Thursday, 17 November 2011

Hedge End's New "No" to Nick Clegg

Plans in tatters?
"Bad for Democracy" - Hedge End town councillors were unanimous in their criticism of proposals to split the Eastleigh parliamentary consituency down the middle.

As previously reported (here), the suggested Hedge End and Hamble consituency would throw the town into an artificial mish-mash of wards with no community links, split neighbouring West End down the middle and pluck Bitterne and Thornhill out of Southampton for no good reason other than Nick Clegg's obsession that all constituencies be the same size. 

Even leading Lib Dem councillors admitted at November's Town Council meeting that the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act - introduced by their own party leader -  is flawed in so far as it gives insufficient importance to community, historical or geographical criteria in determining constituency boundaries.  The Boundary Commission have merely followed the guidance in the Act.

Cllr Keith House recalled knocking on doors in Woolston when it was tacked on to the Eastleigh Constituency in a previous boundary change and getting the unamibiguous message that Southampton voters only want to vote for a Southampton MP.  He felt that voters in Bitterne and Thornhill would feel the same way and that turnout would suffer as a result.

In calling for no change to be made to the existing Eastleigh constituency (which is already the "right size" according to the Con Dem Coalition's calculations) Hedge End Town Council is joining a nationwide movement of opposition to the constituency changes.

In Cornwall a Tory MP has described them as a "dog's dinner".

In Scotland the Electoral Reform Society has criticised a "cold mathematical vision of equality" which " flies in the face of real communities, simple geography and common sense."

In Southampton, Labour MP John Denham has pointed out:

"Voters in Bitterne will be part of a constituency which stretches to the outskirts of Portsmouth.  So their MP will have Saints fans at one end and Pompey fans at the other.  They will have to say they are not interested in football.”

“This was just one example of the nonsense of linking Bitterne and Thornhill with Hamble, Warsash, Titchfield and Parkgate. People want their MP to represent the real community they live in.  Southampton voters want to vote for a Southampton MP.”

Following the overwhelming rejection of his new voting system in the May referendum, Clegg's plans for electoral reform look like being in tatters if the new constituencies are thrown out too.  It is doubtful whether improved proposals could be drawn up in time for them to take effect at the next general election in 2015.

Town Council minutes are published here.

The full text of the Town Council's objection as discussed at the meeting is available here.

Eastleigh Borough Council's response to the proposals will be decided by the Administration Committee on 21st November.

Photo credit: David Spender

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Lib Dems Resting on Laurels

“Every other council could raise its game if it wanted to, it’s a matter of political will,”  said Hedge End Town Councillor and Borough Leader Keith House in response to a Daily Echo report putting Eastleigh top of the league table of Hampshire councils' recycling rates.

Eastleigh's 43% of waste recycled is indeed impressive compared to neighbouring councils, some of which only achieve percentages in the low twenties, and Eastleigh is undoubtedly a leader in innovation locally with its weekly collection of food waste for recycling.  However, the percentage is one point down from last year, when Eastleigh achieved 44%

Look a bit further afield, moreover, and The Guardian reports that there are councils which manage to  recycle 64-65% of their waste.  If Bournemouth can recycle 64%, why can't Eastleigh?  Are the Lib Dems resting on their laurels instead of putting them in the garden waste bag?

Cllr House's fellow Lib Dem Town Councillor, and cabinet member with responsibility for the environment, Louise Bloom recently said:  "We know that around 70% of waste can be recycled so we are aiming to further improve the amount we recycle.  I would encourage all our residents to recycle their bottles and jars."

A report by the now defunct Environment Scrutiny Panel earlier this year claimed that Eastleigh was already collecting 85% of the available glass.  So residents are already doing a pretty good job of recycling bottles and jars.  Perhaps Eastleigh too needs is a bit of the political will which is apparently missing in our neighbouring councils to increase recycling rates.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Hedge End - The Future?

Local Lib Dems' promises to "stand up against more building and even more traffic" in Hedge End will come under scrutiny on Tuesday 15th November.

Eastleigh Borough Council's Draft Local Plan  exhibition comes to the Village Hall in Hedge End between 2pm and 8pm.

Attention will doubtless focus on the huge housing developments for which Hedge End Lib Dem councillors have repeatedly voted.  The plan proposes 3,700 more houses in Hedge End and Botley - nearly 40% of the 9,400 proposed for the Borough as a whole.

The draft plan also provides for:
  • Two brand new roads at Botley and Sundays' Hill
  • "Improvements" to Woodhouse Lane, Kings Copse Avenue and Heath House Lane
  • A "green route" linking Hedge End to Eastleigh
  • "Regeneration" of parts of Hedge End village centre
  • "Traffic management" in Hedge End centre
  • New public open space in the north of Hedge End

The Council's "consultation"  runs until 3rd January, although Tuesday is the only date in Hedge End for the exhibition. 

More independent commentary on the consultation can be found at Eastleigh News and TGR Worzel's blog.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Something on Your Mind?

Have your say on anything that is bugging you about life in Hedge End at the inaugural meeting of the Hedge End Society.

Do you have an idea about how life could be better for everybody in Hedge End, but are not sure about how to make it a reality?

Would you like to talk about it in a relaxed, informal, non-political atmosphere?

The HES is being organised by a group of citizens who want to make things better and realise that if we help each other we are more likely to succeed.

The inaugural meeting will be chaired by Chris Rowberry, the Vicar of St John's and will take place at the Underhill Centre, St John's Rd, starting at 7:30 on Monday 14th November.

Picture credit - Benoit Derrier

Street Pastors and Boundary Changes

Alongside the normal business of the Town Council next week, there are two items on the agenda that might be of wider interest.

There will be a presentation by the local Street Pastors on their work in the Hedge End area.

Council will also be considering its response to the Boundary Commission's proposed changes to parliamentary constitiuencies for the 2015 general election.  These would split the existing Eastleigh constituency with Hedge End being part of a new constituency stretching from the southern part of West End and Bitterne to Warsash.  There is more information about the proposals in this Hedge End Blogger post from September.

Full Council starts at 7:30pm on Wednesday 16th November.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Lib Dem Confusion over Berry Prices

New Signs at The Berry
Only a month after Hedge End Town Council agreed to subsidise local community groups who want to hire The Berry Theatre (as reported  here),  Eastleigh Borough Council's Lib Dem cabinet have bulldozed through a 5% increase in hire charges for both professional and community performances.  Normally this price hike would just make it even more difficult, if not impossible, for community organisations to use their local community theatre.  In the light of the Town Council's subsidy, however, the effect is that more council tax payers' funds will simply be transferred from Hedge End to Eastleigh.

It is also noteworthy that Cllr Louise Bloom ousted long serving chair Cllr Pearl Hicks in an internal Lib Dem coup to take over control of the Community and Culture Committee in May at the same time as the committee extended its terms of reference to include the Town Council's relationship with The Berry.  Cllr Bloom is also, of course, a leading member of the very cabinet which is pushing through these increases even in the face of criticism from the Council's own Resources Scrutiny Panel.  She consequently finds herself having been at one meeting where it was agreed the community rates were too expensive for local groups, and another where it was agreed to increase those same rates.

The Town Council is right to support The Berry, particularly in its early years while the theatre struggles in the Con Dem Coalition's age of austerity to get established as the high class arts venue we all want it to become. Eastleigh should surely have followed the Town's lead and frozen prices for the second year of The Berry's operation.

Interestingly, as car park charges are also increased across the Borough (as reported by Eastleigh News here), Eastleigh decided to keep charges for the Hedge End Station car park at their current level.  Perhaps this is in recognition that the car park is under-used while commuters still park for free in nearby streets, making it difficult for the Lib Dems to justify their plans to extend the car park on to the adjacent wild flower meadow.  (See my post on this subject here)

Following this summer's embarrassment of having the sign outside The Berry obscured by overgrown foliage within two months of the theatre's opening (see picture here) the Council have moved it to a better position.  It is good to see them responding to constructive criticism.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Gingerbread House at The Berry

Hedge End families are in for a "delicious festive treat" this Christmas with a specially produced version of Hansel and Gretel being performed at The Berry for the two weeks from 12th December.

Professional actors, puppetry and music will combine to give an up to date twist to the traditional story, promised director Sarah Brigham at the official press launch on 1st November.

A creative collaboration with Hiccup Theatre, Peut-Etre and Unpacked theatre companies, the production has already generated an artistic buzz about The Berry which recalls the excitement of its opening back in April.  Stand up comics and film screenings might be easy ways to bring in the punters, but just the promise of live theatre brings the building to life. 

After a period in the summer when it looked like the Borough Council was neglecting its new theatre, it is also good to see new signs of continuing investment to keep the area around The Berry looking smart.  But it was disappointing that only one of Hedge End's 20 Lib Dem Town Councillors accepted the invitation to the press launch.  Well done Cllr Jenny Hughes.

A Hedge End family of four can see Hansel and Gretel for £32.  The Southampton Mayflower Christmas show would cost between £56 and £108 depending on dates and seats.  Add to that the costs of travel to Southampton, parking, and the hassle of avoiding Christmas shoppers and football traffic, and The Berry looks a very attractive proposition.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Keeping Our Library Open

Cuts proposed by Conservative Hampshire County Council include reducing the opening hours of many libraries.

For Hedge End this would mean our library would be closed all day Wednesday (it currently opens during the morning).  The Town Council discussed these proposals at its October meeting and agreed to work with the County, not just to maintain the existing opening hours, but to extend them, if necessary with the use of volunteers, so that the library is easier to access for people who work.

One of the things I like about the Hampshire library service is that you can go online to browse the catalogue.  If you find that the book you are looking for is currently in Basingstoke, for instance, you can request it be sent to Hedge End.  You get an email when it arrives and you can pop into the library at your convenience to pick it up (after paying a few pence for the additional service).

It's a simple but effective way of using modern technology to enhance a public service which dates back to Victorian times.  Expectations have moved on since 1850 when the Public Libraries Act was passed.  Private sector shops used to close for a day or half-day each week, but in 2010 shops need to be open at least six days a week or they risk losing business.  The same holds true for libraries. 

The library in nearby Chandler's Ford is not being cut because it has better lending figures than Hedge End despite being comparable in terms of population.  Closing the Hedge End library on a Wednesday is unlikely to help increase the number of books lent, but the message to Hedge End people is clear.  Use it or risk losing it.

You can comment on the County's proposals on their web site.

"If you have a garden and a library, you will want for nothing."  (Cicero, 46BC)