Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Season ticket price cuts raises additional £74,000 for Cornwall Council

A scheme that I have championed to cut the cost of parking season tickets across Cornwall has resulted in additional profits of more than £74,000 for the council - as well as happier local residents and drivers.

The previous situation was that motorists were being charged a lot for season tickets. They might be getting a discount on the daily pay and display rate, but that discount wasn't a lot. And the attitude of the previous, Conservative-led, administration seemed to be that regular price rises would automatically be paid by drivers.

And so commuters voted with their feet and abandoned car parks in favour of parking in residential streets. This led to lots of annoyance for local residents who couldn't park near their own homes.

So we piloted a lower cost season ticket in Launceston with a price cut from £470 to £200. When added to a bit of local marketing, the number being sold rose from less than 30 to more than 130.

Following that success, the scheme has been rolled out across Cornwall with similar positive results. An additional £74,000 has been brought into council coffers and that money will help protect a wide range of council services from some of the cuts that are being forced on us.

Launceston £1 parking deal extended until March 2015

Launceston's £1 all day Saturday parking deal has been extended at least until the end of March 2015, thanks to work by the town's Liberal Democrat councillors and local businesses.

Cornwall Council first ran the deal - which allows drivers to park in one of the Cornwall Council owned car parks all day on a Saturday for just £1 - for three months from April to June. That was extended by a month, but the authority has now confirmed that the deal will run until the end of the financial year at least.

This is great news for the town and for local businesses. We have shown that a special deal like this can attract more people into our town which benefits local shops and traders. At the same time, the council isn't missing out on income because many more people are using the car parks.

This was a key Lib Dem commitment from our election last year. Sensible offers and price cuts could benefit the town and preserve the income stream that the council relies on. I'm delighted this scheme will continue until the end of the financial year and I hope it will be made permanent after that.


Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Newquay Cornwall Spaceport?

Today the government has announced that Newquay Cornwall Airport is on the shortlist of sites for a possible UK spaceport. The Cornish location is on the list alongside six Scottish locations and one one Wales.

It's early days in any project and there hasn't been any public money spent on it. But the news does show the potential that the runway and surrounding enterprise zone has for attracting investment and high paid and high skilled jobs to Cornwall. The area already hosts the BLOODHOUND Project - the UK-led global project to build a supersonic jet-powered car - and many other high-tech industries.

The council would need to make sure that any public money being spent secures a good return. In the meantime, the lead is being taken by the Local Enterprise Partnership. Chairman of the LEP, Chris Pomfret, told the West Briton:
“The Aerohub at Newquay Cornwall Airport is a unique and nationally important asset and we want to unlock further growth in the aerospace and space sectors to create skilled well-paid jobs. Satellite technology is also an important part of the future economic strategy for Cornwall."

“To be shortlisted by the UK Space Agency review speaks volumes for the quality and location of Aerohub, but it is very early days. Before we make any decisions about whether we might eventually bid to host a spaceport we need to look carefully at the Civil Aviation Authority’s technical report and engage with the consultation over the coming months before deciding on any next steps.”

Public exhibition to be held on Withnoe Farm plans

Wain Homes are holding a public exhibition to get opinions on a scheme to build housing at Withnoe Farm, Launceston. The event takes place at Launceston College from 12 noon until 7pm on 30th July.

The site is next to Hay Common where permission has already been granted for new homes and a new primary school. It is south of the A388 Plymouth Road and the slip road onto the A30.

Public exhibitions such as this are a useful first stage in any major scheme as they allow developers to understand the views of the public and to make changes to their proposals before the formalities of the planning system start.




Introduction of Charges at Household Waste Recycling Centres for certain types of waste

Cornwall Council will be introducing a charge for certain waste streams that are deposited at the HWRC sites by the public. The charges will take effect from Monday 1 September 2014. The waste we will be charging for and the respective charges are:

  • Soil / rubble (including bricks, blocks, tiles, rubble, paving slabs, concrete posts, sanitary ware, toilets, etc )  - £1.75 per sack
  • Plasterboard ( including gypsum related products )  - £4.40 per sheet
  • Asbestos – bonded type only  - £10.10 per sheet
  • Tyres - commercial and agricultural vehicle types will not be accepted. There will be no charge for bicycle tyres.  - £3.20 per tyre
The Council do not have a statutory duty to dispose of these types of waste free of charge and many other local authorities throughout the country apply charges similarly.

While we accept that the introduction of charges may not be welcomed by some, the scale of the cuts in our funding from the Government means that we have to look at ways to reduce our costs where ever possible. The charges are targeted to deliver approximately £485,000 in savings and were agreed by councillors.

This policy means that the site users disposing of these materials pay for its disposal rather than the costs being subsidised by all householders.  This is the general principle we are trying to adopt for all our waste services.

The public are still able to deposit other household items free of charge for example; garden waste, bulky household items, white goods, electric appliances, bric-a-brac etc. Information leaflets will be available at the HWRC’s before the end of July, together with advisory notices informing of the date that the charges will be applicable from (1 September). The Council website will be updated and will include a list of Frequently Asked Questions to assist with enquiries.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Application to turn Eagle House Hotel into residential dwelling turned down

I have received the news that the application to turn Eagle House Hotel into a single private residence will be turned down today by Cornwall Council's planning case officer.

The current owner of the hotel had applied to return the property to a single residence, partly on the basis that they said that it is not economically viable as a hotel.

Campaigners against the move were concerned that it would mean the loss of both hotel bedrooms and the function room. The latter is a very popular venue for all sorts of occasions including weddings, anniversaries, club functions and exhibitions.

The planning officer has decided that the loss of local amenity is sufficient to turn down the application.

Now that this matter is decided, I hope that it will provide reassurance to all those who have booked functions at Eagle House and that the current owners will continue to provide the venue that the town relies on. Given the outcome, and the desire to provide certainty to those who have bookings there, I don't see a reason to call this issue to committee which would prolong the uncertainty.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Lib Dems come from fourth to win Illogan by-election

The excellent David Ekinsmyth has tonight been declared the winner of the Illogan by-election caused by the resignation of Conservative Terry Wilkins.

David has been a parish councillor in the area for many years and that clearly played a large part in his victory. But it also goes to show that the Lib Dems are far from dead and buried as some people might have it. This was a win from fourth place just a year ago in a contest where turnout actually went up.

It's also great news for Julia Goldsworthy who is fighting to re-take the Camborne, Redruth and Hayle parliamentary seat which she lost by just 66 votes last time.

Result - Illogan by-election

David Ekinsmyth Liberal Democrat 277 votes 23.8% (+10.1)
Mebyon Kernow 217 votes 18.6% (-6.6)
Conservative 215 votes 18.5% (-10.3)
UKIP 156 votes 13.4% (-9.1)
Labour 129 votes 11.1% (+1.3)
Liberal 121 votes 10.4% (+10.4)
Green 50 votes 4.3% (+4.3)

Lib Dem gain from Conservative.

This won't change the fundamental balance on the council, which is run by a Lib Dem and Independent partnership. But it does cement the Lib Dem position as the largest group. 
Just a few weeks ago, UKIP were apparently sweeping all before them in local and European Parliament elections. But today they lost 9% and slipped from third to fourth. Are they a busted flush already? Perhaps we will see next week when there is another by-election in Mabe, caused by the resignation of UKIP's Michael Keogh.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Thursday, 10 July 2014

On patrol with the dog wardens

Yesterday, my Launceston colleague Jade Farrington and I joined Cornwall Council's dog welfare and enforcement team on a mass patrol around the town to help combat fouling. The officers targeted areas where there are frequent complaints. The enforcement team educated dog owners who were found to be breaking the law.
Dog fouling is seen as a real problem by many residents. Launceston is reported as having the biggest issue in East Cornwall. Patrols like this can catch offenders in the act, but also serve to remind dog owners of their responsibilities. When people see a dog warden they tend to be extra careful about picking up after their pet so it’s a clear deterrent.
Dogs should always be kept under control and on a lead when on roads or pavements. Dog owners must clear up after their pet and can place the bags in any of the public litter or dog bins located throughout the town.

In Coronation Park numerous signs remind owners that their pets must be kept on a lead in the lower area and only allowed to run free in the top part of the park. The dog team had to remind several people about this and all bar one knew the rule existed and that they were breaking it.
Launceston Town Council is also keen to take action to keep Launceston clean. The council has purchased dog bags and one of its staff is trained and licensed to issue penalty charge notices to offenders.
When we patrolled around Dunheved Road, Race Hill, St Thomas Road and Newport we saw mess that had not been cleared up and picked up several bagfuls. There was certainly an improvement though, so I hope the message is beginning to get through to the minority who refuse to take responsibility.
Many thanks to the team for coming to Launceston. It was very good to see the work they do to help keep Cornwall clean.
The officers undertake regular mass patrols as well as working individually. Some of their work is conducted under cover to target known offenders and they do not always wear a uniform when patrolling.
Jade and Alex are working with Cornwall Council to organise a workshop for anyone who is concerned about dog fouling to learn what can be done to help. The event takes place at 6pm on Wednesday, July 16. If you are interested in attending, please get in touch.

To report dog fouling, call Cornwall Council on 0300 1234 212 or fill in the form at http://bit.ly/1jpdVga


Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Post-it notes or PCs? The strange priorities of the Police Commissioner

The spending priorities of Conservative Police Commissioner Tony Hogg continue to puzzle people in Cornwall. It has emerged that he spent more than £7,600 in his first 16 months in office on promotional items such as post-it notes, lip balm and mints.

Mr Hogg claims that such items help him and his office to engage with the public.

Surely more officers on the beat would be a better way of engaging with the public and doing the job he is paid for?

Monday, 7 July 2014

Multi million pound investment for Cornish economy announced

The Government has today announced a £48.9 million 'Growth Deal' investment for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

The Growth Deal aims to create a thriving and vibrant local economy across Cornwall and Isles of Scilly by investing in the infrastructure, public transport, skills in the labour market, and business support needed to encourage economic growth.

The deal will help to create up to 4,000 jobs, allow up to 6,000 homes to be built and generate up to £150 million in public and private investment. £11million has been confirmed in the first year, with a further £38million of funding planned from 2016/17 onwards.

Decisions about how the money is spent will be decided locally and allocated through the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership.

Lib Dem MP for North Cornwall, Dan Rogerson, said:
"This multi million pound growth deal is fantastic news for Cornwall and will help to sustain and create jobs, support small and medium sized businesses, attract new companies and investment to our area and improve public transport.

"Crucially, instead of money being spent by governments in London or by a distant and unresponsive 'South West' regional assembly, Liberal Democrats in Government have made sure that Cornwall's Local Enterprise Partnership now has the power and the funding to be able to decide how best to build a stronger Cornish economy."
Liberal Democrat Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said:
"The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Growth Deal will create thousands of jobs, build thousands of new homes and improve transport links across the Duchy for people and their families; building a stronger economy and a fairer society.

"We're placing the power and money in the hands of people in the region who know how to spend it best, making a real difference to local communities."
Cornish Liberal Democrat MPs Andrew George, Stephen Gilbert and Dan Rogerson have been working with Lib Dems in Government including Business Secretary Vince Cable, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander to make sure that European Union funding awarded to Cornwall could be allocated and spent locally rather than by the government in Westminster and Whitehall.

The Growth Deal will see the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LEP combine both EU and national investments to deliver projects that boost the Cornish economy. LEP chairman Chris Pomfret said:
"This is a great deal for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

"Not only have we secured new money to help us remove blockages to growth, but we have negotiated the freedom to make our own decisions.

"In effect we will have a single investment programme that bundles together EU and national funding from different sources, all channelled through the LEP to deliver jobs and growth in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. That's a real breakthrough."
 

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Download and borrow ebooks for free from Cornwall libraries and be in with the chance of winning an Apple ipad mini

Cornwall Libraries has introduced an exciting new free service for library members who will be able to download up to five e-books to a computer, tablet or smartphone.

Cornwall library members have access to more than 1500 e-books which, once downloaded, customers can read at any time, even when not connected to the internet.

To launch the scheme, Bolinda Digital who are working with Cornwall Libraries, are offering library members the opportunity to win an Apple ipad mini. To be in with a chance of winning, library members need to register and download a title from Bolinda’s BorrowBox before 31 August 2014 to be entered into the free draw. 

The service is simple to use. If you are already a library member, all you need to do is create a free BorrowBox account via the link on the Cornwall Library website using your library card. Then simply login and search, browse and discover the great collection which is available 24/7.  If using a smartphone or tablet, the BorrowBox App is available free for both Apple and Android devices.

Customers can read at leisure and the book will automatically delete at the end of the loan period, so no worrying about overdue charges. We will be adding new titles regularly to expand the collection.

A new range of e-audio books are also available on BorrowBox which complement our existing e-audio book collection. Customers can borrow 5 e-books every 2 weeks and 5 e-audiobooks every 3 weeks. A really exciting option on BorrowBox is that you can read and listen to excerpts before you borrow them and also see other available titles by that author and link to author websites. Reserving an e-book which is already on loan is free and you will receive an email when your book is ready to download. Reading couldn’t be easier wherever you are.

We know that many people now read books and magazines on their tablet or smartphone so this exciting new service, along with the recently launched free magazine downloads will meet their needs.  There is free computer access in all Cornwall Council libraries and one stop shops and some libraries also have free WIFI making it possible for customers to pop into the library, choose a print book, check emails and download an e-book, all free of charge.

Customers can also download e-books from home and on the move, as long as they have a Cornwall Library membership card and an internet connection.

There are many other free online resources available via the Cornwall Council website including access to reference sources, free language courses and family history. And of course, access to books, audio books, dvds and information in our libraries. Library membership is free and this new service will hopefully encourage more people to join the library and discover our other online resources.


Costa seeking town square tables and chairs

Two weeks ago I blogged about an application by Costa Coffee seeking change of use permission to open a coffee shop in Launceston Town Square in the currently empty shop at 24 Broad Street. Costa have now made a further submission for pre-application advice to site chairs and tables outside the shop in the square.

Pre-application advice is a mechanism whereby someone can ask (and pay for) Cornwall Council planning officers to give their expert opinion on a proposal. It is not a proposal or application in itself and the council's final decision on any subsequent planning application is not bound by the opinion they give at this stage.

So if Costa like what they hear from the planners then they may decide to submit a formal application for seating. At that stage, the public would be asked for their opinion in the normal way.

Of course, just because Costa might eventually apply for and get planning permission to site tables and chairs in the square doesn't mean it would necessarily happen. They would need the permission of the land owner.

If you have any comments on the original application, you can make them here by 9th July.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Tony Hogg paid £165,000 of taxpayer money to get rid of his chief executive

Today's publication of the accounts for the office of Devon and Cornwall's Police and Crime Commissioner reveals that Tory Commissioner Tony Hogg paid £165,000 to get rid of chief executive Sue Howl.

Ms Howl was in the post from the time of Mr Hogg's election until November last year. At the time she left in unexplained circumstances. According to a press release, it was to seek new challenges. I asked but Mr Hogg and his office refused to reveal any more.

So I pressed via a Freedom of Information request and Mr Hogg still refused to reveal the circumstances of Ms Howl's departure. He also refused to reveal the details of any pay off.

Today the account reveal that Ms Howl - who was paid a basic salary of around £98,000 per year - received a pay off of about £142,000 and further pension contributions of about £23,000.

That's outrageous.

There are three circumstances whereby a person leaves their job:

  • They are sacked for gross misconduct in which case they have no entitlement to a pay off whatsoever (I have no reason at all to suggest that Ms Howl's conduct in the job was anything other than perfectly fine);
  • They hand in their resignation in which case they have no entitlement to a pay off;
  • The post is made redundant in which case they are entitled to a pay off - usually of up to a year's salary. But in those circumstances someone else cannot be recruited to the same job.

Mr Hogg is insistent that Ms Howl left of her own accord. So why did she get a pay off worth about a year and a half's salary? That money would have employed around five uniformed police constables to make our streets safer.

Is it actually the case that Mr Hogg felt that he could use public money simply to get rid of an employee he disagreed with? Mr Hogg chose to sign a gagging clause even though he was under no obligation to do so. His refusal to say why Ms Howl left means that speculation is rife. What is certain is that it is money wasted.

Mr Hogg is also having to explain why his total office costs came in at more than £1.95 million, well over budget. That's about £350,000 more than the police authority he replaced despite a promise by the Home Secretary that costs would fall. Among the additional costs were tens of thousands of pounds on consultants and money spent on accommodation for Mr Hogg because he refused to take up the free accommodation made available for him.

It seems that Tory Mr Hogg is quite happy to be profligate with our money.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Massive rail investment in Cornwall

Today's news of massive rail investment is hugely good for Cornwall. We will see the moving of maintenance work from London to Penzance with the creation of 60 highly skilled jobs. The sleeper service is being upgraded and extended. And the signalling is being modernised which will create huge extra capacity on the line.

It all adds up to more than £140 million of investment and has been made possible by the work of Cornwall Council.

The money is coming from a range of sources - Network Rail, the train operator First, the Government, Local Enterprise Partnership and Cornwall Council.

It means three key things:

  • Cornwall's strategic infrastructure is being enhanced. The sleeper is a popular way of doing business in London (about as much as the air links are) and it has been under threat a number of times. This investment guarantees its future.
  • The upgraded signalling will allow for much more regular train services between Penzance and Plymouth (and beyond). If you have a half hourly service in each direction then you can integrate other public transport services with trains. So rather than catch a bus the length of Cornwall, you can timetable the buses to meet trains and the journey becomes faster and cheaper.
  • Cornwall is not being forgotten in Whitehall. Key to this announcement was the agreement of the government to give us some money and to give permission to various changes to some of the normal rules. Cornwall Council made the case very positively and the Government has listened.