Unsurprisingly I’ve voted in

Unsurprisingly I’ve voted in.

The EU is flawed, but a system for countries and peoples to work together collaboratively and democratically to solve common problems is better than the alternative.

The economic risk of Brexit is very real. We hear a lot about the £350 million that the Brexiteers say is sent to Brussels every week. Aside from being a deliberate and cynical lie, it’s also smaller than the £450 million in inward investment to the UK that we get every week in large part because of our position in the EU – and a tiny proportion of our £35 billion per week economy and and £15 billion per week government spending. A 1% drop in the economy if we leave will wipe out the “£350 million” in a flash. Anything more than that and we will be worse off. The uncertainly that a vote for Brexit will cause will also have an immediate impact as investors pull their money out of the UK, the pound drops (because fewer people want pounds) and things that are priced in Euros and Dollars (like food, oil and holidays) cost us more. It’s not just the threat to jobs that will hit the economy as investment falls, but a collapsing pound will mean that everyone will be worse off…

We’ve heard a lot about sovereignty. One question I’ve repeatedly asked – and never had an answer to – is “Name a law or regulation – that the democratically elected UK government or democratically elected MEPs didn’t back – that has been imposed on us.” And then there’s silence. I realise people are concerned that we’re being bossed around by Brussels – but surely it’s not unreasonable to ask for a single example of how. I’m still waiting.

There are a lot of issues that this referendum has thrown up that we need to address – housing, pressure on public services, and how we ensure that we create a society where all members are able to look to the future with a sense of positivity and optimism. But most of those problems come from decisions made in the UK – not in Europe – and it’s in the UK that we must find solutions to them. And if the EU does things that work against these goals, we should try to change it, not run away.

And we do need a positive vision for the future of Europe. The question of “where do we go next in Europe?” is an important one. There needs to be much more transparency – real effort put into better ways of engaging people in how decisions are made – and continued efforts to ensure that the EU is genuinely a “people’s Europe” that is responsive to the needs and concerns of people across the continent.

But in the end, I believe in collaboration, cooperation and reducing barriers between peoples and countries. I believe it in my work life. I believe it in my politics. I believe it in my private life. I have friends in countries all over the world. And I believe the more friendship, the more collaboration and the greater the reduction in the sense of ‘other’ in relationships with people around the world, the better for us all.


Posted in Europe | Leave a comment

Who’s responsible for the council’s failings?

This followed a letter in the Hampshire Chronicle attacking council offers for recent failures at the council.
Cllr Gottlieb is wrong to blame all the ills of the council on the council’s senior management team.
The people that authorised the Station Approach Planning Brief and the Highcliffe Consultation – and who agreed to continuing the Station Approach development despite three out of five architects dropping out – and who are also legally accountable for most decisions of the council – are the Council’s Leader and Cabinet.  And for all of the last 5 years – and for all the decisions Cllr Gottlieb mentions – the Council Leader and Cabinet have been Conservative.
While opposition Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors – and, on occasion, even some Conservative Councillors – have been able to put up proposals for reform and arguments against the proposals put forward by the Conservative administration – and have done so in all the cases he mentions, in almost all cases the Conservative Cabinet have ignored them or the Conservative majority have voted them down.
If Councillor Gottlieb wants to know what it will take to change the council and change the priorities of council officers, the answer is simple.  The Conservatives need to be voted out.
Posted in Station Approach, Winchester | Leave a comment

Getting a better scheme for Winchester – my speech last week on Silver Hill

Last week’s full council meeting about Silver Hill is on the front page of the Hampshire Chronicle today.  Here’s what I said in the meeting (give or take a few words here and there):

Madam Mayor

Too much of our discussion this evening has been obsessed about procurement law, process, risk and profit.

Forgive me, but I think what we need to be obsessed about is getting a better scheme for Winchester – better than the one we have today

There has been definite progress vs. the 2014 scheme.  We have a bus station.  We have affordable housing – two things that the Liberal Democrats and many others have pushed for.

At the current time, no-one has proposed – and no outside advisor has identified – a robust plan that outlines a timely plan for development of the site – and guarantees features such as a bus station and social housing – in the event that the Development Agreement is terminated.

I agree that this is urgently needed – it’s something I’ve asked for at Overview and Scrutiny – and it would be irresponsible to take a decision without having this clarity.

We have at least 6 options:

  • Continue as we are
  • Continue as we are and seek and achieve improvements
  • Some want to retender the current contract.
  • Some want to start the current process again from scratch.
  • Some want to start again with a new Masterplanning approach
  • Some want to allow piecemeal development

These are 6 different options. Each option has different impacts on cost, on timing, on the council’s finances and on whether we are able to achieve important public benefits such as a bus station and social housing.

We have no clarity on any of these options – and it would be wrong to terminate without that clarity

While people rightly have concerns about the design, the design and the development agreement are not the same thing… And if they were, then retendering the contract would mean that we ended up with the same problem.

The Development Agreement does not specify the detailed design of the site – and many of the features that residents are rightly concerned about – that we in the Liberal Democrats are concerned about – that I am concerned about – such as:

  • the height of the development,
  • the quality of the buildings fronting onto the street, especially in Friarsgate,
  • the layout of the street plan –

are not specified in the Development Agreement.

It also includes elements that are not in the development agreement such as the office space, the youth club – which has been provided by St John’s – and the RAOB club

These were covered in the Planning Permission – which did not form part of the Judicial Review – and can, in principle, be changed, amended, adjusted or resubmitted without changing the Development Agreement.

Most of the objectives of the Development Agreement – including:

  • A bus station with 12 parking bays, 3 layover bays and toilets
  • 287 units of housing – including 100 affordable units, of which 20 are social rented
  • An area for relocation of the market – including a bin store and compactor
  • A civic square
  • Maintenance of current levels of retail (>90,000 square feet)

remain desirable objectives for the site.

There is dispute about the level of parking. But there are genuine questions about what flexibility the Development Agreement gives us about parking – which unfortunately cannot be discussed in open session.

Ultimately our problem is not with the Development Agreement – it is the design of the scheme against the development agreement.

We need to see change.  We need to see improvements.  And we believe it is possible – without changing the development agreement.

But we don’t want to accept the motion unamended, because that closes off the opportunity to terminate the agreement in the event that we don’t get the changes we need.

We need to see improvements.

And if we don’t see improvements, we have to have the ability to terminate the deal with clarity about the way forward from that point.

And that is why I ask you to support Councillor Thompson’s amendment.

Posted in Planning, Silver Hill, Winchester | Leave a comment

Conservative plans for ‘right to buy’ are bonkers and will mean we lose a large proportion of council housing in Winchester.

The Conservatives have announced plans to force councils to sell off the most expensive 210,000 council houses and use the money to pay for a national programme of ‘right to buy’ for housing associations right across the country.

For Winchester this will be a catastrophe!


First, nearly half (48%) of all councils have sold off or transferred their council housing to housing associations.  Only around have of all councils actually have any council housing at all, and only the councils that do will be paying for this national programme: Winchester is one of them.

This unavoidably means that sales of council housing in Winchester (and other areas with council housing) will be subsidising ‘right to buy’ in the rest of the country. And because we haven’t transferred our council housing to housing associations, we also have less housing association housing than other areas – and so our area will get even less of this money!

To put it another way, 52% of councils – including Winchester – will be subsidising ‘right to buy’ in the other 48% of council areas.

The second problem is that Winchester is an expensive area – in the top 10% of the country for house prices – which means that a much higher proportion of our council housing will be amongst the most expensive 5% of council housing in the country and so will have to be sold when it becomes free.  We have a completely disproportionate share of the ‘most valuable 210,000 properties’ that the Conservatives are planning on using to fund the scheme.  As soon as a family home becomes available, it won’t be used to support people in housing need, but will be flogged off on the open market to pay for ‘right to buy’ somewhere else in the country.  And because the biggest cost relating to housing is the cost of the land, we won’t be able to afford to build many replacements.  At best, the only type of new council housing we could manage each time we were forced to sell a family homes would be a small flat – and that doesn’t help tackle our affordable housing problem.

So the net effect of this policy is a disaster.  A large proportion of our council housing – especially bigger family homes – will have to be sold off.  And our area will see hardly any of the money.

It’s completely bonkers. And another reason to vote for Jackie Porter as the only way to stop the Tories in Winchester on May 7.

Posted in Blog, Housing, Winchester | 1 Comment

Cherry picker in Tower Street

A resident asked me about the cherry picker in Tower Street.  Here’s the answer I received:

‘The works that are being undertaken in Tower Street relate to on-going maintenance work by BAM Construction to the elevations of Elizabeth II Court. Due to the location and nature of the works these are weather dependant and have resulted in the cherry picker remaining on the road for longer than originally anticipated. Hampshire County Council and BAM are sorry for any inconvenience this is causing to residents.

The siting of the cherry picker in the residential parking bays is necessary to enable uninterrupted access to Tower Street by pedestrians and vehicles. All options for the siting of the cherry picker were considered before progressing with this work and BAM are keeping the number of bays used to a minimum.

This week, work is progressing well due to the spring weather, and BAM Construction are hoping to be in a position to hand back a number of car parking spaces by the end of the week. BAM are also aiming to have work to the Tower Street elevation completed by the end of April, but once again, this date is weather dependent.’

Posted in Parking, Winchester | 1 Comment