CIL Seminar & Other Stuff

CIL Seminar

I attended a Member’s Seminar today at Fenland District Council, which covered details of the new Community Infrastructure Levy, or CIL for short, which can replace the old Section 106 funds.  If this sounds bureaucratic and wordy, that’s because it is!  Both are ways that developers who build on land in an area can be asked to put some of their profits towards infrastructure for the local area.  Both handle the matter differently to one another.

I won’t go into the details here – they aren’t exciting unless you are a developer, a Councillor, or a Planning Buff.  Suffice to say the gist of the meeting seemed to be Officers telling Councillors why they didn’t much want to “opt in” to the new CIL method.  Their arguments seemed fairly sound – more bureaucratic, expensive to implement, unlikely to raise much more money.  But I still think it needs some consideration, as there are also areas which are quite interesting.  Namely that a quarter of the funds go directly to Town & Parish Councils.  District Councils don’t seem to get a lot (which probably explains some of the reluctance.)

I don’t personally have a view on where the money might be best spent.  There are great Parish and Town Councils, and ones that are not so great.  Same with District Councils.  But if the new CIL is genuinely so expensive to implement and run, somebody needs to tell Parliament.  New systems should be simpler and easier, in my view.

I will be reading a little more about CIL versus Section 106 before I make my mind up.  Not that I don’t trust the word of Officers, but Councillors aren’t elected to just take things on blind faith.

Other Stuff

  • I heard a rumour that was simultaneously juicy and worrying, which relates directly to local UKIP representation at County Council.  I want to check the details before I write about it, but if it turns out to be accurate then it’s a big deal and people need to know.  More on that soon, if it resolves into anything tangible.
  • Got caught up in the debate about Estover – the large patch of park and open lands in March that has controversially been faced with potential building applications.  It rather seems to me that a few people are using the issue as a vehicle to pursue their own political ambitions and, in some cases, vendettas.  Which is a perfect way to muddy the water and damage a potentially important campaign.
  • Over in Wisbech I have washed my hands of trying to work with a certain Independent Councillor on the issue of local Taxi Drivers.  In my opinion, the man is just too opportunistic and untrustworthy.  We’d come up with a pretty solid plan to resolve some of the issues, but he didn’t bother coming back to me and the only thing I heard from him was a bunch of nonsense about Christmas Lights.  He has announced that he has been talking to Council Officers and has “sorted the problems out and things are moving forwards.”  When pressed for details about when he had done this “sorting out”, with whom and what the details and timescale were – there came no reply.  So your guess, dear reader, is as good as mine.
  • We (those Members of the Wisbech Town Council working on the Christmas Lights Project) hope to have the Christmas Lights Question put to the public next week, with a voting deadline of the following week.  The question will hopefully be a simple one.  We would like to do X, X and X, and it will cost £X which will be paid for from the Town Council’s reserves and then followed by fundraising to try and recoup some or all of the funds over the next couple of years.  People will be able to say “Yes” to that, or “No.”  If they say “No” it won’t mean we will never upgrade the Christmas Lights, only that we’ll have to do it more slowly and raise the money in a different way.  Or ask again some other time.  If they say “yes” then we’ll *try* and do it this year.  If we don’t have time – which is quite possible given the date – then we’ll look to put the new lights in place for next year.  Either way, in the end, the choice is down to those people of Wisbech who bother to respond to the question put to them.  What they say, the majority of them, is what we’ll do.

Arrival

Arrival

I had my first visit to Fenland Hall as a District Councillor today.  I was there for 9AM to meet with Council Leader John Clark for a nice chat, an update on issues and events, and a discussion about what I might be invited to do for the Council.  During the conversation we were joined with Cabinet Member Fred Yeulett.  It was a really pleasant chat, I was made to feel very welcome and they answered all my (too many) questions candidly.

It appears I may be spending some time on the Overview & Scrutiny Committee at some point, which is fine by me.  I’ve done a great deal of O&S work in the past, as well as Chairing a County O&S Committee and participating in several Member Led Reviews based out of Overview & Scrutiny, so it sounds like a great use of my time and skills (such as they are.)

After my meeting I was introduced to Member Services – the very nice and super efficient Officers who handle business relating to Councillors.  I signed my name in the special book, indicating my acceptable to serve as a Councillor, filled in a bunch of other forms, and got my Keycard for getting in and out of the building.

My first “real meetings” begin tomorrow.  Looking forward to it!

Why Worry?

Why Worry?

I was asked why Dave Patrick’s comment in the Wisbech Standard annoyed me so much, when I’ve had significantly worse things said about me and just laughed them off.

To understand that you’d have to know me. I don’t mind a bit of banter, even if it’s got that snide and unpleasant flavour to it that some people use when they want “banter” to annoy rather than amuse.

I don’t mind if somebody says I’m a “bit of a dick.” I probably am, sometimes. I don’t mind if somebody calls me “fat.” I COULD stand to lose a few pounds. I don’t mind if somebody says my idea is a stupid idea – though it’s up to them to prove it with evidence and debate in a fair way, while I should be given the proper right of counter-argument and response.

There are two things which really DO get my goat though. When people attack my family and friends, on the first hand. But more pertinent to Dave Patrick’s comments, when people attack my professionalism and reputation.

Last year, in the run-up to an election, I was unable to make a meeting because I had to look after my Son. I gave the proper apologies in the proper way, the evening before. Dave Patrick went straight to the Wisbech Standard and told them that i’d done it “so that I could take part in a political campaign” and suggested that I had not given proper apologies. As usual, the newspaper ran the story the minute he told it to them, in the usual direct way they have with stories put about but his group. On the doorstep, this issue was raised with me a number of times, so clearly people had read it and believed it. I lost the election by eleven votes.

This year, again in the run-up to an election, Dave Patrick says that the reason I did not hold a consultation on the Christmas Lights Upgrade is because I “didn’t get around to it” again suggesting laziness or incompetence or disinterest. This is part of a line that their group is putting around and is just another complete load of old guff. The consultations was ALWAYS going to be *after* the plans were prepared and once the quote was in. Because HOW can you have a consultation if you don’t know what you are consulting on? I am firmly of the belief that they know all this, but that they simply don’t want to lights to happen for political reasons.

Now I have a great many failings and I would never deny it. But I am NOT lazy and I am NOT incompetent. When I say I will do something, then I keep trying to do it until its done, or I am defeated. I am sure that most people know this – because I can be a pain in the arse when I’m trying to get something done. I do more work on behalf of this town and community in a month than some people have done in their entire political career. Unless you count trying to promote their business interests as “work for the community” anyway.

Christmas Lights Debate

Christmas Lights Debate

The other evening I had a chat with local newspaper Editor John Elworthy and pointed out to him that the Independent Groups claims about the Christmas Lights were all a bunch of nonsense.  He said they were not and he knew this because he had “read my blog” and it provided all the evidence.  I said I was sure this was not the case.  I couldn’t remember every word I had written months ago but I couldn’t imagine I would write something I knew not to be true.  Well, the blog post I wrote back in May can be found here and, as I thought, it is perfectly clear in what it said.  Now it’s fair to say that I didn’t write it in the expectation that a team of determined opposition people would pore over it trying to make it fit their narrative, but simply to give information as I always do.  But even so, his and their argument does not stand up.

My blog post written back in May:

My motion to Wisbech Town Council tonight was unanimously approved.  It took quite a bit of debate to get there and I had to reword the motion several times in order to meet everybody’s approval, but we got there in the end.

The motion was to ring fence £30,000 of the Council’s Reserves for spending on Christmas Lights – hopefully this year if time permits.  However, this would not happen automatically.  A Working Group would be set up from the Festivals Committee, with Councillors and some members of the public welcome to join in.  The Working Group would look at designs and costings over the next few weeks.

In six to eight weeks time the Working Group would look to put up a solid, costed proposal for how £30,000 might be spent and to then hold a public consultation on whether the proposed new lights were worth £30,000 and whether the Public supported this spend.

The Working Group would propose the exact method of this consultation, but it was suggested that the local newspapers would be a good place to start.

If the Public indicated their majority approval of the plan then it was hoped that the lights could be purchased this year and implemented at Christmas 2014.  It must be said that there are many variables at work here and nothing is guaranteed – but that’s certainly our keen aspiration if the public are supportive.

This whole plan would run alongside a continuous public fundraising campaign – with local individuals, groups and businesses encouraged to put money in the pot to help the Christmas Lights Project.  If there was indeed support for the plan, we’d hope to try all sorts of innovative community fundraising ideas.  Monies raised would replace the money spent from the reserves where possible and if enough was raised might even go beyond that.

So let’s examine their claims.  First, they claim that the original idea was to hold a consultation immediately, and before we had a plan and/or a quote.  Well you can see this is not true.

In six to eight weeks time the Working Group would look to put up a solid, costed proposal for how £30,000 might be spent and to then hold a public consultation on whether the proposed new lights were worth £30,000 and whether the Public supported this spend.

As you can see, there is no doubt that the public consultation was ALWAYS set to happen after the proposal had been put together and fully costed.  It says it quite plainly in the passage above (the highlighted underline is my addition for clarity.)  You could not possibly hold a consultation on whether the proposed new lights were worth £30,000 if you did not know what the proposed new lights were, now could you?  Which is why the word THEN is used.

Now it is fair to say that back in May we hoped this would happen in six to eight weeks.  But we could not be aware of how difficult it would be to get suppliers to meet with us, and to supply quotes.  We also did now know how difficult it would prove – over the Summer – to get people to make meetings with the Working Party and with the suppliers while many were on their holidays and the like.  However, we did anticipate that things might not go smoothly, hence the line in my May blog post:

It must be said that there are many variables at work here and nothing is guaranteed – but that’s certainly our keen aspiration if the public are supportive.

We are, none of us, lighting experts, electricians and the like.  So we did our best, and things proved to take a bit longer than we’d hoped.  Perhaps the Opposition Members think it is clever to criticise volunteers trying to put together a plan – but I notice none of them volunteered to help.

The final claim made is that we are trying to “rush through” the plans or “bully the Council” in some way.  The only sliver of truth to this is that I would, personally, like to rush the consultation a little, yes.  Because I’d really like to make this happen for Christmas 2014.  Time is now very short, and there probably isn’t time to do it this year, but I cannot say where the harm is in trying to do so, if the people of Wisbech approve of the idea.   Which, so far, it rather seems the majority do.

What I think the Independent Group really hate is that we’ve listened to the Public, we’ve put together a plan, and it’s proving quite popular.  I believe this is because they have their eye on the elections next year.  If so, I think it’s pretty sad.  We have the chance here to do something great for the Town.  It may be that none of us are still here this time next year – perhaps the Town Council will be dominated by a bunch of crazy racists who want to paint everything red and white and blame all their failings on people who are different to them?   Anything is possible.  Wouldn’t it be nice, if the people of the Town approve, to just do this?  I think it would.  But my opinion doesn’t matter.  Your opinion, dear reader, is the one that matters.

 

Councillor Surgeries, Medworth

Councillor Surgeries, Medworth

As the new District Councillor for Medworth Ward in Wisbech I’d like to make local people aware that I will be holding Monthly councillor surgeries, to allow people to come and see me, raise issues, share ideas, report problems or just have a chat.

My surgeries will be held at The Angel pub at the top of Alexandra Road – in the bottom “lounge” area which is suitable for families.  Coffee, tea and biscuits will be available.  Maybe even some cake! :)

Surgery Dates:
Saturday 25th October: Midday – 2PM
Saturday 22nd November: Midday – 2PM
Saturday 20th December: Midday – 2PM (with Christmas cheer!)
Saturday 24th January: Midday – 2PM
Saturday 21st February: Midday – 2PM
Saturday 21st March: Midday – 2PM

Local residents who need to contact me for help or advice on issues, or to offer ideas and suggestions can do so as follows:-

Telephone: 07831 616127
Email: cllr@stevetierney.org
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/steve.tierney.100
Website: http://www.stevetierney.org
Twitter: stevetierney
Or you can visit me at home at: 6 Alexandra Road, Wisbech, PE13 1HQ – but please let me know when you’d like to do so in order that I can make sure I’m there!

I also intend to put out regular newsletters to let everybody know what’s going on and what I’m doing on their behalf.

Local people from Peckover, who I represent as a Town Councillor until next May, are also absolutely welcome.  The Angel is 200 yards from Peckover and so perfectly situated for both wards.

Thanks for electing me!  Let the work begin!  :)

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Medworth, Hurrah!

Medworth, Hurrah!

Tonight, I won the Medworth By-Election for the District Council Council seat, and my friend and colleague Jessica Oliver won the Town Council seat.

This win happened because a great team of volunteers and local people worked really hard alongside Jessica and I to run a strong and earnest campaign.  Thank you so much, everybody.  We really appreciate it.

This is the same area that UKIP won convincingly in the County Council elections last year.  Which means we have now won three by-elections on the trot, in three of the areas that UKIP won at the County Level.  First, we took Elm & Christchurch in the area won by Gordon Gillick in 2013.  Then we took Roman Bank in the area won by Alan Lay last year.  And now we’ve taken Medworth in the area won by Peter Lagoda last year.  Only Paul Clapp’s Wisbech North remains to complete the set.  That’ll have to wait for 2015.  No more by-elections please, I’m knackered!  :)

UKIP were the clear favourites to win this one and you could see they thought they had it by their cocky attitude when they arrived at the count.  One of them came over and said: “You’ll all be begging to join UKIP soon.”  Pride comes before a fall, huh?

Labour had a tough night, falling into third place, but put up a creditable fight – particularly since their candidate was brand new and had never fought a campaign before.  “I’ll be back,” She said in her speech, and I have no doubt she will.  Like most of her colleagues, she is a nice lady.  I may not agree with much that Labour say, but they are honourable opponents.  I miss them, in a way.  Erbie Murat came last with just a handful of votes.  Which is a shame because I think it would have been poetic for the Liberal Democrat woman to come last.  Her “attack” letter campaign left a bad taste in everybody’s mouth and clearly did her no favours.  Plus, the sheer gall of trying to win a seat in Wisbech when you live in Chatteris….

Medworth is the beating heart of Wisbech, the location of the Town Center, the bus station, the Horsefair Shopping Center, loads of great pubs, both the Luxe and The Light cinemas, the Angles Theatre, large portions of the Industrial Area, the new Tesco site and retail park, Norfolk Street and the Memorial Gardens.  Also the home of more than two thousand decent and friendly Wisbech people.  I am proud and honoured to have been entrusted as their District Councillor and I will work hard to be worthy of the faith they have put in me.

Campaign Diary 10th October, 2014

Campaign Diary 10th October, 2014

I certainly hope we win the by-election next week – I’ve already got a list as long as my arm of issues that local people want me to sort out!  Knocking on doors has raised a diverse bunch of different concerns and new ideas, which is very welcome as it will give me some stuff to get my teeth into if I am lucky enough to get the most votes on Thursday.

Several of the things people have raised are County Council issues.  Streetlights taken away (without consultation), poor management of highways maintenance, in many cases the complete lack of highways maintenance, that sort of thing.  I point out to them that they have four UKIP County Councillors, so all of these problems have a distinct purplish tinge.  No need though, they already know.

I enjoyed canvassing with Steve Barclay MP on Wednesday evening, along with Cllr. Sam Hoy and others.  People are always pleased to see our local MP, whose popularity and support seems to cross party political boundaries with ease.

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It’s a bit blurry, sorry!  Taken by an enthusiastic pedestrian! :)

The campaign remains very upbeat and positive.  The Sun is out again today, so I guess I’d better get back out there… :)

Unlikely Partnerships

Unlikely Partnerships

For those of us traditional Conservatives in Wisbech, it has seemed for some time that the opposition no longer consisted of multiple parties.

The Lib Dems have basically gone extinct, their Councillors crossing the floor to the WhIPs (Wisbech Independent Group, my name for them, not theirs), their activists vanished if they ever existed at all, their paper candidates getting further and further from Town.  We wondered if next year, to fill the ballot papers, we might see Lib Dems from Bristol, or Scotland, or the Dark Side Of The Moon? (Great album, terrible location for a political candidate.)

Labour are still out there and marching valiantly on, a small but tenacious group of unrepentant class warriors who you have to admire for their sheer dogged determination.

UKIP, obviously, did very well last year – though less so since then.  But Wisbech UKIP appears to be three blokes, their partners and the odd ex-Libertarian.  If this is a “People’s Army” then I’m a goldfish.  What’s more, they appear to have become an offshoot of the WhIPS* (Wisbech Independent Group, my name for them, not theirs) taking instructions from She Who Shall Not Be Named.  Certainly, you can’t put a matchstick between them on local policy positions – in the rare instance that they express any policies other than “Oh God Everything Is Awful.”  They sometimes arrive with pre-prepared speeches supporting one another, apparently agreed in secret meetings.  It all looks, from our side of the fence, very cosy indeed.

So, musing (as you do) about the future, I’ve been wondering about Waterlees next year.  A sizeable District Ward in Wisbech which elects two District Councillors and four Town Councillors.  Held presently by a UKIP County Councillor, two WhIP District Councillors, the same two WhIP Town Councillors, and two Conservative Town Councillors.  Next May begins to look very interesting (for a political nerd like me) for a number of reasons.

First, the Bucknors have positioned themselves as the King & Queen of Waterlees (my interpretation, not theirs), trying to control aspects of life there as diverse as how you drive around to what time your fifteen year old kids have to be indoors.  But this was also the location of UKIP’s most resounding win in last year’s County Elections, where they beat the Conservatives and the WhIPS from a standing start.

So how’s it going to work out next May?  Will we see UKIP and the WhIPS cease their mutual backslapping and go to war?  If you look at the electoral numbers, on the books this is UKIP’s most favourable area.  If the look at the demographics – the same applies.  But it’s even more serious for the Bucknors – because if they lose here then they are out of local politics altogether, possibly for years.  Possibly forever.   It gets more complicated when you consider the press.  You can pretty much rely on our favourite newspaper editor to run positive articles about UKIP and the Independents with an election coming up, but having to choose between his two favourite projects?  Decisions, decisions.**

One possibility is that UKIP will “stand aside” for the Bucknors and let them have a free run against the Conservatives.  I can’t imagine they would genuinely be crazy enough to cede the ward in which both the main ‘Kippers live and which was so favourable last May, but She Who Shall Not Be Named is wily and convincing, so it’s not impossible.  She managed to talk the Liberal Democrats into doing the same thing last time (how’s that working out for you Lib Dems, by the way?)  In which case, I reckon there’s a pretty good chance the Conservatives can beat the Bucknors in Waterlees in a straight battle, particularly with the strong local team we’ve put together for that area and the exciting manifesto they are preparing to launch.  But that’s just supposition at this stage and nobody knows what the future holds.

I think it’s going to be a fascinating set of local elections though.  The higher turnout due to it being held on the same day as the General Elections makes a big difference and makes everything much harder to predict.  And I believe there’s a good chance that the fragile bond that has been forged between WhIPs and UKIPs is going to be sorely tested as they begin their campaigns.  They wont be able to just “bash the Conservatives” in the usual way but will have to make a case – against one another.  I may have to stock up on popcorn.

* The Wisbech Independent Party (WhIPs) is my pet name which I use to describe a collection of individuals who I perceive to be led by the Bucknors.  It’s not an official term that they would recognise because while they have formed a party at District Council (helpful for getting more money, but that’s definitely not the reason they did it, oh no) they have not all got together to make an official party in Wisbech.  Yet.
** If pushed to say which I would prefer; UKIP or Bucknors, to win in Waterlees I would obviously say I’d prefer the Conservatives to win.  But if really, really pushed, I’d go with the Bucknors.  Very reluctantly.  I disagree with many of the things they say and do, but they are – at least – competent.

May I Recommend…

May I Recommend…

While I’ve been campaigning in Medworth i’ve often found the need for a nice cuppa’ and a sit down.  Walking for eight hours is easy for some, but if you don’t do it all the time then it’s quite taxing. :)

One of the places I’ve been visiting most regularly is The Orchard: Tea Rooms & Farm Shop.

What a brilliant little place!  Hiding in plain sight on Redmoor Lane (opposite Tamar Computers) this quaint and welcoming business is a hidden gem.  They serve a truly fine cup of tea accompanied by slices of some very very fine cakes.  They also serve light lunches and other refreshments and have a well-stocked farm shop full of locally-grown and deliciously fresh fruit.

Pop along on a bright and breezy afternoon and sit in the parlour or out on the patio and enjoy an uninterrupted view of the beautiful Fenland landscape beyond their apple orchards.  If you want a chat, you’ll find the staff gregarious and friendly.  If you want to just enjoy the peace and the view, that’s fine also.  It’s tranquil, refreshing and good for the soul.

This is the sort of place which is so traditional that you can literally feel the Englishness in it’s sugarlumps.  A delightful place to spend some time and doubly so if you have visitors from some smog-clouded, sirens-blaring city who will feel like maybe, just maybe, the world has stopped for them for a short time.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.