Monday, 23 February 2015

The election is a looming and I would like to know what Labour offers Prudhoe

An open letter sent directly to my county councillor

Dear Eileen

You are my county councillor. About 70 days hence is the election. I googled “Councillor Eileen Burt” and this is the result. . Going forward the Labour party has the opportunity to persuade folk to vote. I am interested in knowing your vision of what Prudhoe might expect to gain from a Labour party win and if this was repeated, what policies there are say over a 12 year period to change the town. Specifically will the Labour party be supporting the creation of a Neighbourhood Plan as other communities in Tynedale now have? What is the Labour party policy towards the electrification of the Tyne Valley Railway line and will this be the means to remove the Pacer trains?  As a local councillor what further improvements are visualised at our railway station and with our road network? I believe the expansion of Prudhoe calls for a new B road from Ebchester in the Derwent Valley to the Horsley interchange on the A69 with a new bridge crossing of the Tyne starting from the east end of Princess Way. This will not happen quickly but unless it features in policy it will never happen. The railway station this year missed out on better waiting shelter replacements (instead like for like). Just as the Northern refranchise cannot be another stand still franchise, it would have been far more effective if the Labour party had campaigned for the real improvements needed locally. In the event it was left to people like Peter Nevin and myself and Network Rail have run rings around us. The lack of a Town Council Transport Working Group shows this up (and quite humanly there are real limits to what I can do voluntarily).  Many more issues are down there, the expansion of car parking (although I believe this is in hand from the county?). The better shelters for an expanding town are a necessity, so is a new footbridge. Proper integration with bus services and fares is another.

I would welcome both a new town centre and the redevelopment of Prudhoe hospital. But in each instance I want to know how electing a Labour government will ensure these become “excellent” projects, not will do. By this I mean for instance the thought that is given into community structures and employment opportunities at the hospital site and how some of the buildings there can be reused. To simply flatten and build nigh on 500 homes with no new transport infrastructure and employment provision to me stacks up problems. At the Town Centre I have long argued that the site demands the best solution, a Hanging Gardens of Prudhoe development with car parking hidden in the hillside. A result that meant the site’s many neighbours were wowed and not antagonised. Much of this is about planning. I am aware of many pressures in regard to the Green Belt. Prudhoe is within the Land of Oak and Iron heritage landscape project. The reason people will want to live in Prudhoe in part is because of its high quality landscape surround. How will electing a Labour government ensure that Prudhoe’s woodlands remain a gem? And how will Prudhoe benefit from the Land of Oak and Iron?

Over a whole range of issues, to my experience including transport spend, arts spend, heritage lottery spend the comparison per head between the North East Region and London is grossly disproportionate. If the Labour party form the next government I want to form an idea as to how a change in that policy will change Prudhoe for the better.

For my interests, these are the sorts of matters that I think need debate and I will be very keen that you locally as a leading Labour politician set out the stall. In that spirit I regard this as an open letter and any reply should be in a similar vein.

Yours Sincerely

Robert Forsythe
I am grateful for a reply to this letter received from Liam Carr, prospective Parliamentary Candidate of the Labour party in the Hexham Constituency.

Dear Robert,

Your raises a few issues, I will address each theme.

Rail Services.

Privatisation was a disaster for the railways. The whole franchising system has been a failure and passengers are paying more for a worse service, the Pacer trains are going but they will be replaced by cast off underground trains from London that may not be suited the Northumberland weather.

The next Labour government will allow the public sector to compete with private companies for rail franchises when they expire, this will result in public sector running sections of our rail network as soon as possible, in the same sort of way as East Coast did. 

We aren't saying we want to go back to some sort of 1980s British Rail, but we have to acknowledge that privatisation was a mistake and its one that we must rectify.

The next Labour Government will be different from the one elected in 1997, it is OK to say that some things like Health, Education and Transport, are too important to be left to market forces.

With profits coming back to the treasury, this will allow investment in the Tyne Valley line.

Roads and other infrastructure.

Labour will devolve power away from Whitehall, so instead of having to beg for real investment in the and ending up with a feasibility study, decisions will be made closer to home.

Labour has a strong track record of devolving power.  We passed the Scotland Act and the Government of Wales Act and we are now committed to an English Devolution Act, which will reverse the centralisation which has occurred under successive governments in the recent (and not so recent) past.

We will transfer £30 billion of funding over five years, passing on power and resource not only for transport, which you mention, but also skills, employment support, housing and business support.

What difference will a Labour Government make in Prudhoe?

I have listened to many residents in Prudhoe who have been hit by the bedroom tax, this is an unfair tax particularly so in Prudhoe, where there are very few one bedroom properties to move into. Labour will repeal the bedroom tax.

We will also reverse the privatisation of our NHS by repealing the Heath and Social care act, the effects of which are being felt locally services at Hexham hospital are under threat. I want to be your next MP so I can defend our NHS.

There is still some concern about Education in our High school, Much of the discussion we hear is about structures; politicians on all sides have been guilty of arguing about if schools should be free schools, high schools, supported by the LEA or be an academy. However, when listening to concerns from parents, I hear that they are less concerned about structures  - most simply want a great local school, staffed by committed, well-qualified teachers, which provides good outcomes for all young people. If elected I will refocus the debate away from structures and back on what matters most; the students.

In this election we have a choice to make, about the kind of society we want to live in. I believe in a fair  society with a recovery that benefits the working people and not just the very wealthy and an economy that works for all and not just a few at the top.

I hope this reply is helpful, if you have any other policy queries please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Liam Carr

Liam (like Guy Opperman) has a blog which is at  

Monday, 26 January 2015

Prudhoe Hospital redevelopment planning application

My blog over the years has chronicled the poor quality of planning in Prudhoe (although I will remark that this year past has shown a marked effort to address one of the regular concerns in respect of drainage). After a long time in gestation, the Prudhoe Hospital planning application from the developer Gentoo and the owner The Homes and Communities Agency (remember the c word) is now made. It is here.

Paul Revill the previous Baptist minister of Stocksfield and himself a Prudhoe resident asked me "What do think Robert?". And remarked that flatting Prudhoe Hall might be a lost opportunity. This is what I said on Facebook.

"At one level Prudhoe Hall is the least of this. I do value Prudhoe Hall and also the Walled Garden (for which the plan if it happens is sensible, some sheltered homes outside to generate revenue for a publicly accessible garden operation). BUT what is needed here is a community, there are many excellent buildings here (like the pavilion) and some of the blocks which could be retained, adapted and re-used, to create along with many new houses variety and opportunity with continuity. The developer simply does not have the vision, the knowledge, the drive or the desire to do any more than knock down and build lots of houses with apparently no thought about where people work and how they get there? How does this impact on Blaydon roundabout? Why is it not matched to new road links across the Tyne to the A69 and south to the Derwent Valley (hardly very difficult that)? What is being provided as a social hub for the self employed with public Wifi (notably something Prudhoe's newest public building does not have)? Will there be a pub or a church? Many people, senior leaders, have said Prudhoe must not repeat Castlefields. In what respect does this development differ? Correlate what the developer proposes to . However after many years I have realised that Prudhoe's own ability with but two county councillors to cease being done unto and to take control of itself is very limited. The HCA could have offered the whole site to Prudhoe through the Community Partnership and the Town Council and said "now determine, your own destiny"."

On transport provision worm your way into this. It includes the offer of a minibus service for the development. How long will that last? Think 111. It is not a link to Newcastle or anywhere else. The "positive" step of offering such for 392+12+80 (Humbles Wood) so 484 homes tells me a lot. That anticipating people do anything other than drive hardly figures. It is a palliative sop.

One of the buildings slated for demolition. Why not flatted?

Thursday, 15 January 2015

What the Pope said?

"Mock Islam and expect a punch" the Pope APPARENTLY said yesterday on the day a Belgium suburban street was turned into deadly chaos by terrorists. Surely the media have misquoted him? Surely he meant to ask his Moslem friends (as I do) to explore Luke 6:29 or Matthew 5.39 (see ).  I would be amazed if this new and radical pope was wanting to suggest that religions should not be subject to critical investigation or satire. Perhaps I will be amazed, the IDEA that Catholicism has anything in common with religious fundamentalism is surely regressive? Or........... I sure hope the Pope has been misreported. If he had meant to contrast how some Muslims respond to provocation and how Jesus said one should respond I can follow. And if he stressed the difference between satirising a dead leader and personal attacks on individual believers that would be quite understandable, Any mocking and abuse of "the person in the street" is QUITE Wrong. But the problem we face is that of disproportionate response and if the Pope were to say a word justifies a punch and he meant to say this, I would be totally APPALLED. There is another test to apply here, well established in Western Liberal Throught. That of the notion of public interest, it is why politicians are mocked. Once you set up a system and become responsible for its operation, you enter the public domain. it has long been a principle and certainly one the French revolution applied, that strong public debate including satire follows. It is a principle I would be extremely loath to abandon. It leads to another word at the heart of all this. What does respect mean? I think we should respect those who we differ with, it is very important, but that does not mean to cow-tow. And when those we differ with over ideas move to physical violence we either have to turn the other cheek or as many humans do, we will finally snap. On our streets for very many years now, with those who peddle this violent extremism, we have turned the other cheek to. They have been allowed to express themselves. I rather think that the first days of 2015 may come to show that the West reaches the point of snapping.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Invitation to Tender for Northern Rail

News about the Northern Rail refranchise is eagerly awaited. Speculation yes, but here's the rub. Did you hear Julie Mills of the DfT at York on the 19th November say that the Invitations to Tender for Northern and TPE would be issued in December 2014? I thought I did. However (and subject to being proved totally wrong) it has been put to me that if such an ITT were to appear before Easter that would be an achievement. Why? Because in many places, including the Chancellor's autumn statement, very public promises about the demise of Pacers have been made. Yet hitherto the whole assumption of the Northern refranchise (remember the consultation) was that it was about achieving more growth (no longer standstill) for less taxpayer input. That always seemed a conundrum and it becomes sharper if you really intend to scrap Pacers. Whichever of the train leasing companies which is rebuilding one are not fools. There's considerably over 100 two car sets to destroy (if you count the 143/144s ( 92 class 142)). Replacing them, designing a local diesel train from scratch, it all costs money and no-one has yet really cut their teeth on the new diesel idea, although again Julie Mills spoke glowingly about it. The government are probably pretty pleased they have relet the East Coast (with expectations which raise some eyebrows). Northern is a whole different can of worms. A vast array of expectations have been raised, even Northumberland says it is pledging money to the Ashington Blyth and Tyne, which will need trains. Perhaps the mandarins are now stressing over the answers? Let a new government worry?

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Autumn Statement 2014

Naughtie v Balls Radio 4 c0745. Quite a decisive interview. Naughtie got out of Balls that the chancellor is de facto exactly where Darling planned to be if he had been chancellor. The reason: Britain cannot afford to be Britain. Austerity, the wage squeeze, cost of living crisis equals even with some growth not enough revenue to balance the books. Borrowing is at an historical low for cost; it rises and disaster looms again. Balls was perfectly competent on the cost of austerity, less happy to admit that the result is no different to where Labour would have got. Both the two political parties are caught. Balls could not explain how or why more borrowing can be funded. Osborne's hopes to eliminate the deficit with more growth AND CUTS require some pretty impressive assumptions (as do his tax cutting hopes). Do I have any bright ideas? Sadly no. History suggests complex societies are not guaranteed a bright future unless they crack sustainability. Just possibly (and it explains Osborne's interest) the Northern Powerhouse offers something. A resource broadly the size of London, if not bigger, ought to achieve the economic result of London. It does not and if it did perhaps we could all be more optimistic? A Northern Powerhouse will have to function with strong 21st century communications and so every Pacer needs to go for scrap and wires need to appear through the Tyne Valley.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Bishop of Liverpool and Christmas Cards

An Anglican bishop has got me out of bed this morning! Since he has had his rant in the Daily Telegraph, I will have mine. E Xmas greetings is the subject. I think all the Bishop achieves is to show how hopelessly out of date and ignorant he, and those who are like him in the Anglican church, are. 500 years ago he would have been saying the only proper way to communicate is with a vellum manuscript. In an age (and a day) where the PO announced the possible end of universal delivery, the seachange in communications has to be embraced. I love paper but it is immensely wasteful of time, resource and cost. With Christmas cards, which to my mind represent an over commercialised expression of sentiment of even less use than a railway timetable, it seems to me they would be the last area where a community leader would seek to justify allocating his time and money to processing 60 of the things a day between now and Christmas. His total is some 600. If an institution wished to proclaim how completely out of touch it is, I cannot think of a better move. I road tested this with my 14 yo daughter and she thought he was barking. Does anyone seriously imagine Jesus of Nazareth preferring stone tablets as a mean of proclaiming the gospel! A samidzat would be his style (the cheapest and most effective means of radical communication at any given time). And yes nothing is perfect, and Facebook's management must be responsible for supporting terrorism if they don't act. Libertarianism cannot work if it is a total free for all. Finally if you are a Facebook friend it is very unlikely you will get a posted printed Christmas card from me. I hope to create an appropriate e greeting. .

Thursday, 20 November 2014

A better railway for the North York 19th November 2014

Track back in my blog to 2010 and I was attending events about rail development in which the North East was being left behind. It has been a regular thread thereafter. Since then my drift has been that whilst the Northern franchise has in fact experienced growth on a standstill basis, for all the talk of devolution and rail spend, the North East has not gained much.

The track record of improvements since Sunderland Metro (a double edged sword in 2002) is exactly what? New trains for FTPE, James Cook Memorial Hospital Station, anything else? A lot of talk about re-opening the Blyth and Tyne and the Leamside (which has been lifted meantime).

So I found myself despatched to York last night for an evening event on the theme organised by the Campaign for Better Transport. There were a lot of people, some quite high powered. A senior civil servant Julie Mills stood in for the minister Claire Perry held at Westminster on a three line whip. The head of  Rail North David Brown chief executive of Merseytravel was a speaker. CEO's from Northern and Transpennine were likewise.

Mood music was good, the Twitter feed was lively, but what did we learn? The DfT is willing to work with Rail North as the franchise manager. People accept some new diesel trains are needed. Planning for growth is essential. That was all agreed. A sleugh of schemes in North West England are in train including major electrifications, Colne Skipton will likely re-open. The Todmorden West curve is a good thing. Trams are being built hither and thither in Greater Manchester.

What was in this for the North East? Exactly nothing on the table although today Northumberland County Council does announce it intends to commit £10 a million a year for each of the next three years to Blyth and Tyne re-opening.

The reason why the North East is not high in the pecking order is blindingly obvious. The civil servant said as much. It does not have a strategy, it has some disorganised wish lists. Neither ANEC nor the LEP have managed to set out a comprehensive rail development plan for North East England. No wonder my hopes that the work of Heaton depot forms a mini franchise for the area go no-where fast.

The challenge for our politicans is simple, they have to work together and fast to get up to speed with what is happening elsewhere in the North if we are not to be in the also ran category. Thankfully a good number of people from the North East had travelled. User groups from Morpeth, the Tyne Valley (three of us), Coastliners, a Northern Echo reporter, three local government officers, Alex Nelson of Chester Le Track were there. But not one North East politician I think. So if you want electric trains in the Tyne Valley, an expanded Metro, stations for Washington and Peterlee and Ferryhill, a local service north of Chathill connecting Belford and Berwick regularly to Alnmouth and Morpeth, the Ashington Blyth & Tyne, the end of the Pacer, an Oyster card for the North East, those who are our politicans at county and government levels are really going to have to start working together. Some are, our Guy Opperman MP is energetically pressing the case for rail investment in the North East. What other MPs should I add to that hall of fame? There are some candidates, Ian Lavery, David Anderson, maybe some others? But Nick Brown whose constituency covers Heaton depot. I did hear Nick Forbes leader of Newcastle City is about to join the Rail North board. Craig Johnston and the RMT were at the event (he asked a question in forum) flagwaving for the cause of the investment and the jobs it creates.

Things are changing I think for the right direction, but there is a long long way to go before I feel that what happens in the Humber Mersey axis happens in the York Berwick corridor. Regional Intercity was being touted. Liverpool Manchester going electric cited. Then think of our version Middlesbrough Newcastle with the city of Sunderland between. An hourly Pacer which then trots onto the Tyne Valley where even a Pacer's maximum speed is more than the line can handle.

The ITT was issued 26th February 2015