£16583 for Aykley Heads billboards

The two big signs out up at Aykley Heads / County Hall have cost the Council £16583.

I’m quite staggered that they would spend this kind of money for a number of reasons:

1. The county plan hasn’t been finalised and they are predetermining the outcome.

2. The new HQ proposals for the The Sands haven’t even gone to committee and so the COuncil doesn’t know how the committee will vote. If it was voted down they might have to consider building the new county hall at Aykley Heads, meaning the new signs would have incorrect information.

3. This is a lit of money for two signs.

4. None of the planning applications for the new office buildings on Aykley Heads have even been submitted yet by developers so again they are predetermining.

Finally, it sends a dreadful message to the public which wil leave many residents feeling that the Council are yet again acting in an arrogant manner, wasting taxpayers money.

 

Walkabout of Terraces in Framwellgate Moor – And some harsh words about a few different businesses, property owners, individual residents and New College

I have been out on a walk about with the head of the Council’s clean and green department, the head warden and other officers today to look at a number of issues in Framwellgate Moor.

The main reason for the visit was the continued failure by some takeaways and shops to keep the rear and in some cases front of their properties clear of rubbish, and some anti-social behaviour issues.

Takeaways

One particular takeaway which has had various notices served was a disgraceful mess and I have raised with officers the fact that it does seem to take far too long to address some issues like rubbish piling up, fat being poured down drains etc.

Dangerous properties and unsightly properties and overflowing bins

We also discussed two old brick toilet netties down Durham Terrace which I have repeatedly told the council are dangerous and a child, or adult for that mattter could get hurt if one collapsed on them. Senior officers are going to revisit this – I think they should just bulldoze them and bill the owner of the empty properties which are also an eyesore and have also been complained about numerous times by me.

New College drug taking

There is also an ongoing issue with students from New College taking recreational drugs in the area and leaving plastic bottles lying around which they use when smoking these drugs. This is not just a problem of littering, these youths are congregating near houses which children live, in smoking drugs which stink and its just not acceptable.

The students then return to the college and continue their classes. As the college has no means of monitoring whether they are stoned or which students are taking drugs we can only hope that none of them are working with electrics or machinery, and given that the college have been told on more than one occasion that this is an issue, I hope their insurance isn’t going to be voided or worse that someone injures a fellow student.

The police and wardens are also having to waste their time attending the area to try and crack down on this anti-social behaviour at significant cost to them and ultimately to the taxpayer. They could be dealing with other issues.

Vodka bottles and rubbish

All too often it is students at the college who also get all the blame for littering on the front street and the streets off it, however whilst a lot of the litter is from new college students, not all of it is and there are a small number of very inconsiderate residents including one or two in particularly who need to stop dumping vodka bottles and other rubbish around the area.

It’s not funny, bottles get broken, look a mess, and can injure children or pets. The wardens are workimg on getting proof of who this is but they have their suspicions so the easiest thing is for the culprits to use their own bin or one of the dozen bins in the area otherwise at some point they are going to get at least one £80 fine!

Northern Relief Road – Challenging Cabinet

Yesterday I attended the Council’s Cabinet meeting which they decided to hold in Murton – with the County Plan on the agenda. Total number of pages for the meeting was 5718! Of which most were the County Plan.

As councillors we only got this last Wednesday, and I’m convinced there isn’t a person on the planet, including the Cabinet members who have read all the 5718 pages of paperwork over the last week.

Having searched through the paperwork I managed to get a question in over the weekend for the Portfolio Holder for Regneration.

My concern was around the route of the Northern Relief Road. This seems to be the biggest issue now about the plan. The impression we get as councillors is that the reduction in the number of houses as art of the scheme from over 6000 to 1700 is now less of a concern than previously, especially given that there will be parkland as part of the proposals – although I still need to get to the bottom of how much parkland and how the infrastructure around the whole area is supposed to cope.

Part of that coping is the Northern Relief Road from Pity Me to near Belmont. Whilst there is a vocal group who are against the proposed road, when you delve deeper it is clear that the route of the road is the biggest issue for most people, whilst a sizeable majority of people feel we should have an improvement in the infrastructure to the North of the CIty.

It is the route of the road which concerns me most. The council has failed in my view too get proper analysis of all the possible options.

I have copied my question to cabinet below:

One of the most important elements of the County Plan is the Northern Relief Road. Both prior to and during the consultation process I have raised concerns about the lack of independent analysis of all the possible alternatives to the route proposed.

This route, either with a new bridge or using the Belmont Viaduct goes through a nature reserve and an area with outstanding wildlife and stunning landscapes which is critical to the residential amenity, health and wellbeing of Durham City.

Opposition from local residents to this route is significant.

Whilst a majority of local residents and indeed myself support in principle improved infrastructure to the north of Durham City, at this stage I cannot accept that all possible routes and options have been satisfactorily analysed.

There is no consideration of a route around the back of Brasside, and in fact all the County Plan contains is a few paragraphs of officer views on each possible option.

In addition, the report states that Highways England will not allow a further A1 junction, yet on questioning officers I find that the Council has never even asked them and has simply relied on a national transport circular from 2013 which states such junctions can only be built unless if they are part of a wider strategic growth agenda – well if the County Durham Plan is not part of a wider grew than agenda I do not know what is.

For such an important proposal as the NRR there should have been a full independent report carried out of all the possible options. This is something I specifically asked officers for. The fact that there has not been a proper report means that at this moment this part of the plan is fundamentally flawed.

I would therefore urge Cabinet to commission a full and proper independent report into all possible routes and options for the Northern Relief Road to avoid this element failing at Public Inquiry and if they are not willing or able to do this, explain why, given the critical importance of this element of the plan, the Council has not and is not willing to do this and accept responsibility if this part of the plan does indeed fail.

The response to my question was pretty straightforward – that I was wrong. The Council believes this is the only viable route and any other route would not be close enough to the City to work. I strongly disagree.

There was no explanation as to why no independent report has been done, no explanation as to the discrepancy with highways England, no understanding of the impact of the route on our area.

What is good is that the council have recognised that having a bridge over the East Coast mainline is going to have a very negative impact and so they have included the option of going under the railway line at Brasside. The reduction in housing numbers as part of the plan is also welcome, however I am still not convinced that the infrastructure proposed will be put in place before housing is built, nor am I convinced that areas such as Durham Moor, Aykley Heads and North End will be able to cope even with the extra roads. Aykley Heads roundabout is already log-jammed at certain times of day.

I will, as no doubts others will, be ploughing through the 5700 pages looking at what else is still a problem. Please do let us know your views and please do attend the consultation events.

One final thing that has annoyed me is that we had to ask again for the necessary events in our area and had we not done everyone would have had to go to the Town Hall.

Thankfully all three of my requests for events have been accepted and the dates are as follows:

4th February – 3.30-6.30 Framwellgate Moor Community Centre

14th February – 4pm-7pm Abbey Leisure Centre

21st February – 4pm-7pm All Saint’s Church, Newton Hall

 

Post-Christmas Christmas Tree disposal conundrum

I’ve been asked by a few people what to do with their Christmas trees. The Council’s official policy is that they should be taken to your nearest household waste recycling site.

However you can call 03000 260 000 and the council will collect your tree for free but call immediately to book it it.

If you have a garden waste bin you can cut off the branches and put them in there and wait for the spring collections, but you’ll still need to take the stem to the tip unless you fancy sawing it up and adding it to the bin. This isn’t much use if you are not fit enough or able to do this – although you may have a nice neighbour who can help.

I’ve been trawling the internet and considering all options.

Some people with bigger gardens could even plant it in a corner and let something grow up it – although I did this once and ended up with a bees nest in it so be careful! it also doesn’t look too nice to start with.

This year I have chopped off the branches and put it through a garden chipper. I also did the same for the tree at All Saint’s Church yesterday which got be thinking about this post – but as that tree was 20 ft high, it was quite a task!

Chippings from fir trees are great around acid loving plants and keep down weeds, so if you have blueberries, raspberries, azalias, camelias, rhodedendrons or hydrangeas that’s another possibility – and my choice for this year.

One website suggests sawing the trunk into half inch blocks and using them as coasters. That seems like a lot of coasters!

Some areas use old Christmas trees to help protect  sand dunes from erosion but its a bit of a waste of resources driving out with trees to the coast assuming there is somewhere doing this in our area.

Another option is to give the branch-less trunk to a neighbour with a wood burning stove or open fire – although if its not a modern Defra approved one it will probably chuck out pollution in the local area.

The Council’s website suggests getting an artificial tree in future but that is NOT environmentally friendly, especially given they are nearly all made from plastic.

Acording to the Carbon Trust a 2m real tree, which is subsequently chipped or burnt has a CO2 footprint of 3.5kg, if sent to landfill this would have been 16kg – but our general waste is now incinerated so you could chop it up and put it in the general waste bin!

However a plastic tree has a carbon footprint of over 40kg – possibly more as most are transported from China, so you’d need to keep your artificial tree for 12 years or more for it to be less damaging to the environment than a real one – and whilst some people swear by them, I love the smell of a pine tree and the annual trip to find the “best looking” tree.

I’ll stick with a real one as for each one cut down they say 3 are planted and i can chip mine up. However all this has got me to thinking that the Council needs to better advertise their free collection scheme and I have spoken to our head of service today.

Let me know if you have any other ideas.

 

Rubbish and dog waste bins overflowing

We’ve reported and had reports of a number of  overflowing bins in the area following the festive period. If you spot any overflowing public dog waste or litter bins please let us know so we can keep the area clean. We are on our look out for local problem areas and have already asked for the area near the Arnison Centre/Abbey Leisure Centre to be litter picked.

Arriva Strike action 6th – 12th Jan (inclusive)

Arriva bus drivers in County Durham are going on strike over pay. here’s some articles on the issue:

https://www.gazettelive.co.uk/news/teesside-news/arriva-claim-bus-drivers-poorly-15625321

https://www.hartlepoolmail.co.uk/news/more-than-600-arriva-bus-drivers-to-go-on-week-long-strike-over-pay-dispute-1-9519435

We have held meetings with Arriva over the problems with services in our area, particularly in Newton Hall and will continue to push for action to address various issues causing problems with the service. We hope the strike can be called off so that residents are not adversely affected. Let us know how this affects you next week.

Merry Christmas

We would like to wish all residents across our area and beyond a wonderful Christmas. Over the last few weeks we have been out and about at local festive events, and delivered nearly 6500 Christmas cards by hand with our Lib Dem parish councillor colleagues and local supporters and helpers. Don’t forget to leave out a mince pie and some carrots tonight and perhaps some Sherry…. Ho Ho Ho.

Luncheon Club Christmas Party at All Saints

I attended the luncheon club Christmas Party in Newton Hall at All Saints yesterday  and thoroughly enjoyed it. Three Cheers to Amanda and her assistants not just for putting on this event but for preparing the meals every week at the luncheon club without fail!

If you are interested in joining all the local residents who attend the luncheon club every Monday lunchtime, get in touch with Amanda.

She certainly make a mean Christmas pudding and the roasties were excellent!