Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Let's get back up to speed

You know how it is, post County Show the nights draw in and everything becomes more of a slog (except when I was kid in Kirkwall in the 70s and the dark meant playing hide and seek in the schemes and lighting bonfires i.e. great fun), so creative writing has hit the back burner.

There have been a number of hot topics hitting the news since August, such as the Stromness Lorry Park furore, and the recent Sheltered Housing Warden controversy, and they are worth a post on their own, and I'll get onto this later- it'll be called 'Communication...'

Here I'd just like to update on things happening in the ward.

First thing to note is that the Black Building has gone, more quickly and finally than any of us expected. I was torn over the decision to demolish, as it was clearly A Unique Thing, but equally clearly had been destroyed internally (as can be seen in the Orkneycommunities Image Library pics of it). Magnus Tullock is compiling an archive related to it, and I hope that Orkneycommunities.co.uk can help out, and bring the information to a wider audience as well. I believe that the cost of demolition was significantly lower than early estimates, but I am waiting to get this clarified.

The Schools Investment Programme (now known as Orkney Hostels and Classrooms- no, I just made that up) is well under way, with construction hoped to start in one year, with the new KGS expected to take 2 years to build. The hostel, new pool, and Stromness Primary will take less time, maybe 18 months. Assurances have been given that the new pool construction/old pool demolition will be phased so that Kirkwall will not be left without a pool for any significant period of time. Much more about the SIP here. I am on the advisory working group for this project, and am impressed with the huge amount of work that has been put into it already. There is no question that the Council made the right decision to keep the programme on track, when the debate took place about whether to prevaricate about the Stromness Primary site. As I said at the time, what is the worst that is going to happen to Stromness? Assurances had been given re. a lorry park, there is a commitment to look at developing the harbour for renewables, and the town is getting a brand new school in the site that still seems to be the most popular amongst all the options from the last survey. Meanwhile megabucks are being spent on the Townscape Heritage Initiative, and the town is positioning itself as a centre for creative industries and renewables. Any more mass there and it'll turn into a black hole that will suck all of Orkney into it... Personally I'd sooner see all of this in Kirkwall anyway, and see no reason why the Stromness Lorry Park can't be at Hatston ;-)

Festive lighting- now there is something that splits the Kirkwall councillors. I'm in favour of the festoons, and am delighted that they are back, and coloured. More of them, and with warmer colours for next year please. On a related topic, cathedral lighting is being looked at, with a view to more economical but better (i.e. switched on) illumination of the Red Building. Nice planters for the Kirk Green have also been promised for 2010.

And 2010 is just around the corner. Will I get my posts addressing flooding, Dounreay, the Year of Islands Culture 2011, the H&I Film Commission, the Kirkwall Town Centre Partnership and Communication... in before then? Hope so. 

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year just in case.

Monday, August 31, 2009

For the record

So far I've received two messages about the proposed byelaw regulating drinking in public places in Kirkwall, one against it, and one for it, but regretting that it does not go further.

My considered viewpoint is summarised in my letter to the anti campaigner, as follows.

Thanks for your message. I share your concerns, and indeed have voiced the same ones in Committee and at the Working Group to discuss this byelaw. Despite being initially opposed, as you are, I have come round to allowing it to be trialled.

What has to be understood is that this is not a byelaw to prevent drinking in public, but a byelaw to give police the ability to curb blatantly antisocial behaviour resulting from drinking in public. Asking someone to stop if they are being a nuisance gives them a fair chance to avoid trouble, and if they continue then it is a cut and dried offence in a way that breach of the peace isn't, which then allows action to be taken. Assurance were sought from the police by the Working Group looking into this that that anyone drinking in a public place who was doing no harm would have nothing to worry about, with specific assurance sought that this would be applied with such discretion as to not impact on Kirkwall's traditional festivities (e.g. 'Broad Street', the Ba, blackenings), and the police were happy to supply such assurance.

I am against additional legislation and restriction of civil liberty in principle, as evidenced by my futile but well intentioned Northlink ID card campaign, and was initially completely against such a byelaw, to the extent that my fellow councilors punished me by putting me on the Working Group. But we need to take into account external factors such as a Scottish Government that is looking towards its local authorities helping to promote responsible drinking, and that as of two years ago 27 out of 31 authorities (including Shetland and the Western Isles) have implemented similar byelaws and found them useful. The Kirkwall version uses the least onerous form of wording of any of the forms suggested by the Scottish Government, and the assurances given mean that the byelaw need not prevent even a Munich-style beer festival taking place on Broad Street (which I for one would welcome). Further, this is being approached on a trial basis, so if it is seen to not work it will be revoked, as sure as West Castle Street is two way.

So on balance I am in favour of giving it a try. I agree we should hold it as a right to be able to drink alcohol in public places, but do not feel it is my right to behave in an antisocial fashion while doing so. Consequently I do not believe that our civil liberties will be infringed, but if they prove to be I will campaign to have this bylelaw revoked.

Dave Gray from Radio Orkney has asked all the Kirkwall councillors for their views for an article tomorrow, and I have said the same to him as I have here. I am of course happy to discuss this further with you if you wish.

Yours sincerely,

Steven Heddle

Monday, June 22, 2009

Painful piles

Well, I challenge anybody to slog through this pile of stuff and not experience some pain...

These are the papers for two days of meetings (P&R and Monitoring and Audit) and I'd like to point out that it is printed double-sided as well, with very few pictures, so P&R has taken a day to slog through. I'm taking a camping stove for the meeting, so if the honk of Bangers'n'Beanz from Heinz permeates the gallery by item 14, don't be surprised. That'll be just before dinner time on day 2...

But the point I am slowly coming to make is that even when nothing seems to be happening, a lot is. Just rather slowly. Let me mention an example- permit parking.

I've been pressing for permit parking to be considered since I've been on the Council. Not because I want to see more restriction imposed, nor because I think it could be a money-spinner for the OIC, but because the OIC itself makes life difficult for anybody near School Place who wants to park near their house Mon-Fri, 9-5. This is mostly in Kirkwall East, viz. White Street, Willow Road, Thom Street, Palace Road, Willowburn Road, St Rognvalds Street and even East Road, so a hot topic. I feel that people in these areas (based on everybody I have asked) would welcome the chance to have preferential parking near their homes for a modest fee, say £50 per annum, with short stay parking still allowed in the marked bays and long stay only for permit holders. Nothing sorted yet, but it is bubbling along now, and hopefully we'll get something to vote on soon. But it has had to queue behind the Papdale Primary 20mph zone, and the successfully contested one-way proposals for Willow Road and Willowburn Road, and a previous failed attempt to consider it meant there was little appetite at the outset.

However, the problems become greater, with long stay parking to be displaced from the Shore Street car park creating even more pressure on East Road, and parking restrictions planned for Place Road too. Permits could allow a resident/short stay user balance very well, but how they are implemented and policed needs careful planning.

So things are happening, but slowly, but not for want of prodding.

There's lots more. Keeping paths clean, flower bed maintenance, abandoning of caravans, boats and building materials in car parks, etc.

I'm too tired to recall them all though. I've been doing a lot of reading...

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Tales from the labbook

Conscious that the blog has neither sparkled with wit nor gleamed with insight for a while, I dip into my Council lab books for highlights of the last couple of months. As I am currently working out of 5 books for the various things I do, writing things down becomes more and more important.

1) Planning Reform

A seminar on 26th February, entitled 'Small Country, Big Plans' introduced the upcoming new National Planning Framework. It made a lot of good noises- more planning applications are to be in the jurisdiction of the local authority to reduce timescales for decisions and appeals. The planning reform aims to simplify things (reducing policy document from 350 pages to 35) and enable development. The Government aims to be more hands off about Local Development Plans, and will instruct agencies that they are bodies of the government, not pressure groups nor cheerleaders for environmental issues.

2) Charities and bequests

I succeeded in getting the recommendation to roll up a large number of bequests into a single charity referred back to P&R for a rethink. My issues were that while many of the bequests were at the winding-up stage, others were significant and worthy of preservation as entities with the original aims respected, and that not respecting this would put off future bequests as well.

The revised scheme takes account of this for the larger funds, and makes clear the options for designating funds within a charity fund. This revised scheme was passed at P&R and Full Council and is a much better one- however it still needs the nod from OSCR, the charities regulator. Hopefully this will take place and the funds can be promoted and disbursed- currently they are in limbo.

3) The Council and HIE

The Council received an update on 3rd March on what HIE is up to these days from chairman Willy Roe and chief executive Sandy Cumming. Local businessman Craig Spence has recently joined the HIE board, which is good.

The update basically said business as usual, but with measures to address the Credit Crunch/Global Economic Crisis/Recession. Call it what you like, but I find the way it has exposed the greed and naked self-interest at corporate and national government level even more depressing than the outcomes so far. The banks stole our money to pay for their crazy incentive structures, now the Government is stealing our money to bail them out. Grease the ledges on the banks and wedge their windows open I say. Meanwhile our country has no utilities as the Tories asset stripped them to pay for tax cuts and 'widen share ownership' (but I thought we all owned them before), no heavy industry as it wasn't as sexy as gambling with peoples savings, and we are borrowing hundreds of billions of pounds. But from who? I thought this was a Global crisis. Aren't we still basing the future on wealth that doesn't really exist?

Despite my gloomy feeling that our future prosperity will be based on peats, neeps and home brew, the strategic issues for HIE here are Marine Renewables and the Transhipment Hub.

(Food and Drink did get a namecheck, but nothing about peats. )

Key point is that HIE is doing far less, and only for 'businesses of growth potential' and 'not serving only local markets'. That means about 30 businesses in Orkney this year, and 500 in the Highlands and Islands. Small businesses will get any help that is going from the Business Gateway, a Scottish Enterprise way of working and/or the OIC, and all the Global Connections stuff is heading down the Scottish Development International (run by Scottish Enterprise) route. See the way this could go? It's a concern, as HIE are a far better bet for us as a separate body than as SE Area 6.

4) KGS Surgery #2

A sequel to KGS Surgery #1, which was not the slasher pic I had envisaged but instead a very encouraging series of one to one discussions with intelligent and informed young constituents.

Issues raised to me related to the state of the school building and progress towards the new one (tatty but functional, slightly delayed but definitely well under way). There is a feeling that nothing is being done to KGS as it will be supreceded soon.

Credit Crunch and Council response to it came up (new small grant schemes, acceleration of capital projects and spends etc.), and also issues relating to specific teachers and subjects.

That's me up to 10th March now...

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Burning issue

The issue of the font used has captivated the select readership of this blog, and it is clear that I am one of Orkney's least legible non-bachelors.

I have responded promptly and restored my favoured Trebuchet MS to the body text, and increased the size of stevenWriting where it has been retained. Now this looks OK to me, but as the template has been hacked to first make everything bigger, then the body text smaller again I can't guarantee it works everywhere.

Give me a shout if it has gang agley. Thanks to Sue, Sian and Anon for your helpful comments.

Check out Sian's blog at http://sianthom.blogspot.com/, and marvel as I do at how she gets three pictures per post, as well as enjoying the posts.

It was a mistake to customize my template to the extent that I can't face upgrading to New Blogger- but hey, after New Labour who could blame me for being sceptical?

Back to business with the next post.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Trivial interlude

Just to check if anybody reads this (or if anybody can read it), what do you think of the font used on this site?

It's used because it is actually derived from my own handwriting, and the aim is to personalise things a bit. And give the graphologists a field day. Or garphologits as I typed first, as the house is so cold I can hardly feel my hands.

But I realise that even though it turned out better than my usual writing it tends to be a bit small, and flies in the face of accessibility. So if the people speak out against it, I'll switch back to Trebuchet MS or Verdana.

However if you want to create your own font, nip along to http://www.fontifier.com/. To get it on a website you'll need to use WEFT to create an EOT file that you will reference, with exclusions to stop others using your font (and bandwidth). Further advice at reasonable rates from Steven Heddle Consultancy...

[Further update: Sue comments below that a free service is available at http://www.yourfonts.com, and it looks even better than Fontifier!]

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Errr... Happy New Year

Well, a lot of things have happened since the last blog.

Fuel prices have come down again, as a side effect of global economic catastrophe. Innovative measures of getting fuel from outwith the local monopolies has shown that the price could be much lower (even if shipped by road from Scrabster to Aberdeen!), and points the finger at the distributors. Of course they are fighting back now, and evidence from Shetland shows that our brave pioneers (Tullock's, Shearer's and Brass's) are liable to be squeezed- I hope their stand is rewarded with some loyalty in the face of the backlash from the distributors.

Interest rates at 1%- surely that is madness, and simply prevents the necessary correction in house prices, and penalises savers to bale out the reckless. Bah.

The Stromness Pierhead Regeneration worries me, as all the exemplary designs look hellish, and Stromness deserves more than a white box and some flagpoles. Having said that, I have every faith in the Stromness councillors to help influence design towards something worthwhile, and will keep my Kirkwall nose out of it.

Closer to home, there has been a number of meetings with Papdale East residents provoked by nuisance neighbours, but also encompassing difficulties in parking, refuse collection and maintenance of walls and footpaths. These issues are being addressed (slowly) and efforts are being made to revive the Papdale Residents Association, which would be excellent as it could call the Council (and the councillors) to account, and also receive annual funding to put towards any projects or ideas it has for the area, in addition to all the stuff the Council has responsibility for.

The All Weather Pitch debate is raging, and I have sympathy for both sides. The residents of Reid Crescent are understandably concerned that the empty and unused green space in front of them might become considerably busier, with potential parking, noise and light pollution issues. On the other hand the Orkney Football Trust are doing a good thing in trying to get a first class facility for Orkney, and have arguments that suggest the pitch will be an amenity and not a nuisance. It should be clear that the Council is not leading this, though may be asked for a financial contribution. The deciding factor may be whether this is forthcoming and whether Planning approves. If it can be shown to fit at The Meadows site, with no significant disturbance to residents, it would seem worth supporting given the benefit to the school.

Regarding KGS, the new build project proceeds, with a completion target of May 2012, building taking place over an ambitious 2 years. KGS now has a Parents Council and I understand that they have a number of issues they wish to see the school address. I hope to attend the next meeting, as both a parent and a councillor, and one of the questions I have is where is the homework for S1 and S2? As a parent I feel really out of the loop as to what my boy is meant to be learning, and yes I realise I should take this up with the school rather than bumping my gums here. I will.

[Update: I have. It would be inaccurate to say that Iain Ballantine and myself were in total agreement, but we had a good discussion and I think we are less far apart on this issue than appeared at the outset. To be continued! I'd still welcome any views from my readership (yes, all 7 of you), and encourage parents to get in touch with the school if they have any concerns they wish to discuss.]

Possible topics for the next blog: Tesco, Woolies (sob), Community Wardens, the empty Travel Centre offices, merits or otherwise of joint working with NHS Orkney, and why we must value having our own Council (see the state of Wick for further details).