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current affairs

My Green view on last night’s council meeting

Another long full council meeting last night. I tried tweeting between the parts I was most involved in and was pleased to see others following the meeting through Twitter. Sadly the webcasting is still quite unwieldy so perhaps Twitter is a good alternative for some.

I shall try to review the key parts of the meeting from my perspective. I won’t cover everything because, well the agenda was immense, and not all was within my remit or expertise.

Questions

As usual, I asked some questions of councillors. Unfortunately Cllr G Theobald refused to rule out shipping some of the city’s waste to landraise sites in East Sussex. I also continued my attempts to see the final city municipal waste strategy document before it gets rubber stamped. Cllr Theobald either doesn’t understand my point or chooses to ignore it by saying I will see it at the meeting which will approve the document – rather too late to be of any use in my view.

I also pressed Cllr Smith who had promised to engage directly with Brighton’s Sailing Club at the last full council meeting. They are very worried about the implications of the proposed Brighton O development. However since the last council meeting there have been no meetings. His responses to my questions were very unsatisfactory – claiming that a question from a sailing club member to Cllr Theobald at a public Cabinet Member Meeting was equivalent to dealing directly with the club. Neither I nor club members at last night’s meeting agreed with that view at all.

The main agenda

The council agenda had a number of very important and worthwhile reports from scrutiny panels. While implementation of their recommendations is mixed, I do think scrutiny panels are one of the highlights of how our current council constitution is working — unlike much of how the cabinet operates.

So it was a great pleasure to be able to speak to the report on Brighton’s privately contracted GP-led health clinic which I contributed to as a panel member and helped to initiate in the first place. I shall post my speech separately, but I chose to highlight ongoing concerns over such private contracts and as usual the other, privatising parties, were quick to moan about ‘politicising’ a panel report. It’s such a silly criticism, of course they’re political, full council is political and we’re all politicians — what do they expect!

Blocking fee increases for farmers markets & street traders

The next item I played an active part on was approving the licensing fees for 2010/11. For whatever reason the Conservative administration had decided to increase the annual fees for street traders and farmers market stalls by 10% – a big jump no matter what the economic situation. But recently the George Street farmers market has closed down and we know markets at Upper Gardner Street and elsewhere have struggled. Greens strongly felt that they should be supported and so submitted an amendment to freeze charges for street traders and farmers markets, removing the increases. They make up a very small part of the overall licensing regime so there were no major budgetary implications.

Then suddenly just before the meeting began the Tories produced an amendment reducing the fees from 10% to 1% claiming it was a drafting error to have put 10% in. I wasn’t convinced – if it was a genuine error it could be corrected in the Mayor’s communications at the start of the meeting, as indeed an error in another report was corrected yesterday. The fee report had 10% in the main body and the appendices. I think this 1% amendment – which was a Conservative group amendment, not an officer amendment – was some quick backtracking when they realised 10% wasn’t a particularly smart idea.

So after speeches, some of which entirely missed the point of the amendments, the meeting accepted our amendment and we had a Green win – farmers markets and street traders won’t see an increase in license fees this year!

12 month review of the constitution

Another item I have a great interest in is the progress on amending the council’s constitution. It was changed almost two years ago, against loud Green protests, and we’re in a continual process of reviewing and revising its workings. The recommendations from the 12 month review were all well and good, but quite timid. One amendment we proposed last night was to split the Environment & Community Safety Scrutiny committee into two. Its agenda and remit is so large, Environment being the largest department in the council by far, that it struggles to cover enough ground. We feel Community Safety deserves its own committee. However the other parties resisted for various reasons. We proposed to fund this by abolishing two of the little used Cabinet Member Meetings – which is where the members sit in a public meeting to declare decisions they have already made.

Cabinet member Cllr Ayas Fallon-Khan then chose to speak in one of his now trademark outbursts attacking all and sundry (well the Greens) for cutting some Cabinet Member Meetings in our amendment. What he failed to mention is that his own Cabinet Member Meetings were already being cut in the main Conservative report!

The Green amendment wasn’t supported but we will keep plugging away at trying to improve the council constitution.

High Pay Commission

The highlight of the evening, for me, was this motion which I was seconding with Cllr Bill Randall as the proposer. Bill very graciously (and without warning me) set me up as knowledgeable in these matters leaving the bulk of the speaking to me. My speech (which I will post separately) was well received, I hope.

Labour councillor Kevin Allen then treated us to one of his very humorous speeches which lacked much substance. However it did reveal that Labour are so worried about Green chances in Brighton Pavilion that they’ve asked campaign group Compass (who launched the campaign on a High Pay Commission) to block our candidate and party leader Caroline Lucas from taking part in any more Compass events before the general election!

Cllr Allen proposed an amendment which basically congratulated the Labour government for all their work on this issue (yet the gap between highest and lowest paid continues to grow) and removed all the substantive points from our motion.

Ok, well the Labour group do that to us quite often. However the Conservative group voted to support the Labour amendment. Which just goes to show how similar Tories and Labour are – both not that interested in narrowing the pay gap it would seem. This left the motion far from our initial intention so Greens abstained but it was still carried overall.

Other motions

There was good debate on other motions including Cllr Rufus commenting on Labour’s foreign policies in relation to a fairtrade motion, Cllrs Wakefield-Jarrett and Fryer responding to the bizarre and inconsiderate Tory motion on van dwellers and more from Cllr Rachel Fryer and Cllr Pete West on licensing.

I opened my council email today to find an outpouring of support for the Green motion on Sussex University job cuts. So that went down well with unanimous support in the chamber if I recall rightly.

My final memorable moment was on a Green motion about neighbourhood policing. Green Cllr Ben Duncan, the council’s only elected representative to Sussex Police Authority, is a bit of a target for the other parties at the moment. They can’t stand that he’s the only representative nor that Ben doesn’t universally praise the police or criticise protests. Throughout the meeting there had been digs at Ben. The Tories proposed an amendment to his motion to:

ask the Council’s solerepresentative on the Sussex Police Authority to relay to his fellow members the Council’s view that the proactive use of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders and a tough stance against benefit fraud has had a significant positive effect on reducing both “crime and, crucially, the fear of crime” in Brighton & Hove.

This was a direct attack on our view that ASBOs don’t work and criminalise people who need help. We’ve also been concerned about the public statements Conservative members have made around benefit fraud, though of course we don’t condone fraud in any way. Bizarrely Labour supported this amendment too. Leaving us once again unable to tell Tories and Labour apart.

It was a long night but with some good results for the city and a clutch of excellent scrutiny reports which offer plenty of recommendations for us all to be working on.

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current affairs

What about the policies?

The last few months have been instructive as we’ve seen both local Tory and Labour activists engage in negative, personal attacks on the Green candidate for Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas.

Sadly this is nothing new, I was subject to personal attacks when campaigning to win the Regency by-election in 2007. In both cases the salient fact is that the other parties don’t seem able or willing to engage with Greens on issues of policy – which is what I suspect voters would rather see us debating.

The personal attacks seem to come out when they recognise the Greens as a serious threat to their electoral cartel. Back in 2007 we were best placed to win, and we did — hence it will be my honour and duty to attend this afternoon’s full council meeting.

Again in 2010 Greens are tipped to be in a position to win Brighton Pavilion at the General Election. I know Caroline Lucas will serve my constituents with energy and passion, as she has done for 10 years as our MEP.

To win voters over we’ll stay focussed on issues, policies and good old fashioned hard work. We’ll ignore the attacks – they’re a sign of policy weakness in my view – but we’ll rebut any falsehoods with vigour.

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current affairs

Conservative health policy

I’ve been trying to find the time to post an analysis of the Tory draft health manifesto. But the more I’ve thought about it the less I’ve had to say. Not because it’s marvellous but because the essential points are so simple.

Much of the manifesto is contradictory – calling for less government control in some sections and more in others. Their thinking is muddled at best.

I find it astonishing that despite the NHS being clearly a huge Labour achievement the Conservatives several times over claim they are “the party of the NHS”. What an absurd thing to say. As a Green I feel no need to make such claims, just to offer policies that will improve our wellbeing such as more community-based healthcare and abolishing prescription charges.

The absolutely critical parts of this manifesto refer to that old political favourite of ‘choice’:

“We will give everyone the power to choose any healthcare provider that meets NHS standards.”

“To give patients even more choice, we will open up the NHS to include new independent and voluntary sector providers…”

There we have it. The NHS will be broken up and left to compete with other providers. Private providers I would suggest is where they are going. Because for Tories government provided options are ‘bad’ and in their free-market worldview competition is needed to boost the quality of government services.

We already know that marketisation, competition and privatisation in the NHS thus-far has been hugely expensive, resource intensive, problematic and with very mixed quality outcomes. (Read more: On this blog here and here, plus from the NHS Support Federation & Keep our NHS public)

I’m not entirely surprised by a Conservative push for further privatisation of the NHS, destroying public service and end-to-end treatments without changing providers n-times. But the revelation that the shadow health secretary Andew Lansley’s office is being bankrolled by the Chairman of Care UK makes things even clearer. Care UK are a leading private beneficiary of the NHS privatisation work Labour have done already. I’m sure Care UK can see very significant profits to reap from a Conservative-controlled NHS break-up.

I don’t believe that’s what the majority of British people want to happen, I just hope the manifesto’s weasel words will be exposed before people come to vote.

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current affairs

Licensing & alcohol – we need action

While Police, Councillors and residents have been working together more effectively to block unnecessary new licensing applications, the problems of alcohol are continuing to weigh on our society.

The warnings are stark: The Royal College of Physicians and NHS Confederation are telling us that the costs of dealing with alcohol-related health problems could financially cripple the NHS. Meanwhile the Health Select Committee have slammed government’s failure to act on these problems whilst calling for minimum pricing per unit of alcohol.

The Committee also highlight what is an open secret in the licensed trade, that the Government has been in the pocket of the alcohol lobby. The 2003 Licensing Act was exactly the permissive piece of law that alcohol industry body The Portman Group wanted. The BBC report on the Health Committee’s findings includes strong criticism of the government by MPs, the British Medical Association, the British Liver Trust and Alcohol Concern.

I would say about 70-80% of my casework in the last few months has related to alcohol and licensed premises. The Licensing act is weak and we’re seeing locally a race to the bottom as one venue after another races to the latest opening hours (if they’re already licensed) or raced to become an off-license if not already licensed.

The local Licensing committee (on which I sit) also recently received a shocking report on the “Health Impact Assessment of Licensing” [PDF]. It highlights a sharp local increase in domestic violence whilst under the influence of alcohol and a very sharp increase in the level of alcohol-related hospital admissions — and this excludes A&E admissions.

Indeed it’s strangely inconsistent that this Labour government have appeared to come down hard on smoking whilst failing to recognise the steep costs of irresponsible alcohol consumption.

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current affairs

Is the apparent failure at Copenhagen really so bad?

Following news of the Copenhagen summit has been a roller coaster filled with false alarms, misinformation, consternation and uncertainty. Like many people, I was hoping for a binding agreement to dramatically reduce emissions, keep temperature rises below 2 degrees and support for developing nations. But now I’m not sure that was ever truly a realistic outcome.

Yes, it sounds like arrangements for this massive summit could have been better. Perhaps more could have been done in the preparatory meetings. But how likely was it that we were going to get nearly 200 countries of enormous diversity, development and political direction to agree on strong binding action to cut greenhouse gas emissions? It’s certainly unfair to compare COP15 with the Montreal Protocol process which successfully dealt with ozone hole causing gases such as CFCs.

The production and use of CFCs were nowhere as central to mainstream ‘developed’ lifestyles as greenhouse gases now are. And the key narrative behind the need for global binding action is that reducing emissions will hurt economies. As a result nobody wants to make the first move for risk of crippling their economic competitiveness.

I think this view needs challenging. If a recession is the time for public spending (and it is) then ambitious projects for improved rail, renewable energy sources, energy efficiency upgrades and more are what we need. They keep people in jobs, improve quality of life whilst addressing our need to reduce emissions.

What they also do is put nations in a much better place to cope with ever increasing fuel costs as well as supply uncertainty. Because if the threat of violent climate change isn’t enough to galvanise action, certainly fuel shortages and spiraling prices will be — these are proven political hot buttons for rapid action. Oil is running out, it’s just a matter of when.

So while a decent agreement at Copenhagen would have been welcome, on reflection I don’t think it was ever that likely. We’re instead going to have to rely on self-interest to get the job done. Countries are going to run out of things to burn soon and the last ones ready with renewable energy sources are going to be the ones to experience the most cost and pain. Politicians take note — voters don’t like not being able to heat their homes, cook their dinner or travel around their countries.

UPDATE: Let’s not forget that despite the Kyoto protocol being ‘legally binding’ most countries are way off meeting their Kyoto obligations.

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current affairs

Last night’s Council Meeting on the Core Strategy

Last night saw an epic Full Council meeting in Brighton Town Hall… With about 90 amendments planned to go forward either from various individual parties or collectively from all the opposition parties together. Why so many? Because we were debating the ‘Core Strategy’ which is the document which defines our aims and visions for the city’s built environment over the next 10-15 years. It’s an important document which sets the shape development in the City should take.

All that being said, it’s only a part of the overall planning process, which includes local plans, masterplans for areas, supplementary planning documents and briefs plus the usual application process to the committee. So something being in this Core Strategy doesn’t guarantee that it will happen, but it certainly sets a direction of travel. (An appropriate turn of phrase given that the most contentious section by far was on transport!)

You’ll be relieved to know that I won’t be going through all the amendments here. I’m just going to highlight a few of particular interest to me, I expect others may well also blog their amendments of interest.

It has to be said that the Tories were not best pleased by the prospect of being outvoted by the opposition parties working together. So they kicked off the meeting with some pretty poorly chosen words attacking our joint working as somehow being undemocratic. If we could collectively agree issues and made up more of the council chamber than them, then surely that was exactly how representative democracy is supposed to work!

As was said many times in the long (very long) evening, if the Tories had taken the time and effort to involve the other parties much earlier in the process, many of the amendments might have been avoided — they could have been incorporated through consensus prior to the meeting. As a minority administration I’m astonished they thought they would be able to push through such a critical document without engaging with the other parties.

As the meeting wore on, it dawned on the Tories that they were going to have to get on with the job of collaborative working. Suddenly a 10 minute adjournment was called, which stretched to 90 minutes as the four party leaders went through the amendments and the Tories accepted a good number of them… except some of the critical ones about transport, of course, which they truly seem to be in denial about. Have they not seen the daily traffic jams and dire air quality reports?

Anyway I digress from my pet amendments which were all Green only amendments. They all related to plans for the Brighton Square and Churchill Square Area. In essence the plan is for Standard Life (owner of Churchill Square) to financially support the new Brighton Centre in return for being able to expand their shopping centre. My key amendment asked to delete the plans to add 20,000 square metres of retail space to Churchill Square. I don’t believe such space is needed, especially given the large number of vacant commercial properties across Regency Ward: In Churchill Square, Western Road, North Street, Ship Street etc. We don’t need more large chain stores and the retail study this plan is based on used wildly optimistic growth projections in population and disposable income which are already well out of kilter with reality and official predictions. Furthermore the Core Strategy on this part of the city absolutely fails to even mention residents — people actually live around there!

I was disappointed, but not surprised, to have that amendment ruled unsound by the planners. This meant it couldn’t be voted on because it would render the final document unsound in the eyes of a Government Planning Inspector and so would risk a central government plan being imposed on us instead of our own.

However two ‘sound’ Green amendments to help mitigate the growth of the Churchill carbuncle did get passed. These require additional car movements to be kept to the ‘minimum necessary’ and required ‘high quality public and sustainable transport facilities [to] serve new development’. Furthermore they add that ‘Car trips linked to large scale retail provision will be the minimum necessary.’

I had insisted on our amending language using ‘minimum’ instead of ‘minimise’ which is much softer and easier to talk around in my view. I hadn’t expected cross-party support for those amendments but we got it and they’re now in the Core Strategy. A win for Regency Ward I think.

Thanks to all the amendments we overall have a much better Core Strategy than it would otherwise have been. The process could have been less painful and chaotic on the night if the Tories had thought about their minority position more carefully instead of trying to brazen it out. It will take a Green council administration before we can really get the document where we want it to be though…

PS The Argus’ Andy Chiles has covered this whole affair in recent days here and here plus a centre spread in today’s paper.

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current affairs

Primark Decision Notice: Not holding my breath

This afternoon I received a copy of the decision notice sent by the Council to Primark. The full backstory can be caught up in these previous posts. One minor victory – the cycle parking condition was amended to require that the parking is actually accessible and free from obstruction!

The cycle parking hereby approved shall remain accessible and free from obstruction, and retained for use at all times

In their letter to Primark officers have added as strong a wording — in bold, no less — that they now can, for which I am grateful:

Please be advised that it is necessary to ensure that Primark Stores comply in full with the conditions above. I would particularly like to draw your attention to conditions 3, 4 and 5 which relate to delivery operations and delivery times. Please be advised that it is your responsibility to ensure that all these conditions are complied with at all times. Please ensure that you instruct all delivery drivers/refuse collectors etc. of the terms of these conditions and ensure that they are complied with in full and at all times.


You should be aware that if the requirements of the planning conditions are breached then the Council will have no other option than to pursue formal enforcement action for failure to comply with the terms of the planning approval. This is likely to take the form of a Breach of Conditions Notice (to which there is no right of appeal except in the High Court. The maximum fine upon conviction is £1000 for each and every subsequent offence.)


Finally I would like to state that it is not the intention of any party to be punitive or unnecessarily strict in this matter. It is in the best interests of all parties that the problems experienced on this site are resolved in an efficient and professional manner. In this regards I would like to encourage Primark Stores to liaise closely with the residents in close proximity to the store to ensure that potential and future problems can be avoided. I would also strongly encourage you to ensure that your staff are aware of the importance of compliance with the planning conditions and their responsibility to keep noise and disturbance to an absolute minimum, especially in the rear service yard.

They also did include the informative that some Councillors had requested but I wasn’t sure was passed by the full committee:

Additional Informative:

The applicant is advised that the Planning Committee is of the view that effective engagement and communication should take place with the local community regarding the operation of the store.

I hope that this serves it purpose and that Primark will now engage with their neighbours and reign in their deliveries. However today I heard that Marlborough Street was used for refuse collection, in contravention of their conditions, so I’m not holding my breath!

I’ve copied the full letter below, less the Planning officer’s name.

The Store Manager
Primark Stores Ltd
169-174 Western Road
Brighton
BN1 2BL

Dear Sir / Madam,

Re: Planning application BH2008/01052


As you should be aware planning application BH2008/01052 (Retrospective application for part second/third floor extension to incorporate storage space and staff facilities (amendment to Delivery and Servicing Statement to show a minimum of 6 deliveries per day and none on Sundays and Public Holidays) was approved by the Planning Committee of the Council on 25th November 2009.

The application was approved subject to 8 conditions. These conditions are:

1. All air handling units and plant located on the roof of the premises shall not operate between the hours of 23.00 and 07.00.

Reason: To safeguard the amenities of neighbouring residential occupiers and to comply with policies SU10 and QD27 of the Brighton & Hove Local Plan.

2. Noise associated with plant and machinery incorporated within the development shall be controlled such that the rating level, measured or calculated at 1 metre from the façade of the nearest noise sensitive premises shall not exceed a level of 5dB below the existing LA90 background noise level.  Rating level and existing background noise levels to be determined as per the guidance provided in BS 4142: 1997.

Reason: To safeguard the amenities of neighbouring occupiers and to comply with policies SU10 and QD27 of the Brighton & Hove Local Plan.

3. No vehicle movements nor any loading or unloading of vehicles shall take place between the hours of 20.00 to 08.00.

Reason: To safeguard the amenities of neighbouring occupiers and to comply with policies SU10 and QD27 of the Brighton & Hove Local Plan.

4. No deliveries, including the collection of refuse and recyclable materials, shall be taken at or dispatched from the site except from either the service yard to the rear of the application site accessed from Crown Street only or the front of the site along the designated section of footway in Western Road.

Reason: To safeguard traffic flows along Crown Street and Marlborough Street and not to prejudice highway safety in accordance with policies TR1 and TR7 of the Brighton & Hove Local Plan.

5. No deliveries or unloading of vehicles shall take place on Sundays or Bank or other Public Holidays except using the designated section of footway in Western Road.

Reason: To safeguard the amenities of neighbouring occupiers and to comply with policies SU10 and QD27 of the Brighton & Hove Local Plan.

6. The refuse and recycling storage facilities hereby approved shall be retained for use at all times.

Reason: To ensure the retention of satisfactory facilities for the storage of refuse and recycling and to comply with policies SU2 and QD27 of the Brighton & Hove Local Plan.

7. Access to the flat roof over the extension hereby approved shall be for maintenance or emergency purposes only and the flat roof shall not be used as a roof garden, terrace, patio or similar amenity area.

8. The cycle parking hereby approved shall remain accessible and free from obstruction, and retained for use at all times

Reason: To ensure that the facilities for the parking of cycles are retained and to encourage travel by means other than private motor vehicles and to comply with policy TR14 of the Brighton & Hove Local Plan.

Additional Informative:

The applicant is advised that the Planning Committee is of the view that effective engagement and communication should take place with the local community regarding the operation of the store.

Please be advised that it is necessary to ensure that Primark Stores comply in full with the conditions above. I would particularly like to draw your attention to conditions 3, 4 and 5 which relate to delivery operations and delivery times. Please be advised that it is your responsibility to ensure that all these conditions are complied with at all times. Please ensure that you instruct all delivery drivers/refuse collectors etc. of the terms of these conditions and ensure that they are complied with in full and at all times.


You should be aware that if the requirements of the planning conditions are breached then the Council will have no other option than to pursue formal enforcement action for failure to comply with the terms of the planning approval. This is likely to take the form of a Breach of Conditions Notice (to which there is no right of appeal except in the High Court. The maximum fine upon conviction is £1000 for each and every subsequent offence.)


Finally I would like to state that it is not the intention of any party to be punitive or unnecessarily strict in this matter. It is in the best interests of all parties that the problems experienced on this site are resolved in an efficient and professional manner. In this regards I would like to encourage Primark Stores to liaise closely with the residents in close proximity to the store to ensure that potential and future problems can be avoided. I would also strongly encourage you to ensure that your staff are aware of the importance of compliance with the planning conditions and their responsibility to keep noise and disturbance to an absolute minimum, especially in the rear service yard.

I trust that the above is informative and if I can be of any further assistance or clarification, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours faithfully

[A.N. Officer]

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current affairs

Post Licensing Committee thoughts

The other disappointment of the week was Licensing Committee, which stretched through Thursday afternoon and evening.

The agenda was packed (part 1 and part 2), I won’t rehearse all here, don’t worry!

Cab Conundrum

Certainly the most high profile item was the Hackney Carriage Unmet Demand Survey. Essentially this was about the taxis you can hail on the street (Private Hire are those you have to call to book), whether the city needs more and whether disabled users are being well served. I’d received detailed emails from various associations and the GMB union about this item. It’s evident from the report that at the moment disabled customers are not being well served by taxis, and there’s general agreement amongst drivers and taxi firms that something more has to be done. A wheelchair user has to wait on average 45 minutes for a taxi (11 minutes is the average non-wheelchair user wait) and can’t pre-book with some firms or get any taxi at all during certain periods of the day.

Whilst an independent survey found that despite a 40% increase in passenger journeys, there was little unmet demand requiring additional licenses, it seemed obvious to me that allowing a continuation of the 5 new licenses a year we currently have been offering would be useful because we could continue to require the licenses to be for wheelchair cabs. This would represent only a 1% increase on the overall Hackney Carriage licenses, so not threatening business for other drivers, but would be a significant boost in wheelchair capacity each year. Sadly, except for the Greens and the LibDem member, the other parties voted this down opting for only 2 new licenses a year.

But much worse, they absolutely refused to accept amendments put forward by my Green colleague Cllr Pete West. These amendments just asked for an officer report to look into how and if we should set a percentage quota of wheelchair accessible vehicles on the books of the larger Hackney Carriage firms and also whether a condition requiring wheelchair accessible vehicles should be added to all new private hire licenses.

The Council’s consultants had estimated we need roughly 400 more wheelchair accessible cabs to eliminate the difference in waiting time. It’s going to take 200 years to get there at the rate Labour and Tories have set and they’ve refused to explore the options for which we can see widespread support for in the trade. A clear missed opportunity to eliminate a systematic inequality in a vital transport system for those with disabilities. I’m so disappointed the other party members wouldn’t support even an officer report on the path forward.

Alcohol Disorder Zones

The Committee had received a request from the St James Street Local Action Team, supported by the Kingscliffe Society, to instigate an Alcohol Disorder Zone (ADZ) in their locality. This is a new legal tool which no council has yet used, but which would result in an action plan to bring together the Council and Police in tackling alcohol related disorder. In extreme cases it could force all licensed premises in the zone to pay for services to tackle the problems.

Sadly the Police and Council licensing officers didn’t seem very keen on the idea, the legislation may have some imperfections (what doesn’t) and were wary of the negative publicity in declaring a neighbourhood a ‘disorder zone’. However support from the city’s Director of Public Health was noticeable.

Again my colleague Cllr Pete West offered an amendment. The officer recommendation was for a Council policy where only the Chief of Police would be able to request such a zone from the Council, but Cllr West’s amendment expanded that to allow Local Action Teams and constituted community groups to make such requests… which seemed to be much more inclusive. Surely local groups would be those best able to judge if they needed to get help for alcohol disorder? Some areas feel dissatisfaction with the Police, so handing the power only to the Police Chief could well exacerbate that. Sadly, once again Labour and Tories wouldn’t support this.

I put forward an amendment that we accept the St James Street LAT’s request and begin the ADZ process for their area. They had formally requested it and no policy of Police Chief only had been agreed at the time of their submission, but I’m afraid again there was no support.

While I accept that ADZs aren’t perfect, clearly the Cumulative Impact Area in the city centre isn’t enough to counter-balance the over-liberal 2003 Licensing Act which is causing chaos for my constituents.

Health Impact Assessment of Licensing

This was a very powerful report showing the devastating impact alcohol is having on our city. The graphs showing a huge growth in alcohol-related hospital admissions since the new licensing law came into force are shocking, especially given that they don’t include A&E figures!

This report was good backing for why Dr Tom Scanlon, Director of Public Health for the city, is so keen for more action. The report is vital reading and will hopefully feed into a new city-wide licensing policy next year. Another of my Green colleagues on the committee, Cllr Georgia Wrighton, proposed some amendments which we did finally manage to get agreed. These included referring the report to the Environment & Community Safety Overview & Scrutiny Committee (dreadfully long name, I know), to the Full Council and also having the Chair of the Licensing Committee write to the relevant ministers, attaching the report and asking for ‘Impact on Public Health’ to be included as a licensing objective under the Licensing Act. This would then allow residents, the NHS and council to object to licensing applications on the basis of impact on health; which currently isn’t possible.

Finally some success!

The rest

There were other reports on street trading, gambling and alcohol harm to children but little dramatic emerged from them in the committee meeting itself so I shall leave the curious to find the minutes whenever they are published.

Some very disappointing outcomes. Reflecting on why there wasn’t support from Tories and Labour, I wonder if it’s because they don’t represent the inner city wards which suffer the direct impacts of the new Licensing Act… perhaps but that doesn’t excuse their failure to support disabled people’s needs on the taxi report. I’d like to hear an explanation for that one.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention one bit of good news that emerged at the Committee… Taxi marshalls for city centre ranks will be returning from this Friday night until March next year thanks to some Home Office funding. I believe they’ll be on for the peak nights and peak ranks only, but I know they really help to free up Police resources so are very welcome.

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current affairs

The Primark Planning decision

Primark delivery jam in Crown Street
Primark delivery jam in Crown Street, with a buggy squeezing by.

The past few days have brought some bitter disappointments in the Council’s committee rooms.

On Thursday I attended the Planning Committee to support residents objecting to Primark’s application which would give them the right to virtually unlimited deliveries between 8am and 8pm. The current level of disturbance is too much for them, any growth would be wholly unacceptable. I have documented more on the problems previously.

I have been working on this application for nearly 2 years — it was submitted in March 2008 as, incredibly, the seventh application by Primark for this building. Over this period it was made very clear to me by council officers that some of Primark’s bad behaviour (e.g. vehicles coming in via Marlborough St) was un-enforceable until this new application went to the committee. This was because the existing conditions were unclear following a number of applications and a partial success (for Primark) at an appeal.

So I had been chasing and chasing the application, getting residents to write in to the planning officers and so on, in the hope we could soon get enforcement action. Sadly this all fell apart at the committee meeting. Firstly the officer presenting the application to the committee was not well briefed, for example claiming Primark deliver through Western Road when in fact they don’t. Officers appeared to be surprised to hear that Primark were servicing via Marlborough Street when they shouldn’t have been (enforcement officers have been told this for years); they were also surprised to be told that Primark’s yard had never been used for deliveries by previous tenants Littlewood and C&A. And so on…

Fortunately the photos I circulated to all members raised questions about how well the current setup was working for traffic flows. Additionally the pictures of clearly unusable cycle parking drew comments of enforcement action being needed from another officer. But after nearly TWO YEARS of being told this by residents and councillors why were officers showing surprise on the day? I can tell you, the galleries gasped and tutted.

To add to the dismay officers also told us that the report (can I mention again, nearly two years in gestation) had incorrect conditions and so amended them verbally to allow Sunday and Public holiday deliveries – admittedly via Western Road only – but still not something the published conditions would have allowed at all. Furthermore officers emphasised that this application was only about Primark’s failure to discharge conditions about (inaccessible) cycle parking, putting up security gates without prior agreement and sustainability issues.

Chris Naylor-Smith spoke very well on behalf of the residents. A spokeswoman from Primark’s agents offered a canned speech which didn’t reflect reality, then as Committee member Cllr Amy Kennedy has commented, was unable to answer any questions whatsoever. I then spoke but was probably showed how furious I was about the way the application was unfolding, completely contrary to how residents and I had been told it would by officers.

To their credit, committee members generally showed concern about the failings of the current delivery arrangements, the problems it caused Crown St and Marlborough St residents and Primark’s clear failure to act responsibly to its neighbours… let alone engage with them.

Green Cllr Amy Kennedy offered some excellent conditions, requiring all deliveries via Western Road and rubberising the yard and cages to reduce noise. Labour Cllr Juliet McCaffery offered to second the rubberising conditions. However officers made it very clear that these were not acceptable as they did not relate to the matters of cycle parking, security gates and sustainability conditions. This advice put an end to the kinds of conditions residents had been hoping for.

Sadly, other than the Green committee members who chose to vote down the application and one Tory abstention the remainder of the Committee (Conservatives and Labour) all followed officer advice and voted through the application. It’s not entirely clear to me if a condition requiring the cycle parking to be accessible and a formal notification to Primark requesting that they engage with their neighbours will be included in the formal decision notice. We shall see.

It was an extremely disappointing event, not just because I couldn’t get the result residents were hoping for, but because the terms of the whole application shifted so dramatically from what we had been previously led to believe. This isn’t over though, I’ll be following this up with the Council and Primark as will residents, I’m sure.

My letter to the Planning Comittee

Photo dossier

Webcast of the Committee meeting (From memory, Primark came about 2.5 hours into the meeting)

UPDATED: Having reviewed the webcast I realised I had wrongly attributed the abstention to Labour, in fact it was Cllr Mrs Theobald, Conservative.

Categories
current affairs

Brighton Primark Protest

This morning I had an early start to get out to Crown Street in Regency ward. I was joining residents who live around the large Brighton Primark on Western Road. For nearly two years their life has been blighted by deliveries through their small residential cul-de-sacs. Whilst most other businesses on Western Road take deliveries through loading bays at the front of their stores, Primark insist on using these side roads causing noise, vibrations and congestion.

Primark’s management have refused to enter into dialogue with residents or councillors. We’d had enough so decided to blockade their 8am Saturday morning product delivery. We hope to raise the profile of these issues ahead of a planning application from Primark being decided by the council’s planning committee this Wednesday 25th November, which includes delivery issues. We’re asking for a condition forcing Primark to take deliveries from the front like everyone else. Please lobby your councillors using WriteToThem.

See how our protest went:

A short report from BBC South East:

Update:
Some pictures of the protest by local resident Jane Dallaway are now on Flickr.