Update from Cllr Marion Reddish, Group Leader on the Council.

Council business is mainly held by Zoom meetings, which is unpreventable but not ideal. I feel that sometimes clarity of information and open debate is not as productive as face to face discussion.

The joint Local Plan with Stoke is now abandoned, in favour of the Borough going it alone. Important piece of work as it is here that we determine our housing and employment needs, together with strategic options for retail and leisure. Joint plan proposals with Stoke have not moved forward since 2013, not even got as far as public consultation. With the Tory introduction of the White paper on planning reform, our departure from the EU, implications of Covid on our economy, working from home, how we use our leisure time and to a lesser extent the HS2 proposals, we as a borough need to look at change and move forward on our own.

The Newcastle plan will need to address affordability of housing affecting young people and the under provision of housing against government targets. The government require us to build 355 pa. Newcastle’s average is 303, we will need more land to build on. There is no consensus on the use of greenbelt land, it remains a ‘hot potato’ depending on interest groups and industry, each having their own perspective.

Residents strongly favoured the development of a Borough Local plan but the businesses were largely in support of a joint plan with Stoke. There is certainly a need/duty to cooperate between the two authorities and indeed with other neighbouring councils.

Programme for delivery of the Plan

Revision of  core evidence: Early 2021

Draft publication consultation: Summer 2021, Submission draft Spring 2022.

Submission of Plan to the Secretary of State: 2022

Public examination: Late 2022

Adoption: 2023.

PLEASE DO COMMENT ON THE DRAFT SUBMISSIONS. This affects us all. Without a plan we are very much at the mercy of developers. You the public also need to be involved in the sites chosen to develop.

Liberal Democrat Councillors were very involved initially in setting up a plan to allocate sites, unfortunately successive administrations have not carried on with the hard work we put in.

NEIGHBOURHOOD PLANS… Run alongside Local Plan

Neighbourhood plans have two important roles.

They identify the character of your immediate area and steer new development towards sites which will be of benefit to your area. Whilst they need to be ’in conformity’ with the Local plan they can be delivered alongside each other. My understanding is all communities need to get together to set up their own neighbourhood plan. The absence of sites for future development will limit their potential to be used to sustain a refusal of an undesirable development. Think about it especially if you live in an urban area where there are no Parish councils. How about resident associations!

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“Sir Michael Wilshaw said responsibility for the very many mistakes lies with the Secretary of State for Education.  I think it goes to the top, i.e. the Prime Minister.”

Government does not seem to understand what contingency planning means. A recent publication refers to a contingency framework, but this is yet another deceptive phrase designed to hoodwink the general public into thinking government is well prepared, when clearly it is not.

The Education Policy Institute published a range of suggestions for schools to deal with assessments (for example) way back in June.  The Liberal Democrat Education Association issued a statement in October calling for exams to be replaced by an alternative system of assessment for 2021; a decision then would have given time for schools and exam boards to plan it properly and prevent the unnecessary anxieties that are now troubling our youngsters, yet again.

Various suggestions have floated around as to how schools can provide a blend of face to face teaching and remote learning, rota systems so that all pupils can attend school safely with social distancing and so on.  All this information was around in plenty of time to prepare for possible difficulties and it was ignored. The signs of a worsening virus situation started to emerge in September, but schools were expected to carry on as normal, in spite of the test and trace system still not fully functioning. Many of the promised laptops for pupils who had to learn at home have still not arrived; the tutoring system promised for youngsters to catch up started late, is still not providing for all who need it and schools were told they have to contribute to its cost out of budgets that had already been set.

At end of term, schools were told to spend Christmas organising virus testing for all pupils from the new year. Then they were told this only applies to Secondary schools; then only exam students would have to resume school as normal and delayed for the others. The National Education Union suggested local public health directors could help the schools but they were told the army would help, which turned out to be only over the phone advice. Some wealthy academy trusts have advertised to pay people to do the virus testing in their schools; others have to rely on unpaid volunteers.  Some primary schools in tier 4 would not open, others would. And so it went on.

Sir Michael Wilshaw (former head of the school inspectors) said on 5 January responsibility for the very many mistakes lies with Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education.  I think it goes to  the top; i.e. the Prime Minister.  On Sunday Boris Johnson said schools were safe; then on Monday he announced that it is not safe for children to attend school and exams were to be cancelled with no information how schools should organise alternative methods of assessment. He assumes that schools should be as normal, until he is forced into a knee-jerk reaction because too many people are dying, too many are getting the virus and both schools and the NHS are facing inability to cope. Much of the disruption to schools could have been prevented.

We have a government that believes it is there to rule on its own, without transparency (i.e. secretly).  It has rebutted attempts by teacher unions and local authorities to work with them; for a long time it even prevented them from seeing the data and advice that government was receiving. Last week it would not reveal the data on which it was saying that schools should return as normal this new year. It threatened legal action because a local authority told its schools to close early before Christmas; that local authority is now seen to have been correct in its decision. Furthermore, government’s own behaviour has been so bad that teacher representatives have considered legal action against the government for the way schools have been treated

Nigel Jones , January 2021

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It’s a good sum of money to get from government, but we need to remember two things.

First, the Borough and County Councils paid to buy the old Sainsbury’s site many years ago; then they borrowed £13M to build the new civic hub. We are all still paying for that with interest.

Secondly, soon after buying the old Sainsbury’s site (the Ryecroft), the Borough Council (while run by Labour) resolved in a debate about the site that they would not agree to pay for a new civic building until and unless income from the sale and development of the site was guaranteed.  I was the person on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, who proposed that resolution and it was passed by a huge majority.

They broke their own rules by going ahead with borrowing for the new building, with no income from the Sainsbury’s site and even with the prospect of the cost of looking after the old civic offices for a few years. In addition they spent money on a development consultant to investigate how to develop the site. The Conservatives supported this and have been in control for a few years since then.

Nigel Jones

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On 9 December, Munira Wilson, LibDem MP challenged the government to help those 3 million people
who have lost their income due to Covid and are getting no help. The government has refused saying it
is too difficult to do so. This includes freelance workers in entertainment, small businesses that started
just before the pandemic hit and many others caught by the complicated criteria attached to government
aid. Many have not been able to claim Universal Credit and even those who get it find they cannot live on
it. Some have resorted to selling their houses in order to feed their families and tragically, 8 people have
committed suicide as a direct result of their unexpected situation.

LibDem MP Christine Jardine raised this in Parliament on 23 and 25 November and government seems
determined not to respond. Way back when the chancellor Rishi Sunak announced his support scheme,
LibDem MP Jamie Stone identified that millions of workers would miss out and started an all-party
Parliamentary Group to campaign for changes.

What an uncaring government we now have !!

Nigel Jones (Newcastle under Lyme Liberal Democrats)

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Liberal Democrat Group leader’s report for the AGM 2020.

It has been a difficult year but we have been active  in some very complex decisions. I will give you a brief summary.

  1. Major recruitment of senior officers has brought about change in how we operate. Polices were found to be outdated in some areas and so there has been a realignment of the Councils priorities and much work has been done in implementing Covid 19 restriction guidelines. We have worked very closely with our partners, especially the Realise foundation, so maximum support could be given to the most vulnerable. Much work was undertaken to make sure government grants were available.
  2. Town centre Regeneration plans include
  • A 10 year car park review to include a reduction in the cost of annual permits for businesses.
  • Improved CCTV in the Midway car park and a review of flooding issues within the car park.
  • More electric charging points for cars.
  • Rough sleepers outreach service introduced to address cross border issues with Stoke. The number of homeless in Newcastle remains in single figures, the problem is many more choose to sleep out.
  • Recently installed CCTV in town centre streets, at the request of the public.
  • Much work has been done looking at how we can increase the footfall in town, but this project has been hindered by present day restrictions. We are working with neighbouring towns to look at how we compare. Part of this work is looking at how the market can be revitalised to suit the present trends.
  • We have organised some ‘themed one off events’ which have proven popular.
  • Town deal to include the future of the high street project. Project in progress to include the Ryecroft site, leading into the Ironmarket, High street and Midway. Developer interested!
  1. Newcastle Council plan to be carbon neutral by 2030, work is in progress to make this happen. We are working with partners and Keele University on our Climate Change agenda. A working panel has been set up to move this forward. More on the web site.
  2. Delighted that the people of Kidsgrove have worked hard to make sure their new sports centre plans are going to happen at a cost of £ 6m. A much needed facility for the people of Kidsgrove. Some of you will have noticed Jubilee 2 big pool was closed down for some time due to a major leak in the walls. It is now mended at a cost to the original develops.
  3. A joint allocations housing plan has been updated recently. The main advantage being residents now make a single application rather than two separate ones if they are wanting new accommodations. Aspire housing are our other partner.
  4. We have recently published our Air Quality plan. (On the website.) government are telling us we need to bring our carbon emission ratings up to Euro 6 standard. As a result, one of the major changes we have to implement is a bus gate at peak times on the A53 on Etruria road. Private cars will not be able to access up the bank from the A500 at peak Times which will affect residents in May Bank, Porthill and Wolstanton.
  5. New recycling system was introduced earlier this year, most residents are very happy with this new system and much prefer it to the box system. Recycling rates improved but value of the material not as high under the co mingled system.
  6. Some will have seen the old Savoy cinema site development is now well underway in town centre. It was given permission as student accommodation, but due to the present virus, demand is not as high as expected. A recent application was granted to allow multi resident occupancy for the next two years. Parking of cars may be an issue however.
  7. Walleys quarry landfill sire remains a problem with regard to odour, an extensive piece of work is underway to look at odour and highway issues. A working group is cross examining the agencies involved and hope to report their findings early next year.
  8. The Local plan site allocation document is being rewritten at the moment. It will be coming out for consultation in the New Year.

Marion Reddish, December 2020

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