Councillors On Christian Prayers At Meetings

I woke this morning to news that the High Court ruled prayers before council meetings are unlawful.

Atheist Cllr Clive Bone, of Bideford Town Council, had been campaigning for clarification. It’s been a blow for Christian groups struggling to keep Christianity in a prominent position in an increasingly multicultural society. Continue reading

Full Council 20th October – The Round-Up

Stoke-on-Trent City Council has slated the government’s
parliamentary boundary changes and refused to risk legal action over releasing
further information about the ‘Dimensions Deal’.

At its first evening meeting at 5:30pm, Thursday 20th
October, City councillors discussed a variety of matters and answered several
public questions. Continue reading

City Council Plough Through Regeneration Plans

Cabinet members have discussed a variety of topics including landlord licencing, the brand new East West retail development, new schools and even expanding the lifespans of Stoke residents.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s executive cabinet have agreed
to a whole range of proposals with the overarching aim of kick-starting regeneration
across the city.

Leader of the Council Mohammed Pervez was absent from the
meeting due to personal circumstances but all other members were present, with
Deputy Chair Paul Shotton chairing the meeting

EastWest Retail Development

The cabinet have agreed to enforce Community Purchase Orders
(CPOs) if necessary when developing the brand new EastWest retail development  area in Hanley.

The council had announced that the purchase of the land surrounding
the existing bus station in order for it to be demolished was essential in
keeping the project on track and on budget.

According to the report produced to the cabinet, failing to
own the land in its entirety will risk not only the completion of the new bus
station due to a hold-up in funding, but also the entire East West Shopping
Centre project which has been in the works for several years.

Cabinet member for regeneration Ruth Rosenau told The
Sentinel
: “The reason why we need CPO powers is
for a worst-case scenario.

“We will still do everything we can to reach an amicable agreement with these
landowners.”

“City Centre Realm” Regeneration

The cabinet member for Finance, Sarah Hill, spoke at the
cabinet meeting of how previous plans to update the city centre have perhaps
faltered but that the plans in place today will provide Hanley with a new hope
of regeneration.

Cllr Hill told cabinet: “I want to be in the position where
I go into Hanley and my heart sings.”

This optimism was unanimous as the council approved plans to
redevelop Hanley’s walkways over the next two years. Pedestrian zones linking
the existing Potteries Shopping centre, the new bus station and the planned
East West retail development will be overhauled.

A total of almost £29,000 will be injected into Tontine and
Percy Street providing seats, bins, hanging baskets and trees as well as
changes to the road layouts.

Cabinet member for Economic Development, Mark Meredith,
urged cabinet members that the “proof will be in the pudding that we can
deliver.”

The controversial topic of a pigeon cull was also raised at the meeting, with the possible deployment of falcons to the city centre suggested. The cabinet didn’t overturn the decision despite complaints from residents.

Two more phases of redevelopment are currently being
planned.

Building Schools For Future

The cabinet also discussed the Building Schools for Future scheme currently
rolling out across Stoke-on-Trent. Many of the city’s secondary schools and new
academies are receiving a massive overhaul thanks to government grants.

The government will continue to invest over £200m into
Stoke-on-Trent schools, with the city council providing £55m in partnership,
with £35m being supported borrowing.

The result of the works, expected to be seen by 2015, will
give “staff a fantastic environment to work in and [Stoke-on-Trent] will become
a beacon for teachers looking for a great place to work” according to Cllr
Meredith.

The Deputy Chair, Cllr Shotton noted that credit should be
given to both the previous and current governments for continuing to invest in
Stoke-on-Trent’s school system.

Selective Licensing

One of the city’s most deprived residential areas is to be
the centre-point of a new council policy aiming to improve living standards.

Selective Licensing is all about the city council being able
to “act proactively in partnership with landlords to address the problems” of
low living standards. It means the council will be regulating landlords in the
area, ensuring they’re keeping their properties to a high and lawful standard.

Two areas have been selected across Bond Street and Pinnox
Street.

Landlords will have to apply for a licence from the council
and will have to meet the following requirements:

- provide a gas safety certificate
annually;

- keep electrical appliances and
furniture (supplied under the tenancy) in a safe condition;

- keep smoke alarms in proper working
order;

- supply the occupier with a written
tenancy agreement; and

- demand references from persons wishing
to occupy the house.

This is all part of the city council’s plan to make the city
a great place to live and work.

Landlords in the agreed areas will be liable for prosecution
for not obtaining a licence or breaching its conditions.

Cabinet member for Housing and Neighbourhoods, Gwen Hassall,
informed the cabinet that the house values in the trial are were 61% down on
average prices in the nearby area and that the low demand for housing and high
levels of anti-social behaviour make the area perfect for selective licensing

She said: “We’ve got to raise the standard of the
properties. We really do need to protect the people who live there. They’re
afraid to come out of their homes now as a result of anti-social behaviour.”

She also highlighted the importance of the five year project
as some 3.4m properties in the city are privately rented.

Deputy chair of the cabinet Paul Shotton told the council he’d
like to see the scheme rolled out into other areas.

Local Transport Plan

Cabinet members also agreed to submit the new Local Transport Plan 3 to the next full City Council meeting in September. The plan outlines the vision Stoke-on-Trent City Council will adopt to transport in the city for the next 15 years.

The Plan had been looked at previously by the City Renewal Overview and Scrutiny committee and although not yet released, the comments made in the meeting suggest the plan may include plans to promote bus use.

City Council Vehicles

During a report outlining the plan for renewing lease-holds and purchasing
council vehicles, cabinet member for City Services, Janine Bridges, told the
cabinet that some of the council’s vehicles do not live up to EU standards and
that in the future, she will be looking into the possibility of dual fuel cars
and a more environmentally-friendly approach to the council’s fleet.

CCTV regeneration

Although this item was closed to members of the public
during the cabinet meeting due to its close relation to council finances –
cabinet members have probably approved plans to reinvest in the city’s CCTV and
ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) systems by building a brand new control
centre and updating the current but outdated system.

City Council Begin £250m Work Into New Academies

Stoke-on-Trent City Council is continuing to invest in secondary and further education despite the difficult financial atmosphere.

The Ormiston Sir Stanley Matthews Academy in Blurton will remain open to staff and students as construction work begins this month.

The project is scheduled to be completed in two phases: the new school will be opened January 2013 and the demolition of the old buildings followed by extensive landscaping in August 2013.

Detailed plans of construction can be found on the Stoke-on-Trent City Council website here

In a council press release, Councillor Ruth Rosenau, Stoke-on-Trent City Council cabinet member for regeneration, said: “The project is the biggest improvement to education facilities in decades and the start of work on the Ormiston Sir Stanley Matthews Academy is a major step forward.”

Councillor Debra Gratton, Stoke-on-Trent City Council cabinet member for children’s services, said: “It is one of five purpose built academies being created across the city as part of multi-million pound transformational works to education sites.

“It is an exciting time as the work to transform the city’s education facilities comes to fruition.”

The work doesn’t stop at the Sir Stanley Matthews Academy…

Every secondary and special school in the city will benefit from a total £250m investment, according to the Council website.

More information about the Building Schools for the Future project can be found here.

Children’s Centres Petition Will Not Go To Overview & Scrutiny Committee

One of the highlights of today’s Full Council meeting at the Civic Centre was a bit of excitement and confusion regarding a petition submitted to the council regarding the 30% budget cuts to the Children’s Centres agreed by the last council.

You’ll have to forgive me if I get any of the following incorrect as it was a very confusing 10 minutes…

Citizens in Stoke-on-Trent may be aware that a consultation is taking place (until Friday) following public outcry over the budget cuts issued to Children’s Centres. Today at Full Council a petition was presented to the council by a passionate mum of four.

After her speech was complete, Independent councillor Randy Conteh moved a motion for the relevant Overview and Scrutiny committee to consider the petition.

An Overview and Scrutiny committee is a cross-party mix of councillors who scrutinise the council and cabinet’s decision-making.

The Labour leader Cllr Mohammed Pervez argued that the budget cut had already been looked at by an Overview and Scrutiny committee before it was approved in March by the old council and that the consultation which is happening at the moment is considering the petition as part of the consultation, before returning its findings to his cabinet – for them to decide what should happen with the 30% cuts.

I believe Cllr Conteh wants the petition containing over 3,000 signatures to be considered by the cross-party Overview and Scrutiny Committee because it is a substantial piece and the matter is of huge public interest.

Nevertheless, despite 9 votes in favour of the petition being recieved by the relevant Overview & Scrutiny committee, the Labour group rallied round their leader and stuck to the standard procedure consultations follow.

However, it was made clear that there was nothing set out in the constitution to say that the petition could not be looked at by an Overview and Scrutiny committee at the same time as a consultation on the same topic.

Councillor Debra Gratton, cabinet member for children’s services said in a council press release earlier: “The level of feedback we have received has been excellent, and I’d like to thank everyone who has contributed. I’d also like to remind people that they can continue to give their comments until Friday.

“It has been a very humbling experience to hear from parents the different ways children’s centres support them and their children. We have had some really excellent feedback and I’d like to assure residents that all comment will be given very careful consideration.”

The results of the consultation will be presented to the Cabinet in August.