Helston and Lizard Community Network Meeting

The Helston and Lizard Community Network met last night to discuss various issues. It was a good turn out with most town and parish council’s sending someone. On the agenda was transport, the future of Helston Museum and changes to Devon and Cornwall police.

On the issue of transport there was a good discussion on the limited provision of public transport, especially for those in the more rural locations. Whilst everyone agrees that the service could be improved this will not happen overnight. However, all present made the same points of the fares being far too expensive.

The plan from this meeting is to send a questionnaire to all the town and parish councils asking for their views. Also, going to the two secondary schools to see how the lack of public transport effects the youth. Then, once these details have been collated funding can be applied to target those areas more in need of better transport.

As for the Helston Museum I will make it clear. The museum is NOT closing down, but a different delivery model on the lines of a trust will need to be formed. Again, all those present agreed that the museum is not just about Helston, but the whole area, and this point should be reflected in any future management board. There is a public meeting planned for next month where the public will have their say on the museums future.

Devon and Cornwall Police are facing huge cuts in their budgets which will have a knock-on effect on policing. Last night the Sector Inspector for the area outlined her concerns, and how the force was adapting. It was good to hear these thoughts, and more importantly, see how the police are adapting in a positive way.

The last item on the agenda was the agenda for the next meeting. One of the subjects for the next meeting will not surprise anyone. It is on public toilets. A short, but emotive debate broke out. Everyone present agreed that the proposed plans to cut funding for 114 toilets is mad. There is real anger in the area that no-one consulted on the issue. It was agreed that a strongly worded letter would be sent to Cornwall Council spelling out the Community Networks unhappiness on these proposals.

It is good to see the Community Network united in this area, and I hope this united support will stop these proposals. To raise the issue more I agreed to be filmed for the Politics Show on BBC this Sunday to highlight the craziness of closing a toilet in Porthleven which is heavily used and right next to a popular beach.

Cornwall Council’s Budget Scrutiny Starts

The annual budget discussions continue on the 3rd and 4th November with the various scrutiny committees trying to make sense of the detail behind the headline figures that were presented, and voted through by the Cabinet.

There is a lot of disquiet by backbench Councillors because of the bombshells that have exploded in the last few months. Would anyone have voted on the budget last year if they knew £1.3 million would be cut from public toilets, or the shock of finding a £2.5 million black hole in concessionary fares?

Headline figures are all well and good, but it is the detail behind those figures that really count. Despite requests last year, these figures and actual details was like trying to get blood out of a stone. To be honest, I don’t think they knew what would be cut, and now the cold reality has hit home.

I feel the details will be demanded before anyone will be happy to vote on the budget in January. There is also another concern of a £6m grant from the Government that would allow a zero percent rise in Council Tax, but will mean there has to be a hefty rise for the 2013/14 period. This point has a lot of people worried.

For those who are interested all the meetings on the 3rd and 4th November will be webcast. This is the first time this has happened and I welcome this.

Movember – Gob-smacked

For those who know me I am not normally lost for words, or made to be quiet. Well today, I have been stunned. In today’s post there was a letter with £50 inside. There was no name or return address, just a simple typed note saying “Please find enclosed a donation for your participation in Movember”

I am totally gob-smacked at this level of generously. I would like to say to whoever you are, THANK YOU. I have now paid this donation into the Movember account.

For anyone wishing to donate, or watch my feeble attempt at growing a moustache click HERE 

You Have 21 Days Left

Previously on my blog I wrote about a position for a Councillor that has become available on Porthleven Town Council. As I said before, this position could be filled by either an election, or co-option. No one has asked for there to be an election (need 10 residents); so this position will now be filled by co-option.

From Friday 21st of October you have 21 days to write to Porthleven Council asking to be considered for the position. In that letter it would be best if you outlined the skills you could bring to the council, and why you should be considered. You can if you feel it to be of benefit include a CV, though this is optional.

Once the 21 days have passed applicants will be interviewed by members of the town council, and depending on those interviews someone could be selected to fill the position.

The address for the letter is:

Porthleven Town Council
Institute Cottage
Cliff Road
TR13 0EJ

Let’s hope someone applies!

Missing Dog Waste Bins Will Be Replaced

Not everything at Cornwall Council is bad; it might seem that way in some of my blog topics, but its not. From all the officers I speak to they want to help, they really do. Sadly, it all comes down to money and everyone seems to have their begging bowls out wanting something.

For some months now I have been requesting the missing dog waste bins to be replaced. It has at times been very frustrating and annoying when I don’t seem to get anywhere. Others may give up, but not me, as once I have my teeth into something I will see it though to the end.

It seems my persistence (or some may say annoying) has paid off; as I have now got at least three of the missing dog bins being replaced. I know dog bins may not seem like a huge priority, but they are to many of the people I represent.

In the next few days I will be having a site meeting in Porthleven to establish the best place for these bins to go. I know one area that should have one is Peverell Terrace as this is a heavily used area for dog walkers. The other two areas will be selected on the feedback I have received from residents and dog owners.

I am really grateful to officers at Cornwall Council for finding the time, and more importantly, the money to deal with my request. Thank you.

Recommendations to Close Public Toilets Passed

As I wrote yesterday today was the debate on the recommendations by a working group for the E and E Scrutiny Committee on large scale cuts to funding for public toilets. Put in simple terms funding will be cut to 114 toilets. It does not say they will close, but this is just a clever play on words because without funding these toilets will close.

The town and parish councils are being offered these ‘surplus’ toilets, but many will see this as more of forcing the town and parish councils to take them on. As if they don’t, they will close. It hardly what you call a level playing field.

During the meeting to discuss the proposals many Councillors found the recommendations unacceptable with many, including me, felt Cornwall Council had a moral duty to provide this service. I have said before it is not just the resident who use these facilities, but the many visitors to Cornwall.

For Porthleven which I represent the plan was to close one of the two toilets. It has been decided that this small toilet is surplus, and therefore it can be closed. Closing this facility will save Cornwall Council a trifle £5k out of the proposed £1.1 million.

I feel, and know doubt many others will agree closing this toilet is pettiness of the highest order. It will probably cost more in boarding up and checking this toilet each year than the proposed saving of £5k. Even closed you would still have to fully pay or at least part pay the business rates on the building.

So in real terms I believe the savings in closing this toilet in Porthleven will be pence, or a few pounds. The real loss will be the reputation to Porthleven and the impact to the economy from tourism. People will not understand when see a toilet boarded up. The appearance of any boarded up building in a town looks bad.

Getting back to the meeting a vote was taken after a few hours debate. The vote to accept the recommendations from the working group was carried 8 votes for, 5 against. This report will now go in front of Cabinet who will make the final decision. For once, I hope the Cabinet rejects this report, but I don’t see how they will when the savings of £1.1m will still have to be made.

For me, I don’t plan to take this laying down. I will be speaking to the Town Council, businesses and the public seeking their views. I will also be officially launching a petition via Cornwall Council’s own petition process to show the feeling on this subject.

For Porthleven, today’s recommendation is bad, but for Cornwall as a whole, it is a disaster.

Closing Public Toilets in Cornwall

Tomorrow, at the Economy and Environment Scrutiny meeting there is an agenda item that is going to cause quite a bit of a stir. This is the long awaited and feared report into the future of the Cornwall Council owned public toilets.

It should be said the working group set up by this committee has worked really hard to come up with something within the set budget. When you have to lose over £1.1 million from a budget there is going to be some tough choices.

However, the report makes for some unpleasant reading for many areas. This is because listed in the report are numerous toilets that are recommended for closure. Out of the current 248 council owned toilets 114 are set to close.

Porthleven which has two toilets will lose one. In the report the recommendation is for the toilet near the Institute (Harbour Rd) to close, saving just over £5k per year. The Shute Lane toilet has so far escaped closure.

I shall be attending tomorrow’s meeting to argue to the case for both toilets to remain open because of the high visitor numbers Porthleven attracts over the year, but for residents too. Also, the toilet near the Institute is right next to a popular beach. Any closure of either toilet will have a negative impact on Porthleven.

In Helston, Trengrouse Way and the Monument toilets are earmarked for closure. This will no doubt be met with fury in Helston. In fact, many areas in Cornwall will see less toilets open.

For any of the ear-marked toilets to remain open the town and parish council would have to take them over. This would result in a higher precept being set, but no reduction in the over all Cornwall Council council tax. In other words it could be seen as double taxation.

Public toilets and the ability to access them are an important provision. These are not only used by the residents of Cornwall, but the many million who visit Cornwall.

Lets hope there is a change of heart at tomorrows meeting and we can save most if not all of these toilets.

Newquay Airport For Sale, or Not For Sale?

Confused is my current position on sale/non-sale of Newquay Airport. The Council’s own press statement said and I quote:

“There are three main options on the table – the sale of the airport, part acquisition of the site and entering into a management service agreement to operate the airport.”

However today, I asked the Portfolio Holder for Corporate Resources the question on possible claw-back in European money if the airport was sold. As I said before, this claim was repeated over and over again when the matter of the airport was raised in the early days of Cornwall Council.

The Portfolio Holder said the airport will not be sold, and then completely ignored my original question about repaying money. This was backed up (later on) by the Director of Corporate Resources saying the council would not sell the airport, but more than likely enter into a management agreement with someone.

So why say in a press statement one of the three options is for the sale, when in reality it won’t be. How can any investor have the confidence if there is such a mixed message. It was bad enough of having to hear of the sale/non-sale in a press statement, but lets get the message right.

It was also interesting to hear that the ‘soft’ marketing of the airport would cost around £50k. The Portfolio Holder for Economy said this cost of marketing should come from European money. Lets hope he is right, and it does not fall onto the council tax payer.

My feeling there’s more to this sale, non-sale than is currently being said. Lets hope those elected to the council are told all the details, and soon.

Newquay Airport – Up for Sale?

News from Cornwall Council is they are ‘reviewing’ the current position on Newquay Airport. When I say Cornwall Council, I really mean its Cabinet; because most Councillors on the authority have had no say on this subject.

The council in its press statement said it wishes to continue to support the airport, but needs to look at the best option especially in the current economic climate. Sadly, and with too much frequency I and many of my fellow Councillors only learnt of this news by the press statement.

The three options on the table are: The sale, part sale, or entering into a management agreement with someone. The aviation industry is finding it particularly hard in the current economic climate with routes being cut, or worse, airlines disappearing or merging just to stay afloat.

Many will argue as to why a council needs to run an airport. Cornwall Council is not unique in owning and running an airport as many other councils own airports, or have large shares in them.

A council if running a commercial venture like an airport should make sure it makes a profit, or at a minimum, breaks even. Sadly, Newquay Airport does neither. In fact, if it was not for yearly subsidy of £3.6 million out of tax payers money it would have gone to the wall years ago.

It gets worse, as over the last few years passenger numbers have dropped to dangerously low levels. In the period of 2009/10 the yearly passenger numbers stood at 359,578. Now the current predicted passenger numbers for 2011/12 stands at roughly 200,000. This is a huge 45% drop in passengers.

With the passenger number dropping by this percentage this means the current subsidy is not enough to make the airport financially viable, and Cornwall Council will need to find extra money from the budget to make up the short-fall. But where from the budget, and at the expense of which other service?

In the first few months of the newly formed Cornwall Council many Councillors (including me) asked about the airport and if we should have the debate on its future. Every time this question was asked, the answer was we cannot sell it because of the European money we would have to pay back if we sold it. From memory, figures of £20 million were banded around of possible re-payments.

So what has changed two years later? Will we still have to pay back this money (if we ever did), or have things got so bad there is no other option than sell, part sell, or allow someone else run it.

As with most things at Cornwall Council there is more to this decision than the press statement. Hopefully I and my fellow Councillors will find this out before any decision is made.

The Incinerator – What Next?

News reached Cornwall Council that the High Court legal challenge against the Sec of State, Eric Pickles granting planning permission for the CERC (incinerator) in St Dennis has been upheld.

As yet, the full ruling has not been released. It is rumoured that the Judges decision will be available in full this coming Tuesday or Wednesday. This cannot come sooner for Cornwall Council because of the cost implications on the tax payer.

Those residents in St Dennis are no doubt cock-a-hoop on this decision as they have fought a long campaign against this incinerator. The question is, how will this effect everyone else in Cornwall?

Disposing of our waste has to go somewhere and our current landfill provision will soon run out. So what options do the council now have? This in itself is a interesting question because there has never been a plan B on the table.

I know a plan B was suggested at many of the Waste Panels I attended, but nothing was ever drawn up. I feel not having a plan B was an oversight, and one that is now likely to bit us tax payers in the bum.

The trouble will any waste incinerator is no matter where you place it, the local population will be against it. Yesterdays decision just shows that when a local population gets together for a common purpose anything can happen. Who would have thought this small settlement of St Dennis would take on the might of the Sec of State, Cornwall Council and SITA and win.

But, what will be the cost of that win?

I have though asked for an urgent briefing to be held as soon as possible for all Councillors spelling out the current, and more importantly, the future position of the council.

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