Saturday, 26 February 2011

Response to 'Disgusted of Holmfirth'

What time do you call this?

I got a bit of stick from a Tesco loving chap in Today's Huddersfield Examiner. Below is his letter and my response

Turn up on time

ON Thursday, for the first time in my 70 years, I went to a planning meeting at Huddersfield Town Hall to discuss the proposed Tesco’s new store and I declare I am in favour.

The meeting started on time with people address the meeting both for and against. At 11am – one whole hour after the meeting started – in storms Clr Andrew Cooper waving his papers to attract the chairwoman’s attention. After the person that was speaking had finished he was allowed to make his speech to the council.

He was against the proposal. The meeting continued with councilors given their views and raising points. This was done with caustic comments by Clr Cooper who had to be told by the chairwoman to desist on at least three occasions.

My comment to this councillor if you feel so strongly about something being discussed by the council have the decency to turn up on time and listen to all the points raised both for and against.

George Senior


And here's my response..........

Mr George Senior ( Examiner letters 26/2/11) criticises me for turning up late to the Planning meeting which agreed the Tesco development. What Mr Senior may not know is that the meeting was originally advertised as being at 1.00pm but was brought forward to 10.00am. This clashed with a work meeting I had pre arranged but I still managed to get time off work to attend the meeting at 11.00am.

Mr Senior goes on to criticise my 'caustic comments' and that the Chairwoman had to tell me to 'desist on at least three occasions'. Well I counted two occasions but the real point is that this was perhaps one of the most frustrating Planning meetings I have attended. Councillors were placing 'conditions' on Tesco with absolutely no guarantee that Tesco will take any notice of them whatsoever. If Mr Senior really expects me to sit meekly by and watch this disastarous decision for our town to be taken without comment then I'm afraid he's got the wrong man.

The Planning Meetings should really be webcast like Full Council meetings so then people could see how Councillors perform in these meetings. I wonder why they are not?

Perhaps Mr Senior ought to be criticising all those Councillors who were not members of the Planning Committee for failing to turn up to express any opinion whatsoever. At least as a Green Party Councillor I made the effort to turn up to express a view. No other Party fielded anybody to represent their views to the Committee. That is the real scandal here.

Councillor Andrew Cooper

Friday, 25 February 2011

Tesco gets away with it!

Yesterdays Kirklees Planning Committee approved the Southgate Planning Application. They gave them 9 years to complete the build instead of 3 which means if building regulations impose higher energy efficiency standards in the next few years they'll still be covered by the 2011 laws. In any case Tesco backtracked on earlier commitments to build a high environmental spec store. The plan was approved with no signed commitment on social housing or using local apprenticeships or ensuring the existing Tesco site doesn't remain in use. Traffic will increase almost seven fold at the end of the Leeds Road Air Quality Management Area. The Retail Capacity Study which was conducted as part of the application indicated a 1.8% drop in trade in Huddersfield as a result of the Tesco development. It doesn't sound much but nor is it necessarily believable. The Tesco store being built has capacity for a large mezzanine which could expand it to be one of its largest stores in the country.

Some of the comments by the Councillors on the committee were disappointing. There was the Councillor who remarked at all the shabby empty buildings around the area and how Tesco would improve this. All the properties have been bought up by Tesco so of course they are empty and shabby.  Then of course there were the 'you can't stop progress' comments as if this represents any measure of progress for the town. The store isn't needed, we have plenty of supermarkets, it will destroy jobs as well as create them and have a detrimental impact on our local environment. I'm trying to work out whether it was the Kirklees Budget meeting or the Kirklees Planning meeting that I found must disturbing this week. One thing you could definitely sense at the meeting was the total lack of enthusiasm for the application from Kirklees Council officers and the row of Tesco officials almost rubbing their hands in glee as the Planning Committee rolled over for them to have their collective tummies tickled (with the honorable exception of Clr Christine Iredale). There was a bit of gentle growling about 'conditions' and such like but Tesco know they won't get bitten.

Here's the relevant article in The Examiner

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Kirklees Budget Meeting

The Council Chamber, just add Councillors.
The Council Budget meeting was a predictably difficult meeting. There was a mass protest outside but amongst the peaceful protestors were some who were intent on trouble, who stormed the reception area seeking to gain entry to the chamber and apparently assaulted a member of staff. Rather shamefully Cllr Khan sought to imply this was something to do with us. Of course it wasn't. He has since sent me a text sort of apologising. During the meeting itself Cllr Pinnock sent the usual misleading tweets saying we would massively increase Council Tax and shut Public Libraries. All untrue. Acually we voted against the budget to highlight the fact that there are alternatives to the Coalition govt assault on public services and the vulnerable. Labour had to support the budget because they are the Administration. The Tories and Lib Dems had to vote for it because it is there lousy government that are putting us through this nightmare of redundancies and reduction of services. Here is the link to the Council webcast. I appear at 56 minutes in and Graham Simpson appears at 1 hour 22 minutes (use the index points tab). Cllr Khan appears at the end implying we encouraged the assault on council staff. Unbelievable. My speech is below and at the end the excellent Captain SKA  and "Liar Liar"

Councillor Andrew Cooper, Leader of the Green Party Group speech at the 2011/12 Kirklees Budget Meeting
Green Party Councillors will vote against this budget.
We all know the background to these cuts. A lack of regulation of financial institutions by successive Conservative and Labour Governments and the almost collapse of the banking system.
We know the consequences for us as a Council. £80 million cuts over 4 years up to 2000 Council jobs can and are being lost. We know that Tory Councils in the leafy south such as Dorset actually got an increase in funding. We  know that Eric Pickles  sought to mislead people about the scale of the cuts by referring to Council  cuts in ‘spending power’ rather than the harsh reality faced by many councils.
Through the budget meetings and process the Green Party have held one principle firm throughout . Whatever we did we would not sacrifice social services for solar panels. It became clearer and clearer throughout, that the funding available via central government made that impossible to achieve over the 4 years of the Comprehensive Spending Review. So consequently we have seen the budget for Care for older people reduced from £52 million to around £40 million over the next 4 years and Day Care Services to drop from £5.3 million to £1.5 million and all this at a time when the demand for these services is likely to rise due to demographic change. I don’t really know what a Big Society is but I know what a civilised society is and this cut in funding for those in the most need should not be regarded as civilised by anyone.
There is a real question mark over whether or not the councils stated priorities of supporting older people to be ‘healthy, active and included’ and ‘Enhancing the life chances for young people’ will be achieved through a budget such as this. If you don’t really believe that so much more can be achieved with so much less funding will Kirklees be really doing what it says on its Corporate Priorities tin and if not is this a budget that any Councillor should support?
So, at a national level, what have the ‘conscience of the coalition’ the Liberal Democrats done to help. Over 90 Lib Dem Council leaders and Group leaders wrote an open letter to Eric Pickles in The Times. And a very polite letter it was too. The letter was not so much focussing on the scale of cuts but more on the phasing of them. Somehow or other even this mildest of mild letters was beyond the pale for any Lib Dem Councillor in Kirklees to sign.
Of course I am more than expecting cries of derision from the larger parties on the council asking ‘Where is your alternative?’ and it is a valid question.
I could point out that this is the first time in the 12 years that I’ve been a Councillor that the Green Party has not put an amendment to a Kirklees Budget. We have always sought to use the opportunity that being members of this council brings to improve the quality of life of residents of Kirklees. It is however the third time the Conservatives have failed to produce an amendment. 2 of those occasions were in much less difficult times than this. So I will take no lectures off them.
I could show that there is an alternative to the Government’s austerity package being inflicted on people locally and nationally. That we don’t need to make 2000 people redundant that the government doesn’t need to force a million people into unemployment across the country. Tackling Tax evasion and avoidance could raise £10 Billion /year yet the government is laying off staff at HMRC, a tax on international transactions could raise £10Billion year, putting a higher rate of tax for those earning over  £100,000/year could raise billions as could of course taking proper  action to tackle the banks who have quite frankly got away with murder . The recent changes to Corporation Tax will mean that Banks will be perversely better off at a time when they openly pay huge bonuses to staff. You have to ask ‘How is it that a Cabinet packed with so many millionaires and stockbrokers could act in such a way?’. The answer is of course very, very easily!
And of course people have an alternative. In a very real way locally they have an alternative vote already.  You don’t have to read the report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies to see that is the people in the most dire circumstances who suffer the most under this government. People have the alternative not to vote for parties who penalise the poor to the benefit of the rich. They can send a message to the government and vote out of office Councillors from Parties in the coalition who have put Kirklees and other Councils in the country in this position.
The Green Party will not support this budget it is a matter of principle and conscience. We will not compromise our principles or the people of Kirklees. We leave that to others.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Another Coffee Shop on New Street

A Costa Coffee House will soon open on New Street just across from Cafe Nero and a few yards from the Merrie England and Coffee Republic. No one is going to be short of a coffee in Huddersfield. Apart from the Merrie England these are all national multiples and now, therefore, a common feature of the clone town. Merrie England has been in Huddersfield for as long as I can remember. It has many common charactaristics, mock tudor beams, horse brasses, frothy milky coffee. For me Merrie England is as 'Huddersfield' as Castle Hill, Castlegate and Roy Castle. It is part of the DNA of the town and it would be a shame indeed if the latte army of the national coffee chains threatened the future of the Merrie England. Having said all that you can usually find me at 7.00am in Cafe Nero reading my papers (the Merrie doesn't open till 7.45a.m.) and having an 'Americano' with milk. As I'm a bit of an early riser I tend to favour mock italian over mock tudor. I like the comfy chairs and the classical music and the whole 10th cup 'free' thing. Cafe Nero have a formula which obviously travels well and they have over 400 shops across the UK. I'm sort of pleased in a way that the Merrie England franchise is limited to the 5 shops in Huddersfield and the one in Brighouse and the one in Halifax. It means it is definitely part of our identity and one which, either by lack of ambition of the company or attractiveness to other areas, has not managed to travel beyond our corner of West Yorkshire My personal support for the Merrie England is purchasing occassional bacon and tomato baps. Mmmm very tasty. 

As yet Huddersfield does not have a Starbucks. This I regard as a good thing. We must have reached the coffee shop saturation point by now.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Thoughts on helping out churches

New North Rd Baptist architectural treasure?
I've had a bit of stick recently in the local press from an ex Newsome Tory Candidate about helping Newsome South Methodist Church get solar panels for its roof. It set me thinking about some of the work I've done in recent years to help church buildings and their congregations. As a very convinced athiest there must be some irony here. The Methodist Church example is one where the building is very much a local community hub with pre school clubs, nursery groups and is in pretty much constant use during the week. As an old building the Church requires ongoing maintenance which can be costly. So the £5000 grant from the Area Committee will help the Church realise around a minimum of £2000/year income over the next 25 years so a total of £50,000 or ten times the value of the grant. That has to be a good use of public money and a real investment in the 'Big Society'.

.......and with the cafe extension complete with cross.

I've also helped New North Road Baptist Church who were to be refused planning permission for an extension as officers did not believe their extension for a cafe would be in keeping with the rest of the 70s built building. I referred the application to Planning Committee so Councillors could make the decision. They wisely recognised that the extension would not look at all out of place and that the original building was not exactly an architectural masterpiece in any case.

At the other end of the architectural scale Huddersfield Parish Church in town wanted to put a 2 storey glass extension which would allow them easy access to the upper floors which are currently inaccessible to the elderly and those with poor mobility. Again Planning opposed the application on aesthetic grounds and I referred it to Planning Committee and Councillors approved it. The argument I put, as well as enabling them to actually use their own building, was that the glass extension would actually enhance the building and that the juxtaposition in architectural styles would actually be a positive thing.

I've also helped the church at Thurstonland  in my Parish Council patch, by putting them onto a low cost loan to help them refurbish their building.  I feel I need to make clear that all this work on behalf of religious bodies is by no means a form of insurance just in case my atheism doesn't turn good in the end but a recognition that churches actually fulfill a valuable social role in our communities. There was once last year that a vicar suggested he might turn me on to christianity. I think I manage to convince him that in religious terms at least that I was a bit of a lost cause.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Green Party Leader to visit Huddersfield

Green Party Leader Caroline Lucas MP is to visit Huddersfield this month.

Caroline was elected as MP for Brighton Pavillion in May this year and is the UKs first Green Party MP. Prior to being elected to Parliament she was a Green Party MEP and has also been a Councillor on Oxford Countyy Council. She will be addressing a Public Meeting at the Brian Jackson Centre, New North Parade Huddersfield on Tuesday 22nd February at 7.30pm. Also speaking at the meeting will be Kirklees Green Party Leader Councillor Andrew Cooper. The Public Meeting is being held on the evening prior to the Kirklees Council Budget meeting where the Green Party Councillors will oppose the Budget being proposed bythe Labour Party, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

Councillor Andrew Cooper said,

"We're delighted that Caroline is coming to Huddersfield. She is a distinctive and powerful voice in Parliament, not just for the Green Party but for the millions who are suffering cuts to jobs and services as a result of the policies of the Coalition Government"