And That Was 2011

With little more than a few hours to go until we enter a New Year, I thought I would reflect on a very interesting, and in many parts, challenging year. Looking back on some of the blog topics it budgets, cuts (or re-organising if you are the Leadership) have featured heavily. Planning has also been a busy with some very large applications being dealt with over the year.

Budgets are likely to feature heavily again, especially in the first few months of 2012 when Cornwall Council sets its precept for council tax. The main topic on the budget will be on accepting the one-off grant from Mr Pickles to freeze council tax for the period of 2012/13. I am still unsure if this is the right course because I fear we would have to raise council tax quite heavily in the 2013/14 period to make up the shortfall. 

The services Cornwall Council provides are no doubt going to be under more pressure. This will no doubt lead to some being scaled back, stopped, or town and parish councils having to take them on. The issue of the public toilets still has not be solved, just postponed. Other areas like open spaces, and ‘land surplus to requirements’ will also be discussed in the coming year.

Sitting on Strategic Planning has resulted in some huge decisions having to be taken. The Hayle supermarket battle was very interesting. At the start, Hayle had a poor deal, but I really believe by the end of the process Hayle got the best deal. Supermarkets have been prominent in planning applications during 2011, and no doubt they will feature heavily again in 2012. The stadium, The Eastern District, and other large-scale planning applications in and around Truro are going to feature a lot.

A great pleasure has been working with Porthleven Town Council. This group of people really do try to get what’s best for Porthleven. It is not easy, but they are willing to stand-up and be counted when they have to. They showed great courage in resisting the heavy-handed way Cornwall Council was treating them over the public toilets. As like in 2011, I am looking forward to working with the town council in 2012.

I have not won every battle/issue over the last year, but those I have won has had an impact for the better for Porthleven and the areas of Helston I serve. I am still really disappointed on not getting the £100,000 for Porthleven in the Seaside Town Program, but not all is lost, as the working group will still press on with the plan during 2012. I am confident the long, and frustrating battle to raise funds for the Bulwark play park could be over in the first six months of 2012 resulting in the park being built. As the park stands a very good chance of being funded from two pots of money. Let’s hope it does pay off.

I am still amazed at how many people take the time to read this blog. It was great to be voted so highly on the annual Total Politics Blogging Awards. Being placed above so many professional bloggers was really a highlight. I know not everyone agrees with what I say, and I think that is a very good because I like  the various debates that have taken place in 2011. I am though very grateful for people taking the time to read what I have to say. I again look for the same in 2012.

So finally, I would like to wish everyone who reads this blog a very happy New Year, and all the best in 2012.

See you in 2012!

Notice a Change to the Blog?

Those regular readers might notice something different. This is because I have moved to another blogging platform, and more importantly, set up my own domain name.

Most of the new site is up and running, but there are a few teething troubles (more down to the user). Hopefully in a week or so all those troubles should be sorted most probably by someone who understands coding!

Travelling on the Train – How is it for you?

Cornwall Rural Community Council is undertaking a survey on behalf of Cornwall Council to identify people’ views on rail transport in the Duchy. This information will be used to shape how the Council negotiates the forthcoming re-franchising of rail services in Cornwall.
For me, I rarely use the train because of where I live, and I can hardly see the mass opening of the old stations ever happening to make me use the train.  However those who do, or who might, could give a steer on how future services could be run.
The timescale for this piece of work is tight, and responses to the questionnaire need to be completed by the 13th January 2012. So if you want to have your say, click on the link below!

A Supermarket’s Impact Two Years On

Cornwall over the last two years has seen more supermarkets move in. It is not that long ago when seeing a Sainsbury’s was a rare sight in Cornwall. Now, however, they are as common as Tesco. One reason for this is a recession is a good time to expand if you have the money. Tesco did it in the last recession and got an almost got a monopoly. Now by taking a leaf out of the Tesco handbook, Sainsbury’s and Morrisions are on an expansion project

It is often said a supermarket once it gets a foothold in a town will over a period of time destroy that town. Yes, it will have an effect on that town, but it is not the supermarket that kills a town. It is the people of that town who kill it by being lured to the new and shiny supermarket. If we just resisted that lure maybe, just maybe our town centres would be in a better state.

Around two years ago Helston saw one of the new batches of Sainsbury’s get built and open. At the same time the already established Tesco got its ‘extension’. Two years later how has this huge increase in retail floor space affected on Helston and the surrounding areas?

Well, I’ve had a report carried out on the impact to Helston after two years of these supermarkets trading. I managed to convince the people from Sainsbury’s at the Wadebridge application to pay for an independent report. I think Sainsbury’s was so keen on getting planning permission they would have agreed to almost anything. I have now got this copy and it makes for some very interesting reading.

You can read that report HERE

Now conspiracy theorist could claim the report will be biased because it was paid for with supermarket money, but I am not a fully fledged member of the conspiracy club. It is though the first report that’s been carried out since a large scale supermarket development has happened. So it would only be right to give it some credibility.

The perception is a town will suffer and in this report it does show a decline in the town centre, but it is not as bad as popular myth claims it is. The area that has suffered most is in comparison goods (non food). I have felt for a long time the real impact a supermarket has on a town centre is on the non-food goods. It is one reason I have been fighting for a maximum of 20% of comparison good in any new supermarket development. This report gives weight to that theory of mine.

The report also shows that town centres have the knack of adapting to the demands and economic situations. If one type of shop closes it is replaced not by the same type. Helston has adapted in this way. Helston has some very good independent and specialist shops. Like the owner of the hardware shop has just opened a toy shop. Knowing this owner this new toy shop is no punt.

I am not saying supermarkets don’t have an impact as they do. It is just how much of an impact they have. This can be controlled by sensible conditions that restrict certain types of goods. Parking charges also have a part to play in making sure a town centre is healthy. The cost of running a shop plays a big part and there should be more help in rate relief or some other type of incentive will help greatly. These running costs can be just too high for a shop to be profitable, and therefore survive.

At the end of the day the real power is people power. If a few more of us shopped a little more in the town centre, and less in the supermarket beast this would help.

Anyway, let me know what you thought of the report.

Cornwall Council’s Maritime Incident Response Group is Cut

Many will know that the Government of the day in its spending review cut funding to the Coastguards Emergency Towing Vehicle (ETV). This has resulted in the ETV being withdrawn. This in my opinion was a terrible decision not only putting putting peoples lives at risk, but also of grave concern is the danger to the coast of Cornwall if a ship/boat runs aground.

If this is not bad enough the funding Cornwall Council receives for the Maritime Incident Response Group (MIRG) has today been stopped. The MIRG is the specially trained firefighters who are deployed during an ship related emergency. Again, this is a disaster. It will be little comfort to the Chief Fire Officer that the government has agreed to cover Cornwall Council costs if the MIRG is deployed between now and the end of January 2012.

If no funding is found from other sources like the DCLG, or the Department of Transport I feel in the current financial climate there is little hope, the MIRG will be unable to continue post 31st January 2012. 

Whilst the ETV and the MIRG were not called out daily, or even weekly, they both have been used extensively over the last few years. There is no doubt without the intervention of the MIRG and ETV lives would have been put in grave danger, if not lost. 

Lets hope the government does reconsider on at least the MIRG! That is the least they owe the seafaring county of Cornwall. My understanding is Cornwall Council is doing everything within its power to make the government change its mind, and I would like to congratulate them on their endeavours.


Flying from Newquay to Norwich

Good news for Newquay Airport is new flight routes will be available from Newquay to Norwich airport (and back) from March 2012. I know Norwich might not seem the most glamourous destination, but any new flight route for Newquay Airport is good news.
Special thanks should go to BBC Norfolk for breaking the news. Shame, Cornwall Council, owners of Newquay Airport did not get the jump on the BBC.
HERE is the link from BBC Norfolk

Now lets just get rid of the £5 airport tax!

Transparency and the Freedom of Information Act

I was kindly sent a document is called ‘Town Hall Transparency’ by @DEdward5 on Twitter. This document is on the impact of freedom of information (FOI) on national and local government in England. It has been written by UCL’s Department of Political Science and has just been published. I would like to congratulate the document writers for a well written paper.

The whole document can be viewed HERE.

For Cornwall Council, it has had its fair share of FOI requests from various professional media bodies, businesses and the public. The council even gets a mention in this report. It is not uncommon for people to asked for the number of FOI and the subjects of  a FOI by means of a FOI.

Maybe the reason why FOI’s are now more commonly used is because any information requested has to be dealt with in a defined time, or as highlighted in the report, people are more aware of how a FOI works. It also makes sure that any information requested has less chance of being misplaced, and therefore forgotten about.

There is a costs for every FOI dealt with, and this for Cornwall Council is £150. Cornwall Council has over the last few years received the following numbers of FOI:

  • 2009/10 – 1100
  • 2010/11 – 1300
  • 2011/March 12 – 1600 (projected)
It is when you add up the numbers of FOI you get the cost of near £435,000. That is a huge amount of money in any one’s book. In fact FOI requests to local authorities (LA) and central government have been rising steadily since the introduction of the legislation. 
In 2005 there were 60,000 requests to LA’s and 25,000 to the government. By 2009 this had risen to 165,000 for LA’s, and 40,000 for the government. Using the £150 per FOI this totals £74,250,000 over four years. 
You might think the press are to blame for the massive increase in numbers of FOI’s, but they are not. As in the report it clearly states:  Some authorities have had a great deal of interest from the local press and some virtually none. It does not appear to have had an impact on FOI request numbers. Yes, the press do submit many of the FOI’s, but not one can point the finger and say it’s your fault.
The four main areas of requests and requesters are:
  • There is heavy use of FOI by a wide range of businesses at local level 
  •  Rising request levels appear to be driven by increased awareness of FOI and media stories in the national press (especially MPs’ expenses) but also local stories. Requests can also come in waves around a particular issue
  • Requests from the public are often niche and of private interest to the person, which makes proactive disclosure ineffective as a means of reducing the number of FOI requests. 
  • Finally, high profile cases aside, FOI rarely obtains a ‘smoking gun’ and requests are often used as part of a wider information gathering campaign, like a jigsaw, or as a lever to obtain influence in a campaign.

    The former Prime Minister Tony Blair who’s party introduced the FOI is quoted as saying: The truth is that the FOI Act isn’t used, for the most part, by ‘the people’. It’s used by journalists. For political leaders, it’s like saying to someone who is hitting you over the head with a stick, ‘Hey, try this instead’, and handing them a mallet (Blair 2010). He may have a point, but then maybe his government should have thought it through a little better before it was introduced.

    I am a firm believer that FOI if used right are good, especially when a LA, or the government is being ‘difficult’ in supplying information. However, FOI asking how many Jedi Knights, or other niche enquiries a LA has is a complete waste of money, and time.
    Of course with any FOI there is a chance it maybe used against the government department, or LA, but this goes with the territory, especially if the wrong, or not fully correct information is sent out. We all know how Cornwall Council has fallen foul of this mistake once or twice. 
    At the end of the day if a FOI request is in the public interest it will be find it’s way into the various media outlets. It is how you handed the story once it breaks is the key. Throwing toys out of the pram by saying the council’s being seen in a bad light because of the media is pure fiction. In fact, the press and a council work well together in many areas.

    The press and both local and national government have different roles, but Freedom of the press, democracy and the right to free speech are principles that all hold dear and each has to play its part to uphold those principles.

    Corporate Resources Scrutiny Grills (on a light heat) the Leader and CEO

    Something novel happened yesterday with the Corporate Scrutiny Committee inviting the CEO, Kevin Lavery and Alec Robertson, Leader of Cornwall Council facing questions from members of this committee. Those wishing it would be as exciting at the Leveson Inquiry, or the Culture and Media Select Committee grilling of the Murdock family would be disappointed as it was rather a tame event.
    Even though it had no earth shattering news, many of the questions asked by members of this committee were very good. One of these was on Newquay Airport and the £5 airport development fee. I have always thought this fee tax was one step down from Dick Turpin asking for your valuables as you go about your business.
    Anyway, the question was asked could this tax be stopped? The simple answer from the CEO was yes it could. One of the reasons why it could be stopped is because of the huge drop in passenger numbers over the last few years has made the airport less reliant on this money. The CEO said this could be looked into. I would welcome this as many feel this fee is wrong. Then again, looking into it does not mean it will stop.
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