Monday, September 24, 2007

Leamington SPAce

Yesterday afternoon I attended the launch of Leamington SPAce a new organisation to campaign against the growing threat of developers building on our green open spaces.

In recent years we have seen fine old buildings and back gardens torn down to make way for high density flats. Now our Cricket ground and allotments are under threat.

Now clearly there is a housing problem across our region, yet I feel we need to look at other ways of addressing this than simply packing more homes into our towns. If we do not protect our green spaces then towns such as Leamington and Warwick will loose their character. I am seeing some appaling developments in our towns. We cannot continue to rush into developments we will regret in 20 yeras time.

This is a non-political organisation, however it was supported by Lib-Dem's from Leamington Spa and I was able to arrange for Phil Bennion to attend. Phil is pulling together the Lib-Dem response to the Regional Spatial Strategy which will determine how future decisions on development might be made in the future.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Sudden rush of Tories condemning Tory proposals to close Warwick fire station.

In an earlier blog entry a couple of weeks ago, I pointed out the irony of Conservatives scaremongering about claims to close Warwick hospital whilst planning to close our fire station.
Well, while I have been away at the conference in Brighton it seems the mail bags at our local newspaper has been packed with Tories condemning the decisions of the Tory run County Council. Conservative County Councillors have then responded by trying to blame the government and then accusing everyone (their own colleagues included I presume) of getting all political about the issue.
The only sensible suggestion I have seen in the paper comes from Mr Webb in his letter to the Courier. He suggests that if we are to make savings then why not site the fire station near Leek Wooton, close to the major roads with easy access to the three towns of Warwick, Leamington and Kenilworth.
I would be in favour of this scheme if it were found to be cost effective and deliver the same level of service to the area it serves. I am against a full merger with Hereford and Worcester that would effectively make a region that would stretch from Northamptonshire to the Welsh Border. We need a local fire service accountable to local people and delivered by local people.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

BBC Breakfast

An early start this morning with a breakfast hosted by BBC World to inform us about their work and the launch of their Arabic service. This was a very informative event and I was able to appreciate just how the BBC's impartiality is valued and the impact this has across the world, often where this is not available from other stations.

Diversity of Fringe Events - Spearmint Rhino

Heading home from the Champagne Taste Test fringe last night I was handed a flyer from a very pleasant young girl inviting me to Spearmint Rhino. I have to say the conference committee have excelled themselves in the range of fringe events this year.

I suspect the Campaign for Gender Balance are behind promoting an organisation that provides employment for so many young women.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Is it only Monday !

After over-dosing on training this morning I headed back to the Holiday Inn where Phil Bennion was hosting a fringe event on 'The Future of Europe' MEP's, Andrew Duff and Graham Watson were joined by Sir Colin Budd. Key questions from the floor was the question of whether we should have a referendum on the Reform Treaty.
I then headed off to the main hall to see Ming's question time, very well done I thought. I am now taking some time out of having to be places and have hidden myself away in a corner of a hotel lounge somewhere and am catching up with email, the newspapers over a coffee.

Sunday at the Conference

A beautiful sunny day on the first day of the conference. I started with a consultation on Housing. This is a real issue in Warwick & Leamington, yet like most parts of the country our housing issue is a lack of affordable housing and its knock on effects, other parts of the country have different problems which is why I believe local councils should have more power to decide the solutions rather than have them dictated from Westminster. I am also our West Midlands spokesperson for housing so this is an issue close to my heart.

This was our opportunity to comment on the development of our housing policy and the brand new paper written by Andrew Stunell MP. When I get a chance to read it I will comment here in more depth. So many of us were able to discuss specific and very different issues from our parts of the country and I was able to explain the housing challenges in our towns and the example of our Cricket Pitch in Leamington.

Chris Huhne joined us later and explained how we can include the Green agenda into our housing policy. Chris has some fantastic ideas on the environment and if we are heading for Zero Carbon by 2050, then we need to build these ideas into our housing policy.

Over lunch I attended a session looking at electronic voting. I explained some of our experiences at the count in Leamington in May.

Following some training in the afternoon I attended the evening Rally on Freedom & Human Rights. A series of excellent speakers showed how vital it is to stand up for these abroad and to defend them at home.

A couple of fringe events and then back to where I am staying as I have a busy day tomorrow.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Off to the Brighton Conference.

Well I have a few jobs to do and pack before I head down to the annual Lib-Dem works outing to the sea side. I shall try to get you all a picture of Ming in a knotted handkerchief later in the week and will be on the look out for Lynn Featherstone in a 'kiss me quick hat'.

To avoid a repetition of events at last years jaunt, I have pledged not to gate crash the party run by the Scottish Liberal Democrats and not to be then led by a group of student interns to a night club on the front and force fed tequila. Though I do have a 'meeting' in the bar tonight with the rest of the West Midlands Regional Exec and I probably wont be sticking to the mineral water.

It will be a busy week though. I was impressed with the training schedule again this year. I thought I would do less training over the years, yet this year there are several new and essential courses I have pencilled in.

In recent conferences I adopted a fringe event strategy based on those that do the best food. It may seem a bit mercenary, but you must understand that my first conference I attended fringe events that seemed interesting. I tried to pack so much in and simply forgot to eat, come mid afternoon I was getting quite light headed. So a few hearty fringe buffets and a Breakfast ran by the BBC world service should see me right though with enough energy to clap at the end of Ming's Speech.

If I find a broadband connection I can hijack I will try to update you as the week progresses.

I have a mortgage with Northern Rock

I have been watching the problems in the financial world with more interest over the past couple of days because I have a mortgage with Northern Rock.

The BBC has a good summary of the situation for concerned customers.

I started wondering last night what would happen to my house if the bank did go under. (Highly Unlikely)

Will they have to sell my house to pay off their debts?
Or if the bank stops trading, would I never have to pay my mortgage again.

Well there is mixed news for people with Northern Rock mortgages. It seems our homes would not be repossessed but we would have to carry on paying our mortgages. Our mortgages are probably the strongest assets the bank has.

More disturbing is that the worlds banks are in this mess. A lack of regulation in the US and sharp practice, selling mortgages to America's vulnerable poor, that will never be paid back, has created a mess here in the UK.

A shed load of cash has gone missing and someone is going to have to pay for this.
I am pretty sure that no one is going to be rounding up those ultimately responsible.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Support for the Reform Treaty.

West Midlands Lib-Dem Phil Bennion, one of seven members of the Coalition for the Reform Treaty is calling for the EU to agree to the changes outlined in the draft Reform treaty.

In a letter published in the Guardian and covered in the Independent, the coalition argue that the changes to the treaty are necessary as the EU has enlarged in recent years.

A copy of the letter is included below.

We believe it would be fitting in the EU's 50th anniversary year for the Union to agree the changes outlined in the draft Reform Treaty. These proposals have been precipitated by an increase in EU membership from 15 in 2004 to 27 members today. These enlargements have been very successful, bringing in ten former communist countries of eastern Europe to the EU fold. Any large business or other organization which almost doubled its membership in such a short space of time would have to alter its rules and modus operandi. There is no doubt that if the EU didn't address the impact of new members on its institutions, it would be severely criticised.
The draft Reform Treaty, agreed at the European Council in June, is in Britain's interests as well as the European Union's because it will lead to more efficient, effective and democratic decision-making. Ratification of the Treaty by all 27 EU Member States will help the Union to focus on the issues that really matter including a deeper Single Market and climate change. It is this agenda, rather than excessive debate about institutional reform, that should occupy the EU's energies in the years ahead.

Roland Rudd (Chairman, Business for New Europe)
Brendan Donnelly (Chairman, Federal Union)
Peter Luff (Chairman, European Movement)
Dr Olaf Cramme (Associate Director, Policy Network)
Mary Creagh MP (Chair, Labour Movement for Europe)
Phil Bennion (Chair, Liberal Democrat European Group)
Alex Bigham (Head of Communications, Foreign Policy Centre)
(signed as members of the Coalition for the Reform Treaty)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Shock Doctrine - Nation Building the 'US of A' way!

This is worth a read, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein.

Naomi draws a parallel between the process of torture and the events in Iraq at the beginning of 'Operation Iraqi Freedom'. From the 'showing of the instruments' months of media coverage of how the US air power would attack Baghdad, the silencing and blinding of the nation through the destruction of the telephone exchanges and media stations and then the unfettered looting of the nations infrastructure, treasures and culture.

The final stage in the process, following the dehumanising is the reprogramming, in some ways more inhumane, more sinister. Naomi again draws the parallel with torture, in the weeks before release, victims in Guantanamo are send to a place where they watch DVDs and eat junk food.

In Iraq, the sudden unfettered free market attempts to reprogramme the population with cheap consumer goods. One employee of an American company taking advantage of the new frontier exclaimed, "One well-stocked 7-Eleven could knock out 30 Iraqi stores; a Wal-Mart could take over the country."

Most disturbing is that the American idea of exporting democracy has nothing to do with good governance, its about replacing a culture that goes back to the earliest civilisation with one that has been around for a few decades.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Will Tory cost cutting put our Fire Service at Risk?

The review of the Warwickshire Fire & Rescue Service commissioned by Warwickshire County Council was discussed on Thursday by the ruling Conservative group and proposals are expected to be put forward to the council later in the year.

There are various options put forward in the report including merging or collaborating with fire services in a neighbouring county, consolidation of existing fire stations or a mixture of all three.

It is clear from the report that the motive is to save money and this is likely to result in less fire engines, less firemen and less stations. I will be watching this closely along with my colleagues who sit on the county council.

What I find ironic is that the same week local Tories were lambasted in the news for scaremongering (again) over the future of Warwick Hospital, they are considering closing the fire station.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Council Needs to show more imagination with Warwick Parking Problems.

I attended a public meeting at Coten End school in Warwick last night, to discuss some of the residents parking issues in the Guy Street, Cherry Street area.

Now the problem is that with the introduction of the new parking scheme there are simply not enough parking spaces for all the people living in these streets.

People living in the area disagree and last night put forward some imaginative ideas that would help address the problem, real community politics stuff, people reaching agreement amongst themselves as to how they want their streets to work.

Unfortunately the council showed less imagination and residents were met with a whole host of reasons why things could not be done, which seemed to be more down to cost and bureaucracy than anything else.

Here are two of the suggestions made at the meeting.
Residents are strongly in favour of reducing the pavement on north side of Guys Cliffe Terrace where there are no houses and is little used. This could allow the introduction of echelon parking, going a long way to resolving the problem by creating a lot of spaces and making more use of the road. An Architect who lives in the area had used his knowledge to propose a scheme that could be viable . The response that this would cost money and that there was no budget did not go down well with people who had paid for permits to park their cars.

Another resident and key campaigner on this issue, proposed a scheme in Guy St that would allow parking on both sides of the road. She drew on examples in other parts of the town where similar sizes of parking spaces and road widths had recently been drawn and that this could be put in practice in Guy Street. Again this was rejected on the basis that latest guidelines require wider spaces and that the narrower spaces in other parts of the town had been laid out in earlier times. Probably during the time when the Feudal System operated from the castle when the lord of the manor could park where the hell he liked by royal charter.

I found it a frustrating meeting, you could feel the frustration on behalf of residents who really wanted to solve this, many had put a lot of work and research into the problem and it appeared they were not being listened to.

Statements that Residents had brought this problem on themselves by owning cars (in a society that almost requires it whether we like it or not) or by living there in the first place (when even young doctors cannot afford to live in the street, let alone anywhere with a drive) met with restrained anger.

I fear the council will go back and tinker with their plan and maybe squeeze a few more spaces out.

What it needs is a bit of imagination and some of the residents’ council tax money (they all have jobs and probably pay a significant amount collectively) spending on a decent scheme as that proposed in Guys Cliffe Terrace that will go a long way towards solving this problem.