Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Euro MP meets opencast protestors

Fiona Hall, Liberal Democrat Euro MP for the North East, visited western Gateshead on 21st February to speak to campaigners fightings plans for an opencast site at Skons Park next to the historic Gibside Estate.

Though the plan has been rejected by Gateshead Council, the applicants, Halls of Durham, have appealed to the government to overturn the decision.

Local Lib Dem Councilllor Jonathan Wallace has launched a petition to the Secretary of State calling on her to reject the appeal. Nearly 1000 people have so far signed it.

Fiona also visited Lobley Hill in Gateshead to speak to local Lib Dem campaigners about the impact on the area of heavy lorries if the opencast plan is given the go ahead.

Photos: Fiona joins Lobley Hill campaigner Susan Craig, resident Nigel Evans and Councillor Yvonne McNicol at Lobley Hill. Bottom right, Fiona with some of the 40 residents who came to meet her at Skons Park

Friday, February 23, 2007

Enforcement team asked to remove sign

Councilllors in Whickham have asked Gateshead Council’s enforcement team to start proceedings to remove a giant sign from the centre of the village.

McCarthy and Stone have had the sign advertising Chase Court next to the grass verge on Rectory Lane for four years. But planning permission for the sign ended in September last year.

“This is next to the conservation zone in the heart of Whickham where billboard advertising is not permitted,” said Councillor Peter Craig.

“With the apartments in Chase Court now sold, there can be no excuse for keeping the sign in place, especially now that permission for it to be there has finished.”
Photo: Councillor Peter Craig next to the sign he has asked to be removed on rectory Lane, Whickham.

Opposition to advertisement board in Swalwell

Liberal Democrats Councillors Mary Wallace and Peter Craig, who represent Swalwell on Gateshead Council, are opposing an application for a giant advertising board next to the Lidl store, beside the Swalwell roundabout.

The plan has been submitted to Gateshead Council for planning permission and a decision on it will be taken shortly.

“We are concerned that the advertisement board would be out of keeping with the area, visually obtrusive and a distraction to drivers at this otherwise busy junction,” said Mary.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Road concerns spark petition

LIBERAL Democrat campaigners in Lobley Hill have launched a petition to Gateshead Council calling for an urgent review of traffic once traffic lights are installed in the area.

Gateshead Council are currently installing traffic lights at the junction of Consett Road, Lobley Hill Road and Whickham Highway, the three main roads that meet at the top of Lobley Hill.

But there are concerns that the traffic lights will cause some drivers to “rat run” along Malvern Gardens and Oakfield Road.

Residents raised their concerns with Susan Craig, who leads the Lobley Hill Liberal Democrat Focus Team.

A petition form has been delivered to 150 households and Susan will deliver the petition to Gateshead Council shortly.

“Residents have a number of concerns about traffic spilling over into the estate,” said Susan. “Our petition asks the Council to look into the problem and consider solutions.”

Friday, February 16, 2007

Phone mast rejected

Liberal Democrats in Dunston, Gateshead, have welcomed the rejection of plans to put a phone mast on Holmside Avenue in the village.

The plan was rejected at the Council’s Planning Committee meeting on Wednesday 14th February.

Liberal Democrats handed in a petition signed by 150 residents against the plan and Dunston Councillor Peter Maughan represented the objectors at the planning meeting.

Local Liberal Democrat campaigner Michael Ruddy said, “I am pleased the campaign to defeat this plan was a success. The site was next to hundreds of houses. There are right places to put masts and there are wrong places. This was certainly a wrong place.”

Disappointment at flats plan go ahead

Liberal Democrats in Whickham, Gateshead, have expressed their disappointment at the decision of Gateshead Council to give the go ahead for a block of flats on the site of Fellside Road garage.

The decision was taken at the Council’s planning committee on Wednesday 14th February.

Councillor Jonathan Wallace, who helped collect a petition of 400 signatures against the plan, said, “This is a disappointing result. The block of flats, once built, will tower over the bungalows next to the site and many people feel they will lose their privacy.

“We are also concerned about the loss of trees and green open spaces.

“We appreciate that the site cannot be left derelict but it is a location that lends itself to bungalows rather than a block of flats.”

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Coffee morning

LIBERAL Democrats in Crawcrook, Gateshead, will be holding a coffee morning from 9.30am to 11.30am on Saturday 17th February for local residents. It will be held at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Crawcrook.

“All are welcome to call in to have a coffee and meet their local councillors,” said Councillor Derek Anderson.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Changes to voting

A number of important changes to the way you vote will be introduced for the local elections in May. Firstly, if you vote by post, you should by now have received a letter from Gateshead Council asking you to re-apply, giving your date of birth. This change has been introduced because of electoral fraud cases in recent years in which people’s votes were stolen. The requirement now to put on your date of birth onto the return form will make fraud more difficult. The requirement to have a signature on your return form of a 2nd person will no longer be needed, though you will still have to sign the form yourself.

The need to have a record of people’s dates of birth is why postal voters have been asked to reapply. Previously, there was no need to collect this information.

Those opting to vote at a polling station will be able to vote early this year at a special polling station set up in Gateshead Civic Centre. Any voter from Gateshead will be able to vote from Monday 23rd April to Wednesday 22nd May though the times the polling booth will be open are yet to be decided.

The election count will now be held on Friday 4th May, the day after the election itself. This is because of the large number of postal votes now cast in an election, and the need to check the forms returned with them to ensure the correct date of birth has been included. The count is therefore expected to take much longer to ensure the checks take place.

Fewer satisfied with Council – admits Gateshead

A survey of residents by Gateshead Council has found fewer are satisfied with the overall level of service provided by the authority. The figures show a drop of 8% since the last survey 3 years ago.

All Councils are required to carry out satisfaction surveys once every three years. In 2003/4, the survey showed 70% of people were satisfied overall with the level of service provided by Gateshead. This has dropped to 62%.

In addition, those taking part in the survey want the Council to do more to provide activities for young people. In 2003/4, 41% of people were calling for action. No the figure has risen to 50%.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Christmas darkness in Dunston

Christmas 2006 passed by without any Xmas lights in Dunston Village. Your local Lib Dem councillors held discussions with council officers about the lack of lights.

Hopefully the problems with wiring and equipment will be solved before Christmas 2007. “We’re pressing for a better display for later this year,” said Councillor Allison Chatto.

Dunston/Dunston Hill Ash Paths lighting

The main ash paths in the Dunston and Dunston Hill area have had new lighting installed. Councillors Yvonne McNicol, Peter Maughan and Allison Chatto have requested lighting to be installed on smaller cuts/ash paths as well. These works will go ahead when funding becomes available.

Get rid of Graffiti Campaign

Local Lib Dem campaigners in Dunston, Dunston Hill, Lobley Hill and Bensham, Councillor Yvonne McNicol and Susan Craig have launched a "Get Rid of Graffiti" campaign after being contacted by residents worried about the impact of graffiti in the area.

Ensuring people feel safe in their homes and communities is at the heart of what Liberal Democrats stand for. And in their regular tours of Dunston, Yvonne, Peter and Allison have been taking up graffiti cases on behalf of residents.

"Even small amounts of graffiti for example on street signs, can have an effect, it all adds to the general feeling of neglect," said Yvonne.

"It is very important to ensure the graffiti is removed swiftly and I have logged many occurrences of graffiti with Gateshead Council’s graffiti hotline. Some of these have already been cleared up, others are in the system awaiting removal. We will keep residents up to date with progress."

If you see graffiti and want to report it directly to the Council, contact: Local Environmental Services on 433 7000 (24 hour line). You can also report it via email on

The Council has agreed to remove graffiti on Council owned property as quickly as possible after it is reported. However, there are no powers available to the Council to clean up non-council owned property. Your local Lib Dem Councillors are putting pressure on the owners of property covered in graffiti to have it cleaned.

Here are some examples of graffiti Yvonne and Susan are currently tackling in the area:
5 BT equipment boxes on Dunston Bank
2 BT equipment boxes on Woodburn Gardens
various BT boxes on Woodside Gardens, Ede Avenue, Douglas Gardens and outside the Church Hall on King George Avenue to name but a few of the locations reported
post box on Knightside Gardens (the order for the removal of the graffiti there has been placed with the Royal Mail’s contractor)
BT boxes on Malvern Gardens, Lobley Hill
Various street signs in Bensham and Teams.

Bus petition launched in Dunston

Liberal Democrats in Dunston and Teams, Gateshead have launched a petition to Go Ahead North East bus company, calling on them to bring back services directly between Dunston village centre and northern Dunston.

The petition was launched after some of the businesses in The Crescent area contacted Councillor Peter Maughan.

“People running businesses in the area told me that many of their customers are having difficulty getting to the village centre because of the lack of a direct route,” said Peter.

“I therefore produced the petition and have left copies with a number of businesses in the area. We will hand the petition over to the company shortly.”

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Red Kite Roost watch

Anyone who has followed the Northern Kites project that aims to reintroduce red kites into the wild in the Derwent Valley will be interested to know that up to 34 of the birds are roosting in Spen Bank Woods in Rowlands Gill.

Bird watchers are encouraged to take the opportunity to see the birds. They can be seen from the bus turning circle in the Sherburn Towers housing estate in Rowlands Gill. Northern Kites staff and volunteers will be at the bus turning circle from 3pm-5pm each afternoon on the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th and 21st February.

People involved with the project will be at the turning circle with binoculars and telescopes and will answer any questions you may have about the kites and the Project.

Meanwhile, the family of swans on Watergate Park’s lake is doing well. The five signets are continuing to grow their adult plumage. You can watch them on video by following the link: Watergate Lake Swans.

Crimestoppers and Council co-operate on booze sales

Gateshead Council and Crimestoppers have launched a campaign to target adults who buy alcohol from an off-licenses on behalf of children. Any adults who are caught, face court action and a fine of up to £5,000. It is hoped that the scheme will help to reduce alcohol-fuelled anti-social behaviour.

A poster is being sent to every off-license in Gateshead to help shoppers who see an offence being committed to report it. A DVD for training is also being sent to each off-license so that shop staff know about dealing with age-restricted goods and how to avoid selling them to children.

Any member of the public who witnesses the purchase of alcohol by an adult who then gives it to someone under the age of 18 years can ring Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 to report the offence in complete confidence.

Police Forum

A Police and Community Forum is to be held in the Methodist Church Hall, Sunniside Road, Sunniside, on Wednesday 21 February 2007 at 6.30pm.

The meeting is open to all residents who want to meet local police officers and raise crime and policing issues with them.

Safety concern in Burnopfield

Burnopfield Lib Dem campaigners Judith Fletcher and Martin Williams are taking up concerns raised by local residents over the safety of the disused Total garage on the village’s Front Street.

“As well as being an eyesore,” said Judith, “there is a disused petrol pump and a great deal of debris on the site that has not been sealed off and secured. The site has been given planning permission to be used for housing, but until the work has taken place, it remains a hazard.”
Martin added, “Following concerns local residents have raised with us, we have written to Derwentside Council to ask whether the safety of the site has been assessed. If this is not the case, we will be fighting for this to happen as a matter of urgency.”

Deep ploughing in Sunniside

A number of concerns have been raised recently by residents of Sunniside and Streetgate about the state of the field overlooking the Whinnies between the two villages. It appeared that a large part of the field had been dug up and many were concerned that a development was about to take place.

Liberal Democrats can now inform you that the work carried out was deep ploughing, by the Woodland Trust, who maintain neighbouring Lotties Wood. The aim is to help meadow flowers to grow at the location but to give them a fighting start, need ploughing was needed to kill the weeds at the location.

Hopefully by the summer there will be a good display of meadow plants.

Mixed news on bus services in Whickham, Sunniside and Burnopfield

Changes to bus services will take place in February. Some of the most relevant to eFocus readers are as follows:

643: from 19th, the 8.16am, 3.16pm and 5.16pm services from MetroCentre are being withdrawn. The Saturday service will be withdrawn completely. (Thanks to our eagle eyed readers who spotted the mistake in our December eFocus when we first raised the possibility the service may be cut – we mistakenly said it was run by Stanley Taxis but is actually run by Classic Coaches. Our apologies.)

40 and 43: from 25th, the 40 service will be withdrawn and replaced by a revised 43. Between Whickham and Sunniside it will go via Fellside Park and Burnthouse Lane, rather than Broom Lane. Between Burnopfield and Stanley it will go via Tantobie and Tanfield Lea. From Stanley it will go to Durham City bus station. It will operate every 30 minutes Monday to Saturday daytime, twice per hour on Sunday daytime and hourly in the evening.

44: from 25th, the service will operate down Broom Lane rather than Whaggs Lane and will be extended to Durham City bus station. It will operate every 30 minutes Monday to Saturday daytime and hourly evenings and Sundays.

97: from 25th the Sunday evening service will be reduced from every 30 minutes to every 45.

98: from 25th, the service will operate in a reverse direction down Broadway and Fellside Park. It will also terminate at Newgate St in Newcastle, rather than Eldon Square. The first Saturday service however is to be withdrawn. (Readers may recall that the anomaly of the bus shelters on the Sunniside Road bound side of the Broadway being redundant as no full service used them. That has now been solved.)

638/9: the 638 will be withdrawn from 25th. The 639 will run every 30 minutes and be renumbered the 69. Sunday daytime service will be every 30 minutes and Sunday evening service will be hourly.

700: the Rowlands Gill to Stanley, via Burnopfield service is being withdrawn.

770: the service is to be renumbered X70 and will have the frequency increased from hourly to every 30 minutes. On Sundays, it will be numbered 70. The service however will no longer stop at the Windy Hill area of Bensham.

We do not yet have a solution to the problem of travelling between Sunniside and Dunston where we are missing the direct link. Also, access to the Whickham Health Centre is still poor, and the rerouting of the 44 down Broom Lane rather than Whaggs Lane means the stop to go to the doctors in now opposite the Whickham War Memorial, rather than just outside the surgery. We’ll keep you in touch with progress.

500 sign opencast online petition

The petition launched by Liberal Democrat campaigners in January calling of the government to reject the appeal over an application to opencast next to the historic Gibside Estate has been signed online by 500 people so far.

Over 300 signed online within 2 days of the launch as a result of the email bulletin circulated in January. Many thanks to everyone who has signed so far. The petition is also in our printed Focuses which are currently being delivered. Many signatures have already been received back by this method though we have not yet started to count them.

Nearly 200 people have posted comments about the application and these can now be read on the site (we have only put on people’s initials and the district postcode). To read them, follow the link below.

The petition will be delivered to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, currently Ruth Kelly. After a public inquiry expected later this year, she will take a final decision.

The petition calls for the appeal to be rejected. If the appeal is agreed, it will mean nearly half a million tonnes of coal and fireclay will be stripped from the site. 100 lorry movements in and out of the site would be permitted each day (Saturdays would be half the number and no working would take place on Sundays).

The lorries would then drive past Burnopfield and Byermoor and then through Marley Hill, Sunniside, Streetgate and Lobley Hill to get to the A1.

“Many thanks to everyone who has signed the petition,” said Councillor Jonathan Wallace. “We will keep everyone in touch with progress. Please encourage others to sign it as well.”

If you have not yet signed the petition on line, you can do so by clicking on the following link:

If you haven’t already seen our video about the route the lorries will take if the application is approved, you can view it on the following link: Opencast Video
Photo: Councillor Jonathan Wallace takes the protest against the Skon's Park opencast proposals to Parliament.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

MP to pay back House of Commons

BLAYDON Labour MP Dave Anderson is to pay back to the House of Commons the cost of using parliamentary stationery and postage after he sent a party political mailing to Labour members.

The letter was sent by first class Parliamentary mail on House of Commons headed notepaper to Labour members in the constituency even though the rules on use of tax payer funded stationery forbid its use for party political purposes.

In the letter, posted out on 10th January, Mr Anderson called on Labour to stay united during the forthcoming leadership contest.

He also asked people to support Labour candidates in the local elections to be held in May and launched a concerted attack on Liberal Democrat councillors in the constituency, describing them as “second rate”.

Mr Anderson’s letter was anonymously leaked to Liberal Democrat Councillor Dr Jonathan Wallace. He lodged a complaint with the Serjeant at Arms, the Parliamentary Officer who deals with services and facilities in Parliament.

Dr Wallace has now received a letter from the office of the Serjeant at Arms confirming that, after being investigated, Mr Anderson admitted his letter was not an appropriate use of Parliamentary mail and stationery and has agreed to pay back the costs incurred.

“Mr Anderson should be much more careful in future in the way he and his office use House of Commons facilities,” said Dr Wallace.

“It is a basic rule that the stationery and mail provided to MPs are for writing to constituents who have raised issues and concerns with them. They are not to be used for party political purposes.

“It is not meant to be a free-to-use system for Labour MPs to churn out attacks on opposition councillors or drum up support for Labour council candidates.

“I am surprised this was overlooked when this letter was written and signed by Mr Anderson.

“We are pleased that Mr Anderson has agreed to pay back the money his mailing cost the tax payer. Hopefully there will be no repeat of this incident.”
Photo: Dave Anderson, Blaydon's Labor MP, has had to pay back the House of Commons for using tax payer funded House of Commons stationery and postage to write to Labour members drumming up support for Labour candidates.