Monday, November 28, 2005

Field of Hope Became a Reality

Field of Hope Made Possible

I was delighted that my proposal to make the local beauty spot of Connor Park in Bangor West a Field of Hope became a reality on 11th November.

Through the help of the Marie Curie organisation and North Down Borough Council 6000 bulbs were donated. I invited the local children from Grange Park P7 class along with the nearby residents to join in the fun of planting.

Although it was a bitterly cold day two classes turned up and everyone spent a happy afternoon planting their daffodil bulbs.

For me it was a heart tugging moment but I know that once spring comes along there will be a wonderful display as well the children now regard this spot as theirs and I know they will keep a very close eye on it.

The Field of Hope is exactly what it says and when people pass they will remember and know that this patch of daffodils was planted with love and happiness and from that must come hope.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The future of our roads.....dirt tracks?

A letter from Quarry Produces to North Down Borough Councillors highlighted the concern of the members of the Quarry Products Association involved in road construction and maintenance in N I today and who represent 95% of those companies.

I feel very strongly that once again this is related back to RPA, the government propose to foist upon local government the roads system. In the letter from Quarry Products we are told that the Roads Service made a bid for an extra £15 million in June of this year and did not receive a penny. We have a roads networks in Northern Ireland that as an asset is valued at some £20 billion, if we are not maintaining that asset we are devaluating it. If it cannot be maintained fit for propose are we returning to the days of the dirt track? What we have in Northern Ireland is a situation that because of Treasury policy Roads Service have been forced to drastically cut the roads maintenance budget.
So, what we have is a system literally crumbling away, being cut to the bone but at the same time being told to get on with it, have we not heard that same line so many times, for example, education and health. What is being demanded from Northern Ireland simply cannot be done. Do we wait until there is a disaster in any of these areas before someone sits up and realised just what is happening.
I have proposed in council that we write to Quarry Products to have a first hand report from them and as well write to the Minister Mr Woodward and to H M Treasury we must express concern and make sure that the road's budget is at the required levels as recommended by the Regional Transportation Strategy."

RPA - Consultation A FARCE

Most of us accepted the need for a major review of public administration in Northern Ireland and this includes health and education as well as local government. We entered positively into the consultation process and knew in our hearts that it was virtually inevitable that there would be some reduction in the number of Councils. Our view was however that the absolute minimum number would be 15. The move to only 7 is draconian, completely ignores the consultation process, will result in a severe democratic deficit and increased polarisation of our society. Those shortcomings are in no way compensated for by the fairly minimal powers to be transferred to Councils, welcome as these are. The whole thing is an insult to the many years of service represented in any Council Chamber.

This is no more than a preliminary reaction but there now must begin a process to safeguard our ratepayers.

North Down Borough Council is fortunate to have hardworking and dedicated staff. Their concerns, like all staff under threat including health, education and local government appear to have been dismissed with a sweep of the hand. We must do everything in our power to ensure that their interests are fully protected.

The proposals presented are lacking in detail, they leaves too many unanswered questions. Most of all the people of Northern Ireland must realise just what is in store - with increasing rates, a diminished and underfinanced health service, an education service cut to the bone. The future is far from rosy and people need to realise just what has been left out of the RPA proposals.

Site Meetings - Government says NO.

The holding of site meetings for Councillors are now basically as thing of the past.

There has been proposals on new regulations on how site meetings will be held in the future with regard to planning applications. The proposal is they will now be in the form of a meeting held in the Town Hall and called an office meeting. Objectors/supports will be limited to a maximum of 10 each, chosen on a first come first served basis. The meeting will last 30 minutes and will be minuted.

Meetings will be broken into 3 areas, (a) office (b) site meetings, (c) Management referrals. This will mean that there will only be one occasion when a referral would be allowed. Site meetings would only be held on exceptional circumstances and office based meetings will be for information gathering.

There is no doubt in my mind that this smacks of dictatorship and is undemocratic. This will lead to easing of both councillors and residents from the planning system. Site meetings were one of the few times when councillors, the planning service and residents could get together and debate issues surrounding a particular plan. This gave local people the opportunity to have their say and often amendments were made to plans with both sides agreeing. Site meetings were valuable.

I am angry that councillors were not consulted on these dictatorial arrangements, I do not agree with them. My proposal in Council was basically to throw the proposal of the new arrangements out, but apparently they are being imposed upon us. However after some debate I was 'persuaded' that they would be accepted - but under protest.

Cash Strapped Health Trust

The Chief Executive Mr Jim McCall from the Ulster Community & Hospitals Trust sent a letter to North Down Borough Council asking if he could visit the Council and explain the closure of 36 beds under the heading of Modernisation and Efficiency in Health & Social Care.
My comments are as follows,
I feel that once again this is very closely related to the RPA – the letter from the Chief Executive of the Ulster Community and Hospitals Trust, states “Trusts are required to generate cash savings" – I question from where?
This is unfortunately not untypical of the many difficult decisions facing our cash strapped health trusts and the related need to balance the services which they provide. I know that everyone - including myself - is concerned about the loss of beds in the Ulster Hospital. Equally most of us would I am sure welcome the additional provisions outlined in the Chief Executives letter, for example, to mention a few, the One Stop Assessment Centre Rehabilitation, Respiratory Services and Chest Pain Service and Heart Failure Service. Most of them are in fact aimed at keeping people out of hospital. That latter point has been welcomed by the Eastern Health and Social Services Health Council which is the watch dog charged with challenging Trust decisions when necessary. I would agree with the thrust of the Health Councils comments which also stress that such a significant change must be managed very carefully. In particular the 36 beds in the Ulster Hospital must remain in use until it is clear that the proposed new initiatives make them redundant.
I propose that we accept the Chief Executive’s offer of a discussion when he can explain more fully the difficult balances in provision which have to be made in an impossible financial situation, and this takes place as soon as possible. Equally we can make clear our concerns about the need to maintain provision in the Ulster until such time as it is not needed. That would be a valuable reinforcement of the message I have been trying to give to the Trust in my independent role as a non-executive director.



At A North Down Borough Council meeting I reminded Councillors that this Council led the way in Northern Ireland in our campaign to say NO to water tax. We had almost 11,000 people who signed the petition in North Down, run by Councillors. This told the then Minister in very clear terms the people had a voice and demanded to be heard. The end result was that the introduction was delayed as Ministers promised to reconsider their proposals

We now have another Minister threatening to destroy our education system. Parents and children have a democratic choice of which primary school they wish to attend. There is at present the choice in second level education, whether it is, secondary, grammar or integrated. Even at third level there is a choice of further education or university.

The Ministers present proposals will result in pupils being admitted to post-primary schools on the basis of post-codes – or worse still even by lottery. This will inevitably lead to some form of comprehensive education with a reduction of parental choice and a lowering of our already very high standards. Repeated polls, of the population – including the Departments own survey – clearly show that Northern Ireland people do not want this.

The question is why are English Ministers defying what the people of this country want. Why do they have such a desire to vandalise one of the best education systems in the world by imposing the Costello proposals on us.

This Council is on record of already making it clear that it is utterly opposed to the Costello dogma. I suggest that we must now take this further by mounting a petition campaign to the people of this Borough – organised on the same highly successful lines as our campaign against the water charges.

I also propose that the petition is sent to all Councils in Northern Ireland and that people are given a basic democratic right to demand what they feel is best for their children. .

Therefore, I propose we run a campaign called “Save our Children’s Education”

We the undersigned oppose Government’s proposals for post primary education which will lead to the destruction to many of our excellent schools.
We believe that the implementation of the Costello report will force schools to determine admission by postcode or even worse by lottery.
This will inevitably lead to the introduction of comprehensive education, a reduction in parental choice and a lowering of our high educational standards.
We DEMAND that the Minister stops this educational vandalism and ensures that in any new system account must be taken on the APITITUDE AND ABILITY of pupils.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Clean Up for North Down

This week in Council I proposed that - “North Down Borough Council organise a “Community Spring Clean Week” - suggested date to be arranged, but probably April 2006. This would involve as many local bodies as possible – schools, statutory and voluntary organisations, service organisations, business and commercial organisations and local residents.”

The aim would be to spring clean beaches, streets and open spaces throughout the Borough. The work would be undertaken by teams of volunteers from the community with support from the Town Hall which would also co-ordinate all the activity. A great deal of voluntary work is already undertaken e.g. beach clean ups by the schools – but it would be much more effective to have a properly co-ordinated and focussed drive.

Such an event would help to raise the awareness of the general public about the need to be much more careful in the disposal of rubbish.

The event could be considered as part of the Borough’s yearly calendar.”

I feel that the notice of motion is explicit in what I am requesting. For some time now I have felt that the Borough needs a good clean up and solely Council cannot tackle this.

I would hope that as many local bodies as possible would take part from schools, to pensioners clubs, from schools, voluntary organisations, from roads services to local businesses. Recycling plays an important role in all of this. In fact everyone involved in some way with this Borough.

I feel that it will engender a wonderful community spirit and give new strength to the pride there is in our Borough.

There will be a lot of hard work involved in co-ordinating this exercise but I am positive it will be very worthwhile.

This proposal was welcomed and I would hope that we can look forward to a really good clean up of the Borough during the Spring of 2006.