Portfolio Holder for Transport upholds decision on parking tickets issued for Helston funeral

Last week at least 25 cars were issued parking tickets for parking on grass verges. The reason so many parked on the verges was because the car park was full due to high number of people attended a funeral of a well-known resident.

As one of the local Cornwall Councillors for Helston, I was contacted by residents from both Porthleven and Helston upset and angry at being issued a ticket.  By parking on the verges and out-of-the-way, the owners thought they would be ok. However, that proved to be far from the case.

After all, most people understand you cannot park on single or double yellow lines, but how many actually know the Traffic Regulation Order – makes yellow lines legal – includes the verges and pathways that run along side of the road? I did not, and I bet everyone else who parked on this date didn’t either.

Since being contacted, I have been trying to get the Council (as have other Councillors both near and far) to take a more understanding view on the situation; take into consideration why people parked on the verges; and as an act of good faith, cancel the tickets. This would have gone a long way in turning this public relations disaster into something more positive.

Sadly, this has not happened, as the Portfolio Holder for Transport, Cllr Bert Biscoe – which parking enforcement sits in – has released the following statement on this issue.

Dear Colleague

I have received a number of representations regarding the issue of Penalty Charge Notices at Helston last week. A number of vehicles were parked in contravention of clearly visible and legally enforceable yellow lines, on the footway, and on the verge. A Council Civil Parking Enforcement Officer witnessed the parking and adjudged that the vehicles on the footway posed a risk to pedestrians, requiring them to pass by stepping into the road. The ‘No Parking at any Time’ Traffic Regulation Order applies as much to the verge as it does to the footway and the verge. The vehicles on the verge would have affected the sightlines of approaching vehicles and therefore, in the estimation of the Civil Parking Enforcement Officer, posed a safety risk to road users.

Having been made aware that a funeral was taking place and as so many vehicles were involved the Enforcement Officer decided to report to his Manager before acting. He reported the nature of the infringements and his assessment of the risks and provided photographs (see attached). His manager agreed that Penalty Charge Notices should be issued. Such notices can, as you know, be appealed by the recipients. The duty of the Enforcement Team is to protect the public by enforcing the regulation through issuance of a penalty notice.

The Parking Manager judged, from the situation report and risks reported to him, that it was the correct course to issue notices and he instructed the Enforcement Officer to proceed. He did so in the knowledge that no enquiries had been received by the Council in advance of the funeral in the nearby chapel. If an enquiry had been received in advance then the Parking Manager would have advised about car parks in the vicinity which would have been able to accommodate the expected vehicles.

I acknowledge that it is very often difficult to estimate in advance the attendance at a funeral, but the roadside in the immediate vicinity of the chapel is subject to a Regulation Order, and, when infringements occur, perpetrators are consistently issued with notices – it is not a safe location to leave unattended vehicles, which put other road users, including pedestrians, at risk. Funerals are organised events and both the Parking Section and the Highways Authority are available to provide appropriate advice in advance to assist organisers to run things safely and carefully.

There has been a consequent expression of concern by various people, including many members, that the action sanctioned by the Parking Manager was disproportionate and unwise. Some have asked for the refund or cancellation of fines due to the exceptional circumstances.

I fully support the decision made by the Parking Manager and I fully acknowledge that the Civil Parking Enforcement Officer gave a factual report and provided his manager with a reasonable assessment of risk. I do not consider that the Penalty Notices should be withdrawn or cancelled, and I would request that you consider the extent to which the authority and reputation of the Civil Enforcement team would be undermined and weakened if such a course was pursued.

Along with everybody else who has commented upon this incident, I feel great sympathy for the relatives of the person whose funeral was taking place in the chapel whilst the Notices were being issued, who now find that the immediate aftermath of what is an emotionally charged and stressful situation is one of political and rhetorical turmoil rather than a period of mourning, remembrance and comforting. That many who chose to attend and support them at the funeral and to pay respects to the deceased should have also chosen to infringe a regulation made to reduce risk and improve safety on a busy road is not their fault, and begs the question whether it would be more appropriate to quietly accept the penalties and, if they choose to appeal, to follow the process without causing unnecessary distress to grieving relatives and close friends.

I am writing to let you know that I fully support both the Civil Parking Enforcement Officer, his colleagues (many of whom have been subjected to comments for the past few days), and the managers in the judgements made and decisions taken in this case. I will not sanction rescission or refund of penalties. Together will all the staff and Cabinet Members of the Council, I am sorry that the family of the deceased has had the aftermath of the funeral of a much loved and respected family member disrupted by a controversy caused by the correct issue of Penalty Charge Notices.

I am sure that lessons will be learned as a result but I would ask that you support the staff who work for you in the public interest, and the family in mourning, by advising that appeals can be made if perpetrators feel thus inclined, and that their process be allowed to take its course without further undue comment.

With best wishes

Cllr Bert Biscoe

Cabinet Member for Transport

 

I am bitterly disappointed on the way this has ended. I really believed a solution could have been found. However, with this statement, the only way now for the tickets to be cancelled is via the appeals process and if that appeal is not upheld, then the traffic and transport ombudsman.

Not a good day for the Council’s reputation.

Helston College C-Block and why it’s not being rebuilt

For anyone who has had to make a tough decision that will affect people will know how difficult it is. For those who have never had to, then it is easy to knock and past judgement as you often find with the online trolls.  At the May Cornwall Council Cabinet meeting, I had to present a report which I never would have like to present, but had to because of various situations. This report was on the issue of funding a rebuild of Helston College’s C-Block.

Let’s go back to July 2012, the then Cabinet agreed to a C-Block replacement subject to the appropriate funding. To be clear, the original decision was made with no clear idea on how the £10m for the rebuild would be funded.  Move on to the present and since I become the Portfolio Holder which this comes under I have looked at every option of finding funding for this building. Sadly, the £10m cannot be found as I will explain. It must be pointed out, it is very unusual for a Council to support a large-scale scheme like this from its own resources. In fact the Government in the early 2000’s took away this power and money and now gives grants directly.

However, the Government does fund  small building schemes and school maintenance each year. This is called the Educational Capital Grant. For 2012/13 this is £6.8m and for 2013/14 it is £6.34m. This money is for all LA schools, and as you can see it is reducing year on year. To make matters worse, Cornwall Council has maintenance backlog of £59m. Yes, really £59m. This amount has not just suddenly appeared, but is the result of under-funding for school maintenance. So to use all this money for Helston College wouldn’t be enough and would leave all other schools with nothing.

Could this be funded out of the directorate? The answer is no. Why? Well to cover the repayments we would have to find at least £400k per year for over 20 years. This would have a huge impact on the directorate’s budget and would result in other services being cut to pay for the rebuild. For example, the recent decision to close two respite centres due to budget pressures saves £600k per year. So it gives you an indication on what would be needed to do to cover the repayment costs.

There is no scope to change the Council’s capital programme, or use the limited reserves the Council is now left with. As for the latter, the reserves are being used to deal with the severe financial pressures the Council now faces and more recently the added burden of paying for the storm damage.  I hate to dispel the popular myth, but the Council is not awash with money. Furthermore, as per the policy rules, on large-scale works the school has to pay 10% of the costs. Which the college could not fund.

One source of money was identified, and this is the unspent (about £6m) Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG). This is ring-fenced money the Government gives to Cornwall for LA schools. However, this money is not controlled by the Council. It is controlled by a group known as the Schools Forum. This forum is made up of teachers from Cornwall who meets and decided how money is spent (I have explained the DSG simply). It is this group who has the power to say yes or no and on this occasion, they said no. Which we can do nothing about it. Off course all of this money would not have done the rebuild on its own, but it could have been made up with some of the money from the maintenance money

I even travelled to London to meet with the School’s Minister which had been kindly arranged by the local MP, Andrew George. Sadly, this drew a blank, but the Minister did someone down to have a look at the college.

So the decision at the Cabinet, which was supported by my fellow Cabinet Members, was to look at a maintenance programme which will deal with the pressing maintenance issues. I wish it was different, but the Council cannot just magic money and fund this without it having an effect on other areas.

There is a small glimmer of hope, and this is the recent announcement of £2 billion worth of funding for ‘Priority School Building Programme.’ Local Authorities, dioceses, academies and multi-academy trusts can submit expressions of interest for an entire school site, or parts of it for funding for rebuilds. I believe this is Helston Colleges best chance of obtaining funding for this much-needed rebuild. I will be doing all I can in making sure Helston College and other school who are in similar positions to be given some of this funding. It is about time, Cornwall was given its fair share of funding, as so often is misses out.

So there you have it, this school is in my local area  and I wish the funding position was different, and Helston like other schools were getting the school building and funding they deserve. Sadly, this is another example of under-funding in Cornwall.

Helston College C-Block

Earlier this month I explained that there was a problem identifying the funding needed to resolve the issues at Helston College’s C Block? I said then that the Council was working with the College and other partners to identify the best way forward.

While I had not intended to say anything else until there was a clear plan in place, over the past few days I have been contacted by a number of people who are concerned by some of the things which have been said about the situation and want to know what is happening.

I would, therefore, like to take this opportunity to clarify some of the misinformation and outline what is being done behind the scenes to resolve this important issue.

The facts are that the Council’s Cabinet met in July 2012 to discuss the various options surrounding C-Block.

These options were:

Option 1 – Repair Solution Based on Summer Holiday Working Only

There are two solutions for the roof works, being either overlaying the existing covering and re-using the existing internal RWPs, or a complete redesign of the existing roof discharging water to RWP’s on the external perimeter.

There are two solutions for the curtain walling replacement, being either replacing the ground floor ceilings perimeters only and retaining the majority of the ACM boards, or removing the ground floor ceiling complete and replacing with new suspended systems.

Cost of Works Total

Overlay existing roof £490,500.00 or Redesign roof £662,200.00

Curtain Walling Perimeter ceiling £2,019,200.00 or Curtain Walling Entire ceiling £2,730,600.00.

Option 2 – Complete Refurbishment Solution Vacating the Whole Block
This option is based upon carrying out a complete refurbishment of Block C to achieve 20-year life expectancy. C Block would be vacated and temporary accommodation provided for the duration of the contract. To achieve this programme the enabling works (temporary car park) would be undertaken as a separate contract to the main works.

Cost of Works Total Refurbishment £6,963,200.00

Option 3: Complete refurbishment solution, partial vacation – costs are inline with option 2

Option 4: Rebuild C Block (with no clear funding option)

Total cost of works £9,211,500 – £10,095,900.
This option is based upon demolishing C Block and replacing with a new building, providing equivalent facilities. The option can be progressed in one of two alternative ways.

One alternative is to construct the replacement building on the same site as the current C Block. Therefore, temporary accommodation will be required. The other alternative is to construct the replacement building on a different site and continue to use C Block as temporary accommodation throughout the new construction works.

At the meeting of the Cabinet in 2012 Members decided to go with Option 4.

In the report the Cabinet were advised on the financial matters. The report made it very clear that there was no funding in place at that time to carry out the scheme. As follows:

The total capital cost of the preferred option is in the range of £9.2m and £10.1m dependent on the actual final option selected. Currently, there is no provision within the existing capital programme for this scheme.

As you can see, when the decision was made to go with option 4, there was no clear idea on how it would be paid for. Furthermore, the funding of capital schemes for schools normally comes through Department for Education capital grant funding which covers capital maintenance and basic need. These allocations are to fund all Local Authority schools in Cornwall.

The allocations for recent years have been

  • 2011/12 LA Capital Maintenance £9,878,067
  • 2012/13 LA Capital Maintenance £6,886,597
  • This money is not for one school, however – it is for all schools in Cornwall. So if we wanted to use this money for C-Block, then there would be no money for any other school. Currently, there is around £54m worth of maintenance back-log in Cornwall’s schools. So it is highly unusual for the council to have to pay for a school rebuild. Furthermore, there is no guarantee the council will get more Capital Maintenance funding for 2014/15, and if the Council does, it will be less than previous years.

    Of course the Council could borrow the money. This could still be done, but to put it into perspective, the costs of repaying this “mortgage” would initially cost us £675,000 a year. While this amount would gradually reduce over time as the principal is repaid, the average costs over 40 years would be £465,000 p.a. Or you could do it over 25 years for around £800,000 p.a. With money as tight at the council, this would require some pretty drastic action in services/capital programme just to cover the loan costs.

    We could change the priorities for our existing building programme but funding the £10 million needed to re build C block would mean we would have to abandon one or a number of existing Council schemes. To find this money we would have to look at the larger areas of spending, such as maintaining other schools in need, repairing our roads or carrying our road safety schemes to reducing the number of houses for local people. Removing any of these projects would have huge repercussions on other services and plans.

    It is also important to recognise that Helston is one of five other schools that are in similar positions.

    Turning now to the actual recommendation that was made 12 months ago:

    The proposal to replace C Block of Helston Community College in accordance with Option 4 set out in this report is agreed in principle subject to approval of appropriate funding.

    That the options for funding the said Option 4 be noted and that the Director of Children, Schools and Families and the Head of Finance, in consultation with the Portfolio-holders for Children’s Services and Corporate Resources work up detailed proposals for funding the said Option 4.

    This decision was made 12 months ago. When I took over as the Portfolio holder two months ago I asked the question on what was happening at Helston College a month into the role. I was told that the issue of lack of funding is still the same as it was 12 months ago. You might ask what was happening for the 10 months before I took over the portfolio.

    As you know the council’s finances have had two further rounds of cuts since the original decision was made. So if the money was not available then, it is even harder to find now.

    I am a firm believer of keeping people informed. That includes the school. Both I and the Director of Children’s Services met with the Head and Deputy Head of Helston College a number of weeks ago to give an update. Of course they were very disappointed and wanted to know why it had taken a year (a very valid question) to come to this point. The Head asked if both I and the Director would come to the college and explain the position to staff. I agreed to attend. As you can imagine, it was not an easy meeting, but one that had to happen.

    Since then I have had calls about how it is shameful I have cut the funding. I would like to make it very clear that I have not cut any funding for Helston College. There has to be funding in place to be able to cut it and, as shown above, the original decision to go ahead with the proposed rebuild was made: in principle subject to approval of appropriate funding.

    One option is to lobby Government for some of the £50 billion that has been set aside for infrastructure projects like Helston College and other schools and we are working with the College and the local community on investigating this option.

    I am doing everything within my powers to sort this situation out as quickly as possible. But I do not have a magic wand, or a leprechaun’s pot of gold.

    I even blogged about the original decision HERE. And yes, I even mentioned about the money.

    I understand, and share, the frustrations which have been expressed by people over the situation we are in. I would like to end by making one final point. If you are going to sign up to a project, then surely it makes sense to actually identify the money first before a decision is made? I might like a supercar, but I don’t walk into a showroom to order it and then find I have no money to pay for it. Maybe the previous administration should have thought of that before it made its decision

    As I said before we appreciate that people in Helston are concerned about this. We are working to try and address the issues with C block and I will ensure that the local community is kept up to date with what is happening.

    For those interested, HERE is the original Cabinet report.

    I hope in writing this post, I have cleared up some of the issues surrounding C-Block.

    Helston’s Draft Local Plan

    Helston’s Draft Local Plan, which covers Helston for the next 20 years is now subject to formal consultation before it becomes ratified. The consultation period runs until April 22nd. The plan and all the relevant details can be found HERE.

    Once adopted either as it is now, or with changes, will sit alongside the Cornwall Local Plan. Details on that can be found HERE. And if you want to give your views online, HERE is that link

    It is very important people take the time to comment even if it is to agree with the plans. As that will give Cornwall Council a true understanding on the local feeling. I know, I have commented.

    If you want any further information, or the whole document electronically, just give me a call, tweet, text, or email.

    The proposals for Helston

    The proposals for Helston

    Helston Town Branding: What do you think?

    Last night I attended the Helston Traders Meeting, I was there for two reasons. The first I was asked to give a presentation on the use of Social Media (more later) and there as Divisional Councillor for 1/3 of Helston.

    Before it got to my presentation, the town team made up of volunteers from the business community unveiled six designs. The businesses and public will be now asked to choose one, which will be the official Helston brand. I have to say, before you see the pictures, the designs do not jump out and say Helston. But what do I know about branding!

    These designs did result in a very interesting debate on why these were chosen, why the more traditional, or more well-known brands of Helston did not make the final six. I am sure everyone will have their own opinion, and that is what the Traders Association is hoping for, as you will be able to vote for your favourite by going into the various shops in Helston. The Traders Facebook page is HERE

    The six designs:

    Celebration Star

    Corner Stones

    Cultural Style

    Grante Strength

    Paving the Way

    United Cross

     

    Social Media Surgeries

    Cornwall Council is taking part in a national social media campaign between the 24th and 28th September at various locations around Cornwall. Sadly, it is not being held in that many places. But the reason for this is these are ‘testing-the-water’ events. As if successful, they will be held on a more regular basis and more inclusive locations

    I feel like I am preaching to the converted, as if you are reading this, you are probably proficient in the use of social media. However, I am sure we all have friends and family who runaway screaming when you mention social media. This might be through choice, but in a lot of cases it is not.

    Social media can be a powerful tool, and is becoming an everyday part of life with the likes of blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. The Government has recently made it easier for ‘citizen journalist’ to get access to council meetings and report directly from them.  Social media is also a good way to keep people and groups informed. I know I can get an important message out very quickly via social media.

    The aim of the surgeries is to introduce people to social media. These will be held in four locations and they are being held at:

    • Monday, September 24, Wadebridge Library 5-7pm
    • Tuesday, September 25, Launceston Library 5-7pm
    • Wednesday, September 26, St Austell Library 5-7pm
    • Friday, September 28, Helston Library, 12-2pm
    I shall be in attendance at the Helston Library to help offering help and advice (like pitfalls). There will also be Cornwall Council officers there showing how social media can be used to contact the council.
    For those who know what the hell I am talking about in the world of Twitter, there will be a 12-hour Tweetathon on Thursday September 27th in line with a national day where local authorities will be tweeting. The official hashtag is #Ourday Cornwall Council will also  be using #CCDay.
    My Twitter is @CllrAWallis
    And the poster:

     

     

    Bulwark Residents Association in the Helston Carnival

    The Bulwark (and friends) Residents Association again entered the Helston Carnival. This year, the association picked the theme of the Olympics. I was again was volunteered by the group to be part of it. Though I love taking part, however I think they like making me dress up in something  ridiculous.

    There was a good number of floats this year, so competition was going to be tough to win one of the trophies. Last year the group won the best small float and best overall float. So, it was going to be a tough act to follow. The judging was undertaken by the Leader of Cornwall Council, Alec Roberson, who really entered into the spirit.

    To the groups credit, and hard work in getting the float together, they won best small float AND best overall float in the carnival. It was fantastic to win not just one, but two trophies! The group is a credit to their neighborhood for all the hard work in putting the float together. Well done to Julie Eddy, the Chairman of the group. All the committee, parents and children who took part.

    Special thanks must go to the local National Trust; who provided the Land Rover, driver and trailer for the float.

    Now for the pictures:

    The Float

    The Mayor and Mayoress of Helston award the two trophies

    Guess who?!

    Helston College C-Block Rebuild Gets the Green Light

    There was one bit of good news at Monday’s Cabinet meeting. That is the recommendation for the rebuild of C-block at Helston College has been approved in principle. This is fantastic news for all those children who go to this school. I am glad Cornwall Council’s Cabinet fully supported the proposals.

    Now, post this decision, the £10m and change needed to build this new block has to be identified. As in the Cabinet report this money is not readily available. Once this has happened work needs to start as soon as possible. A question that will also have to be answered is will the new block be built on the existing site, or another site?

    Still, today’s decision is a good one for the people of the area.

    Cabinet to decide on Helston College

    On Monday 30th July, Cornwall Council’s Cabinet, will be making some pretty huge decisions that will set the path of the council for years to come. The main one is the option of ‘shared services’. To explain it in the simplest term, it is privatisation. Others might call it something else, but I see it nothing more than selling off certain functions of the council. However, this is not the subject I will be talking about. This blog is on the proposals for Helston College.

    For anyone who has ever visited Helston College will know ‘C’ block is in a very poor state. In truth, it is not far off from being a hazard to those who use this site. The college has long campaigned for something to be done, but like most things, it all comes down to money.

    Now finally, a series of option are now being presented to Cabinet on Monday. These range from ‘temporary repairs’ which I believe is a pointless exercise because it is merely painting over the cracks and still not solving the problem. I believe the only creditable option is for a total rebuild. Report HERE.

    This rebuild option is not cheap. The figure quoted in the report is the costs could amount to just over £10m. That is a lot of money in anyone’s book. However, it is the right and only option to solve the college’s problem. If this is the option that is taken forward, there is a discussion to have if the same site is used for the rebuild, a different site, and how a rebuild will be carried out without affecting the running of the college.

    So how will the rebuild be paid for? We all know Cornwall Council is not awash with spare cash, so this money will have to be found from somewhere. A few options could be used. One of these is reassigning money already earmarked in the capital spending. In a biased way, I would say why not. But this would be unfair on that project which gets kicked into the long grass. Cornwall Council could also borrow it using its AAA rating to get a good deal.

    Another option, which I have written to the CEO, Kevin Lavery (a few months ago) requesting to use the money from the sale of one school to fund this rebuild. The school in question is the former Richard Lander school site which is being sold by Cornwall Council. I have also spoken to senior Cornwall Council officers about this proposal and in principle this could happen. Though there are some technicalities, though not insurmountable

    Of course this is not as simple as cashing the cheque from the sale and writing another for Helston, but it is a creditable option which would not affect another capital project. Sadly, I have no vote in this matter, but I will support any option that gives Helston College the rebuild it desperately needs.

    Let’s hope the Cabinet makes the right decision and accepts it has to rebuild this block which will give the school the facilities it needs to educate our young people.

    Helston’s Coronation Lake Centenary Celebration

    Months of hard work by the working group for Coronation Lake centenary celebration finally paid off on Saturday 21st July with a truly amazing day and evening. Any outdoor event relies on the weather and the centenary celebration’s weather was just perfect (I was very worried about the weather) after weeks of very poor weather.

    The event was opened by Sir Ferrers Vyvyan, The Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall, who made a great speech about his own memories of the lake and area because of his local connection between his family and Helston. Sir Ferrers then unveiled a wonderful plaque to mark the celebrations.  Helston Town Band then played throughout the afternoon, but with short breaks for other entertainment to take place.

    The first step 100 years ago

    I was truly amazed to see so many people at the lake. I reckon there was least a couple of thousand who enjoyed the many community stalls, entertainment, or just chilled out. The ten displays of pictures of the lake from the last 100 years were also very popular. The Old Cattle Market (OCM) provided live music from 5pm till midnight.

    The final two parts of the celebration was the 100 lanterns, made by local school children to float on the lake and the firework display. Both of these events left me speechless, especially the firework display which was truly epic.

    Huge, huge thanks must go to all who helped leading up to the day, and on the actual day. Cornwall Council and Cormac certainly stepped up to the plate by cleaning up the area before the event, supplied extra bins, and an environmental team who patrolled the area during the day clearing up any litter.

    However, very special thank you’s should go to Charlotte Chadwick for being my right hand-woman, Jude Carroll who helped all the school children make the lanterns, Rob and Sue Ford for putting on all the music, Simon and Kym Stone and all at the OCM and SKA. Furthermore, if you ever want to have a firework display, you must use this company Celebration Pyrotechnics. Of course, a thank you should go to those who financially contributed to the event which includes Downsland Trust, all the Cornwall Councillor of the Community Network and Helston Town Council.

    The Centenary Plaque

    Children painted on this throughout the day. It will now be framed and put on display at the park.

    The launch of the lanterns

    The lanterns at night

    The lanterns

    Fireworks!

    More bangs!

    Whoosh!

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