Friday, 21 May 2010


"Much ado about nothing" declares Lib Dem leader Brian Hoare writing to the Chronicle and Echo after criticism therein about the Council's flagship Market Square fountain project being delayed once more.

So "not" a story was this latest minor hiccup to their watery plans, that it was not only the leader who felt it neccasary to fill the letters pages up to comfort us, he was followed by Cllr (Slugger) Church who waded in even deeper only a day or two later to lecture us all on the environmental credentials of the Council's fountain using recycled water in it's operation, after suggestions were made that it may be wasteful if it used fresh water.

Meanwhile most punters according to the Chron and Echo seemed to be both underwhelmed and unimpressed with the said fountain. Cllr David Palethorpe (Con) in particular entertained me today with a comment from one of his more well spoken Tory friends who expressed a view of the fountain in what he said was a rather posh accent and declared  "I think I could lay on my back and p*ss higher than that" (more about that later!)

But for those not up to speed with the project, the bill so far for the whole scheme is in excess of £250,000 well over the original budget and despite the fountain costing only an estimated £98,000. The costs seem to have escalated after first the council finding out that they were digging in the wrong place for water! and then finding that the water wasn't draining away as it should be! and instead of refilling its feeder tank it was heading off to flood the nearby newsagents cellar! Further work has therefore been carried out this week to remove the recently laid granite sets around the fountain and replace them with additional gullies to improve the drainage.

So nothing more could go wrong could it?

And the new Mayor can sharpen her scissors ready for the ribbon cutting?

Well think again, and prepare yourself for an EXCLUSIVE! You see if anyone at the Council had bothered to do their homework, then they would have found out that a very similar project in 2008 with a "very similar" fountain from a company called "Invent Water" had run into very similar problems and delays down on the East Coast! More's the point some of the additional  problems which troubled the Cllrs of Clacton have yet to hit the Lib Dem group on Northampton Borough Council because they didn't fully occur until after the Clacton fountain had officialy beenopened!

You see Cllr Church's premature  pride in the fountains  use of "recycled water" may just come back to haunt him!

And his ghost will be called "Cryptosporidiosis"

In Clacton you see, once the fountain finally spurted forth, the local kids revelled in the opportunity to run through the water jets to cool themselves down on a hot summers day, as I am sure some of us hoped would be the case on the Market Square in Northampton. But in Clacton (unlike Cllr Church) they forgot that the water like ours was recycled!! Which meant that the contents of the said water jets included dilutions of pigeon droppings, dog fouling, urinating drunkards and vomiting party goers, all of which were then being ingested by the little darlings as the ran through the spray! Health experts gave warning to the Council as to the dangers and the localy elected of the Borough scratched their heads.  Filtration was not possible without huge additional cost, an underground tank room, and constant montoring and maintenence cost and would have led to the whole fountain being dug up again and replaced with a hugely expensive cleansing headache for the Council.

The problem it seems is particularly acute in fountains which spurt water upwards in areas where children who are most at risk from such water borne pathogens (those under16) who may ingest or swallow the water due to their height and also the height of the water jets. The Northampton fountain we are told spurts from one foot to five foot! This danger is all well documented in guidance issued since major outbreak in the  UK in 2003 and 2006 with many children hospitilised.  The only option therefore left for Clacton Councillors was to admit defeat after much cost and more than a few red faces and turn off and fence off the fountain to the public at even further
expense to the Council tax payer.

Then after further complaints from residents about the fencing, they had to spend more money taking the fencing away and on installing expensive motion sensitive cameras and automatic switches which can detect any little darlings getting too close to the action and turn the water on and off as the public approach!

£3.2m was the final bill for the council tax payers of Clacton (Tendring District Council)

But I am sure our council has all these eventualities covered?

Monday, 17 May 2010


During the election campaign I received an email from the Borough solicitor informing me that an injunction had been taken out in my name (and every other Cllr) against a pensioner who was deemed to be harassing council staff and other members of Northampton Borough Council. The injunction forbid any contact between the pensioner and any Councillor or staff member without us first giving our permission for any such contact!

I was livid!! Putting to one side for a minute what the individual may or may not have done, what right has the Liberal Democrat led authority to take court action in my name without my authority? Two Liberal Democrat Cllrs gave evidence to the court and yet I and many others were not even aware of the action. When my fellow Independent Cllr colleague Malcolm Mildren asked the Borough Solicitor why he had emailed us after the action and not before? he was told that it was impractical for the council to have done so?

In other words they can  contact us easily after the event by email to tell us what has been done in our name, but not before to check with us if it is OK to use our name in any such action?

I immediately asked for my name to be withdrawn from the injunction. In a bizarre series of events, even though the individual was barred from any contact with Councillors, and with Councillors being asked not to correspond with him in any way shape or form, he still managed to be on the nomination papers of one parliamentary candidate for Northampton North and received personal mail from two Councillors who were also candidates during the election! Cllr Simpson I am told wrote to him on four occasions asking the individual to contact him! Doing so of course would have broken his injunction!

I won't go into details and/or reasons for the action as the case is still in the hands of the court, but I have no problem in giving you my own opinion on the matter which is that whilst some of the Council's concerns may have a modicum of merit and some of the individuals behaviour may have been over the top, I can't help to think that the words sledgehammer and nut come to mind! The individual has contacted me on numerous occasions, I have always replied and he has been grateful for the response. His agitation it seems is with those who do not respond!

You see I have always found that if you communicate and discuss matters truthfuly and honestly with people then even with the most agitated of people, you can usually find common ground and compromise. The use of the court in my mind in such circumstances is a sign of failure of the Council to deal with the matters correctly in the first instance. Not to mention a waste of Council Tax money.

So after the above, imagine my further anger when a constituent from St James contacted me recently to inform me of a letter he had received from the legal team at NBC threatening him also with an injunction if he didn't stop harassing Council staff!! The letter made wild allegations as to the behaviour of the individual and had emanated from a row he had had with the caretaker of a block of flats he resides in. The caretaker had a habit of emptying the bin store outside the tenant's bedroom window at 6am in the morning!! After failing to get any sense from the caretaker himself the resident took the matter up with his housing manager, but the noise nuisance continued. Now I am sure that at some point "words" would have been exchanged. I know if someone kept waking me up at 6am in the morning I might have a few things to say! But again, despite the fault being wholly on the part of the Council, it is the tenant who is threatened with court action by the council.

Now don't get me wrong, where there is threat of violence and or the risk of our staff being attacked or hurt then I would be first to back any action, but I feel that in these two instances (and who knows how many more) that the council have got it badly wrong. If they want people to stop being robust with them then they need to sort out the root cause of their problems. If they want to deal appropriately with any complaint then they need to talk reasonably with the individuals concerned.

Letters threatening court action and indeed court action itself in such circumstances are signs of the Council's weak customer liaison and of the authorities failure to act reasonably in dealing with bona fide complaints.

I therefore want to make it clear here and know that I will resist the Council taking action on my behalf as a Councillor unless they have the courtesy and decency to inform me first as to the reasons for their action and tell me what they have done to date to try to alleviate the problem outside of the court.

At the minute the Council under the stewardship of the Liberal Democrats are the ones in mind who are doing the harrasing, they are the body who are being unreasonable and they are the ones who are acting as the bully, and like most bully's we have to collectively stand up to them in order to show others who may be threatened that they have nothing to fear.



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