Dryburn Hill Footpath works commenced

Work to replace flagstone footpaths on part of this estate have started. I have been pushing for this for a very very long time. An improved pavement at the entrance will also be installed for safety reasons following resident requests.

It’s great that after so long asking we can see part of the estate getting improvements. We did hope that more work would be done and offered some local funding to match it but the council has scrapped its policy of working with councillors to match fund highways projects. Something we would like to see changed so that more money can be allocated to such works.


Farnham Road parking area ready for use

For some time now  as your Lib Dem councillors we have been working to get parking improvements.

As a result a fully resurfaced parking area with proper access has been created on Farnham Road.

farnham parking

Councillor Mark Wilkes says “It took a while but we got it done at a good price. We also complained about the state of two footpaths on the street and they have been rebuilt.”

Cllr Mamie Simmons adds “By making sure every penny is spent properly and being proactive we are getting as much done as we possibly can across Newton Hall. We also expect parts of Canterbury and Bek Roads will be resurfaced next year.”


If it wasn’t the Labour Party in County Durham you couldn’t have made it up. I am thoroughly disgusted.

The two highest profile issues coming into my message message box over the past few weeks have been the imminent closure of the Durham Light Infantry Museum in Durham City and changes to the pay and working arrangements of Teaching Assistants (TAs) in County Schools.

At Full Council this morning there were motions on both these issues put down. One on the DLI by me, and another by Cllr owen Temple on teaching assistants. We were asking for further discussion and consultation on them. Also on the agenda was a motion put down by a Labour councillor attacking the proposed Tory government changes to trades union legislation (this was a standard motion created by the TUC that has been put down by Labour councillors in many councils across the country).

Unfortunately for the DLI and the TAs, the Labour motion was submitted first and so was debated first.

Here comes the problem. Some years ago, Labour forced through a provision in the council constitution (against opposition wishes) to limit debate on motions to a total of 30 minutes at council meetings. That’s 30 minutes total, not 30 minutes for each motion!

The constitution also allows for councillors to agree to extend the 30 minute period. So we did that and, with a vote recording the names of everyone and how they voted, Labour refused to extend the debating time.

So the TU debate started, and after w while we tried to move the debate to a vote. Again Labour voted this down and Labour Councillors queued up to filibuster the 30 minutes away, after which that debate was curtailed and voted on, with the TA and DLI motions timed out. There is a chance that these could be discussed at the next meeting, however timing may mess this up, certainly for Teaching Assistants perhaps for the DLI but I will resubmit.

So where do sprouts come in? As part of the timing out, Labour councillor Patrick Conway (Belmont division) told a tale of how his mother had worked in his native Lincolnshire picking brussels sprouts in darkest December. I doubt that TAs and DLI supporters would feel this was as important as their jobs or the future of the DLI museum.

This was a shameful day for Labour, so when you come to vote next time, you know what to do.

My previous post can be seen here: http://markwilkes.mycouncillor.org.uk/2015/12/01/call-to-delay-dli-closure/

For the record, here is the list of Labour councillors and one independent (ex Labour) who refused to extend time and allow debate:

Adam Eddy
Armstrong Joe
Avery Brian
Batey Alison
Bell David
Bell Eddie
Bell Jennifer
Bennett Harry
Blakey Jan
Bleasdale Geraldine
Bonner Anne
Brookes Peter
Brown Jane
Carr Colin
Carr Joanne
Chaplow Jean
Clare John
Clark June
Conway Patrick
Cordon Jim
Crathorne Pauline
Crute Rob
Davidson Keith
Davinson Mark
Dearden Katherine
Dixon Mike
Forster Sonia
Foster Neil
Geldard Ian
Glass Bob
Graham Barbara
Gray Joan
Gunn Olwyn
Hampson Carole
Hart John
Henig Katherine
Henig Simon
Hillary Jed
Hodgson Michele
Hopper Kate
Hovvels Lucy
Huntington Eunice
Iveson Sarah
Jewell Ivan
Johnson Ossie
Kellett Bill
Laing Audrey
Lawton Pat
Lee June
Lethbridge John
Liddle Heather
Lindsay John
Liversidge Alan
Lumsdon Rachel
Maitland Joyce
Marshall Carl
Marshall Linda
Measor Janice
Milburn Olga
Moir Bill
Morrison Sue
Napier Alan
Nearney Thomas
Nicholson Henry
Patterson Andrea
Pemberton Trish
Plews Maria
Potts Christine
Pounder Lynn
Shaw Kevin
Smith Heather
Smith Tracie
Stephens Brian
Stradling Paul
Surtees Angela
Taylor Leo
Tinsley Fraser
Tomlinson Eddie
Turnbull John
Turner Andy
Williams Mac
Wilson Christine

Aykley Heads Roundabout work complete

The roundabout looks far better now that it has been resurfaced. We had asked for action and I am very pleased that this work has been done.

There is still an outstanding sunken drain cover which I have pointed out to officers who are checking it out to see if it can be replaced.

A resident has also commented about keep clear markings perhaps not being in the right place and officers are also checking this out.

New Solar Panels for three Centres

We have worked with a local supplier, RE consultants in Newton Hall and secured a big discount for our loccommunitycentrepanelsal community centres to get solar panels installed.

Framwellgate Moor Community Centre, Newton Hall Community Centre and All Saint’s Church have had panels installed at a big discount.

The hard working volunteers at all the centres supported the project and it will help to significantly reduce running costs for the Centres for years to come.


Next Wednesday I will propose at a meeting of the full council that the decision to close the DLI Museum is delayed to allow a full and proper consultation on all possible options.

I have found the council decision to close the museum without any consultation with the public to be one of the most heartless and unacceptable decisions the Labour-run Council has ever made. Many families of DLI veterans have had this decision dumped on them with out any say, despite having the ashes of loved ones spread around the memorial at the museum. Residents across the county have had no say at  all in this decision either.

In addition Local councillors and all backbench councillors have had no say in this decision and my attempt to call in the decision was insultingly rejected in a disgraceful manner by Councillor Joe Armstrong before he disappeared off for a months holiday in Australia.

I will try to convince all councillors that the Council should take a step back and reconsider this decision on Wednesday next week and urge any member of the public who isn’t at work that day to call along to the meeting which is held in public so they can see how Labour councillors act in public meetings.

The meeting starts at 10am prompt.

Improving safety at the Arnison Centre and Parking issues

I have for a long time been pushing for the Arnison site owners to improve safety. In recent months following a terrible accident, they finally listened to me and improved safety at the crossing point to the new food outlets – by fixing the crossing and removing a huge amount of undergrowth. They have also added additional lighting. I still feel that the area is unsafe, but compared to what it was like, it is an enormous improvement. I only wish they had done all this at any point over the six months I was asking prior to the accident!

arnison photoClearly as Christmas approaches, it is going to get even busier so please be extra careful walking and driving around the site. Northumbrian Water have kindly agreed to my request to allow staff working the site to park in their Abbey Road car park at all weekends and bank holidays until after new year, which should help with parking.

If you struggle with parking on Sundays or on Saturday after 2pm, there is spare parking at the Leisure Centre across the road with no restrictions on these dates/times. Take care crossing the road to the centre.

£220 million council reserves

We requested a review of Durham County Council reserves and at least £64.481m cash has been found not allocated to anything according to next weeks Cabinet papers. We believe it is even more.

I had asked for the review after reserves at the North East’s largest authority rocketed above £200m. The latest cabinet report for next week’s meeting shows an expected increase in reserves to £220m – an increase predicted by Liberal Democrat councillors back in March of this year.

The Authority’s Cabinet will approve transferring the surplus money into a £30m delivery reserve to help combat government cuts. A further £34m will go towards plans to build a new County Hall.

Councillor Amanda Hopgood said of this “We have consistently said the Council had more money available than it admitted. We have been proven right. The council now have £220m reserves and have had to admit that  tens of millions were available all along.”

I believe that millions of pounds more could be made available if the Council got its priorities right.

The council has still not made many of the sensible savings we have suggested. It still has six communications departments. It still spends a fortune on County News – its publicity magazine. It still has more directors than it needs.

I believes that Durham’s unitary authority is its own worst enemy. By failing to make these sensible savings, and holding huge amounts in reserve, they are giving ammunition to the Tory cuts.

The government is going to turn around and say the public sector still has piles of money. Look at Durham they can afford to build a new Council Palace and have piles of cash.

On the ground of course, local residents know that so much more could be done to improve County Durham. They also know that Labour politicians are ignoring their views. Poor quality roads and footpaths, leaking schools and the closing of the DLI museum without any consultation are prime examples.”

We believe that in addition to the reserves hike the council has further over estimated various elements of its budget including inflation (over 10 times the national rate), debt costs (no increase so far this year) and energy inflation (falling not rising). All this suggests reserves could hit a quarter of billion pounds by the end of the year.

Conservative energy policy a disaster

In just one week, over 1000 jobs have been lost in the solar energy industry. This is entirely the fault of the Conservative government. They are cutting the tariffs for solar energy by nearly 90%.

When the Lib Dems were in government we helped to massively boost renewable energy across the UK, helping both the environment and our energy security. The Tories are now putting our energy security at risk. a further 1000 jobs across the North East are in danger of being lost and the figures could be even worse.

If the Conservatives suddenly announced they were scrapping subsidies for North Sea oil firms (which get billions), I am sure that their industry with all the power it has would be knocking on the government door with sledgehammers. Sadly solar and renewable energy firms do not have as much money or influence as the big oil companies.

The last government was the greenest ever because of the Lib Dems. This government is destroying all the good work which was started leaving us to continue to rely on unsafe, environmentally polluting foreign fuel supplies from unstable parts of the world.