Stoke-on-Trent Planning Councillors Flex Their Collective Muscles

The eight elected councillors who sat in the meeting of the Development Management Committee this week sent a very clear message out to those who fail to meet their planning conditions.

Planning decisions can often be terse affairs and I am sure that everyone who is reading this article has themselves, or know of others, who have affected by a planning decision. Indeed some people only get to witness the city council at work when they become embroiled in a planning application.

The outcome can sometimes go your way if you are objecting but more often decisions go the way of the applicant.

This week though our elected members who sit on the Development Management Committee showed that they are not for being pushing around, either by applicants or by planning officers.

The issue involved a complaint that a development had taken place without complying with a number of planning conditions.

The site in question is that of the former Eagle Pottery, Ivy House Road, Hanley . Redrow Homes gained outline planning permission in 2005 for a residential development subject to a number of conditions.

The owners of the adjacent Goodwin Steel Foundry alleged that work has commenced without the developer complying with a number of the conditions imposed.

Goodwin’s have been involved throughout the process and are keen to ensure that the developer complies especially in relation to noise, odours, air quality, HGV parking and turning.

In addition to the allegations made by Goodwins, investigations have revealed that some of the works have taken place that are not in accordance with the approved permission. This includes works adjacent to the canal, surfacing and boundary treatment and landscaping.

The report prepared by the planning officers and presented to our councillors at the meeting recommended that the committee “Ëœnote’ the nature of the allegations and that they also “Ëœnote’ that there are ongoing negations with Redrow. Finally it was also recommended that members “Ëœagree’ that it would not be expedient to take enforcement action with respect to the breaches of the planning conditions.

Well let me tell you, the elected members present neither agreed nor noted the officers’ recommendations. They were not of a mind to be directed by the legal officer present either.

Cllrs Paul Shotton and Cllr Ann James in particular demonstrated that this committee was not for steering and would make its own decisions and come to its own conclusions.

Cllr Shotton proposed that enforcement action be taken against the developer for failure to comply with the planning conditions attached to the outline permission.
This was met with a worried look by the planning officers and an attempt at watering down the proposal by the legal officer.

She was concerned that the council would incur costs if the developer chose to fight the enforcement and she also feared that it would not be looked on favourably if the council took enforcement action against the developer on all of the conditions as negotiation were underway to resolve some of the issues.

Not to be deterred Cllr Shotton used the planning officer to help and advise on the wording of a proposal that allowed the committee to impose enforcement on the developer for the conditions they had neglected to adhere to.

The proposal to take enforcement action was unanimously voted through. All 8 councillors present were united and stood firm against the officers’ recommendations demonstrating that the allegations that councillors are led or directed by officers are unfounded.

Cllr Paul Shotton, the deputy leader of the council along with Cllr Ann James’s steely determination sent a very loud warning across to the officers that although Labour have a large majority on the council, when needed councillors will unite to ensure the right decisions are made.

This will not be an officer – Labour Party love-in as some administrations have been in the past.

This was an encouraging start to the ongoing fight to prove that true democracy is alive and kicking in the City of Stoke-on-Trent.

Tony Walley – On My Stoke-on-Trent Soapbox 16/05/2011

As the red & white half of Stoke-on-Trent comes to terms with their loss in the FA Cup final the political potteries is as flat as boring nil nil draw.

It’s a bit like “Ëœafter the Lord Mayors show post election.

To Speak or Not To Speak

The only sexy story was the attempt at gagging our new crop of councillors with a “Ëœmedia protocol’ that circumnavigated democracy.

The document that was slipped in the new councillors pack was tantamount to a biblical commandment ““ “ËœYou shall not criticise the council, its officers or the executive ““ no matter the size of the monumental cock up or who was responsible!’

More worrying for me was the fact that there were councillors who were queuing up to sign this attack on freedom of speech.

One of them was Paul Breeze, a man who I have a tremendous amount of respect for. He works tirelessly for his community and he has taken a principled stance in not aligning himself with any group in the council chamber.

Paul was quick enough to remind us that he is a free spirit, but his complicity in this matter showed that whilst he is his own man in the political sense he was all too ready to do his masters bidding and put officers before the representation of the people that elected him.

The “Ëœgagging order’ has received a fair amount of political commentary and rightly so. But so far the facts of the matter have been inaccurately reported.

It has been alleged that the individuals responsible for this have been the press and communications team, Mohammed
Pervez and CEO John van de Laarschot.

My information leads me to believe that it was actually Pervez who suggested that the protocol be withdrawn from the councillors’ pack when he read it the weekend before declarations were taken and was unaware of its contents beforehand.

Sources have indicated to me that it was in fact Members Services who directed that this protocol be drawn up and the press team were directed to draft it up.

The bit that is shrouded in uncertainty is how much involvement CEO John van de Laarschot had in the issue.

Who Will Be The Trophies on The Cabinet

Now that it has been confirmed that Pervez will be Council Leader with Paul Shotton as his Deputy Council Leader, the labour Group will tonight [Monday] decide who will make up the remaining 8 places on this the first totally Labour cabinet.

Now I’ve followed the scene in the political Potteries for years and, as all good commentators should, I will make my predictions as follows.

The 8 cabinet places will go to, in no particular order:
Mark Meredith, Tom Reynolds, Sarah Hill, Debra Gratton, Olwyn Hamer, Ruth Rosenau, Janine Bridges and either Bagh Ali or Adrian Knapper.

My guess is that the cabinet will reflect the Labour Party desire to have a 50/50 men/woman split.

We will know soon enough I suppose, but my guesses are more down to instinct as opposed to education.

You may have your own ideas?

S.O.C.C Get a Helping Hand From Former Councillor

The nationally recognised Save Our Children’s Centres campaign has received a boost recently with the news that former Longton South Councillor Mike Barnes has joined their team to advise them on council procedures and future strategies.

S.O.C.C has reignited their fight and will present a massive petition to the council opposing the 30% budget reduction which equates to a huge cut of £2.25million.
The council are embarking on a formal consultation over their proposals.

What is 100% clear to me, having met and held discussions with S.O.C.C leaders, is that their battle lines have been drawn and they are prepared to mount a sustained and aggressive challenge to these savage cuts. The campaign team feel that the services that are on offer will be decimated beyond all belief if these cuts go through.

The election gave the Labour Party 34 councillors and a healthy majority with little opposition in the chamber.
S.O.C.C are more than prepared to take up the opposition role.

Their campaign has gone viral and there are S.O.C.C groups appearing all over the country. They also have the support of Netmums which has a phenomenal web presence.

Stoke-on-Trent has had effective campaign groups in the past like the Trentham Action Group who managed to reverse the decision to close their high school by facilitating government involvement.

S.O.C.C has the potential to make the TAG look like a meeting of the Salvation Army!

They are very angry people at the moment but they are channelling that anger and are using it as a motivational tool.

They are angry about the Labour Party’s campaign leaflet claims that they have saving the children’s centres but failed to mention the proposed budget cuts.

They are angry at the lack of support from the three city MPs’ Joan Walley, Rob Flello and Tristram Hunt who they have described as “Ëœthe invisible man’.

One of the Children’s Centres that is most under threat from these cuts is in Fenton, in fact is virtually next door to the constituency office of Rob Flello.

It could see the services that it offers cut from 5 days down to one half day.

Given that Sure Start centres were the flagship of the last Labour Government, S.O.C.C are expecting, no make that demanding that all 3 Labour MP’s support their campaign.

The case of Fenton’s children’s centre puts Rob Flello in an unenviable predicament as he sees the work they carry out at close hand and his partner Karen Clarke has just been elected as Councillor for ““ yeah you guessed it, Fenton West & Mount Pleasant!

I’m surprised that there is a negative view of Tristram Hunt and I share the view of the S.O.C.C leaders that all our MPs need to back this campaign with every ounce of their moral fibre.

I urge the Labour Group councillors, the newly appointed cabinet, Council Leader & Deputy and the 3 Labour MPs’ ““ do not underestimate this group.

S.O.C.C Hull are about to force a judicial review the same is 100% on the cards here in Stoke-on-Trent.

Our City Council are proposing the severest cuts in Chidren’s Centres budgets nearly anywhere in the country.

Communities will not take this lying down, S.O.C.C will not take this at all and in the words of one of their main players ““ “You have been warned!”

Brian Ward Confirms He Will Stand in Stoke Central In The General Election

Deputy Leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council Brian Ward has today confirmed that he will stand as an Independent Candidate in the upcoming General Elections

Ward, who is a Councillor for the Blurton Ward and is also the Leader of the City Independent Group is currently at a conference in Cannes in France on behalf of the City Council.

The principle reason for his decision to enter the contest is that he does not feel that the City’s 3 Labour MPs have delivered on behalf of the electorate.

He feels that the MPs often get involved in trivial matters that should be passed on to the Ward Councillors to allow the MPs the time to get on with important issues like attracting investment into the City and lobbying for more government funding to help make the City a better place.

Brian Ward joins an ever growing list of names contesting the seat fallowing Mark Fisher MP’s decision to stand down on health grounds.

Other confirmed candidates are Norsheen Bhatti [Conservative], John Redfern [Liberal Democrats], Alby Walker [Ind], Paul Breeze [Ind] Simon Darby [BNP], Matthew Wright [TUSC]. There will be an official candidate from the Labour Party and also a candidate from the National Front who has still to be named.

When asked for his reason for not contesting Stoke South he said that he had an agreement with Cllr Terry Follows not to contest the seat after Cllr Follows had helped in the Trentham High School Campaign.

He also claimed that party politics had ruined the City and in particular the Labour Party. He also feels that the infighting amongst the Stoke-on-Trent Central Labour Party will help his cause.