So, what now for me?

This is a personal post – I might write a political one in the future some time.

So, I lost my seat on Nottingham Council on Thursday night, and along with it all my income. Perhaps foolishly, my only job was being a full-time councillor, with extra bits of income from responsibilities and from working with the Fire Authority as well. All of that goes, and I’ve had my last pay-slip.

For about the last six months, I have been thinking that defeat was a distinct possibility at these elections – my ward colleague was more optimistic, and in all the arguments we’ve had over the years, it’s a shame that it’s on this one I was proven right.

So with my pessimism in mind, I had half a plan for defeat – I have savings that will sustain me for a while, so in the immediate weeks I plan a holiday. I have a few things that need sorting out – election expense returns loom large for example – then I will take the tent and the car and have a few weeks away. I don’t suppose it will be the epic 6-week tour of France I did in 2005, but I’m thinking maybe… Scotland?

But after the break is the more serious task of working out what my life is for. I had pretty much decided that if I had been re-elected this time it would have been my last. I’ve spent a quarter of my life on Nottingham City Council and that is about enough. I’ve also spent a decade in politics – working for Nick Clegg when he was MEP, then jobs with two MPs and the regional party, followed by a spell in Chesterfield and all that time as a councillor. And I’ve had enough now. I’m stepping down from frontline politics – and when I say that, unlike David Miliband, I don’t mean I want to be an MP.

For the first time in years, not only am I not an elected official, I don’t think I hold any elected office in the party either, unless maybe you count conference rep. Not that I shall be able to afford to go to party conferences for a while.

I must be one of very few people ever to have drifted into politics and enjoyed the water once I got there. It’s much more usual for there to be battles and ambition and struggle, while for me I drifted into Nick Clegg’s office and drifted into elected office as a councillor in 2003, half on the back of Labour’s unpopularity around the Iraq war. When I left school, I thought I wanted to be in arts admin or a writer, or something vague like that. Spending 10 years as a politician was not the plan!

But having done that, and now wanting a change, the world is my oyster. I could do almost anything, and I find myself looking around at the jobs other people have and thinking is that something I could bear to do for the rest of my life? Barman? Waiter? Window cleaner? Shill for some architect and use my planning knowledge?

Part of me wants meaningful work; part of me just wants to find a simple 9-5 that won’t encroach much on my evenings and weekends.

In all my non-political jobs, I have struggled to find work that is interesting enough or varied enough – I’m not good with routine. Being a councillor is a great thing for variety – yes there are some predictable annual events – budget, campaigning, the like. But no two days are really alike.

Elections, me and the Pod Delusion

I’ve been talking on the Pod Delusion again this week, this time about some of the processes involved in standing for election to your local council. It’s more complicated than some people realise, and my process piece explains some of the intricacies.

The full podcast is available here.

Most of the time, I just scribble something down and send it in to PD and all is well.

This time, unfortunately, I got a bit carried away, and ended up writing seven pages of text before recording fifteen minutes of sound. Clearly that would not fit in a podcast where they try and keep the pace going and a variety of different reports, so I was asked to edit it down. This meant cutting two large digressions about elections by thirds and some of the candidates for election in Nottingham. Happily, the unexpurgated report is also available for download at the link above.

It’s not the first time I’ve spoken about election processes for the Pod Delusion. Last year, they ran a piece from me on what happens on polling day, taking in the count and the work of polling officers. You can find that on Episode 32.

I also did a bit of spiel on how political parties target leaflets mostly about Election Communications delivered during general elections to voters by the Royal Mail.

So, what’s going on at Broad Marsh?

I meant to write this months ago, when it wasn’t quite so widely known what was going on, but had been reported to councillors at the Development Control (aka planning) committee and a regeneration scrutiny committee I’m on. Now it’s been in the papers and everything, and there’s currently a model on display of the future plans actually within the shopping centre, so go and have a look and have your say! You can also find the information at

The Broad Marsh shopping centre has clearly been on a bit of a downward spiral for the last ten years or so, and is these days in a very sorry state with many vacant shops and many shops at the lower end of the scale. Investment is sorely needed.

Worse, Westfield, who own it, have been slowly acquiring property around the site ready for their expansion plans. The result is they now own the entire city block between Canal Street and Collin Street – and they are keeping almost all of it empty and boarded up. The result is that the walk into town from the railway and bus stations looks derelict and neglected.

Westfield do plan to put some serious money into the site. The question for ages has been when? Now the answer is becoming clear.

They did have planning permission for a major rehaul, but didn’t begin within the standard three years, and so that permission expired. Rather than just allow them to renew it, the Council’s planning people have insisted they up their game and come up with some rather fancy new plans. And that is what is currently on display in the centre and will be coming to Councillors for a decision within the next few months.

In the mean time, since last Autumn, there have been a series of smaller planning applications to make changes around the centre, and work has begun on putting those changes into practice. Although these smaller items fall far short of the hundreds of millions of pounds the major scheme will spend, they are still at a cost of several million, and should make a significant difference. Better still, the developers hope to have them finished by Easter 2012, so we have a clear timeline for these changes.

They are in four steps.

Three of those steps are essentially cosmetic overhauls of the three main entrances. The entrance from the station will be opened up with windows in the currently plain brick walls, a wider entrance and changes to the street. The tunnel from the bus station will be closed off for public use (although it can’t be removed entirely as it is a fire escape from some parts of the centre). The bottle neck that currently happens as people queue at the pedestrian crossing on Collin Street should be sorted out by making the pedestrian gap and the doors much wider.

At the Drury Walk entrance opposite Bridlesmithgate, the current entrance will be taken back almost to the escalators with the space currently occupied by Threshers opened up. Here they will be putting in some double-height stores that are apparently the thing that retailers are demanding the most. They will also be putting windows into the wall currently facing the tram tracks and Nottingham Contemporary.

Similar works are planned at the main entrance near Boots, from Listergate. They will remove the dated canopy and put in plain glass, with a dark black frame around it that apparently looks more modern.

So those are the works to three entrances. All three have planning permission now and are on track to be started soon.

The next thing is the plan for a food court. This will be near the existing Wimpy and got planning permission at committee last week. The shops around it will be opened up and moved back to make the corridor much wider. The wider corridor will have up to 800 seats and tables installed. All of the shops around there will be converted into kitchen use, with counters facing the tables, and in the middle of the tables will be further display kitchens. The idea is to have some sort of “food theatre” – where highly visible cooking goes on and is an attraction in its own right.

At committee I put down a bit of a marker – although it wasn’t really planning issues and so couldn’t be made a condition. But I hope the food court will have at least some outlets dedicated to selling proper healthy food, not just burgers and chips, and I hope that the whole shebang will be using proper china plates and metal knives and forks, as I have seen similar food courts in many places that just generate an enormous amount of waste by using single use paper plates and plastic cutlery.

The three changes around the entrances and the food court should all now be there and open by next Easter. I’m sure we’ll all be watching to see that they keep to time.

The next big change is the planning application that has just gone into the Council that Westfield are currently consulting on, and that is heyuuge. It involves major change to how pretty much the whole of the south side of Nottingham works, relocates some major roads and infrastructure, and radically changes the whole of the Broad Marsh Centre. This, we haven’t decided on yet.

The plan will flatten everything between the current Broad Marsh and Canal Street, and that will all be part of the new centre. Collin Street will close to traffic, and the current car park and bus station will be demolished. Those two bits of infrastructure will be relocated to the far side of the tram bridge and in their space will be thousands of square feet of new shopping centre. In the corner where Ocean currently is will be an enormous anchor department store. Securing a tenant for that will be one of the key things that makes the whole scheme viable. Slightly disappointingly, some of the names being bandied about are stores that are already in Nottingham, like M&S and Debenhams, so attracting them into the new site will just open up other stores elsewhere in the city.

The new centre is planned to be much more open plan. The current centre is entirely enclosed. The new one will be open to the elements, with better views into the site and out of it, and with more nighttime activity including even more restaurant space for the city. The centre is planned to have its own tram stop with good links to the bus station and the best part of 3,000 parking spaces. By the time the new centre is ready, we should have lines 2 and 3 of the tram nearing completion, so there will be a lot of construction going on in the city for the next few years!

Exciting times ahead.

Do firefighters rescue cats from trees?

According to a press release from Notts Fire and Rescue this week, it looks like they do:

Last year (2010) Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service carried out 70 animal rescues, 51 of which were small animals (consisting of 40 domestic pets, and 11 ‘others’, mainly birds), and 19 were large animals (which applies to farm animals).

It’s part of a news release talking about how the specialist rescue team have undertaken training in rescuing animals – dealing with stressful situations such as farm fires and flooding, corralling animals safely.

Notts FRS also have obtained a “three-quarter size, 250kg training horse” – although regrettably the PR doesn’t include a photo.

It sounds faintly comical to me, but I can easily see that in real life, a spooked 250kg horse would need careful management to stop it injuring itself or others.

No Tesco discussion this week

Bit surprised to read in Saturday’s Nottingham Post that councillors are due to discuss whether there will be a Tesco East Side at Wednesday’s Development Control Committee.

I’ve read the papers for that meeting, and this isn’t due to be discussed.

It is, however, a fascinating agenda. We will be considering a huge variety of different planning applications.

A police warehouse changing to student digs.

The building of a new aerospace hangar at the University of Nottingham. A renovation of a block in the Lace Market – including cleaning the dingy brown bricks to reveal that they are, in fact, red under 40 years of smut.

The demolition of the old MFI buildings on Castle Boulevard and the building of an 800-seat super church.

The change of use in New Basford from a warehouse to a 600-seat banqueting suite, with supporting letters from the local Asian community saying such a facility is desperately needed. (I’m amazed at how small the kitchens can be to turn out 600 covers!)

And if that wasn’t enough, we’re also considering a temporary permission for a derelict patch of land by the tram terminus, to turn it into modern art for a few months:

The piece of art has the working title of “Hill of the Faiths or Fake Trees”. It is proposed that it will comprise three individual structures. Each will be 12 metres high with a structure measuring 4.5 x 4 x 4 metres affixed to the top. The main structure will represent a minaret and three sanctuaries representing a church, a synagogue and a mosque will be affixed to the top. The structures will be constructed from a steel upright encased in an aluminium cast casing, fabricated in four sections to represent the minaret. The sanctuaries will be formed by 75cm diameter aluminium circles fixed together.

Last month’s planning agenda was desperately quiet, with only two planning applications. This month’s is a compensatory giant.

But there’s no Tesco discussion this month!

Taking the train to Edwinstowe

Last week, I took a train to a village that hasn’t had a regular rail service since 1964.

I took part in a visit with members of the Joint Committee for Strategic Planning and Transport to consider whether re-opening a rail line might be a possibility. The Robin Hood Line, converted from mineral use to passenger use by Notts County Council has been the most successful local train project in the country, and now the Council’s rail officer is seeing how to build on that success. In theory it would not be impossibly expensive to divide trains from Mansfield to Worksop, and send half the train to Worksop and half to Ollerton, allowing you re-open stations at Edwinstowe and Warsop.

To test how viable this might be, they put on a Special Train for interested parties which departed Nottingham station last Friday, taking the Robin Hood Line out of the city, and turning left at Shirebrook to see the line between Mansfield and Ollerton.

Some things I learned:

  • Level crossings are pretty scary from a train driver’s perspective. You can see cars crossing ahead of you when you are pretty close to them and travelling too fast to stop. They cause a lot of accidents, and a lot of drivers do not give them the caution they need.
  • Points are pretty simple technology, really. If they don’t work first time, you can squirt them with fairy liquid and bang them with a work boot and then they work!
  • There must be some workers in signal boxes without a great deal to do – in some cases they control sections of track with only one or two trains passing a day. The signal boxes have no running water and only portaloos. And some of them have very neat gardens and a lot of bird tables
  • Some sections of track have differential speed limits. If you’re a scheduled Sprinter train you can go at 70 MPH. If you’re a special with a diesel locomotive, you can only go at 20. And scheduled services get stuck behind you.
  • Somehow, news that there’s going to be a Special Train gets out to the trainspotter community, and there will be at least ten people along your route waiting to take pictures.

“Pretty neat, huh?”

A four minute information overload on the health and wealth of nations over the last two-hundred years. In the closing seconds, we’re told this easily accessible information involves over 120,000 numbers. Impressive, certainly.

I shall have to see if I can dig out the Joy of Stats off the iPlayer. And then see if I can find an hour when I can actually concentrate on it.