Firstly we hope you have escaped the virus and are in reasonable health. It is true to say we live in very tough circumstances at the moment, and many of us now realise how important our family and friends are to us. We look forward to meeting up with them all again very shortly.
We work in unfamiliar circumstances on the Council too. Most officers are now working from home and so face to face contact is nil, however the business of the Council goes on, so many like us, have had a steep learning curve to work via video camera or Zoom. Not quite the same as interaction around a table! However decisions still have to be made. Some of the Scrutiny committees are suspended but the regulatory ones continue. Planning and the pending Annual Council meetings are two of those. Under emergency powers the final decision has to be made by the Chief Executive officer, having listened to the views of the Chair or Vice Chair of the committee, as I write this the other members of the committee do not take part in the decision making process on the night, but Marion tries to contact every member for their view with regard to a planning decision waiting to be made in their area, she feels it is quite a responsibility to speak for all.
When we gave you our last update, many of the senior officers were interim ones. We are pleased to tell you all the posts have been now filled with permanent appointments, and they are well embedded into Newcastle’s way of working. There is a totally different feel within the building, largely to the better. So to some of the issues across the Borough we have been involved in.
Those who live near Walley’s quarry or come into Newcastle to shop, will have noticed the rancid odour coming from the Silverdale/ Thistleberry direction. This is a long term landfill project and whilst we as your Councillors have spent the best part of 10 years trying to find a solution we are nowhere near getting there, sorry! Marion in particular is active on the liaison committee but she is frustrated that Red Industries seem to want to deny the smell comes from them, and the EA tell us it is not sufficiently strong or the time scale sufficiently often for it to be a public nuisance, and that they are acting within the law. Maybe a change in the law needs to take place to embrace the problems we as residents encounter. Please do take the time to report your experience to the EA ON 03708506506. The only good news is because we have increased the amount of journeys the lorries make to tip their rubbish, the project will end sooner, but the smell does not go away immediately afterwards!
June and Marion are pleased that there is every possibility that Kidsgrove leisure centre will reopen, after a major maintenance project. The Council are working with Kidsgrove Community group, who are the drivers of this project, to see if it is viable. Costing and design are a big factor, but it would be good to see this much needed facility back in use. Unfortunately meetings are suspended at the moment, but work continues in the background.
We as Liberal Democrats are keen to be active in the Climate Change agenda. We aim to make Newcastle carbon neutral by 2030. There is a working group set up of which Marion is a member, which is looking at how we can achieve that, through partnership working, especially with the university. June reminds us that we are the environmentally friendly party and always have been. If you want more information please look on the website about what we are up to. There is a presentation there.
Regeneration of the town centre has to be a priority, however there is no time for sentiment. Demand and trends change. Sadly internet shopping has taken away the need for chain shops in town, however we believe that there is room for individual specialist merchandise, and the Council are visiting other areas to look at their offer. We have to be aware that what works for some, will not necessarily work in Newcastle, but we continue to assess our need. June lives in town, and Marion sits on the committee that examines our findings so we are both very involved.
Recent work includes:
- A 10 year car parking policy, looking at which parks we need to improve and which are no longer viable. BID have recently shown an interest in the Goose street car park.
- A reduction on the cost of permits for businesses.
- Improved CCTV in the Midway car park and we are asking that the flooding problems be addressed, alongside a clean-up. There is a proposal that we change the method of payment to include an app. June and Marion are keen that the option of paying with cash is still there.
- There are to be more electric charging points on Council owned parks
- The Council have commissioned a rough sleepers outreach service to address cross border issues with Stoke and we hold open door advice centres weekly. The number of homeless people remains in single figures, many more choose to sleep out and this is what needs to be addressed.
- The Council are looking at how we can increase the footfall in town. Ideas include revitalising the historic market… new ideas please, not just old ones reinvented! There have been a number of successful ‘one off’ themed events, and we hope there are more to come.
The Civic offices are a concern to us, as part of the ground floor is still out of action, because major work needed to take place, costs are being met by the developers, but nevertheless, it is months now since we had a meeting room, so alternative arrangements are always having to be made, across the Borough. June and Marion are asking questions of Cabinet.
So to end, Covid-19 impact report:
J2 closed, staff are being redeployed to customer services or being retrained to support vulnerable individuals through the hub.
Likewise Museum staff redeployed to support vulnerable individuals via the hub.
Customer services focused on phone and online delivery.
Waste Management: as you will know we have a new system in place for the foreseeable future, normal service will be resumed post virus. Street Scene staff are supporting this operation.
Bereavement Service operating normally but with office/ reception contact only by phone/mail
Environmental Health Dog Warden and pest control suspended.
Homeless The Council has contracted with a local provider to ensure that places are available over the next 12 weeks.
New Telephone service… The Council has established a phone line to ring if residents are concerned about friends and family and want support for them. Number 01782 742800
Staffs County Council have stood up a call centre on 0300 111 8050 also. Teams answering both numbers will be linking into volunteer and community support via Realise.
If you want Business support and advice on grants go to https://account.newcastle-staffs.gov.uk/xfp/form/215
Support Staffordshire have also got a dedicated page on their website hhps://www.supportstaffordshire.org
Take care all of you,
Marion and June