Friday, 31 December 2010

ACT NOW forges ahead

Readers of my Facebook page will note that I have changed my profile picture to include the ACT NOW logo. ACT stands for Autism Campaigners Together.

A group of seven from across the country set up ACT NOW as a pressure group to improve the well-being of people with autism and their carers. Working in a voluntary capacity they published an excellent Impact Assessment Report, launched it at a conference in London and delivered a petition with 6,000 signatories to 10 Downing Street.

ACT NOW currently is engaged in a mammoth task - drawing together information on cuts being made by local authorities and NHS trusts to services which relate to autism. 

ACT NOW is engaged also in opposing the changes being made by the Department of Work and Pensions which impact on those with autism and also the problems that cuts in Legal Aid will bring when appealing against decisions by statutory bodies.

All this has been done at the personal expense of the Founders of ACT NOW.

Much needs to be done, not  least campaigning against the woolly guidance issued by the Department of Health to local authorities and NHS organisations to support implementation of the autism strategy.

Have a look at the ACT NOW pages on Facebook and please feel free to join the campaign

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Who is running the Council?

Tunbridge Wells has a lame-duck Leader. Councillor Roy Bullock has lost a vote of confidence and the Conservative Group is meeting in January to elect a new Leader.  As many as seven candidates have been mentioned and it may be that the Leader will stand.  The new Leader will be voted for at the next full Council meeting in February.

The Cabinet has been one member short for some time.  There is a vacancy for the Policy & Partnerships portfolio.  The post was held by Cllr Frank Williams who has declined to say if he resigned or was pushed.

The Deputy-Leader of the Council has resigned.

All this at a time when the Council should be concentrating on where it will make cuts in next year's budget. Instead we have intrigue within the Conservative Group. One councillor, who is the chairman of the Conservative Group has been de-selected for supporting the Leader, another is under threat of expulsion/suspension from the Group.

The Borough of Tunbridge Wells is not being served by its Tory councillors who are more concerned with navel gazing and jockeying for position.  Is it too much to hope that the electorate will give its thumbs down to this fiasco next May?  I fear it is, if the Sherwood  Ward by-election result is anything to go  by.

The Borough is at a crossroads: will it go down the nostalgia route as the Aspic brigade wishes?  Or will it go down the Modernisers route which believes that without change the Borough (and the town of Royal Tunbridge Wells in particular) will suffer major economic decline.

The irony is that the current Leader made the correct diagnosis but failed to communicate with the electorate. His downfall will play into the hands of the Aspic brigade unless the Conservative Group understands that policy and communication must not be conflated.  Sadly the electorate sits on the touchline as the battle is fought out within the Conservative Group.  Which route will the Borough go down after the Leadership election in February?  Who knows, your guess is as good as mine.

Oops a daisy!!

Rosemary is forever telling me to be careful as I walk to and from work in the snow.  Then what does she go and do?  On Christmas Eve morning she slips on ice and breaks her hip. Ambulance takes her to hospital and she has an operation on Christmas Day!  Some present.

The good news is that she is able to sit on a cbair and take a few faltering steps with a zimmer.

We have postponed Christmas.  The turkey is in the freezer, cards and presents are unopened.

My thanks to the many well-wishers and those who have visited her in hospital.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

The future of the town is at stake.

Roy Bullock has suffered a further setback as  Leader of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council.  The Conservative Group has ratified the decision of no confidence. However he remains Leader until the new one is voted in at the next meeting of the council.

Will he stand as a candidate when the Conservative Group meets to elect a person to put forward to the Council as the next Leader?  Press reports indicate that there could be up to seven candidates.  Should Roy join the hustings then, if the election is by the first past the post method, he might even win if those opposed to him split their votes.

Whom the next Leader of the council is is of immense importance.  Not only does the Leader select his/her cabinet, but also sets the 'tone' of the administration.  Not only that, the new Leader may have the ear of those opposed to any redevelopment of the town centre 'The Aspics' or of those who wish to secure the long-term economic and social well-being of the borough: 'The Modernisers'. For my part, I fall into the latter group.

There is a lot at stake but sadly the decision on the new Leader will be made behind closed doors.  The citizens will be in the street pressing their noses against the windows, whilst inside the decisions are being taken.  I have to say that I have little confidence in the runners and riders so far announced.

Under the Labour government local authorities had to meet many targets and spend ring-fenced money.  They were little more than agents of central government.  Under the Conservatives targets for the most part have been scrapped and ring-fencing abolished.  This will give far more discretion to local authorities. 

It is indeed ironic that the town's MP Greg Clark, has been at the forefront of the localism agenda. The future direction of the borough will be decided by the choice of Leader, yet we, the electorate, whom councillors are supposed to serve are frozen out of the debate as to what that future should be.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Groucho Marx: political comment, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council

The following reputedly was said by Groucho Marx:

"Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies."

Now why was it that when I read the quotation I thought immediately of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and the civic complex?

Maybe some of the members of the Cabinet in Tunbridge Wells see the wisdom of another statement attributed to him:

"I wouldn't belong to a club that would have me as a member."

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Proposed Rusthall Parish Council: Asset or Albatross

Some anxiety for those pushing for a parish council that there has not been a rush to participate in the second stage of consultation.  Letters to the local press indicate that there is some opposition to the creation of a parish council for Rusthall.  Nevertheless I expect one will be created as it fits the current government's localism agenda and it is intended to give parish councils greater powers.

In the local press this week there is a report of  a Rusthall councillor on Tunbridge Wells Borough Council stating that the costs of Christmas lights in Rusthall could be met next year by the parish council precept.  Could they now. What other bright ideas has councillor Edwards for lumbering Rusthall residents with expenditure?

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Tunbridge Wells' Battles

Across Tunbridge Wells battle lines have been drawn, hostilities have broken out and there is no clear picture as to where it will all end.  Chaotic sums up the position.

The origin of the current problems is in the town hall.  A number of difficult and, to some, unacceptable decisions were taken: demolition of the Calverley Grounds bandstand, closure of the tourist information centre and moving operations to the Gateway, the abortive bids for the former Odean cinema and Land Registry sites and the associated funding, closure and potential future use of the Cranbrook council offices  and the formation of the Tunbridge Wells Regeneration Company (TWRC). Opposition to these decisions has come from a number of sources including members of the ruling Conservative group, the Liberal Democrats and leading members of the Civic Society (although maybe not from the Society itself).

The main accusation made against the Council is one of secrecy and thereby failure to undertake appropriate consultation. It has to be said, the Council could and should have done much better. 

The flash point for the current imbroglio was the decision by the Council (or TWRC) to consider the future of the civic complex in the heart of the town.

For those of you who do not know Tunbridge Wells, the civic complex is a set of buildings within which are housed the council offices, library, museum, assembly hall (theatre), police station and the adult education centre. 

Proposals for the civic centre complex are to be developed by TWRC and in recent months rumours were  rife that the Council had decided to move and was planning demolition of the civic complex. There is an alliance of Liberal Democrats and leading Civic Society members which unfortunately or deliberately has conflated two issues, namely: the process of consultation on the future of the civic complex site and what in fact should happen on the site.

The 'save the civic centre complex' party has made the running so far, but there has been a reaction from people concerned about the future economic prosperity of the town. One individual stated in the local press that the town runs the risk of becoming a creche for the post World War 11 baby-boomers. The Civic Society (or Aspic Society as I dubbed it in the 1990s) is perceived as seeking to preserve the town for the benefit of a few, rather than grasp the need for change.  It has been pointed out (as far back as the late 1990s by the current Deputy Leader of Kent County Council) that the West Kent economy is fragile.  There are suggestions that the Society is distancing itself from the statements of some of its members.  So, a  battle line has been drawn between those who wish to conserve and those who are progressive. What is at stake is the future economic well-being of the town.

Within the Conservative Group on the Council there is a battle for the position of Leader of the Council. How much of this relates to the issues of consultation and the future of the local economy and how much of it is driven by a desire of some for political revenge or political advancement is unknown. However, what is becoming apparent is that the Group is realising that prostrating themselves before the 'save the civic centre complex' party does not make political sense.

The third battle line is between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats who view each other with loathing.  Clearly, in my opinion, the Conservatives have made a mess of the consultation process and the Liberal Democrats have been correct is their criticism. However, as this matter has been conflated with the 'save the civic complex' issue, the Liberal Democrats run the risk of being wrong-footed on their response to the economic issues facing the town. 

Friday, 17 December 2010

Town Hall Blues

The turmoil within the Conservative Group on Tunbridge Wells Borough Council continues.  Details are spread across two pages of the local newspaper.  How much is hard fact is difficult to gauge.  It is reported that:

  • The Group split down the middle on the vote on no confidence in the Leader.  The paper understands the majority was one.
  • Ratification of the decision at a meeting of the Group next Monday is uncertain. There is a move to suspend a councillor from the Group for allegedly breaching Group rules by failing to support Tory policy and for leaking information.
  • The Conservative Mayor is quoted as saying that in his twenty years on the council he has never known it to be so fractured.  The Liberal Democrat Group when it controlled the Council had its fair share of splits and factions, so if it worse than that it must be very bad indeed.
  • Two councillors have indicated they will stand should the vote go against the Leader on Monday. One is Councillor Atwood who, as mentioned before in this blog, is ambitious and has a high regard for his own abilities.
This is a sorry mess.  Under the present constitution the Leader of the Council is decided by the members of the majority group. The Leader selects members of the Cabinet.  All this is done behind closed doors.

How much better if the people had a say in whom the leader should be.  Tunbridge Wells should have an elected mayor as leader, elected by the whole electorate.  The town's MP, Greg Clark, is a minister in the Local Government Department.  The Department is pushing a bill through Parliament for elected mayors in a number of cities.  The shambles in his own back yard should encourage him to put forward legislative proposals for directly elected mayors in all first and second tier local authorities.

Sherwood Ward election result

So, the Conservative candidate held the seat for the Tories with 47.6% of the votes (422). The  Liberal Democrats came second with 174 votes followed by Labour (124), UKIP (92) and English Democrats (75)  Turnout was 18.6% which, given the weather was wet and very cold, is not surprising.

Low turnout usually favours the Tories in Tunbridge Wells, particularly as they are reputed to have the best postal vote organisation.  However, given the turmoil the party is in Tunbridge Wells over de-selection of candidates and a vote of no confidence in the council leader by Conservative councillors they did well to hold the seat with a big majority.  The Conservative candidate castigated the Council for being 'arrogant' in its handling of proposals for the regeneration of Sherwood.

The Liberal Democrats did reasonably well as did Labour given the traumas in both parties nationally.

The surprise was 8.4% of the poll going to the English Democrats contesting their first ever seat in Tunbridge Wells.  The ED candidate has a long history of successful community activism which undoubtedly helped the party's showing in the poll.  

UKIP has fought this seat before and made no progress.

Overall, the Tories will be pleased to have held the seat with a very comfortable majority and  the English Democrats will be happy with their share of the poll.  Labour and the Liberal Democrats were not humiliated but have a lot of work to do if they hope to win the seat at the May 2011 election.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Church in Society: will it arise like Lazarus?

The avid reader of this blog will recall my venting my ire at the Church of England Rochester Diocese for closing Church in Society earlier this year.  I never received a response to my e-mails to the Bishop of Tonbridge on the subject.

The new Bishop of Rochester informs us that his major interests are in matters of justice and social housing.  How he intends to exercise this ministry we have yet to be told, but there is talk of partnerships.

Will Church is Society arise as did Lazarus?  The  sheer stupidity of those responsible for the demise of Church in Society will become apparent as the church seeks to mitigate the effects of government cuts on the vulnerable in the diocese.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Interesting By-election in Sherwood

Next Thursday is election day in the Sherwood Ward by-election in Tunbridge Wells. The seat was for a number of years a safe Labour seat, prior to that the electorate succeeded in voting in a Conservative, a Labour candidate and a Liberal Democrat.

Following a borough-wide revision of ward boundaries Sherwood became a relatively safe Conservative seat and in the normal course of events the Conservatives would be expected to hold the seat which is vacant following the death of a councillor.

However, we are not in 'normal' times.  The Coalition parties are coming under pressure as the effects of the Budget and Comprehensive Spending Review begin to trickle through.  The Liberal Democrats have had a bad press over the tuition fees 'broken pledge'.  Labour is suffering as it seeks to shake off the albatross of the Brown government and also the problem of a new Leader who so far has failed to make any impact.

Nevertheless, I would have expected the Conservatives to hold the seat, particularly as they have organised postal votes better than the other major parties.

UKIP is fielding a candidate but has not made much impression at previous elections.  The new kid on the block is the English Democrat party which is fielding a well known local community activist whom I imagine will secure a goodly number of personal votes.

The recent divisions in the Conservative Party in Tunbridge Wells has, in my opinion, thrown the election wide-open. The selection process for Conservative candidates at next May's elections has proved to be divisive.  It is reported that one councillor was deselected because he supported the Council Leader!  Put it another way - party loyalty was not a deciding factor.

This week, the Conservative Group on the Council passed a resolution expressing no confidence in the Leader of the Council.  The Leader has not resigned, so presumably he will remain Leader unless he loses a confidence vote at a full Council meeting.  The Conservative candidate in Sherwood seems to be distancing himself from the Leader.

The shambles will no doubt exercise the minds of the electors of Sherwood when they vote next Thursday or post their ballot papers.  To  whom will disaffected Tories  turn, or will they refuse to vote?  My very informal soundings in Sherwood suggest that the Liberal Democrats and the English Democrats will be the main beneficiaries and UKIP will pick up a few votes.  Labour will be fighting hard to maintain its 'core' vote and has a strong candidate who is a former Labour councillor for Sherwood.

Too close to call?

Thursday, 9 December 2010

The worm has turned.

So, the Conservative Group on Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has passed a vote of no confidence in the Leader of the Council. What we don't know is the name of the proposer of the resolution.  We do not know how many voted for or against the resolution or for that matter abstained.

What happens next? The press report states that Roy Bullock has not stood down as Leader.  Should he refuse to do so what is the process to remove him?  I assume the Tory Group will elect a new Leader and that the next steps will be for a vote of no confidence at a full Council meeting followed by the full Council electing a new Leader?

What has surprised me is that it has taken the Tories so long to do what has been obvious for months, that Roy Bullock has become an electoral liability, and has to go.  The Tories nationally are renowned for being ruthless in disposing of unwanted leaders.

Tunbridge Wells civic buildings

The majority Conservative group on Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has got itself into 'a right old state' over the future of the civic buildings in Tunbridge Wells. The deep divisions were highlighted at the recent special Council meetings.  There is ferment in the local Conservative association: news of moves to de-select sitting councillors has spread across the pages of Facebook.

An unholy alliance of Liberal Democrats and the Civic Society has been making hay, mostly as a consequence of the deplorable failure of the Council to communicate what it is doing or planning to do in regard to the civic complex.  The Council has made other mistakes - the demolition of the Calverley Grounds bandstand, the abortive bids for the old cinema site and the former Land Registry building and the re-location of the tourist information bureau to the Gateway.  Add the Leader of the Council's description of the residents of the borough: natives - and it is obvious there has been a breakdown in communication with and response to the concerns of the public. Why is this? Has it anything to do with the fact that the Conservatives have  a huge majority on the Council and therefore feel immune from criticism?

The Council has stated that should re-development go ahead there will be a replacement for the Assembly Hall, the library & museum and the police station.  How can this be afforded?

I do not doubt that the Council could be housed in smaller premises, particularly if joint working  with other councils and outsourcing of services continues. Should the Council go down the path being cleared by Suffolk County Council which it is reported is seeking to outsource virtually all its services, then the Council would require far smaller premises.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Magnificent Display

A magnificent display by England to win the second test against Australia.  Time to crow, but only for a few days. Next stop Perth.  The Aussies may be down, but they are not out...yet.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Snow, snow and more snow

Amazing the problems a bit of the white stuff causes.  Roads blocked, trains stopped, airports closed and horror of horrors the newspapers did not get through!  At least the power lines are not down.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Demonstration in Tunbridge Wells!!

I shall be at the demonstration outside Tunbridge Wells Town Hall at 5.00PM on Tuesday 30th November in support of the petition to be presented to the Council concerning the future of the civic complex. Looks like a lot of people will be turning up.

I haven't been on many demonstrations/marches. 

When I was a trade union official I marched with my members to a meeting at the Civic Theatre in Chesterfield and on a national march to Parliament where I met my MP, Eric Varley.

I marched through London three times on anti-Iraq war demonstrations.

Also attended a demonstration outside County Hall, Maidstone protesting at the closure of the Middlefield old peoples home in Rusthall as well as attending a protest meeting on the same issue in Rusthall.

Where will the Council move to?

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has withdrawn from its proposed purchase of the former Land Registry building in Hawkenbury.  Much play was made of the fact that a number of statutory organisations would be under one roof, together with a number of voluntary sector organisations. Assuming that was plan 'A', what is plan 'B'? 

Has the Council identified another property it could move in to?  Shouldn't we be told?  I suppose the empty Morrisons supermarket is one option!  Is there space in Union House?  Assuming the Council has not identified another location, staying put is the only option currently available.

The natives are revolting

Councillor Roy Bullock MBE, Leader of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, refers to the electorate as the 'natives'. Fellow Conservative councillors with serious concerns about the proposals to demolish the town hall/assembly hall/library/police station/museum/adult education complex are described in a leaked e-mail as the 'enemy within'.

Dennis Healey stated that when in a hole it is essential to stop digging.  Roy has not heeded this advice: instead more excavators are being employed.  The Council meeting on 30th November will provide a further opportunity for Roy to dig even deeper.

Why bring the opprobrium on his head?  Roy has been a dedicated public servant on the borough and county councils.

A demonstration is planned  outside the town hall on 30th November before the special council meeting called to consider the petition opposing the demolition of the civic buildings.

Just as Europe has been and continues to be a divisive issue nationally for the Tories, so the fate of the town hall is dividing local Conservatives  and will continue to do so.  Next May's local elections will be interesting. Roy's seat will be fought next May and he can expect a concerted effort to topple him.  I don't give the rest of the Tory candidates much hope as opposition to the town hall proposals will grow and grow.  It is known that some of Roy's cabinet colleagues are unhappy with the current state of affairs.  Who will have the guts and determination to lance the boil?

There are other issues: the demolition of the bandstand in Calverley Park and the  barmy decision to move the tourist information centre into the Gateway.

Clearly some local Tories have not taken on board what happened in Cranbrook. There, badly handled proposals concerning the future of the council's Cranbrook offices, led to the electoral defeat of Peter Davies, an excellent councillor.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

What am I doing?

 I keep being asked what I am up to these days. So here is the little list of activities I am engaged in.

Food Bank for Kent: This is my major activity.  You can read more here which also has a link to the Food Bank website.

Tunbridge Wells Mental Health Resource: I continue as a director of this organisation.

ACT NOW: I am an active supporter of this organisation which seeks to mitigate the damage of the 'cuts' to people with autism and their families.

Secondary School for Edenbridge:  I am supporting a group which is promoting the setting up of a secondary school in the town.

The Lottie Betts-Priddy Education Trust:  A UK based charity working to improve educational standards in Sierra Leone.

You can find links to all the above on my blog's home page.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Trust the Germans to mess up Europe.

The lights are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime. Thus spake Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary in 1914 at the start of the First World War. The lights went out again in 1939 at the start of the Second World War.

Is 2010 the third time in a century the lights are going out over Europe? The world wars brought about by German territorial ambitions of Kaiser Bill and Fuhrer Adolph were resolved only by the sacrifice of millions of lives and huge damage to property.

The price to be paid for German intransigence in economic and fiscal matters in the EU will be the destruction of living standards in Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy and now Belgium, the home nation of the EU President Herman van Rumpoy.

Chancellor Merkel of Germany has insisted that the holders of sovereign debt will have to suffer a 'haircut' on their holdings which basically means they will not get all their money back. Said, soon after the Irish agreed to be 'helped', the consequence of her remarks no doubt made to placate German citizens, has been to make the sacrifice of the Irish worthless as pressure has mounted on Portuguese and Spanish bonds. The very thing the Irish bailout was intended to avoid has been caused by the outpourings of Merkel.

Hitler failed to subjugate Europe my military means - just. Merkel may succeed where guns failed.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010


The Tunbridge Wells Mental Health Resource AGM was conducted by our chairman Len Horwood today with his usual efficiency. I was re-elected to the board for another three years.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Tunbridge Wells Mental Health Resource

Tomorrow is the AGM of Tunbridge Wells Mental Health Resource. Mental health has been a low priority of governments, even in good economic times. Difficult times ahead, but TWMHR has a strong board and excellent staff, so hopefully it will survive the financial buffeting to come.

Goodbye Cindy

Cindy, our Jack Russell, came into our lives aged 10 months from the Last Chance Animal Rescue Centre near Edenbridge. A week ago she became ill and yesterday took a serious turn for the worse, so bad in fact that today she had to be put down. She was just a few weeks short of her fifteenth birthday.

Cindy will live on in our hearts and will be missed by the many friends she had in Rusthall.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

No longer glad new day for KCC

I have been perusing the Quality Care Commission/Ofsted report on KCC childcare services. It is a damning document and the overall conclusion is that the provision is inadequate, defined in the report as failing to meet minimum requirements.

An apology and a promise to do better from Councillor Paul Carter, the Leader of the Council.  No hint of resignation though, not even from the councillor who holds the Cabinet portfolio in this area.

The Ofsted site has a report on the Annual unannounced inspection of contact, referral and assessment arrangements within Kent County Council's children's services.

In a letter to KCC dated 9th September 2010 is the following:

In addition, it is considered by Ofsted that the findings of this inspection and the

identified area for priority action are likely to become a limiting judgement of the
annual children’s services assessment when considered with other evidence. This
means the annual assessment is likely to be limited to ‘performs poorly’.

In December 2009 the assessment was performs well.

Why this quite dramatic reversal?  What has KCC Overview and Scrutiny been doing during this period?  A response from KCC is needed, not simply apologies and a determination to do better.

Remember, in all this the subjects of this inadequacy, vulnerable children.  They deserve better, we as people living in Kent deserve better.

Friday, 19 November 2010

KCC: Childcare services

A matter which must be investigated urgently is what the Overview & Scrutiny Committee of KCC did or did not do in respect of the issues raised by the OFSTED report. Was it supine or pro-active in the exercise of its functions? We should be told.

The NHS Overview and Scrutiny Committee did not do a very good job in investigating the problems at the Kent & Sussex Hospital and Maidstone Hospital when these places were killing fields. I will say this much for Councillor Carter: he had the chair of the committee replaced, but by then the horse had bolted.

Arrogant and inadequate: a political epitaph, hopefully

A damning OFSTED report concludes that Kent County Council's childcare services are inadequate. The Great Leader of KCC, Councillor Paul Carter is interviewed by the BBC. A hand-wringing performance in which an apology is proffered and a promise made to improve the services to meet the failures identified in the report, but no hint of a resignation.

Why is it that politicians who are responsible for a mess then think they are best placed to retrieve the position? Breathtaking arrogance. If they were any good the problem would not have arisen. The smell and exercise of power overcomes any sense of humility, responsibility and, to use an old fashioned word, honour.

Whilst letting matters rot in his own back yard Councillor Carter has been strutting the Kent stage exclaiming how wonderful it is that the council will have more power in the future. The council should get its own house in order. A good start would be to replace the Leader.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Tourist Information Centre? Try the Gateway!

From This is Kent:

VISITORS have slammed Tunbridge Wells Borough Council's decision to shut The Pantiles's tourist information centre for four days a week.

The information service is operating from the council's Gateway centre on a temporary basis.

The council said the move was a "pilot" and this week denied the relocation would be permanent.

But tourists told the Courier they believed it could deter them from returning to the town or recommending it to others.

Stephen Herbert, from Devon, who was visiting the town with his wife and mother-in-law, said: "We haven't got a clue where we are so we definitely would have gone in to get our bearings. We're not walking up the hill though, my mother-in-law wouldn't be able to manage it."

Meanwhile, Linda Talmadge, from Kingston in Surrey, had to ask in shops for help.

She said: "We headed straight for The Pantiles because that's what I remember about Tunbridge Wells. We wanted to get a map. We shan't bother now."

The four-day closure has also been criticised by Pantiles traders and bed and breakfast owners, who said tourists should not be made to wait with benefit claimants and people making complaints.

"I think the tourist information centre needs to be where the tourists go," said David Evans, whose wife Ann owns Rosnaree B&B in Upper Grosvenor Road.

"The tourism prevention process is alive and well," he added.

The pilot runs until Easter next year when the Old Fish Market office will open.

I love the comment 'the tourism prevention process is alive and well'.  

This blog has commented before on the stupidity of the decision to move the TIC from the Pantiles to the Gateway.

Trains across Kent

In recent weeks I have travelled by train from Tunbridge Wells to Dartford, Swanley, Canterbury, Ashford, Dover and Westgate-on-Sea. Apart from one journey all the trains were on time or within a couple of minutes of their scheduled arrival time. The one exception was the day I travelled to Dover. A passenger had been taken ill just after the train I was to catch at Tonbridge had left Charing Cross.  A long stop at Waterloo East to take off the passenger and by the time it reached Tonbridge it was running forty minutes late

I like uneventful!  The day I went by car to Deal I was caught in a massive traffic hold-up on the M20.

Wednesday's woes are no hoot.

A long suffering supporter of Sheffield United (The Blades) I have been most concerned at the poor performance of the team this season.  Yesterday's win at Millwall provided some encouragement but the club hovers just above the relegation zone.

Across the city, Sheffield Wednesday (The Owls) are performing reasonably well.  However a black cloud is looming in the form of the Inland Revenue taking the Owls to court over an unpaid tax bill of £600,000. On top of that the Co-op Bank is owed £26 million by the club. What I cannot understand is why the Revenue does not act much sooner whilst amounts owing are lower. And why do banks permit football clubs to rack up the level of borrowing as has happened in this case?

What is it about football clubs which causes individuals to throw commerical logic through the window? 

£600,000 is three weeks wages for many footballers in the Premier Division which in itself shows the ludicrous state of football finances. The sooner football clubs join the real world the better. It is not the role of government departments or the banks to shore up failing commercial organisations.

A secondary school for Edenbridge?

'You never appreciate anything until you have lost it'.  Thus spake an Edenbridge resident to me yesterday concerning the closure a few years ago of the town's Eden Valley School. There were problems with the former school. Many Edenbridge parents chose not to send their children to the school and the buildings were expensive to maintain.

A few residents have started a campaign for a new secondary school in Edenbridge. As might have been expected, Kent County Council has shown no interest apart from the usual buckets of ice-cold water being dispensed.  The campaigners are meeting the local MP, Sir John Stanley, later this week to try and elicit his support.

One avenue open to Edenbridge residents is to go down the free school route. It is long, complicated, tedious and time-consuming, but it cuts out KCC.  It is probably the only route residents can take.  Now we are in the era of the Big Society, Localism and community empowerment it will be interesting to see who joins the campaigners and supports their cause.

Sherwood By-election

Ted Jolley's old seat comes up for election on 16th December. I expect the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour to contest the seat.  I understand the English Democrats are planning to contest the election and it is possible the Green Party and United Kingdom Independence Party might field candidates.

Should be an interesting contest.  The Conservatives hold two seats and are defending the vacancy. To which party will disaffected Coalition parties voters turn and in what numbers? Looks a very open contest and  difficult to predict the winner.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Nostalgia Corner (3)

Pit villages were mono-cultures. Almost all the men worked in the nearby colliery and wives stayed at home looking after the kids. The centres of social life were the local shop(s), Post Office and the Miners Welfare. The Welfare was where families socialised. Women were not served at the bar and often would sit at tables with their children whilst the men congregated round the bar discussing union matters and the fortunes of the local football teams.

When the pit closed the sense of community was lost. The men had to find work miles away and the women had to find part-time work. Household income dropped dramatically. The reduction in disposable income affected attendance at the Welfare and in many cases led to closure. The corner shop(s) closed as they could not compete with the supermarket. On leaving school many of the young people drifted away - on their bikes - to find jobs.

Some scoff at the concept of working class solidarity and its virtues. Pit villages had it and we are much the worse for its demise.

Kent Travels

For the past month I have been touring Kent on a bus promoting the work of voluntary sector organisations and volunteers. The bus has been to all the district council areas in Kent. What has impressed me has been the welcome and goodwill we have received from residents across the county: from Dartford to Dover and Sheerness to Tunbridge Wells.

The voluntary sector is expected by central government to play a major role in delivering the localism and Big Society agendas. Councils for voluntary service and volunteer centres have a crucial role to play: the former as a catalyst to connect front-line charities and community groups to government agencies, the latter to recruit and place volunteers.

The government should be encouraging local authorities to ensure there are sustainable CVSs and VCs across the country. Without them the localism and Big Society agendas will flounder.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Rusthall Parish Council?

From the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council's website:

The draft proposals on whether or not Rusthall should be parished are now open for consultation after being agreed at Full Council on 20 October 2010. The consultation will close on 31 December 2010.

The Council's website has an on-line consultation which it is easy to navigate.

It is not my intention to re-iterate my concerns. My deliberation now is: shall I put myself forward as a candidate? I have to say that my previous experience of being a parish councillor leads me to the conclusion that I shall not. The tedium of meetings made me feel suicidal and murderous. On the other hand, elections are fun and a few spanners can be thrown in to the works to upset some candidates expectations. On reflection, a few days fun leading to years of boredom in the event of being elected is not an appetising proposition.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Foodbank for Kent

The Foodbank for Kent website can be accessed here

Visit out blog:

ACT NOW Website

ACT NOW has a website. ACT stands for Autism Campaigners Together. A small group of people came together to form ACT NOW. The website is on my list of links to the right of my blog. It can be accessed also here

Please have a look at the site and support the cause.

There is a Facebook page also which can be found by clicking here

Civic Pride

Chesterfield has an imposing town hall and residents took pride in it, as well as the corporation's bus services, swimming pools, parks and other amenities. Queen's Park was (is) the jewel in the crown. Derbyshire County Cricket Club plays matches in the park and many a journalist has observed that the ground and its environs are amongst the most pleasant in England where county cricket is played.

Matches against Yorkshire and Lancashire were always very keenly contested affairs and I remember watching Clive Lloyd, Brian Statham, Brian Close, John Hampshire, and Fred Trueman playing and getting the 'bird' from Derbyshire followers. My earliest memory is watching the West Indies team which included Weekes, Walcott and Worrall.

In the 1960s the government moved the Accountant General's Department to Chesterfield and built new premises for it in the former goods yard of the Lancashire Derbyshire and East Coast Railway (which terminated at Chesterfield at one end and on just outside Lincoln at the other!) A new housing estate was built by the Council to house civil servants from the South-east and Harrogate. There was immense civic pride in Chesterfield over these developments.

Fast forward 40 years. Is civic pride what it was then? Did the insistence of the Thatcher governments that councils tender for services and privatise lead to a loss of civic pride? I believe it did and this is reflected in the nose-dive in the number of people voting at local elections. I read recently that Suffolk County Council plans to outsource virtually all its direct delivery functions .

I recognise that municipal ownership and operation of services is not always the most efficient or cost effective way of doing things. I do think though that too often we fail to distinguish between price and value and fail to recognise hidden costs and benefits.

I await with interest the development of the Big Society and Localism concepts of the current government. Will they lead to an increase in civic pride and participation in civic life, using the term 'civic' in its broadest sense? I hope so, but I have my doubts.

Nostalgia Corner (2)

Some pupils at the primary school I attended went to the Regal cinema on Saturday mornings. I went two or three times and decided it was not for me. I, along with a few friends, decided it was much more fun to explore the great outdoors.

We would head off towards the railways and canal which ran along the valley carved out by the Rother. Heading down Lockoford Lane we came upon the canal where its passed beneath the lane. On one side the derelict lock and lock-keepers cottage and the route to Chesterfield, the other side led into the country and Brimington. Which way to go?

In the Chesterfield direction we passed a breakers yard and saw the hulks of former London Underground carriages being dismantled and burned. A little further on we crossed a bridge over the canal and headed towards Tapton Park.

Tapton had within its grounds a school, Tapton Hall, which had been the residence of George Stephenson, the railway pioneer who surveyed the route for the Stockton and Darlington Railway and the North Midland Railway.

To reach the park from the canal we had passed over the North Midland Railway on a bridge known locally as the Skull and Crossbones. Why the name, I know not. I believed it had something to do with the ninety degree bend at one end of the bridge and the propensity of vehicles to leave the road. We left the park via a narrow footbridge over the railway. Here we would linger and watch the trains go by. We enjoyed standing over the track on which a train was approaching and being enveloped by a cloud of steam and smoke.

Then it was down the path to the railway footbridge over the Great Central line and in to Wharf Road. Here we passed derelict warehouses built alongside the basin of the Chesterfield canal. When constructed, the Great Central cut the basin off from the rest of the canal.

Nostalgia Corner (1)

I grew up in the industrial north. Collieries, iron and steel works, steam engines, stagnant canals and trams. All now swept away. Landscapes have changed beyond recognition. Collieries buildings have been demolished and spoil heaps flattened. Blast furnaces have been toppled and slag heaps removed. Steam engines have disappeared along with miles of railway track. Stagnant canals have been repaired and are part of the leisure industry. Trams and trolley buses have gone the way of all flesh.

The change has been remarkable and mostly for the better. I am not one to hark back and yearn for a 'golden age'. However good things have been destroyed in this change, inevitably so as they were part and parcel of what has been lost and not something distinct from it. What I mean by this will become clear as you read later posts.

One of my abiding memories is travelling through Kirkby-in-Ashfield early on Monday mornings. The road into Kirkby ran by the side of the Mansfield to Nottingham railway line and a set of sidings used by coal trains. Approaching Kirby there was an engine shed. Locomotives were raising steam and dense smoke rising from numerous chimneys drifted across the road and towards rows of terraced houses. On days with little wind the smoke hung over Kirkby. It was most unpleasant, but people lived with it, after all the collieries and railway were major employers.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Ted Jolley RIP

I met Ted Jolley for the first time when I was elected to Tunbridge Wells Borough Council in 1996. He represented Park Ward as a Liberal Democrat. His loyalty was to ideas, not the machinations of two-bit local political leaders. It came as no surprise when he moved to the Conservative Party. Later he was to represent Sherwood Ward as a Conservative and he was well-respected as a person who put the interests of his electorate before anything else.

Ted was a character and it saddens me that he died aged sixty-six. The political scene locally is the poorer for his going. Too many councillors are faceless, spineless robots who toe the party line irrespective of the damage the party line is causing. Ted said what he thought and voted accordingly.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Interesting times: must renew my political activity!

I retired from active party politics when this country went to war in Iraq.

Since then I have surveyed the party political scene with disinterest. I quickly came to the conclusion that the Labour Party's remedy for dealing with an issue, namely throw money at it, centralise decision making and micro-manage didn't work. Engaged as I am with people who make up the poor end of the socio-economic spectrum it was clear to me that health, education, benefits, housing, community empowerment and a host of other topics were not being tackled to achieve long-term improvement in the lives of disadvantaged people.

Casting round, I came to the conclusion that a radical overhaul was needed in all these areas. I was drawn to the work of the Centre for Social Justice and its range of policies which offered hope for a break with the past and failed policies. My MP had published a pamphlet on the role of the voluntary sector which I thought was eminently sensible.

I have been opposed to the concept of a united Europe for many years and viewed the failure to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty as an appalling breach of an election pledge by the Labour government. A growing awareness of the intrinsic unfairness of devolution arrangements and failure to address the West Lothian Question has seen the growth of far right organisations like the English Defence League fuelled by the Labour Party's failure to recognise, until far too late, the problems caused by mass immigration and the policy of multi-culturism. Chickens are coming home to roost: with a vengeance.

Locally we have a junta in the Town Hall which seems intent on attracting the wrath and displeasure of the citizenry as it pursues deeply unpopular policies.

My problem is that I find it difficult to decide which political party to throw my lot in with if I am to be politically active.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Last day

Today is my final day as a director of the Bridge Trust. The AGM is this evening and I am standing down.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Another cricket tale

A local cricket league I umpired for was a hot-bed of intrigues, hostilities, vendettas and the black art of mind games - and that was off the field!

Some clubs had a mutual loathing going back decades and the paramount duty of their players was to win at all costs. The concept of something not being 'cricket' was alien.

The gamesmanship, indeed outright cheating, engaged in by clubs and players could make life very difficult for umpires. I was appointed to stand at a match between two clubs who were very hostile towards each other. The reason for this had something to do with an affair between the wife of the wicket-keeper of one club and the secretary of the other club. Matches had been known to end prematurely in fights. Bowling beamers, appealing for catches when the ball had gone to ground and tampering with the ball was to be expected.

On arrival my heart sank, my fellow umpire had failed to turn up. I would have to stand at both ends and the square leg umpire would have to be a person agreed by the two captains. Par for the course, the captains would not agree. My response was to ask each captain to nominate one person and I would toss a coin to determine who would undertake the square leg duty. The 'winner' was the secretary of the home club.

The captains tossed and the home side decided to field. After a few uneventful overs the home side brought on their spin bowler and the wicket-keeper stood up to the stumps. The bowler was spinning the ball prodigously and has the batsmen groping. However accuracy was not a strong point, so we had quite a few wides.
Then the bowler sent down a ball, it spun, went behind the batsman and the next thing that happened was the bails fell. Unfortunately I did not see the ball hit the wicket. I glanced to the square leg umpire who had his finger up. I must admit I had thought the ball had spun so much it would have gone between the batsman and the wicket and popped out on the leg side.

The same events happened for the next four wickets. The visiting team vented its fury. What was happening was that as the ball passed the stumps the wicket keeper flicked off the bails with his pads. This I could not see, but the stand in umpire at square leg could.

Coming off the field at the end of the visiting team's innings I was accosted. The visitors accepted that I had had to rely on the square leg umpire for the decisions. Tea was tense.

When the visitors fielded retribution was quick and effective. Five times the ball hit the pads of home team batsmen. Five times my finger was raised. Were they lbw? Of course, the umpire said so.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

NHS Shambles

My wife has a small cyst just to the right of her right eye. A visit to her GP resulted in her attending the Ophthalmology Department at Pembury Hospital on 30th June. On the 7th July the Department wrote to my wife's GP stating that the diagnosis was a retention cyst and the plan of action was excision and cautery under LA in minor ops clinic.

The date for this was fixed for 6th October and I took a day's holiday leave to take my wife to the hospital. Half an hour after the appointment time my wife met me in the hospital grounds and informed me she was not having the minor operation.

At the hospital she was handed a letter which states:

Dear Patient

At your consultation today you have been assessed but the treatment recommended by the consultant does not meet the criteria required for NHS funded surgery. Information on these criteria, which are agreed across Kent and Medway' can be found by accessing 'Kent & Medway list of low priority procedures and other procedures with treatment criteria or thresholds (March 2010)' on your PCT's website.

Your consultant will inform your GP that the recommended procedure falls outside the agreed criteria and explain any further management from a clinical perspective.

You will also receive a copy of the letter from the consultant to your GP.

You are therefore being discharged back to your GP.

This course of events poses a number of questions and issues.

  • The date of the document referred to in the PCT letter is March 2010. Was this criteria in place when my wife visited the clinic on 30th June or the letter sent to her GP on 7th July? My suspicion is that it was not as the PCT site mentions that the review of the criteria is ongoing.
  • Assuming the criteria was agreed between 7th July and 6th October why was it applied retrospectively?
  • The appointment at the hospital was made on 30th June. Why was my wife not informed that the procedure would not take place? She and I have each lost a day's holiday.

Apart from being asked if her eyesight has worsened, my wife was not examined. Surely it is not beyond the wit of the NHS to write to a patient informing them that their appointment has been cancelled? Clearly in this case it was beyond the NHS's capacity.

Time to go Roy.

"You have sat here too long for any good you are doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!" Amery to Chamberlain.

Who is going to say the same to the Leader of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council? Send for the men in grey suits.

Monday, 4 October 2010


An activity I enjoy is browsing in shops selling second-hand books. Many a time I have visited Hall's in Tunbridge Wells and no holiday of mine is complete without a visit to the local second-hand book shop(s).

My particular interests are transport history - roads, canals, railways and industrial history.

My most recent acquisition is volume entitled Liverpool in the age of the tram. What is interesting is the photographs of street scenes in the 1950s: the clothes people wore, the very few cars on the roads, the advertisements and of course the trams.

Trams disappeared in the UK, apart from Blackpool in the 1960s. Now we are busy building new lines; Croydon, Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham and Nottingham all have systems and other towns and cities wish to follow, although the economic climate will put many a scheme on the back-burner.

The Docklands Light Railway is really a tram system and was the chosen means of rejuvenating the economy in East London.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Lottie Betts-Priddy. Who?

I support The Lottie Betts-Priddy Educational Trust which seeks funds to help rebuild Sierra Leone through education. The Trust is supporting the work of two schools both of which have premises which are in a deplorable condition. The initial target is £27,000 which will be used to bring about a huge improvement to the facilities at each school. Please click on the link for more information. Any help or support you can give will be appreciated.

In recent weeks I have been assisting the Trust review its business plan: setting priorities and action points.


Even if you do not live with someone with Autism, please show your support for ACT NOW Autism Campaigners Together, and sign their online petition to help stop benefit cuts. Anyone who is a UK resident age 18 and over can sign. PLEASE ACT NOW! Thank you.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Bed of Nails

I have been active in the voluntary sector since 1996, as a volunteer, self-employed or in paid employment. Most of the organisations I have had an involvement with have not been working in areas which generate the 'aah factor' with the general public. Homelessness, mental health, debt and food poverty do not send the collective pulse racing. Now, had I engaged in activities relating to animals, lifeboats or hospices life would have been so much easier.

Tunbridge Wells Mental Health Resource

I joined Tunbridge Wells Mental Health Resource as a director a few years ago. It has been through some turbulent times: in recent years it has been a settled organisation. Fund raising for mental health is challenging! Most of our work attracts statutory funding but mental health is not a major priority and suffers more than other parts of the health service, both in the commitment of funds and in cutbacks.

Proposals to abolish primary care trusts and place funds into the hands of GPs (or more likely, consortia of GPs) does not augur well for mental health. A further uncertainty is how district councils will approach their involvement in health issues. The move towards tendering for services, in place of the making of grants, again will produce uncertainty.

Non statutory funding is difficult to secure, even in the 'good' times. Grant giving trusts have been hit by reduction in the value of their holdings, loss of income though reduced dividends and low interest rates. Individual giving has been hit also in the current economic climate.

So, difficult times ahead. For some reason society puts its head in the sand when mental health is discussed. The evidence is that one person in four will have a mental health problem at some stage in their lives. Why then the reluctance to fund organisations which help people overcome their problems?

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Down Memory Lane: football

The first football match I attended was in the 1950s. Chesterfield played Leeds United in a 'friendly', a benefit match for their long-serving full-back Freddy Capel. The star attraction was John Charles who was later to move to Juventus.

Having spent my early years living is Heeley it was no surprise that when I was somewhat older and could be trusted to catch the bus or train to Sheffield I became a Sheffield United supporter: the Blades. The first match I saw was a boring 0-0 draw with Middlesbrough who had a wing-half by the name of Ray Yeomans. He was as bald as a coote but a good footballer.

I saw Brian Clough play at the Lane and have vivid memories of George Best and Bobby Charlton. In one match at the Lane I somehow finished up in the away supporters end. Standing behind the goal it was truly amazing how George could split a defence apart with a few wiggles of his hips. During the match against Man U that the Blades were awarded a dodgy penalty. When the penalty was taken the ball finished up in the net. I managed to suppress my joy at the goal being scored!

The team I watched in the 1960s included Hodgkinson, Coldwell, Shaw G, Richardson, Shaw J, Summers, Hodgson, Russell, Pace and Simpson, Allchurch L and Kettleborough. The manager was John Harris. In later years we were entertained by Woodward ,Currie, Hope, Badger, Shaw B, Dearden and Hockey.

Happy days.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Facebook Postings

Facebook can take over your life! It is addictive, unless one takes steps to curb the craving to add posts, comment, engage in conversations, send messages or play games.

There is the danger also that by adding too many friends one is swamped with messages. I have decided to cut back on my use of Facebook. I have deleted over fifty 'friends' and cut back on my postings. Now I only post items relating to organisations and activities in which I am interested or involved. Gone the political posts and the quirky items.

I thank people who have commented how much they have enjoyed my posts and the banter and hope they do not feel deprived by my change of policy.

My Facebook page is an open one and I welcome comments from across the political spectrum, from all faith groups, indeed from anyone about anything. Humour, irony and sarcasm is encouraged.

I have never blocked any Facebook member. Sadly three have blocked me and I name and shame:

Boedicea Icini from Rochford - a UKIP member who likes to dish out criticism but is unwilling to take it.

Meg Cowie: ditto

and Frank Parker, a supporter of the English Democrats who seems to have taken offence at nothing in particular.

They are on my little list: none of them will be missed.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Farewell to the Bridge Trust

In the early 1990s I was involved with the Bridge Trust as an attendee at its Tunbridge Wells Support Group meetings.

A few years later I joined the board of the trust and latterly I have been vice-chairman. During my time with the Trust it has opened two shops and a warehouse, developed an advice centre and resource centre and has increased the number of residential places available to 22.

The Trust has a strong board, a sound financial position and excellent staff. To achieve this has been a struggle from time to time.

Homelessness is an issue which raises mixed public responses. In the main the Trust has kept a low profile and made progress each year in its objective to support homeless single individuals to enable them to live independently. I feel that I have played my part and now is the time to retire from the board to enable others to bring fresh enthusiasm, experience and skills to bear.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Happy days

In the 1960s Dronfield was a small town on the A61. There had been some post-war housing development, but the pace accelerated and now it is a sprawling commuter town and the A61 by-passes it. In those far off days Dronfield had an Urban District Council which both Conservatives and Labour controlled from time to time. Local politics were interesting, full of characters, none more so than George Bailey who sported a handlebar moustache of Gerald Nabarro proportions.

George joined the Liberal Party and one of his first acts was to establish a weekly prize draw which took place every Friday evening at the Green Dragon public house. The landlord, Reuben, watched over the pub with a weary demeanour: but he kept a good pint.

In those days pubs closed at 10.30PM so George organised with Reuben for the use of the back room which could be entered either through the bar or by a door round the back of the pub. Sadly, this civilised arrangement was ended by the local constabulary turning up on Fridays at 10.20PM. Nothing was said, but due notice was taken of potential consequences of any 'afters'. Someone had 'grassed'.

Friday, 17 September 2010

The Three Twerps

Step forward Councillor Bothwell (Conservative), Councillor Crawford (Liberal Democrat) and Councillor Cobbold (Conservative) to receive your prizes as the joint winners by a county mile of this blogger's Twerp of the Year Award.

The award is made for their collective decision to permit the Long Bar in Tunbridge Wells to remain open until 2.45AM on Fridays and Saturdays with only minimal restrictive conditions. The police, the authority's officers and local residents were all looking for a far more positive response from the Licensing Sub-Committee. Lives are being blighted by noise, public disorder and unsocial behaviour and the taxpayer is picking up the bill for police being called to the environs of the premises and council staff monitoring the disturbance.

What on earth were these three twerps thinking? I wouldn't trust them to make any rational decisions. Hopefully the political parties will de-select these nincompoops, but I doubt it.

Roy will be quaking in his boots....I hope...but doubt.

A cross party coalition of former mayors of the Borough of Tunbridge Wells has written to the local newspaper stating that the activities undertaken currently in the civic complex should be preserved in the town centre.

Is this the equivalent of the men in grey suits who used to tell Tory leaders when their time was up?

One Conservative councillor has expressed his concerns about the property speculation and dealing by the Council. He has stated, in effect, that the promised public consultation will be a sham as key decisions are likely to have been taken.

Is this the only Tory councillor to have concerns, or is there a groundswell of opposition building within the Tory Group? If there isn't, there should be as public opinion is hostile to the proposals. The longer the public has to wait for the Council to show its hand the worse the hostility will become.

So far, there has been no transparency and no engagement by the Council with the people of Tunbridge Wells. The MP, Greg Clark, must be pulling his hair out. Bonkers!!

More on Rusthall Parish Council

Tunbridge Wells councillors in their wisdom(?) have decided that the proposed Rusthall Parish Council will have nine councillors rather than the eleven proposed in the committee report. Should make the election more interesting.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Rusthall Parish Council

So, the officers of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council have outlined what a Rusthall Parish Council might look like:

1. No changes to the existing Rusthall Ward boundary
2. Eleven councillors
3. The parish not to be split in to wards for parish council elections

TWBC met tonight to consider the results the public consultation and the officers' recommendations. Assuming nothing untoward happened the next stage is for a consultation on the specific proposals.

Should the timetable be adhered to, the first parish council elections will be in May 2011.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Civic Buildings, Tunbridge Wells

The Tunbridge Wells intelligensia is sounding off about the future of the civic buildings in the borough. The problem is that whilst they engage in learned discourse the world goes on.

I look forward to some of them standing for election instead of deriding the political parties.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Bewl Water Development

A rumour is flying around the Internet that there is a proposal about to surface for a major development at Bewl Water.

Whilst this will come as a shock to many, the fact is that a document published in 2007 has a plan which shows an 'indicative area' of approximately 70 acres which could be developed subject to planning permission. Presumably it is this land which is being considered for the proposal, always assuming the rumour is well-founded.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Proposed Rusthall Parish Council

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has published on its website the responses to the consultation undertaken by the Council on the matter of Rusthall having a parish council.

The majority of respondents favour a parish council, but it is noticeable how many of those in favour of a parish council have not offered any reasons for supporting the proposal. They have used the consultation as a de facto referendum. One respondent stated there should be a proper referendum on the issue.

Good arguments advanced by those pro and anti a parish council. Sadly some references of a personal nature attacking the status and motives of the main protagonists for a parish council. Will be interesting to see what the councillors make of all this.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Raspberry Jam 2010

With supplies of 2009 raspberry jam running very low a start has been made on the 2010 vintage. It looks good, smells good and soon we shall know if it tastes good.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

My doppelganger

One lunchtime I accompanied a few friends to the local pub for a drink. The landlord was sporting a huge bandage on a thumb. After a while he accosted me and said he was disappointed I had not shown a keen interest in his thumb. It took a while for me and my colleagues to convince him that I was not employed at the local hospital in the A & E department. There followed a profuse apology and free drinks for my party.

A week or so later I am standing at the bar in another pub when I receive a hearty slap on the back and the comment: 'mine's a pint' directed in my direction. On turning round my assailant had a double-take. 'Good god' he said, 'you aren't my brother-in-law'. Apparently my shape and mannerisms were identical to this other person. And, yes, he did work at the local hospital. A free drink followed.

I never did get to see my identical twin.

Gardening notes

I have been pleased with the display in the garden this year. Plenty of colour and variety. The new plants have settled in well, the runner beans are cropping nicely and the raspberries are ripening, although they are later this year. I put this down to the prolonged hot spell. Raspberry jam making will start soon.

To water or not to water the garden in hot weather? I water tubs, anything newly planted and the vegetable patch. Other than that I think it is preferable to let nature take its course. Roots will burrow down for water so established plants should be left well-alone.

The recent heavy rain and winds has played havoc with some of my plants, so tomorrow I shall be cutting back damaged growth as well as giving some of the shrubs a hard prune. Then I hope to be able to leave the gardening for the rest of the year, apart from collecting raspberries and runner beans.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Blundering Kent Police (2)

I return to my previous blog concerning the councillor in Medway who resigned after just thirteen days. I have gleaned the following from the BBC News website:

A Kent Police spokesman said: "We recognise the decision David Craggs has made.

"It is very important that policing is politically impartial and seen to be impartial, and we are pleased that Mr Craggs will now be able to continue to serve the community in his role as a special constable."

This is a load of tosh. The Police Authority has elected councillors as members. Six are Conservative, Labour has one as does the Liberal Democrats. One of the Conservative members recently hit the headlines for being drunk in Parliament, so it must have been bad given the propensity MPs have to over- indulging in alcohol.

Could it be that Mr Craggs has been caught up in the opposition being voiced by Kent Police Authority and Kent Police to elected police commissioners? This whole episode stinks to high heaven and I trust the Home Office will launch an inquiry in to this blatant interference with the democratic process.

Not a peep from Ann Barnes.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Blundering Kent Police

A couple of weeks a go a Conservative won a by-election for a seat on Medway Council. He is a headteacher and by all accounts a well-respected member of the community. A few days later he resigned and a by-election has been called to fill the vacancy.

It transpired that he resigned as he had been informed by Kent Police (I assume the Kent Police Authority) that, as he was a special constable, he could not be a councillor. My initial reaction was to question why he and the Conservative Party had not sorted this issue out before he stood for the election. Apparently they did and were informed there was no problem.

However, after the election the advice from the Police changed and the new councillor had to decide if he wished to remain a councillor or a special constable. He chose the latter.

But there is a further twist to the story. After he resigned the Police decided that there is no legal basis to preclude a special constable from being a councillor. What a shambles.

It has been suggested by a fellow Conservative councillor that the individual at the centre of this crisis should stand again and that opposition parties should not contest the election. Two reasons are advanced. The first is that the cause of the resignation can be laid clearly at the door of Kent Police. The second reason is that an uncontested election will not cost any money.

I understand the reasoning, but feel that there should be a contest and that its focus should be to put Kent Police (Authority) in the spotlight.

So far I have seen no comment from Ann Barnes, the Chair of the Kent Police Authority, who is for ever regaling the press with stories of how wonderful the Police Authority is and how unnecessary it is to replace her with an elected police commissioner.

The buck stops with her. She should resign, but I doubt if she will. The electorate will not have an opportunity to pass judgement on the crass ineptitude over which she presides. An elected police commissioner would have to run the gauntlet of the electorate.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Sheffield concerts

Many, many years ago I attended concerts at the City Hall, Sheffield. Indeed I purchased a season ticket for the fortnightly Saturday series. Orchestras from around the country played, indeed we had the occasional overseas orchestra.

The Halle Orchestra were regulars, conducted by Sir John Barbirolli. The fact they came from Manchester was forgiven, indeed they were enrolled as honorary Yorkshire men and women. The audience adored Barbirolli. He would shuffle on to the podium, strike up the National Anthem, turn to the audience to conduct their singing, shrug his shoulders as the audience uttered not a note and turn to the orchestra shaking his head. It was a ritual enjoyed by all.

I recall Sir Adrian Boult conducting one of the London based orchestras and Sir Charles Groves was a regular visitor with the Liverpool Philharmonic.

Part of the enjoyment was the interval drink. Not in the crush bar, but a dash out of the City Hall, down the steps (tricky in winter) and across the road into the pub. Just time for a 'steady' pint and then back for the second half. We knew the repertoire well enough to know that one pint meant a comfortable second-half, more and it became a mite uncomfortable!

Some of the audience sat behind the orchestra, only a couple of paces from the percussion instruments. I often wondered how an orchestra sounded listening to it from behind.

After the concert it was a dash to The Talbot Arms in Dronfield Woodhouse for a couple of pints. In those days the pub was in a terrace and very popular. A roaring fire beckoned on cold evenings, but one soon discovered that proximity to the fireplace had its disadvantages in a crowded pub!

The Talbot Arms closed and was replaced by an estate style pub which took the name of the old pub. It was never the same, the atmosphere created in the old pub was destroyed in the barn like proportions of the new building.

Our party transferred to The Green Dragon in Dronfield - but that is another story!

Urgent Petition: Tunbridge Wells Town Hall Complex

To : TWBC Planning Department.
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council,
Town Hall
Tunbridge Wells, TN1 1RS.

OR :

Marked for the attention of: Mr. Jonathan MacDonald, Director.
copy to :


Royal Tunbridge Wells

We object most strongly to the Council’s proposed redevelopment plans for this wonderful Grade II complex. It highlights an architectural period of between-the-wars quality, both inside and out, which must not be lost to future generations. Designed by the then RIBA president, we are fortunate that it retains all its original art deco and art nouveau features including its lights and finishes.

The Town Hall Complex is unique in that in one town centre location it houses the council function, the 1,000 seat excellent Assembly Theatre, the central library, the high quality museum, a purpose designed art gallery, the architecturally special Adult Education Centre (also Grade II listed), and the Police Station. The loss of these vital and excellent cultural and community amenities would be devastating to the town and local community. For example, it will mean the end of the wonderful RTW Symphony Orchestra and the other art and entertainment organisations based at the Assembly Hall.

If planning consent is approved for this redevelopment it will be a far-ranging disaster
affecting everyone who lives in the town and surrounding area. This is URGENT, must be received by 30TH AUGUST

We the undersigned strongly object to these plans :



I have a Facebook page. Sadly it has become an addiction, almost. Evenings spent adding posts, commenting on the posts of others, engaging in conversation either on the pages or by instant messaging, quite apart from contributing to other sites.

At the last count I had 194 friends.

It is all too much. I have decided to cut down my activity to one hour each day. Doubtless I shall suffer withdrawal symptoms, but I shall be strong!

My discourse on Facebook is eclectic, I have friends with diverse political views: from the far right to the far left and at most points between the two. One of my friends commented that he could not work out my political allegiance as I disseminate information and comment on the foibles of all the political parties. So far I have not been accused of 'trolling'.

Now what is this Twitter?

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Parish Council for Rusthall: process rumbles on.

Today I received a letter from Tunbridge Wells Borough Council informing me of the next stages in the process to decide if Rusthall should have a parish council. My main concern is that parish councils have very few powers and if it is worth all the cost and effort that is entailed.

However, I have been encouraged by noises emanating from, amongst other, the Local Government Association, proposing that parish councils be given additional responsibilities to deliver the Big Society (a vague concept in many respects). How this would be achieved is uncertain, but it would be a challenge for parish councils and might attract more people to stand for election. We shall see.

Lewes-Uckfield and more....

On the list of links to the right of this page is one entitled: New Railway for Brighton. An interesting site. Last Friday the Courier newspaper carried a two page spread article on the proposals by the Wealden Link to re-open the Uckfield-Lewes line and much more besides.

The Courier's editorial was devoted to supporting the proposals. More and more people and realising the value of re-opening this short section of railway and but for the intransigence of East Sussex County Council it is likely that we could be looking forward to the re-opening of the line in a few years time. Eventually, the line will be re-opened: but only after years of travel misery for many.

The Courier also reported on plans to drive a new road into the North Farm Retail Park. Again, this should have been done years ago. Longfield Road is hopelessly congested and matters are not helped by the traffic jams which build up at the junction of Longfield Road and the A21. When Bluewater was planned a key element was building suitable transport infrastructure before the centre opened. Sadly, this has not been the case with North Farm.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

More trains on time!!

Recently I had to travel by public transport between Gravesend and Tunbridge Wells. Which way to travel - via London Bridge or Strood? Price determined my decision - £13.60 via Strood, a whopping £20.60 via London Bridge. What adds insult to injury is that there is little in it time wise -indeed the trains I caught resulted in an overall journey time quicker than the dog-leg via London Bridge. Daylight robbery.

Had I a desire to be really adventurous I could have paid £29.00 and travelled from Gravesend to Ebbsfleet, then via the high speed line to Ashford, thence to Tonbridge and finally to Tunbridge Wells! Seriously, this is one of the options offered by the Network Rail Journey Planner site!

All the trains were on time. On the Gravesend-Strood leg of the journey the train consisted of the new stock used on the high speed commuter trains. The air-conditioning and ride were superb. The only problem was the announcement, made every thirty seconds for the entire ten minute journey, of stops - Strood, Rochester, Chatham, Gillingham, Rainham, Sittingbourne and Faversham.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Stop the press: trains on time!

Yesterday I travelled from Tunbridge Wells to Woodford Green. All the trains I caught were on time. The Underground services were all running well. No delays or long gaps between trains.

Indeed, the times I have been to London this year have been ones of trouble-free travel.

Kent Police Authority

The following appeared in Kent News on-line as a response to Anne Barnes defence of the Kent Police Authority. Whilst it is somewhat rambling there are a few nuggets.

A school governor, Ken Little wrote to KoS refuting the defensive denials of Anne Barnes and the scaremongering of police federation statements. The police force used to be more responsive when it was run military style. It's character changed the more the police were allowed to abuse sick pay, overtime and get away with using excessive force. Ms Barnes sounds very much like the woman who fronts the Banker's association. Self-praise is no praise. She has been in harness for long enough to have met and greeted families and individuals affected by violent crime or hidden abuse, eg suffered by children and women in their own homes, or intimidation and blackmail suffered by whistleblowers in the NHS, local councils, police and other institutions is routinely swept under the carpet or settled with gagging orders. The police and so called independent police authorities are symptomatic of widespread social malaise and decline, as despicable as teachers who turn a blind eye to bullying in school / neighbours who ignore their eldery or vulnerable neighbours. I believe what is wrong with police is systemic failure, government interference, warped priorities, racism against black police officers / prejudice against certain sections of the community, a sense of entitlement to overtime, targets, questionable statistics, much untransparency, ie we are told only what the police want us to know. The public are also to blame, uncaring, unquestioning, or indifferent where £billions are not spent in our best interests and civil liberties eroded.


I had never been to Faversham until last week. Apart from the town having a brewery and being at the end of Faversham Creek I knew little about the place.

Delightful town, pedestrian free centre and a dearth of the high street national retailers. Much to see and do.

Well worth a visit.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Who would you nominate?

Epping Forest District Council has received a formal petition calling on the Council to change its system of government to one which has an mayor elected directly by citizens of that fair district.

Set me thinking. Let's suppose Tunbridge Wells Borough Council had an elected mayor. Who would you nominate to be a candidate?

I think I will suggest to the Courier that it runs an article on this.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Town and Country Housing Association

Town and Country Housing Association (TCHA) features three times in this week's edition of The Courier.

I declare an interest. I was a member of the board of High Weald Housing Association (as TCHA was known then) in the 1990's as a nominee of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council. It was during this time that the association acquired former army properties in Dover.

The first story concerns the future of the Age Concern building in Tunbridge Wells. Two issues are conflated in this story: the continuation of revenue funding by local authorities and the future of the premises in Wood Street. The article suggests that the future of the Age Concern premises rests with TCHA and it finding an appropriate building for Age Concern to continue its operations. The building is owned by TWBC, but its future is tied in with plans by TCHA to sell adjacent properties. Is all this something to do with land assembly? What is the role of the development company jointly owned by TWBC and Laing? My advice to Age Concern is to sit tight. It has seven years to run on its lease.

The second story is about TCHA securing an agreement with Skinners' Kent Academy to ask prying personal questions to pupils through a questionnaire prepared by the association and disseminated by the academy. It took the intervention of a county councillor to stop this nonsense. As a borough councillor stated, what were TCHA going to do with the information?

The third story relates to a matter I have discussed on this blog previously. TCHA is preparing major plans for Sherwood which it is understood will include building on allotments and green spaces, demolishing homes and a new road. Documents had been given by TCHA to the Council and in particular to borough councillors for Sherwood on a confidential basis. Two of the councillors then proceeded to publicise the proposals through leaflets distributed to residents.

The two councillors have been hauled in front of TWBC's Chief Executive and in the words of one councillor slapped on the wrists.

Now, here we are in the brave new world of localism, citizen engagement and civic participation. But what does the Chief Executive have to say? According to The Courier, the following:

The Sherwood Vision is still a work in progress and subject to discussions between Town and County Housing Association and the Borough Council. It would be inappropriate to consult on proposals before they are finalised or to comment on them.

Frankly, this is Grade A bullshit. The Sherwood Vision is about major regeneration of the estate. Many residents on the estate are not tenants of TCHA, but are owner-occupiers. They have every right to know what is being dreamt up by the cosy housing association/council relationship.

A few years ago I was critical of the way Tunbridge Wells Borough Council was approaching its responsibility to produce a community strategy/plan for Tunbridge Wells. For my troubles I became chair of an independent group which developed the community plan.

The DETR guidance on community plans stated:

If community strategies are to respond to public concerns, there needs to be genuine engagement with the beginning of the process. It is important that community planning allows communities to be fully involved in establishing both the long-term vision and the shorter term priorities for action. It would not be enough simply to consult communities on a range of options determined by the authority and its partner organisations. Attention should be given at an early stage to ensuring all sections of the community have the opportunity to participate. (The emphasis is mine.)

Sound guidance then which is just as pertinent and relevant today when participation, engagement and localism are the new ways of conducting affairs.

Town Hall PR: Soften up the public to Hawkenbury move

The official line of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council is that no decision has been taken about moving the Council's administrative base to the former Land Registry building at Hawkenbury.

However in this week's edition of The Courier is a two page spread about the town hall. The Courier reporter was given access to the building, staff were posed for photographs and there were interviews with staff. The general tenor of the interviews was that the town hall is not a suitable building. Well, well, what a surprise.

Mind you, I would have been amazed if the responses had been that staff wished to remain at the town hall.

The article is an inept attempt by the Council to soften up the public to the idea that the Council should move to Hawkenbury. No decision taken? Maybe not formally, but informally it looks as though it has.

Alistair Tod has made the pertinent point that the inside of the town hall could be reconfigured.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

A night with friends

Just been to a barbie with Rosemary and met up with a lot of old friends. Most enjoyable.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Foodbank for Kent: Progress

I am delighted to announce that Action with Communities in Rural Kent is supporting the development of a Foodbank for Kent. Our aim can be summarised in the following phrase: No-one should go hungry in the Garden of England.

The Foodbank for Kent project acknowledges the assistance it receives from Voluntary Action Within Kent.

Monday, 26 July 2010

A Nottingham haunt

Close to where I worked in Nottingham was a public house. Maurice, the landlord, believed in the personal touch. He wore always a towel over his arm and it was waiter service in the lounge bar. You pressed a bell-push and Maurice would appear.

Maurice was interested in aquariums and dotted about the lounge bar were a number of tanks. I was intrigued by the fish that sucked its young into its mouth whenever danger threatened. Maurice would travel far and wide in the UK to exhibitions of exotic fish, tanks and so forth. The hobby came to an abrupt end when his wife discovered that he had an interest in an exotic bird of the non-feathered variety. Retribution took the form of Maurice and wife's emigration to Australia to live with son and daughter-in-law.

Many a happy hour was spent in the pub plotting and scheming against our dreaded head of department. One colleague who attended from time to time was Rex. One day Rex disappeared into the gloom of the gents lavatory and was followed in from the tap room by two enormous men. After what seemed an age, Rex and the two men re-appeared to much back-slapping, glad-handing and bonhomie. Rex had been in the SAS and wore a tie which indicated to those in the know as much. The two heavies were former SAS and were checking Rex's credentials to wear the tie.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

What is Kent?

Many people think of Kent as the boundaries of Kent County Council, although some include the Medway Unitary Authority.

However, over the years the western boundary has been moving east.

In 1889, the County of London was created and the townships of Deptford, Greenwich, Woolwich, Lee, Eltham, Charlton, Kidbrooke and Lewisham were transferred out of Kent and in 1900 the area of Penge was gained. Some of Kent, notably Dartford, is contiguous with Greater London.

After the Second World War, Kent's borders changed several more times. In 1965 the London boroughs of Bromley and Bexley were created from nine towns formerly in Kent. In 1998, Rochester, Chatham, Gillingham, and Rainham left the administrative county of Kent to form the Unitary Authority of Medway.

Kent County Cricket Club plays at Beckenham.

Some regard Kent as being the area prior to the 1965 change, so one has to be careful when promoting an activity as being 'Kent-wide'.