Saturday, 31 March 2012

Central Southend Regeneration Projects Update

Whilst a number of major projects have been delivered in the town on time and on budget there are a few major schemes still under construction and now is timely to give an update on their progress.

The Forum - New Southend Library

The home of the new Southend Library and a joint project between Southend Council, the University of Essex and South Essex College has recently held the ground breaking ceremony on the 5th March with site hoardings and site accommodation now complete. Progress on the construction via a webcam can be found here.

Pier Cultural Centre

Works both on and off site are progressing well with the construction being developed off site in Tilbury with the structure due to be winched into place at the end of the Pier. The Council has received a detailed structural survey from Structural Engineers confirming the existing piles will take the loading of the new building.

the project is on target for the building to be lifted onto the in early May 2012 with completion remaining scheduled for late June 2012 ready for the summer visitor season. The current works relating to the recent collision are progressing well. It is anticipated that we should be able to re-open for normal pier operations for the Easter weekend.

Cliffs Stabilisation

It is anticipated that works to stabilise the Cliffs will commence on site in summer 2012. The planning application for the cliffs stabilisation and new museum was submitted in mid March and is due to be considered at Development Control Committee on 30th May 2012. 

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Joining the Blogging World

It would appear that we have two additions to the local political blogging community as Independent Party Leader Cllr Martin Terry and SKIPP supporter/sympathiser Brian Ayling, the Independent Party candidate for St Lukes, have today launched blogs.

Unfortunately for Brian his launch hasn't quite gone to plan. Without the requirement of forensic examination or the need to be Inspector Clouseau, his first post is an exact replica of a post from Independent Party councillor Anne Chalk from earlier today - including spelling mistake.

Still, I wonder if he will post a link to his appearance on ITV's Homes from Hell programme who dubbed him a 'maverick, cowboy builder' during his campaign. I suspect not.   

The Election Campaign Starts

Today is the official start of the formal election campaign with all those aspiring to be councillors having until noon next Wednesday to lodge their nomination papers.

It was also revealed on Independent Party councillor Anne Chalk's blog who are the Independent Party candidates at this years local elections. This was revealing for two reasons, firstly because there is no Independent Party candidate for West Shoebury proving that the Independent Party really do not care about the whole of Shoebury and secondly, even in the extremely unlikely event they won all the seats they were standing in, they could never control the council as they would only have a total of 14 councillors. Although this hasn't stopped Independent Party Leader Cllr Martin Terry in his new blog launched today trying to claim otherwise

With the Independent Party only contesting 9 of the 17 seats available I would not be surprised once all the nomination papers are in that another electoral pact has been formed with UKIP.  

Friday, 23 March 2012

Better Bus Bid Success

I was delighted to hear the news this morning that the £1.577 Million Better Bus Bid recently lodged with the Department for Transport has been successful. Full details of the bid can be found here and confirmation of the award and successful bidders can be found here.

Dirty Tricks from BERA

Over the past week, residents in West Shoebury may have recently received a leaflet from the Burges Estate Residents Association (BERA), much of it in the form of a personal attack on me and my fellow West Shoebury councillors. Whilst I do not wish to stoop to that level, I must correct the misinformation that has been circulated.

Originally formed to be a voice for the residents in Thorpe ward covered by the Burges Estate, last year, BERA decided to expand into West Shoebury as their latest set of accounts published on their website showed that membership subscriptions had fallen by over a third. Since their expansion, we have received complaints from West Shoebury residents that BERA is being used to fund campaigns  for the Independent Party with their councillors and candidates for this years local elections holding the top positions.

In December, BERA placed an advert in the Thorpe Bay Oracle claiming that residents in West Shoebury can get access to information and advice to avoid paying thousands of pounds for an alteration license causing residents, including the elderly and vulnerable, to fear that they were going to receive a demand for thousands of pounds from representatives of The Regis Group and only paying a £5 subscription to BERA would stop this. Due to the unprecedented number of complaints received, I decided to refer the matter to the Advertising Standards Agency.

The leaflet implies that this course of action was only taken because The Regis Group have donated thousands of pounds to the Conservative Party but I am happy to place on record that The Regis Group do not donate to the local Conservative Association and all West Shoebury campaigns and literature are funded from our own pocket or through local fundraising.

Following the numerous complaints about BERA’s activities from local residents, I and my fellow ward councillors subsequently do not recognise BERA as an organisation that puts West Shoebury first but will continue to work with the Shoeburyness Residents Association, an established truly non political group which has enshrined in their constitution that those who seek or hold public office can not be members of the Association.

Although both myself and my fellow colleagues work with many groups and organisations I would like to remind residents that you do not have to pay for a subscription to any organisation for any help or assistance on a local issue.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Picture Palace Cinema, Ness Road

About three years ago I lead the successful campaign to get the front facade of the former Picture Palace Cinema in Ness Road locally listed. In fairness, the developer was true to his word and pledged to incorporate the front of the building into any future development. 

Last month, work started on the building to develop a block of eight flats. For a period of two weeks with seeming little activity on the site I started to fear the worst. Last week, I received a call from the architects and my fears were confirmed.

During the discussion I was informed that regrettably, whilst demolishing the rest of the building, a small tree and plant life were found to be growing in the brickwork making the front facade structurally unsafe resulting in the structure having to be demolished. As planning permission was originally granted with the requirement to keep the front facade, planning permission has to be sought for a new frontage to the development. During the discussion the architects have pledged to rebuild the frontage to an identical state.

Whilst the original frontage couldn't be saved at least the memories of a unique style of a past era will still live on. It is anticipated that the development will be completed by the end of the year.  

Monday, 19 March 2012

A Date for your Diary..

On the 6th July, the world's eyes will be on South East Essex as the Olympic Torch Relay comes to town. Having been told that the Olympic Torch Relay will be coming to Southend back in November details of the actual route were only released this morning by the organising committee. Full details of the route and timings can be found here

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Win Some You Lose Some

Yesterday was a day of mixed fortunes for the town. Despite an impressive bid Southend was unfortunate in its application for City status with Chelmsford emerging victorious. Congratulations to Chelmsford and I am pleased that this region has been recognised. Having been shortlisted last year for Council of Year in the LGC Annual Awards this year it is official: Southend is Council of the Year! I thought I would share this from the LGC shortlist:

"Despite financial constraints and adapting to a new government agenda, Southend-on-Sea continues to serve its communities well, providing high-quality services that meet their changing needs. The council has made every effort to streamline back-office functions and drive efficiencies. This means that it has avoided stopping or closing any services this year.
Southend’s achievements have not gone unnoticed - several of its services and projects have garnered national recognition or been highlighted for best practice. Its huge ambitions for the town – to be recognised as the cultural capital of the East of England; to promote a thriving sustainable economy; and to have first-class services and flourishing, active communities - have not wavered in the face of challenges. Rather, the council has delivered a programme of capital investment projects that will make a real difference to its residents and businesses for years to come". 

Update: here is what the judges had to say as to why Southend were the victors:

`The winning Council has shown sustained progress over a number of years, passing clear milestones. It has gone beyond basic service provision, adding significant value and demonstrating visible impact for the community. Success has been driven by brave political leadership and strong managerial leadership. Results are underpinned by a strong vision, which is shared by staff and members. Judges were impressed by the Council’s ambition and real determination to change and shape the place for the better, and its investment in people, partnerships and leadership’ 

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Do the Independent Party Really Care about Shoebury High Street?

As the 3rd May draws closer campaigning tends to ramp up a gear at this time of the year. Yesterday was a busy day of delivery across the two Shoebury Wards starting with West Shoebury ward in the morning where our Shop Local campaign was well received.

Yesterday afternoon I was delighted to join my colleagues in neighbouring Shoeburyness ward to deliver their latest leaflet in the High Street, Blackgate Road, East Beach Park and Gunners Road. The roads behind the High Street were a splendid sight in the mild afternoon early Spring sunshine, peaceful, tranquil and spotlessly clean, except, sadly, for the amount of discarded leaflets from Cllr Anne Chalk publicising her residents meeting for tomorrow evening.

On the tatty looking slip posted in either letter boxes or thrown on the floor was the little gem of an item - Parking Proposals for the High Street. Before Cllr Chalk joined the local blogging community (Although I strongly suspect this is the work of her husband) she used her Shoebury News website as the mouth piece for her views.

A long standing item on her website is this item on how the CCTV vehicle is catching motorists who park on the yellow lines to access local shops. One of the main reasons why this occurs is that commuters use the free unrestricted parking outside the shops instead of paying C2C station parking charges. To alleviate this problem I agreed to the proposal from the Shoeburyness Conservative councillor Roger Hadley to advertise for consultation to residents and businesses for parking bays in front of the High Street shops with a one in four hour restriction subject to his two Independent Party colleagues agreeing to the proposal.

A sensible solution you would think? Yes? The businesses think so from the letters that I have received on this issue as they are crying out for these type of measures, except if you are the Independent Party. Unfortunately Cllr Chalk has thrown a spanner in the works for residents and local businesses in the High Street by saying she couldn't agree to the proposals until Tuesday the earliest until she has her residents meeting out of the way.

What is really odd about her decision is that, thanks to Cllr Chalk, there are no High Street parking proposals to discuss tomorrow evening. Had Cllr Chalk agreed to the proposal then this would have had a statuary consultation period allowing residents and businesses to agree or disagree to the proposals with the Traffic & Parking hearing any objections raised.

So much for caring for residents and local businesses. I'm sure the businesses will find a way to show Cllr Chalk their appreciation. The Independent Party in Shoeburyness really do promise a lot but actually deliver very little.  

Friday, 9 March 2012

Hospital Parking Management Scheme Review

Last night, the Traffic & Parking Working Party met to review the Hospital Parking Management Scheme - a scheme of much recent discussion that other items had to be shelved from the agenda to allow for a full debate on this issue.

Last month, I received a higher than usual amount of emails from residents on the Somerset Estate, who have suffered from parking displacement from the Hospital PMS scheme, concerned with a quote I made to the Echo on this issue, forcing me to clarify my comments after a Prittlewell Lib Dem councillor shamefully put my quote on a Lib Dem election leaflet to suggest to residents in the ward that I didn't think that there was a problem.

The review was detailed with suggestions put forward which would help to alleviate some of the problems faced. Lib Dem Prittlewell councillor Ric Morgan, instrumental in the origins of the Hospital PMS, is also a member of the Traffic & Parking Working Party. When it came to agreeing the recommendations, he bizarrely said 'I can not support these measures', meaning that a vote had to be taken on the issue which he duly voted against. Fortunately, the sensible suggestions were voted through with the assistance from Conservative members of the Working Party.

This struck me as odd behaviour from Cllr Morgan, considering on the 2nd March he was pleading in the Echo for action to be taken! I'm sure the residents in Prittlewell will know how to thank him and the Lib Dems on the 3rd May!      

Thursday, 8 March 2012


"Affiliated with or loyal to no political party or organisation". That's the dictionary definition of the word Independent, in relation to its meaning when associated with politicians. So when somebody calls themself an Independent it is a given that they are stand alone. Right? Because that is what the word means.

If you are local or follow Southend politics you will be aware that Shoeburyness ward has two 'Independent members' and Southend has nine in total. In Shoeburyness ward Cllr Assenheim and Cllr Chalk have always trumpeted their supposed Independence very loudly in the press and their election literature.

Recently I had a brief but interesting conversation with one of the Shoeburyness members who questioned me as to why I keep referring to them as a party. My response was why have you formed a group, have group meetings, had an electoral pact with UKIP at the last local elections and have a leader who gets over £7,000 a year from taxpayer to fulfil this role but you still call yourself an Independent? Surely you are a party in all but name?

Ah, they said, we have only formed a group for strategic purposes. Strategic purposes? What was the meaning of the word Independent again? "Affiliated with or loyal to no political party or organisation". Glad we got that cleared up then.       

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Independent Party Budget Debate Contributions

One thing that was evidently noticeable from Thursday night's budget debate were the poor contributions from some members of the Independent Party.
First up was Party leader Cllr Martin Terry who confirmed at the last Economic & Environmental Scrutiny meeting that after 9 years on the council he still didn't understand council finances but unfortunately took 20 minutes on the night to reiterate it. It does make you wonder if the taxpayers feel that they get value for the £7,000 that they invest in him each year for being their leader.

Next up was Cllr Woodley, who was still like a bear with a sore head, after I revealed on this blog earlier in the week that it was him and his colleagues who were the one's who had proposed charging for parking in the car park behind the Camelia Hotel. 

In a budget in excess of £450 Million where difficult choices have had to be made to save £11 Million, Ron focused all his energies on trying to deny this and his other proposal of charging for parking at Southchurch Park East car park. Ron subsequently agreed the budget at the end of the debate which included both of his proposals. As the leader Cllr Nigel Holdcroft explained in his blog Ron should accept the credit when credit is due.

Cllr Woodley was successful though in uniting the chamber, albeit in sniggering at him, when he was scrambling to find some papers he slammed down on a table behind him earlier in his rant.

It was then the turn of Cllr 'Comrade' Chalk who was unhappy about the increase in the cost of meals on wheels and would give consideration to alternatives. Unfortunately, Cllr Chalk seemed to be unaware that she had already had 6 weeks to come up with something and that the budget needed to be agreed on the night.
Members in the chamber haven't heard much of her dulcet tones since her election last May as she is, by her own admission, 'still learning the ropes' and would appear to require further training following her contribution.

With the level of debate from some members of the Independent Party lower than at closing time in a pub, it is such a shame that so few members of the public attend Full Council meetings. Maybe the time has come to consider live streaming of Full Council meetings over the internet.  

Friday, 2 March 2012

Spitting in Public Places

Before the drama of the budget debate at Full Council yesterday evening, I was asked an intriguing questing by Cllr McMahon on what the council was intending to do about spitting in public places. Some may not be aware that spitting was actually a criminal offence until 1990 and carried a fine of £5. Since this law was removed from the statute book no new law has been introduced.

As part of my response, I confirmed that the council had not received any reported problems or complaints associated with spitting in public places and that there has been no evidence presently that this problem exists locally. I agree with Cllr McMahon that spitting is unpleasant and disgusting but differ in that we need to tackle the problem when residents do not believe one exists

I suspect I was asked this question as the London Borough of Enfield is proposing to create a bye-law. Although a Ministry of Justice list says spitting is not suitable for a bye-law, there is the possibility that with public support for the ban then this could be changed. The proposal by the London Borough of Enfield is currently pending approval.

Last Night's Budget Debate

The most important obligation that every councillor has, whatever their political persuasion, is to agree a balanced budget. Last night's budget debate was a slightly surreal experience as eloquently put by Del Thomas in his blog today.

We had a long debate and astoundingly all opposition members agreed with every aspect of the budget warts and all, without putting it to a vote. I may be simple sole but if I had strong feelings and disagreed with any aspect of council business, then I would want my objections noted, recorded and put to a vote just like I did with a separate item aside from the budget on last night's agenda.

As all the opposition members agreed to the budget in full without having any objections publicly recorded in a vote, this means that all the Independent Party members agree with the financial management of the council, including borrowing, borrowing repayments and the formulating of the budget without using Zero Based Budgeting.

It also means that Cllr Woodley and the rest of his Thorpe Ward colleagues agree with pay and display charging from 10:30 - 18:00 in the car park behind the Camilia Hotel although he couldn't really object as he and his colleagues proposed it in the first place!

What was also surprising is that we had a petition handed to the Mayor by Labour Group Leader Cllr Ian Gilbert from Southend Against The Cuts which asked for 'support against the cuts' and 'calls on our local councillors and MP's to do as much as they can to oppose the cuts in the strongest possible terms'. SATC are Southend Labour in all but name as their contact address advertised on their website is the Southend Labour Party HQ in Sutton Road. You just couldn't make it up!

I'm sure the 1,321 who signed the petition feel rather let down today as well as Unison, who bankrolls the Labour Party and even organised a rally before the meeting asking members to oppose the budget. I feel someone might be in for a bit of explaining...