Monday, February 25, 2008

Affordable Housing money plundered by Tory Council

Affordable Housing is a real issue in Warwick & Leamington. Even people with well paid jobs struggle to find somewhere to live. So you can imagine my disbelief when I find that the Tory Council have taken money set aside to assist affordable housing for two other projects.

Now when The ‘Right to Buy’ of Council homes by sitting tenants was introduced by Thatcher in 1980, the money raised from the sale of over 4000 homes in Warwick District was put in a reserve to help development costs for housing associations to enable them to provide affordable homes for local people.

At a Council budget meeting on Thursday, £320,000 for the purchase of Oakley Wood and a further £100,000 to fund the Rural Initiatives Scheme was taken from this money. I am sure the two projects are quite laudable, yet why were they not funded from the £2M sitting in the General Reserve.

It really goes to show just how serious the Tories were during their election campaign when they pledged to improve housing in the area and only 9 months later they plunder the fund set aside for that purpose.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Climate Change - Question Time - Warwick University

Last night I took part in a Question Time style debate on Climate Change as part of Warwick University’s ‘Go Green Week. The panel included representatives from each of the main parties, and a couple of experts on climate change.

The event was very well attended and there were some challenging questions from the audience.

Neuclear Power
The first question on Nuclear Power provoked some debate, with Jayne Innes from Labour taking the view that the decision to invest in new Nuclear power stations was the right one. I felt the general mood of the panel and the floor favoured our position that the money could be spent more effectively on a broader range of renewable options without increasing our already huge (£70Bn) cleanup costs from the power stations we already have.

Too Much Stick & Not Enough Carrot.

The second question asked how we could encourage people to change environmental behaviour. The panel outlined a broad range of measures from education, government and industry and I made the point that I would like to see a lot more carrot and a little less stick. I feel this is especially true of transport. Whilst tolls, congestion charges and other measures to discourage driving can be effective, the one thing that really makes me switch to alternatives is the availability of effective public transport.

High Speed Rail.

A later question dealt with High Speed Rail; again the Labour line was just how far we had come in 10 years. I could not resist this opening to point out that we had come exactly 70 miles, from the Kent Coast to St Pancras. With no further High Speed Lines planned it was anybodies guess how long we would wait for HS2 and that we had the smallest High Speed network of all the major countries in Europe.

Other questions included the part the international community has to play and how other countries had tackled climate change.

Green Economy.
A question on how a climate change could affect the economy provoked some interesting answers. Ian Davison from The Green Party seemed to think the economy should and would contract. I disagree; a reduction in Carbon should not automatically mean a reduction in the economy if we get it right. It will mean a different economy and by investing in new technology Britain could be a world leader.

How far has Labour Come.
One question from the floor was a direct challenge to Labour to explain what the Government had done to combat climate change during its 10 years in power. I had to correct the Labour representative after she appeared to indicate that Labour’s record was good and we had met all our targets. In fact CO2 emissions are up 4% since 1999 and the Government have admitted that they will fail to meet their target of 20% reduction by 2010.

I did not get chance to mention my favourite quote from Two Jag’s Prescott who in 1997 stated that: “I will have failed if there are not fewer journeys by car. It is a tall order, but I urge you to hold me to that.” Oh well perhaps next time.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Warwick District Cheated by Labour.

This week the government voted on its Local Government Settlement. Now many of us may think that all our council tax goes to Warwick District Council and they use it to pay for our services.

Well its not as simple as that. A huge slice of it goes off to Whitehall and they give some of it back in terms of grants. Of course a lot of our money leaks out in terms of costs and layers of bureaucracy. This way the Government manages to keep control of what our councils are spending our money on.

So, this week the Government voted on the Local Government Settlement. Warwick District has been given just a 1% increase, amongst the lowest in the country. You can see a copy of a spreadsheet on a government website here that shows just who has got what.

Now I know that the government is giving some councils small settlements to force them to become more efficient. Yet Warwick District during the Lib-Dem jointly run administration received praise from the Audit Commission that said the Council was well run and provided value for money.

James Plaskitt MP for Warwick & Leamington even voted for this settlement! I will be asking him why.

Now if we are going to be cynical we could wonder if this is because Warwick District is now controlled by the Tories after Labours defeat in the local election last May. But then I have to wonder why Kenilworth Tory MP, Jeremy Wright abstained from the vote. Only 3 Conservatives joined the Lib-Dem's in voting against this penny pinching settlement.

So ultimately it will be us, the council tax payer that will be left to foot the bill. The rise barely takes into account inflation and the additional costs of services the government requires councils to provide. The end result is that councils are being forced to increase council tax above inflation and cut services. It is a case of pay more and get less under Labour.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

More on Guy Street Parking

The latest round of proposals to fix the parking issues in Warwick was put before the Warwick Area Committee on the 22nd Jan. I was able to speak at the meeting in support of residents in the Guy Street area. The latest plan will create a one way system with cars entering along Broad Street and Guys Street, meeting in the middle of Guys Cliffe Terrace and then trying to get out along Cherry Street. At the same time the cycle path will head into the stream of traffic. I just hope this is not a recipe for an accident blackspot. This plan fails to meet the full 60 spaces needed by residents in the area.

Proposals favoured by residents to narrow the pavement in Guys Cliffe Terrace (where there are no houses on the north side) were rejected by the council. Residents now face the upheaval of the new one way system and a continued protest when it fails to provide all the spaces needed.

A new Council Chamber - but how much will it cost us?

I was appalled to find out that a Freedom of Information request put in by one of our Lib-Dem councillors in Stratford was refused with a ‘Public Interest Refusal Notice’. As a member of the public paying for the work it is very much in my interest.

Conservative led Warwickshire County Council have refused to reveal the likely cost of refurbishing the County Council council chamber at County Hall, Warwick. A freedom of information request on the costs by the Liberal Democrats was rejected with a ‘Public Interest Refusal Notice’.

The issue is not that the council is refurbishing the council chamber, I know some of the work is to make it more accessible. I am more concerned that the Conservative led council are refusing to reveal how much it is costing us. If they can withhold the cost of the very chamber that is supposed to represent open democracy in this county it makes you wonder what else they are hiding.

The comment in the Warwick Times from a council representative that they do not know how much it will cost just seems lame to me.