area of Brentwood North.

Tuesday 9 October

12pm saw me at County Hall discussing case work with various officers in connection with my County role. I had a bowl of soup for lunch at County Hall, the first taste of our new catering arrangements; unfortunately for me I left it until 2pm and my soup was cold.

5pm: I met with the Shenfield Environmental Partnership members and street care officers from Brentwood Council in the Broadway at Shenfield.

Wednesday 10 October

At 10am I was at County Hall for a briefing by our Deputy Chief Executive on Community Budgets. This was to the Lib Dem group exclusively and it gave us plenty of opportunity to ask our questions and be able to get the answers whenever they could be given. The government has commissioned six local authorities, three of them cities and three counties for a pilot scheme to come up with ways of reducing local authority spend in four key areas without the need for changing legislation. The administration and other Councils had already received their briefing.

The government has installed six civil servants, who work for the Cabinet Office in Whitehall, at the County Council and provided office space and financial support.

Thursday 11 October

I was at County Hall with Anne going through my diary, future commitments, administrating this website and chasing up on various case-work issues.

7pm: I have dusted off my planning hat which I ditched 15 years ago when my eyes proved too weak to read plans and agendas. I have to defend the green belt in Pilgrims Hatch against a possible industrial development.

9pm: Wonderful result for the residents of Doddinghurst Road in Pilgrim’s Hatch following a very robust and technical debate; the decision of the majority of the planning committee was for refusal of the application to convert a hay store into an industrial unit with access roads. The residents were extremely pleased and grateful for their Ward Councillor’s support. Whilst we rejoice in this decision I had to warn the objectors that an appeal by the applicant was probably likely and to ready themselves for another round of points of policy, argument and debate with ultimately the Secretary of State for the Environment (which happens to be our MP, Mr Eric Pickles) who will make the decision.

Friday 12 October

10am on Friday saw me back at County Hall for a group meeting to discuss the agenda for the forthcoming Full Council meeting of the County Council.

Monday 15 October

5pm-6pm I was at a pre-meeting with officers to discuss the agenda for my Overview and Scrutiny meeting later that evening.

6pm-7pm I met with my fellow members of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

At 7pm the meeting started promptly. Reports were made by Councillors who had been given the responsibilities of chairing Task and Finish groups which included training, planning and a group who were attempting to investigate the reasons behind the adjustments by the Fire Service to the manning of Brentwood Fire Station. Whilst this discussion was taking place I had to remove myself from the chair handing over to my vice-chair and declaring an interest as I am a member of the Essex Fire Authority. Also reported this evening, were questions put by members on target indicators under their responsibility, answered by officers from various departments.

It was also discussed and agreed that a task and finish group chaired by myself, was to investigate the future workings of the fraud investigation department at the Council, with a view to report back to members on the role of this department; its valuable contribution in reducing the loss to the Council by fraudulent applications and how it would be possible to enhance the department if need be.

Tuesday 16 October

I arrived at County Hall early for the Full Council meeting that started at 11am. I had submitted a written question to the Cabinet member responsible for the protection and storage of our county art collection which was estimated at £14m at the last valuation, taken some years ago.

To view the answer to the submitted written questions please Click here and then select item 13bO _ Answer to Written Questions

I also asked a question to the Cabinet member responsible for Schools Children & Families regarding the future retention and protection of our school playing fields. There was also a motion put forward by the administration regarding the impact of European Bureaucracy impacting on Essex residents. We, as the Lib Dems being in Opposition, put forward an amendment. Unfortunately, the amendment failed as is the way of these things when you have an Opposition of 11 against the might of the Administration totalling 60. It was obvious to me from the tone of the debate that we are in the ‘run-in’ period of next May’s County elections. I predict that future Full Council meetings will increase the party political declarations; public jousting will be prevalent in the December meeting and almost certainly accelerated for the budget setting in February 2013.

At the rise of Full Council I had a hurried lunch before rushing off to yet another meeting in the Committee room at County Hall to discuss the winter maintenance programme and the allocation of salt bags to my Division for residents’ use. This is something we introduced last year which the people of Pilgrim’s Hatch and Shenfield found most useful, as they live in areas not covered by the County Council’s gritters. The bags can be easily used by residents to lay the salt on pavements and roadways where it is extremely hazardous when not treated.

I left County Hall around 3pm and later that evening attended yet another group meeting at the Town Hall in Brentwood to discuss the agenda for Policy the following night.

Wednesday 17 October

Back at County Hall again with two of my county Lib Dem colleagues, we took part in a conference call dialogue with the county officer, Head of Schools Children and Families. I raised several questions pertinent to residents’ in my Division and more far ranging enquiries which impacted on Essex in general. Most of these are covered under the Data Protection Act and Social Services confidentiality rules.

7pm: I took part in the Policy meeting at the Town Hall and with the agreement of the Chairman, as I am not a member of that Committee; I was allowed to ask various questions and aspects of the agenda.

Thursday 18 October

From 12.45pm to 13.45pm I attended a meeting in the Council Chamber at County Hall where selected groups of school students from all around Essex were putting questions to a selected group of Councillors and officers from the Administration. It would have been I believe useful to the students to have had a Councillor from one of the Opposition parties on the panel but alas that did not take place.

Students from Essex schools putting questions to Councillors in the Council Chamber at County Hall

On the face of it, the students seemed to derive satisfaction from the answers given and once more my faith in the younger residents of Essex was justified as their behaviour, their interest level and their whole attitude was exemplary.

At 4pm I attended a Standards Board meeting at Brentwood Town Hall which lasted for two hours but came up with a very robust and challenging set of recommendations that were to go before Full Council meeting the following week for discussion. These will be included as assistance to the working party to be set up with a view to introduce a new method of monitoring members’ behaviour and setting a censure.

For those of you that wish to understand more this meeting was web-cast and can be accessed on Brentwood website.

Friday 19 October

A benchmark in the Aspinell Fire Authority area of responsibility, I attended a meeting at Local Government House in Smith Square, London which was the LGA (Local Government Association) Fire Commission, a forum for all combined fire and rescue authorities and principal authorities with a fire and rescue service.

I was representing members of the Essex Fire Authority at a national gathering of some 50 other representatives. I don’t think I could have envisaged being in that position when I was sitting on the back of a fire engine going to my first shout as a newly qualified fire-fighter back in 1974. Life has a peculiar way sometimes of producing some strange situations. An old saying my grand-father was known to proclaim to his grandchildren at the drop of hat on a regular basis, was that you always respected those people you met on your way up and as you never knew when you might need them on your way down.

It was a two-hour meeting but the most interesting and informative part of this gathering was as always, the networking with other Councillors from their various County authorities. On the whole we can be quite proud of the Essex Fire Authority achievements compared with other authorities in these austere and challenging times.

Saturday 20 October

Time out – Met the coach at 8am with the rest of my football travelling companions and made our way Old Trafford to view the home match against Stoke City which after going down 1-0 to very early sloppy defensive goal, managed to prevail in the end winning quite comfortably 3-1. It was a good match enjoyed by all and I managed to get all things Council out of my brain for the day.

Monday 22 October

9am saw me at Kelvedon Park, headquarters of Essex Fire Authority to discuss the Policy meeting agenda prior to the meeting early next month.

7pm: Back at Brentwood Town Hall for our group meeting prior to Full Council on Wednesday.

Tuesday 23 October

11.30am-12.15pm: My colleague Theresa Higgins and I were quizzed by inspectors from the LGA (Local Government Association). This was an official enquiry as to how we saw the County Council’s role for opposition Councillors. One of the areas they concentrated on was how we thought the County dealt with equal opportunity measures. As Theresa has a hearing impairment and I have eyesight problems, the two of us were best placed to answer their questions. In fact Theresa and I form a double-act at Full Council as we sit together; we hear no evil and see no evil.

2.30pm: I attended a pre-application meeting with my Pilgrim’s Hatch ward colleague Vicky Davies. This was to discuss a planning application for the Little Huggers Day Nursery in the Ongar Road, Pilgrim’s Hatch. For planning restrictions on Members’ public declarations of intent, I cannot say how we will decide on this item should it come to Committee. All I can say under Ward member rights is that I found this Nursery to be extremely well-run, well provided with all the equipment, toys, changing facilities and everything else for the role they undertake and would be very happy for my grand-children to attend if they were in this area.

7pm: I attended the meeting of the Pilgrim’s Hatch Environmental Partnership. This was our AGM and it was pleasing to see so many of our residents in attendance. I believe the future bodes well for this partnership and in the coming months and years, we will be able to achieve many environmental improvements to Pilgrim’s Hatch as well as assisting in the reduction of anti-social behaviour and the enhancement and enjoyment of young people and old alike within the Ward. It is all good stuff!

Wednesday 24 October

1.30pm: I met with Graham Clark, my Shenfield Lib Dem colleague at our customary headquarters of Costa Coffee in Shenfield Broadway. This meeting is invaluable in keeping each other up to date with the many emails and phone calls we both receive from residents. The two of us then attended a site visit organised by the County Council at the Hunter Avenue car park to discuss the positioning of a new cycle storage facility. This lockable bike storage will be able to house 40 cycles. We had a very good and constructive meeting with the county officer Jane Sumner who, not only was able to assist in providing funding for this particular cycle store but was also able to provide an extra storage facility between the toilets and telephone boxes outside the station opposite Hunter Avenue car park. With the assistance of a representative from the cycle storage company that will be providing the facility we were able to agree to the repair and upgrading of the existing cycle rack that is in the walkway between Hunter Avenue and the Broadway. All in all, a very productive meeting which should see results in the next 4-6 weeks. This will help to resolve the problem we have with the unsightly and sometimes hazardous way people currently chain their bikes to the railings both sides of the Broadway. Graham and I and the Shenfield Environmental Partnership look forward to the completion of this work.

Covered cycle storage facility at Shenfield

6pm-7pm: I attended the Group meeting at Brentwood Council offices to discuss the Full Council agenda and proposals.

7pm: I took my place as Deputy Leader of the Opposition and entered into the discussion on the many and varied items on the agenda of which all were web-cast so this can be viewed at your leisure. One remarkable thing did transpire, our motion to the Council, as is the administration’s normal practice, was ‘knocked-on’ to the next meeting rather than discussed on the night, but this time we, the Opposition, tabled a never before used, constitutional procedure which meant we called an extra-ordinary council meeting to discuss this item and this was accepted. I made a plea to the Mayor that in order to save time and added expense in calling a meeting to discuss one item, we rather discuss it that evening when all the council’s members were assembled but alas this fell on deaf ears. An extra-ordinary meeting will be called to discuss the William Hunter One development that has been delayed for the last three years and has many far reaching ramifications for the future of our town centre and that of our residents.

Thursday 25 October

Saw me back at County Hall in the office putting this page together with Anne and chasing up case work and residents enquiries.

7.15pm which is predicting the future I know, as I am here in County Hall, I attended the Brentwood North AGM in my role as their County Councillor. Prevalent on the discussion was forthcoming by-election in Shenfield that was announced at last night’s Full Council meeting. Here endeth my day.