Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Stone Music Festival comes of age!

What a great weekend! Jan and I were in town for most of Saturday and Sunday enjoying a most amazing weekend of live music.

I have a very personal interest in Stone's Music Festival. Although I am far too busy to even contemplate offering to help (the Music Festival always takes place when I'm up to the neck in Food and Drink Festival preparation) I take great pride in watching the Music Festival go from strength to strength. Let me explain. As many of you know, Jan and I have family down in Dartmouth in South Devon and we've been going down to their Music Festival for years. Whenever I saw what Dartmouth were doing I kept thinking that Stone would be an ideal venue to do something similar. So when Steve Brookes and his wife Kate (briefly) became town councillors several years ago, I suggested a small party of us should visit Dartmouth's Festival in the hope that they'd be inspired to organise something in Stone. Well, a very good weekend was had by all! And out of that visit, Steve and Kate decided to form a committee and start a Music Festival up here in Stone.

Sensibly, they learnt to walk before they tried to run. So from small beginnings, the Festival has grown year on year to achieve a size and status that will now ensure that the Stone Music Festival will become another great community event in the Stone calendar. It truly came of age this weekend.

This year's innovation of a two stage arrangement worked a treat. Whilst one group of performers were on one stage, another was setting up and doing sound checks on the other. Great continuity. And Jan and I have learnt a lesson - next year we will buy tickets in advance  for ticketed events ! Both Friday night and Saturday night's concerts were total sell outs!

And what a bonus - the weather was kind! So we've sat outside the Lounge watching some great acts including  Supersets, Murphy's Marbles and who was the guitarist who was getting the most amazing sounds from his instrument as he sat down with it on his knees? Fantastic! I loved the Slade tribute band 'Slyde' but Jan's favourite was 'Re-Take That' on Sunday night. What a crowd!

Well done Steve, Kate and everyone else involved. The Stone Music Festival is well and truly on the map!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

An accident waiting to happen

Waist high this side -
no indication on other side -
no audible warning = accident?
Much has been said and written about the 'improvements' to the traffic system in Christchurch Way including the alterations at the junction with High Street. But as far a I know, no one has mentioned the new lights at the pedestrian crossing.

Pedestrians wanting to cross the road used to press the button and were then able to see the 'Red Man' lit up on the poles across the road. Then, when the lights changed and it was safe to cross, the Green Man was visible and a bleeping sound could be heard. But that's changed now.

The new system doesn't have any lights visible from across the road. The only visible indication is the red/green light at waist height on one pole. If that light is hidden behind another pedestrian, there's no other way of knowing which lights are on. And when it is safe to cross, there's no audible warning at all. How do visually impaired pedestrians cope?

I fear that this new system could confuse people. Or am I missing something?

A rare day of sunshine!

I couldn't believe my eyes when I woke up on Saturday! Sunshine streaming through the bedroom curtains! Yes, it was Farmers' Market day!

For a long time we always used to boast that it never rained on a Farmers Market Saturday but that proud claim bit the dust quite a while ago. And last week's forecast suggested that we'd all need wellies and sou'westers to keep dry. But no! We had superb weather all day and everyone had a great time.

We've now got signs on all roads into town and emblazoned with the 'This Saturday' stickers. And the new Farmers' Market website is now up and working. Just a few more ways in which Stone Food and Drink Festival promote the Farmers' Market.

And it's good to see how local groups and organisations are now using the Farmers' Market to promote themselves. Stone in Bloom have been very prominent over the last few months as have the Stone Music and Arts Festival. But next month their events will be over so it will be  time for Stone Food and Drink Festival to get out there to promote the October event!

Westbridge Park is still at risk

Westbridge Park is a very special place. Originally the site of the town rubbish tip and owned by Stone Urban District Council, it was handed over to Stafford Borough Council when local government reorganisation took place in the 1970's because the then Town Council didn't think they could afford to maintain it. It's been used ever since as a place of recreation, sport and leisure. A green open space linking the meadows to the north and south to form a unique linear green lung embracing the river and canal and separating  the town and Walton.

But being the only large level area of land in a central location it has been the constant target of rumours of redevelopment for years. And no more so than in recent times. We've all heard the rumours! Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsburys - according to a 'man in the pub' they've all got plans to build on it!

Sadly, I guess there  may be some truth in the rumours. It is obvious that Stafford Borough Council are strapped for cash and Westbridge Park must be worth a small fortune.

But surely, I've heard people say, they wouldn't be allowed to build on Westbridge Park, would they? Well ponder on this. Last year Stafford Borough Council published their draft 'Plan for Stafford Borough' If adopted this document will form the basis of future development plans in the borough. There's a whole section about Stone. And in a section called 'Core Policy 7' it states that the Borough Council will seek to strengthen the town centre's role as a Market Town by "encouraging the development and expansion of the town centre to provide a vibrant place where people can meet, shop, eat and spend leisure time in a safe and pleasant environment including provision of mixed use development at Westbridge Park". It can't be plainer than that, can it?

This draft document apparently went out to consultation in September and October last year but I have yet to meet any one who knew about it. Looking at the Council's website, it would appear that only one comment was made about this particular proposal - and that from an 'insider' who could be said to have an interest in the matter. I suppose the next thing that will happen is that the 'mixed use development' idea will appear in a glossy document which will state that there were no objections received after a full consultation!

So why have I gone into so much detail? Well, Cllr. Mike Heenan, leader of the Borough Council was quoted in last week's Newsletter as saying that "there were no plans to sell off the park" and that if the situation changed "no decision would be taken without a full consultation of the people of Stone". Well, at first sight, that may be reassuring. But if the Council are trying to adopt a policy of permitting  'mixed use development' on Westbridge Park, the people of Stone need to be aware of it.

It's high time the people of Stone were made aware of the Borough Council's proposals. And the idea of any type of development - mixed use or otherwise - needs to be scotched. Westbridge Park is very special to the people of Stone and should be retained in it's present state for future generations. I thought I'd retired from town politics but unless someone else takes up the cudgels, I feel another campaign coming on!

Once in eighty years!

The 'sump' where Scotch Brook
 goes under the canal about
to overflow into the canal!
What is happening to our weather? I've seen the man from the Met Office explain that the jet stream is the cause of all our problems - instead of crossing the Atlantic and whizzing past us to the north of Scotland, it is now rushing south of us and whooshing over France and Germany bringing low pressure systems to the British Isles. But no one has explained why! And as a result Britain has had weeks and weeks of torrential rain and floods.

Scotch Brook breaks it's banks
 and The Star is flooded
Six or seven years ago we had a down pour that caused floods in the Stonefield area, Walton and Aston Lodge. There was uproar. Public meetings were held. We wee told by officials from the Council not to panic - "This is a once in eighty years phenomena" they said! Dare they say that now?

It's a serious question. If the strategic planning is based on the 'one in eighty years' theory, the planning needs to change. The world's weather patterns are not behaving themselves. And if the experiences of the last few months are anything to go by, we've all got to adopt a 'what if it floods' mindset. So Staffordshire County Council must ask themselves if their six monthly gulley emptying policy is adequate. What systems need to be implemented to get sandbags delivered to vulnerable properties? Locally, what steps need to be taken at Pingle Lane to deal with the brook in full spate. Why did the Scotch Brook break its banks in Stafford Road? Does the undergrowth on the banks need to be cleared? Why does the run off from the Common Plott miss the gulley in the corner by the flats and pour down Oulton Road. These are jut a few of the issues I've identified - but there will be dozens of others. Has the time come for someone somewhere in an office in Stafford to be given the job of reassessing the problem? It is obvious that the 'once in eighty years' principle is a load of baloney! 

Our feathered friends

Regular readers of these posts will know that I'm a bit of a keen 'bider' and that I'm rather proud of having attracted a whole variety of birds into our garden over the years. Well, this year we've really excelled ourselves.

For the last few weeks we have been mesmerised by the antics of many of our feathered friends. I've mentioned our Great Spotted Woodpecker here before but I have some great news to report  - we now have a small family of them! Yes, Mum, Dad and youngster! It's been fascinating watching the parents teaching the youngster how to take peanuts from the feeders and, after about three weeks, he's got the hang of it. They are in the garden every day for lengthy periods so I can only assume they've nested nearby. And other families have been popping in to feed as well. We counted seven jackdaws yesterday and we've got loads of blue tit and great tit chicks flitting around the garden.

I was worried that the torrential rain of the last month might have caused our garden birds some problems but it seems they've all survived and, indeed, prospered.

Photo not mine - sadly!
Courtesy of Google Images
And if  anyone has seen me recently walking around town staring up at the sky, it's been for a good reason. I've been looking to see if I can spot a Red Kite. Twitter has been buzzing with news of sightings over Stone during the last few weeks. I first saw a Red Kite in mid Wales in the mid 70's and in recent years in Buckinghamshire whenever I visit my son. And I know that they've been seen in Shropshire - so it wouldn't be impossible for them to have been seen in Staffordshire. The habitat around Stone would be ideal for them - wooded areas bounding onto farmland - so my fingers and toes are crossed that we may get some here soon. You'll know when you see one - their tails seem to twist the wrong way in flight and they tumble around in the sky. Let me know if you see one!

Festival wash out

Oh what a great shame. After so much work and effort by some very dedicated volunteers, Stone Festival was truly affected by the weather this year.

QEII struuting their stuff !
Jan and I went down to Westbridge Park on the Friday evening to watch the Queen tribute band, QEII. We went in wellies, waterproof jackets and with umbrellas - and we needed to! This was the first time the Festival Committee had organised an event on the Friday night and the  Party in the Park was a great idea. QEII were just superb. We saw them of course a couple of years ago when they stole the show at the Music Festival so we knew they'd be good. They were! A crowd of a few hundred braved the elements and was sufficient, I am told, for the event to break even. But what a night it would have been if it had been a warm dry summer's evening. Oh well, perhaps next year!

And sadly it got no better the following day. We were down on Westbridge Park early to set up the Food and Drink Festival display trailer and it was obvious that it had rained all night. The field was water logged and the various organisations and charities  setting up their stalls were all looking rather damp.

Antony Lucas holds
 the Olympic Torch
The Festival Parade made the best of a bad job but due to the condition of the field, the lorries carrying the floats could not get onto the park. What a shame after so much time and effort had been spent by so many. The Imps motor cycle display team had to cut their display short and, all in all, the weather spoilt the whole day.

But I'm sure that John Sayer and his team won't let any despondency set in! I'm in no doubt that they are already starting to organise next year's event - well done John et al!

An age old problem

A visit to St Michael's Hall a couple of weeks ago confirmed two things - we've got a fantastic group of very talented people in Stone and secondly, the provision and financing of community buildings in the town is becoming a very real issue.

Firstly, the talent. Jan and I spent an hilarious couple of hours at Maplins Holiday Camp splitting our sides with laughter and yelling "Hi di hi" at the appropriate moments! Yes, it was the Revellers' summer production of the same name - and it was amazing! Obviously based on the television series of a few years ago, the cast pulled off some superb performances. John Wright's grumpy old character telling everyone to "Sod off" will last long in the memory! Included in the admission price was a supper of fish, chips and mushy peas at the interval - now that's a proper night out! Well done, Revellers!

But as we left we were handed a piece of paper appealing for funds to maintain and renovate the hall. Work is required on the roof, the electrics and the plumbing and the target was £45,000. Which has made me think yet again about how community space in the town is financed. St. Michael's Hall is appealing for funds. St John's Church Hall closed a year or so ago when the ceiling became unsafe. The Town Council are considering giving the Frank Jordan Centre back to the Borough Council because it is, in the words of one councillor, a "white elephant". The Scouts Gang Shows have to be held in The Gatehouse at Stafford because there is no hall suitable in Stone but they cannot afford to rehearse there. Walton Community Centre has pulled itself out of the doldrums of a few years ago and Christchurch Annexe is operating very successfully. But these two venues on their own will never be able to cope with the demand.

So the old conumdrum still exists - how can we provide and finance a community building in Stone suitable for the many and varied requirements that exist and where could it be put? Answers on a postcard, please?

Monday, 9 July 2012

Who reads my blog?

I simply ask the question because, since I started blogging last June, this site has received 8,274 page views! I can't belive it!

The stats page (which only I can access!) is very interesting indeed - listing, amonst other things,  which pages had the most views. It seems that most visitors to the site are looking for local news or my 'take' on what's going on in town. There's nothing better than a bit of good gossip, is there?!

Blogging in Fits and Starts!

Oh dear, I'm sorry. Here comes another apology!

I've kept prompting myself to get on the computer and post a few blogs but didn't realise until I did so earlier today that it's been almost a month since my last post. I can only plead that I've been a very busy boy!

So I've just made a list of over half a dozen topics that I need to write about tomorrow to bring this blog up to date. And when I've done so I must make it a rule to do my blogging before I go to the pub for my relaxation!