Friday, 30 October 2009

The Power of the Blog

I enjoyed this story doing the rounds in the media today about goings on in Somerset. It seems the councillors of Somerton Town Council could take no more of the sniping of a local blogger - and resigned en masse from the council in protest!

Local resident Niall Connelly has been writing on his
'Muck & Brass' blog since 2006 about what he saw as secrecy and incompetence within the town council. But it all got too much for 11 of the 15 councillors at last Tuesday's council meeting, announcing their resignations mid-meeting and promptly walking out there and then. The town council is now suspended, the remaining four councillors being too few to legally conduct any business. South Somerset District Council now has to organise a by-election to find 11 new councillors to fill the vacancies.

Mr Connelly claims this as a victory for people power; an ex-councillor calls him "vindictive", and his supporters no better than "sheep"!

For me, it demonstrates the increasing power that the internet and blogging offers people to share their views with a wider audience. And if that means criticising the local parish council, then so be it. I can't help feeling a twinge of envy that so many people in Somerton care what their local council is getting up to!

Plenty more to read about this in the
Guardian, Independent and Times.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Public Meeting - Proposed Closure of Brinklow Fire Station

Last night I attended a public meeting in Monks Kirby arranged by the Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service for local residents to comment on the Improvement Plan that was being developed with the aim of improving the fire and rescue service provided to the residents of Warwickshire and to re-use the resources available in a more effective way.

Attendance at the meeting included
Chief Fire Officer Graeme Smith (who gave a presentation on the Improvement Plan proposals) and Councillor Richard Hobbs, Warwickshire County Council's Cabinet Member for Community Safety.

The proposal that has gained the most public attention is the plan to reduce the number of fire stations in Warwickshire from 19 to 12, resulting in seven existing stations closing. The public meeting last night focused primarily on the proposals for the
Brinklow fire station, one of those earmarked for closure.

As you might have imagined, it was a lively meeting with almost everyone in attendance opposed to the closure plans. I had attended with a somewhat open mind (unlike many of the more shrill voices being heard), as I genuinely did not think the Chief Fire Officer wished to put lives at risk, and nor did he wish to run down his service in order to save money. But listening to the debate left me more certain that the closure of many (but perhaps not all) of the seven stations due for closure was not, at this moment, necessary in order to introduce the many other good aspects of the Improvement Plan that we could all find favour with.

A number of the points made on the night that deserve further consideration included:

  • would a more remotely-based fire station be operated by firefighters without the local knowledge of the rural areas in the county (and their peculiarities)?
  • could the Improvement Plan be implemented in a phased approach, with station closures as a very last option, rather than the all-or-nothing approach proposed?
  • concern that the proposals would result in an overall reduction in the number of firefighters working in the county.
Fires in Barnacle and Shilton are tackled in the first instance by fire engines from Bedworth fire station (Brinklow, Nuneaton and Rugby stations provide backup if required), so the proposals being discussed last night would not have quite the effect that the proposal to close the Bedworth fire station and amalgamate it with Nuneaton could have. Nonetheless, it was an interesting meeting that demonstrated the depth of public feeling against proposals that are being interpreted as placing people and property at a greater risk than at the moment.

Councillor Hobbs did confirm though that the final decision to adopt or reject the plan will be taken by all 62 county councillors at a full council meeting, rather than just by the Cabinet as originally planned. This is significant in that it means that local county councillor
Phillip Morris-Jones will have a vote on the matter - and he made his opposition to the plans very clear at the parish council meeting on 6 October.

The consultation period runs until 8 December, with further information available
here. A report on last night's meeting by the Rugby Advertiser, including video footage from the meeting, can also be viewed here.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service Consultation

You may have seen reported in the local media recently that Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service are currently conducting a public consultation exercise on proposals to review the number of fire stations across the county.

The draft proposals, if implemented, would see the current 19 fire stations throughout Warwickshire reduced to 12. For Barnacle and Shilton, this is particularly relevant because the plans include proposals to close both stations in Nuneaton and Bedworth and combine them into a joint fire station to be located between the two towns, as well as closing the Brinklow fire station.

At its meeting on Tuesday night, the parish council considered its views on these proposals, and expressed concern that they did not appear to be an improvement over the services currently provided. The combined Nuneaton/Bedworth fire station would be further away for residents of Barnacle and Shilton, resulting in a longer wait for fire appliances to arrive in the villages. This would be made worse by the withdrawal of the fire station in Brinklow. There was also concern that the proposals did not take proper account of the likelihood of the significant new housebuilding that will take place in the borough, as well as new industrial developments such as Ansty Park.

There is a public meeting to discuss the proposals (particularly in respect of the planned closure of Brinklow fire station) taking place on Monday 12 October, starting at 7.00pm at
The Revel Primary School, Brockhurst Lane, Monks Kirby. I shall be at the meeting and will report back on the issues discussed. A similar meeting in the Bedworth area was held on Wednesday 8 October, and a report on the proceedings by the Coventry Telegraph can be read here.

Full information on all of the proposals, as well as an opportunity to respond to the consultation, can be found on the Warwickshire Fire and Rescue website. Submissions must be received by 8 December.