Saturday, 20 March 2010

Mutley Plain closures.

I wanted to write about the recent meeting I attended about the closure of Mutley Plain for essential gas works. The emergency meeting had been arranged by Vanessa Collins, chair of the Mutley Traders association and she had invited representatives from both Plymouth City Council, the Highways department (a partnership between Plymouth City Council and Amey).

For those of you who aren't fully aware of the whole road closure saga here are some links from The Herald to elaborate on the story so far as well as my comments on each article:

First press release about the closure, this is the story that caused the most panic as the majority of residents and traders had not been given any details about the pending closure and the general feeling by the traders is that the story resulted in people avoiding Mutley Plain before the work had even started. I personally don't blame the Herald as they need stories and headlines to sell papers, what annoys me is that the Council and Wales and West Utilities (the company responsible for the gas works) did not effectively communicate with residents and traders prior to or at the same time as the press release.

Second press release about the closure, this story highlighted the fact that traders were still left in the dark about exactly what was happening and how they would deal with issues such as deliveries to their properties.

Press release regarding the emergency meeting about the Mutley Plain closure, this is the story that really annoyed me as the headline 'Mutley Traders turn on gas company' was not strictly true, Carl Eve's reporting of the story was not entirely factual and was definitely misleading, the article made traders like myself seem unreasonable which I think is unfair. What I think it is fair to say is that none of the residents or traders have any problems with essential gas works being carried out, the point we were trying to make was that the planning of the closure had been poor and the communication between Plymouth City Council/Highways and Wales and West was simply appalling. Quote from Herald "Compton councillor Richard Ball criticised the firm for not making a definitive map of the work and diversions available, stating he had specifically asked for such a map before the meeting.", this statement was supported by us all as we all felt that if we had been informed we could have made plans to minimise disruption, the fact that the emergency meeting was being held the day after roadworks had commenced only added to our frustration.

We did receive some kind of apology from a council representative but it seemed to little to late. When we asked if the council may be able to formalise the apology via reduction in business rates or free parking for shoppers after the roadworks were complete the council representative said that he could not promise anything.

Press release - post meeting. At last some honest, sensible reporting from Keith Rossitter!

Press release on a manned pedestrian crossing for Mutley throughout the road works.

I should point out that I have written to my local councillor Steve Ricketts about both the closure of Mutley Plain and why I wasn't informed and also regarding the introduction of evening parking charges to the Mutley Plain car parks. I have not had any response whatsoever.

So the full Mutley closure to vehicles starts on Monday and we will see exactly what extent the works have for residents and businesses.

My second pre-election blog

It is now less than 50 days till the elections and I am waiting for my copy of the electoral role so that I can get my 10 signatures to complete my nomination papers. The whole process is a little daunting for an independent candidate and I am sure if I was standing for a political party a lot of the work would be done for me by an election agent, however I think I have got my head around the process so far and hopefully by 9th April all the relevant papers will have been submitted and I will be an official candidate.

If you have read my first pre-election blog you will know that I, like many, have lost my faith in the main political parties and have serious concerns about the way parliament and local government are being managed, The recent news coverage concerning Lord Ashcroft certainly highlights some of the problems that are angering the general public, click here to read the BBC news coverage of the Ashcroft controversy.

Anyway, back to the pre-election process. I have decided to stand for Drake Ward as it is the area I live in and know best. It is a small ward with big issues and a population mix dominated by university students and elderly residents both with very different needs. I do feel that it is important that we look after both parties; The University and it's students are essential to the Plymouth economy and provide a much needed extra revenue source for local businesses. We need to balance the need to look after our students whilst still protecting the residents and caring for the local area.  As our elderly population grows we need to ensure that the elderly residents are not forgotten and that they are cared for within the community. I have seen some great efforts by local community groups to ensure that all areas of the community are cared for and given the opportunity to integrate.

So now all I can do is wait to hear back from the electoral office, I will keep you posted on developments.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Pre-election experiences so far.

picture above - view from Mountbatten looking towards Plymouth City Centre. 
I have wanted to stand for council for some time and have decided that in light of the current lack of faith in both national and local government that 2010 is the year to have a go! With all the recent expenses scandals involving our MP's and with voter numbers at an all time low it seems my wish to stand as an independent candidate could be well placed. From my initial conversations with potential voters many have lost trust with the three main political parties, Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat. Some voters are tempted towards the BNP and UKIP but seem to be voting for these parties as a protest vote.

I personally have very little confidence in any of the current political parties and feel we need some radical changes within both Plymouth City Council and National Government and that is one of the reasons why I am standing as an independent and not choosing to join any of the current political parties.

So, the decision to stand was made and I made my first contact to the Plymouth City Council electoral office to register my interest. Someone took some details and I was told that I would hear back, but, no calls or mail arrived. I spoke to a friend who was also planning on standing and he asked me if I was attending the pre-election meeting to be held on the 3rd March at the council chambers, I had not been informed about such a meeting so called the electoral office again to find out what time the meeting was being held at, I was told 5.30pm. On Monday 1st March I decided to call the electoral office again to check that the meeting was still happening on the same date and time, I was told on this occasion that the meeting was at 5.15pm so was glad I had phoned to check, it wouldn't really look good to turn up late for your first visit to the council chambers!
 Picture taken within the council chambers. Image belongs to Plymouth City Council

So on Wednesday 3rd March I arrived at the council chambers at 5.15pm to find I was still late, it seemed the meeting had started early! The meeting was a pre-election meeting for anyone wishing to stand for either local election or parliamentary election as both elections are scheduled to take place on the same day with local ballot papers being printed on yellow card and general election papers being printed on white card to hopefully avoid confusion. The election will take place on Thursday 6th May 2010.

All those attneding the meeting were given handouts including their nomination papers. After leaving the meeting I set abut reading the forms in preparation to send my nomination papers to the council, at the bottom of the nomination paper were the words 'please read the notes overleaf' yet there were no note overleaf! A few day laters I contacted the electoral office again and got through to Tamsin Thurgood (she was very helpful) who agreed to send me out another nomination paper with the notes printed overleaf, as we chatted it became apparent that despite registering my interest in standing nearly 2 months before my details had not been kept and that is why I had never received the news about the pre-election meeting or the been sent nomination pack.

So, hopefully after the initial teething problems I now have a proper nomination pack in the post which will include the correct notes so I can complete the forms and get on with my election campaign and start thinking about my polices in more detail. 

Here, according to Plymouth City Council, is the role of a councillor:

A councillor's primary role's can be summarised as follows:

    * represent the interests of the constituents of the ward, dealing with their enquiries equally and without prejudice
    * liaise with other organisations and services to develop the quality of life and community well being within the city
    * contribute to good governance through the decision making process of the Council
    * take into account the views of local people and to actively encourage community involvement in the Council's decision making process
    * explain the reasons of how and why decisions are taken by the Council

Having read the roles above I feel that perhaps I should send a copy of this to some of the exisitng local councillors to remind them of their duties.

Anyway with less than 60 days till the election I need to get serious move on if I am to stand any chance of getting elected. I plan to use this blog to keep people informed about my campaign as well as to give a guide to the process of standing for council as an independent.

Whether or not I get elected I can promise to be honest and transparent throughout the election process and I can genuinley say that I care passionately about Plymouth and the people that live within it.