"The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and
open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values
of liberty, equality and community, and in which no-one shall
be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity."
Thursday, March 23, 2006
M11 hold-up queries: Highways Agency response
Earlier this month, I wrote to the Highways Agency about the appalling hold-up on the M11, in which a number of Harlow residents spent over six hours following an incident on the motorway. I've now received a response from the Highways Agency, who say that
"the Highways Agency is carrying out, with its partners, a full investigation into the incident and the problems that occurred for road users. Whilst this cannot make up for the difficulties people experienced that weekend, the Agency is determined to learn lessons from this and develop improved practices to lower, substantially, the risk of such delay and uncertainty occurring again."
Thursday, March 16, 2006
Tories' transport incompetence costs Essex taxpayers millions
Transport plans prepared by the Conservatives at Essex County Council are less likely to attract government funding than every other county council in the country bar one.
Details obtained by the Liberal Democrats have revealed that Essex County Council ranks almost at the bottom of the government's list of transport investment per local authority over the last eight years.
The government has spent £135 per person on transport schemes in Essex, compared with £197 per person in Suffolk, £224 per person in Norfolk and £176 per person in Kent. Shropshire County Council tops the list with a massive £358 per person spend.
Cllr Keith Francis, Essex County Council's Liberal Democrat spokesman for highways and transportation, said:
"These figures are a disgrace. We have consistently said that transport proposals put forward by Essex County Council do not meet the needs of the county, so it is hardly surprising that the government is reluctant to fund them. Only recently, the county's local transport plan had to be changed after a government department found that it was too road-centric and failed to provide a sustainable public transport system. Ironically, it was also judged to be unrealistic over funding.
Mike Faccini to step down as Harlow councillor
Staple Tye councillor Mike Faccini has announced that he is stepping down from Harlow Council. Liberal Democrat Cllr Faccini said:
"It has been a privilege to serve the residents of Staple Tye as their local councillor since I was first elected in 2002. However, a change of employment and personal circumstances mean that I am no longer able to devote the time I would wish to this important role. I have therefore decided to tender my resignation from the council, and wish my colleagues and my successor well."
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
No to Harlow casino plans
Liberal Democrat councillor Lorna Spenceley was among those who successfully opposed a proposal that Harlow should apply for a permit to allow a small casino to be opened in the town.
The Government is currently inviting applications for eight large casinos, eight regional casinos and eight small casinos. Applications must be submitted by 31 March. Cllr Spenceley told the meeting:
"I have no overwhelming moral objection to gambling as such. However, I am opposing this proposal for three reasons. Firstly, Harlow has a large number of people - including many young people - with significant levels of debt, and local agencies spend a large amount of public money funding debt advice. I see no reason why we should wish to make this situation worse.The proposal to apply for a casino permit was rejected by four votes to three.
Town Park car park arrangements agreed
Residents will be able to park in the Greyhound car park for up to five hours free of charge on a weekday, under new arrangements agreed by Harlow Council's Environment & Community Committee - chaired by Bush Fair Liberal Democrat councillor Eleanor Macy.
The move comes after a proposal for pay and display parking was rejected last week following an amendment from Staple Tye Liberal Democrat councillor Lorna Spenceley. Lorna's intervention required council officers to return to the committee with alternative ways of discouraging commuter parking at this location.
Monday, March 13, 2006
Constant reorganisation (2)
Local Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Chris Millington is in Cambridge, for another meeting with other leading councillors in the East of England to discuss the Labour Government's persistent yet nebulous desire to reorganise local councils. Few conclusive results emerge, with the Government Minister repeating that the Government is "listening".
Friday, March 10, 2006
Constant reorganisation (1)
Local Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Chris Millington attended a meeting in Chelmsford, including representatives from the leadership of Essex County Council and of the district councils in the county. The meeting discussed ways in which the county council and district councils could work more effectively together.
The meeting was held in the light of persistent rumours that the Labour Government is considering reorganising local councils in 'two tier' areas that have county and district councils, and forcing single 'unitary' councils on them instead.
M11 hold-up queries
Harlow's Liberal Democrat spokesman Lorna Spenceley has written to the Highways Agency following the recent incident on the M11 between Junctions 7 and 8, asking a number of questions about the Agency's management of the incident. Mrs Spenceley says:
"I am concerned at comments I have received, about the extent to which traffic was allowed to build up, delays in implementing and signposting diversions and issuing radio traffic warnings, and lack of police and Highways Agency presence. It is reported that the incident occurred at 5:30am, but that it took six hours before Junction 8 was closed - time in which many thousands of travellers could have been diverted much earlier."Mrs Spenceley has asked the agency why vehicles were still allowed onto the blocked section after the exit had been closed; why Agency staff were not able to lead vehicles back off the motorway, once it was clear they could not go down the road and exit normally; what contingency plans the Highways Agency is developing to prevent such extreme delays in future; what reports the Agency is planning to publish into the incident, and how these will be made available to interested parties and to the public.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Brays Grove School closure "a body-blow to local community"
The decision by Essex County Council to close Brays Grove School is a body-blow to the local community, Liberal Democrat leader and Bush Fair councillor Chris Millington has said. Cllr Millington said:
"I'm deeply concerned at the decision taken by Essex County Council to close Brays Grove School. It's disappointing that the county council appears not to have taken on board any of the concerns raised by Liberal Democrats in our submission to the consultation. Meanwhile, the proposal for the relocation of Passmores to the Brays Grove site is creating further uncertainty for parents, and extending it to a second school."
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Harlow Council's planning committee agreed to put off considering a further planning application for Jeans Yardling in Tye Green Village, until the appeal against the committee's rejection of a previous application has been determined. Local councillor Eleanor Macy says:
"I'm totally against overdevelopment of a conservation area - one of the last remnants of the original Harlow. The paddock has been recorded open green space since the Middle Ages. The footpath could be lost - it's already been made difficult to walk, and the proposed diversion takes people out of their way and puts the path into an area where people could be hidden from view and therefore at risk."
Pay and display ruled out
Harlow's Liberal Democrat councillors have listened to local residents and ruled out the introduction of pay and display parking at Bush Fair, The Stow, the Town Park, Old Harlow and the Latton Bush Centre.
Speaking at the meeting of the council's Environment & Community Committee, which was chaired by Bush Fair Liberal Democrat councillor Eleanor Macy, Staple Tye Liberal Democrat councillor Lorna Spenceley said:
"Each of these areas has its own parking problems, and a blanket solution of pay and display is not the answer. We should be looking at each location case by case, and finding local solutions to local issues.For Bush Fair, Cllr Spenceley successfully proposed instead that council officers should investigate additional parking opportunities and report back to the committee. She successfully seconded a similar motion for parking at The Stow.
For the Town Park, Cllr Spenceley proposed that the council investigate the option of establishing one hour in the day when a ticket was required, as a way of deterring commuter parking and freeing parking space for residents using the park for leisure. This was widened to include considering other options, and officers will report back to the Environment & Community Committee on 14 March.
Proposals for pay and display at Old Harlow were also rejected. And Cllr Spenceley successfully seconded the proposal not to introduce pay and display at the Latton Bush Centre, where council officers were in any case recommending that the council should not proceed.
Sunday, March 05, 2006
Spring Conference in Harrogate (3)
The full Harlow contingent is in the conference hall bright and early for the emergency motion debates at 09:00. The first debate, on detention of prisoners at Guantanamo, is well argued with some effective and hard-hitting speeches.
Then it's time for the debate on Harlow's motion on the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. David gives the introductory speech he wrote the day before; David Heath MP, Lord Garden and Lord Goodhart all speak in the debate; and David Howarth MP - whose article in the Times first alerted us to the issue - sums up. The vote is overwhelming; no-one opposes the motion, which now becomes the party's policy on the matter. Both Lord Garden and David Howarth thank Harlow publicly for bringing the issue to conference, as does party president Simon Hughes MP in a conversation with David at the end of the conference.
There are various committee reports, and then a debate on aviation and ways to reduce its impact on the environment. Watford Mayor Dorothy Thornhill and her council group give a presentation on their achievements.
Finally, after a financial appeal from the party treasurer, a short speech from Simon Hughes, and an even shorter one from Dunfermline by-election winner Willie Rennie (who's not in the hall when he's introduced, causing an anxious few minutes and a high-level 'hunt the speaker' frenzy), it's Ming Campbell's first conference speech as party leader. "For those of you who think I'm going to be just a caretaker leader," he tells us, "I have a statistic. The last Ming dynasty lasted 267 years." The hall erupts. It's an excellent performance, a strong speech, and we're all very much encouraged that the new leadership is off to a good start.
Conference is over; it's time to join the queue at Betty's for afternoon tea, pop into Farrah's for Harrogate toffee and presents from the delicatessen for the family, and then home down the A1. It's been a good conference.
Sunday 5 March 2006, Harrogate"The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill" - you can almost hear Sir Humphrey saying, "Call it something boring and they won't notice what it really says".
And why should they? After all, it is merely an update to the 2001 Act of the same name, which didn't seem to do any harm. And its purpose is to reform outdated legislation and regulation - something all parties, including our own, support.
Well, it might have worked ... if one of our MPs and some Cambridge academics hadn't warned us what the Bill really does.
It allows ministers to amend or replace any law or regulation passed by Parliament. Including itself.
Have they even forgotten what happened in the twentieth century, when individual leaders were given total power and war swept across Europe and the world, with tens of millions killed before the war was won for democracy?
Or do they think that democracy is simply too inefficient for the twenty-first century?
They may think that; we could not possibly agree.
We know our 63 MPs will oppose this Bill root and branch, as will their colleagues in the Lords. Now we call on parliamentarians of all parties and both Houses to defend the supremacy of Parliament, and throw out this affront to British democracy!
Conference, I move this motion, and call upon you to pass it with acclamation.
David Wright, Confernece Representative for Harlow
Party conference agrees Harlow motion
An emergency motion submitted by Harlow Liberal Democrats has been agreed by the party's national conference.
The motion from Harlow, on the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, was debated at the party's conference in Harrogate, and was passed overwhelmingly. It states:
"Conference deplores proposals in the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill which would give powers to government ministers to alter any law passed by Parliament, provided that they do not create new crimes with a penalty greater than two years in prison or increase taxation.The motion was introduced by Harlow Liberal Democrats vice-chair David Wright.
Saturday, March 04, 2006
Spring Conference in Harrogate (2)
As Training Administrator, my day is spent in a whirl of training prospectuses, trainees needing directions to the training rooms, requests for drinking water and mobile hearing loops, signing-in sheets and evaluation forms.
In the conference hall, however, there's an equally packed day, kicked off by the Mayor of Harrogate and the local MP Phil Willis. The motion by Norman Lamb MP on securing the future of the Royal Mail and the Post Office, which was sent back for further work by conference last autumn, has been worked on, improved and brought back - and this time it's agreed.
The conference also discusses the party's campaign to elect more ethnic minority Liberal Democrat MPs; the threat to health services from NHS Trust deficits; regulation of CCTV schemes; freedom of speech; education for 14-19 year olds; and a series of constitutional amendments and other internal business.
I'm busy in the training suite until late; afterwards, David and I sit in the bar at the Crown with a whisky and ginger each and work on David's speech to introduce our emergency motion tomorrow, while we wait for Robert and Chris to come out of the meeting they're in. At 8:00pm we all four make our way up Cheltenham Crescent, and pile into Casa Romana for an Italian meal with friends Bob and Jenny from Waltham Forest - a convivial way to end the day.
Friday, March 03, 2006
Spring Conference in Harrogate (1)
Four members of Harlow Liberal Democrats have travelled to Harrogate - my favourite conference venue - today for the party's spring conference. Local party vice-chair David Wright, Cllr Robert Thurston and myself have arrived by car; Liberal Democrat council leader Cllr Chris Millington has travelled separately by train after work.
I'm at Harrogate as party staff, not as a voting conference representative, so I spend the afternoon sorting out training arrangements for the following day. Training is always a major attraction at Liberal Democrat conferences, and the training facilities at Harrogate are the best of any conference venue we use.
So I miss the two consultative sessions going on in the conference centre, and also Ming's first speech as the new party leader. I hear that far more people want to hear Ming than there is space for, so disappointed members - some quite senior - are having to be turned away.
We get a phone call at about 8:00pm to say that Harlow's emergency motion, which we submitted earlier in the week, has been accepted for debate on Sunday morning without being entered into the ballot along with the others (emergency motions are usually chosen by a ballot of conference representatives). Clearly the Conference Committee believes we've chosen an important subject.
Thursday, March 02, 2006
New Liberal Democrat leader welcomed
Local Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Chris Millington and parliamentary spokesman Lorna Spenceley have welcomed the election of Menzies Campbell as leader of the Liberal Democrats. Cllr Millington said that Mr Campbell would be ideal for the job and would work to make the Liberal Democrats a genuine alternative to Labour and the Conservatives.
"The main task of the party is to unite behind Ming and put the trauma of the last few months behind us. He's trusted and very well respected and spoke with real passion during the leadership hustings debates."Lorna Spenceley added:
"I'm sure that Ming is going to be a very effective leader of the party. He's got the capacity to bring the party together. The main thing the leadership campaign has shown is that there's a huge range of talent in the party."
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
Council issues 100th fixed penalty notice
Harlow Council has issued over a hundred £50 Fixed Penalty Notices to people caught messing up the town. 98 of these were for littering - mainly people throwing litter from vehicles. Nine dog owners received notices for dog fouling offences. Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Cllr Eleanor Macy says:
"It's important to point out that penalising people isn't the only thing we are doing. It's part of our bigger agenda to clean up our town. We're doing this because making Harlow cleaner, safer and greener is a top priority for local residents. We will continue to clamp down on those who mess up the town, along with promoting awareness of our work, education and installing more litter and dog waste bins across the town."Currently the Council is raising awareness of its enforcement work as part of the Together We Can ... Clean Up Our Town campaign. A month-long bus advertising campaign has been launched to help drive the message home to motorists. And as part of the Council's priority-led budget for this year, £10,000 has been allocated to fund extra litter and dog waste bins across the town.
Harlow Council first starting issuing notices in 2003. Following expansion of the council's enforcement activities late last year the number of notices has increased considerably, and since October 49 fixed penalty notices have been issued for litter. Money raised through penalty notices goes towards the council's enforcement activities.
91% of litter found on England's streets is down to pedestrians and people throwing rubbish out of vehicles - adding to the £450 million being spent cleaning up our streets every year.
It is an offence to drop, throw, leave or deposit litter (including cigarette butts and chewing gum) in a public place. Residents suffering ongoing anti-social behaviour or who witness any crimes against the environment should ring the It's your Call action line on 0845 605 2222.