» 2012 » December ¦ What You Can Get Away With

This is likely to be the last update of the year, as I doubt there’ll be new applications next week.

121738: Demolition of existing offices and replacement with new commercial premises and flats, High Street.
121739: Conservation area consent for 121738.
122244: Extension to office and replacement shop front, Culver Street West.

Please note that I am a member of the Council’s Planning Committee for this municipal year. This means that I’m required to act in a ‘quasi-judicial’ manner with regard to applications before the Committee and as such, can’t make comments in favour or against planning applications as I may then have pre-judged them before they come to Committee. I can give advice on planning issues and what to do if you have a comment or objection. However, my ward colleagues Bill Frame and Jo Hayes aren’t members of the Committee, so they’re free to comment as they wish.

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Elsewhere

As I’ve written enough about Eric Pickles here this week, I decided my next piece about him should go somewhere else, so you can find it on Liberal Democrat Voice.

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An open letter to the British judicial system – From a cyclist, pointing out the ridiculously small sentences handed out to motorists who’ve killed or injured cyclists.
My reply to Nick Clegg’s civil liberties email today – Jo Shaw writes at Liberal Democrats against Secret Courts, asking Nick Clegg to live up to what he says and block the Government’s plans. (And if you’re a Lib Dem who hasn’t signed the petition against secret courts yet, why not?)
Nick Clegg needs to get crunchy again – Jonathan Calder has one of the best takes I’ve seen on Clegg’s recent ‘centre ground’ speech.
The gathering storm – Alex Marsh with a warning about future rises in homelessness.
UKIP are true libertarians – I’m still planning a post on libertarians and the Liberal Democrats at some point, but in the meantime, this is a good piece from Ed Rooksby in the Guardian, pointing out how UKIP are a great example of where the inherent selfishness of right-libertarianism takes you.

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The trouble with writing a blog post about Eric Pickles is that just when you think he’s dug down to a whole new unbeatable low, he finds himself a better shovel and heads down deeper.

So today we have the news of the latest round of local government cuts which are about as awful as everyone was expected. But in an effort to claim that any cutbacks in services that result from this aren’t the fault of the Government, we get to hear the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government telling us that there are easy ways for councils to make more savings.

“What is it, Eric?” Councils ask eagerly, hoping that the great minds of DCLG have stumbled upon some magical ways to make easy savings without service cuts. “What great idea have you stumbled upon?”

“It’s not just one suggestion – it’s fifty!” Booms the Secretary of State, and magically sends a list to every Council throughout the land.

“Wow!” Exclaim the councils. “Fifty ways to save money! Thank you, oh wise and knowledgeable Secretary of State. We’re so grateful for this advice that we won’t even make a Fifty Shades Of Grey joke.”

“Never fear, my friends.” The Secretary of State says. “I’m sure you’ll appreciate my sage advice.”

Eagerly the Councils opened their guides and read them quickly, wanting to find what ways the geniuses of Whitehall had found for saving money. What incredible new schemes might they have found? What new advice on making the most of meagre money did they have to impart?

“Wait a minute!” One small and plucky council finally shouted. “This is just a list of things most councils are doing already, mixed in with some political dogma about Common Purpose and trade unions.”

“We’re already doing most of these.” Said another.

“We are too!” Others cried, and soon the calls of agreement became a cacophony, occasionally interspersed with bitter laughter at the idea that Councils might not have noticed that Town Halls made good wedding venues.

“But wait.” One of them finally asked. “If the geniuses of Whitehall think that this is all new and useful information, and not just reminding us of the same things we’ve all been doing and talking about for the last few years, what are they doing with their time? Are they looking at what councils are actually doing, or is the Secretary of State too busy obsessing over bins and talking to ‘Conservative madrassas’ to bother with finding out what local government is actually doing?”

And they looked to the Secretary of State for an answer, but he’d departed, leaving just a newly emptied bin in his place.

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For what sins committed in a previous life have we found ourselves inflicted with Eric Pickles in this one? I’ve written many times about the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, each time sure that he’s reached a new nadir, that he can go no lower, and then every time he confounds expectations to find an even lower common denominator. Indeed, so bad has be been at DCLG that he makes councillors I’ve met from all parties positively wistful for the days of Hazel Blears.

One of the main problems I have with Pickles’ reign at the DCLG is the centralist localism he’s continually prescribed. The paradox in that description is intentional – Pickles et al talk about a new age of localism for local councils, but it only means that you’re free to decide locally which shade of his policy you wish to implement. It’s a ruse to try and get councils to take the blame for centrally-imposed funding cuts that will reduce services to the bone. See for instance, the Barnet Graph of Doom, or Birmingham’s Jaws of Doom for a view of how perilous the situation is. As council leaders are warning today, things are dire, and a further 2% cut could be catastrophic.

In this light, the fact that Pickles could find £250m from his budget to pay for councils to keep weekly bin collections does seem an odd priority. (Full disclosure: Colchester Borough Council is receiving money from this fund) It’s right that MPs question this – as Tristram Hunt did in the House of Commons on Monday. Their exchange is worth recording:

Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab): In towns and cities across England, local authorities are being forced to close museums, shut care homes and end library provision, but the Government found £250 million to empty the bins more regularly. What kind of abysmal, philistine, reactionary Government put dustbins above library books?

Mr Pickles: The people who are putting dustbins above those things are people who care about the general service provided to the electorate. The hon. Gentleman is a bit of a luvvie, so no doubt he is looking intensely at the drop in culture, but that is a matter for local decision, and he is wholly wrong. People should look at how an authority can get more money in by exploiting and using its cultural heritage. Frankly, he is just lining up a bunch of luvvies. He should listen a little bit more.

There we have it – bin collections are part of ‘the general service provided to the electorate’ but libraries and culture are just something for ‘a bunch of luvvies’. That’s the Pickles view of the world, where weekly bin collections are sacrosant, but the work of libraries is irrelevant. Who needs culture when you can have a black plastic sack instead?

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I don’t have the full result yet, but I have been informed that, along with Janet Nunn and Nigel Quinton, I’ve been elected as one of the members of the East of England Liberal Democrat Regional Policy Committee. Thank you to everyone who voted for me – I look forward to having the chance to get on with the things I wrote about here.

There are other places on the committee still to be filled, and there are three places available for Liberal Democrat councillors in the region, as well as two from the region’s parliamentarians and two from the regional executive. If you are a councillor and interested in one of those positions, then you should have received details from the regional secretary about how to put yourself forward as a candidate.

I’ll hopefully be providing some updates and feedback here during my time on the RPC, and I’m always open to hear your thoughts and comments.

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Discussing the Cabinet’s Jubilee gift to the Queen:

Asked whether she might have enough table mats already before today’s gift, Mr Pickles said: “One can never have too many table mats.”

Further comment is superfluous.

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