War and peace

THE agenda for Monday’s cabinet meeting made War and Peace look like a short story with 26 reports presented for consideration and decision.

Among them were some pretty meaty issues and ones which have generated significant public interest and will continue to do so in the future.

The first item to be considered was the on-going saga over Falcon Road. My view has been consistent throughout in that the road should remain open. I do not believe we should start closing off housing estates in the town and this would have set a very dangerous precedent.

The amount of traffic that would then be pushed on to other roads, particularly Hart Lane, would add extra pressure on what is already a very busy road.

The latest consultation was over whelming in favour of leaving the road open as has been the case with other consultation exercises and, crucially, the professional advice from council officers given at the meeting was that the road should remain open.

Last week I wrote about the Mill House masterplan in some detail and I’m delighted that the plan was approved by the cabinet as well as the appointment of the preferred developer, Gus Robinson Developments.

A decision could not be made of the transfer of the land on which the football ground sits to Hartlepool United because of a potential conflict of interest due to the fact I have a season ticket and Cath Hill owns a few shares.

The decision on the land transfer will therefore rest with the full council. I would like to see this resolved as soon as possible and there is a council meeting in April.

Concerns have been expressed by the council’s monitoring officer and some councillors that it would be in the middle of the election purdah period and the issue could be used as a political football.

Whether it is decided in April or shortly after the election in May, there is still every chance it will become an election issue.

Personally, I don’t see the difference and I would have thought that most councillors would be delighted to support this exciting development plan whether there is an election on or not.

The meeting also included some really important reports about housing. A big step forward was taken in the housing market renewal process of the Carr/Hopps Street area and we will now move forward with the process of acquiring properties, rehousing residents and demolishing the vacant houses.

The council has been successful in our approach to housing market renewal in other areas of the town and a lot of that is down to the direct dialogue with the people affected. I would urge the people in that area to speak with the council before making any decisions on their future.

There was an excellent scrutiny report looking at the provision of services for children in care.

There has been some good work in Hartlepool over recent years which has really improved the quality of life for children in care.

Giving the semblance of a normal life to some of our most vulnerable children can be the most rewarding part of a councillor’s role yet it can be the most challenging to get it right. I’m pleased that we are striving for continuous improvement.

One of the most exciting reports was actually a strategy to bring empty properties back into use.

I have been pushing this agenda for some time especially since it became apparent that the Government were no longer going to subsidise housing renewal programmes anymore.

We have over 1,000 empty houses in Hartlepool and if we concentrate on bringing a lot of these back into use, we can breathe new life into streets and make them more desirable for people to live.

We’ve been successful in patching together a small fund to kickstart this work and it gives us the opportunity not only to transform run down areas but also to train apprentices on the job and to generate income to put back into the funding model.

There were loads more items, however, if I mentioned them all I wouldn’t hit my deadline for the Mail to receive my column.

The final one I will mention though was the annual adults substance misuse plans which was a combination of the drugs treatment plan and the alcohol misuse plan.

We have been excellent in Hartlepool at getting people into drugs treatment over the years. What we haven’t been great at is getting them out again and free from drug use.

There is a change of direction in this year’s plan which will concentrate on really trying to get people clean.

It will be resource intensive because there are all sorts of external factors that may need addressing around housing, employment and general support but it needs to be done.

Surely it can’t be right to get people off heroin and on to methadone and view that as a success?

Just as crucial, if not more so, is alcohol element of the plan.

Gradually, there is recognition that alcohol is the cause of huge drains on the public purse.

The details of what we are doing in Hartlepool will be the subject of a future column, but we are making steps in the right direction.

Alcohol related issues will start quickly moving towards the top of political agendas over the coming months.

I think we are already ahead of the game in Hartlepool with this agenda but there is so much more we need to do.