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Twenty is plenty – but is it practical?

At Calderdale Council Cabinet’s meeting on 7th October, Cllr Ashley Evans  welcomed the proposal to consult the public about the introduction of a 20mph speed limit in residential areas across Calderdale but questioned how and whether it would work.

“I’ve been campaigning to reduce the speed of traffic in my ward, especially on Roils Head Road and Moor End Road” he said “but even where a 20mph speed zone has been introduced, the Speed Indicator Device (SID) shows that many people are still doing more than 30mph. Some drivers just ignore the existing speed limits, so just changing the limit is not going to tackle those really dangerous drivers who put lives at risk.”

“I’m firmly of the view that it’s not enough just to say that we’re going to do this as a blanket measure across Calderdale, it’s got to be part of a much bigger campaign, with real enforcement” said Cllr Evans.

What next for Early Years and Children’s centers in Calderdale ?

Calderdale Council’s Labour Cabinet has agreed to commission Children’s Centres on the basis of a report from the “Early Years Commission” but local Liberal Democrats involved in this are expressing a number of serious concerns about this and are likely to ask for a more detailed examination of the proposals and the thinking behind them by the Scrutiny Panel.

 In the Cabinet meeting, Cllr Janet Battye (Leader of the Liberal Democrat group) raised two concerns:

First, the lack of vision, and secondly the lack of clear information about costs and funding.

“These proposals should be based on a Vision to guide the shape of these important services. We had just heard the Cabinet agree a Vision for Adult Social Care services, Early Years service also need a vision but the Lead Member saw this coming next and referred to a future meeting of the working group. We expected this to be the other way round, vision first and then the practical application following on.

“We are very supportive of Children’s Centres. Professionally I was involved in opening three of them (not in Calderdale) and Liberal Democrat-run Councils have not closed any and we didn’t when we ran Calderdale. They are important in provide universal support services to all families with young children in the area they cover. But their daycare services are only available to a relatively few children and we wanted to see this as a more inclusive service to more children, so we support the targeted fund but there is little information about how this will work.

“But then, equally worrying, there is very little financial information about the funding available for Children’s Centres. The Lead Member referred to the need for commercial confidentiality about this. We do need to satisfy ourselves that we understand how these proposals are being funded and how sustainable this is. We have repeatedly said this in meetings of the Commission but not received enough information about this.

“There needs to be more thought given to these proposals, in our view, before they are put into place.”

A trip around Hebden Bridge on local buses

A trip around Hebden Bridge on local buses: Friday 6 September 2013

Councillor Janet Battye and Michael Smith sat on board a bus smiling

Councillor Janet Smith and Michael Smith on one of Hebden Bridge’s local busses

Given the concerns about how well the service is working and what improvements need to be made, Mike Smith (a member of the local bus action group) and I decided to sample the local bus service around Hebden Bridge on Friday 6 September.

We started with the first B bus of the day which left the railway station at 8,58, Waiting for it to arrive, we saw 4 or 5 different buses move around the terminus at the railway station, demonstrating that this does act as public transport interchange and, indeed, this first bus waited a few more minutes as a train arrived into the station.

We were not the only people doing this sort of survey: ours was just a “dip sample” because I’d worked out a timetable for us so that we could travel on each of the local bus routes. We came across a Metro Official, an Inspector, who has spent the week doing the same thing to properly collect data (which he offered to share with us).

8.58 B bus to Dodd Naze: we were the only ones on it as it went up the hill. A woman got on it from the houses at the front of the estate (the neighbour of an acquaintance of ours) and another woman part-way down Birchcliffe.

All the people we spoke to using the buses during the day spoke positively and enthusiastically about the bus service: they all said that it has improved but there are still occasions when they don’t turn up. We had some positive proposals to improve the service and make it more effective in meeting local people’s needs.

This bus became the 9.17 A bus to Old Town. During the morning, we didn’t pick up any passengers from the railway station (although we did later on the buses from New Road) but this is an important terminus, interchange and turnaround place in Hebden Bridge.

This route was one of the reasons we wanted to conduct this experiment. People queried the route of this bus, describing it going up to Crimsworth to turn round and going through Pecket Well, and we couldn’t picture what they meant. It does go up through Pecket Well, turns into Old Town, goes back through Pecket Well, up the Keighley Road to Crimsworth, back into Old Town and then along to Mount Skip and down through Dodd Naze into Hebden Bridge.

Our first passengers on this journey were picked up in Old Town. One woman uses the bus to get into work in Leeds by linking with the train. This works going out but not coming back because of the timings at the end of the day: a vital link is missing at about 6.30 when there’s a gap in the timings. A younger woman also got on the bus and two older women in Dodd Naze (the bus is something of a lifeline for them). Most passengers got off in the middle of Hebden Bridge.

And then it became the 10.08 E bus to Heptonstall and Blackshawhead. (so we got to know the driver quite well: he was friendly and informative !). We picked up one passenger on New Road (the cook in the cafe in Heptonstall on his way to work). We met a double-decker Halifax bus coming down to Hebden Bridge. Two Parish Councillors got on the bus in Heptonstall specifically to talk with me about the consequences of the work on Lee Wood Road (a sort of mobile surgery !). The bus became quite busy with people coming and going. A father with his two young children were going into Hebden bridge for the morning: they had just got back from holiday, his wife had got back to work (as a Teacher in Burnley) and they were going to see their grandparents. He was interesting because he works for Metro and talked about some of the planning work he’s involved with.

We got off the bus in Hebden Bridge to have a cup of coffee in the Town Hall cafe.

11.25 F bus to Fairfield and Eaves: I could see the little blue minibus parked on the marina waiting to set off. The bus stops on New Road were busy with a double-decker waiting to set off for Heptonstall (we counted 14 people downstairs). The information on the “realtime” display board was confusing: the 11.25 disappeared off the screen just before it came, looking as though it wasn’t going to run. But it did. The minibus had 12 seats (and another friendly driver). Two women went with us up to Fairfield. But on both routes (up New Road, and up into Eaves) even this minibus struggled to get past parked cars. Back into Hebden Bridge, and up to Eaves. The elderly man who travelled down with us regularly travels on this service:he questions the assertion that Eaves Road isn’t suitable for buses because the waste collection lorry manages to get up-and-down. But it was a struggle, including the turning circle because it’s partly blocked by builders vehicles working on a house up there.

What did we learn ? We travelled on all the local buses during the morning – a comment (by email) from a resident of Dodd Naze was that we should conduct the same exercise at the end of the day because there are some continuing problems with buses not turning up then. We’ll try to do that !

Obviously it’s most important that the buses turn up and don’t let local people down. A gap in the timetable was highlighted to us – buses back at the end of the day. The Old Town route doesn’t seem to make sense – does it need to go up to Crimsworth ? Can the Keighley bus pick those people up (and how many of them use the bus ?). Equally there seems to be duplication for Heptonstall between the E route and the Halifax bus.

This was a Friday in early September, after the children have gone back to school. While most of the passengers were older people, there were some younger people using the buses to get around. All spoke positively about the buses and clearly value them.

What next ? We’re putting this account of our trips on our website and passing it to Hebden Bridge Times, the local bus action group and Metro.

At my ward surgery, a member of the local bus Action group and resident of the Nest estate in Mytholmroyd asked if we’d do the same thing there, and Mike is arranging to do that. The particular concerns there are about buses simply not turning up, and parked cars making it difficult for the bus to get through.

We are continuing to encourage people to respond to Metro’s consultation – and to attend the feedback sessions being organised for Tues 24 Sept: 5 to 8pm (presumably in HB Town Hall)

Cllr Janet Battye

Calderdale to scrap Councillor time sheet monitoring.

In a backwards step Calderdale Council has decided to scrap a system put in place to monitor the time Councillors spend on their duties and replace it with a requirement to write a yearly report.

The system of reporting on the hours Councillors have worked was introduced following an increase in Councillors allowances in 2002. Councillors have been required to submit a return every three months that details the time spent on different activities. Members of the public can then view these returns online. 

The Liberal Democrat group on Calderdale Council considered this issue at our group meeting and agreed unanimously to oppose this move. The time sheets were not a perfect system, as sadly some Councillors could not be bothered to complete them, for instance there is at least one Labour Councillor who has never submitted a return since being elected.  The electorate could at least see for themselves that a return hadn’t been completed and draw some conclusions from this fact.

Councillor James Baker said: “We are not opposed to Councillors being requested to write an annual report, but we would have liked to have seen this introduced in addition to the existing arrangements rather than as a replacement to them.”

“This move will be seen as an attempt by Councillors to avoid accountability and transparency in their dealings,  and the public scrutiny these time sheets opened them up to. It is a backwards step for Calderdale Council and risks undermining public trust in our local democracy.”

 

UK manufacturing is driving economic recovery

Commenting on figures showing UK manufacturing growth at a two and half year high, Co-Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party Committee on Business, Innovation and

Skills, Gordon Birtwistle said:

“The Liberal Democrats have helped to create more than a million jobs in the private sector – now we want to help create a million more. Manufacturing is absolutely crucial to that and UK manufacturing growth hitting a two and a half year high is fantastic news. “These figures are welcome but there is a long way to go. For years Labour and Conservative governments let British manufacturing ollapse, the Liberal Democrats are determined to rebuild it in order to drive our economic recovery.

“That’s why we are putting billions of pounds into high-tech manufacturing, science and renewable energy. And it’s why we are massively increasing the number of apprenticeships to make sure employers get the skilled workers they need.”

Extra funding for free early years education

The Government has announced additional funding to provide free early years education to two-year olds across England, bringing the number of families eligible in Calderdale up to a total of 1,400 for 2014 up from from 524 in 2013.

childrens-centre-photo

Across the UK that’s 130,000 two-year olds from the poorest homes will be eligible for 15 hours of free childcare a week with a nursery or childminder.

The Government is investing more than £500 million into childcare this year and £100 million through local authorities to create new places to ensure those children eligible right now can benefit from these places.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said:

“From today, if you’re a parent on a low income with a two year old in the family your child will qualify for 15 hours a week of free early years’ education.

“These funded places are focused on helping the families that need them most.”

Next year the Government will be investing £760m to help an additional 130,000 two-year-olds in families on less than £16,190 a year who receive working tax credits.

Commenting Cllr Pauline Nash said:

“This is a welcome announcement for families in Calderdale as early education helps promote a child’s physical, emotional and social development. This extra funding is one example of how we are trying to build a fairer society in which everyone has a chance to get on in life.

 

Campaign to exempt Mountain Rescue services from VAT

Liberal Democrat member of the European Parliament Chris Davies MEP is campaigning to persuade the Government to make our mountain rescue services exempt from paying VAT.

Screen Shot 2013-08-20 at 06.09.08

Tim Farron MP and Chris Davies MEP

Mountain rescue services provide an invaluable service to many people who find themselves in need on our nearby hills and mountains. In last year’s floods they played a crucial role in the emergency response. At present they have to pay VAT on supplies. Chris Davies is calling on the Government to support the service by taking the small step of exempting the service from VAT.

You can sign the petition here.

Liberal Democrats seek to protect rural refuse collections

Liberal Democrats on Calderdale Council’s Economy and Environment Scrutiny Panel have successfully argued that people living in rural properties should still be able to get their rubbish and recycling collected.

The Council is currently in the process of reviewing its waste collection contract, and one of the options on the table for consideration was whether to force people living in rural properties to take their refuse to a road accessible by a larger vehicle.

Commenting Cllr James Baker (Warley) Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Economy and Environment said: “We hope the new contract can build on the recycling success that Calderdale achieves. We were, however, concerned that many people would struggle to take wheelie bins or refuse sacks great distances down country tracks to roads that a bigger vehicle could access. The proposals would also result on piles of rubbish being left scattered about country lanes whilst they waited for collections, this would be a blight on the landscape.”

The scrutiny panel agreed to recommend that these saving plans are dropped from plans for the new waste collection contract.

Liberal Democrats push to make flood recovery process more transparent

Calderdale Council is to look at making information easily available to local people so they can see what progress has been made on flood protection issues.

Over one year on from the floods and many people are concerned that Calderdale Council has not done enough to ensure we are resistant to future flooding problems. By publishing the recovery plan online in an easy accessible and simple format members of the public would be able to track some of the good work that has already happened and what is planned for the future.

Cllr Janet Battye (Calder), Leader of Calderdale Council Liberal Democrat Group said: “We suggested a simple traffic light system is published on the Council’s website, this would enable people to see where the Council has hit its targets for planned works and where problems have resulted in delays. By making the recovery process more transparent people will be kept better informed, and be better able to hold their Council to account.

The   Economy and Environment scrutiny panel agreed to recommend that the Council investigates implementing such as system.

Lib Dem motion to suspend Mytholmroyd car park fees defeated

Calderdale Liberal Democrats have called for a suspension of plans to introduce car parking fees in Mytholmroyd.  Deputy Group leader of the Liberal Democrats Councillor James Baker put forward a motion on the Economy and Environment Scrutiny panel asking that plans to introduce parking fees are shelved in light of the ongoing difficulties faced by businesses struggling to recover from the floods.

The move follows previous efforts by Luddendenfoot ward Councillor John Beacroft-Mitchell to get the charges suspended due to the exceptional economic circumstances faced by flood hit Mytholmroyd. Unfortunately though the Labour group who run Calderdale Council are seeking to push ahead with the plans. This has sparked outrage from local residents, and businesses who are opposed to the plan.

Commenting Councillor James Baker said

“Mytholmroyd has a set of exceptional circumstances, it has a small row of shops that were severely affected by the floods and a lack of any other free parking spaces. These charges will add to the cost of living for residents  and deter people from using local shops.”

Labour ward Councillor and Conservative Chair oppose the motion

The motion was opposed by Councillor Simon Young the Labour Councillor who is meant to stand up for people in Mytholmroyd, and the Conservative Chair of the committee. This was particularly disappointing following the Conservative’s previously expressed opposition to the parking plans. A motion from the panel would have helped the campaign to drop the charges.

Campaign against charges goes on

The Hebden Bridge Times has reported on the campaign against the charges. Liberal Democrats Councillors Tony Hodgins and Christine Bampton-Smith have been working with Royd regeneration in opposing the plans, and helping to inform local residents about them. They were successful in persuading Hebden Royd Town Council to oppose the plans, and write with their objections to Calderdale Council.

Councillor Tony Hodgins said:

“Royd Regeneration wants the best for the shops and it just seems like this is a backward step.”

Time for  a re-think

Calderdale Council needs to cover the costs of its car parks. However we must acknowledge the exceptional circumstances facing some areas  in Calderdale that have been affected by flooding. Shops in Mytholmroyd are really struggling, and desperately need our support to help build a stronger economy so they can get on in life. In light of  the ongoing flood recovery it’s simply not tenable to proceed with plans to impose car parking fees on these communities.