Gems from the manifesto

My mornings have started with leafleting sessions at 6.15am twice more this week, to get our local election address out in my ward. But last thing at night my reading material has been our manifesto for the general election.

I bought a paper copy to read in bed, and reading through it has reminded me exactly why I’m a Liberal Democrat. What a fantastic set of policies, many of which have been well publicised.

But I spotted half a dozen gems which aren’t so well known. Some of them I wasn’t even aware of and I’ve been to every national conference for several years now.

So, ignoring the big promises, here are my favourites:

  1. Encourage community-owned renewable energy schemes (p.28) – It goes without saying that these would be brilliant in Calder Valley, harnessing the water power that was used by industry here 200 years ago.
  2. Cut red tape for putting on live music (p.46) – Why have Labour made it harder to put on a small gig in a pub or church hall. Seriously. Why?
  3. Strengthen the Youth Service by making it a statutory service (p.51) – Youth services have been cut severely by Tory-run Calderdale council this year, there is now no council-run youth provision in central Hebden Bridge. As a non-statutory service, it is an easy target for cuts.
  4. Change the tariffs used by energy supply companies so that the first energy you use is the cheapest (p.53) – I have changed to a gas supplier that charges the same price per unit for every unit used by every customer. I’ve spent hundreds of pounds insulating my house. Why should someone who hasn’t bothered get cheaper and cheaper energy the more they use. This is the case with all the major suppliers.
  5. Fight to stop MEPs having to travel to the Strasbourg Parliament every month (p.66) – What a waste of time, energy, and money. Surely this is a no-brainer.
  6. Protect free speech […] through reform of the English and Welsh libel laws (p.93) – The case against Simon Singh may have been dropped, but it should never have been allowed to be brought in the first place. Our libel laws need urgent reform.

How good would it be to get all these through parliament?

Speaking of manifestos, Lewisham Liberal Democrats have published their local government manifesto which is an extremely impressive document for a local party to produce, with lots of excellent but serious policies. I wish them all the best in their campaign to elect a Lib Dem mayor and take control of the council, and I hope we can produce something similar, if maybe not quite as slick, for the local elections here next year.

A break from campaigning

Campaigning for the general and local elections has pretty much taken over my life at the moment. Yesterday I was out at 6.15am delivering target letters, so I thought I deserved a break. Working on the assumption that a change is as good as a rest, today I turned my mobile phone off and spent most of the day planting raspberry bushes in Nutclough woods. A group of us go up there on a fairly regular basis to help out with various jobs, and today’s main task was to install the revetment in the photo, and plant the raspberry bushes around them. I will be going back on a regular basis to check for vandalism and, hopefully, one day, get a small punnet of fruit, although I think it’s unlikely to be this year.

Nutclough woods have a variety of owners, including Calderdale Council, British Waterways, and several private landowners. They are managed by the Friends of Nutclough Woods, ably led by the ever-enthusiastic Kate Berridge and assisted by her partner, family, and other local residents. They are easily the best managed woods in the Hebden Bridge area and are well worth a visit at any time of the year.

I expect normal blogging service to resume after the election, with planned posts on recycling, allotments, and housing.

PS. Don’t forget to vote for Liberal Democrats Hilary Myers (for Westminster) and Nader Fekri (for Calderdale MBC), your earthly representatives of Nick Clegg and Vince Cable.

Car parking in Hebden Bridge

Chris in Garden Street Car Park

There is an ongoing debate in Hebden Bridge about car parking. Is there enough of it, do we have the right balance between short and long-term spaces, and are the charges correct?

Late last year, a group of Human Geography and Urban Planning students from Leeds Met University undertook a project to survey car parking in different areas of Hebden Bridge. This fell under the auspices of the Hebden Bridge Parking Working Party. Lesley McKay and myself introduced the students to Hebden Bridge, and went to Leeds to see the students’ presentations in December. A few students also came with their tutor, Lindsay Smales, to present the results to Hebden Royd Town Council.

The students came up with some interesting results, particularly the responses to questions which they had asked of residents, tourists and shop keepers. Most markedly, those who run the shops want cheap parking, but people visiting town would actually be prepared to pay a bit more. Currently most of the car parks are 30p an hour, which is very good value.

Following the report, the parking working party made a number of recommendations to the Town Council. At last week’s council meeting, the council voted to send those recommendations (with a few minor modifications) to Calderdale Council for their consideration. The main recommendations are as follows.

  • A review of car parking charges throughout Hebden Bridge, and a proportionate reduction in car parking charges for residents of Hebden Royd and surrounding villages
  • Residents protected parking times be reduced so that non-residents can park in residents spaces between the hours of 8am and 4pm [when many residents are at work]
  • The need for Calderdale MBC to work with Network Rail to extend car parking at the railway station, in line with the recommendations of the Department for Transport’s (2009) Better Rail Stations
  • The improvement of long and short-stay parking signage in the town centre
  • An investigation of ways in which local residents can be encouraged to walk or cycle, e.g. pavement displays of journey walking/cycling times to town centre/railway station, and greater promotion of Hebden Bridge as being easily accessible by public transport

It will be interesting to see what comes back from Calderdale. Unfortunately they don’t have a great record at replying to our requests on traffic issues!

A big development which will be happening in Hebden Bridge over the next few years is the redevelopment of the Town Hall, which today passed into the hands of Hebden Bridge Community Association. They have all sorts of exciting plans for extending the building, but strangely no provision for more parking. They say:

Our plans – if we can find the funding to implement them – will mean building on land which is currently used for car parking. […] We don’t yet know whether some or all of the current car parking places are likely to be lost. We anticipate that the seven places at the side will go, and some of those at the rear (facing the old health centre). We may be able to retain some limited parking.

I disagree with this approach and have responded to their consultation as follows.

I think the redevelopment of the Town Hall is an ideal opportunity to get some underground car parking in the new part of the development. If you’re trying to attract small businesses, people working in them will in many cases need somewhere to park, especially if they’re coming from rural areas not easily accessible by public transport. Your approach misses a golden opportunity to get a few more car parking spaces in a central part of town. Improving parking elsewhere would be welcome, but if you’re removing existing spaces, I really think you should look at providing an equivalent number elsewhere on site. Underground car parks work well in other places and can be built as part of a new development but not retro-fitted afterwards!

I’m all for encouraging use of public transport, but the fact remains that many people in rural areas rely on their cars to get to places. It will be interesting to see how things develop.

I can’t write a post about parking without mentioning Hebden Bridge’s most controversial proposed development in 30 years – the Garden Street development. It would put a multi-storey car park on the site of the existing Garden Street Car Park, but pay for it with a massive development on top. Whilst I wouldn’t object to seeing some development on the site, the proposals were simply too big – the Calderdale planners thought so, and their decision was upheld on appeal. Will the developers come back with a revised proposal? Only time will tell.