Tuesday, 31 December 2013
So that was 2013, barring anything interesting or life changing in the next few hours, the year is done and dusted. We can all look forward to 2014 and a new year of challenges and opportunities, I certainly am. Many years I've reached this time of year with more of a desire to see in the new year and say good riddance to the old one. Thankfully this time around, I'm looking forward to 2014 and looking fondly back at 2013. I hope my readers feel the same.
In a lot of senses a great deal of my life and certainly my blog this year have been dominated first by the elections themselves and my election to Penzance Town Council. (And of course my unsuccessful Cornwall Council election bid for Penzance East as well.) I hope this is a welcome development for readers, certainly a lot more people have read my blog this year than other years. But I do feel sometimes that I should be focusing on politics and society elsewhere.
Not that I would have the time to blog on everything but still. There are a lot of injustices in politics at the moment, cuts to front line services, attacks on public sector pensions (firefighters most recently), the bedroom tax and so on. That's before we consider specifics of the social darwinism of modern politics. Take for example the inexcusable letter sent to council tenants shamefully here in Cornwall, reminding people to prioritise rent payments over enjoying Christmas. See on Josiah Mortimer's blog. Or anything on every single one of Cornwall's MPs voting loyally with the government to not take action on foodbanks. The list of things goes on and I haven't even got onto subjects like the disparity in public spending for Cornwall, the lack of infrastructure spend, centralisation. There's a great deal going on in politics at the moment and sadly not a lot of it is good.
I guess the lesson for me here is to concentrate my efforts into areas. I can't unfortunately blog about everything and campaign on every issue. Besides even if I tried who would read multiple posts a day on multiple subjects? and what good would it do? I guess what I am getting it, is that I have to think carefully in the new year about how I approach things, not just on my blog but in politics more generally. Not only how can we shed light on bad decision but also how Mebyon Kernow can promote positive ideas and ultimately effect change.
Ramblings aside, 2014 will be a busier year for myself politically, I will continue to promote Mebyon Kernow, campaign for a Cornish Assembly explain my work as a Penzance Town Councilor and much much more besides. I guess you'll have to stay tuned to see what exactly that entails.
Enough about me, I hope you all enjoy the New Year's celebrations looking back or forward. I trust you've all had a good Christmas and as always if you want to get in contact please do.
Friday, 20 December 2013
But in the case of Cornwall specifically we know we are hugely underfunded, unfortunately these cuts have increased this situation. Cornish residents and Cornwall itself now face a situation where council tax will rise next year and yet even statutory services are at risk of not being delivered, specifically care for the most vulnerable. Alongside the level of services, such as public toilets and libraries are reducing, welfare benefits are being slashed. Due to cuts in local government finance and the Tories and Liberal Democrats choosing to offload the harshest cuts and the hardest decisions downward to councils like here in Cornwall, we will pay more and we will get considerably less and this situation will grow worse in the coming years.
Andrew George MP expressed his frustration at the 'chickenfeed' increase to Cornwall and other rural authorities funding, as the Western Morning News title so aptly puts it: No Sign of Fair Funding for Cornwall.
Again someone in the know, again from an unusual quarter, backs this up:
"We must also point out to Government in the strongest of terms that there are enormous
inequalities in public funding for Cornwall at the moment. I am told that Cornwall has 50% less
per head of population to spend on Council services that the average urban council. Is that fair?
Per person, per year, Cornish people get £78 less grant funding, pay £73 more council tax and
earn on average £6,300 less than city dwellers!
Officers at Lys Kernow estimate that closing the gap between rural and urban funding would
provide Cornwall with an extra £16 million after 5 years."
I'll end with this picture from the organisation SIGOMA (Special Interest Group of Municipal Authorities). They have created a map illustrating, how the cuts effect local authorities:
Our map shows losses for #localgov to 2017-18. Gov map shows council spending power. Higher need = higher cut. pic.twitter.com/15oZwsfLBX
— SIGOMA (@SIGOMA_LG) December 19, 2013
Is it any wonder we are one of the poorest parts of the UK?
Wednesday, 18 December 2013
Tucked into the Local Audit and Accountability Bill is a new Code of Practice on Local Authority Publicity, which vests in him the right to monitor and veto Council's press releases. In particular it allows him and his successors the right to enforce the following:
Consider section 16 above and the points about objectivity and influencing public opinion and section 15 above and the last sentence in particular:
"...should avoid anything likely to be perceived by readers as constituting a political statement, or being a commentary on contentious areas of public policy."
So sterile statements, can't make a political point. The following are contained in press releases from Eric Pickles:
"councils are hoarding billions in their piggy banks some are pleading poverty and raising Council Tax."
Note the web address for both, despite the subjective, childish and tabloid-esque terms this is not a blog or a Conservative website but gov.uk, offical government website, constituting a clear political opinion destined to sway public opinion. If a local authority did this, it would be against the code and if the bill passes Eric Pickles would be within his rights to censure this. The hypocrisy is astounding.
Are council parking charges fair? are large reserves necessary? Perhaps, perhaps not, these are debates we should be having, like everything in a democracy public scrutiny and accountability is essential. But strict rules about publicity can't just apply to one area of government it needs to apply across the board. If Eric Pickles can take time off from actually doing his job to criticise local authorities, to make political points using taxpayer funded channels, then so local authorities should have the same right. It has to apply across the board.
Interestingly I looked and couldn't find a code for central government publicity, they appear to have no regulation and red tape censuring what they can and can't publish and lack anybody above them to enforce transgressions. For localism to flourish Pickles needs to butt out of local affairs, he needs to stop trying to micro manage areas outside of his control. If he's looking for work to do, how about formulating a code for central government publicity and a truly independent monitor to ensure both central government and local authorities.
Monday, 16 December 2013
Friday, 13 December 2013
Basically the levy applies to large retailers, so it's dubbed the supermarket levy but does apply to all retailers with a rateable of £500,000 a year, this is a tiny proportion of retailers. After a quick search on the VOA website, the shops with the highest rates in Penzance town centre are New Look (£158,000) Poundland (£116,000) and Poundstretcher (£121,000) with the others being considerably less. Sainsbury's isn't listed, nor Morrison's, but Tesco's is and is valued at £730,000. This gives some indication of how large a retailer has to be and indicates a very small number of Cornish town center retailers would be included.
The levy rate is a maximum of 8.5% and then the authority in our case Cornwall Council receives this money. It's then up to the authority to decide how to spend the money. The obvious argument would be to use that money to level the playing field for town centers, investing in transport, lowering parking and increasing other amenities to attract people into town. But obviously the money could just be thrown in the pot and pay for other services, a debate that would need to be had. You can see I've got this far without mentioning how much it would be, the simple answer is I don't know, it would take considerable research to work it out for a lowly blogger like myself. I understand that Cornwall Council are currently considering the idea, but unsure over whether the 8.5% levy would be desirable or in fact whether to do implement a levy at all.
From a personal perspective I agree with the various points Local Works make: Supermarkets lead to shops closing, they take money out of the local economy, leads to fewer jobs they expand on these arguments very well here. But the proposal does need careful consideration, it's a pretty easy proposal in Penzance no town center shops would be effected but elsewhere in Cornwall it might effect some of the larger in town retailers. This proposal can only brought by Cornwall Council so it needs to be a Cornwall wide decision. I want to know what people think, please vote in the poll on the top right whether you agree or not. Contact me through the usual channels with questions or comments. Alternatively if you like the idea Local Works has a page for contacting your Cornwall Councilor (or your councilor elsewhere) to lobby them for this change, click here.
Tuesday, 10 December 2013
Well not six months (more like over 3 years), in ten days time will be the second anniversary of the government centralising control of Wavehub. Well not the term they used, proving they have a sense of humour they announced: "The future of Wave Hub is secure", 2 years later we draw nearer to some progress. Whether this is due to the fact the government have lots of plates to spin (Iain Duncan Smith is busy sweeping up his dropped ones as we speak), or the fact they care little for development in Cornwall or perhaps that the "Greenest government ever" rhetorical fad has ended, is anyone's guess.
As I have written before here and here, the centralisation of this project has been to it's detriment, it should have always been controlled in Cornwall with a dedicated team. On the subject, Vince Cable never replied to my email back in February and the question I posed to him "Can you provide justification that having the management of Wave Hub centralised in London, is to the benefit of the project and the taxpayer? " went unanswered.
Anyway an exciting new concept is being trialled next year, read about it on the BBC website here. Best of luck to Seatricity I hope we can soon see the innovative potential of the multi-million pound Wavehub put to use.
Saturday, 7 December 2013
Case Manager, Executive Office
Tuesday, 3 December 2013
Well said! Please sign and share http://www.change.org/petitions/the-uk-prime-minister-and-cabinet-create-a-cornish-assembly
Thursday, 28 November 2013
Today my blog reached 100, 000 page views. Which I'm more than chuffed with. I've no doubt this figure is dwarfed by other blogs and news/ views outlets in Cornwall and beyond. But I'm pleased that so many people read my views. I've tried to use it to lobby for positive change and to defend things I think important.
Since I've started this blog, I've joined Mebyon Kernow and become very active in the party. In May I was elected to Penzance Town Council. I have tried to use my blog to provide insight into my party, the council I serve on and my views on these and other subjects. I passionately believe in encouraging engagement in politics and having frank debates with the public and I hope my blog is helping me achieve this and helping people better understand my party and my role as councilor.
Anyway thanks to my readers and I'm sure with the increasing readers month on month I'll soon be at another milestone.
I really hope people do get behind the petition and sign it. Personally I did have fears that Mebyon Kernow launching a petition would put off people from other political persuasions. Thankfully this hasn't been the case and although politicians from other parties are a bit thin on the ground, I have already noticed the Lib Dem Cornwall Councilor Jade Farrington share the petition online. Hopefully this will be the first of many and people will put aside their differences and recognise that a Cornish assembly will benefit One and All. I hope they resist the urge to snub the petition -despite their views- because it was started by a political party.
It's heartening to see the fabulous comedian Kernow King supporting it online:
https://t.co/AIf5Pwyo1R If you support a regional assembly for Cornwall, sign this! If you dunt, you dunt have to.I hope more people come to the fore in the coming months and speak out for devolution and a proper public debate is had. I do plan to write more about a Cornish Assembly through the length of the campaign, but for now I've already made strong arguments a while ago here: The Case for a Cornish Assembly.
— Kernow King (@Kernow_King) November 27, 2013
Sign the petition here http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/the-uk-prime-minister-and-cabinet-create-a-cornish-assembly
Friday, 22 November 2013
|Free parking for the switch on too! pic taken from|
Also the town council had already found money out of it's own budget to lay on free parking for the December saturday's and thursday evenings for late night shopping. In the town council car park on Alverton Street, so ample choice for shoppers to come to Penzance and do their xmas shopping.
Friday, 15 November 2013
I've just pledged to support Cornwall's -indeed the world's- only Cornish language nursery. A few years back I used to attend with my daughter Elsie, my wife Kristin and when Mazey was born she came too. Back then it was just saturday mornings and we adults would learn some Kernewek whilst the little ones learnt and of course played. We thoroughly enjoyed it.
Now Skol Veythrin Karensa has grown, expanded and thanks to the hard work of volunteers and the support of Cornwall College is ready to step up a level and become full time. To do this and to make the vital Cornish language resource have a secure future they need your help. If you can please please pledge here through the Crowdfunder website.
More details here on the Nursery World website
Thursday, 7 November 2013
The government has a flagship project High Speed 2, I can't criticise the thought, investment in the rail network is long overdue. Not sure that investing all that money in one place is the right thing. I'm glad Mebyon Kernow has called for money instead to be spent in Cornwall and on the rail link through South West England.
I thought I'd like at a quick comparison at how our train line stacks up in terms of times and cost, using the journey planner on the National Rail website. It is quite shocking.
Penzance-Paddington about 5 hours 30 minutes at the cost of £58.
London-Paris about 2 hours 20 cost varies from just over £100 to £200.
Penzance-Birmingham about 6 hours costs around £140.
London-Birmingham about hour and a half cost between £40 and £70.
Penzance-Edinburgh enough to lose the will to live in time 11 hours + and money £210+.
London-Edinburgh between 4 and 5 hours cost around £150.
Being realistic London and these other cities have more people than Cornwall and more travelling between them. But with the gaps between travel here and elsewhere so large it discourages train travel to and from Cornwall. I accept these aren't direct comparisons in terms of distance either.
The reality is though the 11 hours to Edinburgh by train is 555 miles by road, even if on those motorways you only average 55 mph, you'll be there an hour quicker from Penzance. It must be said the 300 odd miles to London is about the same rail or road. Travel the 270 miles to Birmingham and it's hard to imagine you could take longer than the 6 hour rail journey. Cardiff is the same from Penzance 6 hours by rail, 220 miles by road. The trouble is for a single passenger, rail will be cheaper for a family or travelling together but it would be more expensive.
If rail is to be a serious travel option and the government is investing fairly everywhere as Cameron claimed today on the phone to the Cornish media, then it needs to be much better. After all, the history of road improvements in this part of the world is woeful, decades have been spent lobbying for dualling at Temple. The Prime Minister indicated today that A30 upgrades was Cornwall getting it's fair share of infrastructure spending. So it looks like improving road and rail travel within Cornwall and with the rest of the UK is far from the Tories agenda. Whilst they push forward with 21st century rail improvements elsewhere, we're still relying on a train line that has changed little since the days of Brunel. Cornwall deserves better.
Tuesday, 5 November 2013
In the last week Ed Miliband has come out and announced the Living Wage as a key stone policy for the Labour party, congratulations to him I think one of the great mistakes of the Labour government was not keeping minimum wage in line with inflation. Throughout the period of the minimum wage, the gap between the lowest earners and the highest earners has dramatically increased as is well documented. The Liberal Conspiracy blog last year picked up research and stated: "According to calculations by think tank One Society, if NMW had kept pace with rises in top pay, it would already be £18.89 per hour."
I don't know the exact accuracy of the figures, but it's clear that there is trend from Labour's introduction of the minimum wage to this day, pay increases haven't been evenly spread and part of the reason the gap between rich and poor is widening. It's a good to see a u turn from Labour on taking responsibility for pay, I'm unclear as to why they're aren't committing to increasing the minimum wage instead but anyhow.
I'm not quite clear how their proposals will work and how the tax incentives to Living Wage employers will be paid for, presumably tax increases, but that's another matter. Today Cornwall Council are considering or at least debating whether the authority should be come a Living Wage employer. Rather depressingly last year (to the day) when I blogged Trim the top earners and pay a living wage, (now Mebyon Kernow policy) there were over 1500 people employed by Cornwall Council on less than the Living Wage, today apparently that numbers doubled to 3,131. Whether this is due to the fact the Living Wage has increased with inflation and council pay has stagnated or the Council are now employing cheaper staff is not clear. Anyway the cost reported in the Western Morning News is a minimum of £1,045,000. Notwithstanding that they accept my previous suggestion that the top earners (those above £100k pa) all take a pay cut, how do you pay for this? A million pound pays for a lot of services, close libraries, put up parking charges, perhaps here in Penzance pull out of Jubilee Pool? It's a real dilemna for those not willing to tackle the issue of high pay in Cornwall Council.
Out of interest there was an interesting piece in the Guardian about Islington Council, who did cut the top earners to pay for it a year ago, a must read also for their endeavours in tackling poverty in the community, an example I hope Cornwall Councillors and officers will look at: One year on, Islington's commitment to the living wage has not faltered.
Which brings me to Ed Miliband, if companies are to be offered tax breaks in order for the state to subsidise the Living Wage, what does he expect local authorities and government departments to do? It's really not clear from what I've seen that this has been given any thought by Labour. In fact it's hard to pin down any of Labour's policies or thoughts on local government funding. If in the eventuality that Labour wins the next general election, will they reverse this government's cuts? will they stump up over a million pounds to Cornwall Council on top to pay the Living Wage, as well as all the other local authorities, towns, parishes etc?
Monday, 4 November 2013
Below is the post I wrote about Pengarth and the loss of grant funding from Cornwall Council. I have since been contacted by Alex Folkes who informs me that this is not necessarily the case. To quote: "I'm afraid that the blog you have posted about Pengarth is not true. The amount that CC has provided to the centre has been cut (I don't have the precise figures, but have no reason to doubt those you have used). However, no decision has been taken to cut funding altogether."
I'm still wary that funding might still be cut, I hope not as this is a vital service to the old people of Penzance and one that saves the wider health and care services money. Definitely one to watch.
Below is my original post.
At this evenings Penzance Town Council meeting we were unexpectedly met with the news that Cornwall Council has pulled the grant funding from Pengarth. According to the figures they supplied Cornwall Council took over the grant funding from Penwith in 2009 and gave £15, 300 a year up until this financial year when it dropped to £12, 300. They've now decided to pull this out completely. The centre has made up the shortfall in recent years from reserves but is now in a precarious financial position.
For this of you that don't know Pengarth is based in Morrab Gardens and provides day care to elderly people, meals on wheels to 420-440 people per week. As the gentlemen (I forgot to note his name) from the Penzance and West Penwith Old Peoples Welfare Trust explained this care alleviates pressure on other care services. In particular, bed blocking a major issue that has come to the fore in Cornwall in recent weeks has being on the verge of crisis. Yet an existing solution is being dropped!?!
It was rather disappointing that the Cornwall Councilor for the area in which the centre is Cornelius Olivier had no idea that Cornwall Council was pulling out funding. I had this niave idea that Cornwall Councilors were abrest of all council run and funded services in their division. Whether this was never the case or due to poor communications at Cornwall Council I can only speculate. Ruth Lewarne to her credit pointed out that this move is "doubly mean" on Penzance after a few years ago similar funding was pulled out of St Mary's Haven. Yet again austerity hits the most vulnerable hardest.
I enjoy bring a town councilor, I really do but every meeting is dominated by Cornwall Council pulling out of funding something in the town. I do think we should find the £10,000 they are requesting to keep the centre open. But I wonder where the breaking point is for Penzance Town Council? CCTV, public tiolets, day care centre and the list will no doubt get longer, how much can we put up our council tax to support this and will the people of this town accept paying more tax for the same services?
Sunday, 3 November 2013
I'm sure many of us remember back in May, that our new Cornwall Councillors, Tim Dwelly, Cornelius Olivier and Jim McKenna fought to change the 106 agreement with Sainsburys. Rather than spending the £1.2 million, gained to Cornwall Council from the supermarket, on a park and ride they felt the money would be better spent in the town centre.
As Cllr Dwelly told the Cornishman:
"I don't think a park-and-ride is the best way to spend the money," he said.
"We know that it's possible for Cornwall Council to spend it in a different way than what's in the agreement.
"What we're now exploring with them, and hopefully with Penzance Town Council and the Town Team, is a better way of spending the money.
"Penzance is in crisis and needs some urgent help, not just long-term improvement."
With the supermarket opening it's petrol station tomorrow and the store on a week wednesday (13th of November). Where will the money be spent? The simple answer is no one in Penzance knows. I asked the town clerk and mayor months ago, what was happening with the 106 money. Little did I know that they were already chasing it up with Cornwall Council.
With a full town council meeting tomorrow and the agenda already set, it's depressing that not once in these last 6 months have we as a body been consulted on a new way of spending the money or even told how this money will be redirected. Unfortunately requests by the town clerk to find out more have not been responded to. Even sadder is the fact the people of Penzance, whether residents or businesses have also had no say and remain in the dark. With completion so near and the 106 money to be handed over with it, was the talk of more money for the town centre just for headlines. Will we still end up with a park and ride and effectively subsidising the build of a car park for the store? I'm sure we'll soon find out.
Wednesday, 30 October 2013
Tuesday, 29 October 2013
The wording of the recommendation was as follows: "that the principle of the Penzance Town Council being a Living Wage Employer is supported and that we work with the Living Wage Foundation in achieving Accreditation." More on what the Living Wage is from the Foundations website here.
I think this is an important step in recognising that decent wage is the right thing to do. For the town council the implications are (again to quote from the report): "There are currently 3 part-time staff whose pay is below the Living Wage although it must be noted that their pay is considerably above the minimum wage. The financial implications, therefore are minimal and will be reported as part of the budget setting if supported." So there's not a great cost to the ratepayer and it doesn't mean slashing other services.
As it's only a few members of staff, the real significance is symbolic (although for those 3, it's hopefully a great help) rather than a sea change in the way the council treats it's employees. I hope as more and more employers take up the Living Wage that others follow suit and that this government notices that lots of people and organisations don't think that the minimum wage is adequate. I know lots of smaller businesses may find it hard to stump up for the Living Wage for their employees, but it should also be considered the Living Wage Foundation's research of the benefits to employers:
I always supported and indeed pushed for the inclusion of the Living Wage in the Mebyon Kernow manifesto. It's something I greatly believe in, I think pay should be fair and I hope for a day when headlines in papers about civil servants pay, are about a fair deal for the poorest paid not how senior staff are earning astronomical sums.
Tuesday, 15 October 2013
Following on from my earlier post and ny confusion to the numbers Labour's Tim Dwelly and Cornelieus Olivier wanted. I've had some clarification from Tim. Also, the total for the Community Network Area was voted on today at committee, so what they wanted and what we'll get is a step closer.
The total for the West Penwith CNA will be 3850 houses over the next 20 years up from 2500 planned previously. The total for the Penzance are will be 2150 up from the 1400 previous figure. The 350 Tim Dwelly had written on his fb page is the difference between what they wanted (2500) for PZ and what they got (2150).
So to work it out in housebuilds a year, as per the Labour fashion, we will get on average 107 houses built. So Tim's figure was how many on top of that an extra 350 would be.
I recognise the need for housing but I do fear these figures are too high. The argument that affordable housing will come with mass house building. Is not one I think proves itself. Look around Cornwall and places with much higher rates of building than PZ still have the same problem. The problem is developers if and when they keep to agreements, affordable ratios are typically 10% of all builds. I don't think the free market is the solution to the affordable housing crisis, developers want to make money not subdise affordable houses. So I don't think a higher number will fix this problem, it will help in a small way though.
I don't either recognise the validity of the housing led growth argument. Historically jobs have been created and new industries opened up and housing has followed. I don't see how the cart will push the horse on this one.
Then there's infrastructure, losing green fields, need I go on?
I just really wished that authorities put as much time and effort into planning growth, fostering business and industry as they do for developers. The ultimate choice of how many houses Cornwall, Penwith and Penzance is yet to be decided by Cornwall Council.
Cornishman seeking to dramatically increase the number for the Penwith Community Network area by 54% from the original 2,500 to 3,850. You have to question the mathematical research of this housing number, when in the same article Cllr Olivier is quoted as saying:
"This (extra 1,350 new homes) would only result in around 50 extra new homes a year being built in the area over the course of the plan."
Unless I'm missing something, 1350 (number of new homes (on top of the 2500)) divided by 20 (years of the local plan) equals 67.5. The original number of 2500 would equal 125 a year. The new proposed number would equal 192.5 a year. Unless of course the councilor for Penzance Central means an extra 50 homes for Penzance and an extra 17.4 for the rest of West Penwith...
To muddle things further here's a screenshot of Cllr Dwelly's facebook page, who claims an extra 21 houses a year:
Monday, 7 October 2013
The main thrust of NDPs is localism they were introduced as part of the localism bill, with the view to
handing local authorities and local communities more power and say in planning the future of their area. Something I greatly agree in, I think the future of Penzance should be more powers and services devolved to the local level and less reliance on distant decision makers. So at the outset the whole process is very attractive to me and my view of politics.
So what is a Neighbourhood Development Plan? It's a bit of a slippery eel when it comes to definition. It's ultimately up to those who work through it, consulted on it and ultimately who vote on it, what it is. In broad terms it is a plan to direct development, the NDP when (and if) adopted, becomes part of planning law. The area that it applies to has to be decided it could be part of a parish, a number of parishes and everywhere in between. So it's a very important document when finished with potentially wide ranging implications for the future development of an area so quite rightly it's a long and stringent process of careful consideration, consultation, inspection and culminates in a public referendum. This process takes at least 12 months. The flip side of that is that it is a very long and expensive process and there is a very real risk that if public consultation is not robust or that local politicians or the media aren't behind the proposed NDP it will fail at referendum. (The referendum is won or lost on a simple majority of those that go to the polls).
|The process of NDP, taken from Wivenhoe Neighbourhood Plan website|
The scope of a NDP is vast, even the length that it should apply is open ended, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years. An NDP can be used in a number of different ways, it can be used in a 'positive' manner for example sites could be identified for housing or it could be used 'negatively' to safeguard sites from development. My understanding is that it doesn't have to be restricted to housing it can be used to guide and limit all development. So we could earmark sites for retail use or for industrial use, either to safeguard them in their present guise or to encourage developers to build such units in designated areas.
It strikes me that safeguarding or negatively outlining the limits of development is simpler (i.e. cheaper) than positively encouraging sites. For the simple reason that stating this field/ play park/ green/ allotment should not be built upon is self explanatory the only thing needed is to get consensus that this is off limits. Whereas positively identifying sites (hopefully not play parks, allotments or greens) becomes a lot more convoluted and expensive. It's not quite as simple as saying build on this land, it would have to be checked that this was lawful, that the landowner was agreeable, that there were adequate surveys. It would be no use stating we want 500 houses (for example) on these fields and nowhere else and then finding out those sites turned out to be an important habitat for protected animals or riddled with mine shafts or in some other way unsuitable for development.
So part of the scope is identifying or limiting sites for development but there are also potential design clauses for buildings and even the size of developments sites. It must be noted that a Neighbourhood Development Plan is as long or short as the community wishes, there is no limit on the number of policies. So for example the entirety of a plan could be all new builds need the highest levels of insulation. Or all new builds need solar panels on the roof. Or new houses have to use local granite. Or new developments can only be in clusters of 50 houses or 20 or 10 whichever. Or we don't want an out of town retail here and here. Also usefully the NDP can be used to set the number or ratio of affordable homes in future developments.
Now to the good bits, as well as giving local people a real say in development. One of the sweeteners for towns and parish councils and their communities is that the amount of the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL: the renamed section 106) spend locally is greatly increased. (As a slight aside, the DCLG presentation had the figure of a 25% CIL for towns and parishes with a NDP and the planning officer was eager to note that Cornwall Council hadn't decided that ratio....). The NDP can have written into it, the priorities for such spending, which again lets us decide locally and democratically.
Finally the limits of NDP, it can not be used as a tool to limit development. It is local control but it does require to be 'in general agreement' with both the National Planning Policy Framework and the Cornwall Local Plan. The big issue here is that a NDP would have to be in line with the 'presumption in favour of sustainable development', it can't be used as a tool to say no to development generally and it has to accept the housing numbers that Cornwall Council wants. Which Penzance's Labour councilor Cornelius Olivier are currently trying to greatly increase (Call for extra 1,350 homes to be built in Penzance). This in a nutshell is localism, the big picture the number of houses, can be swayed by a few elected officials and officers yet to decide where they go requires a referendum, it's bonkers it really is.
I hope that summarises the scope of the Neighbourhood Development Plan scheme. It is an exciting opportunity for Penzance Town Council to step up and have a great say in the future direction of development. This alone I think is enough for us to seriously consider it. But there are serious considerations for us to consider, not only what scope we choose, whether Penzance develops it's own plan or works with neighbouring parishes and a whole host of questions and options. Whichever route we do choose if we do choose to do so, it is definite that this is a long and costly process. Do we want to concentrate a large part of our time in the next 12 months probably longer? Could councilors, the town clerk and staff do something more productive for the community instead in this time? Then there's the costs, Porthleven has announced they are to pursue a NDP with an estimated cost of 10 to 15 thousand pound. Depending on the scope of our plan and how we manage it, perhaps we'd be looking at double that budget perhaps even a lot more. Obviously we have a duty as councilors to make sure public money is well spent. Money in itself is a separate issue, should we cut services or perhaps raise the precept and thus council tax next year? I like the idea of a Neighborhood Development Plan I really do, but there's certainly a great deal to consider.
Any thoughts or comments let me know.
Wednesday, 25 September 2013
The main subject of the last full town council meeting was spent deliberating the options for the siting of the town council's office. Cornwall Council have offered PZTC space in St John's Hall when it is refurbished. I was wondering what people thought to this? As there will be another meeting hopefully with more information soon, it would be good to get input now.
The debate raged (no literally raged), over three options put to the council. Take up the offer and be a small part of the building. Maintain the status quo and stay in the same building (rented from Cornwall Council). Alternatively look to purchase the present offices. There are various pros and cons presented to the council, quite fairly and impartially by the town clerk it must be added.
The pros of moving across the road to John's are that local government would then be centralised in one place. The town council would effectively be placed in the nearest thing Penzance has to a town hall. The town council would join the One Stop Shop, the library and the remaining CC staff in Penzance. This was seen as a downside also, that we would get confused with CC, there is already considerable confusion between the function and responsibility of PZTC and CC. They are seperate bodies, not beholden to each other in constitution. There is a real danger that there would seem to be an incorporation of PZTC into CC and further reinforce the perception that both bodies do the same thing.
Principles aside, there are also practical downsides. The Town Council would lack a dedicated entrance and would effectively be tucked away deep in the midsts of Cornwall Council's building. There would be limited space in the building and the present staff of the town council would only just fit. This would mean that no new members of staff could be taken on without rehoming the office again. With the prospect of expansion of our role and responsibility this could be short sighted. Besides this, there is a corporate duty for councilors over the council's staff, we have a duty of care. It does concern me that new office space would lack dedicated tiolet and kitchen facilities, which they currently have. So it would be a step backward for staff and visitors although there would of course be these facilities somewhere else in the building.
This alone is a massive debate, muddled further by the lack of detailed plans as to the space offered and what rent would be charged. Combined with the very real fear that planning applications are due to be submitted soon, a decision was needed. So to take the offer or not was a complicated argument with lots of reasons to agree or not.
Added to this was other option(s); to reject CC's offer and stay in the current premises or to seek to purchase that site from CC. Fear not this would be purchased with a loan rather than from council tax. The council can borrow with extremely good interest rates and according to the calculations presented to the meeting would end up paying less than the current rent and gaining a permanent asset. For me this is an entirely seperate issue and I'm not sure how helpful to the decision making process it was, adding this in. The debate about taking up Cornwall Council's offer or not should have been a standalone meeting. However there are rumours circulating around town that Cornwall Council is in talks to sell the present Town Council offices. PZTC is not master of its own destiny in this. Perhaps that's why some cllrs believe we should buy our own building and start to be.
At the moment I do think we should consider seriously purchasing our own building and shouldn't shy away from taking such bold steps. I await the upcoming special meeting with more details of CC's offer, as it's taking place I'll have to consider it on its merits. After all if it's a great office for free or very cheap, surely it's a no brainer.
Thoughts and comments as ever welcome by email, twitter or below. Particularly whether one idea is better than another or whether people really care about such things...
Wednesday, 18 September 2013
Friday, 13 September 2013
Five months ago! going into the elections I prepared a great deal, I spent a good amount of time preparing how I would canvass, what I would say to electors and what I wanted to do in office. I thought at the time that I had a good grasp of what local government does and the roles, responsibilities and indeed limitations of being a councilor. I had the benefit of being friendly with a number of town councilors and Cornwall councilors some Mebyon Kernow and some not. Despite this, becoming a councilor, attending meetings, the phone calls, chats, emails, not to mention meetings has been an eye opener.
One of the things that concerned me about Penzance Town council was that not a lot of people knows what it does and I am sure this is true of all local government not peculiar to here. It's something I'd like to change (or more modestly play a part in changing on this blog.) There are misconceptions, about what the council can do and can't do and which decisions stem from here. I've recently been reading the National Association of Local Council's Good Councillor Guide (here's the pdf link if you're so inclined). It provides a useful definition of the duties of 'first tier authorities' (Town and parish councils):
Tuesday, 3 September 2013
The first steps to securing the maritime link with the Isles of Scilly look to be underway. The governments press release (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/green-light-for-harbour-project) is triumphant in it's tone, but sadly lacking in any detail. The Penzance side only has dredging named, the suspicious part of my mind wonders why Cornwall Council's plan finalised with Penzance Town Council is not named. Neither is rock armour... Perhaps parts of the plan will be left out? Time will tell. It does appear works on St Mary's harbour will finally go ahead, thankfully.
The town needs this to be the first step in the regeneration of our harbour. Dredging and traffic improvements (if they are included) is a start to the kind of harbour and Scilly sea link we deserve. There needs to be better facilities for cargo and passengers to name but a few things. There needs to be a better deal for harbour users. That's certainly my view and that of the town council and thankfully of Cornwall Council cabinet member Bert Biscoe, from this small start announced today we must be pleased and look to it as the first step in a brighter future.
Tuesday, 6 August 2013
Here's some photos I took on friday, unfortunately if you don't know it it's hard to get a feel for how much better it all looks now.
So I guess the Trawler is saved, I wish I had taken a bigger role in doing this. I must admit to being on holiday when it was 'saved' and definitely caught on the hop by the speed in which NCS work. They've also been busy doing up the Tuckingmill skate park.
As a slight downside to this, I can't help but feel Cornwall Council have ducked their responsibility in the upkeep of this. I wonder whether the mindset of taking away equipment is still prevailing over upkeep. The climbing net that was fixed to the rear of the trawler is still gone. Also when I was there on friday other parts of the park where in a poor state, with one of the benches falling to pieces, the ladies toilets were closed and the gents have now had the water fountain removed. Is this the future of local government? funding cut to the bare bones and the only thing not falling apart paid for and fixed by kind and generous volunteers?
To end on a lighter note the park is looking fantastic, it looks much much better than it did and the kids loved it. What you can't appreciate from the photos is how long it took me to take photos without loads of happy children and parents climbing over every thing and thoroughly enjoying the summer holidays. Without the National Citizen's Service and the work of their young people, perhaps now the park would be closed for a time whilst they demolished that old faithful favourite of Alexandra, the trawler. It definitely is the best of a bad situation. I'll end with a question ought I cancel the petition? or should I leave it as a statement of how importantly Penzance takes our play parks?
Sunday, 28 July 2013
Last night I spent a good part of the evening with the Penzance Street Pastors team. For me this was very illuminating, firstly because I was intrigued to see what they do and what drives them and secondly to see PZ after dark on a saturday night. The former I knew little of and the latter i haven't experienced for quite a while. I very much enjoyed my evening and learnt a great deal about the Pastors, Christians, faith, duty and service as well of course as about drunkeness and debauchery.
I am the town councils representative for the Street Pastors which means I sit on their Management Committee and report back to the council their work. The Street Pastors -in Penzance at least- is a relatively new thing and receives financial support from the town council. There are many groups and organisations (all not for profit) who receive grants and other assistance from the council. So it was important for me to see first hand what they do, although I must confess to sloping off about half 2 and not staying the whole night. The biggest night club in town, Sound closed last night/ this morning at 4 and next week I understand at 5! Which as the patrol starts at 10 and finishes some time between half 4 and 6 is certainly not a shift for the faint hearted.
Who are the Street Pastors and what do they do? Well it's probably fair to start with what they don't do and some of the misconceptions around their work. Although they are dyed in the wool Christians, they don't volunteer their saturday nights to preach the good book to the drunken masses. They will certainly explain their faith if asked, I witnessed a few people challenging their faith and the role of religion. I should say at this point I am not a religious man and fall into the agnostic pigeon hole, so watching these kind of debates was interesting for me. The Pastors don't preach the evils of drink, or moralise or judge, they aren't there to convert people to a healthier or more sobre saturday night. Simply the Street Pastors are there because they care, to assist people, to help them and to provide essentially a friendly face, it's fair to say a public service to the late night revellers.
The 3 staples of the Pastors are bottles of water, flip flops and sweets. Last night, we encountered half a dozen people being sick, to them the bottle of water given was no doubt most welcome. It was by no means just people vomiting that were given a bottle of water. The flip flops are given to mostly women who have either lost their shoes (which I didn't see any of last night) or those that are carrying their shoes. Their feet tired and drunken balance challenged by their unfeasibly large heels, to them solid basic (and most of all flat) footwear was most welcome. Sweets is actually very ingenious, not just because people like them but because they are given to loud and shouting people because a mouth full of sugar tends to make them quieter. Although it must be said that although last night was very busy, there wasn't a great deal of trouble or shouting and was very much a good atmosphere.
One of the other roles of the Pastors to watch over people's welfare. They are by no means bouncers or agents of the law. But armed with a radio they can talk with the people who man the cctv who in turn can contact the police. Who can call in police officers to break up fights.
I set out with a fair amount of trepidation about the Street Pastors and being in town sobre on a saturday night. It wasn't something I could really understand doing myself. Why give up a sizeable part of a weekend to seek out the most drunk, the vomiting and the rowdy, for no personal gain? I think differently about it now, don't get me wrong I always admired the Street Pastors and their selfless determination, but I really couldn't understand why anyone sane would do it. They all told me of how their faith in God guided them. It's not something I completely understand, my world, my thinking morality and drivers in life aren't framed in such a way.
I guess what I learnt last night was not the utility of flip flops or bottles of water or how friendly people are to the Pastors. But that even for a non believer like myself that the sacrifice of time and energy for no personal gain or obvious reward is a great asset to the community. That it's such a great relief to think that people are helped, that might otherwise find themselves in a worse state.
Do the people deserve to be helped? you might ask, does someone that drinks themselves until the point of oblivion, really deserve help? Maybe the answer is yes perhaps no. But the ethos of the Street Pastors, doesn't consider such things.the important thing is that someone NEEDS helping and they are there to do it.
If you want to know more or get involved the Penzance Street Pastors have a website here penzance.streetpastors.org.uk and go and like their facebook page here https://www.facebook.com/PenzanceStreetPastors
Many thanks to the team who took me out, one of the better saturday nights I've had in town :-)
Saturday, 20 July 2013
About the questions:
To make things simple I thought I'd only ask 4 questions, to not unduly take up people's time and to make the results easier to understand. In hindsight, all 4 of the questions required 1 of 3 answers: yes, no and don't know/ not sure/ on the fence, this was a mistake. Only fundamentalists live in a world of black and white, there is lots of grey areas and perhaps my questions and received answers, could better reflect this.
I choose not to sugarcoat the questions, I wanted to know what businesses (managers, owners and shopkeepers) thought without any preconceptions about things. So for example the estimates for the millions brought into Penzance, I did not prompt people with. I gave the figure of the town council contribution to Golowan as it was in the question, I could have explained it costs the average Penzance ratepayer slightly more than the cost of a pint of beer a year, but I didn't. I tried to ask the questions without tainting the answers with my own preconceived ideas about the wonderful benefits (; of Golowan, although after the questions I wasn't shy about what I thought.
The first question was: "Do you like Golowan and Mazey Day?" I wanted to get a sense of attitudes toward the festival separately to figures and spending and see if there was a correlation between attitude and effect on business. I think some took the question as does your business like it and others as do you like it personally.
The second question was "Is Golowan/ Mazey Day good for your business?" Most seemed to take this question as referring to Mazey Day. This question provoked some definite yes and definite no answers, but also some grey area answers. Many of the yeses were very positive about it, recording record takings and explaining that Mazey Day the best day of the year. 5 respondents of the 11 nos (25%) explained that Mazey Day was a washout but either Golowan saw an increase in trade, or that customers choose to shop on days other than Mazey Day, so was far from bad for takings. We could easily move those 25% into the yes column or the don't know column. So the blanket yes or no question doesn't quite accurately cover it. All respondents bar one considered Mazey Day good for the town and welcomed events that brought people into Penzance. I didn't find any traders that don't open for Mazey Day, 2 were considering closing next year and 2 I didn't speak to, don't open for the day.
(A special mention to Kool Kutz the hair and beauty place on Bread Street, who knowing Mazey Day would not be great for business choose instead to bake cakes and sell them to raise money for Marie Curie Cancer Care, well done.)
The next question: "Penzance Town Council contributes about 5% of the budget; £26,120 per year to Golowan is this a good spend?" Again there were some definite opinions for and against, as with any public spending. Some questioned why it cost so much, 2 were unsure without knowing (all the don't knows), one thought it was a complete waste. 2 thought it was great and would be happy to spend more on it. The majority view was that it was good for the town, the school kids loved it and it was good to see people brought into the town, thus positive.
The last question was: "If the town council stopped contributing would you pay in?" This was by far provoked the most interesting responses for me. By far the majority view was that costs are high enough for traders as it is, a most definite no! 3 respondents explained that they would contribute something, all keen to explain not a large amount, it's worth mentioning that none of them do well at all on Mazey Day but would put in for the good of the town and businesses other than there own. The don't know/ not sures were all when I spoke to a member of staff, rather than the owner/ manager (2 instances) and the rest a chain store who didn't have the power to make that decision alone.
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