Newton Hall Post Office Services Saved

Our press release:
Lib Dem councillors are celebrating with residents after post office services were saved. Councillors in Newton Hall near Durham City had campaigned to stop the loss of services for their branch. In addition capacity and access concerns have been partly addressed and will be monitored.
A move into a nearby McColl’s shop will still go ahead but with many improvements. Services which would have been lost will be retained including the ability to pay in cheques. Transcash as well as Royal Mail and Parcelforce International Services are also now protected. The original plans would have seen a cut to many parcel services.
Councillor Amanda Hopgood comments “We made sure that the difficult access to Durham City was pointed out, and this has been listened to.Residents will not have to go into the City for services. Furthermore, internal access at the new branch was a big concern. We must wait to see if concerns about this have been fully addressed in the months which follow the opening of the new branch.”
External access to the branch will be improved as a planning application has now been granted by the council for a disability ramp. This will be an improvement on the existing premises. Within McColl’s, further adjustments are to be made. Fixtures and fittings will be re-aligned and removed to make sure there is proper access. This will include improved access for wheelchairs and space for queuing.
Concerns about staffing numbers are also being addressed. Staffing is to be aligned to customer demand. However there will be continual monitoring of staffing numbers with a review in three months which will be analysed by the Citizen’s Advice who are the statutory consultees on the proposals.
Records of queuing times and numbers will also be carried out and analysed following the concerns raised.
Councillor Mark Wilkes who put up the online petition to challenge the cuts to services said of the proposals. “In an ideal world we would still have a Main’s branch. However what we are now being offered is far and away better than the original proposals. Protection of services. Improved access, improved capacity and a full review over three months. The Post Office has agreed to full monitoring. We will also be personally monitoring this. Any reduction in service quality will be robustly challenged in the local community.”
Councillors now hope that after the new facility has bedded in the improved offer will mean that local residents warm to the changes. Longer opening hours should cut the risk of queuing. Cllr Wilkes added “There will still be some residents who are concerned, and we would urge them to contact us at any point during this process.”
Councillor Mamie Simmons says “Following our two and a half hour meeting with senior Post Office management we were deeply concerned. What we have achieved by way of improvements is leaps and bounds ahead of what we could have ended up with. The disability access will be particularly well received and are happy the council has supported that application. Of course the first few months of the changes will be key. We will be in touch with the Post Office, Citizen’s Advice and McColl’s if there is any drop in service quality.”
He has also contacted the Citizen’s Advice and McColl’s to request updates going forward and to ask that existing staff are approached as a matter of urgency to see if they would like to work in the new branch.
The move is likely to take place in February 2015.
You can view the consultation result letter here: newton_hall_dh15lx_decision_letter

Link to story on Northern Echo website:

Your Lib Dem councillors are gearing up for winter – Are you and is your street?

Sacks of grit in our area

After the mild winter last year and the recent balmy weather, we could be forgiven for thinking that winter has left the North East for good – it’s wishful thinking.

With this in mind, last year we negotiated for one ton sacks of grit to be placed around our area on streets where the council refuses to put grit bins or we feel they are necessary. But key to our negotiation was that if they were not needed, then they could be used the following year instead – saving money.

So this year, if the weather does turn nasty, many areas of Newton Hall, Framwellgate Moor, Pity Me and Brasside which don’t have a grit bin close by, will get a sack of grit delivered for residents use – thanks to your Lib Dem councillors.

We already have a list of locations. Let us know if there is a particular street or area where you think this may be necessary and we will check to see if it is on our list and consider adding it.

Existing Grit Bins and new ones

The council has very strict criteria for grit bins and this hasn’t changed in the last few years. You can find your closest grit bin by clicking here: You can also request a grit bin at this link. If you are refused and want to challenge the decision get in touch with us.

If the grit bin on your street is empty at the moment, you can let the council know  by clicking on report it at the top of the Council’s new website and they will add it to the filling cycle.

Council Gritting Routes

You can see the roads which the council grits on the interactive map on the Council website:

Blocked drains and gullies

The council now only checks road gullies one or twice a year. This causes problems in some areas. As your local Lib Dem councillors we frequently report gullies blocked with leaves which we check ourselves, or which residents report. This proactive approach has reduced localised flooding problems on many roads. Check the drains near your house and if they are blocked up use the Report it link at the top of the council website. If nothing happens after a few weeks, let us know and we will check and chase up the Council.

Residents gritting teams and help for the vulnerable

Have you thought about discussing spreading grit with your neighbours? Many streets around the area have a team of people who come out and spread grit on roads and pavements in bad weather – some organised, many just spontaneous. I helped on a couple of streets two years ago. Spare a thought for elderly neighbours who might not be able to get out in bad weather who might need a hand – to get out themselves or for a carer visiting.

If you don’t have a problem on your street have a think about a neighbouring street where they might need some help – both public and private sector workers need to get to work – lending a hand can help the whole community.

If the bad weather does come and all else fails get in touch with us and as in previous years we will see what we can do to help.

Weather warnings

The best place to find out about weather warnings is the Met Office website at

If the council issues localised warnings over the winter I try to add that information onto this blog.

Watersure and Water Meters – Help for vulnerable people & savings for everyone

Have a read of this blog entry if you want to save money on your water bills or know someone on a low income who could do with help. Water meters, and a scheme called Watersure can help different people, and there is a lot of advice out there for everyone on how to cut costs.


Have you heard of Watersure? Have a read below, and if you or someone you know may be eligible, contact Northumbrian Water for a form or download one at:

Water Meters:

If you are not currently on a water meter, you may save hundreds of pounds a year by having one fitted. Northumbrian Water can help you decide if you would save. Call them on 0345 733 5566 or try their online calculator:

Already on a meter? There is plenty of advice here on how to cut your bills.

Are you with Durham City Homes?

If you are with Durham City Homes you can still transfer to a meter, but will need permission. I helped someone in a DCH property move to a water meter and they are now saving around £200 a year!!

Water Sure detail:

The WaterSure scheme is available for certain customers with a water meter. It allows them to have their bills capped. This is to make sure that these customers don’t cut back on how much water they use because they are worried about how they will pay their bill.

To qualify for help under the WaterSure scheme, you or someone living with you, needs be entitled to receive one of the following:

  • Universal Credit
  • housing benefit
  • Income Support
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Child Tax Credit (except families in receipt of the family element only)
  • Pension Credit
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance

In addition, you need to either:

  • be responsible for three or more children under the age of 19 and in full-time education living in the property, or
  • have (or someone living in the property must have) a medical condition which requires significant additional use of water. Examples of medical conditions include weeping skin diseases (such as psoriasis), Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.

If you qualify for WaterSure, you will pay no more than the average household bill for your company, even if you use more than the average amount of water.

You will not qualify for WaterSure if you use a garden sprinkler system or have a swimming pool.

If you think you are eligible for WaterSure, use the link above to the form.


A quick reminder. If your total household income is less than £16000 a year you may be eligible for a £140 discount off your electricity bill this winter. Call your energy company and ask them if you are eligible for the WARM HOMES DISCOUNT. This was introduced by the Lib Dems in government to help those on a low income with their energy costs.

Severe Weather Warning

The met office has issued a serve weather warning for tonight/tomorrow. You can find more information at:

If you notice any blocked road or pavement drains in the next day or two please let us know so we can get them reported through the Council system. Alternatively email and copy me in to the email

State pension set to rise by 2.5 per cent next year

Pensioners will benefit from a 2.5 per cent increase in their state pension thanks to the Liberal Democrat Triple Lock guarantee.

Figures out today (14 October) show that inflation is below target meaning that the basic state pension will be boosted by 2.5 per cent next year.

The Triple Lock guarantee means that pensions will increase with inflation, earnings or 2.5 per cent – whichever is highest.


Commenting on the inflation figures, Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander said:

“This below target inflation number is good news for everyone, but will help pensioners in particular as the Liberal Democrat flagship ‘Triple Lock’ policy will kick in to give an above inflation pension increase.

“The Triple Lock delivers a pension rise of whichever is the greater of average earnings, inflation or 2.5%.

“This means that next year the basic state pension will rise by 2.5% or £2.85 a week.  With Liberal Democrats in Government the basic state pension has risen by over £950.

“This shows that pensioners are at the heart of our Liberal Democrat vision of a stronger economy and a fairer society.

“They’ve done their bit for society and paid their dues over a lifetime. Our Triple Lock policy ensures our country does right by them.

“This is in stark contrast to life under the Conservatives who broke the link between pensions and earnings in the Thatcher years, and life under Labour when pensioners were insulted with rises as low as 75p.”


I have been trying to get updates from various places on the plans for Newton Hall Post Office.

The first thing to say is that the consultation process is still running behind the scenes. The national CAB / Consumer Futures who analyse the consultation data have confirmed to me that following our representations they are pushing for “Main” Branch status. They will thrash out their views on the 22nd with PO management at a national level.

The pressure from residents and ourselves as your local councillors appears to be having a positive impact. Whilst the existing site does not look like it will be retained, the services which were due to be lost may well be retained if the branch moves into McColls.

Proposals have been aired which would see McColls run the branch as a “Local Plus”. This means that almost all the services which would have been lost would now be retained – so half a success.

However the BIG issue which remains is capacity. We are still campaigning alongside the CAB for a Main branch model as we do not want to see queues for local residents. Given that it looks increasingly likely that Framwellgate Moor Post Office will move up the road to Nisa, losing some services, the pressure on capacity in the area will be exacerbated.

Clearly there are also concerns about what happens to the existing staff and some concerns about training in a newly located branch.

A planning application has been submitted for a disability ramp at McColls. Whist this may appear to be cart before horse, it takes 8-9 weeks to pass a planning application and if the move goes ahead, disability access is a requirement.

All of this reminds me of a silver lining: Under the last government thousands of post offices closed, under the current government branches are being protected either in their current location or an alternative. Whatever happens we will still have two post offices in the area.

We will continue to push to make sure they have the capacity and the services. Things are looking better than they were and when we know more we will of course update on here and in the community.


New Council Website Up and running



Over a number of years as your Lib Dem councillors we have pushed the council for a better website and particularly for more services to be offered online.

The new County Council website is far easier to use and it is hoped that as more people order services, report things and pay for things online, it will free up staff at the council to answer calls more quickly. It should also save the council a lot of money in the longer term as requests go to the right person and will ensure better monitoring of responses.

Please let me know if you find anything not working on the site so that we can feed this back to council officers and get it fixed.

Also, if you do not get a response to something as quickly as it says you will, or as quickly as you would expect let me know that too.




Household Waste Recycling opening hours

NEW winter opening times for County Durham’s household waste recycling centres will come into effect next week.

Revised opening hours for sites operated by Durham County Council will begin on October 1st and stay in force until the end of March.

The Household Waste Recycling Centre (HWRC) at Potterhouse Lane in Pity Me will be open seven days a week from 9am until 3.30pm.

The centre will be closed on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.