You can tell I’ve got a new toy to play with – here’s a couple of videos I shot yesterday from the launch of Colchester Comedy Festival, featuring Anthony Roberts of Colchester Arts Centre and Miss High Leg Kick abseiling off the side of the Town Hall.


For more on the festival, see their website, Facebook or Twitter.

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I wrote a while ago about the Council’s trees for years initiative, which was meant to happen this Saturday, the 2nd of February. However, because of the recent cold weather, it’s been necessary to delay this to allow the ground conditions to improve for moving the trees. It’s now scheduled to take place on Saturday 16th February, and all the details can be found by clicking here.

I’ve had several emails from people in Colchester about this issue. After discussing it with colleagues to get information, this is my understanding of what happens here:

The Night Shelter and the local churches have an emergency plan which is activated in severe weather conditions. I think the April Centre may also be involved. Anyone who wants a warm area to sleep in can have one. There are however some people who refuse this accommodation and prefer to sleep out for whatever reasons. The food distribution group also help to identify people who need accommodation.

There’s information here about what the Council has done in the past, and as this has been an area of concern for several people, I’ve asked the Council to update the website with the latest information to ensure people are aware. The Council also has general information on winter services as well as general information on homelessness and the Council’s housing services.

Update: I’ve been given the following information by CBC.

Our Customer Service and Housing Options team members continue to give practical advice to people facing homelessness to help them help themselves. We are tending to see over 1,000 people each month at the moment, advising them on their rights, helping them access our housing register, and giving in-depth assistance to secure accommodation.

Our Housing Options team work pro-actively to prevent homelessness in the first instance. This includes helping people secure private accommodation by helping them with deposits and rent-in-advance. During 2011-12 we successfully helped 256 households who were facing becoming homeless avoid doing so.

We offer emergency accommodation to some of the most vulnerable homeless people. We are currently spending approximately £5million to improve our temporary accommodation for homeless people, raising the standard of accommodation and ending the need for people to share facilities.

The Borough Council has a long record of assisting the most vulnerable, this year alone we have awarded £99,128 to voluntary sector organisations and charities to finance work with homeless people. This includes giving specialist advice, helping people sustain their tenancies, helping people navigate the benefits system, providing rent deposits, and includes providing accommodation.

Colchester Borough Council has a long history of providing funding for the borough’s emergency night-shelter. On top of the funding above, this year we have given a grant of £5,832 to the Night-shelter help fund their work.

Several charities and churches in Colchester organise the Winter Reserve Accommodation Project which provides extra emergency beds for homeless people during the coldest months of the year. This service has been organised this year and is currently open.

Colchester Borough Council was recently awarded £362,000 by central government to co-ordinate a new service for homeless people sleeping on the street, and to implement the ‘No Second Night Out’ initiative in Colchester and our neighbouring districts. We have just made a grant award to two specialist charities to provide this service which will commence shortly.

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I’ve received the following press release from Colchester Borough Council and Essex County Council, which I’m quoting in full here.

UPDATE ON TRAFFIC REGULATION ORDERS FOR COLCHESTER HIGH STREET
A way forward has been reached on the implementation of Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs) to improve Colchester Town Centre.

Following a thorough review of the responses received during the public consultation held in spring 2012, experimental orders will now be introduced from Sunday 17 March 2013. Using an experimental order allows flexibility to react to any issues that arise following the introduction of the order.

The experimental orders incorporate changes to the original TROs advertised, following comments from residents, business, transport operators and user groups.

The main changes to town centre access will still relate to the High Street with access restrictions introduced on neighbouring streets including Head Street and North Hill. Access to the High Street for all cars and delivery vehicles will now only be restricted between 11am and 6pm, rather than the previously proposed 10am.

Access to the High Street for all will remain before 11am and after 6pm, seven days a week. More options for Blue Badge parking will be available where it is safe to do so at the eastern end of the High Street as loading restrictions will now only apply between Head Street and St Nicholas Street.

Licensed private hire vehicles will be added to the list of vehicles with full access to the High Street, supporting the range of sustainable travel options for journeys to the town.

Careful planning will minimise disruption for businesses and everyone accessing the town centre whilst on-street works take place. The new Town Centre access arrangements will be monitored for one year, if it is deemed successful then steps will be taken to make the scheme permanent.

The TROs are part of the Better Town Centre programme, a partnership project between Colchester Borough Council and Essex County Council, which aims to improve and prepare a rapidly growing Colchester for a positive and resilient future.

The improvements are designed to enhance the environment for shoppers, boosting the town’s vitality and economic prosperity. Air quality at key locations will also be improved, along with the reliability of public transport and the operation of the town’s new bus station in Osborne Street/ Stanwell Street. The changes will also support future planned transport projects, including Park and Ride in Colchester.

County Councillor Derrick Louis, Cabinet Member for Highways & Transportation said: “Following our review of the consultation responses, I am pleased that we will now be implementing these experimental orders. We are committed to working with our partners at Colchester Borough Council to deliver improvements that benefit all town centre users.”

Colchester Borough Council’s Portfolio Holder for Renaissance, Councillor Lyn Barton said: “The Council is pleased proposals to help reduce congestion and improve the environment will now be implemented.

“Having worked with Essex County Council to address the feedback from town centre users I am extremely pleased that access for blue badge holders and deliveries has now been changed to 11am. These revised plans will support the town’s new bus station and help deliver a better town centre for all.”

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Many people have asked for the waiting room at the new bus station to be open for longer hours, and I’m happy to report that after discussions with various people, we’ve been able to get them extended. The waiting room will now be open for these hours:

  • Monday to Saturday: 6am to 9pm
  • Sunday: 6am to 7pm
  • I hope that helps, especially so people can get out of the cold in the mornings and evening at this time of year!

    It’s amazing how far you can go with funny hair and the ability to say ‘cripes!’ isn’t it? For a start, you can get straight past the Telegraph sub-editors and fact-checkers and bring out this little nugget of non-information:

    a new building like the Shard needs four times as much juice as the entire town of Colchester

    Yes, that’s right. According to the Mayor of London, who’d you expect to know even a vague something about these things, the Shard – a building that will hold around 8,000 residents and workers when it’s full – needs four times as much power to run as Colchester – a town of 100,000+ inhabitants that includes one of the Army’s largest garrisons. Bur according to Boris, the Shard needs 4 times that much power, which means that every person who uses it would be using 50 times as much power as their equivalent here in Colchester.

    Somehow, unless the Shard was the winner of the little-publicised ‘build the least energy-efficient building in the history of humanity’ contest, this doesn’t seem very likely. Let’s see what Renzo Piano, the building’s architect, has to say about how much power it will use:

    “It’s a very old dream of mine, this idea of making a building like a little town,” Piano says. “So when people say, oh but it’s going to use up so much energy, it’s not true. An actual town of 8,000 people [the Shard's projected number of occupants] would use up five times as much energy. This is why the Shard is the shape it is. The higher up you go, so the functions change, and you need less floor space, until you get to the very top, and there I just wanted the building to kind of mingle in the air. It’s important that it breathes up there – that it breathes in the clouds.”

    So, Boris is not just wrong, he’s wrong by a factor of 250. Rather than use fifty times the power of the average Colcestrian, a person in the Shard will be using about one-fifth.

    Now, this might seem just like Boris getting his hyperbole wrong again and I shouldn’t worry about it because he’s got funny hair, but this non-factoid is in the first paragraph of his Telegraph piece for a reason. Because of the huge demand for power he says there’ll be from buildings like the Shard, we have to abandon all our scruples and join the fracking dash for gas. There’s no time to worry about the potential impacts of extracting shale gas – or even whether it’s techologically or economically viable – we have to be rushing to feed the beast of reckless consumption, even if it doesn’t actually exist.

    In his rush to grab evidence to try and bolster a weak argument, Boris has failed to notice that the Shard actually punctures it. Renzo Piano has designed a building that anticipates energy shortages by using less power, rather than cracking up the juice on everything and hoping that the payment cheque will clear before the building’s inundated by rising sea levels. Surely the Mayor of London should be trumpeting how forward-looking his city is to create such an efficient building, rather than making up figures to argue for pumping even more CO2 into the atmosphere?

    (Original links from Zelo Street, who also point out the flaws in the arguments Boris makes for shale gas and fracking)

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    I have been informed that the Local Government Boundary Commission for England are planning to review the boundaries for Colchester Borough over the next couple of years. (This is the ward boundaries within the Borough, not the size and shape of the Borough as a whole)

    I was expecting this to happen soon, as the growth within the Borough has meant that the discrepancy in population size between wards was getting rather large in some cases, and even if they hadn’t decided to run a review, we’d likely soon reach the point where one would have been automatically triggered.

    The last review of the Colchester boundaries took place in 1999-2000. Up until that point, High Woods had been part of the Mile End ward, and the growth there in the 90s meant that ward was almost twice the average size, which led to Highwoods ward being created, as well as a number of other changes across the Borough – rearrangement of the rural boundaries, Wivenhoe being split into Cross and Quay wards, St Mary’s ward losing the St Mary’s area to Castle and becoming Christ Church amongst them.

    The boundary review process is a lengthy one, especially as this one will begin with a review of the number of councillors for the Borough. The last review kept the number at 60, though there was obviously some redistribution of where they were, but there has been a trend in recent years for reducing the number of councillors, especially now most of the power is wielded by the Cabinet rather than the full Council meeting.

    The review will look at the population at the time it takes place, along with projected growth in the Borough for the next five years, so there may well be big changes in areas to the boundaries in areas like Mile End and Stanway which are set to have a large boost in population during that time.

    You’ve got plenty of time to think about this, as the review won’t properly start until August 2013, and that’ll just be preliminary data-gathering. Proper consultations won’t begin until 2014, with the aim being for proposals to be completed by early 2015, with a full council election on the new boundaries taking place in 2016. (And thinking purely selfishly, I don’t know what impact on my next election, which is scheduled for 2015 on the old boundaries)

    The boundary review is just that, and can’t make any other major changes to the Council, though it can recommend whether we continue to elect by thirds or have all-up elections. However, it can’t recommend anything relating to unitary authority status, or suggest any electoral system for the council other than first past the post (even if that system regularly thwarts the will of the voters)

    So, if you have any thoughts, please feel free to share them with me and I’ll feed them into the process when and where I can. There will be public consultations as part of the process, too.

    I spent several cold hours out in Colchester last Saturday night as part of the Castle Ward night of action. Since I’ve been a councillor, I’ve been out in the town centre on Friday and Saturday nights several times to see what happens there, and I know that the issue of the night-time economy is something that generates lots of opinions in lots of different quarters, so here’s a few of my thoughts on it.

    These are based mainly on my experience and knowledge of Colchester and they’re not intended to be definitive pronouncements – I’d welcome any comments or discussion people want to add in the comments. There’s a whole lot of other issues tied up in the night-time economy, but I can’t going into full detail on everything, because this is a blog post and not a book!

    Read the rest of this entry

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    For my ‘official’ Facebook page, which now has an easily memorable address: www.facebook.com/nickbarlowcolchester

    It’s where I’ll try and post things that are relevant to my work as a councillor, rather than the general theme of this blog which tends to revolve around whatever shiny thing is grabbing my magpie-like attention at the time. I have neglected updates to the Facebook page for a while, but I will endeavour to post as much as I can to the page, to try and keep people informed, so if you’re interested in my work as a councillor, then go along and like it.

    I will still keep up the council-related blog posts here, though, so you won’t miss them.

    Just had an email through with details of the Council’s Trees For Years scheme for next year. As has happened in previous years, the Council will be giving out 2,013 trees, shrubs and bushes to Colchester residents to help make the Borough a greener place.

    Next year’s event will be taking place on Saturday 2nd February, between 10am and 1pm at Rowan House – the Council’s main offices on Sheepen Road, just off the Middleborough roundabout. These are the species that will be available:

    Raspberry canes
    Blackcurrant canes
    Gooseberry bush
    Blackberry root
    Acer campestre – Field Maple
    Prunus padus – Bird Cherry
    Betula pendula – Silver Birch
    Corylus avellana – Hazel cob nut
    Cornus alba ‘Siberica’ – Red Stem dogwood
    Cornus stolonifera ‘Flaviramea’ – Yellow stem Dogwood

    Individuals can take up to three plants, and community groups up to twenty, though all will be available on a first come, first served basis.