Heresy or carrying a torch for Wightman

Doubtless the next week will be full of commemorative events regarding the Titanic sinking. However for those interested in free speech and free expression then April 11th– the day that I write- has significance. For today is the 400th anniversary of the last person to be burnt at the stake on the charge of heresy and he was a Staffordshire man. Edward Wightman went to the stake on the 11th April 1612 at Lichfield. He was a businessman and local Baptist minister in Burton. He also had business interests in Uttoxeter and Cheadle. Continue reading

Farewell to Oat Cuisine as Hole in the Wall shuts up shop

The world’s last traditional oatcake shop has closed its doors for the final time – marking the end on an era following council plans to demolish the premises.

The Hole in the Wall oatcake shop in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, was flooded with customers after news emerged that it would close.

The 115-year-old terrace house, which has served oatcakes through its front window since the 1920s, has become an iconic building on Waterloo Street. Continue reading

Councillor Sarah Hill: It can’t be all her fault

It may be amusing that the Tax Payers Alliance has voted Councillor Sarah Hill the Pin Head of the Month due to inflicting an unnecessary council tax rise of 3.49% on the people of Stoke-on-Trent.

I know we are constantly told that this is a member led council and I am not jumping to her defence, but I do not believe for one minute that this would be Cllr Hill’s proposal, but something forced onto her by the finance officers. Continue reading

Chief Fire Officer expresses shock after 3 serious fires

Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Chief Fire Officer, Peter Dartford has expressed his shock at three serious fires in just four days in North Staffordshire. Three people have died and a family of three have been hospitalised in the incidents.

Last Thursday an elderly couple died in a fire in their Biddulph Moor home, on Monday evening an elderly man died following a fire at his flat in Berryhill and in the early hours of Tuesday morning a house fire in Hanley resulted in the hospitalisation of two children and their mother. Continue reading

The Manchester Connection- truth or paranoia?

I was having a chat with a well-respected individual in the city about the possibility of developing the Spode site. He was bemoaning the apparent deafness of the City Council to alternative suggestions for the Spode site.

I must admit that I have some sympathy with his position my own experience over the years with local authorities and any ideas that I have produced with regard to regeneration of North Staffs. I have put forward ideas of the green economy, tourism and LETS schemes in the area to receive no response. I know that some of the ideas that I have put forward are good ideas, as they seem to work elsewhere. What seems to work well in places such as Pittsburgh, Glasgow and Sheffield , for instance, should equally work well in North Staffordshire in my opinion. But I will write my ideas and even see officers of the City Council and the Chamber of Trade and for there to be no response. In one case I was so annoyed by the rudeness shown that I complained about an officer from the Chamber of Commerce.

This is an important question how can concerned citizens of the area influence policy if the officers of the authority are dismissive?

One of the problems as I see it is the lack of interest and unwillingness to invest careers in the area. I was talking to David who has been pushing the idea of the Middleport Canal Basin for many years now. He told Fred Hughes and I that over a ten-year period he had seen 14 different regeneration officers. Anyway I digress and back to the conversation.

The person I was having a conversation with mentioned the Hanley Bus Station development and the fact that the company that won the contract were French although they had a Manchester office. His concern briefly put is that contracts won seem to benefit North West based companies to the detriment of local companies.

I have two examples to add to this suspicion.

In the 90s I was walking through Piccadilly in Hanley and noticed that the company putting in paving stones in the pedestrian area was from Atherton near Wigan.

In another case a demolition of a Stoke school was carried out by a Greater Manchester company and allegedly they had to drive past Five Towns Demolition HQ in Fenton to work on the school.

My contact is of the belief that companies from outside the area win too many contracts. He is suspicious of this.

Is he right to be suspicious?

I have to say proof of the pudding is in the use of Community Benefit Clauses in contracts. If there is major work being carried out in the area on in the City the Council must ensure by use of CBC’s that work comes to locals.

No Local Jobs Bonanza In Stoke-on-Trent

Some weeks ago the Sentinel published an article full of optimism for the
wave of much needed jobs that are to hit the North Staffs economy. This
immediately heartened me. As people are aware the local economy has been
badly hit in recent years and currently they are many thousands of people
without work. In Stoke there are over 8,000 people on the dole.

I therefore looked the jobs section of the Sentinel with interest. But if
there is a jobs bonanza there is little evidence from the most recent jobs
section.

I realise that not all local jobs will be advertised in the paper. A number
of companies will use their own websites. However of the 218 vacancies I
would say that about half are short term or part time. In the 7 pages there
were also organisations advertising courses and apprenticeships as well as
volunteering opportunities. A number of agencies such as Forrest, Gap and
Proactive also advertised. On a more positive note potbanks and engineering
companies advertised although one ceramic company was based in Lancashire.

The point of this exercise was to confirm a thought that I have had about job
creation which is confirmed in the national data. Many of the jobs that are
replacing the long term and full time jobs are neither. A recent interview on
the news of a man who had lost his job and had 3 temporary jobs to replace
the permanent one lost is a graphic personal account of the problem. Pay is
another matter with only minimum wage only on offer.

This is no way to build a vibrant economy or to provide work that is
sustainable. What is the point of offering work to unemployed people that
might only last a month?

One way out of this predicament is by developing self-employment as an option
but of course the long-term unemployed are likely to have access to capital
to develop ideas. The Government hopes to encourage 40,000 people to begin
the path towards self-employment but these issues need to be addressed

Stoke-on-Trent House Prices Cheapest in England

The average house price in Stoke-on-Trent is the lowest in the country according to figures released by the Land Registry at the end of May 2011.

According to the latest figures the average price of a house in the city is £73,733.

This figure shows average price has reduced by 3.8% over the last month and contributes to an annual reduction of 4.7% to date.

Nationally the average house price is £163,083, a rise of 0.8% over the month but a year to date reduction of 1.3%.

Kingston upon Hull used to have the cheapest average house price but a monthly rise of 0.9%, which equates to an average price of £73,825, has lifted them above Stoke-on-Trent.

Wales has the lowest average house prices.

Merthyr Tydfil has an average of just £69,173 and in Blaenau Gwent it is £72,872.

For Stoke-on-Trent’s neighbours, house sellers have better news.

Staffordshire’s average house price is £134,460 whilst in Shropshire it is £164,347.

House sales are in decline across the country. Sales between November 2010 and February 2011 fell to an average of 46,818 units sold per month. The same period last year saw the number of units sold at 54,479.

There was good news for people who owned properties worth over £1million.

There was a rise of 14% for properties sold over the million pound bracket in England and Wales.

Those looking to sell properties at the lower end of the market were also fairing well with a rise of 22% in sales in units worth below £50,000.

The worse effected is the “Ëœsqueezed middle ground’, properties worth between £50,000 and £200,000 all witnessed reductions in the number of units sold of around 5-6%.

Sales of properties worth between £200,000 and £250,000 were the worse effected with a massive reduction of 18% in the number of units sold.

Stoke-on-Trent residents have been quick to criticise the lack of regeneration in the city for the low house prices.

Dan Heath, aged 34, who owns a property in the city said:

”The news that Stoke has the lowest average house price in the country comes as no surprise to me.

“I used to live in the centre of Burslem and when you look at areas like Middleport that have been blighted by the council’s bulldozers, it can only have a detrimental effect on house prices in the area”.

Paul Holmes, aged 39, owns a property in Bucknall.

”The area that I live is quite nice but the City has a bad reputation.

“There has been no regeneration. We have no decent amenities and the shopping centre in Hanley is less than useless”.

“If my family want to go shopping for the day we go to Trafford Centre or Cheshire Oaks because at least we can finish the day off in a family friendly chain restaurant like Nando’s, Pizza Express, Bella Italia or somewhere like that”.

“Until Stoke has something that attracts people in instead of encouraging them out, the house prices will only go one way – down!”.

Clare Martin, aged 36, lives with her partner Gary in Weston Coyney.

”The council need to start delivering on what they have promised for years.

“That East West project in Hanley is essential to Stoke becoming an attractive place to visit.

“We miss out on so much in this city it is untrue.

“The politicians and especially our MPs need to get their fingers out and work together to rebuild the run down areas in the City which do nothing but bring the house prices down.

“It’s no good folk moving here to take advantage of the low house prices when there is nothing to do in your spare time and the council are closing all the decent pools and the city farm.

New Board Members For Stoke-on-Trent & Staffordshire LEP

Stoke-on-Trent & Staffordshire LEP have appointed 5 new board members to help drive forward its plans to get an Enterprise Zone based in the Etruria Valley in in Stoke-on-Trent.

Stephen Dixon, managing director of Stoke-on-Trent based Johnson Tiles and 2011 Young Business Person Of Year in the Sentinel Business Awards, is joined by

  • Ron Dougan, chief executive of Trent and Dove Housing.
  • Kerry Diamond, chief financial officer at Lichfield automotive technology firm Zytek
  • Maitland Hyslop, managing director of Goodwin subsidiary Internet Central Ltd
  • Sue Prince, of Beechenhill Farm in the Staffordshire Moorlands who is an expert in rural affairs.

The LEP board is now made up of 8 industry specialists and 6 members of local authorities, other board members are:

  • Steve Burgin, UK Country President at Alstom
  • Mark Kerrigan, operations and development director, Alton Towers
  • Ken Stepney, group head of people development, JCB
  • Cllr Philip Atkins, leader of Staffordshire County Council
  • Cllr Simon Tagg, leader of Newcastle Borough Council
  • Cllr Mohammed Pervez, leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council
  • Cllr Brian Edwards, leader of South Staffordshire Council
  • Nick Bell, chief executive of Staffordshire County Council
  • John van de Laarschot, chief executive of Stoke-on-Trent City Council

The LEP Board next meet on 9 June when they will elect a new Chairperson,

Recognition for Olympic hopefuls in Newcastle

Young Staffordshire sportspeople who are making the grade on the national stage and some with an eye on the 2012 Olympics have been recognised by the county council.

Forty-two young athletes putting pride into Staffordshire attended a ceremony at Cannock Cricket and Hockey Club this week. They were presented with a cheque from Staffordshire County Council’s Young People’s Sports Performance Grant Scheme. All are members of their national governing body’s performance or development squads and many are already competing for their country in their age group.

Olympic badminton player Tracey Hallam relayed her experiences to the athletes at the ceremony. Tracey, from Burton, competed in Athens in 2004, Beijing in 2008 and was Ladies Singles Champion at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

Tracey said: “It’s fantastic to meet such an array of exceptionally talented young sports people from Staffordshire. If I have inspired them in anyway today then great, but they have certainly inspired me with their achievements and ambition.

“The Olympics are the pinnacle of an athlete’s career and I hope to see some of those I met today in London competing at the Olympics next year or perhaps in Rio in 2016.”

County Councillor Pat Corfield, Cabinet Member for Culture, Communities and Customers said: “Staffordshire is very proud of what our young sportspeople are achieving.

“I am very pleased to be able to recognise and support so much sporting talent in the county.

“Many of these young people are our potential future Olympians and their dedication and commitment to their sport deserves to be rewarded.

“It is also worth remembering that these athletes wouldn’t be where they are now without the support of their families and the dedicated volunteer workforce that is the bedrock of our local sports clubs.”

Each year the scheme provides funding to support young sportspeople who either live or go to school in Staffordshire and have proven to excel in their field. The money awarded is used to support the cost of their training and participation in competitions, including expenses such as travel, equipment and accommodation.People receiving the awards were from a wide range of sports including athletics, snowboarding, swimming, canoe slalom and volleyball.

Each athlete recieved £380.

West Enders Set For Life of Luxury at New Extra Care Village

A state of the art extra care housing complex in Stoke Town which has been developed by Staffordshire Housing Association to provide high quality homes for older Stoke-on-Trent residents is now complete.

The first residents have just moved into West End Village, and others will move in throughout January and February.

The complex has been designed by Stoke-on-Trent based architects, Hulme Upright Manning.

It was constructed by GB Building Solutions Limited. 700 jobs were generated on site during the construction phase and 19 young people were taught construction skills.

The £18 million scheme has received investment of £7,292,500 through the government’s Homes and Communities Agency. Other funding has included £1,500,000 from Stoke on Trent City Council, £500,000 from RENEW and £11,100 from the Carbon Trust. The remaining costs have been met by Staffordshire Housing Association.

West End Village is built on the former site of the Bilton pottery works which had been derelict for several years.

The village has 100 apartments ““ 80 for rent and 20 for sale ““ and boasts a range of high specification communal facilities including a restaurant, lounge bar, coffee bar, unisex hair salon, gym, therapy suite and a general store.

Staffordshire Housing Association pioneered the “village living” concept for older people at Bradeley, Stoke-on-Trent, in the 1990s, and now have four high quality villages for residents to choose from.

“West End Village makes a significant contribution to the regeneration of Stoke town, with high quality accommodation for older people.

Residents of the village live independently in their own apartments while enjoying top class communal facilities.

They also have the assurance that care and support services are available at the village 24 hours a day ““ catering for residents’ changing needs.”

Tristram Hunt, MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, praised the developers of the new extra care village for putting residents’ needs at the heart of the project.

“I welcome the opening of this new development as part of the regeneration of Stoke town. I am very pleased that Staffordshire Housing Association has put the needs of their residents at the heart of the project. The development has been designed with community space in mind and I am encouraged it will allow residents to maintain their independence and access the relevant care should they need it.”

A time capsule was buried on the site during construction containing items suggested by children from nearby Stoke Minster Primary School including an MP3 player, a recipe for Staffordshire oatcakes and a 2010 shopping list.