Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Planning Curbs - Unfair and Unjust

Lord Rooker the Environment Minister has announced what I feel are stinging cuts on the role a councillor plays in seeking site meetings for and on behalf of residents.
He says that the action will not lessen or weaken the essential role council consultation plays in the planning process and confirms that views of councillors will be taken into account - my comment - rubbish.
Part of the Aims and Visions of the Planning Service as an organisation is "earn respect and trust, is open and in touch, works together and values its people".
My problem is that when an application is submitted and the planning service announce that application in the smallest possible print in the local newspaper, unfortunately they do not notify everyone and it is left to councillors to phone around and let people know about a particular site meeting. This is often the first communication residents have on something which is very important to them.
He even I understand is saying site meetings will be held in an office rather than at proposed development sites. This is absolute nonsense, it is very important that meetings are held on site.
Site meetings are exactly what they say they are, this is one of the few times when neighbours can discuss plans, with a planning officer, the applicant, councillors and local residents groups.
My concern is that of the many site meetings I have attended it is generally the established resident who suffers by decisions made by the Planning Service, allowing new development nearby. I have sat with residents crying and who have been made ill through some decisions.
As well we now we have Lord Rooker denying residents and councillors the use of deferment more than once and at a stroke taking away site meetings.
My advice to Lord Rooker is talk to the people on the ground, come out from your office protected by civil servants and listen to what those who matter say, come to North Down Borough Council Meeting and see just how much work councillors put into planning and helping residents. Perhaps the odd trip out might be beneficial.

Water Charges Delayed

Water Charges

Regarding the announced delay in proposing water charges in Northern Ireland I welcome the decision that the Minister will now be deferring the proposed charges until April 2007. While I welcome this delay I feel very strongly that we must keep the pressure on the government that water charges if they are to be implemented must be fair. At least metering is now being considered and a recognition that the most vulnerable in our society must not be penalised.

As a councillor I thank everyone who signed the very successful petition against the charges in North Down and indeed we led the fight within Northern Ireland against these charges which were being imposed on the population with a degree of arrogance.

The battle is not over but at least we have won some small concession and we must not lost track of what is happening, pressure must be kept on the Minister and perhaps he needs reminded as to just why our water infrastructure is in such a mess, could I suggest some 30 years of underfunding?

Seat Belt Debate Continues

At Tuesday evening's council meeting I rised the document "Consultation on Seat Belt Wearing" for discussion. I had already highlighted this issue on previous occasions. Throughout the consultation document on seat belt wearing, statements such as "seat belts are effective in saving lives and reducing injuries" and "they are particularly beneficial in preventing ejection through windows and reducing the risk of being crushed by the vehicle if it overturns" figures were also given for the period 2004 which were, no fatalities, 14 serious injuries and 183 slight injuries. I am thankful that there were no fatalities, but very conscious of the tragic accident involving a school bus in Southern Ireland which brought so much grief to the families involved. But if statements such as this are being made surely there is a need for seat belts in buses?

There is a practice of 3 pupils in 2 seats in buses which I find unacceptable, many of the teen age pupils travelling would need as much seat space as an adult, I have also seen pupils standing in buses.
My understanding of the document is that legislation for seatbelts will be brought in May 2006.

In the interests of some of the risks highlighted by the report I recommended that the questionnaire accompanying the consultation document be completed and that we as a Council would object to the practice of 3 for 2 in seating for school children particularly those older pupils and agree that seat belts be fitted to buses. The important part of my recommendation was that the Department of Education must make extra financial provision to the area Boards, for these safety measures for pupils travelling on buses.

The recommendation I am glad to say was accepted."

Unfair Car Parking Charges

I have been asked to raise this matter with Council and I give it my full support. Through my notice of motion , which is "That this Council writes a letter of support to the Macmillan Cancer Relief and the NI Chest Heart & Stroke Association in their campaign that all parking charges in Northern Ireland's acute hospitals to be waived for long term patients, carers and drivers. I would also ask that the letter be sent to all Councils seeking their support."

There has been an inconsistency in car parking charges across various Health Trusts in N Ireland – these range from 60p per hour to £1 per day to £8. However, some hospitals offer exception from charges.

I am pleased to say that the Ulster Community & Hospitals Trust exempts relations of terminally ill patients from charges. Also, the Senior Nursing Staff with the McDermott Ward in the Ulster will allocate passes to patients. I was disturbed to read recently, that the use of passes was being abused and I would urge anyone who knows of this to report it either to the hospital or to myself, immediately.

I am pleased that the Eastern Health & Social Services Council has also joined in the efforts to highlight this problem.

The notice of motion was unanimously supported with Cllr Smith highlighting the fact that the North Down Borough Council will have played a significant role in having this upsetting and costly problem resolved.