Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Four Things For Thursday

Houghton Hall By-Election Houghton Regis Town Council Thursday 27th October

I am one of the three candidates. I am Independent.
Can anyone truly be independent?
Independent of party - yes.
Independent of political persuasion - probably not.

At local council level I think the most important thing is that the person elected should have a strong sense of their locality and their locality's needs, rather than an adherence to a political party machinery and policies decided at some remote party conference.

I had lived in Houghton Regis for just a few months when I was elected to the Town Council in 2007, but it was through the popularity of a local political party rather than any personal following, or personal knowledge of the town. I thought it was totally wrong.

 After 10 years of living here, knowing much more about its problems and aspirations, strongly advanced by my decision to start, and run, the Houghton Regis News Desk, I think am much more properly qualified to speak at meetings for any people I represent.

I spend a few hours every day looking into topical issues that affect the Town. Please take a few minutes on Thursday to support me with your vote.

My thoughts on some top issues (apart from the immediate traffic related issues!)

1. The present Houghton Regis cemetery is almost full. We need a new one. A site ideally needs to be settled on, and developed. Happy to entertain the option that the parish should NOT provide a new cemetery, and put the onus on Central Bedfordshire to come up with a location. Let's have that conversation. What do you think?

2. Windsor Drive Recreation Ground is in Central Bedfordshire Council ownership and has been identified as a potential site for building homes on. It was a site being considered by the Town Council for allotments and a cemetery. As a cemetery the land is quite close to the water table, so probably not practical. Happy to entertain the option for new housing, and a few neighbourhood shops to serve the area. What do you think?

3. Development Schemes - more are coming forward for Bidwell and Thorn areas, and town councillors will be able to comment on these. I set up a HRN2 Facebook information page for that.  I set up the Houghton Regis Central Page to pass on information about the development of the former Co-op site. There will be more sites coming forward for developments. There is a lot going on, so I set up this page to keep a check on the developments schemes. I want the best outcomes for Houghton Regis.

4. Houghton Regis Town Council levies the highest council tax for a Band D property than any other town in the Central Bedfordshire area. I should like to keep it down. Where there is a will, there is a way.

Houghton Regis News Desk - https://www.facebook.com/houghtonregisnewsdesk/

HRN2 Bidwell West Info - https://www.facebook.com/groups/hrn2info/

Houghton Regis Central - https://www.facebook.com/groups/houghtonregiscentral/

My Facebook Page - https://www.facebook.com/AlanDWinter

As always, click to enlarge any images below.


Saturday, 8 October 2016

Anecdotal Evidence - Ashton Site Set To Go Ahead Despite Inadequate Parking

Ashton site : Proposed Parking Below CBC Regulated Standards 
In my teens we lived in a maisonette above a parade of shops in a town centre location. Dad used to park the shop's van outside much of the time, although overnight it would be parked in a private garage close by. Then Dad got his own car and permission was obtained from the private landlords to park vehicles at the rear of the maisonettes. Mum bought a Wartburg estate car so she could get all her camping stuff in. My brother bought a car, a Ford Zephyr as I recall, something to do with wanting a big American looking car. I bought a Ford Capri. I think we were influenced by American tv shows like Happy Days and the A team.

There was no thought given to why we needed the cars other than cruising around, or to pick up the chick, just like they did in Happy Days. Anyway, I digress. We parked the cars and van at the rear for a time, then one day the land was sold off for development. Mum sold her car off.  And we had to find somewhere else to park.

20 years before I lived here, parking outside the shops wasn't a problem.

Not to worry, there was still spaces to park in on the street in front of the shop. But that didn't last for long, as the dreaded yellow lines were extended, doubled, and parking became quite difficult. Sentries were posted to watch for the traffic wardens, and we'd quickly scramble for the keys to move the vehicles before a ticket was posted on the windscreens.

 The van and three cars were often parked up in public car parking spaces a couple of minutes walk away, beside the Town Hall. Before we knew it, the Council were bringing in parking for Council employees only during the  day time. So, we had to vacate those spaces or face daily fines. I began parking mine in a free underground car park under the town hall. That was, until the Council slapped a barrier on the car park so that it permitted their day time employees only.

From hereon we were restricted to driving around local residential streets hoping for a space to squeeze into.

The bottom line is that circumstances change,  and if you don't plan ahead, then you create a problem for the future. As Benjamin Franklin supposedly once said 'if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!'

And so, next week, Central Bedfordshire Council Development Management Committee meet to decide the future of the former Ashton Grammar School site in Dunstable's High Street North.  It is recommended for approval despite many concerns, not least parking.

The design and access statement (http://www.centralbedfordshire.gov.uk/portal/showimage.asp?j=CB/16/03188&index=671071 ) page 15 has many references to parking objections; these are nonchalantly dismissed by the developers with the statement, "Additional parking spaces are provided for the scheme. Any shortfall is believed to be justified  given the site's location and likely resident profile."

Well, I'm sorry but there is no way to predict likely resident profile. Anyone could end up living there. White van man whose van won't fit in the garage, lady of the house who can't use the garage because it's full of family paraphernalia, teenage daughter who parks awkwardly so that she takes up a neighbour's spot, too, and teenage son who can't find anywhere to park, so churns up the grass verge.

So, what are these additional spaces? I'm reading through the summary statement to Development Management councillors and I come across the remarks of the Principal Highways Engineer.  "I have made initial comments in relation to the planning performance submission and there have been various amendments of which I have given guidance." Call me cynical, but does that mean he's had his arm twisted?

He  writes that 177 spaces have been provided, whereas 241 are required under the authority's guidelines. That 177 includes garages (which I say will be full of family equipment, and rarely used by a vehicle) and visitor parking. At this point the words of Benjamin Franklin should start to be echoing around the minds of councillors deciding the future of Dunstable.

He then goes on to show how the number of off-site parking spaces adjacent to the site can be increased very slightly, by just 7. Bizarrely, he also mentions Union Street and Clifton Road which could increase the parking provision by between 3 and 6 spaces. He does his duty by pointing out the on-site parking deficiency, then justifies the short allocation of spaces by tweaking what could be done outside the development site. This is ridiculous, future requirements will override the reason these spaces are to be created.

Any sane person would recommend a reduction of the amount of properties on the site, and increase the number of parking spaces until the authority's standard is met.

BUT, this 241 spaces ruling can be overridden if there are 'exceptional circumstances' such as town centre locations with public car parks, bus services and immediate employment opportunity which could mean that some of the home owners will not need to have a car.  Central Bedfordshire Council have pretty wishy-washy ideas about how much the desired number of parking spaces can be reduced by. In April 2015 they permitted, under delegated powers, a scheme in High Street South to go through with just 6 parking spaces for 26 flats and none for retailers (http://dunstablenewsdesk.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/woolworths-old-shop-redevelopment-could.html).

A reduction of the number of properties would also help out the concerns of the tree officer who states, " 20 healthy trees are being felled to accommodate this development... Regrettably, the limited planting space being allowed in the new scheme has resulted in the use of smaller replacement species that would offer insufficient size, scale and proportion within the building layout... the site is being overdeveloped at the expense of sufficient areas being set aside for landscape planting. "
And the Green Infrastructure Officer, "The failure to design in multifunctional SuDS, and the lack of clear information about management and maintenance means that the proposals are not acceptable in terms of local and national policy."

If councillors don't call this correctly, they'll just be storing up problems for future councillors to be harangued about. Do us all a favour, chuck this proposal out, and start thinking more about keeping this site for educational use. There is a private educational use buyer waiting in the wings.

The meeting is due to be broadcast on Wednesday 12 Oct 2016 from 10.00 a.m

>>My previous article: Houghton Regis - The Pressure's Cooking For Town Centre Parking

Meeting: http://centralbeds.moderngov.co.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=631&MId=5193&Ver=4

Public Reports Pack: http://centralbeds.moderngov.co.uk/documents/g5218/Public%20reports%20pack%20Wednesday%2012-Oct-2016%2010.00%20DEVELOPMENT%20MANAGEMENT%20COMMITTEE.pdf?T=10

Plans: http://www.centralbedfordshire.gov.uk/portal/searchresult.asp?appnumber=CB/16/03188

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Houghton Regis - The Pressure's Cooking for Town Centre Parking

Town Council discussed the Houghton Central application a couple of weeks back. (see application links at bottom of page.)

I did address the meeting, and alerted our town councillors to making a strong case if they were in any doubt that the car parking provision was lacking. Over in Dunstable a development was allowed through, under officer delegated powers, for retail space plus 26 flats with only 6 parking spaces on High Street South (story). The officers qualified that by saying they were allowed to bypass laid down parking space criteria if there were exceptional circumstances like town centre bus services and public car parks nearby. (click below to enlarge)

Clearly, if our town councillors had any concerns about the level of provision for parking at Houghton Central they would have needed to bear in mind how the planning officers minds work, especially as the High Street area is well served by bus routes.

As it turned out, our town councillors never even mentioned the amount of parking provision in their deliberations. I know its a concern for Whitehouse Close residents, as they feel their street may become an easy target for parkers. They did query the Whitehouse Close entry door, to ensure it was not a permanent entry/exit point that would encourage unwanted parking. And they did mention that they wanted to protect nearby parts of The Green from construction traffic, which is all to the good, but they must keep well on top of that, otherwise parts of the green, especially closest to Clarke's Way, could become rather muddied up.

We're in for a pressure cooker time of it with regards to parking in the High Street. Houghton Central, itself, will come with an offering of shops that will in turn attract motorists to want to park as close to the front doors as possible. The Town Council only own one car park and that is in front of their Peel Street office. Even now you can often find it difficult to park in the 'church car park', or in 'the doctor's car park' which are both owned by the Bedford Square owner. In Tithe Farm Road, car parking spaces there must also be used by their tenants in the flats above Bedford Square shops, so they'd be reluctant to install time-controlled parking as a possible solution.

Queen Street, parking, set to grow with town growth.

As Houghton Central becomes a reality, and the town grows more and more, parking, and parking on the kerbs (as if it isn't already), will become the norm around the town centre, unless measures are taken to counter it.

Connected Links

More ... on Houghton Regis Central

CB/16/03378/FULL New Build  http://www.centralbedfordshire.gov.uk/portal/searchresult.asp?appnumber=CB%2F16%2F03378

and CB/16/03379/LB Listed Building Consent

More developments in Houghton Regis see http://www.hrnd.co.uk/p/developments.html

>>My previous article: The Disregard for Bottle Bank

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

The Disregard For Bottle Bank Site

I popped down to our bottle bank / clothing bank / shoe bank this morning. This is the sight that greeted me. Despite all the boxes piled up next to the bottle bank bins, I was still able to post my bottles through the nylon brushes. I can't say it was easy, but I do have long arms.

Pure laziness is how I would describe those who dumped boxes with empty bottles there.

As for those that dumped white goods and a divan and boxes, I hope the CCTV camera has caught you out.

I have notified waste services.

Of course, this site is due to be developed once 'Houghton Central' gets its expected planning permission. I wonder where the new site will be, and if that will also be monitored by CCTV ?

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

The Wrangle of Parliamentary Boundaries - South Bedfordshire

Back in June we had three options. for how South Bedfordshire might be reshaped. I replied saying, just give us PR for Bedfordshire. Unfortunately that is not an option, and they went with option S3.

Potentially, I see this as creating a battle zone between Labour and Conservatives for Luton South, a safe Labour seat for "Luton South and Houghton" (although why can't it be "Luton North and Houghton Regis" ?) and a safe seat for Conservatives in the new South West Bedfordshire.

If S3 is adopted, locally, the proposed parliamentary constituencies would cover the council wards of:

Luton North and Houghton

Luton North and Houghton BC 71,188
Houghton Hall Central Bedfordshire 5,717
Parkside Central Bedfordshire 3,220
Tithe Farm Central Bedfordshire 2,994
Bramingham Luton 5,366
Challney Luton 8,227
Icknield Luton 5,614
Leagrave Luton 7,492
Lewsey Luton 8,207
Limbury Luton 5,530
Northwell Luton 4,966
Saints Luton 8,501
Sundon Park Luton 5,354

Luton South

Luton South BC 71,881
Caddington Central Bedfordshire 7,267
Barnfield Luton 5,295
Biscot Luton 8,351
Crawley Luton 4,696
Dallow Luton 8,243
Farley Luton 6,839
High Town Luton 4,206
Round Green Luton 7,566
South Luton 6,139
Stopsley Luton 5,294
Wigmore Luton 7,985

South West Bedfordshire

South West Bedfordshire CC 77,673
Aspley and Woburn Central Bedfordshire 3,681
Barton-le-Clay Central Bedfordshire 3,974
Dunstable-Central Central Bedfordshire 3,332
Dunstable-Icknield Central Bedfordshire 5,731
Dunstable-Manshead Central Bedfordshire 3,575
Dunstable-Northfields Central Bedfordshire 6,528
Dunstable-Watling Central Bedfordshire 7,402
Eaton Bray Central Bedfordshire 3,292
Heath and Reach Central Bedfordshire 3,426
Leighton Buzzard North Central Bedfordshire 10,881
Leighton Buzzard South Central Bedfordshire 9,303
Linslade Central Bedfordshire 9,108
Toddington Central Bedfordshire 7,440

Friday, 5 August 2016

Dunstable Downs Kite Festival 2016

Sometimes I wish I had a decent video camera. The last decent one was a VHS, unfortunately I left it on a shelf, with a lead dangling down from it and one of my then toddlers managed to make it crash to the floor, breaking it.

So this was filmed on a tiny 8MP camera, in short bursts of a few seconds each time before the batteries gave up. I think I went through 6 sets of AA batteries to make this, which is ridiculous!

I've also got a tiny stupid camera from China that was a complete waste of money. Fiddly little buttons and I've never managed to make it work. Avoid buying this cheap crap - it's too prohibitive to even send back for a refund.

Oh, I could do so much more with the right camera.

Hope you enjoy. Comment below.

I took some stills, too. They can be seen here:


Thursday, 21 July 2016

To CBC: Stop Making Innocent Drivers Victims of Your Useless Sign Posts!

Drovers Way / Brewer's Hill Road, Dunstable in particular.


It should be obvious...

When you are moving into a 20mph zone it needs to be obvious. Turning left into Drovers Way from 30mph to 20mph the 20mph sign can easily be missed. Make the road narrower, say 25 yards into Drovers Way,  Simple road striping could be used to narrow the road, but also make sure the 20mph signs are next to the narrowing stripes.

"Where a limit starts near to a junction, great care must be taken in siting the signs to ensure that they are clearly visible to turning traffic. Advice on the spacing of repeater signs for 20 mph speed limits is given in Traffic Advisory Leaflet 1/95"

"Previously, 20 mph zones were not permitted if any part of the zone was more than 1km from any boundary road. Although this no longer applies, it remains sound general advice"

"Gateways can incorporate coloured surfaces, with or without a 20 mph elongated roundel marking. Where a 20 mph roundel is used, it is strongly recommended that it is placed on a coloured background to give it prominence. "

To CBC: Download, Read, Digest, and Implement : http://www.20splentyforus.org.uk/UsefulReports/Dft_TAL-09-99.pdf

UPDATE 16 August 2016: I got the information I requested, and posted this report for Dunstable News Desk: http://dunstablenewsdesk.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/6000speedingtickets.html

UPDATE 15/9/2016 - A second FOI request - reported this on here: http://dunstablenewsdesk.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/dunstable20mph.html

Further debate generated from this: https://www.streetlife.com/conversation/1f1fjjp8ikxsu/

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

How Do Pubs Survive These Days?

How Do Pubs Survive These Days

I went into a pub the other day. It's not something I do very often. There was a couple of men in there drinking some yellowy stuff. I scanned the pumps looking for something that might be brown stuff. Kronenbourg, Skol, Cider, but nothing I could see was brown stuff. I thought,  maybe there's something showing on the price list. Price list. I scanned the walls around the bar for a price list. I couldn't see one.

"Do you have a price list?", I asked. The response was in the negative. One of the drinkers piped up, excusing the pub saying it was just a little pub. The thought ran through my mind that licensed premises had to display notices like that. [Later, on the Internet: 'Prior to consumption or payment by customers, the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 require operators to make menus and prices readily available and to include such information required by a customer to make an informed choice.']

"What is it you want?" I was asked.
"Well, something like John Smith's," I offered.

I was told that they did have that, but I couldn't see it because it was "on the other side". I ordered a pint, and she went off to draw it. I opted to leave that bar through one door, enter the fresh air outside, and re-enter 'the other side', where the pint glass was almost full.

"How much, please?" I asked.

I choked inwardly, reflecting on the four times 89p 500ml bottles of Heatherwood's Golden Goose I had purchased in Lidl's a few days earlier.

After paying, I looked around the bar. A Sky Sports channel was on. No other customers in the bar. A dart board on one wall. A few chairs and tables, and a cushioned bench. A rack of paperback books. Some old photographs on the walls. I walked over for closer inspections. Old pictures of the former village, nothing I hadn't seen before.

A certificate hung neglected beside the exit door, declaring ' --(pub name) -- winner of Tug of War competition 199- '.
"No sign of actual community involvement  than at least 20 years ago", I thought to myself.

The sportscaster on tv started annoying me. I asked the barmaid if it could be turned off. "No, it has to stay on," she told me, "it's on contract."

My back was up. I was their only paying customer on 'this side'. Suppose someone wanted to get out of the house to get away from the rest of the family who were watching inane tv programmes? Why would they want more inane tv?

It had to stay on. I was offered another channel, as a consolation prize presumably, and opted for a music channel. More drivel came on, of a musical variety. Why would people come in here, I thought. Dart board. Maybe there are darts? I enquired. "Yes, we do," the barmaid started searching for darts, her fingers moved along a top shelf, a bottom shelf. Two were found. "I have 2." she offered.

I groaned to myself.

"Hang on," she said on tip-toes, here's the other one, and pushed the three over to me.

I played for a bit, but there again I could have played darts on my own at home. I sat down on a bench to finish drinking. Would I really want to stay in here having another one? No, I wouldn't.

I would stick to whatever Lidl's, or the other supermarkets can come up with.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Patrick Stewart sketch: what has the ECHR ever done for us? - video

NOTE: Britain should withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights regardless of the EU referendum result, Theresa May has said.

SILLY WOMAN: You have to be a member of the ECHR to be a member of the EU. The European Union itself agrees to abide by the ECHR.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Tinkering Around the Town Centre Will Just Waste My Council Tax

When it comes to local councils, they do love to spend our money. I have to get this off my chest so I can move on.

This year, 15% of my income (assuming I continue to be part time employed) will go on Council Tax. So I want a say in how it's spent, and having been alerted by someone else to the shopping list that Houghton Regis Town Council have come up with for our town centre, I am appalled at what they want to spend MY money on.

For several years now, Conservative Central Bedfordshire Council have been robbing over £90,000 a year from Houghton Regis Town Council. It is money that the Government gives CBC to pass onto local councils in respect of council tax support. And CBC haven't been doing so. And now, somewhat miraculously, they have conjured up a £4m fund - the Market Town Regeneration Fund. I wonder where that came from?

The fund, of course, comes with strings attached, and our town has to compete with others for a slice of this money. CBC will give matched funding for schemes that improve town centres. Understandably keen to get their mitts on some of that funding, our town councillors, many of them newbies elected only last May, have swallowed the bait and come up with a raft of proposals they hope will make our town centre a more thriving place, IF their scheme is lucky enough to be chosen by Conservatives at CBC.

The documents were found on the HRTC website. The shopping list beggars belief, and although a survey was conducted, to my mind very little on the shopping list matches up with what the public were saying.

Shopping List: "Create a sense of 'gateway' at the entrances to the town"
Total: £8,000
My comment: "No. No. Waste of money".

Shopping List: "Create a sense of 'gateway' at entrances to Bedford Square"
Total: £15,000
My comment: "No. No. Waste of money".

Shopping List: "Improving the signage to the town centre".
Total: £6,000
My comment: "Waste of money. If people don't know where it is, then it's a bad job for them. Signs are a blight on the urban scene."

Shopping List: "Improve retailer branding and advertising"
Total: £6,000
My comment: "Waste of public money. If businesses want to spend on that, let them."

Shopping List: "Improvements to the Bedford Sq Community Centre".
Total: £17,000
My comment: "HRTC don't own this building, CBC do. The owners should pay for any improvements required. Accessibility for wheelchairs, widening the doors from the corridor, doing something about the stiff front door are things that all need to be attended to. There are four CBC councillors for Houghton Regis, shirking their responsibilities while claiming expenses of around £250 a week. Let them get on with making a nuisance at the Council that owns the Community Centre."

Shopping List: "To install public art into the centre of Bedford Square on the large blank wall".
Total: £60,400
My comment: "The HRTC don't own the the Square. The large blank wall on the side of Poundstretcher is somewhat austere. And yet 'No cycling' and 'No ball games' signs on the wall are already ignored. If something is put on that wall, please, let it not be a giant beechnut (or conker)!"

Shopping List: "To also install hanging baskets / planters throughout the centre of the town and along the highway fronting facades".
Total: £80,000
My comment: "It's a roadway and public footpath. For those that want to see flowers go to a garden centre or public gardens."

Shopping List: "Refurbish the tree bed near All Saints."
Total: £15,000
My comment "ok with that."

Shopping List: "Promote local active transport (cycling and walking)".
Total: £17,000
My comment: "CBC have already graffitied our roads and footpaths. The urban scene is already cluttered with signposts and fly-posts. No further wasteful promotions are required."

Shopping List: "The creation of a Bedford Sq performance space supported by an events programme".
Total: £132,000
My comment: "This needs careful consideration of residents living nearby. There are already several uses of Bedford Sq by community groups and HRTC. It would just take a bit of imagination for a theatre group (say) to adapt to what is already there. As venue it's often very cold or wet, so it wouldn't be for all year round use. The design would need carefully looking at to make vandal proof. On feedback forms people have suggested a bandstand, but not that it should be in Bedford Square. On balance I don't think it would be sensible use of public funds to pursue the idea."

Shopping List: "Establishment of a regular market, mainly spent on purchasing market stalls"
Total: £22,000
My comment - "Is there actually a demand from traders? Dunstable market has really floundered, and in the past HRTC have struggled to find even one stall-holder. Let the demand for a market be driven by traders coming to HRTC to ask, not the other way around."

Shopping List: "Establishment of specialist markets, mainly spent on purchasing market stalls.
Total: £26,000
My comment: "Is there actually a demand from traders? Dunstable market has really floundered, and in the past HRTC have struggled to find even one stall-holder. Let the demand for a market be driven by traders coming to HRTC to ask, not the other way around."

Shopping List: "Support to Local entrepreneurs
Total: £11,800
My comment: "I have no idea what that means."

Shopping List: "Shop local loyalty scheme"
Total: £7,000
My comment - "I don't agree with loyalty schemes. I believe in freedom of choice."

Shopping List: "Deliver town centre publicity"
Total: £2,000
My Comment - "What for?"

Shopping List: "To develop a Town Team"
Total: £217,800
My comment - " '£168,000 to go on appointment of supporting staff'. Wow! If along the lines of Dunstable Town Ranger then it might be worthwhile. Although, from what I know of the Town Ranger, many of the things tackled by this 'town' employee should really be in the domain of the Central Bedfordshire Council to manage.

Now, I'm happy to be torn to pieces over my comments, I just want this debated, and my council tax spent to actually improve my life.

Update 23/4/2016: CBC have shortlisted the Houghton Regis scheme and a decision is expected on June 7th. See http://www.centralbedfordshire.gov.uk/news/april/market-town-regeneration-fund.aspx