Monday, 22 December 2014

Councillor Folkes; Inquiry or review?

The negotiated terms of reference for a review into the processes relating to the resignation of  Councillor Folkes from the cabinet have been agreed between Cornwall Council and the Local Government Association.

It is important that this is now conducted quickly so that we can be assured that we have processes in place to protect children, adults, councillors and staff whilst being fully compliant with the requirements of the law.

It will be interesting to see the timeline of actions and statements but as this is to be a review restricted to processes and procedural failures it looks like the only name to appear in the report will be that of Councillor Folkes.

The original source document I was shown included large sections of redacted text - the white sections above and below the visible text - which were not made available to me.
I hope the results will be comprehensive, informative and totally open.  I am trying not to be sceptical and I  will await the outcome of the review.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Stadium amendment to Local Plan

My amendment this week to the Local Plan to include the aspiration for a Stadium was ruled out because it would need another period of public consultation.   The council were not prepared to countenance another delay in the Plan and so it was not included.

The last I heard the INOX application for West Langarth is likely to be considered with the other three supermarket applications on 12th March. This assumes it will not be derailed by Truro City Club site application.

To have a chance of success INOX need to supply viability information to convince the Committee that the Stadium can and will get built and the legal case to compel this should be robust. Stadium fans have been disappointed before.

This would be needed to justify the risk to the Council of turning down the other applications which have technically better sites (in planning terms) for the supermarket as they are nearer to Truro.

I acknowledge that this will be difficult with no signed up tenant for the supermarket.  INOX are relying on at least one supermarket still wanting to come to Truro and on INOX being in a monopoly position to 'dictate' terms to that supermarket.

It would be really helpful to the INOX case if it was able to get a letter of intent from one or more supermarkets that they are interested in the INOX site.  It would also be interesting to know at what stage the supermarkets' commitments (if any) to other developer sites fall through.  Otherwise, to get built a Stadium will need a Plan B.

I still do not understand why Truro College can only put in £2m.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Stadium Amendment to Local Plan

I have submitted an amendment to the (draft) Local Plan for Cornwall, to be considered by Council on Tuesday. This needs to be pre cleared by officers as procedurally acceptable.

There may be a perceived difficulty with including it in the Plan as it was not included in a consultation draft. Many more people have expressed a view on the Stadium than on any aspect of the Local Plan.  So let us hope it is not disallowed because they have failed to 'tick the right box'.

The  inclusion of the Stadium in the Plan would not commit the Council to approve any particular planning application or to spend any money. However, it would, at least, recognise this as a strong aspiration of many people in Cornwall.

If the amendment is pre cleared I would hope that it would gain cross party support.

Proposed Amendment as an additional paragraph to Policy 4 (Community Facilities)
"It is an aspiration of Cornwall to have a Stadium for Cornwall, which also may be used by the community and for education."

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Speeding on Kenwyn Hill: Truro Heights

This morning I received a petition signed by101 people living near the top of Kenwyn Hill about the continuing problem of speeding, especially by motorists arriving from Shortlanesend.

The police say they do not think the issue is a significant one but local people disagree. I have asked the Council for a traffic calming scheme and have discussed the possibility of something similar to the traffic calming at the entrance to Goonhavern from Newquay. However, the Council has not so far come up with any money to deal with the issue.

I have been asked how the Council could find money for the skatepark but not for this. This issue has been raised by members. But a decision was made that members could not spend their community projects budget (currently £2195 per year) on highways improvements. It would not go very far due to the cost of highways schemes and the community would lose the use of this money which is worth more than it seems because if is used to lever in money from other sources.

I shall do my best to get something done. It is terrible that people feel they simply cannot safely cross the road on foot.


Threemilestone and beyond

How do the other big three applications at Threemilestone stack up?

A six month delay allows more light to be shone on the other three big applications at Threemilestone. So how do they stack up?
All of them are in the area covered by the Council's Development Brief and are relatively close to Truro/ Threemilestone.

Hendra
 Is an application for a supermarket next to the Park and Ride on land already consented for a hotel and other uses. So far I do not think it has any supermarket tenant signed up. It offers no significant planning contribution to the wider area (and is not obliged to because it is just a supermarket).

Maiden Green
On paper this ticks a lot of boxes in terms of its contribution to the wider development. However, if it has no tenant signed up for the supermarket (which appears to be the case), these contributions may be unviable.
It seems that the contours of the site and the need to use more than one level make this a less attractive site for a supermarket and the proposed new primary school.
This application is said to have the worst traffic impact.

Willow Green
This application apparently has Asda signed up and will contribute, assuming all goes to plan, a new primary school, affordable housing and a significant chunk of the northern access road to the hospital.

"Assuming all goes to plan" is a very real caveat based on our experience elsewhere. Unless there is a mechanism for tying together the housing delivery with the supermarket, there must be a strong likelihood that the supermarket and the bit of road will be built. Then, the other chunks of land will be sold off for housing. At that stage the Living Villages concept in the outline application may go out the window and the percentage of affordable housing may come down.

As the Government are providing money for new school places will the Council need the new school money?

All the applications, including INOX's application at West Langarth, provide money for open space on a per home built basis rather than the open space itself. The amounts provided in all cases are wholly inadequate to buy  land for open space in Truro,  as I have blogged before on the Council's Open Space Strategy.

As a local member I have always said that I have major concerns about the impact of traffic congestion and pollution on the Highertown corridor. However, if there is to be further development then it seems to me that the Council must take responsibility for delivery of the northern access road. It would also stop the potential for developers to hold each other to ransom.

The Council needs to get Government funding and use compulsory purchase powers to build the road as soon as possible.   I have received no answer yet as to why that has not been done.

With these and other applications likely to be decided on the same day in March next year it is beginning to look like planning on the A390 is out of the control of Cornwall Council.   Another application which turns up shortly before the planning meeting (such as the redevelopment and relocation of Truro City Football Club) could lead to a demand for a further deferment to allow more considerations.  On the basis of past actions that may be hard to resist.

I wonder what the odds would be on a Secretary of State intervention and subsequent actions in the High Court?




Higher Newham; Forever Green?

This 'Living Village' application goes to Strategic Planning on 18th December. It has been sold to the public on the basis that much of the land will remain green in perpetuity.

If they are minded to approve it (despite the ghastly access onto Morlaix Avenue) I hope the Committee will satisfy themselves that the structure to ensure this is legally robust.

It is easy for a development to start out looking green and then to be redesigned or infilled later - the problem of creeping density.

One particular issue arises with the large swathes of green land to be let to the charitable trust. It is proposed that the freehold of this land will remain with the developer.  I have questioned whether this land would be better safeguarded in perpetuity if the freehold were transferred to Truro City Council.  It has an interest in safeguarding the land.   With the best will in the world the developers, in the long term, may not.

Duty of Kerr: what is holding up the independent review on Cllr Folkes resignation?

On 25th November the Leader told Full Council that the decisions relating to Cllr Folkes were correct and would not be changed but the Council would consider if lessons could be learned. On 28th November I understood that there would be an independent review. The  Leader repeated this on Radio Cornwall on Monday.

But the review is still not underway. In the meantime Nick Clegg on his trip to Cornwall last week, has weighed in on Cllr Folkes' behalf, according to yesterday's Cornish Guardian. 

In the edition of Private Eye just out Andrew Kerr, the Council's Chief Executive, is criticised in 'Rotten Boroughs' for Cllr Folkes' treatment.

None of this is good for the reputation of the Council.

If all the decisions had been made by 25th November. (and probably earlier, as the Council was writing to clubs about Cllr Folkes on 18th November) why is the Council not able to get on with an independent review.

 I wonder whether it is possible that the check that threw up information that was not acted on in 2009/10 would have been made at all had Cllr Folkes been elected for the first time in 2013.

 I still do not know what is the Council's current DBS/CRB checking process.

Cornwall Council must act to protect children and individuals fairly and within the law.  Not only must the Council act in that way but it must also demonstrate it.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Why is INOX application receiving particular scrutiny now?

There is much that can and will be said on each of the (other) three applications for supermarkets etc on the A390 west of Truro.

It now looks as if the other applications (two of which have been appealed for non determination by the applicants) will be considered by the inspector next August.  Also, the Strategic Planning Committee will consider duplicate applications from the same developers, probably on 12th March, together with the INOX application for West Langarth.

But why look now at the INOX application in particular? Three reasons:-

1. The intervention of INOX caused decisions on the other three applications to be delayed and put the Council at risk of paying the developers' costs for failing to make decisions on them;

2. INOX is campaigning not only for its application to succeed but for all the other three to be turned down. In fact, it says its cannot succeed unless all the others are turned down; and

3. INOX says it can deliver the Stadium for Cornwall, a long held dream of many in Cornwall. It is only sensible to ask if the offer is legally robust and economically viable.


Monday, 8 December 2014

Higher Newham Village access



Traffic lights proposed to cut in two Truro's bypass near the junction at the top of Arch Hill. What a pity that would be.

Threemilestone and Truro Development Plan





Thursday, 4 December 2014

Cabinet shuffle

Finally, four weeks after Cllr Folkes' shock resignation, the Council's cabinet has been reshuffled.  I understand that the shuffle is designed to ensure that there are jobs which best suit the strengths of the councillors who have been chosen by their political groups to be Cabinet members.

This has meant, it seems, that it has been necessary to cancel all Portfolio advisory meetings for December. I have questioned the value of many of these meetings in the past and been ignored. So it is ironic indeed that we can now manage without them all.


Tuesday, 2 December 2014

New Stadium Plans are a Legal Minefield

Following the helpful explanation by developers Henry Boot Developments of their plans for 'enabling development' to build a Stadium for Cornwall, I have had the opportunity to read the various documents to which they have referred me. This is a legal minefield.

Some questions that arise:

1.  It must be highly questionable as to whether this is enabling development so that the provision of money for the Stadium can properly be taken into account. The QC representing the developer in this case took the other side of the argument in the Supreme Court recently on behalf of Sainsburys and won. The connection between the two sites looks a bit contrived.  So, the Council will need to be sure of their legal ground here.

2. If the Planning Committee are allowed to take account of the contribution to the Stadium then they will want to be assured that this Development is viable. This will be difficult to judge without any tenant signed up for the supermarket. If  the site at West Langarth ends up getting developed for something other than a supermarket, this whole deal would fall away.

3. The Memorandum of Understanding signed today is good PR but is not legally binding as it states any party can pull out.

4. We better not end up swapping the Stadium site, to which the Council is now entitled, for the prospect of open space at West Langarth and ending up with nothing. So, if the Committee goes down this route, all the legal paperwork will need to be in good order!

Inox Breakfast Meeting

INOX have been briefing today at the Alverton Manor in Truro on their latest plans for a development which they believe will help fund the Stadium for Cornwall. They persuaded (by one vote) the Strategic Planning Committee to defer 3 other supermarket applications to allow their application to catch up so that all applications could be considered together.

Everybody seems to agree that there will be only one more supermarket in Truro and INOX want theirs to be the one.

At least 2 out of 3 of the other developers have now appealed. At the same time those developers have re-submitted their applications in the hope that the Council will think the better of their decision to defer.

Last week, the Council decided to slash spending, for example, on libraries and leisure centres, to reduce the road maintenance budget and cut school crossing patrols. No service avoided the chop.

So the Strategic Planning Committee need to know:

1. Is the INOX scheme (with the contribution to the Stadium) viable?
2. Can the Council ensure that INOX will keep its part of the bargain to help fund the Stadium?
3. Will INOX's Stadium contribution reduce the ability of INOX to meet its normal Planning obligations (contribution to roads etc)?
4. What is the likely amount of costs the Council has at risk (its own and the developers') in fighting the appeals in respect of the other 3 supermarket application?

Asking these very obvious questions seems to me to be the least due diligence that Cornwall Council should undertake  when risking taxpayers' money.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Truro Parking Crisis







What a difference 40 years makes !!!!!!

If you thought parking for residents in Truro was bad already, then it is about to get even worse. The Council plan:

1. to raise parking revenues in each of the next 4 years by 1% above the rate of inflation.
2. to introduce charges for on street parking (meters or similar); and
3. to charge staff to park, which will likely mean they park on the street instead.

I have recently surveyed 4 areas of my division as to whether residents would support a residents' parking scheme.

These were the results (see maps below):

Hendra 1

81% in favour based on a response rate of 47%.

Hendra 2

66% in favour but only 22% response rate. The problem is less bad here as it is further away from the City Centre.

There are some roads, such as Comprigney Close which are definitely against based on this survey.

Trehaverne, Rosedale

Views overall were about the same number for as against. The overall response rate was 22%.
However, there is clear support in the area around Trehaverne Terrace but insufficient support in Rosedale. Even at £25 per vehicle per year most respondents in Rosedale did not want to pay to park.

Chainwalk

72% in favour but only 33%  response rate.

I submitted these results to the Council. The latest I have heard is that they want to delay taking action until after the Eastern Park and Ride is up and running. This is just not going to wash with
many people, especially with the worsening factors mentioned above.

In the meantime local residents are submitting applications to rip out front gardens or other features in the Conservation area to secure their own parking space.







Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Inquiry

I am concerned at the manner in which the Council continues to deal with the Councillor Folkes affair. 

First the Leader denied that it was anything to do with the Council and continued with that line until he changed his mind and admitted that he had forced Councillor Folkes to resign.   

With the Chief Executive Officer insisting that Councillor Folkes should resign from an elected office it appeared that there was something seriously amiss.

As bits of the story have dripped out of the 4th floor Councillor Pollard has had to alter his response.  I thought he had agreed to my request for an independent inquiry so that we could all be assured that, despite the apparently bizarre chain of events, everyone, including Cllr Folkes, was being dealt with fairly. 

The latest twist is to set the terms of reference of an independent inquiry so tightly that no recent actions are investigated.  

His statement in the chamber today and again repeated to the media is to make sure that any inquiry only looks at what happened years ago. 

The actions of the Leader, senior councillors and senior officers at Cornwall Council must all be included in a full inquiry from the beginning right up to date.





Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Budget Day

Times are tough at Cornwall Council. I accept that hard decisions need to be made. But today it was as if Cornwall Council was in its own bubble.

The Council invited 10 year old Leon Remfrey to present his library petition today (and not at the October meeting as he requested) when it was already too late to amend the Budget specifically to deal with his concerns on reductions in the library service.

It presented a cobbled together last minute amendment to help address concerns over the proposed 55% reduction in the winter road gritting budget (646 kms instead of 1400 kms of road gritted).  Instead it would reduce the maintenance of road gulleys and therefore increase the risk of road flooding.

The administration proposes large increases in parking charges and the introduction of on road parking charges but it will continue to allow staff to park for free until at least 2017 as a result of its deal with the unions.

The only area of the Council that remains uncut is the cost of councillors.  Nineteen "focus groups" later but no efficiencies have yet been made and almost none are proposed.  As a member of the press said to me, the Council do not do irony!

That is the Cornwall Council bubble.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Councillor Folkes: An independent Enquiry is needed

As I made clear in my blog yesterday, I am not in a position (and it would be entirely inappropriate for me) to reach a conclusion about any allegations against Cllr Folkes which led to his resignation.  My difficulty is with the extraordinary manner in which the Council has handled this matter.

To establish the truth, I am calling for an independent enquiry into the circumstances surrounding this matter and in particular:

1. To establish what circumstances caused the Council to become concerned about Cllr Folkes which led to his resignation;
2. Who knew (or thought they knew) what and when;
3. What action was taken by whom; and
4. Was that action appropriate in the context of the Council's duties and its obligation to treat Cllr Folkes fairly.

The actions, or non-actions of those at the most senior level in Cornwall Council need to be examined.  That can only be properly accomplished by an impartial independent enquiry.


Thursday, 20 November 2014

Latest: Councillor Folkes' resignation

The events surrounding Councillor Folkes' resignation have taken a bizarre turn this afternoon.

The Leader of Cornwall Council gave the clear impression that Councillor Folkes' departure was a purely personal matter and not related to the Council.

He refused to comment further. However, on further questioning on Tuesday, he finally wrote to me and said :

" I have been advised that I am unable to provide any details about the matter at this time, however I have instructed the Chief Executive to ensure that any matters arising out of his resignation are fully investigated and addressed as quickly as possible".

On the same day his director for education , health and social care was saying in a "Strictly Confidential" letter to un-named individuals that Councillor Folkes should not "have any access to children or young persons".

Whatever Councillor Folkes may or may not have done is not something I can comment on; nor would I wish to until such time as any formal enquires are complete.

But serious questions need to be asked about the management of this matter by the Leader and his administration.

To give the impression that a resignation is not related to the Council when it emerges that it is and then to admit that Councillor Folkes was ordered to resign looks like a cover up.

Those now charged with conducting the proper investigation into this sorry mess will eventually have to explain themselves and their conduct.

Friday, 7 November 2014

James Mustoe wins in Mevagissey


Congratulations to James Mustoe winning the Cornwall Council seat of Mevagissey last night.  A hard fought campaign  but a great result.

I look forward to welcoming James to the council and working with him as he represents his division.

 We made a start last night when James, Steve Double and I attended the meeting held in Gorran by the Parish Council to discuss what to do in the light of Cornwall Council's decision to withdraw its grant to keep open the public toilets from April 2015. 

Full results

James Michael Mustoe    Conservative           348         
 Michael Williams    UK Independence Party  281         
 Charmain Nicholas          Labour                   204          
 Christopher Maynard      Liberal Democrat   197         
 Katherine Moseley            Green Party          50              

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Alex Folkes Resignation

 The resignation of Councillor Folkes from his role as the cabinet member responsible for Finance  and  Communications on Cornwall Council is as unexpected as was the resignation of the Councillor Haycock from her cabinet post.

The leader of the council Councillor John Pollard remains extraordinarily tight-lipped on the subject and has determined that he will take over the responsibilities himself.   The announcement could not have been more badly timed coming as it does on the eve of the budget going to Cabinet today and then Full Council later this month,

Whatever the truth of the situation I sincerely hope that Alex Folkes has not suffered a sudden personal tragedy which requires his resignation.

Cornwall Devolution Debate

Tonight at 10.30 the BBC are screening a devolution debate: More powers for England, more powers for the South West and/or more powers for Cornwall?

One might think  that everybody would be in favour of English votes for English laws.  But some panelists simply did not care.  They are only interested in Cornwall in isolation to the rest of the UK.   Others, like Andrew George MP, were concerned that it would give rise to two classes of MP at Westminster, as if that was somehow important.

Very few of us wanted to see the South West become a region (again) for administrative purposes although it must make sense to work together where it is beneficial,  for example, on some transport issues.

Most (including me) were in favour of more powers for Cornwall.  I would argue for more powers on a case by case basis, where it makes sense for decisions to be made in Cornwall.   For example, a power to design a service to improve bus transport in rural areas.  Recently, the Government has accepted Cornwall's bid to be a pilot scheme for a new rural bus service, although the Leader of the Council seemed unaware of this.

But new powers do not come without new responsibilities and without risk.   The Silk Commission has recently recommended that Wales move away from the situation where Wales gets a block grant from Central Government  to one where it raises more tax locally so that it is more 'on risk' and more accountable to the people of Wales.

More powers to tax people in Cornwall, as most panelists, including the Leader of the Council, appeared to want, would be a very poor substitute for a better deal on Government funding for Cornwall.

Local taxation powers would leave Cornwall competing with richer regions, which would have the means to raise more tax.  Average council tax in Cornwall is already above the national average. That does not seem fair to Cornwall.   Before the Government capped council tax it rose at between 5 and 10 per cent a year. That is what the future would look like under this administration at County Hall.   Even UKIP, who claim to be low tax party, has voted to consider a 6 per cent rise in council tax.

Some local taxes may seem like 'no brainers',  such as a levy on out of town supermarkets.  But Scotland recently said they will abandon their supermarket levy.   It is reducing inward investment into Scotland.

In Wales the economy has fallen more behind England since devolution.   Also, education standards are behind England and the Health Service in Wales is not in a good state.   Unlike England, Wales has not protected spending on the health service in real terms.

To minimise risk you would end up needing more expensive advisers to support more expensive politicians. The Leader of Wales is paid about the same as the prime minister- approximately £140,000 a year plus office expenses.    The Leader of Cornwall receives approximately  £32,000.   So it would certainly be bonanza time for local politicians and we would doubtless see the same old faces in the 'souped up' role.  People in Cornwall must make sure that hey are getting value for money from local government. Only a third think so now.

We should proceed cautiously with devolution in Cornwall.  There are risks around taking more responsibility for the failure of local services and the local economy.

Any change to the democratic administration of Cornwall should be one occasion when a referendum is needed.   The debate should be had and the people of Cornwall should decide the future not those with a vested personal interest.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Residents' views discussed in secret - prior to Press Release


The residents' survey for 2014 has finally been released by Cornwall Council.   So what was all the fuss and the secrecy about?

It shows that Cornwall is a below par authority with question marks over efficiency , trustworthiness  and listening to local residents.   All areas which we should expect to be better than they clearly are.   Other residents and town and parish councils will not be surprised by any of that.

The council says it is a baseline of where we are now and will help to measure progress in the future.  

If this administration has its way it will be unrecognisable in a few years time.   The benefit of any survey therefore depends on consistency of questions not only on an ongoing basis but also similar to other authorities so that proper comparisons can be made.

If the council is requesting more powers to raise taxes (without limit) shouldn’t we expect to be consulted about it?   An authority that is seen as not particularly trustworthy or efficient needs to listen  to the people paying the bills. 

Secret meetings to manage bad news is not the way to do it.



Friday, 17 October 2014

Councillor costs

 I understand that Cllr Folkes, Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources, is arguing that Cornwall Councillors should be reduced in number to 60 or 80.  As he acknowledges, we do not have the power in Cornwall to do this.  So that electoral divisions are decided without reference to party politics, this is dealt with by the Boundary Commission.

 I certainly agree that democracy at Cornwall Council is very expensive. But if Cllr Folkes is actually keen to reduce the cost, as opposed to just talk about it, there is much he could do. After all, 'democratic services' is his responsibility.

 Does he really think 19 member meetings/focus groups (generally attended by the Chief Executive) on the Council's Strategy are good value for public money?

 If he honestly thinks that we should half the number of councillors then another way of achieving a similar level of saving would be to half councillors' allowances.  There is no sign of this at all.

Indeed, when I suggested last week that, as hundreds of officers were losing their jobs, we could reduce the cost of Cabinet members, he rejected this out of hand.

Currently he is campaigning to re brand Cornwall Council as a Cornish Assembly. Backbenchers on Cornwall Council receive £12,000 a year. Members of the Welsh Assembly receive a minimum of £53,000.

Friday, 10 October 2014

More on Cornwall's Spaceport Bid

Let me begin by making it clear that I think it would be brilliant to host the UK spaceport in Cornwall.  There must be issues with noise for nearby residents. I can only hope that those aspects are being borne in mind although I note that there has been no consultation with local councillors, never mind the public, so far.  It was noise that made a previous Lib Dem led administration  say no to hosting joint strike fighter aircraft at Newquay and, as a result, that opportunity was lost to Lossiemouth in Scotland.

I assume that the space use would not conflict with the reliability of the civilian use of the airport.

Cllr Folkes, Cabinet member for Finance, would like me to assure you that the Council is hoping that all the money for bidding on the spaceport will come from Cornwall's  European Convergence monies.

What, I think, most people would regard as a very large sum has been set aside for this purpose. At this stage I better not say how much the Council tells me has been set aside in case it is commercially sensitive but Cllr Folkes may be happy to do so. Let's just say I am surprised by the amount and it better be money well spent.

I suppose the difference between me and Cllr Folkes is that I regard the monies from Europe as every bit as much Cornwall's money as money from the UK Government, borrowed monies or monies from Council tax or business rates.

One point I hope Cllr Folkes and I can agree on is that a spaceport would appear to require a runway extension of between approximately 450 and 750 metres at Newquay.

Let me make these two points absolutely clear for Cllr Folkes' benefit.   I am in favour of an airport and runway extension.  His party have democratically decided that they are not.





Thursday, 9 October 2014

Newquay Airport: Mixed messages from the Lib Dems

Yesterday, I received a briefing from the Liberal Democrat Portfolio Holder about what a great thing Newquay Airport is for the Cornish economy.

The annual subsidy from the Council is currently £3 million per year (excluding the cost of capital on the £27m borrowed by the Council to help pay for its upgrade to a civilian airport).

It is hoped to reduce the subsidy by increasing the number of flights. The original business plan was for 1,400,000 flights per year. It is still only about 200,000 despite the 'Dawlish Dividend' (whereby extra people had to fly in and out in the absence of the railway).

The briefing also says that on Monday the Council submitted a bid to be the UK's spaceport. However, this week the Liberal Democrat Conference voted against airport expansion.  Not only would the spaceport be an extension of airport use, it would also need an extension of the runway.

I wonder how long it will take before the Lib Dems at County Hall condemn their own policies?

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Sale of Penwith District Council Offices but what about parking for Leisure Centre and Penzance Hockey Club?

The Cabinet have a plan (inherited from the previous administration) to sell the old Penwith District Council offices largely for housing with a strong affordable element.

 The Portfolio Holder reported to the Finance and Resources Portfolio Advisory Committee yesterday how they were getting on. They said they had consulted the Penzance Hockey Club on the sale. In future the Club will be surrounded by new housing.

However, they failed to report what the Club thought. Indeed, one might have formed the impression that the Club was happy with all aspects of the proposal. Not so. The Club, which also takes party bookings to gather income to help it finance itself, wants it to be clear that hockey (and parties) create noise (and, in the case of hockey, flood lighting). A developer (and future residents of the new housing) would need to accept these to avoid endangering the future of the Club.

But the Club's main concern is to ensure the continued availability of nearby parking for itself and the Penzance Leisure Centre. These facilities, for tournaments and galas, are a magnet for young people from all over Cornwall. It is disappointing to find that this issue has not really been gripped by the Portfolio holder.

Let us hope it is now.

The local councillor, Jim McKenna, says he is on the case.

Carn Brea Leisure Centre - the Council weave a tangled web

On 27th November 2013, when deciding to renegotiate with the Leisure Trust at Carn Brea to allow the sale of the running track and the use of most of the proceeds to refurbish the Leisure Centre, the Cabinet said:


'At present, the Leisure Centre faces an uncertain future, with rising maintenance costs and limited financial resources. If this situation continues, [Carn Brea Leisure Trust] has stated that the future operation of the Leisure Centre (and running track) could be at risk.'

The Council's deal to sell the running track cratered recently when Asda pulled out. But in briefing the Finance and Resources Portfolio Advisory Committee on the abortive deal yesterday, Alex Folkes, Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources, was at pains to say that there was no threat to the Leisure Centre.

So does he know better than the Trust which runs the Centre (although he never said so at Cabinet last November). Or, more likely, is he just tangled up in his own spin?

As part of its Budget proposals, the Cabinet no longer wishes to fund Leisure Centres that it is currently responsible for, never mind help those such as Carn Brea,which it does not.

Would honesty about the future of the Leisure Centre not be the best policy?



Monday, 29 September 2014

More jobs for the boys?

Spurred on by the Scottish Referendum, many local politicians have thrown themselves into a frenzy of campaigning for more powers and even a whole new tier of local government.

There are more than 400 councillors in Devon, in contrast to 123 in Cornwall, but many are, quite rightly, questioning the cost of democracy. The last thing Cornwall needs is another reorganisation of local government.

The most important attribute of (local) politicians should be competence. If we think there are particular new powers we need in Cornwall then let's ask for them. But let's us not create new tiers of Government.

This year has seen the Council campaign for more power over health spending in Cornwall, while at the same time running up an overrun of millions of pounds on spending on adult social care due to what they admit was poor management.

 The best way of making the case for new powers in Cornwall, locally and nationally, is competently using those powers we already have.   Would creating another layer of expensive politicians improve that?

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Leisure Funding - Carn Brea

Last week, with the Scottish referendum debate raging, the Council announced that Asda had pulled out of the deal to buy the site of the running track at Carn Brea.
Personally, I hate the idea of the running track no longer being available as a fully public facility. However, last November the Council announced that they were entering into the Asda deal to provide funds to refurbish the centre, whose future was vulnerable.
Since then, as a result of forced sudden closures of other leisure centres in East Cornwall, following an incident at Lux Park when ducting dropped into the pool, there was a review conducted of all leisure centres in Cornwall. It found that there were £18m worth of maintenance works needed. Only £4m has been budgetted for, which was carried out to avoid any centres being closed immediately.
Since then the Cabinet has also announced its draft budget which withdraws all funding from leisure services.
But the spin last week was that there was no need to worry. That does not appear frank or transparent.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Devolution doesn't guarantee better

Next week the LibDem/Indie Cabinet at Cornwall Council will put their agreed 'Strategy' for 2014-2018 to Full Council for approval.

Part of the Strategy is that the Council ask the Government for more powers for Cornwall to manage ourselves.  This is clearly very attractive but it is important for the Council to consider how far it is taking the devolution agenda.

It is absolutely key to make Cornwall as attractive as possible for inward investment and to encourage the creation of more well paid jobs here.

There is a risk that some aspects of the devolution agenda may put off new businesses establishing here. The Scotland experience suggests that it would be wise to be cautious. Additional tax raising powers may give cause for concern.

To take just one example, the Cabinet recently wrote to the Government to campaign for no cap at all on the rate of council tax that may be levied here. The administration do want not to have to put excess rises in council tax to a referendum vote, as they are currently obliged to do by national legislation.
This would certainly take the pressure off the Council to be efficient and well run. From 2002 until 2009, when the unitary authority commenced with a Conservative/ Independent coalition, the average rise in council tax was generally between 5 and 8% each year.

As the current administration are campaigning against local referendums, their brand of devolution seems to be about devolution to the Council, not devolution to Cornwall.


Friday, 5 September 2014

The truth about the budget proposals on parking

Cabinet member, Alex Folkes wants me to clarify the Cabinet's position on parking charges (see my blog of 3 September) I am happy to do so, although I am surprised he would not rather do this himself.

The Budget book (page 83) says that the Cabinet proposes to increase income by charging £500,000 per annum for staff to park at certain buildings. Page 83 does not say when this will come in but Alex says it will not be for 3 years. This is because, while cutting services, the current administration decided to guarantee to pay all pay rises for staff who are not made redundant (and to guarantee their terms and conditions) for the next three years. In exchange staff gave up their right to be considered for a bonus in that period.

Also, Alex believes that it will or should be possible to raise a further £2.9m from car parking without increasing charges by RPI plus 1% per year (page 49 of Budget Book). He does not say how he will do this. Trials over the last year to reduce parking charges without losing money (never mind making more money) have so far resulted in an estimated overall loss to the Council of about £20,000 (plus set up and administration costs of of £86,000). So the Cabinet has set itself a difficult task.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Results of Residents' Parking Survey in Hendra and Kenwyn

In July I spent about 4 days or so carrying out a door to door survey of views on whether there was support for a residents' parking scheme (similar to those recently introduced in Redannick) in Hendra and/or Kenwyn.

Some residents expressed concern that this was a stealth tax by the Council.  In fact, due to the cost of planning, consulting, implementing, administering and enforcing, the Council would rather 'keep its head down' and do nothing at all. However, due to pressure from residents including those voiced at a recent public meeting held at County Hall in February, it was agreed that I would consult residents for their views. But, even if in favour, the Council did not promise to take any action.  I paid for the production costs of the leaflet. I mention this to reinforce the point that the Council are not pushing this scheme.

I delivered just over 800 surveys. Nearly a quarter of residents replied.  Views were very mixed. To protect everybody's privacy I obviously cannot publish the results road by road. However, my conclusion is that there is support for a scheme in Carylon Road and probably in the area around Trehaverne Terrace. There is also quite a lot of support in Stokes Road.  There is some support in other roads but most residents in other roads were against or did not respond.

This is an important issue which is blighting many people's lives. I am afraid that a number of announcements made by the Council this week are likely to make the commuter parking issue worse. These are the proposals announced on Monday:

1. to raise council parking charges by the rate of inflation plus 1% in each of the next 4 years;
2. to introduce charges for on street parking (to raise a further £1m per year); and
3. to introduce charges for Council staff parking in certain locations (which have not yet been announced).

My next step is to discuss the results with officers and see whether a scheme could be introduced in the limited area where it is likely to be supported. This would only happen after a formal consultation.




Thursday, 7 August 2014

Chacewater have a right to be heard

Chacewater Parish Council are not alone in feeling that the administration of Cornwall Council has not made the good working connections with local councils as it would like to claim.
The manner of the complaint by councillors at Chacewater may have annoyed the leader but that does not detract from the genuine sense of disconnection with an authority seen increasingly as remote and manipulative.
Denying that problems exist will only deepen the divide between the current administration at County Hall and the towns and parishes. Cllr Pollard would also be better served by having a letter writer who avoids spin.  Cllr Pollard should be above that.
For instance, the staff reduction from 22,000 to 12,000 is totally irrelevant because it largely relates to schools staff, who are no longer employed by the Council because their schools have become academies. Talking about remaining staff being 6,100 excluding schools is not accurate either as a large contingent of Council staff now work for subsidiaries such as Cormac and Cornwall Housing.
Members of Cornwall Council from all sides admit that there are too many  "closed session" meetings and too many meetings where there is little or no substance to the agenda.
Planning is an important function of the Council and here again it is clear that Chacewater represents the views of many across Cornwall that the Council does not listen sufficiently to the views of local people.
With the budget challenges that Cornwall Council faces, one of the current administration's current objectives has to be working in a spirit of trust and cooperation with the many parish and town councillors across Cornwall who give their service to their communities as volunteers.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Wading through Treacle

As a lawyer, I am used to sitting in meetings. But in the private sector it does not make sense to sit about in meetings while everybody's costs run up.

There are simple rules. Only turn up for the part of the meeting that you are needed. Have joint meetings rather than go over the same ground over and over again. Use video conferencing. Have well thought out agendas...

I had one (building society) client that went through a period of having internal meetings with everybody standing up, to ensure that meetings were short and to the point . A bit extreme but Cornwall Council are way down the other end of the spectrum.

For example, the Chief Executive (on £165,000 per annum) was tasked by the administration to tour Cornwall to meet members locally to discuss the Council's Strategy. Then we all came in to hear what everybody else thought. Then we had ten meetings for different groups of councillors to ask for the information they would need to consider the Council's draft budget. Then we had nine meetings (fronted by the Chief Executive) so that different groups of councillors could hear the emerging strategy and give comments. Then there were nine focus groups to consider whether we needed to change the way in which the Council was governed. There will be ten meetings in September to consider the actual draft budget....

Recently, the administration at County Hall has been very miffed to be publicly criticised by Chacewater Parish Council. My own experience of town and parish councils is that their meetings tend to be workmanlike. Maybe the current administration could learn something from them?

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Pink Soup: the Council struggle to keep the lid on bad news



I have lost count of how many meetings I have attended in which I have been told that £196m has to be saved and services will need to be cut drastically, perhaps up to 50 per cent if adult social care is to be protected. And the Council have money for nothing (well apart from new offices).

So, I was surprised that they thought it was appropriate to keep secret a paper written by officers as to what the library service might look like after the cuts. I would suggest that this would have been of considerable public interest particularly in the light of the (now concluded) discussions on the future of the mobile library service.

In the same meeting they discussed the Cormac Business Plan, which they had said would be confidential but did not actually appear on pink papers to indicate that was so.

They also tabled the draft Leisure Survey, which was not mentioned as confidential at all. I am not now clear what I can say about this but it certainly was not talking about opening any leisure facilities. Is it less 'sensitive' because children do not have votes?




Musical Offices: when the music stops ....

The Council recently announced that they have been able to guarantee the future of the old North Cornwall offices at Wadebridge. These are to meet the 'strong service need' of Cormac for a 'professional headquarters'.

The other services vacating the Wadebridge offices are going to help fill up the new £15m office building in Bodmin. The LibDem/Indie administration supported the spend on that office on the basis that it would bring jobs to North Cornwall.  If now appears that these jobs may simply be transferred from elsewhere in Cornwall including from Truro.

The Council feel able to guarantee the future of offices but I wonder if anyone has heard them guarantee the future of (any) public services.
________________________________________________________________________
STOP PRESS

The copy above was submitted on Monday to this Week's West Briton. As of yesterday there is an exception to this. The Council has now guaranteed the future of one out of four of the mobile library vans. It will mean the preservation of 172 out of 665 of the stops but on a less frequent basis. The guarantee is subject to the important caveat that any remaining stop which does not have at least 3 regular customers can be cut at a later stage.

When I took issue with the Council's proposal to budget £25,000 a year for (an old) mobile library van, they promised it would be a new one. They have not taken forward my suggestion of using volunteer drivers, which was made to save money to help preserve the budget for the rest of the library service, which is under threat.

I have managed to secure a guarantee of holiday/sick cover for the remaining van so that residents are not left at the side of the road waiting for a van that may never turn up.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Open Space Strategy for Truro and other large towns

As the local member for Truro Trehaverne  I make no apology for considering the draft "Open Space" strategy  from a Truro point of view.   This strategy document is due for sign off by Cabinet tomorrow (today 30th July).

The bottom line is that I am very unhappy with it.

It seeks to count in Truro's open space land which is not in practice freely available as public open space, such as land owned by Truro School.  However, approving a strategy that relies on public access to private land is not practical and consequently not fit for purpose.

The Strategy also takes account of the playing fields at Richard  Lander School. We need to know that this will work in practice. My experience is that public use is almost non existent, apparently due to the fact that the school was funded by PFI.

When Penair became an academy the community lost the use of the Community Room next to the AstroTurf, which has become offices for PE staff. This argument is still going on.

Further, any strategy for getting contributions from developers for open space must take land except on small sites or in extremis a cash sum which will buy the necessary open space nearby. Cash contributions (calculated I think by reference to the average cost of land in Cornwall) as planning officers are recommending on a 70 -acre site for Asda and houses at Willow Green on the west side of Truro, is simply not acceptable.

I also note that the council thinks that Cornwall is cheap when compared to other authorities for the provision of open space facilities.  Really?











Developers put in planning application for open space in Carrine Road

This piece of land was allocated for open space and should remain as such. But a developer wants to put a house on it.
Last July Cornwall Council gave pre-application planning advice that they did NOT consider that the land was suitable for development and that it should remain as open space.

I am afraid that the developer has not given up. Recently some lovely trees were chopped down. I guess that this was done to try to indicate that it would be easy just to slot in another house here.

I have arranged for a tree preservation order to be placed on all the remaining trees. We should do all we can to hold onto this important patch of green.

STOP PRESS

An application for a house on this space has now come in. If you want to object you may do so by the on line Planning Register (reference PA14/06544)  on www.cornwall.gov.uk or Attention Laura Potts, Planning Officer c/o County Hall, Treyew Road, Truro TR1 3AY






Monday, 28 July 2014

Support for Chacewater Parish Council


Dear Councillors,

Your letter to parish and town councils and the response from the leader of Cornwall council raise some profound issues which I think will resonate with many people.

1. You are, of course, perfectly at liberty to take soundings from your fellow Parish Councils on your views and this is a sensible approach.  I see no reason for a divide and rule strategy so that you are only at liberty to speak to Cornwall Council directly or through your own Cornwall Councillor.

2. I think that Cornwall Council would be trusted more if it was more careful with the numbers it uses.  Trust between us all is very important, particularly to Cornwall Council, which is heavily reliant on your role as the real volunteers.   I am sure Cllr Pollard knows this, as he has been a town councillor for many years.

3.  A little bit of clarity

- the reduction from 22,000 to 12,000 is totally irrelevant because it largely relates to schools staff who are no longer employed by the Council because their schools have become academies. No efficiencies by the Council there.

  - 6,100 is also pretty irrelevant because many staff have been transferred to separate companies which are largely still owned or paid for by the Council.  For example, Cornwall Housing and Cormac are separate companies but they are still part of the Council.

 - I would say that, as of last year, the head count had reduced by about 1000 (as against a total number of employees excluding schools staff of about 10,000).  The Council should publish the real numbers.

 - If you compare the net cumulative budget of the seven predecessor councils in their final year with the budget for this year of Cornwall Council it has reduced from £549.945m to £505.005m.  So about 8 per cent in cash terms.  Of course, in the meantime there has been inflation and other pressures.  But not many people in Cornwall have been able to increase their expenditure by the rate of inflation through the recession.

 - It is surely right for the Council to tighten its belt when council tax is one of the largest bills for working families.

 - Cornwall Council often complains that it is unfairly funded by central Government. I think there are issues here that deserve closer examination but the Council uses figures for rural councils as a group compared to urban councils.  If you look at Cornwall's own funding we are almost in the middle when compared with all other unitary councils, urban or rural.

- I think Cornwall Council have reduced their spend on interim staff but some of that is undoubtedly due to the completion of large projects.  It is difficult to unpick this as some of these staff will have become permanent staff and others have just reached the end of the project they were working on (like the BT deal or the new accounts system).  On the other hand the spend on adult social care has ballooned by £7m due to poor management.

  - Bear in mind that Cornwall Council are building themselves new offices for £15m (allegedly to save money but with no published business plan) and preserving others so that Cormac can have a “professional HQ” .

- on planning, I have stood up for the west side of Truro.  I remain extremely concerned about the western approach to Truro and traffic in Highertown.  I do believe that members took their eye off the ball because of the promise of a stadium, which has not materialised and the former CEO was in the thick of that, as he made clear at the time.

- it is also clearly wrong to try and suggest that a planning application for 1500 dwellings and a supermarket should be counted as one application on a par with one application for a small extension to a domestic dwelling.  That is a gross distortion of statistics and does not represent a true and accurate picture.

 I hope that my own views do in some manner reflect and support your own.  You are saying no more than I have heard elsewhere throughout Cornwall  and you reflect a deep concern that the gap between Cornwall Council and town and parish councils is, in general, getting wider not narrower.
Fiona Ferguson
Cornwall Councillor Truro Trehaverne
Letter to Adam Paynter, Portfolio Holder for Partnerships (including the library service)

I understand that you will be recommending that the Cabinet retain one out of four of Cornwall's mobile library vans and that the number of stops being served will reduce from 665 to 172 (950 out of 2500 users will lose the stop in their village). I am sure that this will be extremely good news for those whose stops are saved, even if the service is to reduce from fortnightly to monthly or monthly to every second month.

This is all the more welcome against the backdrop of the Council's advertised requirement to save a further 30 or, indeed, 40 per cent from its total Library budget. How that saving is to be achieved has not yet been identified but I imagine you must have a viable plan.

You identify the cost of the driver and the van (excluding fuel, books and general overheads) as approximately £50,000, which includes about £25,000 for the van.  As many authorities are having to reduce or end their service and many of these vans are nearly 9? years old I am sure that it is a good plan to try to get a better deal on the van!

I think it would be worthwhile giving consideration to a volunteer driver too. This would make the service more affordable and it is hard to see that you will be able to save money on the remainder of the library service without the use of volunteers. It would also, perhaps, avoid an invidious process of deciding which drivers are to be retained for your new reduced service. Personally, I would find work as a volunteer driver rather more rewarding than endless meetings on how as a Council we are going to be ambitious, self confident etc etc

However, most importantly, I am concerned that if you do adopt this option you give members your assurance that cover will be provided for holidays and sickness. In particular, letting customers know by text message or e mail of days when the van will not show up seems to me to be wholly inadequate. This is particularly the case where the vast majority of users are over sixty and many a great deal older than that. Otherwise the service may die by another 172 cuts as customers lose confidence in waiting at the side of the road for a van which does not show up and the Council then take the opportunity to cut that stop because it is not used on average by at least 3 people (your new minimum usage criteria). That would look like an exercise in cynical tokenism.

Fiona Ferguson

Mobile library ... running on empty?



Having listened to the considerable concerns raised by the public, on Wednesday the Cabinet will consider a new option: scrap (only) three mobile library vans leaving the one remaining van to serve the whole of Cornwall plus a small budget for creating and running micro libraries in rural communities.

The sight of the van would be a rare occasion. The service would reduce to once a month or once every two months.

The number of mobile library stops would be slashed by two thirds.

The stops to be retained would be those most frequented , whether or not they are serving the most vulnerable, and 950 people would have the service cut to their village altogether.

But the worst aspect is that there will be no guaranteed cover for holidays and sickness. So you could be standing at the side of the road and the van might not turn up.

This looks like an exercise in tokenism. We were told that the Council had no money to continue to run these vans., although it always appears to have money for its pet projects. Amazingly each van costs £25,000 and the same for the driver (plus books, fuel and overhead). Surely, nine year old vans need not be so expensive?

Anyway, the Council has changed its mind and the portfolio holder believes that he can now guarantee the future of one van. In that case, to make the service remotely acceptable, it seems to me that holiday/sickness cover should be provided.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Library papers - removed

I have been asked by the council to remove my previous post about the future of the library service as they consider the paper to be "sensitive" and hence confidential.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Election result: Mabe

The Conservative Group are delighted to win back the Mabe, Perranaworthal  and St Gluvias Division from UKIP.
It was the narrowest of victories over Lib Dem candidate, John Ault by one vote.   Mr Ault, a lecturer in politics and a former County Councillor in SE Cornwall is apparently a writer of a treatise on getting elected.
The new Conservative councillor is a local businessman, Peter Williams who was formerly a tin miner at South Crofty and a volunteer lifeguard for many years.
Whilst  I am sure he will be an excellent local champion I  also look forward to working with Peter as he is keen to use his business experience for Cornwall Council.   It is important to invest to create jobs and protect services. It should not be 'all about cuts'.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Follow up on questions raised at Dudman meeting

   Overall, please note that officers have not yet reached a view on whether or not they would recommend this application for approval. Subject to this:

1.    Allotments

      If allotments were to be provided then they would be made available to interested persons via a waiting list.  This is an outline application and there are no details on how many car parking spaces would be available for allotment holders. This would be addressed at reserved matter stage.

2.    Sewage

     If permission were to be granted it would need to be subject of similar restriction to that imposed on the Langarth application. i.e:      No phase of development permitted to commence until a scheme for the disposal of sewage and foul drainage for that phase has been approved, and no phase of the development to be occupied or otherwise brought into use until improvement works to the public sewerage system downstream of the site, as necessary to accommodate sewage to be discharged from that phase of the development, have been completed.

3.     Primary School

     The Lowen Bre (Persimmon) site remains an option open to the Council for the provision of a new school.  However, it is just the land that has been made available. Since other proposed developments include land and money for providing a new school, if those developments are built out then it may be unlikely that a school will be provided at Lowen Bre.  

4.   The lack of hospital capacity is not a grounds for refusal.

5.    Taylor Wimpey has altered their plan for the adjacent site although the changes are minor.  A full application has been submitted for the whole scheme under the "free go" rules, but the differences between the approved scheme and that now proposed are not considered to be significant.  

6.   The Southern Relief Road is identified in the Truro Transport Strategy (TTS) and the proposed development at Dudman Farm would compromise this part of the Strategy.  Whilst this is not desirable the TTS is not a statutory planning document and as such it carries only limited weight.  


Sunday, 13 July 2014

Commuter Parking: no easy answers

I have just spent several days canvassing on whether residents of Hendra and Kenwyn would support a residents' permit scheme. With help from Council officers we at least will get a better picture of residents' views when the surveys are returned.

On the doorstep, as I expected, views were very mixed.  Some people are delighted with the thought that there might be the prospect of solving the issue of being under seige in their own homes for £25 per year.

Others are horrified by the prospect of having their lives subject to more regulation and more expense.  And just to reassure those who are opposed to more expense I should add that I have personally paid for the paperwork to gain residents views and I will not claim it back from the council.

After the summer I will report back on the outcome of the survey. As I said on the doorstop, despite remarks made on Twitter by the Cabinet Member for Finance, it is not at all clear that anything will be done, even if there is public support.







Sunday, 6 July 2014

Down in the Dumps over Dudman


Thank you to everybody who managed to get to the meeting on Friday night.  There were about 130 of us by the time we started.

Comments on the application should be made on line (www.cornwall.gov.uk and then look for Environment and Planning and then On Line Planning Register). Or if you prefer in writing.  I am happy if you send/leave them for me at County Hall and I will pass them on. The application number is PA14/04970.

The Dudman Farm development would be 380 more homes on a greenfield site.

Concerns were expressed on a number of issues (more on that in a later blog) but the overriding issue is the affect on traffic on A390, which is already in a dire state. The Council have not not yet looked at the traffic implications of this using their traffic modelling programme.

Hilarity broke out when I mentioned that the Council calculated that the journey time from Chiverton Cross to Arch Hill (head of Falmouth Road) took 10 minutes at 8.30am in 2012 but was expected to rise to 24 minutes in 2031 (after all the developments in the Threemilestone Development Brief were completed). People found the 2012 'base case' hard to believe.

A crucial point is that the Council have a ransom strip at the back of the Old Richard Lander School which would be the main access to the development so they do have some say on what happens here beyond their role in the planning process.

In the rain on Friday lunchtime a group of residents from Penwerris Road, highways officers and I looked at progress on the bus gate proposal at the head of Treliske Lane. This is a proposal to save the trees between A390 and Penwerris Road.

It would involve:-

- the creation of two lanes coming out of Treliske Lane and new traffic lights to allow traffic to come out turning left and right (I think we have now managed to achieve in contrast to the original proposal which forced traffic to turn left only). We would lose about 9 trees on the corner of Treliske Lane to accommodate the two exit lanes and the buses.

- we said we wanted the footpath moved away from the A390 at this point because the buses are close and at a higher road level.

- there was discussion about reinstating Penwerris Road so that it is complete but it cannot be accessed from Treliske Lane to accommodate safe egress from residents' drives

- the junction at the head of Newbridge Lane will become traffic lighted with no roundabout but a through outside Lane for buses. If you feel you may have been here before you would be right!

- we would lose the pedestrian crossing outside the shop through lack of space. We have asked the Council to look at this again.

- landscaping is very important for residents in Penwerris Road.

- buses will stop in the carriage way and not in bus lay-bys. The new thinking is that this prevents buses becoming trapped in their lay-bys but it will hold up traffic.

- there will be a traffic lighted junction into the new Taylor Wimpey development

- the path to the bus stop opposite old Richard Lander School will be improved in gradient and we have asked for a hand rail.

- if there is no pedestrian crossing opposite the shop there may be a case for only one bus stop and that would be near the junction into Taylor Wimpey site.

All this sounds fairly horrendous and hard for a non traffic engineer to work out whether it will work with traffic lights liberally sprinkled as if it were Christmas. But the tree loss is reduced- subject to final sign off from the tree officer.

The Department of Transport spanner in the works, which has cast doubt on the Newbridge Parking Scheme looks a bit closer to resolution. We cannot introduce the scheme until we know that the short term bays are enforceable . Residents' forbearance is appreciated.

Please keep an eye on my blog for updates on the queries I need to get answered.

Thank you one and all, especially Rowley Surridge, for opening up and making the church hall available and to Cllr Chris Wells for chairing. And to those who kindly helped with the delivery of the leaflets.

Any further queries please let me know.

Fiona Ferguson
07731 548 139
County Hall
Treyew Road
TR1 3AY
Twitter@
Fionaferguson13


Thursday, 26 June 2014

Cormac accounts darker than Tarmac?


In April the Partnership Portfolio Advisory Committee looked at the business plans of all the Council's subsidiaries. The material presented for Cormac was just about sufficient for members to understand that Cormac was mainly to do with roads.

Cormac do a lot of good work and take a long term view. We all know that some of their work during the winter was excellent. But we do use taxpayers money to pay them and councillors should hold them to account.

I asked for a proper business plan (after all the relevant year had already started). I have continued to ask, including at the recent Scrutiny Management Committee on 29th May. There, in response to a question I raised about developers feeling they were overcharged by Cormac, I was told that it was only one developer who was being difficult. But then I was told that there was to be a workshop for developers on this very subject on 23rd June.

If it is just one contractor being "difficult" why the cost of a conference?

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Cornwall turns away Government money for 'spare bedroom tax'

As I anticipated, the Council's approach to the abolition of the spare room subsidy has got nowhere.

The Government pointed out that the discretionary housing benefit allocated to Cornwall to help protect the vulnerable was actually underspent by £230,000. 86 councils applied for even more money and 85 of them got it.

The Council also made no bid for funds to build suitable smaller size social housing under the Government's £3.2 billion homes programme.

This is one ocassion where the Council should have spent less time campaigning and more time making the best use of the resources that were available.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

All Change at the Change Team

The Council recently advertised for a 'change manager' at around £40,000 a year.

At the last Council meeting my colleague, Cllr Stoneman, asked how many members of staff were in the Council's Change Management Team. He was told four 'permanent' staff.

So I was surprised to find that the budget for this team is £1.2 million a year. It turns out that there are also 20 temporary members of staff.

So the answer to Cllr Stoneman was a bit less transparent than one might have been expected.

Another depressing morning ....

I attended a meeting this morning of the Reputation and Performance Portfolio Advisory Committee.

Depressing.

On the one hand the Council tells everybody that will listen that there are massive savings to be made and the sooner they are made the less severe they will be. However, if true, its process of dealing with that challenge is incredibly ponderous and will cost Cornwall dear.

So far members have had the opportunity of participating in one of nine pre meetings on the Council's Strategy. Then we all came in to hear the results of all that. Now we are having ten meetings to give us the opportunity of asking for more information on different aspects of the budget for different service areas and so it goes on......

I wonder whether the Council's reputation will be enhanced by this process.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Jobs for the boys?

Cllr Mike Eathorne Gibbons was elected to the council as a Conservative and promptly joined the administration as an independent. He has been duly rewarded by his new LibDem/Independent masters.

Block voting by his new friends ensured that he was appointed to the Health Scrutiny Committee and immediately elected to the chair by prearranged block voting.

His appointment follows the sudden departure of portfolio holder Cllr Judith Haycock just prior to the announcement of the massive overspend of £11.6m and the subsequent reshuffle. The vastly more experienced Scrutiny Chair and Health professional Sue Nicholas lost out to political back scratching.

Whatever the politics I certainly wish him well in this very important post.

This week I was beaten by a similar block vote of the administration for Lib Dem, Rob Rotchell, to chair the Finance Portfolio Advisory Committee which advises Alex Folkes.

I was not at all surprised to see Cllr Folkes go for the comfy option of a fellow Lib Dem from North Cornwall. I was, however, astonished to find that Cllr Rotchell had been a member of the committee for a whole year. I have never heard him speak until today so we will have to wait and see if he is ready to offer critical challenge to Cllr Folkes or not.

Another day, another survey

Cornwall Council wants to know what you think ( it is writing to a random sample of 3000 Cornish households to ask them).

But:

1. Will it be credible for the Council to make decisions based on those who respond out of 3000?  (Last time this was done in 2009 the Council wrote to about 18,000 households).

2. As the questions do not strictly conform to the Local Government Association criteria, will the Council be able to compare its performance to those of other authorities. When it was surveyed in the last year of the old County Council its results for residents' satisfaction, value for money etc were poor by comparison.

3. Many questions seem a little bit pointless. If 1,000 respondents say one of their priorities is shopping facilities is that a mandate to give permission for more out of town shopping centres?

4. This may 'only' cost £8,000 to the external company (Marketing Means) but there will be many hours of work for Council officers in assessing the results, disseminating them to members, arranging reputation workshops for members for members to consider them. These costs are just as real as the amount paid to Marketing Means.


5. Will we learn anything that we do not already know only too well?

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Taking care of the money?

Can Cllr Folkes, Cabinet member for Finance, Resources and Communications, really expect the public to trust what he says about saving money unless he is transparent about the details?

He claims 'our aim is to try to save as much as possible from back office work' but his preferred option for a big new office in Bodmin was criticised by the Council's Chief Financial Officer as not being the best financial option.

His preferred option was estimated to result in lost savings to the Council of about £700,000 per annum. To put this in context, the plan to scrap the mobile library vans is designed to save only about £150,000 per annum.

Further, his plans to build a Council office in Bodmin do not reflect the proper debt costs. Can anyone afford to buy a house without counting the cost of the mortgage?

As we all know the Council has a massive overall debt of hundreds of millions. But the Council is using receipts from sales of its assets to build new Council offices while that debt remains unpaid and indeed may grow. If the Council thinks that is a good plan why not be transparent about it?

I am pleased to hear that Cllr Folkes has changed his mind and now thinks that the money spent by the last Council on offices in Truro and Camborne to make them work for hot desking was a good plan. I hope he will also tell Dan Rogerson MP, who wrote to his consitutents saying it was a waste.
I note that Cllr Folkes does not comment on the ballooning overspend on adult social care due to poor management, on which he was recently taken to task by the Audit Committee.

Lack of transparency makes it hard to track the spend on consultants and agency staff. The big project of sorting out the Council's systems, so that all costs can be properly tracked and managed, has been completed and the BT deal is in place. Last week the portfolio holder said that one aspect of the BT deal had already saved the Council £8m.

The Council are now busy cancelling projects (such as £10m rebuild of C block at Helston School) so they certainly should not need many consultants.

If you are one of the lucky 3000 residents to receive the Council's survey you can tell them exactly what you think. However, if Cllr Folkes sails on despite the advice of the Chief Financial Officer what chance is there he will take note of others' views?

Monday, 2 June 2014

Stadium Statement

For the sake of clarity I am happy to restate the  Conservative Group position on a Cornish stadium.

On every occasion when it has been discussed the group have said that they supported a Stadium for Cornwall funded by the private sector.  The position of the group has not changed.   We have previously expressed concern about a shortage of public funds and subsequent events have shown that we were right to do so.