Monday, 23 April 2012

A Cut too Far? by Cllr Graham Simpson

Today's Guest Post by Cllr Graham Simpson
Many people do not realize the scale of the reforms that the Tory – Lib Dem government are making.
Cuts to local authority funding mean that every family in Kirklees will see essential services cut, or become more expensive. From school transport, library services, dog wardens, home care, road maintenance and a whole range of other services provided by local authorities government funding is being reduced.

Cuts to the police service already mean that there are 5,000 fewer police officers available to answer 999 calls than when this government came to power, with more cuts to follow.

Changes proposed for the legal aid system mean that no help will be available for medical negligence or domestic violence claims. Or to fight the withdrawal of benefits or refusal of invalidity claims (which currently have an appeal success rate of 70%)
Many people wrongly believe that the sweeping changes to the welfare benefit system in place already or shortly to become law, will only affect the unemployed.

While the cuts will affect those seeking work, they will also affect people with severe medical conditions who will find it harder to qualify for invalidity benefit. It will also affect those on low incomes that receive help with their rents, as well as those receiving council tax discounts and exemptions.  

·         From April 2013, national council tax benefits will be abolished and replaced with a raft of local schemes.

·         The age at which single people will only be allowed housing benefit for shared accommodation is to be raised from 25 to 35.

·         Working tax credit will now only be available for people working a minimum of 24 hours a week rather than 16.

·         Under occupancy rules mean that Housing Benefit will not be paid towards bedrooms deemed to be unneeded. (A son or daughter at University will be classed as living there, rather than at their parents address, and same sex children of any age will be expected to share a bedroom.

·         Housing Benefit for rented accommodation will be capped at the bottom 30% of the market rate and any extra will have to be found by the claimant.  

It is unlikely that any resident will be immune from the cuts, either personally or through the experiences of family or friends. If you require help or advice please contact Kirklees Benefit Advice Service on 01484 223950.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

My 2012 Election Statement to Newsome Electors

By popular request a picture of me smiling!
Dear Elector

I’m writing to request your support in the forthcoming local elections.

Times are tough for many and it looks like they will stay tough for a while. More people in the public sector are losing their jobs, benefits are being cut for many including support for people with disabilities and while prices rise, wages for a lot of employees are frozen. As a local Councillor I can’t change government policy but I have a responsibility to help those people who are affected. Through the casework I do on behalf of local people I can see the increased difficulties people are facing but I also know about further changes to Housing and Council Tax Benefit that are in the pipeline that are going to make things even tougher. As a local councillor I see my role as making myself available to help and be an advocate for, often vulnerable people, or people who don’t understand the bureaucracy to get the support they need.

On a brighter note I have been able to help local people with traffic calming schemes. After many years the scheme at Hangingstone Road/Robin Hood Hill in Berry Brow has finally happened and all credit to the local people who led the campaign. Next on the list is Springwood which at the time of writing this was about to have traffic calming measures installed. I’ve never been frightened of promoting road safety schemes.

I have assisted Newsome South Methodist Church source funding for the solar panels on their roof. As a Green Party Councillor I have got an enthusiasm for saving energy and generating it from renewable sources. One of the most important things I felt about the Church project was that it helped improve their finances for the next 25 years for a building that is a vital community resource and not only a place of worship.

I am an active supporter of ‘Growing Newsome’ project which is a really inspiring project. Local people are getting together to grow locally produced food and help each others to grow food as well. It is lead by local people so my role is just ‘mucking in’ at events. At the Seed Swap I was helping with the discounted fruit trees where another 40 went out to local people. I ‘live the dream’ as well and spend hours at weekends digging my own allotment at Primrose Hill. There is a community allotment at Ashenhurst and if you want to get into growing food but don’t fancy taking on a whole allotment yourself then get in touch with the ‘Growing Newsome’ gang on their website at Strongly linked to ‘Growing Newsome’ is the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Stirley Farm project which is helping keep the green fields around Newsome productive. The community orchard, vegetable growing plots and now our own beef shorthorn cattle is a real success story and it is just the beginning. Our role as Green Party Councillors was to keep pushing for it to get off the ground when Kirklees seemed to be taking forever to agree to sign the site over.

My style as a Councillor is to collaborate and work with others to tackle problems. It is always the best way to get a result and if on occasions you can’t resolve a problem then at least people understand the obstacles we’ve been unable to overcome. One thing I was pleased to help with last year was with sourcing funds for the Young at Heart group which is a monthly singalong and get together for Newsome pensioners.

The biggest issue to face us is the Local Development Framework, a Council policy which allocates land for possible development. What is driving what we regard as unnecessary development is the Conservative/Lib Dem government’s policy of trying to boost the building industry. They have relaxed the requirement to build on brownfield land, relaxed planning controls and as a result have received severe criticism from organisations such as the National Trust and Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England. The Green Party opposed development on greenbelt and green field sites at the Extraordinary Council meeting in March but we were outvoted by Labour and the Liberal Democrats. This is not the end of the process yet and no greenbelt land in Newsome Ward has been allocated for development. What is of concern though is other greenfield land in our area which though not greenbelt is still highly valued. The land adjacent to New Laithe Hill and Jackroyd Lane’s future is still uncertain and we remain committed to protecting that and other Greenfield land from development. If the Labour Party do make an appearance during this election it would be worth asking them if their Leader Cllr Mehboob Khan could give an assurance that this land will not be developed.

One of the best things about been a Green Party Councillor is that you are free to speak your mind without having to worry about a Party Whip telling you how you can and cannot vote. It means when we speak in the Council Chamber we can speak strongly and freely about the issues that concern you. No other Party on the Council can make that claim. This also means that I can represent you and your views more effectively on the Council. I’m grateful for the support of Cllr Julie Stewart-Turner and Cllr Graham Simpson.

I regularly write a blog which is a sort of diary of local and Kirklees issues on the Internet. If you want to read more about what I am up to on the Council it is at

I will try and see as many people as I can between now and the election. If you want to meet and talk through your concerns about Kirklees or local issues please give me a ring on 07721 348619 and I’ll nip round at a time convenient for you.

Please vote for me on Thursday 5th May and I will continue to work hard for the area.

Yours sincerely

Councillor Andrew Cooper

Monday, 9 April 2012

Poster perils

Running for office?
 The Conservatives in Kirkburton have the misfortune of having some not very waterproof posters. They've got at least some of them up early and after a few days they're not looking too good following a little bit of rainy weather. I of course sympathise. A few years ago our wall paper paste wasn't thick enough and Green Party posters were soon flapping off boards and the Tories gleefully wrote 'Green Campaign comes unstuck' on their campaign literature along with a photo of a flapping poster.

Friday, 6 April 2012

The BNP - My part in their downfall.

When the close of nominations came through for the Kirklees Elections in May the BNP were notably absent. No BNP candidates! Hurrah! Dewsbury, once described as the jewel in Nick Griffin's BNP crown was now free of the peddlars of electoral hate. It was a by-election in Heckmondwike which saw their breakthrough in 2003 and this one was followed by another Councillor in that ward and one in Dewsbury East. In 2007 predictions of 5 or 6 BNP Councillors being elected were being whispered by Kirklees Party leaders. When the results came they failed to gain the 3rd seat in Heckmondwike and there were no BNP gains elsewhere.Their bubble appeared to have burst. The slide had begun and they lost seat after seat. In 2010 they lost their last seat on Kirklees following internal BNP wranglings which saw one of their Cllrs attempt to challenge Nick Griffin for the leadership. The BNP did stand in the Newsome and Kirkburton Wards in some elections and it was here they usually recorded some of their worst votes in Kirklees. They didn't seem to be able to get any traction in the wards where we were strong. Was this because having a strong Green Party presence had helped make people liberal, enightened and reject racism and hate? I'd like to think so but really I think we had cornered the market in the anti 'major ' party vote and there was no room for the BNP. Outside our target wards we decided not to stand a candidate in the Heckmondwike ward on a number of occasions. The rationale was that our vote there was around the 200-300 mark and would not transfer to the BNP easily if we weren't standing and would in fact be more likely go to the party most likely to beat the BNP. I'm sure this tactic helped Labour who have turned the tables on the BNP rather spectacularly.

On the council the BNP Cllrs were oddly silent, never produced a budget amendment that I can recall and you wonder why they wanted to be Councillors in the first place. They did say they weren't the most right wing members on the Council and named a right wing Conservative Councillor who admittedly is rather unpleasant. I did my fair share of challenging the BNP on the Council. On one occasion the Council was proposing something a bit authoritarian and the comment I made was "If Kirklees did this we'd be behaving like fascists and 66 members of this Council don't want to behave like fascists" As there were 69 Councillors in total the BNP took this as personal attack and they surrounded the Councils Solicitor demanding action. She had to point out that I had not in fact called them fascists it was simply their assumption that I was referring to them. Heaven forbid!

Having said all this we can't be complacent about the BNP or their ilk and we all need to make sure they don't gain a foothold again. In many ways we are fortunate that they have imploded before the financial crisis really took hold. Entering a time of economic strife could provide fertile ground for right wing extremists. So where have the BNP gone? Perhaps they've gone to the dark side of the moon! Here's the first 4 minutes of the new film Iron Sky

Monday, 2 April 2012

Greens win reprieve for Shepley Library (Examiner article 2/4/12)

Left to right (though not in any political sense) Robert Barraclough, Ian Lumb, Derek Hardcastle, yours truly and Mehboob Khan
 OFFICIALS have given a library threatened with cuts an extra year of breathing space.

Kirklees Council plans to withdraw its paid staff from seven centres in villages around Huddersfield in March next year.

Officials want volunteers to take over the running of the libraries in Shepley, Denby Dale, Slaithwaite, Golcar, Honley, Lepton and Kirkheaton.

But Kirklees announced today that Shepley Library will be able to keep its paid staff for an extra year until March 2014.

Clare Francis, 52, who is campaigning against the loss of librarians, welcomed the news.

“I’m very pleased that we’ve got the extra time because, once a bad decision is made, it’s very difficult to undo,” said the Shepley woman.

“This way, we can continue as we are with the present good system.”

Mrs Francis believes withdrawing the two part-time librarians from Shepley would eventually lead to closure.

“Once volunteers take on the role, the library will dwindle and then it will close. The powers-that-be will blame it on the volunteers,” she said.

Mirfield, Denby Dale and Kirkburton Area Committee have agreed to provide the £24,000 needed to keep the two part-time librarians in Shepley in 2013/14.

Clr Derek Hardcastle came up with the idea.

“This funding was not allocated to any projects and I proposed to allocate these unutilised funds to the libraries budget and to specifically earmark those funds to retain a fully staffed service at Shepley Library,” said the Kirkburton Green.

“No changes to the library service are due to occur in 2012/13 so this funding would be allocated for the 2013/14 financial year.”

Clr Hardcastle hopes the extra year of funding will buy the library’s supporters some time.

“This gives us two years to plan a secure funded future for the library when the funding outlook may be more optimistic,” he said.

“Our proposal is at no additional cost to the council taxpayer and will give us the breathing space we need to produce a plan for a sustainable future for this vital and well used community facility.

“Now this funding is secured, and the Kirklees cabinet has given their backing to the Green plan, the library will now be fully staffed till March 2014.

“This does not mean that Shepley Library is saved yet, but it puts us in a stronger position to argue for its longer term retention.”

Kirklees Labour leader Clr Mehboob Khan said the cabinet would allow the extra year of funding.

“The Greens have identified area committee funding under the control of ward councillors which wasn’t being used for any other purpose,” he said.

“If this gives us all more time to agree a way forward for Shepley Library then I’m happy to recommend an additional year for a staffed service to the next appropriate full council meeting.

“This would enable us to retain the service at its current level till March 2014.”

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Examiner Letters regarding Newsome Mills

The arson attack at Newsome Mills on Monday
A couple of letters this week regarding Newsome Mills. One from a Mr John Burt followed by my response


Run-down village

SOMEONE who is concerned for the village of Newsome has written on Newsome Mill ‘The Village Where Time Stood Still’.

This refers to the sad state of the historic Newsome Mill clock.

I have asked our local (Green) councillors many times what is happening to Newsome Mills and the answer seems to be that ‘the owners can’t afford to do anything.’

Scrap metal thieves have broken in and stolen the clock hands.

The mills are an eyesore and as they are a dominant feature of the village they should be of concern to Kirklees Council.

There must be some way of forcing the owners to improve the appearance and to reinstate the clock – it is our landmark!

This week there was a fire at the mill and one wonders if the site is being deliberately neglected so that vandals will get in and render the mills so unsafe that they will be demolished.

The areas around the old mill ponds are also a disgrace but community efforts to take them over for cleaning up and landscaping have been rebuffed.

Newsome really is becoming a ‘Cinderella’ village.

Even the ‘Welcome to Newsome Village’ sign near the top of Lockwood Scar is falling over.

Come on Kirklees Council, give us some answers. You were elected to serve the community.

John C Burt


Neglect at Newsome

MR Burt (Mailbag, March 28) says that Green councillors have said, in relation to the condition of Newsome Mills, that the ‘owners can’t afford to do anything.’

Like many things, there is a bit more to the story than that.

The owners, Royalle Estates, like many developers, are not proceeding with plans they did have because of the collapse of the housing market.

I agree with Mr Burt that the mills are not in a good condition and I’ve turned out on a number of occasions when I’ve been told people have been up to no good round there and informed the police.

I’ve met with Royalle Estates who have told me about the action they have taken to stop anyone getting back into the clock tower to carry out further damage and there is a value in them knowing that councillors and local residents are concerned about the building.

I must say there are local people who have worked very hard to protect the mill and the fact that it is still standing at all is thanks to them.

This will hopefully give us the chance of seeing the mill restored at some point in the future as residential units.
Unfortunately, that isn’t on the horizon at present. The danger of reinstating the clock at present is that if this is done before it is fully occupied then the clock could very well be damaged again.

The finance to repair the clock would probably be linked to the sale of residential units in any case. One thing I have done is to get a condition to restore the clock as part of the planning conditions for when the site is developed.

Mr Burt also refers to the area around the old mill ponds being a disgrace. I agree and contact is made periodically with the owners to tidy the land up.

Very recently a blocked land drain on the site was uncovered and this has helped sort out poor drainage around houses further up towards Castle Hill.

If anything, this highlights the difficulties of using the land as a development site. I have said to the owners on several occasions that the lease should be returned to Kirklees Council at a low cost as the land is not suitable for building and would be better released to the community as a small park or returned to its former use as allotments.

I’ve reported the ‘Welcome to Newsome Village ‘ sign to Kirklees Highways for repair.

I’m happy to speak to Mr Burt or any other residents about local issues directly if they so wish.

Clr Andrew Cooper

Green Party, Newsome Ward