Monday, 29 November 2010

A letter to councillors at Central Bedfordshire:

I am a Town councillor for Parkside, Houghton Regis.

I am very concerned for the future of young people in Houghton Regis, and more widely throughout Central Bedfordshire. I am very disappointed to learn of the decision by Council to fully cease its Connexions Service by mid March 2011. And I am now bitterly concerned that the council may decide to fully close down the Youth Service. The authority really is not allowing for any transition periods to build up the voluntary sector. Further, I think it is just a pretence to create a commissioning team, since it will have no funds to commission.

I do fully recognise the current economic climate. But if you close down all key preventative support services to young people, this is going to lead to a failure of meeting young people’s needs, as well as an increase to more expensive specialist services. Additionally, there is a total failure to recognise the greater risk young people will have to involvement in crime, becoming NEET, or homeless.

The proposals are false economy. Initially this proposal will make a saving, but in the long term it actually will cost the authority more through the cost of expensive crisis services, such as social services or youth offending services, who will only get involved once problems have occurred. The estimated cost of a young person in the criminal justice system is £200,000 by the age of 16 and the estimated cost annually of each young person not in employment, education or training is £56,300.

You really should be setting up a working group to explore other options. These decisions by Central Bedfordshire Council could easily lead to young people actually needing more expensive specialist support services.

Stop protecting ‘back room’ corporate services, maintain the critical front line, challenge this naive and rash decision urgently.

I do hope to hear from you as soon as possible.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Take Away the Street Clutter, and Make a Shared Space?

I went in a sceptic, and came out converted. That was how I would describe the presentation I attended at the Grove Theatre in Dunstable on Monday night. Central Bedfordshire put on the evening to allow parish and town councillors the opportunity to learn about shared space.

So what is shared space? Well, take the most unfriendly road junction you can think of in your locality, take away the sign posts, the traffic lights, the roundabouts, the yellow lines, the railings, and let the users of that space decide how they would like to use it. The result, we were enthused to agree with, is what happens when experienced skaters converge on a skating rink. Everyone takes it easy, avoids each other, and the whole thing moves along like magic. Only the speaker didn't call it magic, more he called it taking advantage of the human skills we all posess.

Well, I have to say, my mind was constantly turning towards the lights at Bedford Road/High Street junction in Houghton Regis. If a roundabout was tried in the past, and failed, and the lights are failing us now, maybe this "free-for-all" approach is worth a look?

Just as one town was persuaded to cover up its traffic lights for a couple of days, "to see what happens"; I was thinking "Yes, let's do the same here, and see what happens." And that town's people's, so we were told, would not let the officials take the bags off, because everything was working much more smoothly than ever it had before. Yes, please, I thought. Where do I sign?


Footnote: still wondering how the blind and partially sighted cope with these arrangements, but am sure blind skating is a possibility... let me know.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Town's Leisure Centre - Is it Really Going to be Closed?

While editing the Houghton Regis News Desk on facebook, I drew attention to the proposals by Central Bedfordshire Council for various cost cutting exercises. School crossing patrols, street lights, the manning of CCTV cameras, the closure of a resource facility for after school homework club, the closure of employment facilities for some of the most mentally and physically challenged people in society, not to mention the curtailment of fly-tipping response were all among the cuts proposed that will directly affect Houghton Regis. But the one thing that seems to have polarised public annoyance is the proposal to close the Houghton Regis Leisure Centre.

Action groups have sprung up; as of yesterday there were five "Save Houghon Regis Leisure Centre" pages or groups on facebook alone. An e-petition quickly raised over 200 signatures and was presented to the Central Bedfordshire Council at a committee stage last week. One of our Houghton Regis CBC councillors appeared on BBC Three Counties Radio. Spontaneous paper petitions sprung up and continue to run through the town in various shops. Someone has written to me as "Acting Chairman of Houghton Regis Leisure Centre Action Group" inviting me to a meeting.

This is a people's campaign. Not a Liberal Democrat campaign. Not a Conservative campaign. Not a Labour campaign. A unifying campaign of the people for the people. This is the sort of campaign that demands more media attention. It demands a public show of solidarity. And as one of our town councillor's dared to opine last week, it might even demand a public march.

I am sure that the intentions behind the cuts were that those most in need should not suffer; it's now up to those at Central Bedfordshire Council to see that they don't.
More information

Sunday, 8 August 2010

BusWay - A Question over Contracts

My MP, Andrew Selous, is apparently upset that Luton Borough Council won't give him contract details of the contract between them and BAM to build a £90 million busway between Luton and Houghton Regis.

If foul play is suspected over the timing of the signing of contracts, then I think Andrew Selous is right to pursue the issue. If the purpose is to get the contract cancelled in the hope that money saved will be directly shifted to constructing the A5-M1 link road, then I think the hope is naive.

Given that the busway construction has been funded, and is scheduled to be completed in 2012, I think we should accept it as a fait accompli. So, we should concentrate on doing what we can to promote the benefits of the scheme.

It will certainly be of use to people living in Houghton Regis, either directly, by improving journey times (and a smoother ride), or indirectly, by reducing congestion between Houghton Regis and other destinations during peak times.

The busway will, for the first time, be able to potentially offer Houghton Regis a direct bus service to Luton Airport.

I have FOI evidence from Luton Borough Council that 125,000 potential passengers will live within a 400m walk of one of the 250 bus stops that will be upgraded and will be served by a bus that will use the busway for some or all of their journey.

I accept that for many types of drivers it will be difficult for them to be persuaded to use the bus, but those extra that do, will reduce the travel times experienced by all users during present peak times.

But, I still need to be convinced that the bus operators are doing enough to understand the journeys that people currently make. I am sure they will want to maximise their passenger numbers and make their businesses succeed, and will undertake the necessary research to make that possible.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

A Solution To "Current" Problems

We need an affordable, secure, low-carbon future to help tackle climate change.
The end of the ASBO may be in sight.
We need to tackle obesity.
Here's a solution: put the offenders onto fixed bicycles fitted to dynamos, make them paddle like mad to produce energy and lose a few pounds in the process.

Monday, 14 June 2010

That Beechnut is Back Again!

click to enlarge.

Letter to my fellow Lib Dem CBC councillors:
"The application for the "Beechnut" for Bedford Square came before the Houghton Regis Town Council planning committee this evening. (Download main application from Central Bedfordshire Council website at

"The scheme is supposed to "help make Bedford Square a focus for community interaction and recreation". Yet people already interact in Bedford Square, and there have been many attempts over the years to make Bedford Square less of a recreational area. Surely the last thing to be encouraged is "recreational use"? A secondary aspiration of the project is to "enhance Bedford Square". I am of the opinion that this particular art work will be a carbuncle on Bedford Square; one which will have no recognisable connection to its proposed location, and one that will serve to distance the people of the town from its elected representatives, both locally, and at the heart of the decison making process.

"The scheme comes within Economic Growth and Regeneration Department of Central Bedfordshire Council, and yet there is a strong feeling about the town that this particular artwork is unwanted, that it is a waste of public money, and of no value in the regeneration of Houghton Regis.

"Has CBC got the guts to pull the money from this HAPPEN arts scheme, and thereby save the impression that public money is being squandered at a time when other public projects are being postponed and reviewed; and at a time when the public, in general, is being warned to expect further public cuts?"

Discuss this issue here

Monday, 24 May 2010

Time to Call Time on the Snoopers at the TPA

The Tax Payers Alliance (TPA) has come in for criticism for its sinister and outrageous snooping attack on local councils.

Under the we-know-what-you-are-all-about website name,, the TPA has poked its nose into the affairs of locally subsidised authorities. It has dared to publish information seeking to discredit the local authorities for carrying out their legitimate public services, like snooping on awful people who allow their dogs to deposit do-do's all over town, and disgraceful people who trim council hedges without council's permission.

In several startling cases the TPA has snooped in to discover that councils were simply trying to find the truth about allegations of unlicensed taxi drivers. The TPA snooping has even descended to the level of probing councils to discover if any penalties were handed out by the Courts.

Sir Hufton-Bufton, a man who wants to challenge the snoopers who snoop into councils that snoop on people who move through the shadows, said today "All this snooping by the TPA is costing the council tax payers a lot of money. It ties up council clerks time, keeps them busy on pointless and costly letter-writing, answering their drivelling questions, and is all together simply against the general public interest."

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Hail Nick The Negotiator !

Waking up to the news that 5 Lib Dems will be in the new coalition cabinet. This will be a government in business management style, and politics by personality, and I warmly welcome it.

The Right of the Conservatives, and the Left of the Lib Dems won't be quieted easily, but hey, we have to have a government. Ultimately the two wings of this forged two-party alliance will form the groundswell for future Conservative and Liberal Democrat policy, and those policies will be seen to be distinct come the time of the next General Election.

For now, we all wait to see if they can work well together. The sincerity of Clegg and Cameron shines through for me, and I'm sure it will work, if only the upset tufton-buftons and left-minded LibDems will allow it to work. There's a lot at stake for both parties if it doesn't.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

This Week

So, this week in Blighty we had the Leaders second debate. The day started with the Tory newspapers spreading muck and lies about Nick Clegg. It was such an obviously orchestrated campaign, that just about everyone of the readers probably saw right through the plot. What a bunch of Tory plotting losers! As if they think their newspapers can decide the winner. The people will vote. The people will decide. Not the newspapers and their financiers, Mr Murdoch.

Meanwhile, the Mail Online is running a poll. Who won the 2nd debate between Brown, Clegg, and Cameron? Being the Mail, they didn't report the outcome today. Clegg is getting 80% !!! LOL!!

Sunday, 18 April 2010

This Week

Monday: Annual Towns Meeting. No members of the public attended. A reporter came. And so did Cllr Sue Goodchild. The meeting lasted 12 minutes.
Tuesday. Lib Dem local Branch Executive meeting. 2 hours.
Thursday evening. Nick Clegg scores much credit over Cameron and Brown, boosts LibDems in ratings.
Friday. Helped NH in South Oxhey delivering leaflets.
Saturday. Walk over Dunstable Downs. Great weather. Great excuse for a coastline.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Murial Plans Postphoned

Jon Boswell, Head of Stronger Communities, BRCC, has responded to the reaction of our town council saying "we have no wish to install a work that does not have the
backing of the Town Council." Well, that's a small win for consultation requests. He acknowledges that they should have built more public consultation into the overall project. He is hopeful that they will come back in May or June to engage possibly with a local school to create a new design for the wall frieze to go up in Bedford Square.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

A Bit of a Rumpus over a Murial

Last nights town council meeting was a productive affair, setting the year's increase in the parish precept up 1.92% for a Band D property, or an extra £2.43 a year. Plenty of value from the Lib Dem run council in a year that will see building of a new pavilion for the bowls club and footballers, and completion of two new playgrounds.

But the smallest item on the agenda produced possibly the biggest annoyance of the evening. Late last year we were told (i.e. not asked) that the town would be getting a giant beech nut (even though artistic licence is applied and it will actually look more like a horse chestnut), along with a murial to be hung on the side of the Tesco metro store in Bedford Square. Well, a picture of the murial was shown to us last night of what we would be getting (again, without any consultation) and this was tempered only by the fact that planning permission would be required, even if we aren't the planning authority. This murial features the local All Saints church. This could be construed as being divisive, as there are 3 churches in the town, besides which the placement of the murial will make it look as if commercial sponsorship is involved. Not only that but if one looks around the corner from where this is to be placed you would be able to see the real thing!

Okay, so the town isn't paying for it, it's coming from an Art fund, but people are going to think the Town council approved it. And the truth is we weren't even consulted.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Around the World in Eighty Days

Snow fell last night, and I concluded it worth my while taking a days holiday from work.

So, today I started to read Michael Palin's Around the World in 80 Days. It was one of a series of Palin books I recommended my children to buy me for Christmas. In addition, I treated myself to a large Collins World Atlas as a companion to the travels I am about to follow. So far, I have read up to  Day 10. I feel I have embarked on an epic journey of my own, and if I succeed it will probably take me many more than 80 days to complete reading the whole set.
Now, I'm not blaming Michael for this, but why is it that reading sends me to sleep? I've long known that reading is an excellent way to send myself off to sleep at night, but why should that also work in the middle of the day? Had I kept awake, I am sure I would have read more.
Palin's ground based travel is a time consuming way to traverse the planet, but surely the only way to travel if you are a reporter like Palin who wants an insight into many cultures and customs and loves to report on the immediate sights. Anyway, I've learnt about the Corinth canal today. This canal saves the ship traveller a 200 mile circumnavigation of Peloponnesia, a consideration that doesn't even enter the head of an airline passenger travelling to the Greek islands from the UK in a matter of a few hours.
The other great benefit of this series of books is that somewhere in my head there is a vague recollection of having watched the filming of the adventures on tv. So I was laughing out loud when, on Day 8, I was reminded of the camel episode in Giza. Palin describes the inevitable commercialism of this famous tourist spot, in which vendors almost bend over backwards to be the tourists best friend.
From the book:- "What is your name?" "Michael."  "My camel's name is Michael!"
So I am now in Suez, enjoying my one-day-off holiday, in my mind if not in reality. In reality I must face the treacherous icy roads of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire tomorrow morning and evening, as I take up the slog of daily life in snow-bound England.