A heirarchy of gullies

The Council has a heirarchy of gullies! Yes, there are some which it gets cleared out every three months, some less frequently and some only every 24 months – although I’m not convinced that some even get done that frequently

As your Lib Dem county councillors, whenever we see a blocked gully we report it – not strictly our job, but with the Council cutting this service back so much compared to years ago we see it as a necessity.

This is where your help comes in – please keep your eye out for blocked road gullies and report them to help@durham.gov.uk

This way we can make sure that incidents of flooding are few and far between.

Aykley Heads and County Hall – Council responds to resident questions

Some interesting Council answers to some comments from a resident to the Council can be found below. A small number of residents have been in touch with us commenting as to the reasons for moving County Hall and to the business case. The Council responses are in Bold. Our biggest concerns in the redevelopment of Aykley Heads relate to the protection of green spaces and the adequacy of transport links/congestion issues. We await the County Plan in the coming months to see what else is planned.

Point 1

However successful the County Council may be in attracting “new” jobs into a “strategic investment site” at Aykley Heads, any meaningfully audited, significant economic benefit to County Durham, can only be ascribed to jobs that would demonstrably not have otherwise been created in County Durham. In rationally measuring the cost effectiveness in term of strategic benefit to the County as a whole; it is of critical importance to recognise that if any “new” job created at Aykley Heads would likely in any case, have otherwise come about elsewhere within the County, then this would in reality be of negative benefit in terms of rebalancing the County’s disparate economy.

This economic growth is based on the premise that the County needs more employment opportunities for its residents and when possible, to ensure opportunities to create better jobs are being maximised. Across County Durham significant economic opportunities are being embraced and in order to complement these opportunities and to ensure that the potential of the city is being effectively utilised, opportunities for economic growth in the city also need to be embraced. A key asset that to date has been missing in the make-up of Durham city is a central business quarter, which would present a major opportunity to deliver the sorts of employment that will assist the overall economy of the county.
The point about new jobs being created is recognised and that is the ambition of the Aykley Heads site, to create employment opportunities that help to grow the economy of County Durham, not simply to relocate existing employment. However, if companies are facilitated to move and grow in a way that would not have been possible in their existing location, then this is also success as new employment opportunities are being created.
The focus on growth has been recognised and supported by various independent parties who have considered our proposals as well as organisations like the Federation of Small Businesses, the Chamber of Commerce, the University, businesses such as Atom bank, and individuals such as Sir John Hall. This wide ranging support has been on the basis that sites of the calibre of Aykley Heads are rarely available and there is currently nothing that matches it within the North East region. The potential it offers for the economy of the county and the North East more widely is important. Durham City currently lacks a commercial office quarter to meet future growth opportunities and Aykley Heads is considered an excellent location to create that opportunity. There are currently very few empty office buildings of quality available across the north east or in County Durham.

Point 2

To most people the existing building “sits well” into pleasantly landscaped setting. Taking into account the significance of its situation, it would be more than just an aesthetic loss of greenery, if any new build was to be significantly more obtrusive, either in size or proximity to the highway. Consequently, it is difficult to imagine that any “new build” could offer a better (or even equal) jobs per square metre of floor area, than the existing County Hall.

The Council has set out its intention to develop the site in a sensitive way that will respect the natural environment whilst also creating a business community that people choose to be a part of due to the quality of the development, but also the excellent location adjacent to a main line train station and within close proximity of the city centre and the World Heritage Site.
The proposals aim to retain about the same overall scale/quantum of buildings as County Hall, but with buildings moved closer to the road, and kept to a reduced height overall. County Hall is approximately 390,000 sq ft, accommodating approximately 1,800 FTEs, but it is a very inefficient building. The proposed gateway developments in phase two will be approximately 370,000 sq ft with scale and massing between three to five storeys getting higher towards the rear of the site creating approximately 2,787 jobs due to more efficient use of space. This phase of development which is focused around the existing County Hall site is in addition to phases one and three, thereby creating the overall employment potential of the site.
The Councils design and conservation team have led work to assess the landscape, heritage and ecology benefits of the area and establish the characteristics of the site that need to be preserved and enhanced. It is our intention that the woodland spines are protected, managed and enhanced and that the ecology of the site is protected and available for all to enjoy.

Point 3

Given the age of County Hall and the style of building, no doubt significant monies may now be required in order to bring it up to contemporary standards. But repair and ongoing maintenance are the basic actions of reasonable stewardship, of any responsible landlord. There has only been one “landlord/owner of County Hall since its inception on the drawing board, so presumably any necessary repair and maintenance costs have been professionally budgeted for and the adequate reserves accrued.

Should County Hall be refurbished in its current form a total of £26.3 million would be necessary to maintain the current office configuration. This would simply maintain the outdated cellular office configuration and impede the move to more flexible and agile working arrangements.

Due in part to the quantity of asbestos contained within County Hall, it is costly and difficult to significantly amend the layout of the existing building. A further £49.5 million would be required to move to modern ways of working in County Hall. This figure includes optimism bias, fees and inflation. It is estimated that in total, £75.8 million would be required to modernise County Hall. Having considered these figures, which have been provided by an independent cost consultant, a move to a new facility is more cost effective, whilst also enabling the County Hall site to be redeveloped for employment purposes as set out in the masterplan.

Point 4

Considering my above points, it strikes me as very questionable that demolishing the existing County Hall makes any kind of economic sense, other than to the vested interests of the construction industry together with the associated financial interests, capital lenders and fraternal institutions.

I should be grateful for any information regarding estimated costs.

In addition to the inefficiency of County Hall, the building is also far bigger than required by DCC as its headquarters. Since it was established in 2009, the Council has rationalised its office premises across County Durham, but in order to ensure services are delivered to residents in our rural county, we retain some premises and four strategic sites. Having reduced our workforce by over 2600 posts since 2010 due to the government’s austerity programme, we now require a HQ facility about a third of the size of County Hall.
In terms of costs, the anticipated cost for the demolition of County Hall is estimated at £5m at today’s costs. Although the site will require an initial capital investment from DCC to cover the demolition costs and to undertake development, over time the office developments will provide an on-going revenue income stream, and at some point a valuable asset.
Based on the way business rates are currently calculated, once completed the business park is expected to generate annual business rates of £1.5-1.7million which the Council can retain.

New Pity Me Housing completed – Hurrah!!

The eight new affordable to rent houses in PIty Me were completed today and new tenants will start moving in tomorrow.

This is a fantastic achievement for us as local Lib Dem councillors, and for County Durham Housing Group. After eight long years of challenging the Council for new homes and them refusing we managed to get the new housing group to agree to use brownfield/garage site for family homes.

The houses are all being let to local people after we secured a local lettings policy. It’s really great that people from the area will be able to still live near family and friends in homes that are affordable to rent. Having been in the houses today I am delighted by the quality of them and hope all those who were lucky enough to secure one really enjoy living in their new homes.

Success – Lib Dem pressure secures extra £700,000 for highways repairs

A couple of weeks ago I submitted a motion for full council calling on Cabinet to invest more funding to repair roads, in particular because of the additional damage caused by  this winters poor weather but also because of years of under funding. We also called on government to put in more funding.

The Council, suddenly has found – just a few minutes before my motion was due to be debated, an additional £700,000 – great news – Lib Dem pressure pays off.

However we still feel far more is needed. Not least because we have a massive backlog of rod and path repairs of around £200 million!

We will continue to pile on the pressure which has over the years resulted in significant extra investment.

Funds and projects update

As your County Councillors we have some funding each year for small groups in our area. If you know of any groups needing some help please get in touch with one of us.

Grants from £50 upwards can be considered. In the last year your three County Councillors have helped to support the following groups:

Summer festival for Durham Pathways

Fire and rescue service annual youth camp

Lumiere project with local schools

Durham Agency against crime environmental project

Durham City Remembrance parade

Womens institute community party

All Saints /Newton Hall Christmas tree

In addition we have helped to bring additional funding into the area and used Neighbourhood budgets to help support the cost of introducing the 20mph zones around schools so that all schools in our area are part of the scheme we secured.

We have also funded a large project to improve  Finchale Avenue in Brasside. The County Council hasn’t provided any funding for verge gardening projects for many years and the parking area is just a muddy mess.

A few years ago we did the first 50m. Now a further 150m is being fixed. Work has been delayed after we discovered NWL planned to dig up and replace the mains through the village, but should start in a few months time, significantly improving the look of the village.

A further project to provide a new parking area on Newton Drive is starting in the next few weeks. This has taken over a year to sort out, but we have managed to get the job done for thousands of pounds less than the original quotes by working with County Durham Housing Group.

We are currently looking at what works can be done around the area from our new budgets for 2018-19.

 

 

 

 

 

St Aidan’s Church Carpark

The Church is currently raising money to get the parking area improved for the Church and Parish Hall at St Aidan’s. We are working with them to get the best solution. In the meantime I managed to get the County Council to drop off a few wagon loads of wood chips to cover the mud which has been causing all the problems. Should make it easier for people to park.

Survey works for possible Northern Relief Road

More and more residents are contacting us about the work going on around Brasside. This is work on behalf of the Council to help draw up plans for a possible Noerthewrn Relief Road. Below is a pic from a local resident and a response from Strategic Highways at DCC explaining what is going on.

 

Further to your recent phone call I am pleased to confirm the following in relation to the Northern Relief Road.

As you may be aware the consultation on the previous Durham Plan suggested that the construction of the Western Relief Road was sought early in the plan period with the Northern route sometime late. It was for this reason that design work was progressed to a higher level of detail on the western route whilst the northern was more in outline.

Whilst not confirming any changes to the next plan it would be sensible and opportune to have the northern route designed to the same level of detail. It is for this reason that we are currently completing a more detailed topographical survey and will be soon undertaking ground investigation works with boreholes and trial pits. The current work will allow a greater level of detailed design and certainty in any future consultation.

It is also the case that any funding opportunities that may arise nationally in the short to medium term would expect a level of detail which will be delivered by the ongoing commissions and without which we would be unlikely to be able to proceed.

Framwellgate Moor Clinic set to shut

The clinic on Framwellgate Moor Front street is to close (not to be confused with Dunelm Medical Centre).

I have found out this just in the last few days, after the announcement over a year ago that it was under threat, which at the time was also uncovered by us, not through any official announcement.

Again we have found out by accident. The lease is not to be renewed and services will be shift out to other areas over the next three months.

This quite clearly goes against the NHS ethos of having services as close to patients as possible. It will also leave an empty property on the Front Street.

It also appears that there may not have been an attempt to renegotiate the lease on the property, so there is no chance that we will ever know if a better deal could have been obtained. Indeed we also do not know how much the repair clauses in the lease will hit the NHS to return the property to the state at the start of the lease.

All this suggests that there has not been full due diligence in considering whether or not  this is indeed a financially sound decision to make, to say nothing of the impact on service users.

I do wonder what attempts were made to look at adding services to the Clinic to help make it more sustainable. I am deeply concerned as to what is likely to come next with local health services as many are being tendered out and are likely to end up in the private sector with the many risks associated with such action.

Whilst what is going on cannot entirely be laid at the door of the government as this is local decision making  I am certain that the impact of under investment by the current government in the NHS and social care services will have contributed to the decisions being made.

I am waiting for a response from the NHS but expect we will see a response in the press from them before anything emailed back to me.

 

Pity Me Fire this evening

The fire in PIty Me this evening was in a skip on the building site for the new social housing at Woodbine Road, plenty of flames but thankfully, a quick call by residents to 999 and a fast response from the fire brigade got this under control quickly. It nearly spread to another skip and could have ended up setting fire to one of the new houses.

I have spoken with one of the senior officers at County Durham Housing Group who has called out this evening to view the site and will be visiting again in the morning – excellent response.

I’m also in discussion over a number of other site issues.