Political activity and saveHOVE

saveHOVE is unaligned and distanced from party politics, whatever the beliefs and affiliations of its supporters and associates.  It is traditional for politicians to seek brownie points from involvement with civic/amenity groups and their activities (which they can hoist up to billboard view along the election path to the ballot box and display among their ‘vote-for-me’ bona fides).  But, even when support is genuine, it is important these two spheres of activity remain clearly distinct and separate.  We must all keep this in mind as we head now towards both a General and Local Elections in May 2015.
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King Alfred….Why does Cheetah want to put in double glazing NOW?!

There are two short-listed contenders for redevelopment of the King Alfred Leisure Centre on the Kingsway.  The deadline for submission of their plans to Brighton & Hove City Council is imminent.  A decision on the preferred developer is scheduled for late summer.  If the plans are accepted and agreed at Policy & Resources to go forward, a planning application will be live come the autumn.   So why has Cheetah’s gym submitted and just had registered this application:
Cheetah's gym app details for 13 UPVC replacement windows

Cheetah’s gym app details for 13 UPVC replacement windows

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The saving of Connaught School

24 April 2015…..Yesterday Ninka Willcock came out of the shadows, to stand front and centre in high-viz orange, as her years’ long work on behalf of the Brighton Society and her achievement in getting  Connaught School Grade 2 Listed was publicly acknowledged by The Brighton Society.

Ninka Willcock of The Brighton Society

The occasion was the unveiling of a blue plaque on the front wall of Connaught School to honour its architect, Thomas Simpson (1825-1908), an exceptional man, responsible for a number of schools in the city, organised by The Blue Plaque Panel and The Brighton Society.
The blue plaque

The blue plaque

In recognition of the work done in 2010 to get Brighton & Hove City Council to take the building back from City College, which had closed it and was disposing of it, three of us from saveHOVE and the now-disbanded Action4Kids were honoured to be invited to attend the unveiling of the plaque by Mayor Brian Fitch and the reception inside the school afterwards.  It was a very proud last flourish of a moment for us.
saveHOVE's Lou Stack for Action4Kids' Bob Howitt

saveHOVE’s Lou Stack with Action4Kids’ Bob Howitt

Back in May, 2010 saveHOVE raised both a council epetition and a companion paper petition and invited the Argus to help us launch it outside the school.  Action4Kids parents were invited and attended (with their huge banner) and did the most to then get paper petition signatures in the near-desperate whirlwind of activity that followed.  Honey Weston was 8 months pregnant at the time; and, in spite of it, relentlessly pursued her achievement of pages and pages of signatures.  We asked the brand spanking-new Hove MP, Mike Weatherley to sign it.  After a public meeting in the school itself, he did so.  And that was the council’s Tory Administration told by its new Tory MP, wasn’t it!
At that point in time, the Conservative Administration, with Cllr Vanessa Brown presiding as its Cabinet Member in charge of schools, had a short-list of provisional sites identified for a new primary school, but Connaught was not on it.  We aimed to change that and succeeded.  Our petition only ran for a very short few weeks and was presented in July 2010 to Cllr Brown’s Cabinet meeting.  And hey presto….in her response (see it online behind the epetition – link above) Connaught had made it onto the agenda both as a petition response and further in at item 12  as a proposed “temporary” short-term school solution  It was then, very shortly after that, of course, chosen.  Under Gillian Churchill, BHCC then did the superb job of upgrading and restoration we see today.  Looks pretty permanent to us!
Three key moves prevented the loss of that building and its retention for school use:  Ninka Willcock’s work for the Brighton Society in getting it Listed to prevent easy demolition (rumours were rife for a few years on that front, including the possibility of a Tesco petrol station) followed by the saveHOVE/Action4Kids high profile petitioning campaign to get the building after City College closed it down.  The support of the new Tory MP, clearly stated at the end of the public meeting he had raised to diplomatically give the issue an airing, finally nailed it.
Before that crucial MP’s meeting, Pat Hawkes, the Labour Cllr who attended, and who had been their schools maven for years before the Tories replaced them in the 2007 elections, told a group of parents she “regretted very much that the building had been Listed“.  They were shocked.  Her comment underlines just how valuable and important the Brighton Society achievement of Listed status was to be.  The half dozen Tory cllrs attending were conspicuously unhappy, including ward cllr Jan Young who asked Nigel Furness why he was applauding.  “Why arn’t you?” was his riposte.  Party leader at the time, Brian Oxley, sat red-faced, puce with rage, shaking his head into his lap throughout the meeting.  It was no doubt cost as much as ideology which lay behind both positions; but EVERYONE  supports it now!!!!
Both Labour and the Conservatives favour Academies and Free Schools.  Under the Tory Coalition Govt, new Council-controlled schools was outlawed.  This is why Connaught had to be accepted by an existing Council school as a satellite building.  It is officially part of West Hove in Portland Road and is administered by them.


The ceremonial outside
The celebration reception inside Connaught School that followed
Thomas Simpson and bldg use…notes from The Brighton Society 
Thomas Simpson, the architect of the elegant, Queen Anne-style building in Connaught Road, Hove, on which the blue plaque is placed, designed all but one of the former Board Schools gracing our city landscape today.  Although some have been converted to apartments, most – for example, Connaught (1884), Downs Junior (1890), Elm Grove (1893), Stanford Road (1894), Queens Park (1889) and St. Luke’s (1903) – remain in educational use.  Sadly, however, a few have been demolished, including two at Hove.  Nevertheless, Connaught Road, Hove is the sixthThomas Simpson school building in Brighton & Hove to be Grade 2 Listed.  It is also reassuring to note that several others have recently been proposed for local listing by the Planning Department, thereby highlighting their local heritage value and affording them a level of protection.
Opened in 1884 as the Connaught Road Council School, the building subsequently went through various permutations of educational use as demographics and policy shifted over the 20th century, including a boys’ secondary school.  As an infants’ school, it closed in the building’s centenary year when pupil numbers fell dramatically – as they did everywhere at this time – and despite a hard-fought campaign by parents.
Evening class provision here actually began in the 1890’s but it was as the Connaught Adult Education Centre that the building was more recently known and prized.  Now, having been painstakingly restored and adapted to meet the requirements of a modern infants’ school, it once more flourishes for the purpose for which it was originally designed – childrens’ learning.
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The First Planning Meeting 6 days after May 7 Elections

23 April 2015…..To sit on the Planning Committee, every councillor is required to undertake a basic orientation course of training.  Planning is a quasi-judicial process and involves both legislation and adopted policies (national and local).  It is also a highly technical discipline and councillors need to be aware of the way it all works so that they can ask informed questions and take informed decisions.  Some do this better than others it has to be said (!). 
The May 7th elections, rather inconveniently, fall just 6 days before the first planning meeting of the new Administration.  This poses huge logistical problems and raises issues. Should it be cancelled.  The decision has been taken that it will not be cancelled; it will go ahead with the agenda expected to be published and online the day before the election.
The first problem the council faced is knowing who will be available to sit on it.  There is the existing planning committee of councillors but there are also a number of trained-up councillors in each party who substitute for official committee members from time to time, as necessary.  There are also serving committee members who are not standing again for election. 
It has been decided that all the councillors on the outgoing committee who are standing again will be put on the agenda as expected to attend.  The places of those not standing again will be given to named cllrs standing again who are already trained-up substitutes.  On the day itself, names may change again, depending on who is or is not re-elected, but it is considered that there is a sufficient pool of substitutes likely to be re-elected to ensure that the meeting is quorate (i.e. at least a third of the committee of 12).
The membership of all committees is formally announced and set in stone at Annual Council on May 21st when the new Mayor is also formally installed.
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Electing rookie councillors is a cost/efficiency consideration – and there will be SO MANY!

19 April 2015….Who the hell to vote for?!!!!  Which party?!  Which candidate?  Who are these people anyway!  Does it even matter?  New faces or the ones you already have?  What are the consequences? 
Almost all focus at the moment is on the Miliband/Cameron tussle for favour.  And of course what happens at Government level affects local authorities and how they function…..eventually.  New legislation under new policies (if there is even a majority Govt!) takes a few years.  But what happens in the local elections will impact much more immediately.  And in Brighton & Hove it is going to impact and cost the city financially, from the off, whoever is elected, and from whichever party. 
Having recent experience of actually serving as a councillor for at least one whole term of office  is probably the best qualification you could possibly have for doing the job even remotely effectively.  Re-electing a serving councillor – from whichever party, or independent – will get residents the biggest bang for their buck and do the least amount of damage to the council purse, regardless of political affiliation.
Doing the job: new vs old
Belonging to a political party and standing as a candidate is not a qualification for office.  Hanging around your pals in the party and going to Party Conferences is not a qualification for office.  Working for a councillor or an MP is not a qualification for office.  Having a high IQ or a PhD is not much use either.  So what is? 
Anyone who regularly attends council meetings (mostly officers, councillors and journalists) knows that members of the public are a rare sight in the public gallery.  Only personal agendas gets them out…to ask a public question (preferably at a webcast meeting – for maximum effect), to lead a deputation or to present a petition.  Close to elections, prospective candidates raise their profiles by suddenly demonstrating a burning interest in some issue or other through use of these opportunities to strut their ‘worth’.  The meeting of choice will either be Full Council or Policy & Resources.  Otherwise, it is really only the Planning Committee that gets much attention from the public, and then, by and large,  only if it concerns a controversial application that personally threatens their interests. So, never having cared one jot before, there is  lot for never-before, newly elected councillors to now learn.
New councillors have to learn how the council works, to acquire a broad overview, to get a handle on the ongoing issues from the council’s operational perspective and to acquire the context view that makes for more effective engagement with the Council and its officers, as well as to start actually reading those doorstep-thick Agenda papers….with understanding.  Life is no longer just about The Party.  There is a city to run and residents ringing and writing with problems to solve, resident meetings to attend. It takes awhile to learn to do this with grace, and effectively, even to find time to do it (whilst also holding down a full-time job, etc.).
Newly-elected first-time rookie councillors seethe with obvious personal identity and interests that you can actually SEE at their early attendances of Full Council meetings.  They arn’t there to ‘fit in’….yet.  Over the term of an Administration they will physically and verbally change, will visibly become ‘councillors’.  But it costs the taxpayer to get them there!  They have to be inducted, trained, guided and cajoled.  They have to learn how not to end up in front of a Standards Panel because of ill-chosen comments made somewhere.
After the last local election, Westbourne’s new Tory Cllr Graham Cox was off-the-leash in his own mind, it seemed.  No longer trapped behind his identity as a Superintendent copper, he was surprisingly aggressive and sarcastic.  But you know, you get to know your colleagues in other parties and discover they are decent.  Officers have a word with you.  You get a backlash from your own colleagues (Tories are keen on being polite); and he changed dramatically, and for the better.  But it took a couple of years for him to ‘adjust’. 
It is a tiring and brutal life, a survival of the fittest and toughest life; and experienced councillors have been there, done that; and those that are up to the job are standing again.  Few councillors  can invest time and exasperation by actually digging to get to the bottom of anything.  It is after all just meant to be a part-time occupation, not an actual job.  If re-elected, the councillor of some years standing will have a head-start in this area and need to spend less time seeking answers and action from officers and colleagues.  Hangleton’s Tory Cllr Dawn Barnett is an example of a good ward cllr who knows her ward well, proactively troubleshoots and problem-solves on that doorstep in a hands-on way that is second to none.  How many newbie councillors can claim to have good ward knowledge?  New or incumbent, this is an issue, actually.  Most councillors sit like whores in an Amsterdam window, waiting for everything to come to them.  They only come alive when engaged in verbal combat with the opposition ‘enemy’.  But those political point-scoring parlour games are more about political oneupsmanship than being an effective, useful councillor, helping to keep the city machine running effectively.
Experienced councillors already know the culture, capacity and limitations of the officers.  Newbies think they are some kind of new broom that will sweep clean.  Well.  Think on.  John Barradell was briefly CEO of this council and his attempts at a major restructuring fell apart in the face of the bedrock culture he could not shift over and above removal of a few Directors.  One of his four newly created Strategic Directors remains on staff (Geoff Raw) but the others fled when enthusiasm for implementing the new structure palled; and, eventually, Barradell moved on too, to take up a post in the City of London.  So newbie, do you really think you can do better?  It is certainly a UKIP aim. 
The word omnishambles comes to mind if we get a right Mad Hatter’s Tea Party of a council after the 7th of May.  Too many new councillors from a smorgasbord of parties is really, really something to fear.  The excessive number of new Green councillors in 2011 tangled and seized up the Green Administration, leading it to a spectacular fall from public grace.  We should learn from that.
At the last local election, a minority Administration was formed by a Green Party which had exceeded its incremental gains strategy by unexpectedly doubling councillor numbers.  Paper candidates were suddenly councillors.  Gulp.  Had the Greens been in opposition all those newbies might have learned and made their mistakes in relative obscurity.  Instead, they had to do induction training, learn the ropes, learn the council culture, work within the overall Green Party ethos, Chair committees they knew nothing about, run the city as its government! – all in the glare of public and media attention on the country’s first Green Administration, and hounded by trolls commenting behind online Argus articles.  Many of the social media/Argus trolls are in fact marauding opposition councillors and party hacks hiding behind silly names-not-their-own. Their very simple aim was to undermine and condition public thinking.  And it worked.  Ironically, most of what the Greens actually did in office would also have been done by any other Party (the i360 notwithstanding).
Only nine of the original 23 Green councillors elected in 2011 are standing for re-election.  Their experience, both as  councillors and from the vantage point of having been part of a serving Administration in charge is important.   In opposition they would be best placed to challenge any guff from whoever forms the next Administration (not expected to be Green!) because their knowledge of where the council stands organisationally and financially is bang-up-to-the-minute current.
The stability of the council, and best use of ever-reducing revenues is at stake, whoever is in power after May 7th.  We can expect to have perhaps as much as 40% of the council made up of totally inexperienced, bolshy, wannabe change-merchants who bring not one ounce of expertise to the job.  They will bleed training and coaching resources in order to minimally learn how to be a councillor, when all they really know is how to be themselves and loyal party hacks spinning on doorsteps.
Do the city a favour.  Don’t think in terms of political parties and manifestos.  Help minimise the damage to come from having a big intake of confused rookie councillors:  vote for incumbent councillors, of whatever party, if you  have them standing again.  They know the ropes and you will get better service from one of them than you have a hope in hell of getting from a brand new rookie councillor.  Every penny and minute the council and its paid expert officers have is needed for services, not rounding up and breaking in a load of newbie councillors with provision of ongoing guidance and support being a given for at least the next two years.
If as much as 40% of the intake is untried and inexperienced at being councillors then, as Betty Davis so famously said “Hold onto your seats; its going to be a bumpy ride“.   Brighton & Hove Independent, out last Friday, printed a complete listing of who was elected last time and who is standing this time (except they forgot Jenny Barnard-Langston, ex-Tory Cllr Mayor, ex- Lib-Dem, and standing as an Independent, in Hove, for Parliament).
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The James Gray Collection::Volume 17::Hove Park Gardens

5 April 2015…..We have lost Park House to a bulging and loud, bullying, block of 71 flats overdevelopment, constructed to front Goldstone Crescent, Old Shoreham Road and part of Hove Park Gardens.  This link to one photo in the James Gray Collection shows you what that section of Hove Park Gardens looked like in 1969, when Park House was still a residential home for the frail elderly (converted from a private home to this use in the years just after WW2) and 3 houses stood behind it.

The James Gray Collection::Volume 17::Hove.

James Gray was a man who documented as much of Brighton and Hove as he could manage with his photography.  Knowing that the three houses built behind and at the same time as Park House were up for the chop, he went along and took a few snaps.  The James Gray Collection was bequeathed to the Regency Society by Gray, to be bought on his death for £10,000.  Digitized in various volumes under the sponsorship of individuals and various societies, the actual photographs are housed by the city Museum while the photos can be viewed via the Regency Society website.
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