current affairs

This evening’s budget council meeting let the city’s residents down

Tonight was the night for the full council to decide the budget for the next year. The opposition parties could, if they had worked together, have amended the Tory budget to remove the harshest cuts and reallocate spending. I will copy the detail of the Green amendments below so you can get a flavour of the cuts we wanted to reverse, and the ideas we proposed. I’m disappointed that other than £10k for piloting digital tools for older people with Age Concern, none of our proposals went through. One of the LibDem amendments to go through, providing energy meters on loan in libraries, is something I first suggested over two years ago but didn’t think to include in this budget, so I’m glad they picked it up and go it in.

But the whole process is what I want to reflect on here. Firstly, and I welcome this, the Tory administration published a first draft budget much earlier in the year. This was very helpful and for the first time the scrutiny committees got to meet and discuss the budget. As a result of this and other feedback a number of proposed cuts, such as to the History Centre and respite care, were rolled back way ahead of the budget meeting.

Meanwhile the Green group of councillors were working up a range of amendments with our own ideas and priorities. Fully aware of the potential of joint opposition working, we for months were approaching the opposition parties trying to initiate a collaborative approach. They kept delaying meetings or asking us to wait for their amendments to be ready. Two weeks ago we put forward a suggested set of joint amendments. Labour refused saying they would continue with how they have worked on previous budgets: That is submitting a set of their own amendments without reference to what the other groups were doing.

The problem is, you can’t spend the same money twice. So without jointly figuring out what our various priorities were and how we could fit them together into a balanced budget, it was going to be difficult to make successful amendments to the Tory budget work.

The Council’s Chief Executive also called a number of Leaders’ Group meetings (where the leaders of the political groups on the council get together with lead officers) ahead of the budget meeting to try and broker some deals. Other than offering, at the last minute today, less than £80k to support a few minor opposition amendments, no deals were forthcoming.

Whilst the amendments Labour submitted weren’t as good (in our Green view) as our own, they still undid many of the worst Tory cuts. So Greens were willing to support them in the hope of getting a less bad budget for the city. Labour refused to support our amendments, even ones similar to their own. The two Liberal Democrat councillors sat on their hands on votes for many opposition amendments, even when we supported Labour amendments. With the Independent councillor supporting the Tories, without LibDem votes the Labour amendments fell.

So the only opportunities to prevent the cuts passed by. The meeting ended with the budget passing after Greens were the only party to vote against the Tory budget full of cuts and frankly bizarre capital spending priorities. As councillors buzzed around at the end, it became clear to us that Labour had asked the LibDems not to support their own amendments! This ensured their amendments would not be carried. Deals clearly had been done with the Tories to support the status quo and stop the Greens from getting too much influence. So to be absolutely clear about this — while Labour pretended to amend the budget, from what I overheard they had already made sure their amendments could not succeed by getting LibDems to not vote in favour of them. Alternatively the Tories did deals with both of them directly. How else could ‘progressive’ parties fail to stop cuts to critical budgets such as social care?

The cynical political plotting by the parties has left the city with a worse budget than it needed be. It’s sorely disappointing. Meanwhile the debate suffered from mostly being based on fighting battles from the eighties or silly point scoring about national outcomes after the general election. The two amendments I’d been championing around food and garden waste were opposed for the most spurious reasons. Labour claimed home composting would suffer with a green waste collection, yet clearly many households are never going to be able to home compost plus much garden waste isn’t compostable without being chipped. On food waste the irrelevant spectre of fortnightly collections (which Tories are terrified of) reared its head when in the city centre communal bins are emptied almost daily!

The current political culture in our city council is excessively plotting, bitter, cynical and does not serve the best interests of this city’s residents. I wish I could think of suggestions on how to improve the chances of joint working. But we Greens spent weeks and weeks trying to get engagement from other parties without any clear interest from the others. If they’re going to do deals for their own personal benefit (perhaps Official Opposition status again next year which brings with it large additional allowances for several councillors) ahead of what’s best for the city, I really don’t know what to suggest.

I’d love to offer an alternative analysis but I feel we saw the worst of the councillors tonight. And once again, divisions on the left of the political spectrum let the right win through.

Green Group Amendments

(I don’t have a digital copy yet, the full details will be published on the council website soon enough, so I’ll just type out the rough basics of our proposals)

  • £10k to fund 50% of an Age Concern worker to develop a WiredAge pilot project involving older people with online tools.
  • £150k to fund up to 900 families in lower council tax bands getting home insulation
  • £25k for an additional noise patrol shift per week
  • £180k to fund enhanced sustainability measures at each of the 9 secondary schools in the city (£20k each)
  • £69k to temporarily increase the discretionary grants budget this year
  • A cost neutral green waste collection service paid for by participating residents. Estimated cost for residents of £90 per annum based on 4,000 participants.
  • £100k to re-start Valley Gardens transport project – feasibility & design work.
  • £150k one-off transfer to the winter maintenance reserve.
  • Reverse £126k cut to Youth Offending Service.
  • Reverse £137k of £332k cuts to home to school transport budget.
  • Reverse £137k of £300k cuts to adult social care services commissioning cuts.
  • Remove £100k annual increase in winter maintenance budget.
  • Reduce the budget for mowing grass verges by £100k.
  • £40k to fund a detailed study in to running a viable food waste collection trial.
  • £20k to fund a travel plan for Varndean, Stringer & Balfour campus.
  • £490k to bring around 15 empty council properties into use.
  • Reduce the seafront maintenance budget by £50k.
  • Remove £500k for the new transport model (which has no business case to support the £1m cost over its 5 year life).
  • Change resident parking permits to base the cost on CO2 emissions of the vehicle, raising £240k in the first year and £490k in later years.
  • £32k to improve downland management through collection & composting on priority downland areas and bringing forward sheep grazing.
  • Reverse £208k of the £410k cut in Adult Social Care relating to personal budgets.
notes from JK

Speech: Supporting Green environmental amendments

I had the task of speaking to our budget amendments which dealt with environmental issues. Unfortunately none of them gained enough support to go through.


Budgets always present difficult choices — we can’t possibly afford to address all the issues we’d like to. The Green Group feel that the proposed Conservative budget does not best address the most urgent issues facing our city’s residents.

We are proposing four simple, cost effective measures that will improve residents’ quality of life. These measures will also contribute to safeguarding our environment. The proposals I’m speaking to are:

  • Free home insulation for 900 families in lower council tax bands.
  • Protecting people from noise disturbance with additional noise team patrols.
  • Promoting garden and food waste collections.
  • A downland protection fund to preserve our unique countryside landscape.

Despite recent small drops in fuel costs, overall household fuel bills have been on the rise for the past few years. Our home insulation proposal will save money for families on lower council tax bands whilst also reducing the emissions from heating their homes.

With regards to noise, the recent studentification scrutiny panel highlighted the need for more support for residents when faced with noise nuisance. The 2003 Licensing Act has also unleashed far more disturbance on the city’s residents. More shifts from the noise team will allow more residents to seek relief from noise and get a good night’s sleep.

It costs us, as a Council, more to ship waste to landfill or incineration than it costs to recycle it. So it makes financial as well as environmental sense to seek alternatives. Our amendments seek to bring in a garden green waste collection scheme at zero overall cost to the tax payer. Residents will pay to subscribe to the regular doorstep collections, at a substantial saving compared to commercial green waste collections. Where possible we would encourage people to compost at home, but many are unable to do so and need an alternative. This measure has had great support from the Older Peoples’ Council.

Whilst garden green waste is 10%, food makes up 35% of our municipal waste. To make a significant impact on our waste levels and meet our recycling targets, we need to tackle food waste. Our proposal aims to update work previously done to ensure the viability, logistics and detail of a food waste collection in the city. Many people, especially in flats, don’t have room to home compost so municipal food and garden waste collections are essential.

Finally we are proposing a Downland Protection Fund to preserve our unique countryside landscape. This fund would support a number of measures to protect precious downland ecosystems and has received widespread support from local associations. Measures include mowing, composting and bringing forward sheep grazing, which we support.

I urge you to support our amendments.

current affairs

Preston Street: Ready for Regeneration

Preston Street needs help. Working with the traders association, chaired by Angelo Martinoli, we’ve tried petitions, meeting with cabinet members and their officers as well as press work in The Argus. Progress has been minimal I’m afraid, other than a few minor tweaks here and there and one vacant shop now with council-provided boarding.

This video highlights some of what the street is going through – I had to cut many other examples and comments from traders to keep it a reasonable length. The main three issues I hear again and again are:

  • The need for something like the i360 tower development to come forward to bring more people into the area;
  • Improved street-scape as the current setup is unattractive, riddled with double-parking and unworkable — ideally pedestrianisation or shared-space as on New Road is needed;
  • The recognition that many tourists drive to Brighton but parking fees discourage people staying in that part of town when other car parks elsewhere are cheaper.

As a Green, parking is a tricky one for me, but I don’t like waste and the council’s Regency Square car park currently stands mostly empty every day. Since this film was made the council have approved new 1 hour and fixed evening fees for Regency Square (before 2 hours was the minimum charge). These are yet to have been implemented and were brought forward without any consultation or discussion beyond the initial petitions I presented flagging up the poor use of the car park.

We’ll be sending this video to key decision-makers in the council. Please do support Preston Street and if you have any comments or ideas get in touch.

notes from JK

Speech: Responding to GP-led clinic scrutiny report

I presented this speech in response to a scrutiny panel report I contributed to being presented to full council 28th January 2010. Nobody answered my question at the end of the speech:

I would like to thank Cllr Denise Cobb who was chair of HOSC at the time for agreeing to create this panel after several months of questions on these matters by myself and other members.

I also thank the panel Chair Cllr Alford for his very even handed and co-operative working, as well as Cllr Allen, with whom it always a pleasure to serve with. My thanks to our officer Giles Rossington for his excellent support. I do commend this report to members.

This report is very timely given the continued pressure to further privatise parts of the NHS and package public services off to private businesses.

The panel’s concerns over the tender process favouring larger corporations should trigger alarm bells for all those worried about the future of the NHS. Similarly how such changes are consulted upon with the public was cause for concern with the panel and continue to be a public issue of importance.

These private contracts are riven with problems. The President of the British Orthopaedic Association recently wrote to The Times highlighting grave concerns over their quality control and service levels. A study of one private treatment centre found two third of operations showed poor technique and that after 3 years 18% needed revision operations compared to a 0.9% NHS-wide rate.

Cataract operations at a private treatment centre in Oxfordshire have cost up to 600% over the odds and performed only 93 of 572 contracted procedures for half a year. Meanwhile eye operations in a private contract treatment centre in Portsmouth have cost seven times more than they would on the NHS.

Health service experts the King’s Fund argue these contracts are a drain on Primary Care Trust finances. At a 2008 HOSC meeting a clinician from Brighton & Sussex University Hospitals Trust admitted that the private orthopaedic procedures alone were costing them £2-3 million a year.

The chosen contractor for Brighton’s clinic, Care UK, do have serious ongoing questions over their ability to provide consistent high quality care in our area as well as the rest of the country. In spite… or perhaps because of this… their annual healthcare profit has been in double digit growth for years, including 44% growth in profit for 2009.

Clearly the Conservative Party want more of this kind of privatisation when their 2010 health manifesto states that they aim:

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

We recently learnt that the chairman of Care UK and his wife are giving tens of thousands to fund the Conservative shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley’s office.

So, the question I must ask the Conservative group is…. Is this the kind of privatising corporate ‘greed is good’ politics we can expect if David Cameron wins the general election?

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.


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.

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.

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

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]

notes from JK

Green response to Waste & Minerals Core Strategy

Today I submitted the Green Group of Councillor’s response to East Sussex and Brighton & Hove’s Waste & Minerals Core Strategy – Preferred Options consultation. In essence this consultation is a request for input on what the officers’ preferred strategies for handling waste and minerals in the area should be.

This strategy is highly dependent on Brighton & Hove’s own Municipal Waste Strategy which was also recently consulted on. It’s still in draft form, we don’t know what the City’s final strategy will look like. This summer we submitted our views on that strategy too.

In my view both of the drafts are deeply lacking in ambition. We could be making serious financial savings as well as reaping major environmental benefits, by a far more aggressive approach to waste. Simple things like garden green waste collections would shift up to 10% of municipal waste into the recycling column.

The Government are slowly beginning to get tougher on waste too… better late than never. They will be offering funds for ‘Zero Waste Areas’ as well as planning to ban certain materials from landfill altogether. We should be jumping onto that – we should have done years ago – again, better late than never!

The Green Group Waste & Minerals response [PDF]

Aiming for Zero Waste: Green Group response to the Municipal Waste Strategy [PDF]

You can view the Waste & Minerals Core Strategy either on the East Sussex Consultation Portal or in there Brighton & Hove Cabinet meeting papers [PDF]. The City’s draft Municipal Waste Strategy can be viewed here.

UPDATE: We didn’t address the issue of land raise specifically in the response, but I want to make clear that we do oppose the proposed introduction of land raise sites for waste disposal — especially in sensitive parts of our countryside as implied by the report.

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.

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.