The Death of Another Post Office

I think every village and town in Cornwall who has a Post Office is, or has been worried about the future of this facility and service. Porthleven went through the same anguish a few years ago when the former postmaster decided to call it a day and leave. Luckily the shop and Post Office found new owners who, I have to say, have worked very hard to achieve a success. They even managed to secure a fee-free cashpoint to use out of Post Office hours.

Sadly, not all Post Offices have followed with the same success. News came to me tonight via e-mail that the Post Office in the Helford will not continue due to the new owners not wishing to continue running a Post Office counter. I have been informed that this Post Office will close around the 14th March 2011. This will be a massive blow to that area, as a Post Office is an important part of the fabric of local life, especially if it is one of the few shops in that area.

Past Governments have not helped the viability of running a Post Office by removing elements that were mainstays of this service. The way we now complete financial functions and the huge changes to how Pensions are collected have also hastened the death of the much loved Post Office.

For small communities like Helford losing something as important as a Post Office, pub or small shop has an even greater impact on day to day life. It weakens other (if any left) facilities, this in turn can change a small settlements very existence and pushes people more and more into the arms of the supermarkets.

We can all do our little bit to save the small shop by using them. If everyone spent a few pounds each week in them, then we just might save a few more before they become nothing more than memories.

It is a very sad day for the Helford, but I feel many other Post Offices will meet the same fate unless we do something about it, and start to use them again.

Waste – A Change of Heart or Winning Votes?

Got to love surprises and Cabinet sure surprised those Members present at today’s Cabinet meeting. The topic was the recommendations on the future of waste collection in Cornwall.

I have previously blogged about these proposed changes, but five minutes before Cabinet was due to start a revised set of recommendations were handed out to Members. These new recommendations are as follows.

(a) Approval to be given for two options to be developed for pricing though procurement process both of which are to be based on weekly collections and are specified as:

Scenario 2 – Food and non recyclable waste to be collected weekly and dry recycling and garden waste to be collected fortnightly

Scenario 8 – Food waste and dry recycling to be corrected weekly and non recyclable and garden waste collected fortnightly.

(b) for both selected waste collection options the garden waste service to be a subscription based service and to include a mixed provision of wheeled bins where that is possible and sacks.

(c) the collection of mixed plastic be agreed in principle and the procurement to be progressed on this basis.

(d) delegated authority to be give to the Chief Executive, in consultation with the Leader and the Cabinet Member for Waste Management, to undertake a process to canvass the views of householders in Cornwall on the specific issue of whether non recyclable waste collections should be fortnightly or weekly.

Talk about an about face on what was first proposed. Personally I believe that the change of heart is more about political face saving than making the service better. This option that has now been presented at today’s Cabinet could have been presented in the first place.

A Cabinet Member said at today’s meeting said are we more about making a better environment or winning votes. That Cabinet Member hit the nail squarely on the head. I believe that the change of heart is more about vote winning, than trying to make a difference to the planet that we all live on. I will admit that I used to throw everything into a black bag, that is until I saw how much money it costs the Council in landfill tax and the legacy we are leaving future generations.

For me the best system will be the one that encourages more people to stop throwing everything into a bag which in turns gets thrown into a hole in the ground.

From what I saw today, the Cabinet Member for Waste has been sent down the river with a hole in his boat and without a paddle.

One more thing to add is that these new proposals do not include the provision of a wheeled bin. I really think that there should have been an option that includes wheeled bins in any proposals for costing and feasibility.

For the Agenda item, that includes the different scenarios, please click HERE

Waste – Changing a Mindset?

Any changes to waste collection is likely to raise plenty of concerns, especially if collection periods are changed. Cornwall Council has been looking at one waste contract for the whole of Cornwall. This has taken time due to the previous District Council’s contractual arrangements that will not end untill 2012.

In the meantime, plans have been drawn up to replace these excisting contracts. That sounds all fine and dandy until the word fortnightly appears, and it does appear in one of the options that will be presented to Cornwall Council’s Cabinet on Monday 31st Jan. The Agenda item, with full report can be found by clicking HERE.

The report recommends two main plans for pricing. These are as follows

The selection of Scenario 10, for pricing through the procurement process, be approved as an option for the provision of waste collection services, using wheeled bins for residual waste, with sacks being provided where it is not possible to accommodate wheeled bins; and

b. the selection of Scenario 2, for pricing through the procurement process, be approved as an option for the provision of waste collection services.

c. for both of the selected waste collection service options, a subscription based garden waste service (to include a mixed provision of wheeled bins where possible and sacks) be included.

d. The collection of mixed plastics be agreed in principle and the procurement be progressed on this basis.

Now saying Scenario 2 and 10 does not make much sense, but you have to turn to page 35 of the report for the explanations of the scenarios. Scenario on face value is not much of a change to what most people currently have. It is scenario 10 that utters the word fortnightly.

Residual waste will be collected fortnightly. What is residual waste? In simple terms it is all items that cannot be placed in the recycling box, food waste box and garden waste. The previous three, will be collected weekly, it will just be the residual waste that is every 14 days.

Is this a sensible way forward in making this service more economic and productive? I would say yes if you could guarantee that every household would recycle their items, but currently in Cornwall we only have around a 39% recycling rate. When examining data collated from authorities countrywide it would appear accurate to predict that rates could rise to over 50%.

My main problem with scenario 10 is how do you convince people to recycle more, or have so much food that you keep throwing it out? This will require a change in mindset, which I believe will be a tough trick to pull off. Maybe if people knew how much money was spent on waste disposal, and more importantly could be saved, then people would think twice before throwing everything into a black bag.

At least with scenario 10 there will be wheelie bins provided. But, how will people be able to use a wheelie bin if they have do not have the space to store it, nowhere to place it on
collection days, or other reasons like steep drives, steps, some other obsticals that makes it impossible to use one of these bins?

Large scale policy changes such as these should be taken by full Council and not by a 10 person executive committee, as they have far reaching consequences for the whole of Cornwall. Should the fate of 550,000 people be decided by 10?

Spending a Penny – is this the end of the Public Toilet?

The public toilet is now under the spotlight. Cornwall Council is writing to all Town and Parish Council’s for their views on this facility. If you read between the lines this means we want you to take over the running as we need to save money, if you don’t we could close them or scale back their operation.

I saw this coming, in fact, I am surprised it has taken so long. The idea of transfering toilets had been mentioned just before the District Council’s (I am talking about Kerrier) came to a end. I was then a District Councillor for Kerrier and was offered the transfer of the two toilets in Porthleven to the Town Council, which I passed this offer on to the Town Council. It was met with a no, why should we, they are a financial liability. I guess this is the same argument that Cornwall Council is using to ‘rationalise’ this service.

No doubt Cornwall Council will say it is devolving services down to the Towns and Parish Council’s. But, would they also handover services that make money so easily? No doubt Porthleven Town Council will have something to say about this letter when they next meet in Feburary; so I cannot say if they would or would not be interested in taking over these toilets.

I do know that every time the public toilets are closed unexpectedly, or are not open when they are meant to be, I get complaints from the public and businesses who inturn are getting moaned at by residents and visitors. The businesses also complain that if no public toilets are open, then people feel they use theirs without being a customer.

So a simple question that would give me some idea as to how people feel before this is discussed by Porthleven TC is. Do the people of Porthleven think the Town Council should take over the running of the toilets, and if so, would they understand if the precept increased slightly to cover this cost? Of course no one likes paying more for something, but sometimes you have to, just to save something.

Answers on a postcard (or e-mail/ blog comment)

A Royal Wedding, A Street Party and How Many Forms?

A Royal Wedding for some means a street party. I remember as a boy the Royal Wedding of Charles and Diana especially the street party that I attended. It does not matter if you believe in the Monarchy, your a Repulican or you cannot wait till the Nephilim revisit and show us the errors of our ways. This could mean you would still enjoy a street party.

I have been contacted by a couple of residents who wish to hold a street party for this up and coming wedding. They have after making initial inquiries been told that they would have to fill in a plethora of forms, have an insurance policy that Lloyds of London would be proud of, and make sure no fly is or would be hurt if a party happened.

I know the Council can be and has been a little over-zealous on events, but I thought I would get the official line from those in the know. I am very grateful to the officer who answered so promptly. Here is the official line on this issue.

“The Council supports local events and has put in place some practices to help reduce red tape.  Wherever the road or footway will be restricted for a street party a road closure will need to be applied for – this enables coordination of utility works etc and will ensure that road space is reserved for the event (together with permitting the road to be legally restricted).  All applications for road closures must be made via the Streetworks Section on 0300 1234 222 or streetworks@cornwall.gov.uk

Each site will be risk assessed, then categorised as a high or low risk site.  Event organisers will be encouraged to use low risk sites eg. No through roads and cul-de-sacs. For these sites there is no requirement to hold event specific insurance or produce a traffic management plan (or similar).  Thus, from the organiser’s perspective, for these events
they will only need to contact us and complete a simple form.

Use of high risk sites will be discouraged (where possible).  Use of these sites may require risk assessments, insurance, traffic management plans and formal traffic management measures (signing, diversion routes etc).  Advice on individual sites can be sort via the number/email address above (Mrs Adrienne Reed being our key events person).

We are not imposing any fees for Council costs in processing/approving applications”.

I hope that clears up any issue or concern people may have had if they were thinking of holding such event

(Hope that helps Darren)

Car Parking Charging – A Solution?

Today was long, very long, but what did I expect when it includes car parking and charging. I think most people who read this blog will understand my points of view and the issues that I have faced over the last couple of weeks, if not months.

The situation is poor, a £3m shortfall in predicted budget and no hidden pots of gold to suddenly pull out of the draw. I have felt at times like the wagon train surrounded by hoards of hostile natives who are after the Panels scalps. Then again in parking I doubt there ever will be the sound of a bugle signalling imminent rescue.

What happened today was the Panel made it perfectly clear that it would not accept, nor find all of the £3m. It also said it would not simply add any shortfall to the tariffs. As you could imagine this had the potential for one big stand-off between the Panel and the Cabinet.

If the Panel had simply ignored the situation, then how would that help, as the Panel had been formed to help and advise the Cabinet Member on car parking. Without the Panels work any proposals could have been easily delegated to officers without any Member imput. Would that have been better? I shall leave that call up to you, the reader.

Anyway, after a long discussion by all the Panel Members, as well as other Councillors (who don’t have a vote) a couple of recommendations were proposed and then voted on. These are as follows:

Option 1.2 Implement those elements of option 1 that are revenue positive in a town and delay other proposals until further discussion, specifically on the winter summer differentials. This in simple terms means no one will pay more that was advertised in the public consultation, but those areas that would have seen a reduction in first hour charging will no longer have it implemented. This tweaking finds around a £1m without just loading in all onto the tariffs.

Option 2 Investigate increased winter summer differentials on “destination” and “community” car parks separately over the year, with possible implementation during the year. Basically means looking for a summer/winter tariff system and look into what function certain car parks have.

Option 5 Season tickets were to be sold at a rate of 150 times the daily rate in the long term, discounted in some areas to 100 days in 2011/12. The full rate could be charged immediately (as from 1st April 2011).

These options would make up around £1.5m of the shortfall. Again, the Panel made it perfectly clear that the remaining money would have to be found from other areas as the Panel believes that enough is enough when charging is concerned.

For me, the first two options are a sensible way forward without just loading it onto the tariffs. As if we had not have worked to achieve something, then Cabinet could have just insisted on the full £3m. This would have equated to 30p on every tariff.

I am personally unhappy with option 5, but I as Chairman have to respect the Panels vote and defend this point. I have however added the issue of season tickets to the Panels work plan as I believe this area should be fully reviewed in detail. Currently, thoughout Cornwall, there are 1000 users of season tickets. I hope that as part of this review we can make these cheaper and more attractive to the residents of Cornwall.

I am sure many people out there are unhappy with these, or any proposals we come up with, but I do hope people understand the difficult job it is when it comes to charging for parking.

Car Parking – Pay and Dismay

No one ever really likes Monday mornings as it is the first day back after a weekend. It is bad enough having the Monday morning blues without adding parking charges into the mix. This Monday (24th) is going one of those mornings and will no doubt go long into the afternoon, if not early evening. We now have a clearer picture of what is, and has happened within parking. I wish the initial estimates of only a £1m shortfall were true, but it is a lot worse. It is £3m. Yes, £3m for the 2011/12 period

How in the hell it is £3m you may well ask, and it is a very valid question, which, I will try and explain in further detail. The economic downturn coupled with a poor summer and Christmas period have left a £1.8m shortfall in predicted income for the 2010/11. To be honest for the last 3 years we have overall had poor weather during the main summer periods, and it does not take Einstein to workout that this would have a knock on effect on budgets. After all, this and future years summers could be the hottest on record and all our problems could be solved, but after the Met Office prediction of a BBQ summer a few years ago I will remain sceptical to say the least and it would not be best to factor the mystical science of weather forecasting (or some may say guess) into budget predictions.

The Business Rate (NDR) estimate has also been undervalued. This has resulted in a further £400k that needs to be added to the budget. Other liabilities were contracts by the former District Council’s that have recently come to light and are now accounted for properly. This totals another £400k. As you can see, this totals £3m. It has been calculated that over the next few years a certain amount is to be raised from car parking charges. This is a very moot point and is not an exact science, but listed here are those calculations.

2010/11 £11.223m
2011/12 £11.776m
2012/13 £12.226m
2013/14 £12.938m

A question that now needs to be asked and answered is how, or more importantly, should this shortfall be added to the 2011/12 budget. That question will have to be answered at Mondays meeting. There are some ideas that have been written in the report. It has been stressed though that these are not recommendations, but merely ideas to help any decision the Panel arrives at. It will be up to the Panel to accept some, all, none or come up with other ideas before a final recommendation is made to Cabinet on the 16th Feburary.

Listed here are the ideas.

Option 1.1 Implement the proposals previously agreed by the Panel and proposed to the Cabinet. Leave other matters such as winter summer differentials to the discussions over the year and potential implementation in 2012/13. Current prediction is a shortfall of £3.0m

Option 1.2 Implement those elements of option 1 that are revenue positive in a town and delay other proposals until further discussion, specifically on the winter summer differentials. Current prediction, on the basis of no further change to charges within the year is a shortfall of £2.0m This would clearly be altered if changes were made in the year. In addition we benefit from a significant increase in the predictability of the revenue.

A uniform increase of 10p on all rates across the board would raise £0.6m less any allowance for customer resistance. Approximations of revenue from other uniform increases can be extrapolated. 20p =£1.2m 30p =£1.8m

Option 1.3 As option 1.1, but with an immediate increase of tariffs of x pence added to the proposal previously put to consultation.
Option 1.4 As option 1.2, but with an immediate increase of tariffs of x pence added to the proposal previously put to consultation.

Option 1.5 Abandon all changes previously put to consultation, an immediate increase of x% on all tariffs by notice. A 2.5% increase will be needed to address VAT changes alone.

Option 2 Investigate increased winter summer differentials on “destination” and “community” car parks separately over the year, with possible implementation during the year.

Option 3 The desire to introduce a one coin first hour tariff is expensive in many areas. The first hour could be charged at approximately half the two hour rate saving an additional £0.6m over option 1.1 and £0.4m over option 1.2

Option 4 Option 3 could be introduced in long stay car parks only, keeping short stay at the advertised rates saving an additional £0.1m over option 1.1 and £0.1m over option 1.2

Option 5 Season tickets were to be sold at a rate of 150 times the daily rate in the long term, discounted in some areas to 100 days in 2011/12. The full rate could be charged immediately saving £0.2m, if introduced in October, it would save £0.07m in the year.

Whatever other options are implemented, it is possible that a shortfall in predicted income would still exist.

Option 6 Recommend to Cabinet that any remaining shortfall is removed from the expected revenue generated by car parking in Cornwall.

Many of these options are not going to be popular, then again paying for parking is never popular. The real question that needs to be asked corporately and at the very top is how parking should be treated. Should it be treated as a business, or as a service? Once this question has been answered then we as a Panel, the Council and the general public have a clear message on how car parking is run and charged.

For further information on Mondays meeting click HERE. It has all the budget figures for all the car parks in as much detail as possible. Please feel free to read and examine them, and if you can come up with any ideas between now and Monday then drop me a line.

CCTV – The Lights Go Out

The switch will be flicked to off; the active monitoring of CCTV in the central and west of Cornwall will stop on the 1st of April. These cameras will now just remain static, filming away without a care in the world. In other words being as much use as a chocolate fireguard.

The reasons being Cornwall Council cannot afford to fund the full operation, the local Town Council’s refusing to stump up more money to make up the shortfall and the Police unwilling to put their hands in their pockets and help fund these systems. Hence the situation we are now in.

The question is now who be blamed for any increase in crime? My answer would be all 3; because something could have been worked out if everyone had paused and stepped back one step. I have made it perfectly clear in previous blogs on this topic that I was amazed that the Police did not contribute more. Sure, they offer the space for the monitoring equipment to live and operate, but apart from that they offer no other money.

The towns that have had the benefit of these systems for many years have also to realise that things cost. In the east of the County (or Duchy for the purists) the towns that have CCTV have paid for their operation for many years out of the Town Council precept. They have rightly said why we have to pay for this, when others get it for almost free. Maybe the towns who had received this almost free service could have said ok, we understand the budget pressure and we are willing to pay more, but not that much.

Cornwall Council has also had to take the blame. They should not have demanded such a large increase and in a lot of cases after many Town Council’s had already set their precepts for the following year. This means theses Town Council would not even have had the budgets to stump up more cash. And the Police, instead of saying No outright, could have had the foresight to realise they were the ones who are going to take on the extra burden if crime does increase.

In the independent report undertaken by Cornwall Council it pointed out in black and white that the reduction in the CCTV system would be the equivalent of losing or having to find and additional 36 officers. That could cost the Police Authority roughly £1m per year in extra wages, which of course does not include all the other associated costs in recruitment and training.

At the end of the day everyone is going to be a loser on this subject. The public whilst not always liked being filmed the moment they left their house and though out the day understood the need for CCTV. Statistics that the Police and Local Authorities love will see these figure change for the worse and will then have to spin and blame others as to who is at fault. Worse still, it now gives those criminals the green light to do as they like because there is now even a lesser chance of being caught or deterred from carrying out a crime.

Recycling Centres – Sorry, no permit, no entry

I think most people have taken something to a Household Waste Recycling Centre (HWRC) at one stage or another. They are in my opinion a valuable service and facility that have made it easier for households to dispose of items that they no longer want, or are broken. It is rare to see the old matteress laying in a lay-by or a hedge as people now just take them to the HWRC.

These centres as the title implies are for household items only, in other words not industrial or commercial. In fact, it is against the law to take non household items to these sites. It is all very well saying it is against the law, but many people still do dispose industrial and commercial items at these centres. Cornwall Council claims that this costs the Authority over £1m per year and is now changing how the HWRC are operated.

They are introducing a permit system. This does not apply to cars, 4×4’s, or those same vehicles types that are towing a trailer that is under 1.8m in length. The permit will though apply to other types of vehicles. Those vehicles that will require a permit are 4×4 with open back or separate cab, horse box under 3m long and vans that are under 3.5 tonnes. If you do require a permit you will need to apply for one and these will be free. You will only be allowed to use the site 12 times before you have to reapply for a new permit. It will still though only allow you to dispose of household waste.

There will be vehicles that will be completely banned from the HWRC. These vehicles are vans over 3.5 tonnes, any van that is towing a trailer and a trailer or horse box that is over 3m in length. These will just be turned away.

These new rules are likely not to be taken well from some quarters, but is it right that we as taxpayers have to foot the extra bill of illegal dumping because people not disposing of their waste in the right way? There is however a real danger that people will not pay the charges (and they are not cheap) to dispose commercial and industrial waste and simply find a nice quiet spot and dump their items when no-one is looking. A question then could be asked is how much will that cost to clear up?

For further information please click HERE

Hayle – Which Supermarket Do You Pick?

Supermarkets seem to be the de-rigeur applications for planning lately. I have blogged about this subject numerous times before. The last few years the major supermarkets have been waging a massive expansion plan in Cornwall. Wadebridge, Truro and Penzance have proposals on or about to be placed on the table. Helston has just had two large stores recently open.

The Town of Hayle has caught the eye of 3 of the big boys of the supermarket world, namely Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and a major bank called ING who own Hayle Harbour, who in turn want to develop that area. Their plan also includes a supermarket.

Last night, I attended along with most of the Strategic Planning Committee a public meeting on these proposals. All 4 of the applicants were given 10 minutes to outline their cases and highlight how their plan would be best for Hayle. Of course, they all said their plan was the best for Hayle and the other plans would not be as good as theirs. It was then the turn of the public to raise various points and concerns that they had with these applications.

Around 300 people attended this meeting, and roughly 35 of those present decided to speak. From what I heard there was no overall preferred plan, but I did get the impression that the ING and the Asda proposals had the most support from those gathered. That does not mean the whole town feels the same, as only a small percentage attended.

I don’t want to spend much time on the details as it would take a week to read and most probably bore you to death. I will though give you a brief overview on the current proposals. For guidance the Asda store in Penryn is around 72,000 sq ft.

Sainsbury’s – 53,637 sq ft store, located Marsh Lane. Offering a long term nature reserve on the additional land they own.

Asda – 59,535 sq ft store located on the Rugby Ground at Marsh Lane. In their proposals they will build a new Rugby Ground at another site. Also other business units on this site.

Morrisons – 36,113 sq ft store located on the current Jewsons site. Offering retention and renovation of grade two structures in this area

ING – 56,295 sq ft store located on South Quay. Master plan for the whole area and like the Morrisons plan includes renovations of this Quay.

The difficult question that Hayle has to answer is what plan will be best for Hayle in the long term. Hayle from my knowledge has been let down many times before on plans to regenerate the area. Grand plans have been drawn up, but nothing has ever come of them. If Hayle has to sell its soul for development and investment what price will they ask and accept. Then again, they could say no to all.

This is something we as the Committee will have to take into consideration when we make our decision in a few weeks time. Strategic Planning is never easy, especially when the decisions you make could have far reaching effects.

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