Running Brentwood: a privilege not a right

Karen and BarryBarry leader elect

Last year, when we ousted the Tories from power with our Labour, Brentwood First and independent colleagues, I was ecstatic.  From 2006, I had been fighting back against their dogmatic control ever since, just before I agreed to stand as a Lib Dem candidate, I saw the awful development they wanted to plonk in to our town centre and consoled a poor woman from North Road Avenue at the so-called “public consultation”.

After that momentous day in 2014, I finally arose from a couple of hours sleep and went up to the Town Hall when something terrifying dawned on me….what if I was wrong? What if they weren’t keeping secrets from the public? What if they really were doing the best for Brentwood?

Well, after spending about five minutes there and being made aware of the “long list” of things that the Tories had buried or not made decisions on, I was soon assured that I hadn’t been fighting in vain!  Phew!

We uncovered the mess they had made of William Hunter Way, the £20,000 they had spent on a report that they buried when it rubbished the idea they had put £1.6M aside for,they had clearly neglected the Town Hall, Old House, given away tens of thousands in hush money to departed senior officers and, most appallingly not valued the staff who deliver our services.

I am proud to be part of The Accord because in one year we:

  • Implemented new Christmas lights in Shenfield and Brentwood and provided free Christmas trees to Ingatestone as well as lighting the Brentwood station area with a tree and lights to welcome people to the town during the festive period.
  • Made Hopefield Animal Sanctuary, Iris Close Amenity Green and the William Hunter Way Disabled Car Park community assets, meaning they can not be sold without notice to the council and protecting them for six months.
  • Sold Warley Training Centre (derelict for 10 years) for multi-millions whilst a) providing much needed housing b) much needed social housing and c) to not only put a chunk of capital in the bank but also, IMPORTANTLY, a permanent revenue stream based on retaining 5 residential units for rental.
  • Sold Bellmead for much needed housing and, again, social housing.
  • Agreed £42,000 of community bid funding for local projects and allocated the underspend of £8,000 to ward budgets, giving each councillor £1380 (an extra £380 each) to spend in their wards.
  • Saved Old House from Tory disposal. Retaining a much loved heritage asset, returning it to its former glory after the Tories left to to rot and, once again, providing more much needed housing.
  • Town Hall: The project to save it and improve it and make it work for the tax-payer continues
  • Westbury Rd considered for homes and for retail space in order to a) revitalise the west end of the high street and b) to provide subsidised independent shops. This is another piece of prime real estate that the Tories forgot about.
  • Multi-Storey Car Park. Falling apart and stinks. Being clever about this could bring the town centre a better parking facility AND homes AND shops AND possibly a leisure use too.
  • William Hunter Way. After 9 years of Tory farce and £300k of tax payers’ money wasted, we’ve overseen the council’s most successful and engaging public consultation ever and actually listened to our residents. The steer from them is yes to a cinema (but no need to be gigantic) and yes to a better choice of shops. A huge capital and revenue gain opportunity and a means to keep Brentwood folk in Brentwood shopping rather than them going elsewhere.
  • Property acquisition fund: £10m to be set aside for property acquisitions to actually fulfil our vision of entrepreneurialism and to keep Eric Pickles’ cuts at bay.
  • Hutton Community Centre. Rescuing it from the clutches of bankruptcy by seeking community  bids to run it infinitum for the benefit of the community.
  • Cemetery Lodges: Refurbishing ‘dead’ properties and earning an income from them.
  • Asset register: Actually identifying land that the council own so that we can do stuff with it.
  • Affordable Housing Sites: Identifying small parcels of land (Fielding Way, Hutton Drive) that can be developed into social housing sites and that have been ‘hidden’ for years.
  • Hallsford Bridge: Been on the market for 10 years without a sniff. Brought it to committee, listened to ward members on their wish to develop as housing but was unable to do so and therefore sold to a local business for an additional £450k that, once again, otherwise we would not have had.
  • Total approximate value of prospective CAPITAL monies gained through the Asset Panel: £5m.
  •  Approximate forthcoming capital value of William Hunter Way, MSCP, Westbury Rd outcomes: £12m
  • Total approximate value of prospective REVENUE monies through the Asset Panel’s work so far: £500k per annum
  • Ensured that all residents are communicated with via a borough-wide bulletin.
  • Started a plan of action on potholes that begins with meeting with the Tory leadership at Essex County Council.
  • Started the process to give food waste bags to all residents for FREE and for a textile waste collection.
  • Discovered that the Tory administration refurbished the Hutton Community Centre despite £100,000 worth of repair work is needed to the roof…and have now ordered an emergency safety investigation…
  • Re-couped £16,000 of public money that the Conservatives failed to claim on billboard advertising revenue
  • Made sensible decisions on managing public assets to put tax payers’ money back in the bank
  • Opened up council workings in a properly transparent way removing the need for Freedom of Information requests
  • Introduced a “complaints amnesty” for staff to present current complaints for proper investigation, allowing the council to learn from mistakes made without the fear of retribution for staff
  • Restored democracy and focused decision making to the council chamber
  • Advanced the Town Hall transformation project
  • Identified multiple affordable and social housing schemes
  • Introduced a new parking scheme that is better value for residents and shoppers
  • Introduced a three month night time car parking charge to balance the night and day parking charges
  • Launched investigations into monies that have been mis-spent by the previous administration
  • Begun an entrepreneurial approach to council resources to provide much needed funds for front line services
  • Informed all the staff to call Accord members by the first names rather than their official titles and opened up the door of the Leader & Deputy Leader’s office for an open and transparent way of working
  • Introduced a six-monthly staff satisfaction survey to inform the leadership of how the staff feel their contribution is recognised and how they are delivering for the people of Brentwood
  • Introduced committees that are focused on specific areas of the council meaning you get the right people making the right decisions
  • Appointed appropriate councillors (usually ward councillors) to working groups on William Hunter Way, Crossrail, Member/Officer Communications/ Members Casework, the Local Council Tax Support Scheme, IT Resilience and Business Continuity, Budget Scrutiny and the Community Safety Partnership Annual Review
  • Re-structured the senior management team to provide Brentwood with a Chief Executive once again
  • Introduced a cross-party front bench of councillors, giving you the best of everyone and the worst of no one.

However, there is a problem.

Five Accord councillors stood down at the end of their terms – for various personal reasons – so we need to make some gains and hold the seats vacated.  Between us, Accord parties are defending a number of seats but we need to replace those who have departed and these – including Brentwood West – are very close indeed!  Cllr John Newberry only won by 63 votes last year but as you know, this seat is nearly always a close thing between us and the Tories.

So, what we need you to do is to come out on 7th May and vote for our excellent candidate Alison – you can read more about her here.

Trust me, we can do it – the numbers stack up – and we have some great candidates as well as Alison.  Just look at who is fighting your seat (that’s not a Tory) and you don’t need to be Einstein to work out what to do.  But here in my beloved Brentwood West, it’s Alison or another Tory, doing their Tory thing……

Alison FulcherPlease, don’t let the Tories back in on 7th May – vote Alison Fulcher in Brentwood West in order that The Accord can continue to deliver for Brentwood.

After all, we consider leading our town as a privilege whilst the Tories think it is their right to rule you.

Thanks for upsetting my residents Mr Pickles

Westwood avenue replaced signWestwood Avenue residents have their current MP Eric Pickles and his communities department to thank for dumping TWELVE houses in their back gardens after a five year fight came to a crushing end a couple of weeks ago.

For five years or more, I have fought with residents to stop this development and have halted a number of inappropriate developments of three, four, five houses and these have all been refused and upheld.  But TWELVE well, that’s fine, according to Mr Pickles’ jolly old team!

We know that this will be a nightmare for residents in Westwood Avenue, Elm Way, Manor Way, west Park Hill and Westway as well as those in Kavanaghs Road that will have it to view from their back windows too.  The additional cars, the proximity to the railway and the sheer over-development is going to cause problems…we have seen it all before.

It’s unbelievable that the Tories have today put out an election leaflet claiming to be against over-development but look at this, Rollason Way, Clements Park and Highwood Hospital….all on their watch and see who is really protecting our town.

Parking Fees reduced!

 

 

one hour successParking charges to go down under the Accord Administration!

With the Lib Dems, I can’t remember a time when we weren’t fighting to make parking fees more reasonable!  Now we have done it – and the Tories voted AGAINST our plans!

We pulled this off by being fair – we introduced an overnight parking charge of £2 to capitalise on the TOWIE visitors.  This has yielded around £60,000 in income which has meant we can do the following:

  • Reduce the all day car parking fee from £10.50 to £8.00

  • Introduce a new Saturday workers fee of £4 in Westbury Road Car Park

  • Introduce a new £30 weekly charge in the William Hunter Way Car Park

This will take around ten weeks to introduce once it is advertised and consulted upon.

It is unbelievable that the Tories voted against on the basis that we hadn’t reduced it enough, despite them voting for a 117% increase in the one hour charge in 2012 (and that includes current Brentwood West Tory Cllr Will Russell, who’s up for re-election in May).

It’s also interesting to see that another Tory scaremongering activity didn’t come true.  Back in 2011, two days before I lost my seat, they put out a leaflet in Brentwood West saying that, should a night time charge be introduced then people would be forced in to the side streets to park and, therefore, we would all be wading around in “rivers of vomit”.  Yes, they put that on a leaflet and people believed it!  So, watch what they say when it comes to May’s elections!  It turns out not to be the case, so just as well no one opened up a Wellies Shop in anticipation.

 

Hardworking, conscientious council officer cares for sick father whilst continuing to diligently perform key role…

…not quite the Daily Mail headline – but then that wouldn’t sell papers would it?

A statement from Lib Dem Deputy Leader on Jo-Anne Ireland and her current working arrangements:

Dear Resident,

Today, The Mail on Sunday published an article about Brentwood Council’s Acting CEO, Jo-Anne Ireland. You may already have seen it in the newspaper. If not, you can read it here

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2963332/Town-hall-chief-makes-105k-running-council-Essex-Cyprus-home-2-000-miles-away.html

If you read the quote from William Lloyd (Deputy Leader) before the rest of the article (it’s buried right at the end), you might see that there are two sides to this story. Miss Ireland is paying all her own expenses, so there is no additional cost to the taxpayer. As the article itself says, she has spent 8 days in Brentwood this month and 10 days in January. That works out as 50% of her time spent in the office. I can vouch for the fact that she is easily contactable via email and/or phone for the rest of the week and indeed, into the evenings and weekends.

Looking at this situation another way, we’re in a period of transition, with a new CEO starting in March. We, the Accord Administration, decided that we didn’t want to lose our most senior officer in the run up to the new CEO starting. Allowing Miss Ireland to work part of the time from Cyprus was a management decision taken to retain her essential experience and make sure we had continuity during the transition to the new CEO. This is also the time when we set the budget and, as the most senior finance officer, losing Miss Ireland would have caused a number of problems.
Miss Ireland would have stayed in Brentwood until after May this year and the transition to a new officer would have been smooth and not at all newsworthy. Unfortunately, her father had a stroke late last year. He lives on Cyprus, so her plans to move there had to be accelerated. We are fortunate that Miss Ireland has been so willing to work with us at this time. She could have resigned with immediate effect and we would then have had to recruit interim staff at a much higher cost while looking for a permanent replacement.
I hope that this gives you a different perspective on the Mail article. We were only contacted at 5pm on Friday for our comments and we rapidly came to the conclusion that the journalists were working to someone else’s agenda and weren’t interested in the broader story. Please forward this to your friends so that the other side of this story can be told.
Best wishes
Cllr Graeme Clark
on behalf of the Accord Administration

The worst petition in the world ever…..

Let me present you with one of the best comedies you have seen…really it is just comedy gold!  This petition is so bad that two members of the Tories walked out of the meeting before it was even voted on – and it was their petition!  One of those even denied signing it when they had AND were in the Brentwood Gazette photo call!

To quote planning chair Cllr Phil Baker: “Not only can you not run the council properly, you can’t even put a petition together!”

WATCH HERE (should start at 3h09m)

But let me explain:

  • For nothing other than pure and overt political reasons, Cllr Louise McKinlay (former – thank goodness – leader of the council) put together a petition called “Hands off our green spaces”.  Neither Cllr McKinlay or her deputy Cllr Roger Hirst were at the meeting.
  • This was an attempt to mislead the people of Brentwood over the local development plan and trying to pretend that we – The Accord – are desperate to build on the green belt.  The irony is that we have lost count of the number of green belt applications the Tories approved for the ten years they were in and that weeks prior to this they were planning to build 1500 homes on the green belt in West Horndon.
  • This petition was aimed at only Hutton and rural areas – obviously they just don’t care about the town centre area such as Brentwood West where we really can not handle much more development.  A crass political stunt.
  • The petition referred to the “Lib/Lab coalition” – that doesn’t exist.  The Accord is made up of three parties and an independent member.  Factually incorrect again.
  • The petition was worded wrongly – it spoke not of the green belt but the “green spaces” so where are we going to build the 5500 homes we must build?  They clearly want to say no to every single development across the borough (ironic given that they wanted a green belt refusal recommendation overturned an hour earlier).  That’s not helpful for those who wish to extend their homes.
  • The Tories had a complete lack of understanding talking of “degrees of green belt”.  This is made up.  It is either green belt or it is not.
  • During the debate, Cllr Henwood refused to confirm that she was a member of the Tories and stormed out of the meeting shouting at the chair (the second of the night)
  • Infantile language was used in the petition that was, frankly, insulting to residents and the signatures were illegally gained as the wording was factually incorrect.
  • The petition was so bad that even the three Tories were left at the meeting (after two had stormed out) didn’t support it at the vote!
  • The petition was illegal according to the petition rules introduced by the Tories last year.

This is so embarrassing – and they ran the council for ten years up until May.  Please Brentwood, don’t lose faith and vote the inept Tories back in in May.  We are taking Brentwood forward and being honest and open with you as we go.

Rollason Way – road adoption & parking schemes

rollason way

When I got re-elected in 2012, one of the first things I did was get in touch with the developer in Rollason Way to find out how long it would be until this happened and I was told “within six months”.  That was June 2012.

Thirty months later, and this was the response received by Cllr Kendall just before Christmas…

Dear Cllr Kendall

Thank you for your email received 18 December 2014, regarding the adoption of Rollason Way.

I have been advised by the Development Management Team that the adoption (the S38) is being progressed between the legal teams. There are remedial works being progressed with the developer/contractor which includes street lighting issues.

Parking issues are still a major concern for which a residents parking scheme is considered the best option; and we are currently awaiting a decision from the South Essex Parking Partnership (SEPP).

Thank you for contacting us in respect of this matter and I trust the above information clarifies the current position.

 

The only mildly good news here is that there is still life in the residents parking scheme, which we are also pushing for.  We haven’t let this one go – although I have to remind everyone that this is about mitigation and not solution – the Tories allowed so many flats there that there will never be enough parking for everyone.  We are aware of the Fire Authority’s ongoing concerns and we are asking for more detail on this.

Cromwell Road Play Area – clarification

I just wanted to set the record straight as – once again – little untruths are being told about me.  Conservative Cllr Will Russell is telling residents that, back in 2011, I wanted to the Cromwell Road Play Area shut down.

This is completely untrue.  He is threatening to publish an email conversation about it.  I have seen this email trail and it says nothing of the sort.  Plus, I never said it!

All the councillors at the time (Joan Holmes, Nigel Clarke and I) were discussing possibilities about play areas across Brentwood West and then, on 1st October 2012, Nigel Clarke, Cllr Will Russell himself and I took a walk around potential sites for play areas in the ward as well as spending some considerable time looking at what investments could be made in Cromwell Road.

Any plans were, as far as I was concerned, not going anywhere until a resident consultation took place.

I am, however, in possession of a strategy document that was written under the Tory administration that quite clearly states that the Cromwell Road Play Area should be disposed of, and I will happily publish it.

William Hunter Way consultation – a reminder

whw sign

 

Over the weekend, each household will receive a letter addressed to whoever is on the council tax account about the William Hunter Way consultation and here’s why…

On 1st September 2014, after the failure of the former Tory administration’s town centre development (along with eight wasted years and hundreds of thousands of pounds) the Accord administration launched a very genuine consultation – developed in consultation with local residents – that would go to every household in the borough.  It was initially launched online with a paper consultation planned to go through every door.

All was going to plan until a couple of weeks ago when we started to get calls and emails from residents to say they hadn’t received the consultation paper – what’s worse is that this was in areas very close to the site such as Wellesley Road, Weald Road, Gerrard Crescent and huge areas in Warley.

We hoped this would right itself but, with a week to go until the consultation ends in the past week we were still hearing this from our residents and a lengthy conversation on www.streetlife.com confirmed our worst fears.

On Saturday Cllr Russell Quirk, chair of the William Hunter Way Working Group (WHWWG), called an urgent meeting of this group tonight (6th October).  Councillors Quirk, Baker, Mynott, Sapwell and I met with officers at 7pm to discuss how this was going to be sorted out.

And sort it we did.

  • The deadline for the consultation is to be extended to 5th November 2014.
  • Every resident on the council tax register will now receive a letter reminding/informing them to complete this important survey
  • They will be able to complete it on line or have a survey sent to them
  • We will ask for further help from the Brentwood Gazette, Brentwood Weekly News and Phoenix FM (which may include taking out advertisements)

 

I am so pleased that we have been able to find a way to promote this consultation further at this late stage.  What’s better is that these “belt and braces” actions still keep us well within budget for the consultation project and assures residents that we have done everything we can to make sure every one of them has an opportunity to give us their views on the future of their town.

Make no mistake – this is important as it is about the long term future of the town which is why we are not taking it lightly.”

However, even with this unfortunate series of – now solved – problems, officers have confirmed that with well over 2,000 responses already this is the best response for a Brentwood resident consultation since records began.

UPDATE: Tower Hill/Weald Road and “Shame on Cllr Chilvers”

Well, that told me for daring to bring resident concerns to committee for debate and discussion.

For over four years, I have tried to get maintenance for the Tower Hill/Weald Road alleyway.  I’ve even cleared it myself with former Cllr Nigel Clarke, and Cllr John Newberry has been down there to tidy it up recently.

This can’t go on – it needs resolution not short term fixes and so I referred it to committee for discussion and decision so my residents could, at the very least, know whether they are responsible or not.  Rather than a good debate, this caused Cllr Paul Farragher to throw a big old Tory hissy fit and accuse me of all sorts from hypocrisy to “shameful behaviour”. My crime? Bringing it to committee…priceless!

I invite you to watch from 1h20m to watch John talking about the area, Cllr Russell backing us up and then Cllr Farragher’s attack.

WEBCAST RE TOWER HILL

It won’t deter me, we will keep trying to find a resolution whether it is good or bad so we know where we are.

Oh, and I will keep referring things to committee if that needs to happen…….that’s why we are there!