Mushroom Farm – Pt II

Following yesterdays post about the mushroom farm off Cottage Lane, I changed our canvassing schedule to visit the residents along Cottage Lane to listen to what they had to say.

To start with I think I missed a crucial section of houses near Brighouse Close which might have fallen into a different polling district – there were probably about 20 houses or so that we didn’t get a chance to speak to. Also I wouldn’t treat what is reported here as anything more than hearsay – but they are the opinions that we heard tonight.

To summarise, we only came across one person out of the fifty or so that we spoke to who mentioned the smell of the farm (without being prompted). Most people didn’t mention it as something that as something that was an issue – and those that did were mainly concerned about the increased traffic and possible further development (in what is a pleasant part of the town).

I hope that someone corrects me if I’m wrong here, but it strikes me that the odour problem is slightly out of proportion compared to the traffic issues. Indeed I heard reports of cars being damaged by lorries and of noisy, heavy vehicles travelling in the middle of the night.

In terms of the expansion of places like the farm, I think that one of the roles of a local councillor is to let people know if anything major is coming up in planning. It’s hard because you can’t always know the full impact of a development which looks fine on paper, and similarly one can’t send out every planning application to all those nearby. A balance has to be struck, but the councillor is there to be on the side of the residents and to help on a case by case basis to stop inappropriate over-development.

Cash boost for all-weather play for tots in West Lancashire

Trawling through my email, I came across this… Believe me, it’s not all grumbles and bad news here!

I’ve pinned this on the map at Moorgate Nursery since that’s the local Children’s Centre, but hopefully it will get out to Asmall Nursery and others.

Lancashire’s youngest citizens are set to benefit from a £13.5 million cash boost.

Government money is being distributed by the county council over three years to help nurseries, playgroups, pre-school groups and out-of-school clubs to meet new legal requirements.

Early years and childcare settings are getting up to £20,000 each so they can install new outdoor play areas, many with soft surfacing, and canopies to protect children from the elements – rain or shine. There will also be disabled facilities and new toilets.

The money comes from the Department for Children, Schools and Families and covers the period 2008-2011, working out at £4.5 million a year. It will help settings for young children meet the requirements of the Childcare Act 2006.

Lancashire County Council has been working with schools and other partners to plan and lead change, develop the childcare market and make sure that there is sufficient care, education and support to meet the needs of parents and children.

The cash is allocated under the Sure Start programme by a panel including senior representatives from Lancashire County Council, Jobcentre Plus and the health service.

Over two hundred projects all over Lancashire benefited from the previous handout of £6 million which ran from 2006-2008.

County Councillor Jennifer Mein, cabinet member for children and young people, said: “Outdoor play is vital for young children’s learning and enjoyment and the new funding means that many more early years and childcare settings will be able to offer high-quality play facilities, often with direct access from their indoor play areas.

“We’ve concentrated the grants in areas where they will have most impact, so we can help as many children as possible have a good start in life.”

New prison in West Lancashire?

Jack Straw has announced that a new prison could be built in Scarisbrick. After announcing that the giant “Titan” prison pencilled in for Warrington was not being built the Government is proposing smaller, 1500 person, “mini-Titan” prisons.

There are four sites shortlisted – Prescot (Liverpool), Deacon Park (Knowsley), Parkside Colliery (St Helens) and Scarisbrick (West Lancashire).

To my knowledge, there are no prisons in West Lancs district, despite the fact that it covers a large area and has large metropolitan areas bordering it. No doubt the site will look attractive to ministers, and no doubt there will be considerable local opposition.

The report at the Maghull Star is here.

Community clean-up in Ormskirk

From the WLDC website. Well done the Ormskirk Community Partnership and Christian Fellowships for organising the events.

There have been similar schemes running on and off for years in Skem and Up Holland organised by EMB’s and the Parish Council. They usually bring out residents who live nearby and they turn into community events. It is a shame that these areas are prone to litter, and the council could do more; but we have to deal with the here and now and this is the most practical and obvious way of clearing up.

Community clean-up

Two sites in Ormskirk town centre are being targeted for a special clean-up by Ormskirk Community Partnership together with members of Ormskirk Christian Fellowship, with support from West Lancs District Council.

Volunteers will be giving up their free time to pick up litter and clear away rubbish. On Sunday 27 April the volunteers will tackle the footpath between Ormskirk railway station and Ormskirk bus station and on Thursday 7 May they will carry out litter-picking on the car park, shrubberies and alleyways around Marks and Spencers.

West Lancs District Council’s Street Scene Division will support the clean-up by providing litter-picking equipment and support on the day. The Council will also take away all the litter collected by the volunteers and any items that have been fly-tipped on the sites.

Cllr Paul Greenall, portfolio holder for street scene, said: “I’d like to pay tribute to the volunteers who approached the Council with the idea of carrying out a clean-up in certain areas of the town centre. These sites are not owned by the Council, so we have spoken to the owners to get their permission. I’m delighted the Council is able to support this initiative and I wish the volunteers every success.”

The clean-up work will be carried out from 2pm until 5.30pm on Sunday 27 April and from 6.30pm to 8.30pm on Thursday 7 May at the sites mentioned above.

Playground off Mawdsley Terrace

At the weekend, my lovely wife, Jude, left us to fend for ourselves while she went down to London to see The Levellers. I think I managed to get through the whole weekend without too many disasters. Certainly nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a dab of super-glue or a glass of pink milk.

On Sunday we walked over to the playground at the end of Mawdsley Terrace. The children absolutely love it. In particular running up and down the half-pipes.

The only problem with the playground is the broken glass and litter that tends to cover it during the weekend. The council does come and clean the playground from time to time, but it quickly returns to a mess. And, unlike Halsall Lane playground, the bins haven’t been burned out (to my knowledge), and the equipment is occasionally maintained.

There has also been a side-panel missing from the big half-pipe which provides a great place to hide and get up to mischief well away from the CCTV cameras.


Half-pipe at Mawdsley Terrace playground
Half-pipe at Mawdsley Terrace playground

When I went to take a photograph of the missing panel I was surrounded by children asking what I was doing. They took great delight in telling me that the older children “smoke weed” and “drink beer” under the half-pipe – which they may well do. They probably wanted to get a reaction from me. That stuff is bound to go on if there is somewhere to hide away. To be honest, I just want to get it repaired.

They proceeded to show me their various bumps and bruises that they had collected while using the equipment. My reaction was that it’s a skateboard park – if you don’t get bruises, then you’re not using it properly. But, then they took me around the equipment and pointed out the bolts that weren’t properly screwed in, sections on different levels and a typically poor level of maintenance.

I look at this stuff as a 40 year old who never knew one end of a skateboard from another, and to me it all looks ok, but the kids are the ones who use it, and they know exactly what’s wrong with it. Shame none of them have a vote!

First complaint about the mushroom farm

Last week canvassing on Whiterails Drive I got my first complaint about the mushroom farm off Cottage Lane. To be fair it’s more like a mushroom factory than a farm, but I thought I’d hear more about it on the doorstep. It wasn’t mentioned once on Redgate, nor Halsall Lane but I’m guessing that a session down Cottage Lane will put me right.

I must confess to having been ambivalent about the farm. I had noticed it when leafleting the other week but it wasn’t overwhelming and I remember Val Hopley raising it back in the days when I was a young Skem Cllr. My default position was broadly – “well, they make mushrooms… and mushrooms are good, aren’t they?”.

It’s tricky. Unlike, say, Edge Hill where the side-effects of expansion can be mitigated through additional campus accomodation, planning, etc. There isn’t much to mitigate a farm’s smell. Realistically, all that can be done in the short term is for local residents to keep on top of every planning application that comes in; for them to assess what effect it will have and to agree / oppose as necessary.

Obviously one complaint gets it on the radar, but I need to schedule in a canvass down Cottage Lane to try and gauge what people are really thinking.

Moorgate – HGV’s and residents parking

A beautiful sunny afternoon for canvassing down Moorgate on Sunday. The tenants in the sheltered housing down Moorgate and South Terrace were all lovely, and I found myself chatting a bit too much and perhaps not being as “productive” as I ought to be.

One reason for talking so long was the number of complains and grumbles that they had about the road and the area.

I know the area quite well because our Joel goes to Moorgate Nursery and to a nearby child-minder. I know that parking is a problem and that the road surface is bad. However what I didn’t realise was that the road surface is so poor because HGV’s regularly use the street as a cut through to Aughton Street, and I wasn’t prepared for the outright objection to the residents parking that will soon be introduced in the area.


Damage from HGVs on Moorgate

Damage from HGV's on Moorgate

One would think that residents only parking would be a good thing and I’m sure that there are residents who want it to be introduced – although we didn’t meet a single one. The main objections seemed to be the price and an apparent unfairness that those without off-street parking were being penalised compared to those that could park in a drive. Given that they are all Council tenants in sheltered accomodation, that seems like a reasonable response. The other objection was that even after spending £35 for a parking permit for themselves and visitors there still wasn’t any guarantee that they would get a parking space (remember these pensioners already pay the Council upwards of £75 per week in rent).

The residents only parking scheme also impacts local businesses on Aughton Street who rely on customers being able to park nearby. It also means that staff at Moorgate Nursery and Childrens Centre will have to find somewhere else to park since they won’t be able to park near to the nursery any more.

I am told that someone with a clipboard briefly spoke to some of the residents and passers-by last year and this was the basis of the “consultation” that led to the scheme being put in place. Thankfully it is a 12 month trial which means that it can be objectively be reviewed this time next year – but all those who I spoke to were deeply unhappy about something that they have repeatedly objected to in the past and is now being forced upon them.

On a different note, one resident pointed out that the trains have started sounding their horns occasionally as they pass by. Now that might (might!) be easier to resolve than the town’s perennial parking problems.

for fun – wordle word cloud

Hat-tip to a tweet from blackburn labour, pointing to wordle. You can enter your blog URL and it generates a word cloud depending the content of your blog or the text you paste in. Here’s what was generated when I entered www.kiemiestas.com:

wordle-word-cloud

Realistically, I have to credit some of this to the “why we blog” post – a cut-and-paste job from elsewhere… but I certainly don’t object to how it comes out.

Noise nuisance – the gulf between the tories and the people

Last year I stepped down as a Skelmersdale councillor having moved to Ormskirk, so attending tonight’s Full Council as a member of the public was an eye opener. I don’t know if things have got worse or if one just becomes immune to the behaviour of Council members after four years, but the level of disrespect and contempt between the two groups seems to be plumbing new depths.

Cllr Ainscough who chaired the meeting seemed intent to make matters worse. Tearing up the constitution and running the meeting to a set of rules that he hadn’t had the courtesy to let anyone else know just led to frustration and anger on the Labour side and casual contempt from the Tories – talking to each other in full voice while Labour members tried to speak (without being stopped by the Chair).

However, I wasn’t there to study the behaviour of the Tories, I was there to observe the debate regarding the provision of noise abatement officers during freshers week.

To start with, Cllr Ainscough (Con. Ormskirk Scott Ward) wouldn’t let Cllr Paul Cotterill introduce the resolution and insisted that instead Cllr Pendleton should speak first. This is important because it meant that Paul wasn’t able to sum up. When he queried the procedure it was dismissed, but then the Chair took all that procedural discussion out of Paul’s time to speak – leaving him with about 90 seconds to introduce and explain the resolution. All this done over a constant chatter of Tories who were not listening.

The portfolio holder, Cllr Fowler (Con, Scarisbrick) stood up to tell councillors that there were only a handful of complaints through the year and so 24 hour noise abatement officer coverage during freshers week was “disproportionate”.

We then got to hear Cllr Kay (Con, Tarleton) explain about how many years ago he was a bobby in Ormskirk long before Edge Hill (I think he meant long before the expansion started). From his age, I expect that this was some time in the late sixties, early seventies. He went on to explain that in his experience there was very little noise nuisance in Ormskirk and that there was no difference between freshers week and any other week of the year.

Really, in all seriousness this man addressed the other members of his group: said that forty years ago there wasn’t a problem and that therefore they should vote against the motion… and was taken seriously.

Apart from a sensible question from Cllr Greenhall (Con, Ormskirk Derby ward) regarding employment contracts and how such a measure would be paid for, that was the sum total of the debate.

Cllr Pendleton (Lab) summed up and quite rightly pointed out that there ought to be 24 hour noise abatement cover throughout the year, but that to ask for it for one week was quite reasonable. Of course, it was far too unreasonable for the Conservatives who overwhelmingly voted against the resolution leaving it defeated.

Sadly the vote wasn’t recorded, but I noted the voting for the Ormskirk councillors as follows:

  • Derby: Cllr David Swiffen (Con) – against
  • Derby: Cllr Adrian Owens (Con) – ABSTAIN
  • Derby: Cllr Paul Greenhall (Con) – ABSTAIN
  • Knowsley: Cllr Peter Lea (Con) – against
  • Knowsley: Cllr Rob Bailey (Con) – ABSTAIN
  • Knowsley: Cllr Val Hopley (Con) – against
  • Scott: Cllr Cyril Ainscough (Con) – chaired the meeting refused to give Cllr Cotterill time to move resolution
  • Scott: Cllr David Meadows (Con) – against
  • Scott: Cllr Geoff Hammond (Con) – against

You’ll see that all the councillors for Ormskirk are Conservatives and none of them supported the proposal of more noise abatement cover during freshers week. To be fair, Councillors Owens, Greenhall and Bailey abstained from the vote – i.e. they didn’t vote for or against. In Cllr Greenhall’s case I think he saw some merit in the motion but couldn’t vote against a group decision. At least he stood up to speak and ask a question.

I was disappointed, but not surprised by Owens and Bailey who chose to sit on their hands.

I know that Cllr Owens has been fully briefed by the same residents that I’ve spoken to and is aware of the problems. Yet he didn’t even speak to the resolution. This from the man who wants to be the next MP for West Lancs.

The debate showed that there is a reality gap between those residents affected by the impact of the University’s expansion and the Councillors who are supposed to represent them.

Everyone I speak to wants the University to thrive and succeed in the town. The economic benefits are understood by most people and the vast majority of students themselves are well behaved, a credit to the Uni and appear to enjoy studying in the town. When we talk about anti-social behaviour we are talking about a minority of students and non-students – some who travel into town for “student nights”.

However, many of those people who support the University also have genuine problems with the noise nuisance, litter, parking and loss of community that comes with a large number of multi-occupancy housing in a small area. The fact that Conservatives on the District Council absolutely refuse to acknowledge it demonstrates yet again that they are completely out of touch.