Wednesday 14 November 2012

Developments in New Ridley

Last month I wrote about the proposal to build 55 houses in the middle of New Ridley on green belt land. I met a number of residents and was asked whether a petition could be raised to protest the matter. So, aided by some keen local helpers, we collected 81 names which include the majority of New Ridley's residents. Here are a few of us:

Yesterday evening I had the privilege of delivering the petition to the county council's West Area Committee. In the afternoon I learned that the developers have revised their plans following the consultation event at the golf club and intend to submit an application to build 25 houses instead. Esh are quoted in the Newcastle Journal as saying:
This is a substantial change and we hope that it will meet with approval.
Granted, the new proposal is 55% smaller, but from the views expressed to me by residents, I would be very surprised indeed if such approval will be found locally. It would still entail a nearly 50% increase in the size of New Ridley, a village which, lets face it, has no amenities.  In addition, here are a few more reasons that make this development problematic:
  • The proposed plot is a greenfield site on green belt land
  • The proposed site has a high landscape value
  • The land around Stocksfield and environs is of high agricultural quality
  • Because of the paucity of public transport links to New Ridley, residents of the new houses would be car bound. 
Once the plans are submitted the Parish Council will also be able to make representations. If you have any input you want to make or ideas to share please feel free to leave a comment below.

Saturday 27 October 2012

Europe, PCCs, and Leafleting

I spent most of the day at a regional conference in Durham where we got to hear about the latest news in the campaigns for the local Police and Crime Commissioner elections as well as receiving an update on all things EU from our MEP Martin Callanan.

Martin eloquently discussed some of the complexities surrounding the eurozone crisis but what really stood out for me was hearing about the EC's plans to demand an eyewatering increase in the EU budget of 6.8%. At a time when national governments are having to severely cut their cloth at home with big spending cuts all round (including, incidentally, France where M. Hollande, elected on an anti-austerity ticket, has introduced the most austere budget in French history, surpassing anything M. Sarkozy could do) it shows how out of touch Mr Van Rompuy and the European Commission are with ordinary citizens. While we at home are having to deal variously with pension scheme contribution increases, deferred retirement ages, cuts to benefits, loss of child support, etc., etc., it comes across as simply insulting that the EC thinks it can demand such an increase. When public sector workers are facing another year of below-inflation pay increases, the EC wants a whopping 6.8% increase from us all. I trust that our government will veto any above inflation budget increases.

Closer to home, it was good to hear Phil Butler discuss his vision for the role of Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria Police. Phil is a 30-years time-served police officer who now works as a forensic accountant. Phil has a track record in banging up serious criminals and he really understands how policing works. His campaign is focusing on how he would take Northumbria Police forward, and I urge you to compare his views with those of the other candidates. If you don't know much about Phil then I recommend taking a look at his web site at which you can also sign up for his Twitter and Facebook feeds. If you prefer something more paper-based, then read the 8-page booklet that has been dropping through letter boxes recently.

Speaking of which, after getting home from today's conference I nipped out to deliver another 120 or so of Phil's leaflets as well as my own campaign leaflet. Residents in Mickley should already have received theirs and many in Riding Mill will be getting theirs this weekend. Many of you in Stocksfield have already received one, but if you haven't yet, then I will be popping one through your letter box sometime over the next week or so in time for you to read about Phil before the election on 15 November. If you want to know more about the role of the PCCs, then the Home Office web page on the subject is a handy port of call.

Saturday 20 October 2012

Coals to Newcastle? No thanks.

Because it's all happening "over there" in Whittonstall, the plans to open an opencast mine might not have featured large in the thoughts of residents of the Stocksfield and Broomhaugh division. However, as the Whittonstall Action Group's web site shows us, there is plenty of scope for detrimental impact on the surrounding areas far beyond the limits of Whittonstall itself. If you want to see how the opencast mine might affect where you live, have a look at the action group's map and click on the names of nearby villages to see what could happen. Think about it. A mine produces coal. All that coal has to get FROM the mine to wherever it's going, and that is going to happen by lorries driving to and from Whittonstall servicing the site.

Furthermore, whilst the current plans are to mine at Whittonstall, if they are approved further plans are sure to follow which would see mining extended scouring the countryside around Hedley and High Mickley for some time to come.

It's not too late to stop these plans. If you haven't already done so, I encourage you to write to the County Council expressing your objections. Whittonstall Action Group have provided a handy information sheet on how to do this, so please, take a few minutes and get writing. You can even email your objections which makes it even easier.

You cannot be serious! The New Ridley housing development

Along with a number of other local residents, I attended the recent meeting at Stocksfield Golf Club about the proposal to build 55 houses in the middle of New Ridley. Since then, I have knocked on nearly every door in the village and spoken to many residents. It is clear that most local people do not want this development to happen and I agree entirely.

I was dismayed by the attitude of those promoting the development. It is not acceptable to refer to local people as NIMBYs (as it was reported to me that they did) and it is indicative of their lack of respect that the questionnaire they distributed repeatedly referred to New Ridley and Stocksfield as Longframlington!

Like many in the area, I am not opposed to any and all development, but any growth should be gradual and organic. As the local parish council has shown recently it is entirely possible to come up with a plan for low cost housing development that is in sympathy with the local environment and which has the support of the community. In contrast, this development would almost double the size of the village and fundamentally change it for residents forever and irrevocably. As any New Ridley resident will tell you, the village has insufficient amenities to support such large and rapid growth. There are problems with water drainage and mains water supply, broadand provision is poor, there are no shops, and (beyond a single weekly bus to Hexham) there is no bus service. Broomley first school in Stocksfield is at capacity. Add to all that the pressures an extra 100 or so cars will put on an already crowded New Ridley road, and I can see nothing of merit in this proposal.

Today I hand-delivered a letter to residents of New Ridley outlining my objections to the development and inviting them to sign a petition of opposition which I will submit to Northumberland County Council. If you want to sign the petition a copy is also available in the Dr Syntax Pub in New Ridley.   This is just the first step in telling the council and the developer that we do not want these houses to be built.

I am sure the parish council will also be working strenuously to oppose this development as and when formal plans are submitted by the developer to the county council.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Poond for poond

So Bristol has launched its own currency, the Bristol pound ( which has been pegged to sterling for valuation purposes. It sounds quirky but the reasoning is sensible, even sound (as a pound?). Local businesses (more than 350 it seems) have signed up to accept the currency which has been designed to keep money in the local economy. As it's not legal tender elsewhere the Bristol pounds can only be spent in establishments that have agreed to take it. One of the ideas is that local businesses (such as coffee shops, for example) will use the local currency to buy stock from local suppliers thereby creating a virtuous circle of local supply and demand.

Time will tell whether it takes off, but similar schemes in Germany have proved quite successful. In this era of increased focus on localism and with our own MP calling for a Bank of Northumberland it is certainly an idea worth thinking about here.

Only what would we call it? The Northumbrian poond, perhaps? Answers on a postcard please. Better still, use the comment box below to suggest ideas or otherwise discuss this issue.

Friday 24 August 2012

County Booze Cruise?

Following the Scottish government's decision to introduce a minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol the Labour group on Northumberland County Council this week appeared to be advocating that the council should invest in promoting the county as a shopping destination for our Scots neighbours who wish to stock up on cheaper drink. To quote the leader of the Labour group's blog:
Labour Group members asked why the administration hadn't set money aside to promote Northumberland as a destination of choice for the Scottish "Booze Cruisers"... Labour Group Economic spokesperson Councillor Susan Davey said "By not setting aside an adequate advertising budget to promote travel and shopping in Northumberland to the Scots, the County may miss out on this golden opportunity".
This proposal is set against a backdrop in which our county's rates "of road injuries and deaths and hospital stays for alcohol related harm are worse than the England average" (see Northumberland's 2012 health profile). Rather than establishing Northumberland as a "booze cruise" haven, should we instead be doing something to tackle the problems we already face?

If you want to learn more or have views on this subject that you want to share, the council's communities and place scrutiny committee has arranged a public meeting to discuss the issue of minimum pricing for alcohol. The event will take place in Morpeth Town Hall at 6pm on 17th September. A number of experts have been invited and it is hoped that public health experts, doctors and Northumbria Police representatives will attend. This meeting takes place in advance of the launch of a government consultation on minimum price per unit for alcohol later this year.

Friday 6 July 2012

"That's very nearly an armful!"

This evening I went to SICA on one of my (approximately) thrice-yearly blood donation sessions. I've been giving blood for about 20 years now after my wife persuaded me to start.

At the beginning I suppose I was like many people who don't register as blood donors because they think it will hurt (hardly at all really), or it will take too much time (it doesn't), or whatever. Having got over my initial reticence (helped by going with my wife the first time) I have to say I have never regretted it.

The actual process of giving the blood, from the time the needle goes in to them taking it out again, takes very little time (typically about four minutes for me). Add in the pre-donation screening checks, and the drink and biscuit afterwards and it shouldn't take more than about 30-40 minutes overall. These days it is even more streamlined as you can pre-book an appointment for a time that suits you. They're pretty good at seeing you within about 5 minutes of your booked time, so the days of waiting an hour or more seem to be long gone.

Blood donation is one of those examples of society doing what it can do so well: people getting together for a common good with no regard for reward or remuneration. Knowing that my blood will help an operation go smoothly, or that it might even save a life during an emergency transfusion, is all the motivation needed to keep going. Sometimes the biscuits are pretty good too!

If you haven't given blood before, or you used to but let it lapse, let me encourage you to start. If you simply want someone to go with you for moral support the first time then let me know. To find out more about the excellent work of the National Blood Service or to enquire about becoming a donor, have a look at their web site here. With the expected increase in demand due to this month's olympic games, they're looking to boost blood stocks, so now is an excellent time to begin.

Oh, and now they're at least one further pint short: owing to some EU regulation I was asked to wait another four months before donating. You see, last week an ENT consultant at the Freeman used a layringoscope to have a look at my vocal cords (hoarse voice, occupational hazard apparently). And because some EU countries don't sterilise their laryngoscopes properly, even though the UK does do it properly, I am still not allowed to give blood until any risk of infection has passed.

So, get down there and start giving. I'll be popping down again some time in November or December.

Thursday 5 July 2012

Masters Old and New

Last Sunday we went with our two youngest children to St Peters and St Andrews churches in Bywell to view the 2012 Bywell Arts Festival. I should first declare an interest: both children had put an entry into the olympic-themed competition for their respective age groups. Our youngest was chuffed to find he had won and proudly carried home his prize of a watercolour set. We were really impressed with the range of artwork on display and felt there was something to suit most tastes.

What with the jubilee celebrations and the olympic torch relay our local communities have been finding all sorts of opportunities to bring everyone together. Mickley's scarecrow competition even made the national news (including a shout-out from Steve Wright on his BBC Radio 2 programme).

It has been really great seeing people of all ages joining in and contributing to all of the festivities.

Tuesday 3 July 2012

Balsam Bashing

At the weekend I spent a really enjoyable couple of hours with my youngest son when we attended the "Balsam Bash" down at Guessburn in Stocksfield. The event was organised for local children by two local people (Rachel Rees and Ruth Forster) in conjunction with the Tyne Rivers Trust. Around fifteen children showed up on a suprisingly warm and sunny day and they were treated to a morning of mini beast hunting, bark rubbing, 'kick sampling' in the burn and finished with the grande finale, a balsam bash.

Himalayan Balsam, according to the leaflet provided on the day, is "an invasive non-native species which has colonised our river banks suppressing our native flora". The idea of the 'bash' is to locate the balsam growing around the river, uproot it, and stamp on it (the bash) to ensure its demise.
What the event managed to do was combine entertainment with education. My son loved kicking over stones in the burn to dislodge river fauna which were collected in nets and emptied into water-filled boxes for analysis (and later returned to the river, of course).

The children had great fun learning about the variety of wildlife living in our local river system. The balsam bash itself was not just fun and educational (for the adults too!) but was also a service to our local environment. In addition, the event allowed me to walk along a part of the burn I had not seen before and confirmed to me just how lovely our locality is.

My son returned home very happy and very wet and will jump at the chance to do something like this again. My thanks to Rachel, Ruth and the Tyne Rivers Trust for giving us something so fun to do last Saturday.

If you want to learn more about the excellent work of the Tyne Rivers Trust, please do check out their web site and find out how you can get involved.

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Even your critics can be a blessing

I spent a large part of yesterday and today working on revisions to a research journal article I am writing with two colleagues. This activity was in response to comments made by the three anonymous reviewers. You see, before you can get an article published in a respectable journal it has to go through a fairly involved process of scrutiny called peer review, and this usually involves making some alterations to the text.

Cartoon by Nick D Kim, Used by permission

Of course it's always nice when people comment favourably on your work and, indeed, two of the reviewers were very supportive and were just requesting minor changes that would make the article clearer. However, the third reviewer didn't see the article in the same way as the others. In layman's terms he (or she) just "didn't get it", they did not seem to get the hang of what we were trying to say. That was, in part, understandable as the article is concerned with the application to a computing problem of a branch of conceptual mathematics that is not widely known in community that reads the journal in question. Consequently, the reviewer was raising questions that made us question the quality of our work. In short, we were quite despondent about our work's reception. Despite two very positive sets of feedback it was the third negative one that spoke the loudest to us.

We sat down yesterday to plan our strategy for responding to the reviews and, after quite a bit of discussion, we realised that even the negative verdict turned out to be a blessing. For in thinking about why the reviewer said what they did we began to see what their misconceptions were about our work and how we had still failed to make our point clearly enough. We were subsequently able to drop a portion of the text that did not contribute significantly to the main narrative thus freeing up room to provide a fuller explanation of our main points. Today I wrote up the new sections and emailed the revised article to my colleagues for their feedback. Overall, I think the new version is much better, punchier, and stronger than the original. So, whilst our first submission met with a, frankly, very disappointing reception, we were able to take the negative feedback and use it to make the article even better than it might otherwise have been. Here's hoping the journal editor agrees with us and accepts the article for publication.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Community and Celebration

These last few weeks have witnessed Mickley, Stocksfield, and Riding Mill coming together for some great events. There was the memorable Big Lunch picnic at Bywell Hall which, despite the chill weather, saw a great turn out of residents who all wanted to celebrate the Queen's diamond jubilee together. I was really impressed at both the turnout and the fact that it was a true community party. Nobody was fleeced by stalls charging over-the-odds prices for rubbish food (indeed, the catering was top notch and the prices were very reasonable), and the children got to wear themselves out on coconut shies, penalty shoot-outs, throwing wet sponges at victims in the stocks, and a fabulous climbing wall all free of charge. All in all a tremendous day.

Then at the weekend Stocksfield and Riding Mill got to line the streets and cheer as the olympic torch relay went by. Again, a great atmosphere (again despite the weather) and there was a real sense of community spirit.

However, a couple of good parties do not a vibrant and strong community make (though they are evidence of it). As Phil Butler (the Conservative candidate for the Police and Crime Commissioner) notes, every community needs people to do their part and for the legal justice system to do its part by supporting citizens to take a stand.

Whilst Mickley, Stocksfield, and Riding Mill are by many standards safe places to live, we still face our share of challenges. Some (such as the current debate over parking charges or littering) seem minor in the grand macro-economic scheme of things but contribute to affect our everyday experience (sometimes in the way that a slow drip of water will eventually erode away a large rock) whilst others sit right at the heart of how our community will grow or decay in the coming years (local jobs, affordable housing, etc.)

Some of these issues require the input of government, both national and local, but others can be addressed by people in the community taking action. We don't need a council to pick up that piece of litter we spy on the pavement. Anybody can call the council to report an overflowing bin.

What else would you like to see the community doing for itself?

Friday 27 April 2012

Geocaching: 21st century treasure hunting

Recently I took our two youngest children out on our first geocaching adventure. Friends of ours have been doing it for a while on the other side of the country so I thought we'd give it a go. First of all, what is geocaching? Essentially, it's a treasure hunting game for the 21st century. The folks at describe it as:

Shooting the breeze

Rural Northumberland receives a high number of applications for wind turbines. We all accept the need for renewable energy, but any highly visible development must be appropriate for our area.