For the very first time in the history of Brighton and Hove, our City Council is inviting residents, trade unions and the voluntary sector to make submissions on the Council’s budget. The thieving Tory bastards in Westminster have imposed budget cuts on us to the tune of £84 million over four years. The increase in council tax proposed by the local thieving Tory bastards (2.5%) has been upped to 3.5% to protect services for vulnerable residents whose lives are affected by inequality, alcohol and substance misuse and domestic violence. Savings of up to £51.8 million over the next three years are being targeted as part of a package that proposes to increase council tax by 3.5% in 2012/13 rather than 2.5% planned by the previous administration. The change from 2.5% to 3.5% generates an additional £1.2 million for the council. The proposed council budget will go to Cabinet for approval on 8 December 2011 before being considered by Full Council on 27 February 2012.
In central Brighton and Hove and the harbour at Portslade the levels of the pollutant Nitrogen Dioxide are breaching the recommended limits. An Air Quality Management Area has been set up to help deal with this problem. Road traffic is the most significant source of the air pollution. Keith Taylor MEP will be visiting Hove on 21st July to campaign on the issue and raise awareness. He’ll be visiting Davigdor Infant School on Somerhill Road to hear how local children are forming a ‘bike train’ to school, cutting down on the number of car journeys needed. Mr Taylor feels it is crucial that we support excellent schemes such as this if we are to tackle the underlying causes of air pollution. Sussex leads the way in warning people about anticipated rises in air pollution, with an airAlert service which provides a free text, e-mail or phone to those most sensitive to air pollution.
Our local Green MPs’ mail bag continues to be dominated by the Murdoch BSkyB debacle. Caroline Lucas MP contacted both the Prime Minister and Secretary of State calling for them to put the brakes on any deal going ahead and participated in the parliamentary debate. In the House of Commons, Ms Lucas asked a question in this week’s international development question time about support for small holders and farmers to adapt to climate change. She quizzed Chris Huhne, as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, about his plans for electricity market reform and nuclear subsidies. She also spoke at the launch of a new nef report into banking reform and a report from the Public and Commercial Services Union about tax havens. She hosted a meeting of the Afghanistan Withdrawal All Party Group, addressed by Tariq Ali. Her policy work this week has been focused on drugs, with a number of key meetings in preparation for a Brighton round table in September. Other popular issue with constituents are live exports at Ramsgate, pensions arrangements for women and national planning policy statements.
Councillors Bill Randall and Liz Wakefield opened a new Housing Centre in Moulsecoomb, designed to hold both the council’s housing staff and our repairs and maintenance contractor’s staff. A formerly derelict site has been regenerated and it will also host and train 200 apprentices among other things. The building is also green and energy efficient. Green councillors also attended the re-opening of the St Stephens Hall/First Base Day Centre, a training and resource centre designed to help support homeless people into employment and accommodation.
Following a long public consultation which developed two viable designs, last week the Council decided to proceed with one set of plans to regenerate The Level. There have been 75 meetings and 3,300 questionnaires. The Cabinet Member for Environment & Sustainability, Pete West, decided to support the clear majority of the residents and park users who supported moving the skate park and grassing over a currently bare area. I recall the struggle to obtain that skate park in the first place and note its passing with some sadness, even though I was always too scared to enter it! However, it isn’t passing, it is being improved! The plan is to create a sunken skate park, which could be much better. Brighton & Hove is applying for £2.1 million of Lottery funding to redevelop The Level, which will buy a new cafe, new toilets, a new water feature as well as significant improvements to footpaths, seating and lighting. Read the full report on the development of the The Level.
Councillors Bill Randall and Amy Kennedy addressed a sold-out Brighton & Hove Economic Partnership event to discuss the Green administration’s plans for the city and how they will support local businesses. Councillor Ian Davey (Cabinet Member for Transport & the Public Realm) announced last week that the Council had won a £4 million grant from the Local Sustainable Transport Fund to help improve the Lewes Road corridor. This will include upgrades to public transport infrastructure, cycling improvements, traffic signal upgrades, pedestrian improvements and improved links to the new South Downs National Park. This bid was won after Green councillors pushed the then Conservative administration to apply. Furthermore, the successful local campaign to save the Drive cycle lane from being dug up restored credibility to the city’s reputation for sustainable transport, boosting our bid. Here is more information. After some negotiations, Ian was also delighted to announce that Southern had agreed to re-instate cycle racks at the front of Brighton Station.
In other news this week, Cabinet Member decisions were taken to gate Farman Street, as per residents’ requests, to prevent late access by late night revellers. There was some minor controversy about this, with the Open Spaces Society opposing the move
. I wonder how many members of the Open Spaces Society
have their front doors urinated on every night? I think residents of a street should have a very high priority in decisions as to access to it. My radical approach (not Green Party policy) would allow a street’s residents to close it off to cars, for example. Residents, not owners, mind. Elsewhere, Councillors Liz Wakefield and Rob Jarret (they’re an item, y’now) attended a Stop the Cuts meeting. How many other members of a local authority administrations contemplating cuts (whether voluntarily or otherwise) would have the balls to attend meetings like this? A number of Green councillors attended the Council’s LGBT Forum summer event. Happily, Councillor Sue Shanks attended the Bright Start nursery party to join in with the celebrations over it not being closed.
Here’s some personal reflections from Councillor Ben Duncan:
“After our incredible election victory back in May it became immediately clear that Green councillors would have some pretty hard work to do to deliver our manifesto commitments and repay the city’s faith in us.
And in the intervening few weeks just how hard has become clear: as Cabinet Member for Equalities, Communities and Public Protection (that’s basically licensing, trading standards, public health and policing and community safety) I have been making the rounds of Brighton’s Community groups – recent meetings have included, for example, the Brighton Women’s Centre, the CVSF, the Trust for Developing Communities. Every time, our priorities of greater engagement with community groups and better empowerment through neighbourhood councils and participatory budgeting, as well as narrowing the gap between rich and poor, have been well received.
Of course, we have to deliver on those priorities, and I’ve been working closely with council officers to ensure that happens quickly: the first community or neighbourhood council could be rolled out as early as next May, and we’ve already adopted a new community safety strategy that considers traffic a public safety issue and drug use a public health rather than a criminal justice issue.
Meanwhile, I’ve been delivering speeches articulating the Green Party vision all over the city: recent examples include the 30th anniversary of the Brighton Unemployed Centre Families Project, the Racial Harassment Forum, People’s Day and a demo called by the American Express Citizens Group.
I’ve chaired meetings of the council’s Community Safety Forum, the City Inclusion Partnership and the AMEX Residents’ Liaison Group, and represented the party at several other council and Sussex Police Authority Meetings.
And then there’s the ward work: I’ve been involved in housing cases, parking matters, refuse issues and, not least, liaising with residents of the St James’s Area over the management of the post-Pride street party.”