Blame won’t pick it up

Last night, Councillor Fitzgerald (who lives in Orton Longueville and represents West ward (and before that a Bretton ward) ward decided to blame residents of Central and Park wards on Twitter and not only that, but to pick on the newest Labour councillor in Park Ward (who as he explains wasn’t there to respond).

Fitzgerald cited a fly-tip “heat map” which shows fly-tip incidents in Peterborough unitary authority area over the past three years as “hot”. The heat map was discussed in cabinet but all this particular councillor took away from the meeting was a magnificent opportunity to blame the Labour Party on Twitter for the hot spots.

Given the recent resignations of Cllrs Mahabadi and Ferris from East and Park wards respectively, and especially noting what  they said in their resignation address, you’d expect him to think for a minute or two before launching into his usual blame game. But apparently not.

Council’s Waste Trial lost revenue and probably fewer than 150 fly tips were averted

Waste activism in Peterborough has a long and distinguished history and a great many people and many organised groups have got stuck in, many of them heroically and steadily cleaning up things which simply shouldn’t be where they are.

This blog years ago as a lament that I had not been able to achieve something I’d dedicated a great deal of time and energy to: stopping the construction of a plant to incinerate domestic waste. And in this blog I began to look at and discuss the politics of Peterborough generally, partly in order to understand and explain the weaknesses of campaigning organisations in the city (who I then felt could all have done better) against a political decision to incinerate, based on levels of (elected councillor) ignorance which I’d never encountered before in any organisation. I needed to understand how that had happened too, and who benefits from a toxic waste disposal policy. Who benefits from a waste policy which isn’t working.

Meanwhile it seems that the attitudes I encountered: literally: “if you can’t see it, there is nothing there” approach to stack emissions has created a national problem, especially in England, which now does things worse and to lower standards than Scotland, Wales, the USA and Europe. Brexit might offer hope to those that are keen to practice toxic politics, but the toxins left in our environment aren’t going anywhere.

But about three years ago the Green Party began a Flash Mob Litter Pick, which roved around in response to resident callouts to deal with litter hotspots. Here’s a Flash Mob after a session litter picking in 2016, taken in a New England cul de sac: Like any litter picker, we were dealing with the council and its ways of doing things, with the odd hazardous item (discarded hypodermic needles are one of the worst at the moment) and we were also thinking about things like the bags the council uses, why people do what they do, where it comes from and how it travelled to where it is. We had hundreds of conversations, with each other, with passers by, with the council and with the people who deal with fly tipped toxic wastes (such as paints, oils, chemicals). It didn’t take us long to appreciate that people were sometimes being turned away by the legal disposal routes because of the way they had been implemented by the council or because of the conversations they had had with council operatives. We encountered a number of people who had been turned away from the Household Waste centre at Dogsthorpe. We realised that if you make people feel they are doing something wrong when they thought they were doing something right (they just didn’t know about the law or the procedure for doing what the council requires them to do) you are probably just building anti-council feelings and even another fly tip. The council operative is probably doing the right thing: saying all the right things, but the person to whom they are talking is struggling to cope with the situation. Some people get angry. Some people are shocked. In this situation, people may hear what is said to them, but they won’t be able to listen. So as we picked, we worked out that if one cul de sac could produce two car boot fulls of waste and a pile of fly tip, then there would be several skips full in each ward in the city. The volume of discarded waste lying around in our environment, defining our environment for everyone living or growing up in it – are unbelievable.

With fly tip, we looked at it and we began to understand the impact of the nice man at the front door who offers to take away your rubbish despite not having obtained the all important waste carrier’s licence. The role of this character is key: he (we think it is usually a he!) has perfectly understood the business opportunity provided to him by this corporate communications disaster.

Sometimes it is a whole house contents which is tipped out onto the highway, or someone else’s private property. Anybody in Peterborough can see that there is a big problem with landlords, or with people providing services to landlords and tenants. People living in or running the rental sector grab the cheapest furniture, because tenures are short and incomes are tight and what could be a re-use opportunity is instead a dumped problem. Legitimate house clearance businesses: where are they?

Julie Howell (pictured here in New England) took the conclusions to Orton Waterville where she was a parish councillor and she applied herself to communicating directly with every resident. Waste management was just one of the things she tackled in her communications. Here she discusses fly tipping on her blog:

http://howell4ortonwaterville.blogspot.co.uk/2018/05/getting-grip-on-fly-tipping.html

And here she is discussing fly tip on Radio Cambridgeshire yesterday morning:

Yesterday she was responding to the council leader who made some interesting comments in an article published in the Peterborough Telegraph soon after Julie was elected to the city councillor and thereby displaced the cabinet member responsible for waste management. The paper’s headline and the photograph put fly tipping into the spotlight.

https://www.peterboroughtoday.co.uk/news/politics/council-leader-pledges-new-efforts-to-tackle-fly-tipping-in-peterborough-1-8491096

First he announces that fly-tipping will be “a focus” for the council this coming year. And admits that the issue was “repeatedly raised on the doorsteps in the run-up to the elections.” This might suggest that there is hope.

But then he says something really interesting. What he appears to do in a scant four lines of text, is give a summary of the results of the Free Bulky Waste Trial. I don’t know if a detailed analysis of the results of the trial has been made available to elected councillors or whether or not that analysis breaks down at ward level. But if not that is what I’d be asking for if I was a councillor.

Holdich claims that the trial “made no difference to the amount of fly-tipping,” This suggests that the council has a way of very accurately measuring fly tipping activity over a period of time. That would be very interesting, if it were true. I think the police might be interested in how the council knows this too, since not being able to catch fly tippers is one of its defining and most annoying characteristics.

Then he asserts that “the council missed out on £40,000 from fewer paid collections.” Now, assuming he’s right about that, it suggests to me that the people making use of the free trial were people who would otherwise have called the council to arrange a paid for collection. This group of people, complying with existing procedures and forking out for the collections they organise does not strike me as an appropriate target group if you wanted to attract the waste which is being fly tipped and the people doing the fly tipping, because this group is by Holdich’s definition not fly-tipping their waste anyway. They are doing it correctly and dutifully providing the council with additional revenue.

Then Holdich claims that “It’s a national problem and nobody has come up with a panacea.” I think by calling on a Greek goddess, he is both looking for and deriding a universal fix. He might do better if he looked systematically at another goddess: Hygeia is the Greek goddess of cleanliness and hygiene, a goddess understood by the Greeks to be part of Aesclepius’ family of medicine, health and feeling good generally.

But let’s have a closer look at the council’s “Free Bulky Waste Trial”. It was designed to run for thirteen weeks: from 11th December to 9th March. A bulky waste collection normally costs £23.50. So adding up the available collections during the free trial, we have a cap of 52 collections per day, and an estimated “more than 1,000 free collections” during month one. Then a maximum of 26 per day for the remainder of the trial. Residents would be free to book a collection between 4th December to 5th March. So what actually happened?

We don’t know, except that the available slots were taken up enthusiastically to the extent that no more bookings for free collections were taken from 25th January, six weeks before the trial was supposed to end. Taking Christmas into account, the Trial stopped half way through. In fact it didn’t survive the Spring Clean Season. When the council closed new advance bookings, it was clear already that it was well organised people who were using the trial.

What we do know is that if £40,000 revenue was lost to the council because people using the trial would otherwise have booked a chargeable collection, then 1702 free collections were made who’d otherwise pay for those collections. These will have been well organised people complying with procedures, who probably were unlikely to be fly tipping waste or giving it to to a fly tipper masquerading as a legitimate waste handler before the trial began.

The big question, then, is how many collections were made above 1702.

52 per day for the first month would give us four weeks one of which includes the Christmas break. So let’s say 52 x 4 x 3 = 624

Then we have 26 per day for the other nine weeks, so x 4 x 9 = 936

If we add these figures together and take them away from 1702, we get 142.

Roughly one hundred and forty two collections were available to people who maybe would NOT normally have called the council. And that figure can only be true if the council and those people were able to use every single slot it had available. Given that this target group is likely to be less well organised, less well resourced and generally less compliant with how the council runs things, I find this highly unlikely.

We don’t know if the council added capacity, as it promised it would at the outset of the trial if demand was high. And if it didn’t, we don’t know why it didn’t. It may have realised that the non fly tipping community was not engaging very much with its trial, and if so, that would not surprise me.

I am sure that Holdich feels that the trial proves his point. I dare say it proves mine too: that the systems in place are unfit for purpose for many sections of our community and it is also clear that the ruling Conservatives still have no sensible plan in place to change that.

 

MANERP’s hustings Thursday 1st June

MANERP’s hustings Thursday 1st June

7pm

Peterborough International Christian Centre, Lincoln Rd, Peterborough PE1 2PE

Brian Gascoyne Image Credit: http://peterboroughtoday.co.uk

Our Chair for the evening will be Brian Gascoyne, who chairs Peterborough’s Holocaust Memorial Day Committee and serves on Peterborough Racial Equality Council http://www.prec.org.uk

MANERP says: “MANERP stands for the Millfield and New England Regeneration Partnership.
It is a Peterborough voluntary community association which receives no funding at all from ratepayers or taxpayers. All of its committee members and officers do not claim a single penny for the work that they do and do not claim any form of expenses either.
MANERP was formed in 2005 by residents who lived and people who worked work in the Millfield and New England in order to prevent the deterioration of the area because of the massive effect the influx of asylum seekers, refugees and EU migrants. The population had grown so quickly over a two year period that the infrastructure was failing to cope.
The Peterborough City Council agreed to recognise the group and its’ constitution was ratified and very quickly the association started to make representation to the council on several issues of concern. The main issues are:
The main issues are:

Private Rented Housing and Accommodation
Alcohol Licensing
Traffic
Environment
Health and Wellbeing
Police
Diversity and Cohesion

MANERP will continue to press for improvements to Millfield and New England as that is its’ mission. No matter what is thrown at the organisation, it will always put the peace and tranquillity of its’ residents first and foremost as its’ main priority.
If you live, work or have any connection with the MANERP area then please join us! We meet on the first Thursday of every month (except January) at the Peterborough International Christian Centre, Lincoln Road, (on the corner of York Road), Millfield, Peterborough at 7.15pm.” The Millfield and New England Regeneration Partnership (MANERP) is here:  https://manerp.org/about/

Image Credit: Google Street View

Venue:

click this link to go to google maps: https://goo.gl/maps/UfmwFRLqXWT2

Let’s Elect Julie

Green Parties in Cambridgeshire’s fundraising campaign was launched over the weekend and within 48 hours we had reached a fifth of the amount we need!

Do help us get there quickly by joining the crowd: sharing and pledging if you possibly can. Go here to find out how things stand right now.

green-mayor-crowdfunder-image

Download and print your own Crowdfunder poster.

PLEDGE NOW

Go here for more information.

Yet another overspend at Fletton Parkway Peterborough

An eye watering overspend by Peterborough City Council on the Fletton Parkway widening project was revealed back in January 2015. Now nearly another million pounds is being added to that total.

In January 2015 I blogged and said then that what the council needed was a Clerk of Works. It turned out that I was wrong.

My January 2015 post received quite a bit of feedback and I realised that I was wrong about what the remedy is. Or at any rate that what I believed I meant was capable of being misunderstood. So, I don’t believe that the city needs a Clerk of Works any more. I believe that what the city needs is an In House Clerk of Works. I didn’t update my blog at the time (I often don’t) but now that the issue of budgets and management of major infrastructure projects at Peterborough City Council will be making headlines again, I am correcting my recommended solution so as to make absolutely clear to decision makers what I believe Peterborough needs.

I learned last year that technically – i.e. on paper, legally, contractually and presumably somewhere in its accounts spreadsheet the council can actually claim to “have” a Clerk of Works. But also that (astonishingly) that function is currently performed by an employee or employees of the contractor doing the job and is not necessarily even a single nameable person. It may be “contractually normal” to organise a clerk of works function like this: I am told it is. But to my mind it is a notion, provided in the contract, but where it sits in any practical sense and who performs the function and why these persons unknown’s first loyalty should be our council and how the council can hold them accountable (for example by sacking them) is all shrouded in mystery. So a Clerk of Works is effectively useless: like a button floating free of the shirt, as it were.

I believe now that what the city needs is an In House Clerk of Works who must be a member of Peterborough City Council’s staff, on their payroll and their payroll only and 100% and solely accountable to Peterborough City Council. I believe that role should be filled by a highly qualified person (i.e., they might have at least one civil engineering degree). They should be paid a professional and competitive salary and that the job should be advertised publicly and include local advertisements and the appointment process should be open to scrutiny within the council’s audit and compliance procedures.

The In House Clerk of Works I envisage would be supported by a planning department within the city council with immediate access to council archives and records. It is not good enough for planning staff to be located in one place and the documents in another. It is very difficult for members of the public to cope with the current system. How members of staff cope with using it on a daily basis beats me. I remain suspicious about how the Fletton Parkway contaminated land managed to come as a surprise to the Fletton Parkway Widening Project team:

fletton-parkway-route-in-19th-c
Fletton Parkway route as it would have looked in the 19th century

The In House Clerk of Works should be empowered to scrutinise and halt any and all jobs done for the council at any stage in the application, approval and completion processes and to withhold sign off and payment until all the council’s quality standards are met. I hate seeing money being spent on works which are shoddy and unpleasing to the eye and hearing about decisions which nobody realised were as bad as they were at the time.* It does nothing for our local environments, which we pay good money to empower our councils to improve. And it does even less for our self respect as a city.

Incidentally, taking down a wood or removing a green space is not a neutral act. In an Environment City you’d expect it to be considered especially controversial.  But in addition to basic ecological concerns, woodland has long been used to conceal problems with the soil. Where you can’t grow a crop, farmers and landowners will often grow trees which will perform all sorts of useful functions within a landscape. Perhaps the cost of removing these particular patches of woodland and scrub will teach Peterborough  to respect its green spaces and what they are actually doing a little more? We are often told by people who don’t realise we depend upon it and that we live in it that we “can’t afford” the environment. Perhaps this wacky but all too widespread reasoning informed the decision to widen Fletton Parkway? But in the city with the highest dependency on cars, it is likely that a £6M overspend (on top of what was originally budgeted) will be seen as “unavoidable” and “necessary”, because building a bigger road network remains at the uncontested top of Peterborough’s spending priorities.

*For example:

the decision to turn one third of the A1139 parkway lights off and damaging whole lengths of under road cabling in the process, leaving a lethal bright stretch followed by a dark stretch, a bright stretch and another dark stretch. This light and dark lighting phenomenon (particularly noticeable near Stanground) happened all around the city because decision makers failed to check with the relevant qualified electrician what the impact of removing those particular light bulbs would be. In order to put it right all the affected lengths of road would have to be dug up.

the A16 fiasco

the Eye roundabout design (which now has more pedestrian casualties than anywhere else in the city)