Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Road repairs, Bingo!

Last couple of days has seen quite a few local issues reported by constituents and raised by me with the City Council - a recurring theme - roads & pavements - but having spoken with a representative of Scotland Gas Networks today the good news is that the very last of the works in Roseangle are being completed and (given a couple of days for setts to fully set - pardon the pun) the last of the works should be away by Friday at the very latest. Other issues include road and pavement issues in Step Row and Thomson Street.

Also some useful discussions on HMO issues and the consultation on draft supplementary guidance being proposed by the Council - see
http://www.dundeecity.gov.uk/hmos/.

Tonight was spent at the Blackness Area Residents' Association AGM, which went very well, with over 30 attending. I had agreed to chair the actual AGM itself. Only potential disaster was that the bingo machine for the bingo after the AGM was locked away in error, so we ended up resorting to an improvised "machine" (90 bits of numbered paper with my bad handwriting and a waste paper basket!) Still, it worked OK! The meeting had input from the Chair of Dundee Federation of Tenants' Association and two Housing Department staff, and there was a really useful question & answer session.

No blogging tomorrow - in Edinburgh with day job but very early morning helping LibDem colleagues in Glasgow deliver polling day leaflets at King's Park Ward by-election.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Party Conference, Planning decisions ...

Having had a 5am start Friday to get to Peebles for a day job meeting, it took a bit of an effort to drive to Aviemore Saturday for party conference (or, rather, half the party conference!) Thoroughly enjoyable event though; everyone is in great heart after the Dunfermline & West Fife by-election and rousing speech from Nicol Stephen. Congratulated Willie Rennie on his by-election result - as you can see!

Good debate on the Saturday on Energy Efficiency and Micro-Generation from Renewables - click on the headline above for a link to this. And a useful training session on membership on the Sunday. But returned to 70 e-mails - oh joy.

Last night's development quality committee had three local planning applications. Asked for assurances about no adverse effect on parking/traffic for a proposed cafe conversion in Exchange Street (assurances given; application approved) and moved refusal for retrospective consent for steps leading out of Annfield Row/Peddie Street industrial estate for 24 hour bakery. My concern is about increased litter/noise for residents and there was already a perfectly good entrance through the industrial estate. But lost the vote. Not at all happy.

Also expressed concern at the outcome of planning appeal at Tay Rope Works, reported to committee last night. Summed up by the news release I did on this when I got the Reporter's decision letter at the end of last month - I paste below -

"Dundee City Councillor for Tay Bridges Ward, Cllr Fraser Macpherson, has sharply criticised the Scottish Executive Inquiry Reporters’ Unit over its decision to partially uphold a planning appeal at the former Tay Rope Works site in Dundee’s West End.

The decision, just received by Dundee City Council, comes six months after the City Council’s Development Quality Committee unanimously refused an application for two houses to be built on the site.

Cllr Macpherson said, “The Reporters’ Unit has come under a great deal of criticism locally for overturning the democratic decisions of the elected local authority, but this decision is almost bizarre in its outcome, in that the Reporter has upheld the appeal in part, in that one property has been allowed on appeal, but the other remains refused. It’s a bit like the Scottish Executive saying – we will neither agree with the Council and local objectors nor with the applicant, but the Reporter will invent his own planning application.

“Complaints about the current appeals system from Dundee councillors have been consistent for some time. The Reporter is not local and has been elected by absolutely nobody but he continually overturns locally determined applications. In this case, the Council refused planning approval, taking into account eighteen letters of objection, together with a petition with 25 signatures from local residents. The peculiar aspect in this particular case is that the Reporter has neither upheld nor refused an appeal – he has effectively invented his own application. Half of the application remains refused and the part he has agreed to is approved with very specific conditions detailing its site, finished ground levels, materials and parking,” continued Cllr Macpherson.

“The new Planning Bill envisages substantial change to the planning process and if any case highlighted the need to review the role of the Scottish Executive Inquiry Reporters’ Unit it is this decision. I have already contacted the Director of Planning & Transportation and the Depute Chief Executive Support Services at the City Council expressing my disquiet about this decision and asking about the legal position. I have never before come across a Reporter upholding half an application – it is really rather bizarre,” concluded Cllr Macpherson.

Background note : The site of the former Tay Rope Works in Dundee’s West End lies between Magdalen Yard Road, Thomson Street and Seafield Road. The original planning application for 2 dwelling houses was refused by the City Council unanimously on 29th August 2005. The Reporter’s decision letter, received by Dundee City Council on 24th February 2006, indicates that the Reporter has granted consent for the northmost house but refused the southern one. The refusal is on the basis of scale and design in such a restricted location, unrelated to its surroundings. He makes a reference to perhaps joining the remainder of the site to the remaining Rope Works site for which there is a current application. The current application (yet to be determined by the City Council) has been submitted by Duncarse Developments Limited."

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Churchill, Internet Banking Scams, West End Christmas


Visited two of the local LibDem's members with the longest continuous membership of the party. Having had an exchange of e-mails with a BBC producer about a radio show he's doing on Churchill's time as Liberal MP for Dundee (1908 to 1922) he'd asked if any of our longer serving members could be of help. Pretty obvious we have no members that actually lived through that period, but some born in the interwar period have memories of the comments of friends and family. Anyway, nice to chat to the two members again & they are happy to help the BBC man. BBC going to prove a .wav file of the show for our website in due course (we have a short list of Dundee Liberal History within the links at http://www.dundee.prai.co.uk/links/).

Useful meeting with Leisure & Communities regarding a local matter and also interviewed by Wave 102 about internet banking scams (also carried by Radio Tay - see http://www.dundee.prai.co.uk/news/125.html). Started a bit of a ring round to gauge views on the date for this year's West End Christmas Week. Yes, oh so dreadfully early on but keen to have some new events this year and that'll take a bit of planning. Our Christmas Lights Switch On has to be on a different date than other similar events across the City and so important we get a date in the Council's diary. Also the Blackness Primary School Christmas Fayre will be a week later this year & we normally do a children's event (last three years a balloon launch for the Primary Ones from the three local primaries) to coincide with the Fayre. So started ringing round last year's volunteers to get views on whether to run it last week November (as last year) or first week December. Final decision will be made at next month's West End Community Council meeting.

Off to the borders tomorrow (day job) then two days of party conference in Aviemore. Probably a sad admission to say I absolutely love party conference. So no blog entries for a couple of days........

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Student Exemptions, Timing Units, Parking Issues

Tuesday, apart from a very brief Best Value Review Sub-Committee, was really spent on day job things, but did raise a number of constituent concerns on grit bins, dodgy cobbles and damaged drains.

The Tele called me about student exemptions from Council Tax. Apparently some English authorities are claiming that they are not fully reimbursed from central government for the cost of these. Let's just say this is not exactly the main concern I'd have about revenue support grant as all exemptions are largely met through Aggregate External Finance (in other words the national taxpayer not the Council Taxpayer) and the main issues for us in Dundee is really the cut in the floor mechanism in the calculation of AEF/RSG (which protects authorities like ours with declining populations) and the deprivation issue, which clearly impacts on the City Council in terms of high demand for a number of services. Anyway, story on our website (click on headling above) and the Tele covered it (see
http://www.eveningtelegraph.co.uk/output/2006/03/21/story8146307t0.shtm).

Today, had interviews at the City Chambers with a number of constituents with varying issues I am trying to assist them with - also had a useful meeting about progressing one of the parking problems in the West End.

Spent today with a timing device! One of my constituents who's a Dundee Uni student is undertaking a project about slowing down lives and reducing consumption by making people think about how they spend their time. So he's asked a number of people to carry a timing device which randomly from time to time emits a signal. Idea is you write down what you were doing when the signal goes & if you took a short break & relaxed when it happened. All appears to be going well with this apart from earlier this evening when the thing went off as I was watching "V for Vendetta" at the cinema! Good film though!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Early Christmas, Benefits Take Up and Tay Tolls

Apart from today's Audit & Risk Management Sub-Committee that I chaired in the morning and meetings with the Council Leader & the Finance Department, there was a very positive launch of the week-long benefits take up campaign (see http://www.dundee.prai.co.uk/news/119.html) - a good example of partnership working involving a number of organisations - DWP, City Council Revenues, Welfare Rights and the Pensions Service.

Two surgeries at teatime followed by Council committees - my colleague Helen seconded the motion to support abolition of the Tay Bridge tolls (see http://www.dundee.prai.co.uk/news/120.htmlo.uk/news/120.html) and other matters discussed at a long set of committees (last Monday's were cancelled so a double doze tonight) included use of the Common Good Fund. I supported the administration's view of spending this year's allocation in three areas - a Tayside skin cancer appeal, the North Carr lightship appeal and on improved Christmas lights.

The opposition proposal wanted £46 000 to go towards "kick starting" (their words) Hogamany celebrations. I made the point that we've been supportive of and will work with the City Centre & Harbour Community Council to progress a community-based Hogmanay event. Using the Common Good Fund is not appropriate as its for "one off" expenditure and whilst new Christmas lighting is a one-off cost but will have year on year use, the Common Good could be dipped into for Hogamanay one year only which means no event in 2007 or increasing the Council Tax. What's more as Aberdeen's Hogmanay event cost more like £270 000.

A positive report on stair lighting in council-owned properties came to Housing Committee - Dundee Contract Services is taking over the responsibility here from 1st April, which will undoubtedly improve the repair service.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Al-Maktoum, Fairbridge and newsletters ...

Yesterday (Friday 17th) included a visit to Fairbridge at their Kemback Street premises; they had an Open Day to promote the work they undertake with young people. I had recently met with two of Fairbridge's staff to look at ways that Fairbridge and the City Council can work together. It was really useful to see round the premises and learn of their plans for the future in the City.

Today, apart from getting through a load of constituent e-mails, I have finalised a FOCUS newsletter special edition for the Blackness/Hawkhill part of my ward, which covers the Tait's Lane resurfacing, speeding issue in Peddie Street, the Blackness Area Residents' Association AGM and noise/litter problems. It'll be delivered today & finished off tomorrow.

The Riverside Nature Park was raised at the West End Community Council on Tuesday and I got feedback from Waste Management which I have forwarded to some community councillors. There is a real wish on the part of the local community to see as much of the area opened to the public as soon as is possible.

Also today - attended the Open Day held by the Al-Maktoum Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies in Blackness Road. It was really well supported by local residents - everyone got a guided tour of the Institute which was very worthwhile.

No more on blog over rest of weekend as I have a lot of day job things to do ...

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Long, long day ....

Thursday has been a long, long day, starting at 5am with a drive down to South Ayrshire Council (day job meeting) - went to COSLA's Finance Executive Group in Edinburgh on the way back. A worthwhile and productive hour and a half.

Evening was City Centre & Harbour Community Council. Useful discussion about festive matters. The Community Council very keen to see whole festive period celebrations built upon and a fair bit of discussion about a possible ice rink from start December until end of New Year celebrations - a synthetic ice rink raised as a possibility. Made the point that the City Council is really keen to work with the Community Council on festive issues.

Although it wasn't all complaints last year (a lot of really positive feedback on the Christmas Lights Switch On events in the City Centre), the large ride in front of the City Square came in for a fair bit of criticism in my mailbag (many felt it hid the Christmas Tree) and some of the Christmas lights/decorations came in for criticism.

The Community Council's questionnaire should hopefully get some feedback on these issues from the local population.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Best Bar None

A long & stressful day today but the stressful bit was the day job! Delivered City Centre FOCUS newsletter (special edition City Centre only) - didn't take long with a bit of help. Delivery included a really useful questionnaire from the City Centre & Harbour Community Council on local city centre issues - I hope they get a good response.

Was due at the party's Campaign & Candidates Committee in Edinburgh tonight but too much day job work so it won & apologies e-mailed.

Put a couple of new stories on Dundee LibDem website and took some time off (Emmerdale, Coro, etc! And a couple of recorded editions of Malcolm in the Middle, truly the best US comedy show).

Other local stuff today ... Waste Management has promised to uplift a lot of rubbish lying at the old Homebase site in Riverside Drive and spoke with owner of land in Step Row who has promised to remove dumped rubbish there.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Finance, Bus Stops and Shelters, Community Council

Most of day on day job but did meet with Chief Executive, Finance Officers and the Council Leader - monthly finance meeting. Spoke with constituent about lack of bus timetable at the stop and complete lack of a shelter at Seabraes (south side near to where Nethergate becomes Perth Road) - its a really good point - the shelter would really help in this really exposed site.

More bus matters raised at Community Council (that's West End one - the first of two Community Councils this week - City Centre & Harbour on Thursday) - one lady mentioned lack of replacement stop on south side Perth Road at Step Row during the meeting (I have already raised this with the Council) and on the way out at 9.15pm, another lady pointed out lack of timetable further east at Kings Fabrics Shop. Will get all this reported tomorrow.

Community Council meeting well worthwhile with talks on the smoking ban implications (from Environmental Health & Trading Standards) and on adult education in the West End from Leisure & Communities. A few other local issues to follow up tomorrow.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Fairtrade, update on Peddie Street, and a bit of non-snow

Useful day today - met with Director of Housing and amongst other things got the position re stair lighting clarified (in my mind!) - Dundee Contract Services taking on responsibility for stair lighting repairs in stairwells etc where there is a least one DCC tenant. Starting on 1st April, this will greatly improve responsiveness to lighting repair requests and will allow for better tracking of repair jobs. Had a good few problems in this area in past (since Electricity privatisation really) so this will be a good step forward but won't help wholly owner occupied blocks or wholly privately rented ones.

Couple of other useful meetings whilst my colleague Helen (Cllr Helen Dick, Strathmartine Ward) was at the Tay Bridge Board making a speech in favour of Tay Tolls abolition. She was erroneously reported in the Tele as Elizabeth Dick (corrected in the Courier) - Liz was our previous parliamentary candidate in Dundee West - absolutely no relation! One of my other meetings was with Planning & Transportation & Scotia Gas Networks about the on-going roadworks in Roseangle. They are running late due to problems with sett replacements and also the weather. Helpful reassurances from the Gas chap about getting the work completed ASAP. Will deliver a letter to the residents affected tomorrow to let them know.

Helen & I managed to catch the Fairtrade Fortnight reception - this was really good - two ladies from Ghana (both called Comfort) explained how Fairtrade has transformed their lives. Really moving - and good to see the reception supported by lots of people and poiticians of all parties.

Rest of day on day job (including the evening apart from my surgery at Blackness Primary School) - Council meetings cancelled due to severe weather warning. Having cancelled the meetings, the weather then didn't arrive!

Feedback on Peddie Street speeding ... another traffic survey will be done and matter will be raised by Planning & Transportation at their liaison meeting with Tayside Police later in the week.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Tay Talk In, Peddie Street and Big Women

A few things to update on ...

* Bit in the Tele Friday night about concerns about speeding in Peddie Street. This has been an on-going concern. Put the full story on the website (see
http://www.dundee.prai.co.uk/news/107.html) and gave an update to the Courier which they printed on Saturday. The speeding here is only by a minority of drivers but its a real concern given the fact its so near to Blackness Primary and the MS Therapy Centre - there's also lots of parking (some of it on the double yellows) and a cobbled surface.

I had contacted Planning & Transportation again to ask if there could be another speeding survey undertaken (it would have to be of the fixed radar detection type given the cobbled surface - the cabled type don't work well with cobbled surfaces) - the last speeding survey I asked for in 2005 showed average speed under 30mph but with clear evidence of minority breaking speed limit.

I've also asked that the Traffic Attendants could again give the parking on double yellow lines some attention, if the speeding issue could be raised at the Council's next liaison meeting with the Police and if there any possibility of the extent of the 20mph zone being increased - ie up Peddie Street northwards at least well past the Tayside MS Therapy Centre at Unit 12b.

Anyway, update in the next FOCUS newsletter hopefully. It'll be the 50th edition - not quite sure how to celebrate this!

* Tait's Lane - really good news from the Director of Planning & Transportation regarding nearby Tait's Lane - it is to be resurfaced in 2006/7. I have been moaning on about this for ages (some residents who have been there for years tell me Tayside Regional Council promised them it would be resurfaced and it never happened - the Region was abolished ten years ago!) The surface is a disgrace - full of potholes - so full marks to Planning & Transportation for recognising this.

* A lady called Joyce phoned the Tay Talk in today complaining about "silent phone calls" - sales calls where the line is dead when you pick up the phone if you take any time at all to answer the phone. Called Ally to say new rules from Ofcom will ensure you will in future be able to trace the call using 1471 - indeed put a story on website earlier this week about this - Dundee LibDems welcome new rules to reduce nuisance calls -
http://www.dundee.prai.co.uk/news/103.html - had a load of complaints from constituents about this practice so good Ofcom taking this seriously (especially as they can't seem to progress getting the area Freeview digital TV before 2010!)

* Also on Talk In the Scotland on Sunday story "Now its the city of nude, jam and journalism" (already reported locally) was mentioned. Its the University of Dundee's proposal for a 90ft sculpture of a naked woman to be placed 'leaning on' the Duncan of Jordanstone building. One of the usual suspects on the Talk In asking what the councillors think about it .... anyway, given it would be subject to a planning application I have pointed out everyone would get the chance to have their say as part of the planning consultation process if & when an application is submitted.

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