Tag Archives: localgov

Brighton O-K or O-no?

A mockup of the Brighton O as provided by their PR agency
A mockup of the Brighton O as provided by their PR agency

One of the joys and challenges of representing Regency ward is the number of major projects proposed for the area from redevelopment of the Brighton Centre to building on the site of the old Royal Alex Children’s Hospital and what do with the site of the West Pier.

The latest proposal is a temporary observation wheel known as the “Brighton O” which unusually is a spokeless design. If built the wheel would apparently move to another city once construction of the i360 tower was to commence (another classic Regency ward project saga).

I’m getting very mixed views from residents and businesses on the Brighton O. Many think the wheel would be superb for rejuvenating a part of the seafront which is in need of attention and greater footfall. Others believe it will be excessively disruptive to an already crowded area affecting the sailing club, businesses and residents of buildings it will overshadow.

The case for the O is at www.brightono.com and the case against is at www.brightonno.org.uk

I’d very much like to hear more views on this. Do you think the project will make a positive contribution to the city with an unusual design or is it an invitation for people to look in resident’s bedroom windows? Let me know.

If you’d like to register your views with the planning committee, send your views to Chris.A.Wright@brighton-hove.gov.uk

Less alcohol than ever at Sainsbury’s, Western Road? I don’t think so

Half-price wine offer as you walk into Sainsbury's Western Road
Half-price wine offer as you walk into Sainsbury's Western Road - is this responsible?

A while ago I spoke on behalf of residents to a licensing panel considering an application from Sainsbury’s. The supermarket, a very short way from Waitrose, wanted to double its size and so needed to apply for a new license to sell alchohol.

Residents and I were concerned given that the area already has an abundance of places from which alcohol can be bought. Residents suffer from noise, anti-social behaviour, violence and more. It has got significantly worse since the new 2003 Licensing Act came into force.

However despite residents’ objections and my strenuous arguments that the license should be strictly curtailed if approved at all, it was granted. The Sainsbury’s lies right on the border of the ‘Cumulative Impact Area’ for licensing but that made no difference. Sainsbury’s barrister successfully prevented me from debating the low prices at which the supermarket sells alcohol. He also claimed that overall the new twice as big shop would have less space devoted to alcohol sales than previously.

Sadly the shop was boarded up and under expansion then so I couldn’t do ‘before and after’ shots. But I went in recently to take a look and there seemed to me to be a very significant space devoted to alcohol – see all the pictures on Flickr. The first shelf to greet you on entering the store was promoting half price bottles of wine.

In August this year, while I was on holiday, Sainsbury’s put in to extend the hours of alcohol sales to almost 24 hours. Unfortunately nobody objected to this other than the Council’s Trading Standards*. This is not surprising because beyond a small piece of paper in the window, there is NO requirement to notify people living near premises applying for a license or wishing to vary an existing one. Trading Standards’ concern related to underage drinking, but once a “Challenge 21” scheme was agreed to by Sainsbury’s (a fairly standard condition) the objection was withdrawn and the licensing panel meeting was cancelled.

However the online licensing register still shows the extended license as not having been granted because checks are outstanding. I’m trying to find out what that means but it seems likely that very soon we are going to have a virtually 24hr off-license selling at supermarket prices. The licensing law is completely failing residents and this city – we seem unable to stop the spread of cheap booze nor the harm it is causing people directly or indirectly. When will our MPs step up to push the change my constituents are crying out for?

Find out more:
Sadly I can’t link directly to licenses, but at least there is now a web-based register. Enter the reference codes below into the search at http://www.brighton-hove.gov.uk/index.cfm?request=c1204374

Application to open bigger store: 1445/3/2009/00059/LAPREN (minutes of that panel)
Application to extend hours: 1445/3/2009/01692/LAPREV (papers for cancelled panel)

* As a councillor I can only object to an application if either I personally live or have a business close to the premises in question, or a constituent close by asks me to speak on their behalf. Otherwise I am unable to participate or speak to a licensing panel meeting. This is extremely frustrating.

UPDATE: I have now received confirmation from council officers that the license indeed has been granted to allow sale of alcohol from 6am until midnight and late night refreshment (i.e. hot food) from 23 until midnight. I also clarified the text above to make it clear it won’t be open a full 24hrs a day as the license currently stands. (13/11/09)

Wrong-headed Tory CEO-Mayor policy

I was astounded and appalled by Monday’s announcement from the Conservatives that they planned to merge council chief executives with directly elected Mayors.
The Guardian:
Twelve cities across the country would hold referendums to get rid of their council chief executives and hand over the powers to an “executive mayor”, who would take over the role of hiring and firing staff, determining council operations, and directing spending, as well as offering political leadership.
Conflating the two posts would help address public concern about the pay of local authority bosses, said Caroline Spelman, the shadow communities secretary.
Firstly, I agree that many chief executives (in local authorities and private companies) are vastly overpaid compared to their hard working staff. But cutting up to 12 CEO salaries and replacing them with new elections for mayors is hardly going to be saving money. It’s a populist measure because most people won’t think of the cost of the elections when hearing the proposal — they’ll just keep in mind losing another expensive bureaucrat.
But what worries much more is that this announcement shows that the Conservatives are ready to abuse the position of the civil service as much as Labour have. Peter Oborne and others have been scathing of how a trend to politicise and misuse the civil service in the political trenches has gone from occasional in the Thatcher years to out of control in the Blair years.
No matter who is in charge politically, a paid head of the civil service is needed to manage the permanent staff of government who remain whatever changes elections bring. YES local government desperately needs serious reform… but going back on hundreds of years of political evolution by merging officer and politician is wrong-headed, fixes nothing and is just cheap populism.
This is a bad policy and I’m disappointed that a major political party could actually announce something so wrongheaded. It doesn’t bode well for the level of political debate ahead…

I was astounded and appalled by Monday’s announcement from the Conservatives that they planned to merge council chief executives with directly elected Mayors.

The Guardian:

Twelve cities across the country would hold referendums to get rid of their council chief executives and hand over the powers to an “executive mayor”, who would take over the role of hiring and firing staff, determining council operations, and directing spending, as well as offering political leadership.

Conflating the two posts would help address public concern about the pay of local authority bosses, said Caroline Spelman, the shadow communities secretary.

(Also see reports in LGCPlus and Planning Resource)

Firstly, I agree that many chief executives (in local authorities and private companies) are vastly overpaid compared to their hard working staff. But cutting up to 12 CEO salaries and replacing them with new elections for mayors is hardly going to be saving money. It’s a populist measure because most people won’t think of the cost of the elections when hearing the proposal — they’ll just keep in mind losing another expensive bureaucrat.

But what worries much more is that this announcement shows that the Conservatives are ready to abuse the position of the civil service as much as Labour have. Peter Oborne and others have been scathing of how a trend to politicise and misuse the civil service in the political trenches has gone from occasional in the Thatcher years to out of control in the Blair years.

No matter who is in charge politically, a paid head of the civil service is needed to manage the permanent staff of government who remain whatever changes elections bring. YES local government desperately needs serious reform… but going back on hundreds of years of political evolution by merging officer and politician is wrong-headed, fixes nothing and is just cheap populism.

This is a bad policy and I’m disappointed that a major political party could actually announce something so wrongheaded. It doesn’t bode well for the level of political debate ahead…

Transport Direct followup…

Following on from my LinuxUser column bemoaning the terrible Transport Direct website I received an email from Peter White, Director of xephos the people I mentioned who’ve made a Linux-served alternative to Transport Direct on a shoestring.

Peter wrote:
For abour £500k per annum we could provide about 85% of the functionailty of Transport Defunct (the remaining 15% being pointless anyway) as far as journey planning. Plus the xephos site also delivers timetables and “search for nearest” enquiries neither of which are available on TD

To add the silly extras and the fine detail would take the cost up to about £1,000,000 p.a. Our problem is that we cannot generate revenue when there are services “out there” however feeble which are free-to-user. Govt will only fund its own project at huge expense. Individual local authorities would LOVE to use xephos but cannot because of strongarm tactics by govt.

As far as I know Transport Direct cost the government £40-50 million. I’ve heard of local authorities being given spurious reasons for not being allowed to use services like Peter’s xephos. If Transport Direct was any good that might be understandable but it’s rubbish so we shouldn’t be forcing local services to be hobbled too.

I am forced to believe that it’s much harder than I ever imagined to get this kind of web stuff done right otherwise we’d be seeing much more brilliant stuff coming from our government.

> For abour £500k per annum we could provide about 85% of the functionailty of
Transport Defunct (the remaining 15% being pointless anyway) as far as journey
planning.  Plus the [xephos site][3] also delivers timetables and “search for nearest” enquiries neither of which are available on TD
>To add the silly extras and the fine detail would take the cost up to about £1,000,000 p.a.  Our problem is that we cannot generate revenue when
there are services “out there” however feeble which are free-to-user.  Govt will
only fund its own project at huge expense.  Individual local authorities would
LOVE to use xephos but cannot because of strongarm tactics by govt.
As far as I know Transport Direct cost the government £40-50 million. I’ve heard of local authorities being given spurious reasons for not being allowed to use services like Peter’s xephos. If Transport Direct was any good that *might* be understandable but it’s rubbish so we shouldn’t be forcing local services to be hobbled too.
I am forced to believe that it’s much harder than I ever imagined to get this kind of web stuff done right otherwise we’d be seeing much  more brilliant stuff coming from our government.

Major Cities of Europe IT Users Group conference

The conference in Gothenburg (or Goteborg as they write in Sweden) has come to an end. Highlights included a fantastic presentation about m-parking in Zagreb, Croatia. They’re using SMS, GPS and GPRS for an integrated parking solution which lets people pay for parking with a single SMS, no registration, nothing. Then tow trucks and parking attendants are all connected to the system in real time along with a police database of stolen/interesting vehicles. Very impressive. Shame it only works for people with Croatian mobiles!

The final day was on e-democracy and apart from my presentation we had some really interesting presentations on applications in the UK (e-voting!), Spain, Finland and Denmark. None were getting massive numbers participating but they were trying hard. We really don’t know what does and doesn’t work in e-democracy yet which is why we need to keep experimenting. And as I said in my piece, Open Source can really help provide low cost ways of doing those experiments.