Thursday, 29 January 2015

Readers Letter

After Cllr Terry blamed Council Officers for the proposal to close four public toilets in Southend, below is a letter that I have sent to Echo letters page:
In your Big Conversation feature (Echo 26/01/15), I was somewhat surprised and alarmed to read that Cllr Terry was blaming Council officers for the proposal to close four public toilets in Southend.
As the former portfolio holder for Waste Services I have experienced  first hand how the budget setting process works. Initially, officers would meet with the portfolio holder to identify the areas where savings can be made. Officers would then discuss potential savings with Cabinet where Cabinet members would either agree with the proposals or ask officers to come up with different proposals where identified savings were unacceptable. Once Cabinet were agreed on the budget proposals would they then be announced at a formal meeting of the Cabinet.
It would surely be during these discussions with officers that Cllr Terry would have challenged the closure of the toilets. I mean, when cabinet members are paid over £18,000 a year, the least residents would expect is Cllr Terry to realise that closing four public toilets was a pretty stupid idea.
This does now beg the question as to whether the Independent Party/Labour/Lib Dem coalition are actually in control or are Council officers now running Southend Council.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Shoebury Common Flood Defence Review

On Monday, I attended a meeting of the Place scrutiny committee which, in addition to the budget papers, was also scrutinising the review of the flood defences at Shoebury Common. Over the past couple of days, I have read a couple of posts from Labour bloggers Matthew Dent and Julian Ware-Lane. From these posts I think a couple of points firstly need to be made. Firstly, I was not the portfolio holder responsible for flood defences it was my colleague John Lamb.

Secondly, whilst I have a lot of time for Julian personally and politically, I do not subscribe to wanting to protect people's homes, lives and livlihoods as a vanity project. I think Julian may regret using that term but understand his rationale for the post as he based his position on the costing of the schemes.

If we were to base decisions on cost alone you wouldn't close four public toilets to save £40,000 whilst spending £190,000 for a gold plated toilet in Thorpe Bay for example.

My decision at the time was not just on cost but other factors including asthethics and environmental impact. Out of the three Council options presented at the time the preferred option, for me, was the best of all the options. In an ideal world I would not have changed anything at Shoebury Common but we are not in an ideal world.

In the Black & Vetch assessment, it was predicted that the level of protection at Shoebury Common at the weakest point was 1 in 5 years. In the report produced by Mott MacDonald the weakest point at Shoebury Common is predicted to be 1 in 14 years. All things considered something needs to be done and fast.

Going back to the three Council options, options 2 and 3 were not an option for me and would have made Shoebury a gated community. In the original study, the BERA option was ruled out as this would have destroyed a SSSI site. The Mott McDonald report confirms likewise.

With the Friends of Shoebury Common scheme I had said all along that if you raised the Beach Huts residents views in Leitrim Avenue would have been affected. This was confirmed in the Mott McDonald report.

I also said at the time that the Friends of Shoebury Common scheme would still have used the soil stored at Gunners Park. This was also confirmed in the Mott MacDonald report. I would also add that I did not then and do not now support using taxpayers money to lift the Beach Huts and raise the promenade. Raising the promenade would also have caused overlooking issues with some properties over the road in Lodwick.

What I think was being glossed over at the scrutiny committee is the fact the Mott MacDonald report produced by this administration still showed that of all the schemes they were asked to assess, the Council's preferred scheme was the best option but discounted on public opinion.

In the Mott McDonald report I have to say that I am surprised that Cllr Terry has been allowed to state in a meeting with stakeholders on the 10th September 2014 that the Council's preferred option would not be going ahead. I thought democratic processes had to be followed to overturn Council policy. Just to think, Cllr Terry had the audacity to call the last Administration a dictatorship!

It is also somewhat surprising that people who live in the floodplain were not considered to be a stakeholder by Cllr Terry and participate at the meetings.

The Mott McDonald report also makes the point that the need to improve flood defences at Shoebury Common is not linked to the planning application to build homes on the former Gunners Park site.

Having been at the scrutiny meeting on Monday which discussed the Mott McDonald report, I believe that a decision which has widespread public attention should be debated by all 51 councillors not just a handful on a scrutiny committee and support the move to refer the matter to Full Council. It is after all democracy. Although it would appear that UKIP's (or not UKIP's) James Moyies took exception to this on twitter yesterday.

When the Council's preferred option scheme was going through Cabinet, at the time, I made the point that the Council needed to learn a lesson in the way it consults people, as the consultation into the flood defences at Shoebury Common was not the Council's finest hour.

My main priority still is the protection of people's homes, lives and livelihoods. I do believe that whatever the results were at last May's elections it was almost inevitable that the decision would have to have been reviewed.

If the current administration as part of its review come up with a scheme better than was originally proposed then it will get my full support. If it doesn't, then I will vigorously oppose it. Where I do think the rainbow coalition will struggle, is to get a common consensus on a scheme that is acceptable to all.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Save the Public Toilets in Shoeburyness

The time has come and the anticipation is over as the rainbow coalition announced earlier this month their budget proposals for the next financial year.

Over the next few days I will offer my thoughts on the different aspects of their proposals but none of the proposals has captured public attention like the proposal to close four public toilets in the East of the town.

Two of the toilets in question, East Beach and Ness Road that are due to be axed are in Shoeburyness. From the conversations that I have had on the doorstep over the past week the backlash is immense.

In the meantime, it has been revealed that Thorpe Bay will get gold plated toilets at the cost of £190,000 to be financed by corporate borrowing. A petition has been set up to try and save the two public toilets from closure. You can add your voice by signing the petition here.

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Cllr Terry Proposes Big Changes in Waste for a Better Southend

Cllr Terry Proposes Big Changes on Public Toilets for a Better Southend

You Can't Trust Ron Woodley on Parking Charges

You Can't Trust Ron Woodley on the Cabinet System

You Can't Trust Ron Woodley on Clean Streets

You Can't Trust Ron Woodley on Borrowing

You Can't Trust Ron Woodley on the Liberal Democrats