Review of 2012

2012 in The Meadows and Banner Town; to be reviewed.

Lots of good things happened; “we have grown, we have grown”.
Meadows in Bloom, a new community hall, crime down, a torch relay, a gold medallist, a new school extension, investment in homes, flood protection, outdoor exercise equipment, vibrant meetings, book launches and art exhibitions, sculpture and events, events, events.
Loads in the city centre of course, including light nights and games city, and a new creative zone. A re-discovery of the city’s rebellious past – Banner Town – as part of the preparations for a new attraction to Nottingham by the castle.
But we know that times are tough and there’s not enough jobs and not enough money in people’s pockets. Waiting lists are rising and the growth of certain kinds of admissions in A&E causes concern.
A lot has happened in 2012, thanks to a lot of people and thanks to previous commitments to better public provision.

So a quick re-cap of progress and other events from 2012.

20130102-011458 PM.jpgMeadows in Bloom
The most visible sign of confidence in the community, the flower displays in the streets were tremendous and the improvement was recognised with a “Silver with Gilt” regional award and an invitation to compete in the national competition next year.

Arkwright Meadows Community Gardens
Some great events including the official opening of the new hall. The renewed lottery grant allows them sustain their work for a few more years.

20130102-070806 PM.jpgVictoria Embankment and the Meadows Recreation Ground
£35 million of flood protection for the northern bank through Greater Nottingham was officially opened in September.
Investment in the Memorial Gardens has started.
OMTRA installed a bench in memory of the late Cllr. Ian MacLennan.
20130102-100124 PM.jpgOutdoor exercise equipment paid for by the NHS has been installed alongside Felton Road and the playground near the river.
Consultation continued on developing a masterplan to attract lottery investment.

20130102-020643 PM.jpgOlympic Torch Rally and other events
People came from some miles to see the torch carried through the Embankment, The Meadows and the city centre.
Torvill and Dean carrying the torch into the Old Market Square pleased many.
20130102-020854 PM.jpgThe square also hosted a number of cultural Olympics events.
One of the gold-medal canoeists lives in the Meadows too, but let us acknowledge his wish to credit his home town.
20130102-084421 PM.jpgThere were bigger cycling events and the Robin Hood half-marathon, in which my Susan ran for the first time ever and completed.

Queens Walk and the Rec
But it’s not all happy, even if the trees at the Rec in Autumn this year were spectacular, and shown to advantage on a special tour.
20130102-082413 PM.jpgCos the tram required the removal of over 50 mature lime trees. And the pollarding expected next year will make those that remain look brutal.
Some consolation in the significant concession to not re-route some of the utilities and thus save 29 of the trees that were at risk, following a strong plea from community activists.
Of those cut down already, the wood has been kept locally for arts projects, and although the first request to the Lottery has not been successful, a different bid for external investment is in progress. Some wood has been used to create a stepping play feature and some to create new sculptures.

Community Groups and public meetings
Community activists played a key role in saving the trees and the strength of community groups in The Meadows help make things happen.
Meadows Partnership Trust are running social enterprises to make up for losses in grant and have started running the Embankment Social Club in earnest.
20130102-080217 PM.jpgOMTRA highlighted over 60 empty properties in the neighbourhood and held a big public meeting in August. Lilian Greenwood MP attended, along with organising 8 other meetings in the common rooms of sheltered housing during the summer Parliamentary recess.
Councillors started roving surgeries and hosted 2 public meetings on the budget and a Leader’s event. The ‘Your Choice, Your Voice’ / ‘Dragons’ Den’ evening was vibrant and well attended.
416 matters have been logged for chasing (drawing from conversations, comments at meetings, phone calls, letters, e-mails, Facebook and public comment) since October 20th, 2011. The high rate being a feature of picking up requests for information rather than failures in service.
Seeking to keep people informed prompted the creation of this photo-based web site in October.
End of month reports are still published on a six year old largely written blog, e.g. December.

20130102-064631 PM.jpgCrime Down
Positive news here, but again qualified by news of cuts and challenges to front-line staffing.
New rotas mean uniformed presence is patrolling later as a matter of course.
A shooting at Bridgeway Court in September was a surprise and out of kilter with the progress being made in The Meadows.
Anti-social behaviour again picked up in the Autumn.

20130103-033859 AM.jpgTipping
Tipping too requires constant surveillance, despite progress made on 2 particular hot-spots and weeks of action and other initiatives on the private alleyways in the Old Meadows.
A Nottingham Post article drew on a press release suggesting a third of the city’s tipping took place in Bridge ward. An error, we’re entirely in line with the rest of the city.
A recent dump of construction waste is the worst we’ve had and is being investigated.
As ever, instances of dog mess is being tackled, but there are also complaints about mess from cats and geese.

Permits were introduced for streets off Burge Close and Blackstone Walk.
But nuisance parking from commuters is growing elsewhere, and indeed can be predicted when the tram arrives. A survey is currently taking place for Houseman Gardens, Manifold Gardens and Kirkby Gardens.

Bridgeway Centre
A new radical number plate reading solution is envisaged for the shopping centre’s car parks and a report on the next step forward is expected in February.
Meanwhile, more out-of-centres big supermarkets (one soon near Wilford Lane) make business difficult for such local shopping centres, along with local people having less money in their pockets.
Plans for a big re-shaping of the shopping centre were lost when the ConDems stopped the £200m regeneration in 2010.
The lighting needs improvement and this is being looked at as part of the street lighting PFI programme.

Brighter Streets
Elsewhere, the streets are brighter, using new columns and modern lights that draw less energy but spread the light emitted more evenly. Installation started in the Spring, with the Old Meadows keeping a special style of lights that really adds to the character of the neighbourhood.

Public Transport
A congestion charge was introduced in April, making Nottingham only the second city to do a major scheme. Funds from the Workplace Parking Levy is paying for the city’s contribution to the renewal of the railway station, the construction of the tram and some local bus services.
A new car park serving the railway station was opened, but use and access to the station for passengers and vehicles got off to a confusing start once the renewal of the station started in November.
The tram will transform perceptions of the Meadows, but during the construction, residents are suffering some inconvenience. A significant part of Arkwright Street was lost for the new viaduct.
20130102-071126 PM.jpgKeeping bus stops open during the works was harder work than expected.
For buses, support with bus fares for those who’ve lost Education Maintenance Allowance and a trial for a shorter journey bus fare. Nottingham City Transport again won awards for its excellence, but was challenged by the loss of the tram operation and by competition from other bus companies who don’t pay the wages and pensions to drivers that NCT do.
A new cycle hire scheme has been introduced.
Frontbencher Maria Eagle MP came to Loxley House in October to hear and see progress herself.

20130102-082910 PM.jpgHousing renewal and regeneration
The Decent Homes Programme for council housing in the Meadows got into full stride.
20130102-021754 PM.jpgAlong Wilford Crescent West, “Crosswall” council housing was refurbished with better front and back walls, and “Crosswall” flats are being decommissioned (residents saying how cold the properties were), to make way for mixed ownership green houses that are currently being planned. A programme is in place for the demolition of “Q-blocks” (stacked maisonettes) and what replaces them is currently being designed and consulted upon.

20130102-015255 PM.jpgSchools, education and reading
The three local primary schools are doing well and remain popular.
They were all in the top ten of city schools taking part in the Summer Reading Challenge organised through libraries.
The children’s centre is well regarded but a new Ofsted regime poses new challenges.
The library’s after-school provision remains popular and the library hosted the launch of a new novel in September.
The number of young children is growing and the most pressing Meadows problem is the provision of places for children in the reception year.
20130102-095838 PM.jpgWelbeck School was expanded by a half in November with a splendid high-roofed and bright facility for the youngest children.
More is needed and the first consultation on doubling Riverside school has broadly found support; and a decision to formally consult on such a proposal is hoped for in January.
Meanwhile an announcement for a free school serving secondary children caused confusion, without having to offer commitments to a quality building.

Youth activities
Even if not new, the activities of the Meadows youth club on Wilford Crescent East has to be praised, frequently entertaining 50 teenagers each evening.
In the city centre, a highly equipped centre, NGY, was opened.

20130103-033041 PM.jpgJobs, training and money to live on
The most deep-seated and general problem.
The One Stop Shop continues to be highly regarded for the work it does, but it must be daunting with the challenges they face, including 22 people chasing every job. Frontbencher Sadiq Khan MP came to hear their concerns in October.
Local people continue to be challenged by employers recruiting people for below the national minimum wage.
20130102-021152 PM.jpgThe Meadows Advice Group continues to help people with financial problems, at a rate that matches last year. At the AGM, the Board welcomed 5 new members and discussed the 70th anniversary of the Beveridge Report.
The concern is for next year. Universal Credit is scheduled for next Autumn but there’s already talk of delays and problems cos of the presumptions of the availability of weekly data to make such a system work.
Requirements, from next April, for receivers of Council Tax Benefit to pay something (around £2) each week, and recipients of Housing Benefit with an empty bedroom to pay £12 each week will surprise (despite efforts to inform people including a letter to all claimants and a street stall at the Bridgeway Centre) and distress people in need.
Meanwhile, over 12 food banks have been started in Nottingham, and as a BBC documentary showed, people are going hungry. Meanwhile, the highest earners received a cut in their income tax.

20130102-022354 PM.jpgLace Market Creative Zone
An initiative to create new businesses in a part of the city already known for excellence in the creative sector.

City Centre living
Generally supporting conversion of unused property to student accommodation, partly to see property used, partly to relieve pressure on family housing elsewhere.
Rough sleeping is growing and have had to chase one or two instances of hard drug litter. Also one very bad instance of graffiti. One particular complaint about a bar condoning bad behaviour. Some loading issues with mini-supermarkets.

City Centre Shopping
The owners of Victoria Centre have now purchased the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre. There is now a debate on the future for the centre.
West End Arcade has gone most of the year without a connecting escalator / stairwell and some lobbying has been required; works should be finished soon.

Castle Lottery bid
The bid is themed on “Robin Hood and the Rebellions” and seeks to broaden the appeal to the visitor and tourist, who have plenty of shopping and food and drink to enjoy, but the Castle and the Robin Hood statue needs a bit more help.
St.Nicholas’ on Maid Marian Way has been renewed.

20130102-015629 PM.jpgNottingham’s rebellious history
So rebellious, the city was once the only garrisoned to be controlled and was known as “Banner Town”.
Roger Tanner took people on a walk of the meeting places of the Chartists, Luddites, Democrats and Paine-ites, and my nephew and I made a (simple) video to celebrate the 170th anniversary of “the Battle of Mapperley Hills” (available on YouTube).

20130102-065633 PM.jpgNottingham City Council finances
Cuts in national support for local services continued to be hardest in the cities of the Midlands and the North.
Service is being sustained by workers who are not getting pay increases, cutting backroom services and some cuts to provision. £3/4m was released by a new roster pattern for bin collections.
Community development and neighbourhood services are feeling the pressure despite coming together to deliver weeks of action and big attendances at public meetings.
Cuts also drove the decision to seek a new operator of the Portland Leisure Centre and Notts County in the Community have just been announced as the preferred bidder.

National omnishambles
Government has not been great this year and “omnishambles” has now been written into the English dictionary, exemplified by G4’s failure to provide security for the Olympics. The March budget had to be revised in a number of ways.
The Prime Minister and Chancellor was accused of being “two posh boys who did not know the price of milk”. Real concern on their attitude to people on benefits.
20130102-083850 PM.jpgClaims of one million new jobs in the private sector ignore a transfer of 100,000 from the public sector and 80,000 people who are working for nothing. Nor are the cuts in public service tackling the deficits – the target for a balanced budget has gone back 3 years after 2.5 years of gov’t. We had a double-dip recession.
Claims to be the greenest gov’t were undermined by a number of withdrawals of support for green projects and funds, that hit Meadows Ozone Energy Services MOzES and EnviroEnergy (a plan to expand District Heating in the Meadows was dropped).
After the outrage of phone-tapping of a dead woman, the Gov’t felt unable to implement the main findings of the subsequent public inquiry, despite a promise on legislation made to relatives, legislation which works in other countries such as Ireland.

Thankfully, Barack Obama won a second term as US President.
And at CERN, physicists confirmed a decades old theory of the nature of matter with the observation of the Higgs Boson. Now we just have to explain the missing two-thirds of the universe’s matter and energy.

20130103-033844 AM.jpgReferendums and Elections
A referendum to have Nottingham run by one person – an executive mayor – was defeated here, as it was in 8 other cities. Only Labour party members seriously campaigned on this matter, although Alan Simpson, former MP, cracked that Nottingham needed an executive mayor like a dog needed flippers.
20130102-082635 PM.jpgA new post of Police and Crime Commissioner was created in November. Only the Labour party seriously campaigned on this matter in Nottingham and Paddy Tipping, once a resident of the Meadows, was elected.
A whole series of by-election victories for Labour a fortnight later, including in Rotherham where there were all kinds of tricky issues, perhaps marks a sea-change in public opinion.

Other Labour movement events
Attending my trade union’s conference in Cardiff.
An inspiring speech by Dennis Skinner MP at a social in Sneinton.
Glenis Willmott MEP’s European conference on youth unemployment, with plenty of testimony to the exploitation of young people working in the city centre.

Sporting Achievements
Much was made of Britain’s record-breaking achievements in the most modern era of the modern Olympics.
Whilst it showed what could be done by public investment in excellence, it also overlooked the ethos of the modern games, developed from the Much Wenlock Olympics – to encourage participation and improve public health.
20130102-080604 PM.jpgJamaica had a good games, something felt strongly at the ceremony to celebrate at the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence at The Council House, when the first black female Sheriff of Nottingham did the ‘bolt’.
As it happens, it was a good year for my club, Shrewsbury Town, unbeaten at home for a whole season and promoted to the third tier.
20130102-015441 PM.jpgIt meant they played Notts County at Meadow Lane – “my Shrewsbury, my ward” I penned for the N Post – but they published the article in the opinion section rather than the sport. Highlight – a goal from a sixty yard run by Grandison.

“And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make”
20130102-015838 PM.jpgSo to end on a high. The Olympics’ presentation of British history and culture.
The closing ceremony’s “always look on the bright side of life”, including Indian dancers.
The opening ceremony’s celebration of the industrial revolution and of the National Health Service.
20130102-020009 PM.jpgAnd the emotional “Abide with me”, commemorating those killed the day after the award of the games to London.
Leading to Paul McCartney’s –

“And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make”

20130102-064607 PM.jpg

Thirty Years On

The revelations with the release of government papers for 1982 have done more to vindicate Labour’s view of the world then.
– It turns out ideas to dismantle the welfare state were considered in 1982 at cabinet level.
– It turns out Thatcher was indeed ready to negotiate over the Falklands, having overseen a gov’t that ignored signals that the withdrawal of the Endurance would invite an invasion by Argentina.
– It turns out that the American President did indeed let an Astrologist guide him in foreign affairs using astrology, albeit the advisor was his wife.
Say it again – astrology in The White House!
How on earth did the idea of a loony left stick, given the idiots in charge!

Pleasant opportunity today to meet colleagues from Birmingham thirty years ago, where we pushed, for want of a better word, a Tribunite programme for the country.

20121230-125945 AM.jpg
MME, Greg and Martin.
And were we really so wrong about the city of London and the financial sector, an alternative econmic strategy, more housing … ?
“Longest suicide note in history” was a witty put down from the time, but many of the ideas of the time carried more weight after the 2007 financial crisis.

Of course we’ve moved on, with 1 New Labour and an OBE in the photo.

And some of the campaigning techniques developed in Birmingham have been applied to effect in Nottingham.

We’d met up at Adil’s, the first Balti establishment in Britain, which Greg had been frequenting since 1977 (five years before Wikipedia’s assessment of when it all began). The Wikipedia entry has now been corrected –

Portland Leisure Centre – Preferred Bidder Update

20121222-091338 PM.jpg
Statement issued by Nottingham City Council this afternoon reads –

In January Nottingham City Council communicated that it was considering the future of Portland Leisure Centre in The Meadows as part of its wider leisure centre transformation programme and in light of continued budget pressures.

The Council is considering options, which, subject to thorough examination and consultation, could result in the transfer of ownership and operation of Portland Leisure Centre to a community, charitable or commercial organisation, helping to ensure the long term future of leisure services in the area.

This process commenced in April of this year and following a period of information exchange between the council and the interested parties, we can confirm that Notts County Football in the Community has been identified at this stage as the preferred organisation.

Notts County Football in the Community (FITC) already deliver a much wider range of sports and leisure activities than just football to all ages and diverse groups across Nottingham. These projects are all sports-related, fun activities that meet local and national government policy. Examples of the projects include:

• Sports participation – deliver the ‘Schools Out’ programme of affordable holiday activities for young people. ‘Extra time’ a mix of social events and activities for the over 55’s.
• Coach Education – the delivery of Level 1 and Level 2 sports leaders awards across the city.
• Social Inclusion – Dementia Project – A project for working age men (40-65 years old), to engage them in activity to stave off the early onset of dementia and to keep them active and engaged.
• Disability activities – As part of the Active Schools project, working with all five disability schools in Nottingham, which means coaching approximately 150 disabled children every year to make them healthier and more active.
• Educational support to young and older people – Heading for Goal (also known as HFG) is a classroom-based project that works with excluded young people and maximises their potential. Or onsite-classroom and teachers who specialise in working with hard-to-engage teenagers and have a record of delivering positive results.
• Health related activities – Active Schools project delivered with NHS Nottingham and is aimed at years five and six. In 2010, Active Schools was recognised as the Football League Trust’s Best Community Health project. Working with all 81 inner city schools making approximately 6,500 children healthier and more active per year.

Steve Hill Managing Director of Notts County FC Football in the Community says

‘Notts County FC Football in the Community is a multi award-winning, independent, community sports charity, based at Meadow Lane. We are proud to deliver a range of innovative programmes that make a positive difference to people in Nottingham, raising aspirations and supporting people across the city. We use the power of football and the profile of the world’s oldest football league club, Notts County FC, to provide direction and support and use our vast experience of working with diverse groups of all abilities to offer a high quality and unique provision. We are delighted to be considered for this new challenge and look forward to working with the council toward the continued success of Portland Leisure Centre.’

The council has commenced the next stage of the process where more detailed discussions with this organisation can take place, in order to reach agreement on the future operation of the site.

In the meantime there will be no change to your current use of the facility whilst these proposals are considered.

£25 million shortfall for Nottingham

20121218-041638 PM.jpg
Nottingham City Council is preparing to set another difficult budget for next year, at Executive Board on Tuesday December 18th. The Government has yet to provide councils with their settlements for 2013/14 but it’s expected that the City Council faces a funding gap of almost £25 million. The council is proposing a Council tax increase of 1.95% and a range of changes and reductions to services to meet this gap. It’s also proposed to freeze pay increments for another year for our staff, cutting the bill by £2.9m. It’s expected that current budget proposals will lead to a workforce reduction of under 35 posts.

Local government hit harder than Government departments

Councils are bearing the greatest burden of Government cuts, with the Department for Communities & Local Government facing a 35.6% reduction, compared to 30.2% for the next worst-affected department, Environment, Food and Rural, 5.9% for Defence and a 26.4% rise for the Cabinet Office. This is despite councils’ proven efficiency – with the City Council carrying out almost £120m of cost reductions over the past four years.

Cities bear brunt of Government cuts again

Research shows that major Government reductions in council funding are being distributed unevenly across the country – with county shires remaining relatively protected when compared against cities, hitting the poorest the hardest. While Nottingham City Council has lost around £158 per person in Government funding over the past three years, North Dorset has lost £3.

Pressures building

This year’s funding gap comes on top of a £75m reduction in Government funding since 2010/11, with a further £44m reduction expected to be needed by 2015/16. The council also has to find around a further £3m to help increasing numbers of vulnerable adults and children.

Hidden costs and risks

There are other pressures on councils such as the 10% reduction in Council Tax Benefit funds before handing responsibility for administering schemes to councils, the Government’s wider welfare reforms which will increase pressure on some council services and uncertainty over business rates.

Early intervention

The Government’s reduction of the Early Intervention Grant, to help fund nursery provision for two year olds, will see an estimated £2m reduction for early intervention in Nottingham. As a city which has successfully shown the benefit of early intervention, to remain committed to this approach we will have to make cuts elsewhere.