Friday, 29 July 2011

Thinking outside the Box

As Hampshire Tories confirm swingeing cuts in youth services, The Box Youth Centre in Wildern Lane is under threat of closure.

Wildern local councillor (and leader of the Lib Dems at county hall) Keith House told The Hampshire Chronicle:

“Residents seeing services slashed, from children's centres and youth services to the cutbacks in buses and bus passes, will be appalled that Hampshire's Conservatives are stashing more and more of council taxpayers’ money into the county bank.

"We said earlier in the year this was a cynical exercise to store up money for election year in 2013. The new figures prove our point. The Conservatives' twisted priorities are a disgrace."

Meanwhile a steering group has been set up with the intention of keeping The Box open.   Consisting primarily of Hedge End Town Councillors and members of Botley and West End Parish Councils the group will work with Wildern School and other interested parties.

Amazingly Hampshire County Council have not confirmed that they will be willing to transfer ownership of The Box if other bodies come forward to keep it running.

A meeting at The Box on 18th July heard evidence from the local police and health professionals that the sort of service provided there helps to keep levels of antisocial behaviour, drug use and unwanted pregnancies below what would be expected in an area with a relatively high population of young people.

Public service cuts such as these and those being made by the Coalition at a national level are short sighted because the cost of not providing the service is never taken into account in the calculations. 

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Travellers at Dowds' Farm Park

All the correct bodies seem to be aware of the presence of travellers at Dowd's Farm Park.

Here is a link  to a joint communication being distributed to nearby residents.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Berry Funny

Hedge Enders need something to cheer us up as the Coalition grinds the economy to a standstill and local Lib Dems contrive to cover even more of our green fields with concrete and tarmac.  Step forward the Berry Theatre. 

Clearly keen to build on the success of stand up visitors Jeremy Hardy and Ross Noble (and friends) in selling out the 300-seat venue, our local theatre has recently announced national names Rory Bremner, Shappi Khorsandi and Tony Hawks to appear in November and December.

Younger children and their families will be catered for with a whole week of "Hansel and Gretel" performances in December.

Following my harsh words about the huge gaps in the "theatre" strand for adults between April and the end of September, it is good to see that Forest Forge will be coming back in October with a performance celebrating the New Forest "The World Outside".

Unfortunately there is then another dearth of drama for three months, before they hit us with three productions in February.  "Stalin's Favourite" and "Defying Hitler", elements of Theatre Unlimited's "Living History" project, are described in the company's own words:  "Both the subject matter and the source material makes the plays of interest to a much wider public, attracting a genuinely mixed audience of school groups, university students, as well as interested and informed members of the general public, generating a foment of ideas and reactions."

Eastleigh's The Point Youth Theatre are then in residence for six performances of "Romeo and Juliet" before the Berry's own youth theatre feature in "Strawberries and Steam" in March.

The current programming ends with an adaptation of  "Great Expectations" at the end of March.  Perhaps a hint of great things to come as the theatre starts its second year?

There are a number of productions there that look interesting enough for the Hedge End Blogger wallet to be opened, and I hope that other Hedge Enders will feel the same way.  "Use it or Lose it" seems to be the way with so many facilities we used to take for granted.  I still think it is amazing that we have a professional theatre right on our doorsteps and with imaginative programming, efficient management and the support of the local community I'd like to think it can grow into a genuine cultural asset.

Full details of the new season  (including some stuff I have not mentioned in this post) are on The Berry's web site.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Another Broken Lib Dem Promise

This is what Hedge End Lib Dems said in May:

"The Liberal Democrats have worked hard for our area.  They will continue to fight any plans from Hampshire County Council to sell off green fields for massive housing development locally"

What did they do in July?  They voted to designate the green fields at Woodhouse Lane "a preferred strategic development location", opening the floodgates for hundreds of houses to be built there.

And who is the landowner who will profit from the sale of Hedge End's countryside?  None other than Hampshire County Council who seem to have gone from enemy to development partner in just two months.

Whatever happened to the Lib Dems who kept their campaign promises?  Are they going down the same path as their national leaders?

Nick Clegg on broken promises

Friday, 15 July 2011

Lib Dem Stay Away Shame Continues

Threatened countryside at Woodhouse Lane

Back in April Hedge End Blogger pointed out (here) that Lib Dem Borough Councillors (who get a generous taxpayer funded allowance on the expectation that they will actually turn up and represent the people who voted for them) seemed to have stopped attending council meetings.

At the time I thought it was because they were following party orders to deliver more and more of their repetitive campaign leaflets (which seem to have been full of promises they knew they were not going to keep) in their desperate battle to buck the national trend and keep control of Eastleigh.

But the trend continues after the election.  Of the three Lib Dems elected in Hedge End this year, not one, not a single one, was at the council meeting on Thursday when the decision was made to designate the countryside opposite Hilliers Garden Centre in Woodhouse Lane a “preferred location” for large scale development, and rubber-stamping a document which states up to 2320 houses could be built there.

In fact out of seven Borough Councillors, only three Hedge End members were there.

Cllrs Jenny Ann Hughes, Cllr Derek PrettyCllr Mick Wheatley, and Cllr Jane Welsh were all absent.

Cllr Keith House proposed the motion, spoke twice in favour and voted for.  Cllr Louise Bloom  spoke in favour and voted for.  Cllr Peter Hughes did not speak and voted for. 

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Local Lib Dems Misled Voters (2)

Countryside at Woodhouse Lane is a “preferred location” for large scale green field development according to local Lib Dems.  Just two months after campaigning on a “Save our Countryside” platform and talking of how the Lib Dems “stand up against more building and even more traffic”, local Lib Dems have betrayed their voters by opening the doors to massive new developments in and around Hedge End.

They are claiming that one thousand new houses could be built on the fields opposite Hilliers Garden Centre, but documents rubber-stamped by the Lib Dems at Thursday’s full council meeting threaten up to 2320 dwellings on what is one of the few significant stretches of countryside left inside Hedge End’s boundaries.

They are also looking at fields north east of Boorley Green  (nominally 1400 but again with potential for up to 2840 dwellings according to the detailed documents) or Allington Lane (up to 5000 houses) as another possible location.

If the Boorley Green development goes ahead combined with Woodhouse Lane, the amount of traffic trying to get to the M27 along Woodhouse Lane, across the Maypole roundabout and along Kings Copse Avenue does not bear thinking about.

But it gets worse.  A thousand more houses will be built on smaller green field sites still to be chosen.  The Council have a list of fifteen green field locations in and around Hedge End that they consider suitable for development.  There is no guarantee that these will be safe from housing.

Just a year after the Lib Dems took credit for tearing up plans for a small town of 6000 houses to the north of Hedge End, they are planning for huge new developments of their own on our doorsteps.

I expect they will come up with their usual platitudes of “having to plan responsibly”, “we are not NIMBYs” and “wanting our children and grand children to be able to live locally”, but the question remains, why target Hedge End, West End and Botley for the majority of Eastleigh Borough’s housing needs?  If the requirement was spread evenly and equitably throughout the Borough, allowing organic growth of our existing communities, Hedge End could expect 300-400 houses on its green field sites, not the thousands threatened by the Lib Dems.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Council's Secret Agenda

A council meeting on Bastille Day could be a risky business.  Perhaps that is why Eastleigh is keeping the full agenda for tomorrow's meeting secret.

According to this report  in the Daily Echo, there is due to be a debate on the Liberal Democrats' plans to build nearly five thousand houses on green field locations across the Borough.

You wouldn't know it from the agenda published on the Council's web site though.  This is all it says 24 hours before the meeting is due to take place:

CABINET – 11 JULY 2011
To follow.

No indication that directions are going to be set which will see acres of countryside disappearing under concrete, thousands more car journeys up and down the Borough, and the quality of life of thousands of Eastleigh voters affected.

And there was me thinking that the Lib Dems were the party of open government. 

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Berry Interesting..

"Blame The Tories" says Lib Dem Art and Culture Maestro Cllr Alan Broadhurst in response to Hedge End Blogger's questions about the management of The Berry and its apparent neglect by Eastleigh Council.

Apparently there would be more going on at the venue this summer had conservative controlled Hampshire County Council not withdrawn promised funding.  But Lib Dem controlled Eastleigh does not intend to recruit to fill the vacant manager's role for a whole year.  That looks like a stealth cut to me.  Before The Berry opened the Council claimed it would be creating five new jobs in the area.  Make that four then.

If your manager resigns because of stress, I can't see the logic in keeping the position vacant.  Surely that just puts more stress on the remaining staff members?

I asked Alan to comment on three areas of concern in addition to the unfilled manager vacancy.  They were: the failure of the Council to promote The Berry in the "Borough News", the confusion caused by running a joint box office with The Point, and the failure to programme any of the promised professional touring drama productions for six months between the opening events and the end of September.  

Although he glosses over the failure of the Council to promote the venue and criticises me for not publicising the good things that are happening there (bit cheeky Alan! - I guess you hadn't seen this post.) he does cover the other points in some detail.   This is in marked contrast to at least one of his Lib Dem colleagues who has refused to engage with Hedge End Blogger at all when asked to comment on other stories of local interest.  Thank you Alan for taking this seriously and realising that the new media are now an important part of the democratic process.

Here is Alan's statement:

"It is normal for most provincial theatres to have a "Dark Period" in August. Most people go away for their summer holidays and in an area like ours it is not economic to run a theatre during August as attendance is likely to be very low.
August is normally the time when we would traditionally do summer schools etc but as HCC pulled their promised funding for skills training for young people in technical theatre as part of their budget cuts and because we can’t do anything that could be perceived as clashing with the d@rt’s programme, this year activity will be less.
The theatre has the direction that was laid out in the business plan. It was only due to programme two professional shows a month to minimise financial risk and give time for the programme to grow.
The theatre has only been open for three months as opposed to the Point's 15 years and has come on a huge amount in a very short time. We programme a range of professional shows responding to the needs of the community.
It is extremely rare for comedians such as Ross Noble to perform as a venue such as ours, and in the normal course of events we could not afford to programme him, however we have already gained a good reputation. The shows sell very quickly which is good for our bottom line. Both The Point and The Berry can only programme according to their seating capacity.
The general manager left because of stress, we felt stability should be our first priority and seconded the general manager of The Point for a year. He has over thirty years experience in a number of theatres and also is experienced at managing snagging which is something that is happening this first year, and there are major issues with the air-con, heating, alarm system, the roof. These are also another reason not to over programme in our first year. It is better to grow the programme, we also have a commitment to the school not to programme at certain times, and to run a whole host of community projects as well as our professional shows.
The d@rt were due to take on box office but lost key staff just prior to our opening so were not able to take on the commitment. The Point box office staff stepped into the breach and have done a sterling job. The d@rt is now back up to strength and a training programme is in place for their staff. In them meantime now that all the financial and audit requirements are in place a member of The Point box office team is going to be seconded to The Berry to get box office going from the theatre.
The Berry has been successful in gaining major funding from the arts council - almost unheard of for a new theatre - to work with three theatre companies over the next two years. This will also see the first produced Pantomime going into the theatre this December. We have also been successful in gaining consortium funding to programme more financially risky product - theatre is expensive to put on - and that will enable us to programme more professional theatre going forward. We are also in conversation with The Globe theatre to bring one of their productions to The Berry. You do actually need a multi million pound venue to show professional, digital down load film at time of release.
Once again the theatre has only been open three months, as a totally new venture, staff have been working very hard, doing many, many more hours than they get paid for at a very difficult time. The Director, General Manager, and other senior staff have taken on this extra responsibility for no extra pay and have made a restricted budget go a very long way and I are all very professional even when they had to open a venue that was not even finished at the opening and have had to set up systems, deal with some very difficult snagging issues, and making sure the School do not feel over-whelmed by having a professional theatre on campus. The theatre is actually doing extremely well and some of that is to do with the reputation of The Point but it is not realistic to expect it to operate at the same level as The Point in such a short space of time.
If more mainstream fully produced theatre is a priority for Hedge End members then there is every opportunity for them to sponsor a show, and we are already responding to requests for festivals and other ideas put forward. However I am concerned that we do not lose more staff through stress and if would have been nice to have had some positive comments as well as negative about the external funding, the sell-out shows, the popular community projects, the feature on prime time BBC, the £10K funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
As to the very good opening events, a lot of that was down to the theatre's amateur staff pulling in plenty of favours and personal contacts to get someone like Sam West to opening the venue - for no fee I might add."

Monday, 11 July 2011

Local Lib Dems Misled Voters

Plans for nearly 200 flats in blocks of up to seven stories could still go ahead at Wildern Mill despite personal assurances by  Lib Dem Council Leader Keith House.   Writing in a Lib Dem Standpoint delivered to his own ward voters during the May elections he stated that it was now "impossible" for the massively unpopular development to go ahead.

Yet planning documents published on Eastleigh Borough Council's web site on 5th July show that the professional planners at the council are still counting the 184 flats in their calculations of how the borough can meet its housing needs.  The "Strategic Land Availability Assessment" states that "The developer has started work on the site to maintain the validity of the planning permission. Site owner considering alternative uses."

So the truth is that the owners of the mill site could still decide to build the flats and if they do, the planning consent granted by the central government inspector against the wishes of the local councillors is still valid.  That doesn't fit any reasonable definition of "impossible". 

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Wildflower Meadow or Car Park?

Despite their election promise to "save our countryside" and ignoring opposition from nearby residents, local Lib Dems are ploughing ahead with plans which will lead to this council maintained wildflower area and natural habitat disappearing under tarmac.

They want to extend the car park at Hedge End station (not surprising as it's a nice little earner for them at £3 a car), but could they be sacrificing yet another green space in vain?

This photo was taken on a weekday lunchtime and there were plenty of empty spaces in the existing car park.

Meanwhile a few yards away in Old Shamblehurst Lane, people were parking for free.

What's the point of extending a pay car park which isn't full when there is free on-road parking in the nearby residential streets and lanes?  Perhaps the Lib Dems need to have a closer look at the assumptions in their business case before yet another green space is lost.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Berry Entertaining

Ross Noble and Friends on Thursday with "Thor" featuring Anthony Hopkins as Odin on Friday made last week one of the most entertaining at The Berry for Hedge End Blogger since the events of the opening week in April.  

Stand up comedy looks like becoming a reliable income generator for the venue.  Like Jeremy Hardy back in May, The Berry was sold out for Ross Noble and his friends - Holly Walsh and Joe Lycett - and I should imagine all of those 300+ punters came away very happy they had value for money. 

It would be fair to say that the audience was somewhat smaller for the film presentation "Thor".  Not a movie I would have travelled to Eastleigh or Southampton to see in a commercial multiplex, but the special effects were definitely more impressive on the Berry's large screen than they would have been on a DVD at home.  At about two thirds what we would have paid in Eastleigh and no travel costs I am looking forward to catching up on some more movies during the summer.

The overgrown sign (reported by Hedge End Blogger in June.) has been tidied up, making the entrance to the theatre much smarter and more professional looking. 

I suspect they wanted to look their best as they were expecting the BBC to come filming.  It was an interesting piece on South Today about The Berry's community project to celebrate Hedge End's strawberry heritage.  If you missed it, it's still available on the BBC web site.   

All in all it's been a good few days for our new community theatre, but we still have some concerns about the way the Council is managing The Berry.  Hedge End Blogger has asked the Lib Dem's arts and culture maestro, cabinet member Cllr Alan Broadhurst to comment on them.  Alan has promised to reply when he has confirmed the latest position.

While we're waiting, don't forget the Eastleigh Music Festival and Mela this weekend.  I understand that Bowman real ales will be available.

Monday, 4 July 2011

New Rat Run for Grange Park

Despite their election promise to "save our countryside", local Lib Dem councillors are lining up to support plans to cover this informal footpath between Marlborough Gardens and Maunsell Way with a three metre wide strip of tarmac.
The existing path
A nearby three metre wide tarmac paths shows how this little oasis of green tranquillity might look after the Lib Dem "improvements".
A nearby three metre tarmac path
The existing mature hedgerow along the side of side of the path will be cut back and the path will be extended to the pavement in Marlborough Gardens, destroying the existing grass and bushes.

The proposed junction with Marlborough Gdns
The plans as they stand make no provision for signs or barriers to prevent this new tarmac path being used as a rat run by motorcyclists.  It should be possible to improve this footpath without turning it into a small road.