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

Monday 10 April 2023

Community Transport and Belper Town Council

 Belper Town Council (BTC) has for many years been a supporter of Derbyshire Community Transport (DCT), a charity that, as it says on its website:

At Derbyshire Community Transport we believe that no one, regardless of age, ability/disability, financial status or domestic location should be prevented from enjoying a full life because of lack of access to transport.

To do this we run services aimed at getting people out and about. We are focussed and passionate about ensuring everyone has access to transport that suits their individual needs.

Our ambition is to be at the heart of the community we serve and to act as the means by which local people are able to participate fully in their local communities.

Link to Derbyshire Community Transport website

The Car Club

The Car Club Ford Torneo outside St.Peter's Church
When Labour councillors took control of Belper Town Council in 2019 we realised the potential of community transport for a town that was inundated with private
vehicles and gradually losing bus services. This trend had to be reversed. The pandemic threw a spanner in the works but emerging from lockdown opportunities to improve public transport started to emerge. We had been very concerned that the number of available wheelchair accessible taxis had halved in Amber Valley from 28 to 14 and wheelchair users were reporting problems in getting to hospital appointments or other venues. Because BTC had strengthened ties with DCT with one of our councillors joining DCT as a trustee board member we started a dialogue so that when the possibility of offering transport for people with disabling conditions came up we were fully supportive. What is now known as the Car Club, backed by a group of volunteer drivers and administered by DCT from their HQ in Marehay has just started. Two vehicles have been purchased, one, capable of taking full size powered wheelchairs whilst the other is an electric car modified with swivel front seats to aid getting in and out. Both are based on the Coppice car park and can be hired by the hour for £5, with or without a driver as long as you are registered as a member of the club (annual fee of £20).  A really cheap alternative method of transport. Belper Labour councillors see this as a first step and want to increase the number of volunteer drivers and build up a regular group of passengers and make this scheme a real success. Belper is one of only 4 towns in the country to offer a car club such as this. Details of the Car Club can be found here 

Bus route opportunities

The new 147 service in King Street
Derbyshire County Council has steadily withdrawn support for local bus services and this has brought transport poverty to many in our region. Covid lockdowns did not help matters as bus passengers were forced to stay at home and, with restrictions being lifted the numbers using public transport have been slow to return. Many commercial bus operators felt unable to continue on lightly used services and it is in these circumstances that Derbyshire Community Transport stepped in to keep the wheels turning. They took over the 143 and 147 routes; merging them to operated between Belper King Street, through Ambergate to Ripley Market Place. Labour Councillors entered into consultation with DCT and suggested that the 147 could be extended into Parks Estate. DCT tested the idea and now we have a tree times a day service, as described by DCT:

• Route 143 combines the old 143 and 147 routes creating additional links 
• Improved service between Ripley and Belper – 3 return journeys a day 
• New link between Street Lane, Marehay and Ripley to Belper and Babington Hospital 
• Three new round trips between Belper Town Centre and Parkside via Babington Hospital 
• Improved timetable from Street Lane, Marehay and Ripley to Sainsburys

Belper Labour councillors are already planning more services to provide a "town service" linking all estates to the Leisure Centre, Town Centre and other amenities, from Belper Lane End to Bargate, Laund Hill to Parks Estate ............. and to run in the evenings and all day Sunday.  You can only break free from private car use if you have fully comprehensive public transport alternatives. We look forward to exploring the opportunity to invest in a flexible, on demand electric town bus service fit for the 21st century.

Driverless electric bus as trialled in Inverness