Thursday, 25 July 2013

County council business chairman, Scott Dickinson, said: “We're pleased to be able to work with the Blyth town team to create new opportunities for the town, its businesses and residents.

Flurry of ideas for town centre revival
Former store could play central role
A REDUNDANT department store could be turned into a community- owned shopping centre as part of ambitious plans to regenerate the retail heart of Northumberland’s biggest town.
A new lease of life for the former North Eastern Co-op store in Blyth  which closed last month with the loss of 34 jobs – is one of a number of ideas being discussed to give the town a brighter future.
Initial discussions have been held between the Blyth Town Team and the county council on the possibility of redeveloping the boarded-up Westgate House store, in Waterloo Road, as shops, offices or even an indoor market.
The large building, which overlooks the market square, was closed by its owner, Anglian Co-operative, in June after attempts to sell it as a going concern failed.
Now its future is being examined as part of a package of schemes which the town team is working on, after a decision to continue funding the post of town manager, Malcolm Hutchinson, for another 18 months.
Other projects being discussed to revive local fortunes include:
A membership and loyalty scheme to encourage people to invest and spend in Blyth;
The possibility of covering the town’s market place so that markets can be held in all weathers;
Re-opening empty shops to provide greater retail variety and bring in customers, and running themed events all year to attract more visitors;
Starting a Town Train to take visitors around Blyth attractions such as the beach, Ridley Park, the quayside, the markets and the town centre.
It has also been agreed to launch a free minibus shuttle service, which will run from 10am to 5pm every Friday and Saturday in August, starting on August 2. It will take people around four areas – the town centre,
Ridley Park and its water fountains, the beach and the quayside. Mr Hutchinson, who was appointed a year ago, has set up the town team, a limited company whose directors are local business people. Yesterday he said the free minibus service was one of the team’s first efforts to widen the town’s visitor appeal.

Townteam chairman, Steven Bradley, said the continued funding for Mr Hutchinson’s post was great news.
“We will now be in a position to move forward, as we need a town manager in place to drive forward and deliver the projects, in addition to promoting the town and its benefits at every opportunity.”
County council business chairman, Scott Dickinson, said: “We're pleased to be able to work with the Blyth town team to create new opportunities for the town, its businesses and residents.

“One of the ideas we discussed in our recent meeting was future use for the old Co-op store at Westgate House, and it’s clear there is support for the idea of a community-owned shopping centre there.
“We're looking forward to working with the town team, developing a business case for this idea

But council leader Coun. Grant Davey said this week that the real reason for the hiatus was concern over the way council taxpayers’ money was being distributed.

Labour leader offers pledge on community chest handouts
Published at 07:41, Wednesday, 24 July 2013
SLAMMING the lid of Tynedale’s £100,000 community chest shut had nothing to do with plans to divert cash to the urban south east of Northumberland.

Council leader Grant Davey.
That was the assurance from Northumberland County Council’s Labour hierarchy, as anger at the cash snatch continued to reverberate round the district.
The council’s deputy leader Coun. Dave Ledger stoked the flames of fury when he said last week that the community chest payments had been suspended because of a perceived imbalance in the distribution of grants between the sparsely populated rural areas and the more populous south east.
But council leader Coun. Grant Davey said this week that the real reason for the hiatus was concern over the way council taxpayers’ money was being distributed.
A detailed investigation is now under way into possible legal irregularities with some payments.
The council has brought in experts to look at how the grants have been used on a random sample basis.
Around 10 per cent of the awards are going to be audited, to establish whether some of the awards have been used for purposes other than specified.
“We want to make sure tax payers money isn't being used for the wrong purposes,” said Coun. Davey.
“As part of a wider review of the legacy left by the previous administration, we're looking at the effectiveness of all schemes.
“We think the community chest scheme would benefit from a more tailored approach and as such, we’re looking at the feasibility of ring fencing a dedicated pot for specific capital projects, which will mean more resources, not fewer, for smaller organisations across the county.”
He confirmed investigations were already under way to ascertain whether some groups who applied for community chest money – not in Tynedale – had used the cash in the proper manner.
The council’s joint audit group with North Tyneside Council is being tasked to investigate how the fund has been applied in the past and whether the fund was being used correctly.
Meanwhile, Hexham’s MP Guy Opperman is continuing to demand answers on how the decision to suspend the community chest was seemingly taken by a lone councillor without reference to the council committee which administers the fund.
Mr Opperman said: “What has gone on here is beyond extraordinary.
“That kind of decision making process has no place in a modern council.
“We need a full investigation to find out who was taking the decisions,why they took them, and why they were allowed to."
The MP has written to Coun Davey, demanding answers by the end of the month.
In his letter Mr Opperman says: “What matters now is getting to the bottom of how this decision could be taken in such a shoddy way.
“We need answers and we need them now.”

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Future of bus service up in air

County Councillor Scott Dickson
While the Amble residents can continue to take advantage the Hadston community remains cut off. I have met with Barry Rowland & Ian Coe about this issue who are currently liaising on my behalf with the Chief Executive of Arriva. It is simply not acceptable to cut off our community and I will continue to fight for reinstatement to Hadston Precinct to ensure all members of our community can access a service.

Future of bus service up in air

Published on 22/07/2013 06:00
A temporary bus service which helps prevent residents in a housing estate from being isolated will continue to run until April next year – but could be axed after that.
Since the end of March, the 471 has served the Amble Links Estate three times a day, Mondays to Saturdays.
The bus, which is in to operation thanks to an agreement between Northumberland County Council and Travelsure, is effectively an extension of the 472, allowing passengers to travel to and from Alnwick.
It follows Arriva North East’s decision to withdraw the 20/X20 from the area in February – sparking fears that vulnerable residents would be isolated.
The county council has recently said that the service will continue in the short-term, but the authority may not be able to fund it in the future.
In a letter to Amble Town Council, the county council’s transport support manager, Ian Coe, said: “The county council currently pays a subsidy of £36 per day, Monday to Friday, for the service, which equates to £9,360 per year, less any fares revenue received on the bus.
“We have agreed with Travelsure to continue the service, but not necessarily at the same times, until early April 2014.
“We will continue to monitor the number of passengers using the service.
“Our target for continuing the service beyond April 2014 is for the county council’s net subsidy per passenger to be less than £3.
“If the net county council subsidy per passenger by April 2014 is higher than this, I regret that we cannot continue to subsidise the service.
“A financial contribution from Amble Town Council for the financial year starting April 1, 2014, would assist in securing the long-term future of the service, and will be essential if the county council net subsidy per passenger would otherwise exceed the £3 limit.”
He added that the current timetable can be revised in response to passenger demand, provided that the subsidy cost does not increase.

Labour administration sets out ambitious plans to tackle housing in Northumberland

Council sets out ambitious plans to tackle housing
Northumberland Gazatte
Published on 22/07/2013 06:00
The new county council administration has unveiled its ambitious plans for housing across Northumberland for the next five years.
A draft version for consultation of A Housing Stategy for Northumberland – 2013-2018 has been released.
According to the document, the main aim is to ensure that: “The population of Northumberland has access to a home that is safe, warm and affordable, and that help and support is available to those who are unable to meet their own housing need.”
It also refers to a number of factors that affect the context of housing in Northumberland.
One is that the county’s population of 312,000 is expected to rise to 326,000 by 2035, with the largest increase set to be in the over-65 age group.
There are also increasing numbers of people in housing need, issues of affordability and varying quality standards.
The report states: “The overall house-price-to-earnings ratio in Northumberland is 6:1 and when looking at the lower house prices and lower earnings, it is still 5:1.
“This means that home ownership is beyond the reach of many people, as, to obtain a mortgage, households are required to have a higher level of deposit before they will be accepted by a lender.”
Therefore, the report sets out three priorities for housing to deliver over the next five years, with the first being affordable and quality housing.
There is a backlog of affordable housing and it has been evidenced that 242 new affordable homes are needed for the next 10 years to deal with this.
There are almost 10,000 people on the housing-allocation register with 6,000 of them assessed as having some form of housing need. At the moment, around 1,800 social housing properties are allocated annually, so the need for affordable housing is clear.
The second priority is healthy people, which groups together a range of projects, services and pieces of work to ensure that those who require it receive housing-related support.
Sustainable economies and communities is the final priority, with the county council committed to ensuring the county is a prosperous place for residents and businesses.

New Ashington Leisure Centre will not be handed to private sector

New Ashington Leisure Centre will not be handed to private sector  Northumberland County Council say that Ashington's new leisure centre will not be run by a private sector company.

An artist’s impression of the planned sports centre to be built in Ashington
Journal Newspaper
A flagship £20m leisure and community centre being built in Northumberland will not be handed over to be run by a private sector company, concerned local people have been told.
The new, multi-purpose centre in Ashington is being paid for by the county council, with the project delivery handled by the authority’s arms-length regeneration company, the Arch Group.
Last year fears were voiced by Labour councillors and local residents that it might be handed over as a “sweetener”, amid claims that the then Liberal Democrat administration was considering the privatisation of leisure services across Northumberland.
Almost 100 people signed a petition entitled “It’s not yours to give away”, calling on the council to ensure that the Ashington centre remains in public ownership and is not handed to a for-profit private company. Tomorrow the petition goes before the authority, which is now being run by a minority Labour administration.
Work has started on building the new centre on the site of the former Asda supermarket in Lintonville. It will include a swimming pool, sports hall, gym, cafe and other leisure facilities, as well as a range of council services such as a public library, a contact and advice point and registrar’s office.
A report to tomorrow’s petitions committee by service manager Lynn Turner says the new building will remain in the ownership of the council and in the public domain.
She says: “The facility, once built, will be in the ownership of Northumberland County Council on a 999 year lease of the land from Arch.
“There are no plans for the management of the new facility to be undertaken by a for-profit, commercial private sector company.”
Ms Turner says the building’s leisure facilities will be managed by Active Northumberland, a new charitable trust formed by a joint venture partnership between Blyth Valley Arts and Leisure and North Country Leisure, which already manages leisure facilities in the county. Management of the library, customer services and registration services will be through the council.
Ms Turner adds: “Active Northumberland is a not-for-profit charitable trust, and will work in close partnership with the council to ensure that the new facility, in common with all the council’s other leisure facilities, provides a range of activities and services that are accessible to all sections of the local community.”
The council carried out a review of its leisure management arrangements, which resulted in Active Northumberland being established to run most of the contracts.
Work started two months ago on demolishing the disused Asda store to make way for the centre, expected to open in 2015. It will replace Ashington’s aging leisure centre in Institute Road, which was threatened with closure by the county council two years ago.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Vera Baird PCC visits Northumberland County Council

Vera Baird QC said "It was great to meet Grant and Scott to hear about the ambitious plans Northumberland Council have for communities right across the county.  We discussed partnership working to ensure Northumbria Police continues to address the needs of local residents.

I was impressed by the passion and commitment that Grant and Scott showed in ensuring they speak up for all communities.  It's an exciting time for Northumberland, and I am confident that we will see lots of changes in the county to help improve the quality of life for local people.  I'm with them every step of the way and look forward to working with them in the months and years ahead"

Sixty Council Houses

News Post Leader
Work is under way on dozens of new affordable houses on the site of a former school in Blyth.
Building work has started on the 60 new homes in Tynedale Drive on the site of the old Tynedale Middle School.
The development – due for completion next summer – will feature two, three and four-bedroom houses and will be managed by Homes for Northumberland and constructed by Galliford Try.
They will complement the regeneration of Hodgsons Road estate as part of Northumberland County Council’s new Affordable Homes Programme with both schemes receiving funding from the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA).
Coun Allan Hepple, the council’s policy board member for planning, housing and regeneration, said: “Providing more affordable homes is one of the council’s main priorities.
“These further new houses will go a long way towards meeting the significant need for new homes in south east Northumberland, and reducing the housing waiting list.”
Kevin Lowry, associate director of strategic housing at the council and managing director at Homes for Northumberland, said: “We are thrilled that the work on Tynedale Drive is now underway.
“We hope this build will assist in reviving the community as well as benefiting local families in need of housing.
“We continuously strive to work alongside our partners and the local community to plan and carry out much needed new developments and improvements.”
Tenants with any queries about the project can attend the drop-in sessions which are run by Homes for Northumberland every Tuesday and Thursday from 10am to 3pm at 24 Millfield Gardens in the Hodgsons Road Estate.

Grant Davey Leader of Northumberland County Council said: "Kickstarting the revival of Northumberlands economy through building Council Housing shows that we intend to tackle the problems of our massive social housing waiting list through injecting cash in the right way. Our pledge to spend most of our budget on the front line to tackle the Counties problems will be visibly seen through the changes we are beginning to make."