Two simultaneous developments along the seafront

I was asked to write a brief comment about the two developments proposed for areas very close to the seafont in Southend-on-Sea – namely the proposals for the Marine Plaza and the Seaway Car Park. Here is what I wrote, and this appears in today’s Southend Echo.

Notwithstanding my concerns over whether the Seaway Car Park is the right place for the proposed development, the simple answer as to whether a development here and at the Marine Plaza undertaken at the same time is a good idea comes down to a matter of timing.

Doing both developments at the same time does have the benefit of getting all the disruption out of the way all in one go. Whilst it could be argued that this maximises the pain and disruption whilst the works are being undertaken, the closeness of the two projects may also mean that some of the local improvements that will doubtless be required may be able to be shared.

Doing the work during the quiet periods of late autumn and winter should cause minimal interference to both trade and the lives of residents. However, if the works overspill into the local high season then this has the potential to be disastrous for those businesses reliant on the increased footfall that occurs when the sun is out. This is why the timetable is so important.

There are questions, though, that need to be answered about the road infrastructure in the vicinity, and whether it can cope with the extra traffic both whilst the sites are being developed, and once they are up and running. There are a number of bottlenecks that already see congestion at busy times; this is why the site of the Seaway development is so questionable. Whilst I welcome anything that brings extra jobs and housing to the town, I cannot help but wonder why this is being squeezed into an already crowded and busy area – surely a site adjacent to the A127 and Eastern Avenue corridor would not only be more accessible, but also not add to the overcrowding seen in the town centre wards.

How Essex MPs voted on the Opposition Day vote on the bedroom tax

In case you were wondering how our local Members of Parliament voted on the Opposition Day vote on the bedroom tax :-

Basildon and Billericay John Baron No
Braintree Brooks Newmark No
Brentwood and Ongar Eric Pickles No
Castle Point Rebecca Harris No
Chelmsford Simon Burns No
Colchester Bob Russell No
Harlow Robert Halfon No
Harwich and North Essex Bernard Jenkin No
Rayleigh and Wickford Mark Francois No
Rochford and Southend East James Duddridge Absent
Saffron Walden Alan Haselhurst No
South Basildon and East Thurrock Stephen Metcalfe No
Southend West David Amess No
Thurrock Jackie Doyle-Price No
Witham Priti Patel No

Only one Conservative MP (Andrew Percy) and no Liberal Democrats voted for the Labour motion (Let’s scrap the Bedroom Tax by Christmas).

I think it is pretty clear where the Conservatives stand, and that the Liberal Democrats are backing them all the way.

A box of delights

Amongst the happy tasks that befell me this week was my attendance at the REACH Christmas Party for the Roma community. This was held on Monday at the Balmoral Community Centre in Westcliff-on-Sea. My host was a Polish Streets Ahead Community Worker; apparently many of the Roma community in Southend-on-Sea originate from Poland. I was given a small parcel of hand-made chocolates – truly a box of delights.

Also on Monday I attended the inaugural Southend Central Local Community Meeting – this replacing the Neighbourhood Action Panel. This is an interface between the local police, councillors, community groups, and residents – and Southend Central covers three wards: Kursaal, Milton, and Victoria. The twenty-four attendees included four councillors and four from the police. Anyone can attend these meetings, which cover policing issues for the wards concerned. The next meeting will be on 23rd February, 2015.

I returned to Chalkwell ward for my Parliamentary campaign this week where in pretty short order I had conversations with a self-confessed fascist and a communist. Both were pleasant enough; even the somewhat surreal conversation with the fascist was without rancour.

December’s opinion polls

The table below shows the state of the opinion for the first half of December.

Lab Con LD UKIP Grn
15/12/2014 Populus 36 34 10 12 5
15/12/2014 YouGov 34 32 6 14 8
15/12/2014 ComRes 32 29 12 16 5
14/12/2014 YouGov 32 32 7 16 7
14/12/2014 ComRes 34 33 8 18 2
08/12/2014 Populus 36 33 8 15 4
08/12/2014 Ashcroft 31 30 8 19 5
08/12/2014 YouGov 33 34 6 15 6
07/12/2014 YouGov 32 32 6 17 7
07/12/2014 Opinium 34 29 6 19 6
01/12/2014 Populus 35 32 9 14 5
01/12/2014 Ashcroft 32 30 7 16 6
01/12/2014 YouGov 32 32 8 15 5
01/12/2014 ComRes 31 28 9 18 7
average 33.1 31.4 7.9 16.0 5.6

It is a dangerous thing to assume that these numbers will mirror the outcome come May’s likely General Election, but whilst some movement is to be expected these at least give us an idea of the mood in the country at present.

These polls show a small Labour lead, a lead that has gradually shrunk throughout this year. The occasional poll shows the Conservatives just ahead, and I imagine they will be reasonably content with this. As the election draws nearer it is the norm to see polling numbers improve for governing parties, which suggests that we could see a small lead for the Tories come May.

The polls also show significant numbers for UKIP, though not as high as some of the chatter would suggest. They are registering at around half of what the two main parties are getting, although some way ahead of the Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dems are engaged in a battle to stay ahead of the Green Party, which they are just about managing. One would not bet, though, that this will remain so, although equally the Lib Dems could benefit from improved numbers as the election draws nearer.

It is obvious I guess that these number represents the views of the mainland as a whole, and that there is much regional variation. For instance Labour are struggling In Scotland, which suggests that they are doing better in England. UKIP’s polling appears to be much better in the south and east of England than elsewhere. The Lib Dems vote seems to be holding up in some areas, whilst being decimated in others.

If these numbers are repeated in the General Election then we would see a governing party with the lowest vote share in modern times (I have checked back to 1935 and the lowest percentage for a winning party in a general election was Labour’s 35.2% in 2005). It would be miraculous for either Labour or the Conservatives to hit 40%, which was the norm up to 2001 (the two 1974 elections excepted). The rise of the Liberal vote put paid to both main parties going over 40%, and their collapse (they are back to 1950s vote share levels) has merely seen the votes redistributed all over the place rather than moving straight to Lab and Con.

Does UKIP’s presence signal a new, four-party, politics? Maybe, but it could also signal the replacement of the third party. It is difficult to judge based just on vote share – I expect to see the Lib Dems still managing to win more MPs than UKIP, despite polling around half of what UKIP look set to get. This goes to the our heart of our old-fashioned electoral system, which favours efficient tactical voting patterns.

This is all guesswork. What this means for Essex is another matter. My home county remains far more Conservative than the country as a whole, and whilst UKIP will be eyeing the coastal constituencies I still expect most of Essex’s MPs come May will remain Tory. Of course, ultimately this will be decided by the voters, who may decide to wholesale change – we shall see.

Essex Parliamentary Constituencies – August 2014 Spare Room Subsidy Indicators

Here is the data showing the numbers subject to the Bedroom Tax in Essex for August for all eighteen Parliamentary constituencies in the glorious county of Essex. I have ordered them with those having the highest numbers at the top.

Constituency Reduction applied No reduction applied Not applicable – private rented
Thurrock 898 5868 3612
Basildon and Billericay 765 4869 1529
South Basildon and East Thurrock 740 4625 2254
Harlow 728 6386 1852
Rochford and Southend East 574 5197 6547
Colchester 567 5276 3207
Braintree 418 3624 1686
Chelmsford 401 4237 1545
Witham 358 2989 1270
Epping Forest 342 3746 1551
Clacton 293 2439 6251
Saffron Walden 284 2999 1049
Brentwood and Ongar 260 2975 1193
Maldon 236 2271 1507
Harwich and North Essex 227 2179 2511
Southend West 178 1920 3874
Castle Point 161 1406 2938
Rayleigh and Wickford 128 1709 1519

Whilst Southend West is towards the bottom of this list, 178 households who have had their Housing Benefit reduced because they are considered under-occupied is 178 too many in my opinion.

(The numbers are for Housing Benefit Claimants)

Let’s scrap the Bedroom Tax by Christmas

Parliamentary Candidate Julian Ware-Lane is urging MPs from all parties to back Labour’s attempt to scrap the Bedroom Tax by Christmas. Labour has forced a debate and vote in parliament on Wednesday 17th December on the Bedroom Tax.

Since the Bedroom Tax was introduced around half a million low-income households have been forced to find, on average an extra £700 a year. In Southend West 178 people have been hit by the Bedroom Tax.

Cllr Julian Ware-Lane said: ‘This winter 178 people in Southend West will struggle to make ends meet, many relying on food banks to survive because of the Bedroom Tax David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s government introduced in April 2013. The Bedroom Tax is wasting people’s money, time and talents, it’s another example of Tory Welfare Waste.

‘This Wednesday Labour is forcing a vote to scrap this failing policy once and for all. I urge MPs from all parties to do the right thing and back Labour’s attempt to scrap this cruel and unfair tax.”

Rachel Reeves said: “Around half a million people have been hit by the Bedroom Tax, forcing many into debt and to rely on food banks. It’s a cruel, unfair and costly tax with two thirds of those affected are disabled. Let’s scrap the Bedroom Tax and get rid of this failing policy which is leading to more Tory Welfare Waste.”

1. Latest DWP figures on number of people hit by the Bedroom Tax:
NORTH EAST – 36,126
NORTH WEST – 74,031
YORKSHIRE AND HUMBER – 46,591
EAST MIDLANDS – 31,645
WEST MIDLANDS – 46,573
EASTERN – 30,036
LONDON – 48,247
SOUTH EAST – 32,232
SOUTH WEST – 24,896
WALES – 31,217
SCOTLAND – 70,291
TOTAL – 471,887

Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/number-of-housing-benefit-claimants-and-average-weekly-spare-room-subsidy-amount-withdrawal

2. Two thirds of households affected by the bedroom tax cannot find the money to pay their rents, according to new research from the National Housing Federation. Source: http://www.housing.org.uk/media/press-releases/two-thirds-of-households-hit-by-bedroom-tax-are-in-debt-as-anniversary-appr#sthash.Ljy35ky2.dpuf

3. Housing benefit set to rise by £1billion over four year in March 2014 Budget (pg 132) http://budgetresponsibility.org.uk/economic-fiscal-outlook-march-2014/
Figures contained in the Budget have shown the housing benefit bill will continue rising not falling, with an increase of £1billion forecast over the next four years.

#BrokenPromises

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