Half-term meeting of Broxtowe Council

town hallWith 12 members sending apologies last night, the council was depleted by more than 25%.  Absentees included three of the six Conservative portfolio holders. Not only was it half term but several councillors had sought refuge from the approach of winter by relaxing in warmer climes. Yet the council meeting was more interesting than usual: there were strong political arguments yet no-one lost their temper.  In our Labour Group the night before we had carved up between the issues we wanted to raise.

Here are some of the highlights:

HOUSING: Graham Heal, a local resident, raised a public question on the housing crisis and the council’s response.  Using material from  the council’s ’Housing Market Assessment’, he asked  ‘what steps are being taken to turn around this poor performance and come close to delivering the remaining 320 homes needed this year to meet the annual target?’  Leader of the council, Richard Jackson replied that ‘we are targeting brownfield sites and may make compulsory purchase orders’.

CLOSURE OF CASH OFFICES: John McGrath, Greg Marshall, Lydia Ball and Milan Radulovic spoke passionately about the deleterious effects of the planned closure of the Council’s cash offices.  A petition in Stapleford aims at raising 1000 signatures which will trigger a debate at the next council meeting on 18 November. ‘We have to save money,’ portfolio holder Paul Simpson responded.

UC logoUNIVERSAL CREDIT: Universal Credit  for Job Seekers allowance claimants comes to Beeston next Monday.  I asked for a timetable for the next group of claimants, families, so that we can make preparations.  The answer from Paul Simpson was ‘There is no timetable given by the DWP.’

LOCAL TRADING COMPANY:  The most contentious issue was the proposal to create of a Local Authority Trading Company (LATC) to operate the council’s Leisure and Cultural Services.  We were asked to recommend the principle and to agree to a supplementary estimate of £100,000 to pay for its setting up.  Debate focussed on whether Cabinet had already agreed to establish the LATC or whether it agreed only to explore it. Dawn  Wale [Labour, Beeston Rylands] argued against the plan on the grounds that we would be conniving at tax avoidance, and that we had insufficient details to go ahead.  The voting was very close with Labour and the Liberal Democrats against and the Conservatives for the motion.  The recommendation was agreed to.

durban houseEASTWOOD IS ‘DYING’:  In a poignant speech Milan lamented the closure of the Police Station, the cash offices and Durban House in Eastwood, and compared its situation with Beeston with its tram and town centre redevelopment.  There was little response.

COMBINED AUTHORITIES:  The Leader of the Council was asked a series of questions on the Combined Authorities proposal as the deadline for decision will be 20 November.  While he was cautiously optimistic, Richard Jackson said our agreement would depend on what was on offer.  To be debated on 18 November at the next Council meeting.

Clearly, service cuts are coming to Broxtowe, and the poor will get poorer, especially in Eastwood, our most deprived area.  It seems that the rich will have more – the tram and a regenerated town centre in Beeston.

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My week: varied and challenging

police stationLast week a rather lengthy Development Control Meeting at the Town Hall began at 7pm with a discussion about change of use of a private house to one in which teenagers in care would be looked after.  “No, no, no,” shouted the local residents!!

My own business that evening didn’t come until 10.40 pm when I spoke about the proposed demolition of the old Beeston Police Station and the building of 24 apartments on the site.

I wrote a blog post about that long evening, but, unsaved, it disappeared into the ether. Instead, here are some snippets from this week: life in opposition.

Monday:

  • a morning meeting to discuss the Oxjam Big Event at Bartons this Saturday. Present: police, fire service, environmental health team, the event manager, Mr Barton and me. The purpose to make sure the event was safe and would not distress local residents with its ‘noise’ during the night. Important for me to be there to represent residents.
  • evening: local Labour party branch meeting. Speaker on a new political party in Spain and a discussion on Council business.  Enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

Tuesday: 

  • morning meeting with Council solicitor to prepare for the Examination & Inquiry Group [EIG] meeting on Wednesday.  I need to be ready with my contribution.
  • chaired Dementia Friends’ meeting mid-morning at home. We discussed developments to Beeston Memory café for people with dementia.  Best committee I’ve ever worked with.
  • (phone rings, yet another planning matter: rings again, another planning call)
  • attended 3 evening meetings:
  • training session for councillors on ‘Universal Credit [UC]’ by DWP speaker. UC begins in Beeston on 2 November for those on Job-Seekers Allowance.  Nothing new for me here.
  • Community Police meeting to discuss current priorities (e.g. anti-social behaviour and speeding) with local residents and councillors. Useful so I popped in, but Cabinet meeting next door had greater priority.
  • Cabinet meeting where important political decisions are made. This included a decision on a joint planning application with Oxylane  and potential options for progressing part 2 of the Local Plan (site allocation). Very useful for me to sit in on this discussion on topics which come up again tomorrow.

Wednesday:  

  • Broxtowe Action Fund meeting to award £2,500-worth of grants to local community groups. Glad to be on the “giving side” for once.
  • Strategic Planning & Economic Development EIG. All about the core strategy and local neighbourhood plans. Interesting and complicated stuff.

Thursday evening: Councillors training on Safeguarding and members’ responsibilities. Could have been more interactive.

Friday: early ICT training session at the Town Hall.  Very helpful for those of us with little experience of computer use.

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Living well with dementia

Justine cake
One in three will get dementia’ was a recent headline in the newspapers.  Living well seems a contradiction, a blatant impossibility:  we dread living with dementia even more than we dread cancer.  Yet in 2014 Broxtowe Borough Council accepted this statement as a recommendation on its Dementia Friendly Communities report:

This Council believes in living well with dementia. Within our community we will create a positive environment that supports, enables and includes those affected by dementia.’

An impossible dream you might say.  Yet if you had come as a guest, a supporter or a volunteer to Beeston Memory Café on 10 September you would have seen a group of people really enjoying life.  With Andrea Haley, a dance movement therapist, we floated balloons and blew feathers to tranquil music, as well as drinking coffee and chatting together.  One member showed us how to do press-ups!

We had just celebrated the first year of the Beeston Memory Café based at Middle Street Centre. The monthly meetings have had around 42 people each time and are characterised by music, singing, lots of food, armchair exercises and laughter.

With financial support from Nottinghamshire County Council and Nottingham West Clinical Commissioning Group and donations from local Beeston stores, the group has been able to expand and now meets on both the second and fourth Thursdays of the month from 2pm to 4pm. Broxtowe Borough Council gives practical support.

In addition there are Dementia Friends Sessions lasting an hour where anyone can learn more about dementia and the small ways you can help. The next session is at 6pm on 4 November at Beeston Town Hall. The leader is Simon Burrow, lecturer in Dementia Studies at Manchester University. To book a place or for other information contact me on 0115 9250385 or email janet.patrick@ntlworld.com.

For more information email Beestonmemorycafe1@btinternet.com

 

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Broxtowe and Syrian Refugees: update

SYRIA-CONFLICT

Last Wednesday, the Borough Council agreed unanimously that Broxtowe ‘will engage positively and participate in meeting the needs of Syrian refugees, and will seek assurances that measures will be put in place to ensure that the impacts on this Council will be recognised’.   

Ruth Hyde [Chief Executive] and Richard Jackson [Leader of the Council] met with the Home Office on September 18 to discuss Broxtowe Borough’s response to the Government’s invitation to participate in meeting the needs of Syrian refugees.  They confirmed that Broxtowe will participate in the dispersal and resettlement of both Syrian refugees and other refugee asylum seekers.

Broxtowe told the Home Office that we would like to involve the community and use local resources in welcoming and supporting refugees in order to help them integrate into the local community.

The government was asked to make adequate funds available, so that the job will be done well.

Broxtowe will be careful to filter refugees into the housing market in a way that is fair to people on the housing waiting list.

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Broxtowe Borough Council and Syrian Refugees

A Syrian refugee child who fled the violence from the Syrian town of Flita, near Yabroud, poses for a photograph at the border town of Arsal
At its meeting last night, the Borough Council unanimously agreed to respond to the Government’s initiative to take in Syrian refugees from camps in Lebanon and Jordan. The Leader of the Council, Richard Jackson, expressed the hope that residents would also be able to help with accommodation. On Friday 18 September he and the chief executive, Ruth Hyde, will be meeting the Home Office to discuss the next steps.

The wording of the motion was: ‘This Council will engage positively with the Government’s invitation to participate in meeting the needs of Syrian refugees and will seek assurances from Government that measures will be put in place to ensure that the impacts on this Council will be recognised.’

In support, I presented a petition signed by 458 residents of Broxtowe representing many different groups: choirs, voluntary groups, Christians, Muslims, neighbours and individuals. Several offered accommodation and wanted to be kept informed.

Many years ago this council working with the community welcomed and housed refugees from Vietnam.

We are preparing to do the same now.

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Happily growing old in Trowell

Recently I visited Trowell Parish Council to find out about Community Activities that help to combat loneliness. On a Tuesday morning I found a hive of activity. The Trowell Bowls Club were in full flow: mainly men but had a sprinkling of women. They were friendly and totally focussed on their bowling. Adjacent to the kitchen a group of ladies were chatting and drinking coffee. Later they moved over to a second hall for their weekly Keep Fit Session.  It was lots of fun: most of the ladies were older, but everyone was taking part.IMG_1575

The Parish Hall is fully booked and they turn away bookings. Their activities are wide-ranging: Adult Activities Club with badminton and tennis on Mondays; Bowls, Keep Fit and Badminton on Tuesdays; the Women’s Institute meets monthly.

Wednesday sees a Line Dancing session and early evening Zumba Classes.  In addition there are monthly Luncheon Clubs and Darts Sessions. Around 60 attend the weekly Sequence Dancing on Thursday and Friday evenings. Weekends are busy with one-off events.

IMG_1584

Preparations are in hand for the Christmas Dinner that attracts 250 people. The whole place had a positive buzz about it and owes much to Alison Mitchell, the Parish clerk, and all those volunteers who work hard to make it all happen. People come from far and near.Growing old in Trowell looked fun and we need to see older people as a resource and not as a burden.

As chair of the Council’s People & Places Scrutiny Group, I have been visiting various local community groups as part of our current inquiry into loneliness in the Borough. We are at the stage of generating community insights and identifying useful courses of action.

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HS2 hub at Toton still in the frame

hs2 trainAfter weeks of rumour, the news was released today that alternatives to Toton are being considered as the East Midlands hub for HS2.

David Higgins, HS2 chair, announced that Breaston was now in the frame, with the line running through Erewash rather than Broxtowe. Neverless, Toton has not been ruled out and Nottingham City Council and Broxtowe Borough Council will be campaigning hard to keep the Toton option open.

The relevant paragraphs of his report are here:

EASTERN LEG: East Midlands hub

A combination of geography, historic land use and existing infrastructure
makes it difficult to come up with the perfect solution for the East
Midlands. The current proposal suggests a new station for HS2 at Toton,
located between Derby and Nottingham, to maximise the benefit for
the whole region and avoid a zero-sum game in which one city gains
at the expense of the other. To their credit both cities recognise that
and, therefore, fundamentally I believe the East Midlands hub continues
to make sense. There is a question, however, as to whether the particular
location at Toton is the best physical choice. It is clear from discussions
with local stakeholders, and considering our broader strategic objectives,
that the right location is one which delivers the best fit with existing
services, especially to Derby and Nottingham.

For those reasons I am now proposing we investigate alternative station
sites to the west of Toton, which can provide much better road and rail
connections via the M1 and Midland Main Line respectively. Our aim
should be to find a solution which provides new and better links to the
centres of Derby and Nottingham and the wider region, while providing
road access for Leicester. The East Midlands hub would greatly improve
not just North-South connectivity, but also East-West links across
the Midlands. The journey time from Nottingham to Birmingham, for
instance, would be transformed.

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Bring on the old warriers

20141024_224613We enjoyed a reminder of old-style politicking last night when Dennis Skinner, MP for Bolsover [and he relishes less-polite versions], came to address over 100 gathered troops at a Labour fund-raiser in Broxtowe. As standard-bearer of the far left [of whom there plenty in the room] his anecdotes and side-swipes at politicians with whom he disagreed were along the lines of his much-quoted complaint about the government front bench: “Half the Tory members opposite are crooks”. On being told to withdraw the remark, he replied, “OK, half the Tory members aren’t crooks.”

It so happened that the Chancellor, George Osborn, had been at the same Beeston venue earlier in the day. Dennis provided plenty of financial advice about borrowing [good for Britain] and bankers [bad]. But we were not there for serious policy analysis: just to see and hear a favourite old stalwart, fluent and passionate at 82, fighting his corner and supporting Nick Palmer and the next generation of Labour politicians in Broxtowe as well as Bolsover.

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