New Deal: A Tad More Info; GreenFingers; Purple Prose; Sci-Fi Fans Assemble; Anyone Fancy a BitOnTheSide?

Well, stuff really seems to be moving on the New Deal front. I haven’t wrote on here for a while as every time I do, something new pops up. As such I’ll be ignoring all emails, text messages, gmails, Facebook messages, tweets, phone calls, letters and coded messages sent to me from the television while I type out an update.

So we really have touched a nerve: even making the front page of The Beeston Express this fortnight, with a favourable and pleasingly optimistic write-up. Our attempt to create a ‘steering group’ , a public forum that can evaluate the stated desires of Beestonians, and then get them up to those who can actually do something about it. An essential part of this for me was to get the Civic Society on board: as I have frequently stated here there work over the past 40 years in Beeston has been invaluable and wide-reaching. They have a wealth of knowledge of he town, and a history of effective strategy well beyond my own. They have agreed to be involved to a degree, which I am very happy with.

I have also had progressive and encouraging contact with the retail side of Beeston; and the burgeoning cultural wing. They are enthused to get behind the New Deal, and will be responsive to our wish-list.

Of course, time is of the essence. The tramworks on Chilwell Road are to be extended considerably, and work on Beeston Square is set to pose another set of complications onto the town. We shall be holding he first meeting very soon, and once I have dates and a venue then I will let you know. To work well, this has to be grassroots, not top-down. Beestonians need to be the ones driving this, lobbying for a Beeston they want to live in. Watch this space.

I also want to say a belated thank you to Nick Palmer, who has done all the legwork for New Deal while I take the credit. 13 years as an MP gives Nick organisation skills and influence to make sure New Deal is effective and representative. I am an utter novice at this, hence why I am not keen to run the initiative once it’s in place, so Nick’s knowledge has been invaluable, and he hasn’t minded me sending him demanding emails at silly times of the morning, even when he’s about to jet off to Asia as part of his real job.

________________________________

The announcement that Chilwell Road will be closed for several extra months has heated up the local debate. It was sad to read that Greenfingers florist is to close, but near infuriating to read the response to this from NET:

“If the owners of the Greenfingers Flower Shop believed the tram works were affecting the business, we could have looked into it, but they have not been in touch with us.

“While some traffic routes have been altered in the area, there are no tram works outside their shop, so it’s not clear if or how the tram works have led to their decision to relocate.

The stated belief that the florist is not affected by the tramworks is terrifyingly ignorant. The florist is now very difficult to get to: very little traffic passes by now, Cator Lane is closed, and the buses no longer run by it. No, there are not gaping pits outside the shop, but if NET believe that the only adverse effect of closing off an arterial road/ bus route is felt by traders directly next to the diggers, then that is worrying. The same problem hit Bartons too: without the steady stream of traffic, and the ability to easily reach the venue, they had to drastically scale back their plans to develop into a huge entertainment complex. It’s like a doctor sawing off a patient’s leg and then being puzzled why the amputee can’t feel their toes.

_____________________________

If that makes you want to swear, then do so. Here, in my monthly column for The Nottingham post, I explain why a few effs, jeffs and scatological screams can be a good thing.

____________________________

On  mOnday, February 3rd, we’ll be reopening The Film Club at Cafe Roya again. Over the last few weeks while we’ve been in hibernation, I have been seeking out local filmmakers to exhibit their talents, and have been consistently amazed by the breath of talent out there. We’re kicking off with a Sci-Fi Special, with Roya cooking some, err, space-burgers for the interval. I’ll post more details on the Facebook page tomorrow, and if you fancy coming down (or even bringing some of your work/something amazing you’ve found) then drop me an email at thebeestonian@gmail.com.

_____________________

Also making a return soon is The Beestonian, with Issue 24 being polished into perfection right now by the hugely talented bunch of writers, illustrators, reporters and designers who make me look good by being the editor. We’re looking to expand again, but need cash to do so: if you’d like to bung us a donation (we’re totally not-for-profit, and reinvest all the pennies we make back into the mag); or buy an advert we’d be right made up, and you’d get that warm glow of knowing you’re helping us get the word out on why Beeston is the centre of the universe toa wider audience.

__________________

As I’m trying to use this blogspace to concentrate on issues such as New Deal, I’ve decided to split off, albeit temporarily, my thoughts and rants on politics to a different blog. If you fancy a gander, click here and sign up for alerts. I’m also looking for contributors who can kick out interesting, informative and entertaining articles to send stuff in. Followers of all parties and persuasions are invited, the more politically pluralistic the better.

Beeston New Deal: Further Thoughts and Bigging Up The Civic Society.

A week on, and I’m still getting sent great ideas from Beestonians. So many have arrived, either in comments here, email, or people saying hello on the street, Facebook mesages and texts…hugely encouraging. I’m  slowly working my way through them all, but had a couple of days stuck in bed with a ninja-style flu, which crept up on me silently, and rendered me useless for far too long. If you have written in, then I will eventually reply. I will also collate more ideas online somewhere, some truly fascinating stuff has been recieved and many offers of help, advice and support. It’s rather overwhelming: and that’s not a complaint.

Sketchy ideas so far seem to lean towards a steering group, possibly in league with the Civic Society, and open to all suggestions, acting proactively to get our wish-list worked out and implemented. The other is setting up a ‘creative quarter’: an idea supported virtually unanimously and with a fair degree of excitement. This is not strictly a new idea, and has been bandied round for a while, but it seems this could be a key time to implement it. How, where, when etc are things I will be working on.

I would encourage you to go back to my previous post and read through the comments, and get involved there: some of the ideas are fascinating and would benefit being reviewed and argued for and against. Quick point though: I mention a petition for a clock ran by Sheila from The Beeston Express (the petition is ran by Sheila, not the clock. Well, I assume so). Sheila has pointed out that the petition has now been closed and passed to Councillor Carr for consideration, so no emails that way please.

For those on Facebook, I am considering setting up a ‘page’ on there as a repositary and discussion forum for ideas. I co-run one already for The Beestonian, but am keen not to swamp that site with ideas, or dilute it in stuff not strictly to do with development and Beeston New Deal. If you’d like to help me run the page (moderate comments, etc) get in touch. It’s a fairly easy job but benefits from having a few people oversee it just in case one moderator is too busy to keeep an eye on it.

I’ll hopefully have something more concrete in the next post, so please stay tuned while I work through my messages. In the meantime, please have a look at the fantastic Beeston Civic Society, who have been incredibly supportive and full of great ideas. They’ve been looking after Beeston for as long as I’ve been on this planet -40 years- and, despite being in excellent shape, could always do with new members. Membership? It’s a snip at £7 for an individual, £10 for a couple, for a year. This gives you free entry to their many events, and a quarterly newsletter which is a cracking read (I contribute an occasional column, and feel very honoured to do so). As an interim measure, it’s a great way to get involved in the civic life -and we’re rich with it-of this town).

 

New Deal Meeting: A Summary.

Saturday nights. According to Elton John, they’re alright for fighting. This thought rather unnerved me throughout Saturday, as I prepared for the New Deal public meeting. By awful coincidence, the Nottingham Post published a column I wrote a week or two back where I urged readers to get more angry about stuff. I also had it confirmed that Superdrug was to close, another High Street casualty. Would the meeting I called descend into angry anarchy? Would people even turn up? Why did I choose January to stop drinking, thus denying me the nerve-steadying jolt of a swiftly-gulped brandy.  My nerves were pretty shot by the time I got and my bike and cycled to John Clifford.

I needn’t have worried. The meeting was, I feel, a great success. The general mood was positive, imaginative, thoughtful and free of violence. A good swathe of Beeston’s population turned up, a good demographic mix where the only common bond was a sense of civic pride and a desire to live in aa good place. The debate was lively, fluent and became a forum for ideas, rather than a polarised row. 140 people in all turned up, the majority concerned residents but also representatives from the tram, borough and county councillors, the Civic and other local Societies, The Beeston Express, and many, many more.

The time flew by, and my notepad filled up as I attempted to take notes of ideas while chairing. I’m more used to attending meetings in a journalistic sense, sitting at the back and grabbing quotes. Trying to both Dimbleby and Simon Hoggart (RIP) is a tough task. Still, I think I got down a fair amount of stuff. Amongst the ideas you suggested:

  • Increased tree planting: Beeston, normally a leafy type of town, has looked notably bald of late, due to the tram works. Get the place green again.
  • A town centre fountain, or repositioning the war memorial from Broadgate Park to the Square, to give a defined centre and meeting point.
  • A focus on heritage: possibly a museum or heritage trail. Possibly the old police station?
  • A town council to lend more focus on the town (we presently don’t have a town or parish council, unlike most other towns in Broxtowe).
  • A more continental focus on development, away from retail and towards leisure. By continental, most people assume a Spanish square, and point out our weather is different. Yet such squares are common and thrive in Northern European countries too.
  • A ‘cultural quarter’. This could lend us a USP over Nottingham: make Beeston a cultural, arty hub. We have a huge amount of creative talent here, let’s celebrate it and let it define us.
  • Free wi-fi across the town.
  • Sunday / evening markets.
  • Stronger controls of student landlords to prevent areas becoming ‘Lenton-ised’; and make it a more welcoming and secure environment for students.
  • Better facilities for youngsters -a skatepark, perhaps?.
  • A large town centre noticeboard that advertises -for free-local events and facilities.
  • A sprucing up of Chilwell Road: the independent shops are there, let’s show them in the best possible light.
  • A printed and online map showing off our unique points.
  • An online resource to keep residents and visitors up to date on what is happening here: possibly using social media.
  • More civic space.
  • Greater communication regarding development. The Square plans submitted by Henry Boot did go through public consultation, but it was only when they were reported on this blog that people heard about them. Presently, they are displayed in Beeston Square in the window of what was Ashley Peake. Sadly, the bluetak has failed and they’ve fell over, so near impossible to see. Which, all things considered, might be for the best.
  • Acknowledgment of what great pubs we have here.
  • Consideration towards sustainable development.
  • A town centre clock (The Beeston Express is running a petition on this. To add your name, email enquiries@beestonexpress.co.uk ).
  • A ‘steering group’: similar to the way BID works, but instead of traders, locals who examine development ideas and pass on opinions: a sort of civic jury of residents who can therefore act as a voice for Beeston on development issues.
  • Lots, lots more….

I’ve been recieving and sending slews of emails around since Saturday, discussing how these ideas can be implemented, and what chance there is of them coming to fruition. I’m especially interested in the idea of a ‘Cultural Quarter’. Our town already has a depth of talent unlike anywhere I’ve ever known. When I started up The Beestonian, we thought we’d have to really dig hard to find talented creatives to write about. How very wrong we were. There is a stupid amount going on, musicians, artists, film makers, writers, comedians and so on. Oxjam, and the fund-raisers that preceded that, shone a bit of a light on this, but I feel it’s time to embrace this more thoroughly. I’m in talks with several people who have the power to help out to see how this can be done. I’ll keep you updated.

The idea of a ‘steering group’ would be beneficial also: as long if it was done properly. It has to be non-partisan, non-political and representative. One of the chief complaints I hear from people I talk to disgruntled by the tram-works and development is that they don’t feel there voices are being heard. Who truly wants the unambitious Henry Boot Square ‘development’? How do we stop stuff like this being foisted upon us by outsiders, how do we have a say? Getting together a group of Beestonians to act as a voice for Beeston can only be a good thing. One thing I’ve learnt over the past few years writing about Beeston is that we’re a town that isn’t shy to proffer opinion. Let’s get organised. I had loads of offers after the meeting to be part of something like this, and am still receiving emails. I am very happy to be part of it, and promote this idea as much as I can, but simply have too much on my plate to run it. Who fancies being a part – chairperson or member?

I’ll let you digest all that for a day or so, then I’ll report back on any developments and another element of the meeting: the myth-busting. Several  rumours were confirmed or struck down, I’ll explain more later.

I’m open to your ideas, so keep sending them in, either as a comment here or to mattgoold23@hotmail.com . Together, we can keep Beeston a fantastic place to live, and a unique gem amongst a sea of clone-towns.

 

Initial thoughts on last night’s New Deal meeting / Cutting to the bone: guest post.

Picture copyright Lewis Stainer. Not to be used without prior permisson from the copyright holder.

Picture copyright Lewis Stainer. Not to be used without prior permission from the copyright holder.

An incredible turn-out last night: 140 of you turned out on a freezing  Saturday evening to pack into John Clifford and put forward great ideas, discuss initiatives and pose questions to experts. I will be writing up a full report tomorrow: I have six pages of scrawled notes to work through, and some emails to send out to fact check other bits and bobs. However, I was delighted that the request to keep things forward-looking, positive and nonpartisan were generally adhered to, and resulted in a debate that busted many myths, threw up great ideas and hopefully got Beestonians wishes and fears heard by people who can make influence change.

While  I get a piece together, a couple of things to feed your head on: my article in the Nottingham Post on why it’s good to get angry; and a submission from a local council employee, who, for good reason, wishes to remain anonymous. If you’re baffled by how councils work, or who does what, give it a read. If you’ wonder why you only hear about local councils slashing services, give it a read, and perhaps get angry. I’ll be running regular articles from the author over the next few months.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT MATTERS
(an occasional guest blog from a council insider)
When Matt suggested that I write an occasional blog on local government matters what convinced me to do so was that in my opinion it really does matter. “What?” I hear you say “Isn’t emptying my bins about all that the Council does for me?”. You may be surprised to learn what our two Councils actually do for the people of Beeston:
– Broxtowe Borough Council is responsible for a range of services covering environment, housing, leisure & culture, planning & building control and Council Tax & Benefits. They also do collect our bins! For further information see http://www.broxtowe.gov.uk/.
– Nottinghamshire County Council is responsible for wide-ranging services across the County including adult education, bus route subsidies & concessionary travel passes, care provision for adults and children,country parks, economic development, emergency planning, highways (including winter gritting), libraries, public health, registration (births, marriages & deaths), school admissions & transport, Trading Standards, waste & recycling and youth services. For further information see http://www.nottinghamshire.gov.uk/.
So having hopefully convinced you that local government really does matter in relation to the delivery of a wide range of services that we all take for granted but which provide the basic infrastructure for our daily lives, you may be surprised to learn that cuts by the Coalition government since 2010 amount to a planned reduction in local government funding of about 43%. This is generally far more than funding reductions in central government despite the fact that Local Government is already widely regarded as being one of the most efficient areas of the public sector.
Broxtowe Borough Council somehow managed to avoid service reductions and compulsory redundancies in 2013/14 (see http://www.broxtowe.gov.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=26957&p=0) but it remains to be seen whether they can manage the same for 2014/15.
Nottinghamshire County Council previously announced budget savings of about £132 million for the three year period 2011/12 to 2013/14. Despite this further budget savings of £154 million (about 25% of current budget) are now being planned for 2014/15 to 2016/17 in order to address a funding shortfall brought about by reductions in government funding, capping of Council Tax and ongoing increases in demand for care provision for both adults and children. Proposals for meeting this challenge, which include increasing Council Tax by at least 1.99% and wide-ranging cuts to services are currently being consulted upon – see  http://www.nottinghamshire.gov.uk/thecouncil/democracy/have-your-say/consultations/budget-challenge-2014-15/?source=hometab. You may want to have your say before the 17th January deadline and/or sign up to the fair deal for Nottinghamshire campaign.
In future blogs I hope to explore the impact of such huge budget reductions on our services and what this could mean for the future of local government. Any comments, thoughts or suggestions welcome.

Beeston New Deal: An Invitation.

So hello, 2014. Sprawled before us, a mass of blank canvas, virgin snow, blue sky. It’s the job of the commentator to make predictions of the future 12 months, but I’m going to give that a miss. Politically, 2014 is the Euro Elections, but I don’t think I’ll be covering that in the same detail I’ve covered the General, Borough and County elections. Not for any Europhobic reasons, but because it’s a bit too devolved from what I suppose is my ‘patch’. It’s tough enough trying to find context in the County elections: simultaneously trying to work out Beeston’s position in terms of Broxtowe’s, and then in Nottinghamshire’s, then in the country….nope, I’ll spare my brain that trauma and hold off to next years double-bubble of General and Borough elections. Unless the lesser coalition partners do the decent thing and save any chance of getting anything more than single figures of MPs on the benches post-vote. Go on, Vince. Go on, Tim Farron….

Anyhow, back to 2014. It’s around a year since I organised a meeting to discuss the future of the Square after developers Henry Boot submittted plans for it’s revamp, that were generally considered a bit, well, crap.

It turned out to be a packed meeting, and one that was generally useful, with some progress made. It became apparent though that the real problem facing Beeston was one of coherence and communication. Developers, NET, Broxtowe Borough Council and us, Beestonians, simply weren’t working together to see how to steer Beeston into a post-tram future. This was leading to frustration amongst the public, who felt that big decisions made to their home were being foisted upon them. They felt this undemocratic, unfair and against their interests. The town was – is- being razed, and for only the vaguest, far-off outcomes.

Throughout 2013 I tried to work out why. I talked to hundreds of locals, small business owners on Chilwell Road, shoppers, developers, politicians, council officers; I read up on the concept of ‘transition towns‘, the stuff being done in Totnes (who’s up for our own currency? Richard Beckinsale on one side of the coin, Soubz on t’other?), and looked at retail trends against leisure/culture trends. I’ve not became any type of expert, far from, but feel a bit better informed and, surprisingly, rather optimistic.

It seemed good sense then to get another meeting together, and that’s what happened. On Saturday, at  John Clifford school (where we held the first meeting), I’ll be chairing ‘Beeston New Deal’ , an open, public meeting to discuss what we want from Beeston, post tram, and have the people who can effect change in place to take note of what we want. It kicks off at 7pm, runs through to 9.30pm, and is free, though, as is customary in these events, they’ll be a whip-round to cover costs with any excess going to charity.

I’m no Dimbleby, so up-front I want to get a few things clear to ensure we don’t get bogged down:

  • The meeting is NOT a political one. Yes, Nick Palmer has done some of the organising, and will be making an introduction speech, but it’s agreed that NO partisan arguments on party lines, or apportioning of blame, will occur. Nick simply has more clout than I do to get the people we need to the table, and a mailing list to get the word out to a wider audience than I can. I will cut anyone off who starts making arguments solely grounded in party politics.
  • We are not talking about the tram. We’re talking about post-tram: what Beeston will be like once the network is in place. The tram is inevitable, and like it or loathe it, it’s an inevitability. Apportioning blame for it’s construction, or it’s delays due to opposition, are not wanted and will be cut off. We need to address the future, not pick at the past. Things are too urgent for that.
  • We’re not promising anything. I’d love Beeston to run like Trumpton: everything in it’s place, or Sim City, where we can simply drop an M+S into the Square and a Waitrose in Broadgate Park, but it’s not that simple. We can merely make it clear to those who do make policy and draw up the plans what we want.
  • We do want to examine how Beeston can thrive post-tram. Anti-trammers often reckon the tram will act as a drain on Beeston, with people using it to leave Beeston to send money, rather than arrive. Pro-trammers reckon it’ll act as a shop-window to the thousands who will pass through each day. Myself, I’m not convinced either way. Keep thing as they are, the pro-trammers predict right. Do something now, give our town a USP, a speciality, rather than more of what you’ll find in Nottingham, and that may happen. We already have a large base of independents, restaurants and pubs: how do we make the most of them?
  • We can’t afford to dwell on negativity. Yes, people are unhappy, annoyed, and feel the need to vent. Not at the meeting though, please. There are plenty of good places to do that, especially online: Facebook’s NET Tram Extension Ranting Room seems to be a good place to do that. We need creativity, productivity and clarity. Anything else bogs down the argument, and means we’ll be ruining this chance to work together.

I hope you can make it down. Together, we can stop Beeston sliding away from us.