Thursday, 31 March 2011

Rubbish! – It’s not

Everything we put in our green recycling bins gets sent to the Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) at Alton.  I was lucky enough to be part of a small group of borough councillors who had a guided visit of the MRF on Thursday.  The Alton MRF handles an average of 300 tonnes of material a day, Monday to Friday.  Another MRF at Portsmouth takes 200 tonnes a day.  Between them they process all the household recyclables from Hampshire.

Even at 80,000 tonnes a year, the Alton MRF is running at two thirds its potential capacity, so it could easily handle more if Eastleigh (and other councils) could collect it.  Unfortunately although it is adjacent to a railway line, all those 80,000 tonnes arrive and leave by road.

The main job there is to separate the material into recyclable categories – newspaper and pamphlets, two grades of mixed paper / cardboard, plastics, ferrous cans and non-ferrous (aluminium) cans.  This is done by a variety of processes.   Some is simply sorted by size; jets of air blow plastic bottles one way while heavier items continue on the conveyor belts; magnets extract the ferrous cans, while a different process extracts the aluminium; computers and optical scanners identify some categories; and at the beginning and end of the process there are human beings providing quality control.  At the end of the process the materials are loaded onto lorries for transportation to specialist recycling facilities.

Up to 15% of the incoming material cannot be sorted and ends up being converted to electricity at one of the county’s incinerators or ERFs (energy recovery facilities).  Some of this is stuff that should not have been in the green bins in the first place (plastics other then plastic bottles, for instance), but some is recyclable material that is sorted out at an early stage because of its size – small pieces of paper and cardboard, shredded paper, can lids, and even some crushed aluminium cans.

The operators are planning to put in new machinery to try and trap more of these small items, but in the meantime there are some things we can all do to ensure that more of our material is recycled and not incinerated.   If you have shredded paper, or small pieces of paper and cardboard, stuff it into something like a cereal carton.  The carton will carry it through the entire process.   Put tin lids back into the tin and squeeze the tin to hold the lid inside.  And don’t forget that aerosols can now go into the green bin.

I can now picture what 100 tonnes of newspaper and magazines look like, and the most striking impression was just the scale of the operation.   If somebody tries to tell me that the black and green bins all end up at the same place, I have seen with my own eyes that that is untrue!

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Annual Parish Assembly - It only happens once a year

This evening was Hedge End's Annual Parish Assembly.  In recent years this has been the occasion for the Town Council to announce the winner of its Serving the Community Award.  The nominees were invited along with friends and families, which tended to inflate the public participation.  This year there was no award, and turn-out was - how should I put this - a bit sparse.  Seven town councillors, one borough/ county councillor, the Town Clerk, caretaker, two police representatives, and three members of the public.

It's a shame more people didn't come.  It's a chance to hear what the Town Council has been up to in the past year, to put questions to councillors and for other local organisations to publicise their own achievements.  It should be the focus for what the Prime Minister insists on calling "The Big Society" in Hedge End.  A big hand goes to the Police and Carnival Committee, but apart from their reports it was a bit like a group of councillors telling each other what they had done in the last year.

I'm sure it's not lack of interest.  Perhaps it needs to be publicised better.  Perhaps we should change the name to something more interesting or at least descriptive.  Perhaps it's a bad time of year.  Perhaps people are just too busy, or too content, to turn out on a Tuesday evening once a year.  Perhaps the agenda just looks too boring.  Perhaps in an era of online social networking, blogs and twitter the concept of an annual parish assembly is an anachronism.

Let me know what you think and I will pass your input on to the Town Council.  Either comment here or email me at

In the meantime, here is the report I gave as outgoing chair of Finance and Administration:

"Firstly although it was never really in doubt, I am pleased to be able to confirm that the council’s accounts for the year ending 31st March 2010 were signed off by the audit commission in August last year, and the return is available for all to see on the council’s recently rebuilt web site or by calling into the office.

My predecessor as chair of Finance and Administration announced at this meeting last year that the council would be making a significant contribution to the Berry Theatre of £300,000 from reserves that had been built up over the years.  Our reserves had frankly got too large and it is better that that money is spent for the benefit of Hedge End now and not kept indefinitely in the bank (especially with low interest rates making income from bank deposits negligible). The Berry is a fine investment and asset to the community and  I would urge as many people as possible to go along to the free open weekend on  9th and 10th April to see for yourselves the very high standard to which it has been built and kitted out.

A consequence of this contribution was that our budgeted expenditure for the financial year 2010/2011 was over £1 million for the first time.   Hedge End Town Council is now a very significant provider of services and facilities for local people.

The current financial year does not end until Thursday but indications are that our expenditure has been controlled and we will come in within budget.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Clerk and my colleagues on the Finance and Administration Committee for the professional way in which these large amounts of public money are administered and monitored.

Looking to the future, we are budgeting for £895,000 of expenditure in 2011/2012.  This includes provision for the upkeep and maintenance of the new Dowd’s Farm Park which has been transferred to the Town Council from Bovis Homes, and of a number of established green spaces which have been transferred to us from Eastleigh Borough Council.  We have also budgeted for capital investments to improve various facilities in the village centre and at the Woodhouse Lane, Greta Park, Turnpike Way and Nelsons Gardens recreation grounds.

A new storage building is proposed for our grounds staff off Pavilion Road.  We intend to apply for a loan from the Public Works Loan Board in order to finance this project.  Once the new building is complete we will be able to give up the storage units that are currently rented and use that money to service the loan.  This makes sense as an invest to save project, and is necessary as the rented facilities are no longer fit for purpose.

In terms of income, just over £200,000 will be generated from charges for the use of our community halls and outdoor sports facilities, leaving the rest to come from our council tax precept.

It is worth pointing out at this stage that both Hampshire County Council and Eastleigh Borough Council are receiving grants from central government to enable them to freeze council tax for the next financial year.  Unfortunately the government’s generosity did not extend to parish and town councils.  As a result Hedge End has had to increase its precept to account for inflation and our increased responsibilities.  However for a band D council tax payer, the increase from last year is just  £1.86, or less than 19p per month.

I hope you will look at the services provided by your town council:  Community Halls here at the 2000 Centre, at the Drummond Centre and Norman Rodaway and Turnpike Way pavilions; the Albert Road cemetery, allotments, football and  cricket pitches, bowls, tennis, skateboarding, children’s play areas, paddling pool, formal and informal public open spaces, and agree that we give good value for money.

In closing I am pleased to be able to announce that in future you will be able to take a closer look at our finances and help us ensure that your money is well spent.  Earlier this year the government required primary authorities to publish online details of all expenditure over £500.   This did not apply to parish and town councils.  But, in the interest of open government Hedge End will in future publish its annual budget and all monthly expenditure details on our web site.  So you will have the chance to review all our outgoings down to the smallest item.  

Thank you for your attention this evening.  Are there any questions?"

Friday, 25 March 2011

Farewell to Environment Scrutiny

Thursday saw the last meeting of Eastleigh’s environment scrutiny panel.  As part of the Borough’s plan to reduce costs while maintaining front line services, four scrutiny panels are being merged into two, and  environment and transport scrutiny will in future be the responsibility of the Policy and Performance Scrutiny Panel.

We reviewed the activities and progress of the Environmental Health service, endorsed  the action plan for recycling in Hampshire, and approved a technical and legally required document outlining how future development plan documents will be assessed for sustainability and environmental impact.

Eastleigh has an impressive record on recycling:  the only council in Hampshire to collect food waste and one of only four with a kerbside collection for glass, we currently recycle just under 45% of our collected waste.  And that is down to the willingness of all our residents to sort and clean recyclables and avoid contamination in the green bins.

There is a desire in the community to recycle more:  at the moment a lot of plastics and tetrapaks are not collected.   The reason for this is that historically these categories either cost too much to recycle or the transport and energy impact of recycling them makes the process not sustainable.  

Project Integra (a partnership of all the councils in Hampshire) needs to look at increasing the range of recyclables that are collected as well as helping people to reduce the amount of non-recyclable waste that enters the system.  And that means using its influence to lobby the supermarkets and other businesses to cut out unnecessary packaging.

The Co-op stopped shrink-wrapping its cucumbers in response to its customers, and communities have reduced or eliminated plastic carrier bags, so it can be done if people-power is harnessed and co-ordinated.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

The problem with UKIP

Encouraged by their second place ahead of both Conservatives and Lib Dems in the recent Barnsley South parliamentary by-election,  UKIP will probably field candidates in the May 5th local elections.  The problem with UKIP in local elections is that there is no way Hedge End – or even Eastleigh – is going to withdraw from the EU on its own, so I don’t see the point in voting UKIP at local elections, even for those who want the UK out of Europe.

Unfortunately local elections these days are used by the parties as an expensive opinion poll on national issues, and that is a distortion of the democratic process.   Local elections should be used to elect the best candidate on local grounds, not to help the parties register support for their national policies.

These are the first annual elections since the formation of the coalition, and both parties will claim every council seat won as a vindication of their position and the opposition will count every seat the coalition loses as a vote against it.  Let's hope some decent, hard working, competent councillors get elected as a by-product!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Only one month to go

We could all do with a bit more laughter in our lives.  The Hedge End StGeorgeFest committee is doing its bit and will be marking St George's Day 2011 in Hedge End with a performance which promises to combine superb musicianship with side-splitting genius.

First, check out the performers.  The New Rope String Band

Then check out the venue: Hedge End's brand new Berry Theatre

While you're there book your tickets (the event is in the "Community Performances" category).

Not only will you be joining in the St George's Day celebrations, you will get a great evening's entertainment and get to see one of the first events at The Berry.

That Hedge End is getting a state of the art professional theatre has got to be the most exciting thing that has happened here for many years, and credit should go to the three councils and Wildern School who have worked together to realise the project.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The problem with Labour

I suppose it was predictable, but since leaving the Lib Dems, I have received various contacts from other parties suggesting I might like to join them.  I won't be joining Labour any time soon because:

I'd be happy to be proved wrong, but the party seems to be extinct in Hedge End.  In the 2010 council elections they couldn't even find a single candidate who lives here.

Eastleigh Labour Party (well, their one remaining borough councillor, any way) spends an inordinate amount of time attacking the Borough leadership for its opposition to the proposed flats at Wildern Mill.  Not a good way to win friends in Hedge End.

Labour did some good, progressive things while in power.  I think of the Good Friday agreement, the national minimum wage, writing off the poorest countries' debts, Sure Start Centres, free entry to national museums, civil partnerships, scrapping section 28, increased funding for education, devolved power to national assemblies.  How did they come to allow themselves to be remembered primarily for financial incompetence and attacks on civil liberties? 

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Lobbying by Developers

Perhaps I am unduly suspicious, but professional lobbyists bring out the cynic in me.  So I was interested to learn that Hedge End Town Council has been approached by a lobbying consultant working for a consortium of landowners with interests in the area of the old Strategic Development Area N/NE of Hedge End which was to be the site of 6000 houses.  The SDA was partly in Eastleigh and partly in Winchester.

I looked up the consultant on his company's website and discovered that until recently he worked for Eastleigh and Winchester Lib Dem MPs Chris Huhne and Mark Oaten, and the unsuccessful Lib Dem candidate for Winchester Martin Tod.  He also claims that "He remains an active voice within the Liberal Democrats and has a considerable network of parliamentary and local party links to call upon."

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Rose Bowl Parking in Hedge End

This evening Hedge End Town Council voted unanimously to kick out any overflow Rose Bowl parking on Greta Park or other recreation grounds in Hedge End.

What I found strange is that the motion was not on the published agenda, but introduced to the meeting by suspending standing orders during "Chairman's Remarks".  This clearly came as a surprise to our excellent Chair, Cllr Val Houghton, who was presiding over her last meeting and the Town Clerk.

I've tried to think why the Lib Dems chose to spring this decision on the meeting without notice and can only conclude that they did not want people to know in advance that the matter was going to be debated. 

Unless they want to trumpet the decision in their next election leaflet and couldn't wait for the April meeting.  If so it's a shame that they chose to embarrass the Chair and Clerk for party political reasons.

If you are going to make the right decision in the interest of the voters, why bend the rules to get there?

Saving Dowd's Farmhouse

I mentioned in my last entry that a potentially controversial planning application was withdrawn at the last minute from the agenda of the Local Area Committee meeting on 28th February.  This was an "enabling application" to raise funds to restore Dowd's Farmhouse, a grade II listed building.

The farmhouse has fallen into considerable disrepair in the decade it has been unoccupied and the security fencing and temporary weather-proofing make it a complete eyesore.  Hedge End doesn't have many buildings of historical interest, so we don't want to lose one.   However, the current owners - a nationwide building firm with millions in the bank and land holdings worth billions - have a problem in that the costs of restoration are now greater than the expected value of the restored building.  Their solution is to build another three blocks of flats at Dowd's Farm and use the "developer's contributions" from this new development to make their sums add up.

Developers' contributions are often viewed with suspicion by opponents of developments, but they are a valuable way for the Council to fund highway improvements, social housing and recreational and other facilities to reduce the negative impact of the development.   The question in this case is one of priorities - is preserving a historical building more important than the other things that the money could be spent on?

It was clear that the Lib Dem leadership wanted the application to go through on the nod, but I had some questions that I felt needed to be answered - not least because the figures quoted in the 28th February report gave the impression that the developer's contributions would be underwriting a profit to the developer of £200,000.   This seemed a bit of a cheek to me.  In addition to the profits they have made on the existing Dowd's Farm development and the profits they will make on the 30 new proposed flats, they wanted the Council to underwrite a profit on the farm house restoration itself.

As all the financial information to answer my concerns was not available for the February meeting the application was withdrawn and we expect it will be re-submitted in April with new figures and controls on the use of developer's contributions.  We don't want the farmhouse to fall down, but we have a duty to make sure that the development and the scheme to save the farmhouse are the best possible deal for the people of Hedge End.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Spending Your Money

The Hedge End, West End and Botley (HEWEB) Local Area Committee (LAC) of Eastleigh Borough Council (EBC) met on 28th February.  This committee meets to consider planning applications and other matters affecting the local area.

Committee minutes are published on EBC's website, but as a service to Hedge End followers, here is a summary of those agenda items which concern Hedge End directly.

  1. The chair in his report referred to the recent pedestrian accident on Turnpike Way, the opening of the Berry Theatre in April and the next meeting of the HEWEB Community Safety Forum (7pm, 4th April at the Hilldene Centre, West End).
  2. The Local Area Coordinator reported on Hedge End Town Council's ambitious plans to improve and expand the skateboard park at Woodhouse Lane.  It is likely that EBC will provide additional funding and Botley and West End parish councils will be invited to support the project.  Unfortunately County Council cuts are putting other youth provision at risk - including the excellent Box Youth Centre in Wildern Lane.
  3. We approved an uncontroversial planning application in White's Way and a change of use for the Dowd's Farmhouse from residential to office/research and development/community or day care facilities.  The farmhouse (a grade II listed building) requires so much work that it is very unlikely that a residential buyer would ever be found.
  4. The most controversial planning application was withdrawn from the agenda at the last minute.  This was a so-called "enabling application" to build another block of flats at Dowd's Farm in order to raise money to restore the farmhouse.  There are lots of issues at stake here and we are going to have a dedicated meeting on it later in March.  If people are interested I can blog in more detail nearer the event (bearing in mind the constraints of the planning process and possible commercially sensitive information).
  5. We agreed to start the consultation process to make two minor diversions to footpath rights of way at Dowd's Farm.
  6. A number of small community grant awards were made  to local organisations including the d.@rt centre, Performing Arts Company, New Music Makers, Explorers Pre-School, Monday over-60s Club, Wildern Opportunity Group, and 2000 Centre Users Group.
  7. £6,000 was confirmed as EBC's contribution to the construction of pedestrian crossing points on Turnpike Way, with £5,000 coming from the County Council and £7,000 from developers' contributions.
  8. £23,000 on new footpath and cycle way links at Dowd's Farm, part developers' contributions and part funding already allocated by the county.
  9. £50,000 of developers' contributions to expand and improve facilities at Dowd's Farm Park.
  10. £85,000 of future developers' contributions to improve community use of Kings Copse School.
  11. £500,000 of developers' contributions towards the construction of the Berry Theatre along with £60,000 of budgeted contingency fund.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Signs of Spring

And because life isn't just about politics:  there was a hedgehog in our garden last night, and a nearby pond has had frogspawn for several days now.

Independence (2)

One of the things I thought I would miss after going independent was the comradeship and community that comes with working with a group of focussed, like-minded people.

I turns out that there are thousands of independent councillors out there.  In Hedge End we have got so used to having our local politics dominated by political parties, and one party in particular, that it is hard to remember there is another way of doing things.

Independent councillors don't stop having political views, it's just that when they (we) make decisions that affect our local community, those decisions are based on what our consciences tell us are best for our neighbours,  not on the the policies of a party whose main objective is getting and keeping national power.

Friday, 4 March 2011


On 1st March, my colleague on Hedge End Town Council, Jenny Schwausch, and I acted on our increasing disappointment with the Liberal Democrats at a national level and left the party.   We will sit as independent councillors until the elections in May.  This means that there are now two independents on Hedge End Town Council and four on Eastleigh Borough Council (equal with the Conservatives - I wonder who is the "official" opposition now).

David Laws MP speaking on Radio 4 recently made it clear: "The party has changed and now the challenge for everybody is to look to the future rather than to re-fight battles from the past."  Nick Clegg is leading the party in the wrong direction for me, and when I look to the future I can only see it getting closer to the Conservatives.  For somebody who hoped the Lib Dems would bring about a realignment of the Left, that is clearly a disappointment. 

It can't be right to promise to vote against any rise in tuition fees and then vote to triple them.

It can't be right that councils are being forced to cut libraries, children's sure start centres, and day centres for older people when George Osborne found £7 million to bail out the Irish government.

It can't be right that people with disabilities are worried about losing their disability living allowance when bankers are still walking away with their massive bonuses.

It can't be right that the coalition is forcing through massive changes to higher education and the NHS which were in neither party's manifesto.

The old cliche "all politics is local" means that local politics also gets tainted by national politics.  It is not possible to stand as a "local" liberal democrat and dissociate yourself from the national party.  So although I have no major arguments with the local liberal democrats - and still have many friends who are choosing to stay in the party - I couldn't honestly put on an orange rosette in May.