Friday, September 30, 2011

Cut salaries to save jobs?

The headline of this weeks News and Crier is a new pay restructure could save jobs. This is the route HDC seems to going down. But what does this tell me? From the headline and article it seems that Conservative run HDC is more interested in saving jobs than making real savings. So is it jobs first or savings first. I feel it is neither. I get the impression that HDC is more interested in saving jobs with my Council Tax.

Local Government is here to provide services to its residents. Government/Parliament decides the mandatory services and gives powers to provide other services. The Council Taxpayer picks up part of the tab with Government providing a large chunk of the rest.

With HDC facing problems over its budget and in the future forecast it is looking for between £1.1 million and a whopping £6 million of cuts, just on its own figures by keeping the New Homes Bonus, protecting jobs seems rather futile. The best option is for HDC to decide what it has to provide and at what level. In addition HDC should then decide what it wants to further provide and budget accordingly. The problem with salami slicing is keeping jobs becomes the priority and the services which go with those jobs. HDC's priority must be to provide those services that are needed and ensure they are adequately funded. Then HDC can have a dialogue with residents over whether residents are willing to fund non-statutory services through a much needed rise in Council Tax. Services first, Council taxpayers second and jobs last.

I know this is one of the last bastions of socialist utopia and the whole reason to be is the Council must provide services. The problem the Conservatives have is the years of being a low tax/high services council are over. The Conservatives need to decide whether they are a low cost/low tax authority or a high tax/high services authority and act accordingly.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

If I were Lidl I would......

Block the view of the cinema unless I get a lot of money. The reason is Turnstone Estates don't have the right to use my land to advertise their cinema development. Think about it. Turnstone Estates are proposing to build a cinema and restaurants behind Lidl land. There is no vehicular access from Lidl car park.

If I were Lidl I would be most upset that my car park would be used to drop visitors to the new cinema complex. This is my land so why should the developers get away with using my land to get people into their development.

What would I do if I were Lidl? Firstly, I would put up a boundary fence to block off the cinema complex from my land. Secondly, I would plant trees to stop the view of the cinema complex from Cambridge Street across my land.
Why should Turnstone Estates get away with using my land to service their development? If I were Lidl I would try to stop Turnstone Estates from using my land for their development for free.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

HDC is breaking the law

In the Corporate Governance Panel Agenda the following is stated:
The reasons why the final accounts are not ready is not stated. Only a "combination of reasons" rather than actually spelling these out. As pointed out it is a requirement the accounts are approved by the panel. What do the Financial Regulations say?
The Corporate Governance Panel isn't doing this. Yet the law says HDC should do so. HDC is therefore breaking the law by not agreeing the Final Accounts.

What are the problems? HDC hasn't said. They could be minor or major. That will have to wait for the final accounts when they are finally published.

It seems OK for HDC to break the law over the approving these accounts. Yet HDC doesn't want residents to break the law. Council Tax defaulters, dog litter, parking fines and many other offences HDC uses the law to fine and even imprison offenders. Yet when HDC breaks the law - nothing is done. Nothing is mentioned in the Agenda to indicate these accounts have to be approved by 30th September 2011. As an Authority HDC has a duty to uphold the law. If HDC doesn't then why should the residents?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ed Reilly is Acting Town Clerk

Edward Reilly FCMI FFA is the Acting Town Clerk during the mysterious absence by the current Town Clerk - Helen King. Last time there was a mysterious absence the former Town Clerk - Phillip Devonold - eventually resigned. So why is the Town Council keeping the change so quiet?

This is taking everything to extreme. The Town Clerk is absent and a temporary replacement has turned up. This is good and I congratulate the Conservatives with getting on with the job. The Liberal Democrats should have done the same when Devonold left. They didn't.

So who is Ed Reilly? The only Ed Reilly I came across was a Town Clerk to Sleaford Town Council in Lincolnshire. Linkedin also has something on Ed.

This could also be something decided at 8th July 2011 Council Meeting. This has been kept secret. Why?

Monday, September 26, 2011

What is the point of a Development Brief

The Cinema project rumbles on but what of the document that started this off. The Development Brief outlined all the planning considerations needed for a development of whatever type to go ahead. It also has some graphics which show the planning problems.

The above picture sets out the many issues with the site. The whole idea was for the car park to use the Lidl car park entrance. The Huntingdon Street entrance was to be used for service vehicles. There are two strong arrows allowing for the protection of Neighbour Amenity. The inclusion of "high quality building frontage" with the effects on the listed buildings in Cambridge Street.
The above picture sets out the basics of what any new development is likely to look like taking into account. The main entrance is via the Lidl car park. The service entrance is off Huntingdon Street. The arrows protecting neighbour amenity are still there. The "important building frontage" is still there. What is extra is the car parking on the recreation ground. 

Now move onto the planning application:
There is no access from Lidl. All the traffic is coming from Huntingdon Street. The "important building frontage" is no more. The car park on the recreation ground has increased from 40% to 75%. The arrows "protecting Neighbour amenity" have been breached and breached significantly.

I tried to marry the two pictures together:
This is not totally exact. But it is a good indication of the significant breach of the "protect neighbour amenity" arrows. The entrance by Cressener House is now the main entrance to the car park. A new access road is along the north side running behind the fence of the properties in East Street.

Now the Development Brief are guidelines. This is supposed to be a living document. I can understand that some minor alterations can and have taken place. What is not minor is the change from the entrance being through the Lidl car park from Cambridge Street to the entrance designated as a service vehicle entrance in Huntingdon Street. Another major change are the significant breaches of the arrows to "protect neighbour amenity". Another major change include the extension of the car park further into the recreation ground.

So why weren't these major changes put back out to the community for further consultation? It is not as though these are minor changes.

There is something else. The site is owned by Huntingdon District Council and St Neots Town Council. As the lead the District Council decided to have a cinema on this site with Turnstone Estates as their preferred developer. 

So HDC is the owner and also decides the planning application on its own land. The Officer in charge of this application is:
The same Jennie Parsons who gave pre-application advice to Turnstone Estates.
Is there anything wrong with this arrangement. Legally, this is very acceptable because it is HDC's duty to decide this application. But HDC does need to go that extra mile to ensure what it decides is correct.

One of my concerns is this is public land owned by HDC and SNTC. The politicians who run HDC have agreed to Development Brief (DB). They should abide by the (DB) in their consequential decisions. So as Turnstone Estates have submitted a plan at significant variance to the DB then HDC should either stop this because of the significant variance or go back out to public consultation to ensure the residents are in agreement.

Both HDC and SNTC are taking a shortcut. They own the land yet they but there seems to be a divorce between their own policy and that of the planning department. I know many of our local politicians want the cinema because it will be a feather in their cap. I feel this is in the wrong place for the cinema. Local residents are going to have the amenity of their properties severely affected by this development. Just saying this is a planning issue when HDC and SNTC own the land doesn't work for me

In the end what is the point of producing a Development Brief which isn't adhered to by the Council that produces this brief. SNTC is a laughing stock when it make recommendations of refusal to HDC. The Planning Department at HDC will become a laughing stock if it approves plans that are significantly at variance with the Development Brief it wrote. The only way this is going to be approved is if HDC Planning throw out their rule book.

HDC will get its way for this titchy cinema with little access and only seen up an alley. Our local politicians will be joyous at the building of a cinema. The St Neots residents may be less welcoming once it is open and they compare and contrast with other cinemas they go to.


Oh and to prove this is the current Development Brief I went to the HDC website and did a crummy video of the draft link. See below.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Is Turnstone Estates in trouble?

The St Neots cinema project, on land behind Lidl, is as only as good as developer. So how good are Turnstone Estates group financials?

The last three years accounts are here:  2010, 2009 and 2008.

The profits/losses for the last 3 years are:

2007 = £11,921 profit
2008 = £976,049 loss
2009 = £14,747 profit
2010 = £275,876 loss

So not a massively profitable group. In fact over the last 4 years the group has lost £1.2 million.

The net assets of the group has fallen from £7,464,622 in 2007 to £5,754,285 in 2010. Of course there is a recession on and what do I expect?

The key to all this are the loans and the interest rates payable on those loans. 

In 2007 the loans stood at £8,530,000. In 2008 the loans stood at £19,893,418. In 2009 the loans stood at £23,893,359. In 2010 the loans stood at £32,078,149.

This is a big leap in a time of recession.

The 2010 accounts also have a warning as to whether Turnstone Estates is a going concern. The warning says:
If the loans aren't renewed the business may not be a going concern.

The Auditors also pointed out in the 2010 accounts:
There are problems with some of the trading subsidiaries and participating interests.

According to the 2010 accounts the only new project is the Cinema. 

I'm not an accountant of any sort. HDC should have all this information and they have the expertise or can call on the expertise to look at the viability of the cinema development. HDC decided to go with Turnstone Estates. If the group becomes unable to fulfill this development, due to one or all of the "emphasis of matter", this is something HDC knew or should have known when they took the decision to go with Turnstone Estates. 

If the development fails because the company fails HDC shouldn't be able to wash it hands of blame.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Could Shady Walk be registered as a Town Green?

I found a bit of information on registering a village or town green which could block the development of the "Open Green Space" which the Town Council Conservatives said "WE WILL" protect to become mainly a car park.

By trying to register Shady Walk as a Town Green, this would slow down the development. By getting Shady Walk designated as a Town Green this would save the "Open Green Space" for the future. It would also cause problems for the developers as the car park is integral to the development.
Though whether this would actually stop a cinema complex is another argument.

No theatre in cinema

Way back when this cinema/theatre project was first mooted, I asked a few questions. One was in a conversation with a representative of Turnstone Estates. One of my questions was:

What about the theatre auditorium?
One screen will be able to be used as a theatre auditorium by local theatre groups. But is won't be like a normal theatre.
On another occasion  the theatre plan was expressed:

Cllr Barry Chapman: "The plans would also include a theatre auditorium, he added." - Hunts Post
The plan is for one of the cinema auditoria to be able to accommodate occasional theatre productions, a spokeswoman from Turnstone Estates said. - News and Crier

If the cinema is supposed to be getting a theatre auditorium where will it be?

Notice the change. It has changed from a theatre to "live performances". The theatre has been dropped. Screen 3 is where the "live performances" could take place.

This is a copy of the plans submitted to HDC. If this is to be used by local theatre groups where are the following?:

The Stage to perform on
The Lighting for the productions
The Changing Rooms so performers can get changed
The Scenery Store for scenery or indeed anything that may be needed
Storage for the 30 seats to be taken out.

There is nothing in the building that facilitates the use of the Auditorium as a Theatre let alone used for "live performances". The best I can see is a one man band playing to 92 seats. 

The plans do not include a theatre auditorium. I doubt whether "live performances" will take place.

I thought this would be fitting. Though whether the band will fit in to the "live performance" section is open to question.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Useless Town Council Planning Committee being useless again

I would have thought that with the change in political control the Town Council Planning Committee would make itself useful. But useless continues to be the theme. In the refusal over the Cinema Planning application this useless committee has done it again.

The reasons put forward for recommending refusal of the cinema were:

  • Emergency vehicle access in and out of the development from Huntingdon Street
  • The extra volume of traffic passing through an already congested town centre
  • Smells generated by the proposed four restaurants
  • Failure by Turnstone Estates to provide a 3D model of the leisure complex

I'll take each "reason" for objection in turn.

Emergency vehicle access. There is no evidence to back up this objection. If the Emergency services have an issue with this they can always object. But they won't. So this is a useless objection.

Extra volume of traffic. Where is the evidence for this? The developer and Councils have done traffic surveys. So where is the evidence that this will cause traffic congestion. Unless the Town Council is willing to back up this objection with its own traffic data this is a useless objection.

Smell generated from restaurants. This could be a planning objection. Again needs to be evidenced. This will lead to a condition on any eventual planning permission. In itself it is not a reason for refusal.

Failure of Turnstone Estates to provide a 3D model. Not a valid planning objection.

Once again the Town Council Planning Committee rises to the challenge and is utterly useless. A good pantomime.

In voting to recommend refusal the Planning Committee is playing a part in a pantomime. The Town Council is leasing much of Shady walk Open Space to Turnstone Estates and the plans were fully known then. So why weren't these objections raised before the lease was agreed?

Most of the land is owned by HDC. Cllr Farrer is a District Councillor. Why haven't these objections been brought to District Council as the land owner. As the land owner HDC has control on what the land is used for than any committee or panel.

This is the Town Council having two policies. One is for the cinema project. The other is against.

The residents may think they have won a victory. But they haven't. These useless objections will be simply ignored by the District Council. Another pantomime for St Neots.

Why not get rid of this useless Planning Committee? The vast majority of the country gets on without one so why do we have this useless committee. Save money and save council tax by ridding St Neots Town Council of this useless committee which serves no real purpose.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Cllr Churchill - fall from grace

With the imminent demise of Cllr Ken Churchill's political career over being struck off as being a physiotherapist by the HPC for a inappropriate sexual relationship, there are a few lessons those in power need to heed.

Where did Ken go wrong?

Whilst the HPC made a decision based on the "balance of probabilities" not the much higher level of criminal "beyond reasonable doubt" much of this was based on the evidence of one 72 year old woman. Ken didn't help himself by bringing along patient notes to the hearing. These should have been given over to the investigation team during the investigation. This could have meant the allegations were dealt with before a hearing was convened.

So what should Ken have done once the decision HPC decision was known to him? His first port of call would be the leaders of the County and District Council Groups to inform them of the HPC decision. Ken should then have taken to the backbenches and relinquished chairmanships and memberships of the various committee and panels.

Ken should have then pre-empted the announcement of the decision by making a press statement and saying he would continue to fight to clear his name.

Because Ken obviously didn't inform his leaders, they had to take action which led to press coverage. The Leaders had to be seen to take action. The County Council Group was far more robust than the District Council Group. This is for the Conservatives to decide.

The problem I have with all this is this is being struck off from a professional body rather than a criminal offence. Whilst I don't like what was found by the HPC, it should ultimately be up either Ken Churchill or the electors of Little Paxton and North St Neots to decide his fate as a Councillor.

Whilst the term suspension has been used Ken has effectively been booted out of the Conservatives for 6 months. After which he can apply to rejoin.

If I were Ken I would say "stuff it" and resign the lot.

Statements like this don't help his cause:

 “The meeting went very well. I gave a presentation and showed all the evidence that was less than credible."
"A secret ballot was then taken and the outcome of that ballot was that I should remain in the group."
“Now I have the backing of the district group’s resolution and the Conservative Association.”
The fact that a majority of the group are against you doesn't mean you have the backing of the District Conservative Group. In fact that a majority voted against you means they looked at Ken's presentation and the less than credible evidence and still voted to get rid of Ken from the group. If Ken's presentation was anything like the statement above no wonder the Conservatives voted twice to suspend him.

Ken, your colleagues are trying to tell you something and that is your not wanted in the Conservative Groups.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Blot on the landscape

Throughout the summer I've been watching this "bridge" grow and grow whilst walking the dogs. I, like many, have to scratch my head over why this bridge is so long? When I first heard of the bridge I thought it would be a straight up and over like the one at Riverside Park.

I don't dispute the need for a bridge across the Great Ouse. As a cyclist to get to Eaton Socon it is a trouble so go over the weir or along the A428. This makes cycling and walking to and from Eaton Socon much, much easier.

As a show case for the connection between the two communities it is plainly over engineered. Too big and the walkway is far too far. A blot on the landscape.

When archaeologists in the far distant future look at this bridge they will scratch there heads to think why it was built so long on the Eynesbury side. Sometimes the people behind these projects need to take a step back and look at the outcome before committing the project to be built. Visitors et al will also be scratching their heads as to this blot on the landscape.

Is this something St Neots should be proud of? I say NO!