Wednesday 21 February 2024

 



A reminder of the meeting in the Strutt Centre.

The meeting is a chance for bus passengers to meet bus providers and councillors to discuss the current situation where buses are cancelled and many routes downgraded from hourly to two-hourly. We also have representatives from the Women's Institute, Accessible Belper and Transition Belper (Transport & Travel group TB,T&T) to speak about the impact on the lives of specific user groups.

This meeting is not to apportion blame but to understand the problems faced by bus operators and to explore possible immediate solutions.

The basic meeting agenda is:
  1. A greeting by the chair (that's me and I promise to be brief)
  2. The panel of bus operators and councillors to introduce themselves.
  3. Women's Institute, Accessible Belper and TB,T&T to do likewise.
  4. Then questions from the floor to be answered by our guests.
  5. Conclusion of meeting to indicate next steps.
Many have emailed saying that they would like to attend but are unable because they have no evening bus service so there is a possibility of a follow up zoom meeting that they can attend.


Monday 12 February 2024

Public Meeting in Belper to discuss bus cancelations -Thursday February 22nd 19:00

Public Meeting to discuss bus cancelations

Thursday 22nd February at 19:00

Strutt Centre, Derby Road, Belper DE56 1UU



As an Amber Valley Borough Councillor I am receiving a lot of contact from people who have experienced buses not turning up. Other councillors tell me that they too are getting complaints so the issue is widespread across many routes. That is why a public meeting has been called, a chance to meet bus operators and councils to discuss the problem and, hopefully, to chart a way forward. So far I am aware of ongoing problems with the Sixes, Sevens, Nines, 138, 141, 147. 

Invitees that have accepted the invitation to the meeting are:
  • Trent Barton Buses (a company director and an operations manager)
  • Derbyshire Community Transport (board member)
  • The leader of Amber Valley Borough Council
  • Belper Town Council
  • Women's Institute (currently have a bus campaign)
  • Accessible Belper
  • Transition Belper (transport & Travel Group)
Derbyshire County Council have been invited as well as other bus companies and it is to be hoped that they will be able to attend.

All welcome at the meeting


Wednesday 31 January 2024

Caelestis - a reminder of the ultimate futility of borders

Build the wall ................... In control of our borders ..................... Get Brexit done 

There was a time in our land's history when there were no borders. Joined to the continent by "Doggerland" as the North Sea had not yet been formed, people were free to settle in what was to become the British isles. As land and sea found new levels following the retreat of the ice sheets the Britain we know today was formed.

I was reminded of this by the release last year of an album by Kathryn Tickell and The Darkening, in particular a song inspired by a Latin inscription found by Hadrian's Wall. This is perhaps our most famous boundary as the Romans brought in a number of legions made up of soldiers drawn from all parts of their empire. The inscription mentions Syria and Libya along with reference to their gods, "Caelestis".
1900 years ago soldiers stood on that desolate wall protecting those living to the south from attacks from the cold north. They came from warmer lands so it must have been a very unpopular posting. In time, forts and towns were built and communities flourished in the lee of the wall. Soldiers became assimilated into the local population and with the passing of the centuries the wall lost its reason for being. That's the thing about borders, they have a time limited relevance and as our political leaders keep pumping their bile about foreigners they forget that we all originate from immigration. 

I come from a tradition of compassion not hate and this song inspires in me a hope that we can shake off the politics of xenophobia:

Kathryn Tickell is well known to many ........ a Northumbrian pipe and fiddle player and composer who explores with fellow musicians the rich vein of musical history in the North-east of England. With this haunting song, "Caelestis" she links the thoughts and dreams of the Roman soldiers by weaving musical influences of Northumbria with those of the native lands from which the soldiers came.

What will future generations think of Trump's Wall or the Boris Johnson/Farage Brexit ........... or the emergent desire to expel ethnic minorities from Central Europe? They will no doubt see it as a futile attempt to hold back the tide of history The Romans soon realised that Hadrian's Wall needed gates to allow the people of north and south to continue with their social and commercial lives.

The Roman Empire took over 3 centuries to desert their wall but we have precious little time to tear down ours. As we roast the planet we continue to blame those who are displaced because of our selfish actions. The USA drifts towards an election dominated by the cowardice and fear of self centred interest whilst in the UK we also have succumbed to the jingoistic fantasies of politicians whose only interest is to remain in power. Thankfully, on both sides of the Atlantic ideas of love for our planet and humanity are coming into a majority.   



   

Wednesday 3 May 2023

Belper Leisure Centre in trouble but needs calm, not sensationalism

 Belper Labour candidates for the Amber Valley Borough and Belper Town Council elections had a meeting last week to consider the problem of funding for the Belper Leisure Centre. We had just been made aware that the Leisure Centre financial advisors were proposing to issue a press statement in the next few days and we had to decide how we would respond to this.

Link to: Belper Leisure Centre Press release 

Pleased to see that in that statement is an acknowledgement that Belper Town Council tried to help by doubling their annual £10k grant to £20k. I know, far short of what is needed but as we set the Belper Town Council budget for 2023/24 we were conscious of the fact that local tax payers already pay the borough for leisure facilities and should not be asked to pay twice.

Obviously the discussion between Belper borough councillors and candidates centred around a rescue plan but we wanted to work towards a long term solution for funding and to make the future secure. We chose not to pre-empt any press release even though we were appalled that the Tory party leadership of Derbyshire County Council and Amber Valley Borough Council had chosen not to make the knowledge of the leisure Centre's financial problems known to the Labour opposition. We did not want the leisure centre and also Belper School to suffer from becoming an election football. What was needed was calm deliberation and a coming together of all interested parties to find a lasting solution and, we agreed to work towards a plan that had sustainable energy at the heart of it. We therefore prepared a "just in case" statement but hoped that with voter's support we could become the ruling group in AVBC and then put together a package ........... no, not a rescue package ........... but help create a sound financial basis to secure the leisure centre's long term future. 

So, this is the response from Chris Emmis-Williams, leader of the AVBC Labour Group:

The parlous financial state of Belper Leisure Centre has not formally been raised at the Council and I was disappointed to hear that applications for funding to the Council have been refused without any public discussion or engagement.

While the Council's finances have been left in tatters by 13 years of Tory austerity, if Labour takes control of Amber Valley Borough Council on May 4th we will immediately call a meeting of all involved parties including Derbyshire County Council and Belper School to explore and follow up on all the options. You will have seen from the official press release that both the Tory controlled  DCC and AVBC councils have walked away from this extremely serious situation which especially affects the children of Belper and their educational needs I will thoroughly investigate how this situation has been allowed to occur, and ensure that everyone is fully informed from now on. A Labour-led Council will also explore what discretionary funding options may be open to the Council in order to avert this crisis. In the longer term, the priority must be to work in partnership with all parties to put the Leisure Centre onto a more secure financial footing so that it can continue to provide key services to the town into the future.  

As a borough councillor for Belper I am very annoyed because in March of this year I attended a briefing in the council chamber that detailed the financial situation of the three leisure centres, Ripley, Alfreton and Heanor. I spoke up about the fourth,  in Belper but was told that there was no plan or even an acknowledgement of our centre. To sit there and have to listen to the complacency of spending over £3.2 million plus £800k to make good the hit of energy price rises was galling when at the same time the Tory led councils of DCC and AVBC were cutting back on financial assistance to Belper Leisure Centre ................... in fact, AVBC halving the grant to £40k. £4 million for Ripley, Alfreton and Heanor but only a hundredth of that for Belper. It should be noted that only Tory and Labour councillors attended that meeting.

Finally the statement from Belper candidates for AVBC:

Belper Leisure Centre is a vital facility for the entire community and essential for a town of this size, as well as providing key services for Belper School. We are disturbed to hear that the Leisure Centre is now working with an insolvency partner due to the 400% increase in energy costs faced by leisure centres worldwide. The Labour-led Belper Town Council has done what it can, but more is needed. It would be unforgivable to see our Leisure Centre close because of inadequate support from this Tory government, or from the Tory-led County and Borough Councils.

If elected to Amber Valley Borough Council, we will pursue every avenue to keep the Leisure Centre open. While the Council's finances are severely constrained following years of disastrous Tory austerity and economic mismanagement, we will ensure that all avenues are explored in terms of how Amber Valley Borough Council can support our Leisure Centre through this crisis. We will work with all others, including Derbyshire County Council and possible other funding sources including sustainable energy, in order to find a solution leading to the long term security of our Leisure Centre.



Monday 1 May 2023

Belper Town Council finances - the facts

If you want to know the truth about how your town or village is run then don't rely on the claims made by those seeking to be elected. A simple but effective truth because the last thing that any political party will do is acknowledge the success of their opponents. Whatever the yardstick, their adversaries will fall short. The opening lines of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice come to mind (please forgive me Austen purists):
St. John's Chapel Belper - Our town hall


“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that an election candidate in possession of a misguided belief in their own infallibility  must be in want of a financial education.”
I suspect that most of you reading this are aware that I am a candidate in an election, now but 3 days away. So do I have a misguided belief? I hope not because financial myths, distortions, downright falsehoods .............. call them what you will, are the province of those who base their campaigns on attacking those they wish to defeat, Thankfully I am a Labour Party member in Belper and we made the decision to campaign on our record and to deal only in facts. Yes that does seem rather sanctimonious but it is far better to let voters decide on facts and once they know the truth they can make their own judgement. The difficulty is trying to get that truth heard against the clamour of what a Trump spokesperson claimed to be "alternative facts".

So what are the facts about Belper Finances


Labour took control of the council in May 2019 and in the 4 years up to April 2023 have a revenue and expenditure account as follows:


All the above information is available on the Belper Town Council Website. The council tax column demonstrates how much of the councils total income is made up of council tax. In the 4 years between 2019 and 2023 the council tax precept paid for 96% of council expenditure. The pandemic limited the amount of income that Belper Town Council would have expected in normal years.

In conclusion 

It has been a difficult but rewarding 4 years. There were some nasty surprises, especially discovering in 2020 that we had to pay tax for our Coppice car park and that there is an anticipated bill for the car park adjacent to St. John's Church, our town hall. It was no surprise that we contributed £100k to the Swiss Tea Room rebuild but it did make a hole in the earmarked reserves which needed to be built back up for future infrastructure expenditures. We trimmed back our general reserve to 37% in light of the cost of living crisis but with inflation still running high in 2023 that reserve is our only buffer to protect future services if we want to keep our town tax at such a low level.

Yes, I write "low level" because, with over 10,200 households in Belper the average Belper Town Council cost per family was, in 2022/23 £1.10 per week or £57 per year. A lot of that money is spent on services that have experienced government cuts in funding via the County and Borough councils. We try to make good the loss of youth services, public transport, arts and culture groups, the Belper Leisure centre and so much more that makes Belper such a great place to live. There is still so much to be done.




Monday 24 April 2023

The Importance of Robert Owen and his links with Belper

Belper Town Council decided to support the plan to place a clock on the fa├žade of the Co-op store in Strutt Street to celebrate the life of Robert Owen and his links with Belper. The idea was supposed to coincide with the 250th anniversary of Robert Owen's birth but in 2021 we were still experiencing the restrictions of the Covid pandemic. Manufacture and installation of the clock had to be postponed. The co-op movement has been commemorating the 250th anniversary of Owen’s birth, and his belief that society could be transformed peacefully and ordinary working people should be able to enjoy education, good health, decent living conditions and recreation.


 So who was Robert Owen?

Robert Owen
(William Henry Brooke)
National Portrait Gallery

Owen advocated a day split into eight hours work, eight hours recreation and eight hours rest – and the clock’s design is split into three segments representing the 24-hour period. He was instrumental in raising the age that children could be employed in mills to 10.

Born in 1771 in Wales Robert rose to be a mill owner and promoted his "utopian socialist" ideals. He went on to promote socialist communities which were a primary influence on the development of the cooperative movement and the creation of unions.

He became nationally important through his influence on the Cotton Mills and Factories Act 1819 which was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which was its first attempt to regulate the hours and conditions of work of children in the cotton industry. It was introduced by Sir Robert Peel, who had first introduced a bill on the matter in 1815. The 1815 bill had been instigated by Robert Owen, but the Act as passed was much weaker than the 1815 bill; the Act forbade the employment of children under 9; children aged 9–16 years were limited to 12 hours' work per day and could not work at night. There was no effective means of its enforcement, but it established the precedent for Parliamentary intervention on conditions of employment which was followed by subsequent Factory Acts.

What is his link with Belper?



Owen was an associate of William Strutt – the son of Jedediah Strutt, a partner of manufacturer and inventor Richard Arkwright – and his progressive ideas influenced the way the Strutt family developed their mill empire in Belper, making provision for employees and their families. The choice of the Belper Co-op in Strutt Street is therefore a good choice for the clock and recognises the importance of the Strutt family in the social history of our nation.


Heritage is not just bricks and mortar

Mention "heritage" in Belper and immediately people think of the North and East Mills; there is though so much more, the heritage of ideas. The Strutt family were heavily influenced by the philosophy and ideas that flowed from the enlightenment and it was only natural that they would have welcomed the chance to discuss social reforms with Robert Owen. The mills will take tens of millions to adapt and preserve so is way out of reach of local councils although their active support will be needed if a sustainable funding source can be found. It is however possible to promote the importance of Belper and its place in the development of social reforms. Belper Town Council has voted to partner with the Central Co-op to commemorate Robert Owen's birth and we look forward to a nationally significant unveiling ceremony which will bring many visitors to our town.

Finally - a YouTube video exploring Robert Owen's life in more detail




Tuesday 11 April 2023

Belper Town Council - Labour responded to increased flooding risks.

 I became aware of the changing flood risk in the Derwent Valley whilst working on the NP4B (Neighbourhood Plan for Belper link to AVBC Flood Risk Assessment) and it was apparent that Belper Town Council would have to develop a local response to that increased risk. The 100 year flood event was becoming likely every ten years whilst the ten year event was nigh on annual.

Following Labour taking control of the council in 2019 flooding was duly targeted as a prime task and this initiative was led by Councillor Emma Monkman. This is her brief outline of what has been done:

 Flooding work

Councillor Emma Monkman
When we were elected in May 2019 there was no flood policy or group, despite being a river town. In November 2019 Belper and Milford experienced a significant flood event and it was then that we realised how vulnerable we were in this area. I created the Belper Flood Watch Scheme, recruited and trained volunteer Flood Wardens, and created a flood response fund of £10,000 for the people of Belper and Milford.

I have been working with the Environment Agency, Derbyshire County Council and Communities Prepared to develop a Community Flood Plan for the Town. This is a live document and will constantly need updating which is why we need to be re-elected, no other Party can be trusted with this work.
The next step is to link in with other flood schemes and councils along the River Derwent. This will become the Lower Derwent Flood Forum and together we can ensure flooding makes it to the top of the agenda when the Local Resilience Forum meet and designate priorities.
In November 2019 7 residential properties were flooded, and several business properties including our Mill. Since then, we have had 2 other flood events and each time we are more prepared. With the latest flood event in early 2022 our efforts meant that 2 residential properties were flooded. We need to get that figure to 0 and we are the party to do that.


Now that is indeed a brief outline especially when compared with the welter of procedural documentation, notes of meetings and research that I am aware has been produced to make the Belper Town Council response to this threat. Then there is the hours of support given to local residents or standing on the flooded bridge by the North Mill weir to advise motorists of the best diversionary routing.

The River Derwent flooded its banks in Belper in October 2019. This photo taken as Labour councillors inspected the scale of the flood.

It's not just water

When the Derwent floods our valley it will be accompanied by a release of sewage across the land. In a Derbyshire Live article it is stated that the Derwent is the most polluted river in Derbyshire with 4,931 dumps (36,096 hours) in 2021. Further reading on the Top of the Poops website elicits that much of that discharge is upstream from Belper, Milford and Duffield ............ what gets dumped in Matlock can end up in houses, gardens and fields downstream. The solution to this problem is to re-nationalise the water industry and to bring back control of our environment to government. A town council can do very little in the big scheme of things but Belper Town Council has responded to the challenge and does make a difference.


The privatisation of our rivers 

In 1989  our water – something we all owned – was sold off. Privatisation has largely enriched private shareholders who have done little to invest in this essential public service.

When the water companies were sold off, the government took on their historic debts. Since, they have accumulated over £45bn of debt that is ultimately the responsibility of billpayers or governments.

We were told privatisation could do things more cheaply but water bills rose by 40 per cent in real terms, according to the National Audit Office.

We were promised that privatisation would unlock more investment but less was invested in 2018 than in 1990.

We were told that nationalised industries wasted money, but one water boss took home £2 million after venting 4.2 billion litres of sewage into rivers – over which his firm eventually paid £20 million in fines.

Over a decade, the nine large English companies have paid out as much in dividends as they have made in profits.

All for providing a service in a “market” in which they don’t compete for customers, when fines for non-compliance with drinking-water quality standards have exceeded £1.5 million over the last five years, and where we lose enough water for 20 million people to leaks every day.

It’s hardly surprising that support for public ownership of water, at 83 per cent, is higher than for any other utility. 

Labour has laid out plans for what that public ownership will look like; regional water authorities whose boards comprise local-government representatives, employee representatives and representatives of community, consumer and environmental bodies.

The real expertise sits with the workers who ensure our water arrives reliably and cleanly into our homes.

We want those real experts at the heart of making sure we have environmentally sustainable, safe and affordable water.

Thirty four years on from the Conservatives’ historic mistake we can’t wait for the chance to reverse it.

A report in the Independent in 1994