Why pennies do matter

The best way to start a blog is often with a cliche. Look after the pennies, we are told, however contrast this to the claim often thrown at those in opposition – you’re missing the big picture. Can you do both? Of course – anyone who decides to forgo their small indulgences in favour of saving for a house, a car, a holiday is doing just that. So why the brickbats when a councillor suggests a bit of care with small budgets?

One of the first blogs I ever wrote focused on my confusion as a new councillor at the amount of letters I get from in response to emails I’ve sent. Why can’t you email me back? I appreciate that some things have to be sent as a letter – but the ultimate snub surely to cost effectiveness is to say that one letter to one person won’t break the budget, as I have been told recently by one organisation in response to a Freedom of Information request I made. Continue reading

Copshurst Quarry ““ What Will Happen to Stoke-on-Trent’s “ËœGreen & Pleasant Land’?

Yes, you heard it here first, Stoke-on-Trent is not all pits and pots (though we are a lot of that too).

When I worked in rural Shropshire about 10 years ago, I could see the look in people’s eyes when I said I lived in Stoke-on-Trent, they thought the Potteries was all smog and grimy streets. I don’t think any of them believed that we had trees (gasp) and parks (shudder). But we do ““ and not just that, we also have big stretches of open land on almost every side of the City within our boundaries.

One of these, a natural valley, runs down almost the length of one side of the ward of Meir Park and Sandon, and on into the Longton South ward. There is a history of small scale quarrying at Copshurst, however in recent years this has turned into far bigger scale quarrying, which unsurprisingly has had a knock-on effect in the local community.

Lightwood Road runs between Rough Close and Longton, a pleasant residential road with schools at either end and a 40mph speed limit. There’s steady traffic flow all day and often complaints of speeding, so hardly the best place for up to 30 movements of 20 ton trucks per day, heading out towards Stone or down to the A50. Lightwood Road wasn’t constructed for that kind of heavy usage and as a result, the road is suffering.

What was once a relatively low-key quarrying operation has in recent months turned into something much bigger ““ with a retrospective planning application now awaiting consideration at the City Council to increase the quarry size from the current 2.8 hectares to 5.7 hectares in total, with a request for 140 lorry movements a day, which will all turn onto Lightwood Road.

The application is retrospective so we already have an idea of what it could soon be like if it is granted, and the www.stoplightwoodquarry.co.uk website shows a number of quite alarming photos of what happens when 20 ton trucks pull out of the quarry now, along with the impact of such a sizeable operation on the area around the quarry. Objections to the application have come not just from the Lightwood area, but also from Florence, Rough Close and Cocknage.

No one in Lightwood has a problem with the quarry itself ““ it’s been there for years and is an accepted part of the area, however the sudden increase in activity and scale, confirmed by a retrospective planning application at the end of last year, means that the originally small quarry operation could very soon become something else entirely. Having put in a retrospective application also puts a stop to any enforcement action by the City Council on current activities at the quarry, which includes the unauthorised expansion of quarrying, not to mention regular reports of mud on the road (despite the site having a wheel wash).

So what will happen to Copshurst Quarry? The application looks likely to go before Development Management in February, and hopefully will be rejected. The local Lightwood Residents Group have campaigned hard, with articles in the Sentinel and on BBC Radio Stoke, and have also got the backing of local councillors in Meir Park & Sandon, Longton South and also across the local authority border at the County Council, along with the local MP.

More information can be found at www.stoplightwoodquarry.co.uk

Localism in Stoke-on-Trent ““ An Underworked Muscle?

The recently announced Localism Bill, which promises to return powers to local communities and councillors, has set me thinking a bit about the actual powers local councillors have already, particularly in Stoke-on-Trent.

I think I’m probably not alone in entering the Council and giving off an “ËœI’m going to change the world!’ vibe to everyone I met, though I did know before being elected that it’s not quite that simple. There are systems and processes, and committees and portfolio holders to work with to achieve change, and sometimes it does seem that the wheels of change turn so so slowly. And yes, it’s frustrating at times, but for me personally, I draw a great deal of satisfaction of making small but significant changes in my ward and AIT area (the larger Meir area), which helps me keep plugging away at the bigger things I want to see happen City-wide.

A lot of residents are aware that local councillors countrol pots of money to spend in their areas, and this represents where Stoke-on-Trent is already having a go at localism, though by no means do I think we’ve cracked it totally! For example, in Meir we have quite a lot of discussions about what people think of the area. I’m not going to perpetuate the myths that surround Meir by repeating them, but I’ve lived here for nearly 10 years and to be honest I can’t think of many areas of Stoke-on-Trent I’d rather live. However, to help improve the imagine of Meir, the local councillors have been working together with partners, local residents associations and businesses, to make Meir look nice. The flower baskets on the roundabout and in Weston Road all came about following a discussion one afternoon about making Meir better for everyone, and have been paid for from the ward budgets. They also present an attractive “Ëœgateway’ into the City from those entering along the A50 or A520.

So if we are already doing localism, what is this blog about? We are often criticised for being parochial as a council, where councillor fights councillor over which area “Ëœdeserves’ investment, all based on our belief that we are more deserving than our City-wide colleagues, and in a way that does happen, but really as councillors we already have that “Ëœmuscle’ ourselves. We already have access to a considerable amount of money in our ward budgets, but do we really spend it as we should?

I can’t comment on what other councillors spend their ward budget on, each area has its own priorities and needs, however I do think we sometimes lose perspective on the influence we have through the ward budget. I asked a friend who is a councillor on another Council what he would need to do if he wanted to get a new litter bin sited in his ward. After having to persuade his fellow ward councillors to support him, he would then need to persuade the portfolio holder and also the officer responsible for litter bins ““ not a quick and easy process. Contrast that to Stoke-on-Trent councillors ““ in my ward, we have already agreed a general “Ëœpot’ for additional litter bins and all I need to do is submit the location to our Local Office and wait for the bin to arrive. Even if we hadn’t already agreed a general fund for litter bins, I would only need to persuade my fellow councillors.

A small example maybe, but how about a bigger one? Allotments. We have a waiting list locally and few rarely become available, so we’re investigating creating some more. This goes hand in hand with the Healthy Eating project (run by a local health worker and Neos520, the Bethel Church community cafe) to encourage local residents to rely less on processed foods and takeaways, and cook healthy meals for themselves. Our local schools and residents associations are also involved.

How about Youth facilities? The ward budget helped fund several projects over the summer holidays, and we have also recently agreed funding for equipment for the Christian Growth Centre (CGC), based in Meir Park, to help with the sessions they already run in local schools, alongside the Council’s Uth Service.

Community Safety? Fear of crime and anti social behaviour (again linked to myths about the area ““ the crime rate in Meir is much lower than many people believe) led us to work with the Longton NPU in a project to supply residents with simple crime prevention equipment. We paid for the equipment, the police provided it and in some cases fitted it too. In Meir Park, a simple thing such as cutting back groundcover in ASB hot spots following a discussion with local officers and an impromptu site visit, has not only improved the appearance of the area but also hopefully helped the police tackle what I hope is a decreasing level of ASB in those areas.

But all this relies on councillors getting out there, and “Ëœdoing’ localism with residents, partners and the community at large. We don’t have millions to spend, but we can make a difference with what we have, we just need to realise it.

16 million GBP distribution facility for Co operative Pharmacy

Source: MHW Magazine

The Co-operative Pharmacy has demonstrated its commitment to innovation with the launch of its £16 million distribution facility in Stoke on Trent.

Peter Marks, Co-operative Group Chief Executive and Rory Delap, midfielder for Premier League team Stoke City FC, officially opened the facility today, Wednesday 28th October.

The purpose built, highly automated, 190,000sq ft distribution centre will serve all of the Co-operative Pharmacy’s 800 branches and will fulfil demand for the fastest moving, prescription medicines and OTC products, with each branch receiving a delivery daily.

75% of the products are dispensed via completely automated equipment into packing totes, and the remaining 25% of products are manually picked, using radio frequency technology in 4 picking sections. The picking totes are lidded, sealed and palletised by fully automated robot arms and finally despatched. The facility has the capacity to fulfil 160,000 orderlines, distributing 420,000 units in a day, which will result in improving product availability and optimising service levels in branches.

“The new facility will greatly improve the efficiency of our business,” explains Peter Batty, Head of Supply Chain. “We have the ability to consolidate orders and offer uniformed products in all stores. In addition, we are now in a position where we can serve all of our branches with the same process system and have the capacity to expand in the future.”

The warehouse gives The Co-operative Pharmacy greater control over own brand ranges and the opportunity to hold and distribute additional seasonal lines as well as offering a degree of protection against market shortages.

John Nuttall, Managing Director Co-operative Pharmacy comments, “The NDC Meir Park warehouse is Europe’s most advanced distribution facility in this sector and represents our continued commitment to developing our healthcare business. It will set new standards both in terms of efficiency and in building relationships with EU suppliers to enhance our ability to gain access to difficult to source lines.”