Liberal Democrats slam Calderdale’s Council decision to move Customer First back into Hebden Bridge library

Local Liberal Democrat Councillor Janet Battye has criticised the decision by Calderdale Council to move Customer First from Hebden Bridge Town Hall back into the town’s library.

“In my opinion, this is wrong for a number of reasons, including that the service will be less confidential there because it will be delivered from the library desk.”

“I’ve met with the Cabinet Member responsible, Labour Todmorden Cllr Steve Sweeney, and the Labour Councillors for Calder Ward, but it’s clear that minds have been made up and local concerns are not going to be listened to.”

“This is the second time that Cllr Sweeney has taken a decision off his own bat without consulting either local people or local Councillors, including his party colleagues. The first example was in changing the day that Todmorden library closes from Thursday to Tuesday. Now he’s decided to move Customer First out of the Town Hall in Hebden Bridge back into the library.”

“He now accepts that he should have consulted but this seems to becoming a habit and makes me question how autocratic he is and whether he has any interest in consulting either ward Councillors or local people. His Directorate will be shortly be running the budget consultation exercise and I wonder how interested he’ll be in that!”

“I’ve also asked a number of times whether Calderdale Council is still actively supportive of the Town Hall as Hebden Bridge’s ‘community hub’, but have only now received verbal confirmation. That is at least as worrying because bringing together services, such as the Police, the Council’s Neighbourhood Services, the Town and Parish Councils, with local community services, the community cafe and all the support work, including Staying Well and Dementia Care that are based in the Town Hall is an important cornerstone of the way forward for services. It makes me wonder what understanding and interest the Labour-run Council has in this whole approach.”

“We’ll be watching carefully to see what happens next. The most important issue is that local people should get a good service when they need it” said Cllr Battye.

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

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.