Archive Page 2

Well done Brighton & Hove Albion!

The former Goldstone Ground, sold by the club in 1997 (Copyright Nigel Cox and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence)

I would just like to offer my heartfelt congratulations to everyone at Brighton & Hove Albion on their fantastic promotion to the Championship! They have been virtually unbeatable this season and to be guaranteed promotion at this early stage is an amazing achievement. The excitement is already mounting ahead of their first game in the new Amex Community Stadium. It will be a great day for the Club, the fans and the City – the culmination of a long and often tortuous journey. Their success has been hard won and is truly well-deserved.

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More Labour scaremongering – on winter weather

Labour councillors really should stop their irresponsible pre-election scaremongering, this time about the Council’s preparedness for bad winter weather. If Cllr. Warren Morgan had bothered to pick up the phone to council officers, rather than writing to the Government, they could have told him the following:

  • We never came close to running out of salt during this winter’s severe weather and were very well prepared.
  • To be certain, we made a bid to the Strategic Stockpile for 100 tonnes just in case deliveries were not forthcoming for the New Year.
  • But even at that point we had 500 tonnes still stored at West Sussex, and another 200 we called in from East Sussex, which is more than enough to keep us running through heavy snowfall.
  • We have ended the year with over 750 tonnes of salt in stock which shows we had a good supply this year.

I believe that the Council did as good a job as possible – given the severity of the conditions – of keeping 156 miles of main roads and bus routes open and keeping key pavements clear. We also helped people to help themselves by filling the City’s 400 grit bins up to 5 times during the winter season. For Labour councillors to suggest that the system in Brighton & Hove was ‘close to breaking down’ is an insult to all the incredible hard work of council staff and indeed residents, who helped to keep the City moving during the unprecedented heavy snow we experienced.

On pothole filling and road maintenance, it is frankly laughable for the Brighton & Hove Labour Party to try and claim credit for the extra £200 million that the Coalition Government is giving to councils to tackle the problem! This is twice the amount the previous Labour Government gave councils after the last year’s bad weather. Thanks to this extra money we have been able to allocate almost £1.5 million this year for pothole repair and road maintenance in Brighton & Hove and residents can rest assured that this is one of our top transport priorities.

Brighton & Hove Conservatives Manifesto Launch

Yesterday we launched our manifesto for the local elections on May 5th. To read our proposals for the next  4 years, plus a comparison with what the other parties are offering, click here.

Major new investment in Brighton & Hove council homes

I was delighted to be able to announce at last week’s Cabinet meeting that Brighton & Hove City Council and Brighton & Hove Seaside Community Homes (BHSCH) have agreed a funding facility of £30 million from Santander to invest in the council’s housing.

BHSCH, a registered charity, will use the money to bring 499 council homes up to 21st century standards.  We are transferring the homes to BHSCH on a long lease so are not giving up the freehold and are hoping that work will start on the homes in the late spring.  Homes in disrepair and long-term empty homes and flats, which have not received investment, will be prioritised.  Larger houses used as temporary accommodation will be converted into modern flats and all of the homes will be let at affordable rents to families and others in housing need in the city.

This is something which I have been personally driving forward for some time now and I am delighted that the deadline which I set for the end of the financial year 2010/11 has been met. When we took over the Administration of the Council in 2007 we were left with, frankly, a mess by the previous Labour Administration. Their push for stock transfer had been resoundingly rejected by the tenants and there was no Plan B in place to plug the funding gap to meet the Decent Homes Standard.

Since then, we have worked long and hard, in close partnership with the tenants and leaseholders, to bridge that investment gap. Firstly,we let a  new long-term maintenance contract which will save approximately £150 million over 30 years and now we have successfully established BHSCH to deliver further investment.

I believe that housing has been one of the major success stories of the last 4 years and the investment is starting to make a real difference to tenants’ lives. If the Conservatives are re-elected in May it will continue to be one of my top priorities.

Dodgy statistics and Labour’s local election launch

So, Labour has launched their local election campaign with Ed Miliband claiming that they are “your first line of defence” against public spending reductions. An interesting thought, and I’m sure that people will be able to make up their own minds as to whether he (and the rest of his colleagues in the former Labour Government) should bear any of the responsibility for those public spending reductions. Certainly I thought that the sight of him speaking at the “Stop the Cuts” rally at the weekend, and using Martin Luther King and the Sufragettes to support his case, was one of the more cynical acts of political opportunism I have seen in recent years. (As David Cameron said yesterday – Martin Luther King had a dream and Ed Miliband is still living in one!)

Labour are also up to their old tricks again with figures and statistics. They make their usual claim that council tax bills in Labour-controlled councils are lower than those in Conservative-controlled ones. Which is of course nonsense as they are comparing apples with pears. Labour-controlled areas tend to be in the city centres which have a much greater percentage of homes in the lowest council tax bands which pay less council tax. Therefore, the council tax in these areas, averaged across all bands, is obviously going to be lower. However, if you make a proper comparison – i.e. with homes in Band D – then Conservative councils have lower council tax bills by £43 compared to Labour councils (and £114 a year less than Liberal Democrat-controlled ones!).

They also don’t really have a leg to stand on when it comes to this argument as they opposed the Coalition Government’s council tax freeze policy which will save an average family up to £72 a year on a Band D home.

Locally here in Brighton & Hove, of course, Labour has an even worse record on council tax – having increased it by 124% (or £743) during the 10 years they were in control of the City Council. And back at Budget Council on 3rd March, they (and the Greens) vetoed our proposed 1% reduction in council tax for next year. Do we really want a return to the days where council tax payers were constantly being asked to bail out the profligacyof their Council?

Grand Avenue / The Drive cycle lane safety audit

For those who have been asking about the safety audits undertaken on the Grand Avenue / The Drive cycle lanes I thought it would be useful to post a direct quote from one of the key recommendations of the Stage 3 audit:

Location: various throughout the scheme

Summary: cyclists obscured from traffic by parked vehicles leads to conflict at crossovers and junctions.

Detail: Parked vehicles on the offside of the cycle lane obscure drivers view of cyclists and vice versa. It was observed on site that drivers turning left at junctions and private accesses are not aware of the presence of cyclists (and vice versa) and perform manoeuvres which lead to conflict. This problem is exacerbated in the southern direction where cyclists are travelling at speed downhill.

Recommendation: Remove the splitter islands (the raised kerbs separating the cycle lane from the parked cars) , relocate the parking to the near side kerb and provide a cycle lane with a buffer zone on the offside of the parked cars.

This is taken from the stage 3 independent safety audit carried out in July 2009. This is what I mean by there being a fundamental problem with the cycle lane which can’t be addressed by minor tweaks as some are suggesting. Removing parking spaces wholesale is not an option as it would be completely unfair on residents and visitors and would simply cause more parking problems.

Opposition stifle supermarkets debate at Council meeting

At Thursday’s Full Council meeting, opposition Green and Labour councillors voted to curtail my speech during a debate on the growing impact of multinational retailers in Brighton & Hove – an issue of great importance to the City.
The sponsor of the petition – a Labour candidate – was criticising us for not doing enough to address the problem. However, when I listed all the actions that the Council and the Government were doing the opposition clearly didn’t like it!
The opposition green and labour groups are always accusing my Administration of not being open and transparent but if this is how they behave, I would hate to think what they would be like if they ever took control of the Council.
There was a similar situation at the recent Budget Council meeting when the Convenor of the Green Group responded to the amendments which my Group had put forward. He said that he liked our amendment but couldn’t support it because it was being put forward by Tories – who he has previously described as ‘doing the devils work’.
I think it is about time that they stopped being so childish. We were having an important debate about a huge issue in this City – you would think that they might want to hear what the Leader of the Council had to say! For information and clarity, here is the full text of my speech:
  • I’m very pleased to be able to respond to this petition on behalf of the Administration as this is a cause which I am very committed to.
  • I would just like to say at the outset that although I clearly support the sentiments behind it, I am slightly disappointed in the wording of the petition. This campaign is not just about keeping Brighton unique. It is the City of Brighton & Hove and the same issues apply across the whole City – and that also includes Portslade.
  • But I would just like to outline some of the work that this Administration has been doing on this issue for some considerable time now.
  • We all know that one of the main reasons that so many visitors and shoppers come to Brighton & Hove is because of its diverse and interesting range of shops and facilities. Brighton & Hove is most definitely not a ‘clone town’ and we must keep it that way.
  • There are currently 56 major supermarket stores in the City and whilst, clearly there is a significant demand amongst residents for the services they offer, I feel we are rapidly approaching saturation point.
  • This has incredibly serious implications, not only to the individual retailers and traders themselves, but also to the wider economy of the City as a whole.
  • Mr Mayor there is both a national and a local angle to this. I have been consistently lobbying central Government about giving councils greater powers to determine the best mix of retail in their areas because I genuinely believe that we are better placed than the civil servants in Whitehall to assess this.
  • For example, under current legislation, we are not allowed to prevent a supermarket moving into an existing shop, regardless of whether or not the local community want it there. Exactly the situation which is happening with the Taj now in St. James Street. I believe that this needs to change.
  • So I was very pleased to see last week in a response to a question in Parliament by Simon Kirby MP that the Government is going to be reviewing the whole planning framework around this in the Summer. And we will certainly keep up our lobbying to ensure that Brighton & Hove’s concerns are taken into account during this process.
  • I’m also pleased to see that the Government announced last week that it is going to publish a Bill in May which will pave the way for the establishment of a new ‘Supermarkets Ombudsman’ which was the main recommendation of the recent Competition Commission Inquiry into the power of large retailers. Again, I shall be lobbying, through our local MPs, to ensure that this new body has real teeth and is able to address the issues that we are facing in Brighton & Hove. I think this is a really positive step forward.
  • It is also true to say that Labour don’t have a great record on this. It was the Labour Government which changed national planning rules on retail development (through Planning Policy Statement 4) and scrapped the so-called ‘needs test’ which significantly weakened council’s ability to stop unwanted out-of-town supermarket development.
  • Moving onto the local angle. A couple of weeks ago, we hosted a conference called Streets Ahead which brought together local traders, supermarkets, campaign groups and Council officers to discuss how we can best protect and enhance the unique character of Brighton & Hove’s retail sector.
  • It was very useful and productive to get everyone in a room together, not only to listen to people’s concerns, but also to map out a way forward.
  • I agreed to set up a special commission on retailing to consider these issues which will include representatives from the various retail sectors in the city, alongside independent experts and the Council.
  • At the event, local traders gave us some very useful examples of things that we could do better and I hope that the new Commission will be able to consider and implement these as well as some other useful practical measures.
  • We are also, of course, continuing to promote our high profile ‘Be Local Buy Local’ campaign and will continue to look at any other ways of ensuring that residents and visitors recognise the many benefits of buying local produce and goods.
  • However, I do think that we need to sound a note of caution. The last thing that I want is for this to turn into a battle between chainstores and independents – this would not be beneficial to anyone. Supermarkets do provide a service that many people in the City use – they are convenient for families who lead busy lives and they and provide a huge range of foods at relatively cheap prices. At a time when everyone’s budgets are stretched this is not something we should take lightly.
  • So, to conclude, Mr Mayor, we welcome this petition as a reflection of people’s genuine concerns around the increasing dominance of large chain stores in Brighton & Hove. We will continue to highlight this as an issue and to take action where we can and we look forward to working closely with the new local Commission to ensure that this City retains its unique attraction for residents and visitors alike.

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