Monday, 30 January 2012

The Hole in the Hedge - good news!

I think I stumbled across some great news in last week's Newsletter! Hidden away at the back in amongst the Births Marriages and Deaths and the small ads was a Legal Notice inserted by Staffordshire County Council announcing  a road closure in Mount Road starting on 13 February.

It affects Mount Road for a distance of 350 metres in a south easterly direction from the canal. And it will  be over by the 2nd March or such time as "the footpath construction and traffic calming measures" have been completed.

So at long last the final part of the Whitebridge estate jigsaw will be put in place! Let me explain.

The hole in the hedge - soon to be opened up!
When planning permission was originally granted to build the Whitebridge estate many many years ago there was a condition imposed that there should be pedestrian and cycle access from and to  Mount Road between the canal and the railway bridge. Mount Road was to be narrowed by 'Give Way to Oncoming Traffic' build outs and by the building of an extension of the footpath along Mount Road from the bottom corner of the Plot, over the railway bridge and down to the point where access was to gained to the estate.

Gradually Whitebridge estate was built. Various developers came and went. But nothing happened in Mount Road. I understand that there were enormous legal disputes about who was responsible for the road works. About ten years ago, the last developer built a footpath between Navigation Loop and the hedge. Indeed, initially part of the hedge was removed and for a few days it was possible to get out of the estate onto Mount Road. But it was lethal. Cars travel along that stretch at high speeds and it was obvious to everyone that there was an accident just waiting to happen. As a consequence, I and other councillors called for the 'hole in the hedge ' to blocked up until the traffic calming measures were installed. So a fence was put up to block up the hole in the hedge and it's been like that for many years.

Despite numerous demands for action, nothing has happened for years. But now it looks as if the problem is to be solved! Opening up the estate and installing the new footpath and the calming measures will be a great benefit to residents, cyclist and walkers. It will be worth the road being closed for a couple of weeks just to see the scheme finished! Well done, Staffs County Council!

Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Joules clock is back!

The Joules Clock is back in the High Street - at long last! And it looks fantastic!

A poor image taken at dusk today
 - but at least you saw it here first!
It is a sad and tragic irony that the clock should be back in the High Street on the eve of John Moss's funeral - for it was John who was one of the prime movers in getting the clock refurbished.

The original intention was for the work to be done quietly behind the scenes and for the clock to be replaced in memory of the late Brian Blundell, in recognition of all the work he did for the town.

Brian Artus offered to refurbish the clock for nothing which he did. But then the problems began and years of delay followed. Replacing the clock to it's original position proved impossible and a lot of time was spent considering alternative sites. Eventually it was agreed that on top of a post would be the most appropriate solution. And then we entered the murky realms of how much it would cost!

But then, as often happens, a little bit of 'networking' in a local hostelry bore fruit! I was discussing the problem with some friends in the Brushmakers in Oulton one night when another customer, Neil Warrilow, spoke to me and made the offer of a lifetime! He would willingly make the pole at his engineering company free of charge in memory of his father who used to work at Joules!

So the clock was refurbished and the pole made and assembled. But it's taken an age since to sort out the legal bits -  permissions, electricity etc. but today at long last the clock was erected.

So when you walk past it in future pay thanks to Brian Artus and Niel Warrilow for their generosity in doing the work and pay homage to the late Brian Blundell and the late John Moss for everything they did for town of Stone. What a fitting tribute to them both.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Sad news

Last week John Moss passed away after a short illness. He will be sadly missed in Stone.

His name will not be very familiar to many people in Stone but he has probably done more for the town than most over the past few decades. Ironically, he was not a resident of the town but lived in Clayton yet spent most of his time involved in various Stone community projects.

Principally, John's greatest achievement has been in his work on the canal. One of the founding members of the North Staffordshire branch of the Inland Waterways Association, John was assigned the Stone section at a time, in the 70's and 80's, when the canal was in a pretty derelict state. Over the years John has quietly badgered away to achieve what is, today, one of the town's crowning glories. Surfaced towpaths, solar lighting, moorings, public sculpture, notice boards, leaflet boxes and so much more - all thanks to John.

But he was also heavily involved in other town groups. He was a founder member of Stone in Bloom and played a major role in helping to organise the annual bonfire and fireworks display.

And the involvement of which he was most proud was, of course, the Food and Drink Festival - which is how I first came to meet him. The idea of holding a food and drink festival was conceived between John and the late Brian Blundell over eight years ago. They persuaded me and others to get involved and the rest, as they say, is history.

I spent an hour with John the day before he died and he was still thinking of ideas for this year's Festival!

He really was one of Stone's unsung heroes. A man of ideas who had a real passion for Stone. But a modest man who never sought publicity. A rare breed.

We shall all miss him.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Diet Update!

You may recall that I abandoned my diet just before Christmas! Well, I  can report that I have started again! And I am delighted to report that I am now now half a stone lighter than I was on New Year's Day. Watch this space for further updates!

The Future of Policing in Stone - Part 3

For obvious reasons, there was very little discussion at last Thursday's meeting about the fate of the existing police station building after the police have moved out. Normal logic would suggest the site would be sold to the highest bidder and the purchaser would then look to redevelop the site.

However, the police station only occupies a small part of the total site. At the back are outbuildings and a car park with access onto Station Road. And, of course, the adjacent public car park off Northesk Street is also owned by the police authority and leased to the Town Council. Interestingly, I also believe that Staffordshire County Council Highways also own the paddock alongside the car park. So, if you put all the pieces together what have you got? Answer - the opportunity to complete Stone's one way system! Take a look at my rough sketch plan. By demolishing the station, there would be a perfect route for a short stretch new road to connect the top of Margaret Street to the top of Christchurch Way.

This would enable the one way system to use a short length of Newcastle Street past the Joules bottling plant before turning right into Margaret Street and then around by the new road. And the bonus would be that, apart from similar access arrangement as exist in the High Street as at present, the whole of Granville Square and the bottom parts of Radford Street and Station Road could be pedestrianised.

This proposed system would remove traffic from Granville Square and thereby relieve congestion on Crown Street. And there would be plenty of room to create a dedicated bus stop on the new stretch of road.

When it was first mooted a year ago that the police station might close, I wrote to the Chief Executive of Staffordshire County Council but sadly received neither acknowledgement nor reply. So I am reproducing a copy of that letter now because I think the contents are even more relevant now.

I understand that many years ago a similar scheme was talked about but fell through because it would have involved compulsory purchase of too many properties around the junction of Northesk Street. This new opportunity would involve very little disruption to other property owners and be a massive bonus for the top end of town.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

The Future of Policing in Stone - Part 2

Last Thursday, a public meeting about the 'Future of Policing in Stone' was treated to a dissertation upon the election of a Police and Crime Commissioner later this year. One person present thought she had attended the wrong meeting and couldn't see the significance of that topic to the subject in hand! In one respect she was right. We'd all turned up to hear about the proposal to close the Police Station in Radford Street and its suggested move to the Town Council offices in Station Road - see my 'Part 1 posting.

From another perspective, however, the election of a Commissioner will almost certainly have a major influence upon the future of policing, not only in Stone, but across the county. One of Cameron's barmiest ideas has been to introduce the concept of an elected Police and Crime Commissioner. And to my disgust, Nick Clegg caved in and supported the idea. So Chief Constables up and down the country are going to be answerable to an elected Commissioner who has the power to hire and fire them. Commissioners will have very extensive powers and duties especially over budgetary matters.

And that means that most candidates for the post will be party political. All political parties are now busy selecting their candidates. I'll put money on the fact that the Tory's eventual candidate was present at the meeting last Thursday! We'll soon be hearing the obvious rants "More bobbies on the beat" "I'll cut the policing bill" "More arrests needed" etc etc. It's scary.

No-one has put forward any criticism of the existing system of managing the police nor has anyone, in my opinion, successfully argued that a Commissioner can improve on the current arrangements.

We've seen the nonsense of elected Mayors. And we can see what 'politicising' law enforcement in the United States can do. And no-one seems to care!

Friday, 13 January 2012

The Future of Policing in Stone - Part 1

Last night I attended a Public Meeting at the Walton Community Centre organised by Stone Town Council, ostensibly, to hear from senior police officers about the Future of Policing in Stone. About four dozen people attended but most were either councillors (past or present), members of the Stone Conservative party or from the press.

Initially we heard from Chief Inspector Paul Trevor who outlined a proposal to move the policing operation from the existing police station into spare accommodation in the Town Council offices. But then we heard a long rambling dissertation from Bill Cash MP and Cllr. Ian Parry about the changes that will take place later in the year when we will all be able to vote for a Police and Crime Commissioner for Staffordshire who will have swingeing powers over the police. (Did we have sight of the Tory party's candidate last night?!)  And very little was said about what will happen to the old police station.

So in this posting - Part 1 - I will simply comment upon the suggested move to the Town Council offices in Station Road. I have quite a bit to say about the election of a Commisioner coming up later in the year but will deal with that in Part 2. And I have my own proposal as to what should be done with the old police station but that will have to wait for Part 3! A busy weekend ahead!

The move out of the existing station is inevitable. Only four out of twenty two rooms are now being used and it's costing £50,000 a year to heat and light the building. Only the Neighbourhood Policing team operate out of the building and this can easily be accommodated elsewhere. So a move to the Town Council offices makes a lot of sense. Slightly more accessible from the town and with on street parking outside - I can see the new premises being much more user friendly.

The police have stated that they are committed delivering local policing in Stone and operating the neighbourhood policing team from Stone station. However, last night I pressed them upon the length of that commitment and they could only reply that the commitment was valid for this and the next financial year. That worries me! I fully understand their problem. Their budget of around £200 million has to be cut by £39 million within three years. And 86% of their costs are wages! We can all work that one out. then, can't we! Let's see what happens in two years time.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

HS2 gets Thumbs Up!

As you are all probably aware, I love railways. So you'll not be surprised to hear that I am delighted the government has given the proposal to build HS2 the green light. The building of a dedicated high speed railway from London to Manchester and Leeds will be the biggest transport civil engineering project for over a century and the first section, from London to Birmingham, might just be built in my lifetime - I hope!

Last year I sat and watched hours and hours of television on the Parliament Channel when they transmitted in full the hearings before the Parliamentary Transport Select Committee. Dozens of witnesses were called to give evidence - some in favour and some against the proposals. I was left in no doubt, as was the Committee, that the case for HS2 was overwhelming. An upgraded West Coast Main Line has no potential for dealing with the projected over capacity. The current scheme for adding an extra two coaches to the Pendelino fleet and extending the length of platforms is simply a 'sticking plaster' solution.

A new railway will provide the necessary intercity capacity and, much more importantly, will free up the existing network for a much improved local and regional network. I can see huge advantages for us in North Staffordshire. Local services can be vastly improved without having to worry about getting in the way of Mr Branson's precious intercity trains.

So well done, Mr Cameron. Stick to your guns and bring on HS2!

Monday, 9 January 2012

I'm just a grumpy old man!

It seems that every time I pop into town I see something that gets my blood pressure soaring. Just before Christmas it was the 'galvanised tin box'. Then a couple of days ago I saw Highways installing the permanent barriers in Christchurch Way - talk about overkill! And then, today, I actually uttered the phrase "I don't believe it!" when I drove up Old Road and saw this!

For years I have listened to numerous complaints about speeding traffic - on, for example, Oulton Road, Longton Road, Newcastle Road, Lichfield Road, Pirehill Lane, Eccleshall Road  etc. etc. but never - never - on this section of Old Road. In fact, the most common complaint on this road is the difficulty in getting past parked cars. I defy any driver to exceed the speed limit here at any time of day!

I can think of a dozen locations around the town that would benefit from speed indicator signs like this - but Old Road isn't one of them. What a complete waste of money!

Another car parking rant!

I've just read the legal notice in last week's Newsletter announcing increases in car parking charges on Stone's car parks. As from the beginning of February, short stay fees will increase from 40p to 50p for up to one hour's parking and from 80p to 90p for up to 2 hours.

Now I know we're only talking pence (although the mathematicians will point out that one is a 25% increase) and that Stone parking charges are the lowest for miles around but the increases display a frame of mind that I find worrying. I've said it before - we need a total change of attitude from local authorities towards parking charges in our town centres. Instead of treating car parks as a source of revenue, they should be regarded as a vital part of a town's attractions to encourage shoppers into the high streets.

The next few years are going to be difficult for retailers in towns like Stone. Wouldn't it have been so much more encouraging if we had seen an announcement to the effect that charges had been held (or even reduced) in order to help boost the town's economy?

And why no mention of Stafford car parks in the notice? Does that mean that there will be no parking fee increases in Stafford? If so, that's bound to pour more petrol on the 'us and them' fire!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Paella to die for!

Yesterday's Farmers' Market was a great success. Normally we don't hold a Market in January. Until this year, the first Saturday of the month has fallen within a few days of the New Year festivities and it has been assumed that customers and traders alike appreciated a break. However this year there was almost a full week in between so it was decided to give a January market a try. And what a good job we did!

Blue skies and loads of people! A handful of traders did take a break but that didn't detract from another full High Street! And when it came to the end of the day, everyone agreed that the experiment was a total success.

The paella bowl in action at the Food and Drink Festival
And we had a couple of 'firsts'! A new stall holder was creating the most superb aroma with his cooked curries and my old friend Jose Comacho from the Mill was cooking paella in the massive paella bowl he used at The Food and Drink Festival.

I was spoilt for choice but in the end decided upon the paella. I ate a curry in Ovilash on Thursday (superb!) when a group of us celebrated Antony Lucas' birthday so I exercise discretion and bought two helpings of Jose's paella to take home. After a couple of pints of Wye Valley HPA in the Pheasant we went home and enjoyed the most amazing meal. I have to say, I've eaten paella several times abroad but this one was simply gorgeous!. Jose, please get that big bowl out again in February!