Before I was elected, I spent a lot of time meeting with and listening to local residents in Blakelaw Ward about their priorities for our neighbourhoods and communities.
One of the recurring issues that was raised with me was the need to invest in and improve the 165 Estate in Blakelaw. LibDem Councillors who represented Blakelaw Ward in the years before Labour did little to improve the estate and residents were angry that previous plans that they had been involved in amounted to nothing.
I know the 165 Estate well. As a kid growing up in Blakelaw I would regularly play on the estate on my way to the Red Hut Community Centre and I still only live a few streets away today. The Estate has had little spent on it since it was built in the 70s and its layout makes it a haven for anti-social behaviour. But, at its core are the people who live on the estate and a community spirit that is worth preserving.
The long established tenants and residents association chaired by the amazing Doreen ‘Granny’ Jardine worked closely with me to negociate with the Council and Your Homes Newcastle to secure their agreement to invest £3 million pounds into improving the estate.
165 Estate resident led project team
We successfully bid to the Design Council’s ‘Improve Your Neighbourhood’ programme and were awarded a grant to pay Northern Architecture, based in Newcastle, to help us with resident-led consultation and workshops. The plan that we produced from that work is now the master plan for the estate.
We are now at the most exciting phase in what has become a two year project. Contractors are on site preparing to go to Newcastle City Council’s Planning Department. The aim is to secure planning permission and start work on the improvement plans before the end of this year. This is a great example of a community coming together to work with their Labour Councillors and other partners to improve lives and take control of local decision.
You can look at the proposed plans here (ignore the colour scheme, the houses won’t be brown!): 165 Estate Plans
People have lost all hope in politics and all trust in politicians. And can you blame them? The public, still reeling from the MPs expenses scandal, are now expected to accept an inflation busting 11% payrise for our parliamentarians (a pay rise that a Labour Government in 2015 have pledged to scrap). The problem with politics is that for most people the decisions that politicians make feel far removed from their every-day lives.
But there is cause for hope. Locally, in communities across the country, Labour Councillors are making a real difference to the lives of real people. Liberated by simple idea that we can control our own destiny Labour Councillors across Britain are putting power back in the hands of the people and no where is this more evident than Blakelaw, my own Ward in Newcastle upon Tyne.
Following 7 years of Liberal Democrat wallow the Labour Party led by Cllr Nick Forbes took back control of Newcastle City Council in 2011. We made a promise to the people of Newcastle that we would give them real power and say over the decisions that impact them. Three years on we are living and breathing that promise across the city and it’s making a real difference.
In my own ward we developed the Blakelaw Ward Community Partnership a charity which brings together community groups, organisations and business from across the ward to work together to support the delivery of public services during a time of austerity. From that work we have transformed our community centre into a well used community facility that now operates without public subsidy. We have saved our two local libraries from closure and we have set up youth provision across the ward with a plan to roll this out every night of the week offering our younger residents some positive focus and activities. We have a plan to build another community building and we are working to create new community groups covering the entire ward. There is a buzz in Blakelaw and we are bringing people together and engaging them in the democratic process.
We are not alone in this. My Labour colleagues across Newcastle are embracing the principles of devolution and achieving some amazing results. Fenham & Wingrove Wards through their Children and Young People’s Network are delivering comprehensive youth provision where it’s needed most. South Jesmond Ward and their community clean ups ensure clean streets despite massive Tory LibDem Government forced cuts to our front line staff.
Good government can do good things but good government can only exist if it is truly engaged with the people that it represents.
On the evening of 5th August I hoisted the Palestinian flag outside Newcastle Civic Centre. It marked the end of a peaceful vigil remembering the innocent civilians and children who have been killed in their hundreds in Gaza over recent weeks.
The flag hoist was not official – and neither was it a political stunt. I raised the flag as a symbol of hope that one that one day Palestine will be free from Israel’s military occupation.
Some have deliberately distorted this act of peace as a religious statement. This is not about religion, it is about the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza both of which are illegal under international law.
Twenty one years since the Oslo Accords, an entire generation of young Palestinians have grown up to witness a worsening situation on the ground. Massive expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, heightened security threats to both sides, the construction of an illegal separation wall, punitive restrictions on Palestinian movement, economic meltdown, and a humanitarian crisis in Gaza on a scale which is difficult to comprehend. That is the context in which the latest outbreak of violence must be understood.
We seem to be further away from peace than ever before. In Gaza civilians are being killed by Israeli airstrikes, homes, schools, hospitals and even UN sanctuaries are being targeted and destroyed. In the West Bank 1.8 million Palestinians are living under Israeli occupation denied the basic freedoms that we take for granted. There is simply no justification for the occupation of one people by another – it’s abhorrent.
If there is ever to be real peace between Palestine and Israel – not just an absence of war but real peace – then we need a new approach to diplomacy based on the protection of civilians, equal respect for the human rights, security and sovereignty of both Israelis and Palestinians, and the actual respect of – rather than just rhetoric on – international law.
After decades of ceaseless suffering and occupation the time has come for Palestinians to live free in a sovereign and independent homeland. That is what I campaign for and that is why I raised the flag.
There will be a public meeting to discuss the planning application for the proposed McDonald’s Drive Through on Kenton Lane/Ponteland Road on Thursday 3rd July at 6.30pm in the Blakelaw Community Centre & Library (just off Binswood Avenue).
Blakelaw & Kenton Councillors involved in the campaign against the plan will be at the meeting and they have invited a Planning Officer to talk through the plan and answer any technical questions.
We will then talk through the planning process and how best to organise the campaign leading up to the committee decision.
Please use your social media and email networks to invite as many local residents as possible to the meeting. If you can help distribute leaflets in the local area to invite residents to the event then please email email@example.com or call on 0191 271 5163
Along with my Labour colleagues in Kenton I have lodged strong objections to the application by McDonalds to build a large drive-thru takeaway at the former site of the Crofters Lodge pub.
Backed by scores of residents from both wards the local councillors want the proposed scheme scrapped.
Coun. Stephen Lambert, Chair of the Kenton Ward Committee, said : ‘’Regarding access, this is already an extremely busy junction at all times of the day and night. The increase in cars and trucks will cause problems to the road layout and to local people trying to access their homes. Clear evidence of this of this can be seen at another McDonald’s outlet at West Denton, where on a daily basis, traffic can be seen queuing onto nearby major roads causing backlog and congestion.’’
He added: ‘’Likewise there’s the issue of highway safety. If this proposal goes ahead, not only will this cause safety issues for residents, but also for students at the nearby Kenton Academy. The large take-away will be based on one of the main pedestrian routes to and from the school.’’
Several residents are deeply concerned about the impact that this plan will have on their neighbourhoods, especially Central Grange , Kenton Bar and Cheviot View. Locals have contacted their councillors and told them they don’t want to see garish illuminated sings near their properties.
The proposal to build a McDonald’s on the main walking route to the biggest secondary school in the city is just wrong. Residents in both Blakelaw and Kenton Ward will suffer from increased traffic congestion on an already busy road as well as noise pollution and litter. I am opposed to the plan and I have recused myself from the planning committee for this application so I can speak against it.
Residents can lodge their objections to the Planning Department at Newcastle City Council via this link. Your say is important.
Over the past 30 years the wealth inequality gap in Britain has widened to the point where we are now one of the least equal economies in the world. The staggering numbers often mask just how unequal wealth distribution in Britain really is but broken down into sensible numbers the reality is beyond belief.
ICM released a poll recently on the subject of wealth inequality in Britain. The poll asked 2000 people to imagine that the total wealth of the UK was £100. It then asked how they thought that £100 should be distributed from those with less wealth to those with more wealth? People thought that the richest 20% should have £25 and the poorest 20% should have £15. In a fair Britain, that’s what people thought it should be.
The same people were then asked what they thought was the actual distribution of wealth in Britain. People thought that the richest 20% had £40 and that the bottom 20% had £9. If only!! The actual numbers are staggering. In Britain today the richest 20% have 60% of the total wealth. £60 of our £100 pot, almost twice as much as everyone else combined. Look at the richest 1% and the numbers are even more eye watering. The richest 1% have as much wealth as 60% of the population – where is the fairness in that?
As for the poorest 20%? Well, if £100 were the total wealth of Britain then the poorest 20% would have 60p. It’s difficult to quite comprehend just how unfair that is.
Some might argue that the top 20% are the wealth creators. They own the shops and offices and factories providing the other 80% with jobs and an income. Fair enough, those people should get a good slice of our £100 pie but they should also realise that we all paid for the schools that their employees were educated in, we all paid for the roads that they use to ship their goods and the emergency services protecting their assets. In a fair Britain the 20% should get a decent chunk of the total wealth but they also have an obligation to recognise that we all contributed to their success and we all deserve our fair share of the pie.
The middle class of Britain is disappearing while the rich are getting richer and the poorer are getting poorer. That’s not political posturing, it’s fact and as long as the Government keeps ignoring the immorality of wealth inequality in Britain then we cannot with any honesty claim to be a fair society.
Plans for our local elections in Newcastle this May are well underway and in Blakelaw Ward we have already selected our candidate. Ben Riley is a resident of Blakelaw ward and one of our volunteer youth workers at the local community centre. He is a secondary school teacher in Durham.
Me, Sue and Ben at the Fenham Hut pie and pea meeting (Ben is the tall one on the right)
Ben is an active member of the Blakelaw community and a regular on our weekend street surgeries across the ward. He’d be a fantastic councillor and he grafts like no one I have ever met. If you live in Blakelaw ward, please vote for him on 22nd May.
It’s going to be an interesting election in Newcastle this May. Ukip have merged with Newcastle First who until their assimilation into Ukip (resistance is futile) ran second to Labour in a few seats across the city. This gives Ukip a small foothold into Newcastle and you can be sure that they’ll campaign aggressively based on fear on half-truths in the seats they do contest.
Ukip haven’t yet selected a candidate for Blakelaw ward but I am sure they will and my position on that is clear. My Labour colleagues and I work hard in Blakelaw and we have delivered some real results for our community. We are not fighting local elections on the issue of Europe but on local issues and the work we do locally. I have faith in the people of Blakelaw that they can see how hard we work on their behalf and they’ll support us at local elections as long as we do.
That being said, on the same day as the local elections we also have European elections. Labour have selected three fantastic candidates for the North East and I am proud to support them all for election. Our membership of Europe, the worlds largest single market, is vital for countless businesses and jobs in the North East. If the UK withdrew from Europe it would have a devastating impact on North East jobs, businesses, investment and growth and would spell the end of Britain’s influence globally. Ukip know they cannot win the economic argument so they instead prey on peoples fears about immigration completely ignoring the facts and blinding people to support their message of fear.
So… please support the Labour Party at the European Elections and give us a chance to show you what good, hard working Labour MEPs can do for our region.
2013 has been a pretty crappy year for too many people and yes, it’s all the Government’s fault. Just think of the hurt and pain and anguish that Camoron [sic] and his partner in crime Clegg-the-peg (cos he hangs people out to dry) have inflicted on decent people in Britain. A tax cut for millionaires at a time when austerity is being rammed down everyone else’s throat tells you everything about this Coalition of out-of-touch millionaires.
The Parliamentary Labour Party are anaemic in their butter fingered approach to tacking the most right wing government in generations. We languish at a 5% majority in the polls and Ed Miliband’s strategy is to defend that at all costs. Defend what? A 5% majority in the run up to an election can evaporate quicker that a puddle in a desert. People need choice. It’s like Batman vs the Joker only Batman seems more interested in keeping his tights clean than getting into a KAPOW! with his nemesis.
Ed has the capacity to be a great Labour Leader but he needs to worry less about headline chasing gesture politics and more about the people of this country who need the hope that only Labour can offer.
So, I hope you enjoy my blog. It’s a bit of therapy for me to let off steam every once in a while but in doing that you never know, I might actually say something sensible!!