Sunday, 18 July 2010

A tree and Labour looks ahead in Nottingham

Before I start, something which is always a sad moment. A pic of one of the London Planes on Lenton Boulevard being removed. This was taken a week ago. Workmen at the scene told me that the tree's roots had broken a electricity power supply cable and needed to be removed. Given that they were still trying to dig the roots out on Thursday (the last time I walked this way), it may well have been cheaper (and quicker) to have installed a new cable around the tree. It makes me wonder if other trees on the same side of the Boulevard could suffer the same fate eventually. I may ask the question. For now, I want to record the moment. I love trees and could not imagine living in a landscape without them — which is why, one day, I would like to visit The Shetlands, which appears to have very few trees, but still appeals to me. I would like to understand why.

A couple of days ago I received a pre-May 2011 Nottingham City Council election 'Survey' questionnaire from Nottingham Labour asking for my views on a range of topics and posing the question what should Labour be focusing on in (its) 2011 manifesto. I thought I would share my answers with you.

The questionnaire began by asking me to prioritise a list of policy areas by numbering them 1–8. The following list is in the same order as printed on the questionnaire I received with my ranking shown in (brackets):
Education (5); Rubbish (4); Crime (8); Jobs and employment (6); Anti-social Behaviour (7); Housing (2); Greener Nottingham (3) and Other (1). Against 'Other' I wrote 'Protect the OAP bus pass scheme' and 'Use the Local Government & Public Involvement in Health Act, 2007 (passed by the Labour Government) to devolve more ward powers and budget controls to ward couyncillors'.

My priorities reflect my age and the fact that us oldies have to fight our corner. I fully accept that others will, quite reasonably, have different priorities. The next question on the form was 'What is the biggest issue for you in Nottingham?'. My reply was 'The provision of suitable housing for families and older residents in student and landlord dominated areas like Dunkirk and Lenton'.

The next question asked 'What is the biggest issues in the are you live? (sic).
I listed four items:
  • Student housing and private landlords
  • Need for more family homes
  • Future of Lenton high-rise flats
  • Dangerous road junctions with traffic lights, but no pedestrian controls (eg. Derby Road/Lenton Boulevard, Derby Road/Gregory Street and Gregory Street/Abbey Street/Abbeybridge).

The final question was 'What ideas or issues do you think we should be campaigning on or championing as Nottingham Labour Party?. My reply:
  1. Turning Nottingham into 'A city of neighbourhoods' where local residents and businesses are encouraged (and empowered) to become more involved in deciding local priorities and needs, then are given more control in partnership with their ward councillors when it comes to managing local assets, resourcers, services and budgets.
  2. Establish 'open' ward committees to replace area committees, whilst allowing ward committees to work together if they decide to (perhaps this might happen in Bulwell and Clifton, both distinct areas with more than one ward).
I hope the Labour Group on Nottingham City Council share the replies they receive with not just Labour Party members, but the wider community as well, perhaps inviting them to comment on the views of the membership. The Labour Group is to be commended for its efforts to consult with members.

I may disagree with them on some things and believe the city council has not treated Lenton well over the years, but I have never seen any other political party attempting to take them on in Dunkirk and Lenton ward. As I have said in the past, the opposition in our part of Nottingham is the Labour Party.

For my part, I remain committed to the idea that 'doorstep' facilities and services can be better managed by local communities and, in the present financial and economic climate, this has to be a priority. I hope Jon Collins and the Labour Group on Nottingham City Council can find the vision to adopt such a policy for the 2011 city council election.

I wish them well in their deliberations. I know that I and others are only excluded because we choose not to get that involved. This is democracy as we know it in Nottingham. It could be worse, but it could be a lot better. However, in the absence of being willing to give my time and energy to help change things, I have, in truth, little to complain about. We get the governments and councils we deserve!

Details of techniques used to inflict pain deliberately on children in privately run jails have been revealed for the first time in a government document obtained by the Observer. Some of the restraint and self-defence measures approved by the Ministry of Justice include ramming knuckles into ribs and raking shoes down the shins.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Bricks in walls

A couple of weeks ago we went to a friend's funeral, which was held in a small 19th century Baptist chapel in a small Northamptonshire village, where I took this picture.
Then, last weekend, I saw the brick below in a house wall on Beeston Road in Dunkirk, the small area which makes up the south-west corner of Lenton.
I have walked passed this house hundreds of times, yet I have never noticed this brick before. It is by a bus-stop I use regularly when I go to Dunkirk Post Office. It was Susan who saw it. Local historians and others are always reminding us to look up and to pay more attention to the everyday buildings around us. You could devote a blog to looking up. It could be called 'The past is looking up'. Now that I have written it, I realise that it is a wonderful play on words, with so many meanings that it could attract a wide range of visitors. Perhaps I will go out one day soon with my camera and do just that.  For now, here are are two I took ages ago.
This face appears above a window of the large house on the south-west corner of the Derby Road and Lenton Boulevard junction in New Lenton.

 Then there is the front of the old (New) Lenton National School cum Church School cum Gurdwara, which is about to be renovated, thanks to a English Heritage grant. I know there are countless other images out there waiting to be photographed.
And finally, this house plaque from Montpelier Street in Dunkirk, back where we started. The future for me might be looking up in ways I had not imagined a few days ago.

Six months after the earthquake, an estimated 1.5 million Haitians are still homeless and many countries have yet to provide the financial aid they promised Haiti.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Life, light and shadows

The past three weeks have been taken up by a combination of things, all on top of the daily routine. I am in the second week of a 'Lenton Living History' fortnight at The Crocus Gallery in Church Square, which is going well, but a little time consuming insomuch as I have to be there 11am–4pm. On the plus side, I am enjoying it, but it did take some preparation, which I could not have done without the help of others, especially Susan.

Then, last week I went to Central Hall in Westminster and did a presentation to a workshop on how councillors and local communities can work together better. My topic was 'Re-inventing doorstep services in Lenton'. There were about fifty people at the workshop. The fact that only three were councillors was a little disappointing, but since only six attended the conference, to have 50% of them present was an achievement of sorts. All this took time and I won't do it again. It was outside what I would now call my 'comfort zone' (which I will come back to in a future blog). I need to focus my time and energy, but then this is not a new thought, as some of you will know.

Today, I want to play catch up and draw your attention to three local happenings.
On Sunday, Susan and I went to Highfields Park and the Lakeside Arts Centre to see an exhibiition about the Wollaton Antiphonal and other medieval books in the Wollaton collection now in the care of Nottingham University's Manuscript Department. It was beautiful to see such works close up and a real privilege. Then we went and had tea at Dunkirk and Old Lenton Community Centre to celebrate 'Dunkirk in Bloom' week, which was organised by our friend Maurita and her colleagues in TRAD (Tenants & Residents Association Dunkirk). Our councillors and MP were there, as well as others we had not seen in a while, so it made a very enjoyable end to the afternoon. The pic above shows a row of three hanging baskets on Beeston Road, Dunkirk, looking towards the flyover.
This little corner of New Lenton is at the Derby Road end of Park Street. Behind the wall and trees is a long disused petrol station site, where a developer is planning to build yet another mini-supermarket (it will be our third), plus eight 2 bedroom flats. Whatever happens, I hope this softened corner of New Lenton will not be protected. It is not a site without its problems and the present view on the Derby Road is as such as that a decent, sympathetic, development is preferable to how it looks at present:
As you can see, the pavement at this point along the Derby Road (looking north-east towards the city centre) is very wide and the developers want to build the new shops and flats right up to the edge of the site. The only trouble with this proposal is that the tree will have to be cut back quite severely and even then will block the light from the windows of at least three flats. There is also a bus-stop here (see the bus shelter to the left of the tree) and there will be a single entrance/exit from the site just beyond the tree. I will be submitting comments to the planners, but I fear that indifference will reign and the developers will get their way. We shall see.
Whilst looking at the old garage site, I took this pic of Lenton flats from Park Street and wondered just how long the flats will be here? There is a shadow over their future and to talk about it seems to be a kind of heresy. What gives the topic an added sense of urgency is the fact that Nottingham City Council has decided to 'decommission' the Radford high-rise tower block. In other words, pull them down. They are considered a fire risk and this alone is probably enough to justify the decision, but to have made the decision without any consultation with the tenants is inexcusable and, I am sad to say, typical of the way Nottingham City Council treats the people who elect it and finance it as taxpayers and Council Tax payers.
So, what is the future of the Lenton's five high-rise tower blocks? Their future hangs in the balance, literally. The flats are clad in concrete panels, which were tested last year to see how long they have left (concrete panels can corrode from the inside, because of the metal mesh used to hold the concrete together). I have yet to see a published report of the findings. I will try and find out what has happened over the next few weeks and report back. Dave Trimble, our city councillor, says nothing is likely to happen in the 'foreseeable future'. In itself, good news, but whilst I trust Dave, I have little confidence that the City Council will that mindful of local feelings and opinions when it comes to making a decision. We shall see. In the meantime, I hope local residents and tenants will be mindful of the possibilities and will make it clear to the City Council that the future of Lenton's high-rise flats is something they must discuss with them before finalising their options when it comes to deciding the future of the flats. Otherwise…
…it will be like a scene from Dr Who. They will disappear before our eyes, panel by panel, floor by floor until they are no more. Even worse,the flats will be sold to a private developer for £1, who will do everything Nottingham City Council says is impossible and instead of working class people being the beneficiaries, it will be aspirational, young middle-class things wanting to live the high life in a great location. You have been warned.

Civil servants who are forced to take redundancy will have their payouts reduced from a maximum of six years to just one year's pay under a tough and "non-negotiable" new compensation scheme published by the Government today. The law is being changed to make this possible.