Dear anonymous lady, where is your evidence?

This is a response to the lady who left a message on my council telephone voicemail. I would have called her back except that she left no name or number.

She called regarding my article in the press regarding the homeless; she said that they were not very nice people, and that Milton ward had suffered a crime wave since they had set up tents on the Cliffs.

I really do not know how many of the rough sleepers she had actually met, but describing them all as not very nice leads down a particularly nasty road. Judge individuals not whole groups of people.

It is also some stretch to link to unrelated incidents without any evidence. A crime wave in Milton (a ward that sees enough crime without the presence of rough sleepers) can be ascribed to any number of reasons unless you, like me, prefer the rigour of evidence-based analysis.

I could also point out that the Cliffs have had rough-sleepers encamped within its environs for more than a year – it is just that the latest lot are more visible.

Lady, if you have evidence that links crime to anyone then it is your civic duty to report this to the police. Otherwise I suggest you keep your irrational prejudices to yourself.

Of course I want the problem solved, but let’s tackle this with compassion and empathy for those without a roof of their own.

Our correspondent in Shanty Town

007I first came across the derelict garages described as a ‘shanty town’ a month or two back. I was out with some councillors and a council officer looking at fly-tipping and dumping problems. I took them down one alley that I knew was normally full of rubbish, then wandered off down another when I came across a part of Milton ward that I had not previously encountered. This was an area, flanked by housing, that contained garages that had clearly not been used to house cars for some time. I could immediately see that some of the garages had been in use, a view substantiated by a resident who told me that it was frequented by the homeless and drug users.

Because this site has been in the local newspapers this week I decided to revisit. I was going to take photographs and do some investigating. I expected a flying visit – I stayed an hour and a half.

I parked up in the Ceylon Road car park and made my way round to the alley that runs along behind the shops and flats between Ceylon Road and Hamlet Court Road. This alley, often strewn with all sorts of rubbish seemed especially blighted this morning. I wandered into the area where there were something like twenty garages, roughly two sets of ten facing each other. Some were in a very bad way, with caved in roofs and all sorts of detritus in them.

Whilst taking a look around I spotted someone in a garage. Crouching to make myself visible under the half-closed garage door I introduced myself to the gentleman who had evidently made this his home, and asked whether I could come in for a chat.

Mr A appeared to be in his early 40s. He told me he had been homeless since February 4th, when he was evicted from his Eastwood flat. He had had a short stay with HARP, and had recently been on the Cliffs, leaving because it was quite cold there. He wanted accommodation. Mr A told me that there were six staying in these garages.

Mr B would like an address – a common theme as the morning went on. He was not able to claim benefits as he had no address (not true for all of the rough sleepers here), and had to beg to get any money. Mr B had been homeless for 19 years.

Mr C had been thrown out of HARP for not engaging. I did question why he had not engaged; he suggested that he had somewhat misunderstood what was required of him, and also said that the rules were too rigid.

Mr D, a 44 year-old, He confessed to having drug issues, and like a number of those here had spent some time in prison. He was another who had spent years on the street.

Ms E, another 44 year old, wanted a roof over her head. She had been homeless for about a year, previously leading a settled life. She was clearly not well, had not eaten much recently, and I suggested that she must see a doctor.

Mr F was another critical of HARP. Mr G, a 33 year old ex-window fitter with young children that he was not seeing regularly explained the vicious circle that was the norm for rough sleepers trying to find work – no home no job, no job no home.

Mr H, at 30, was the youngest I met today. He had been homeless for 3 months since his release from prison. He needed a roof over his head.

Some general themes: Aside from one, a schizophrenic who suffered from claustrophobia, all wanted accommodation. Yet, even the schizophrenic wanted an address – somewhere to leave stuff, etc. His requirements were for a small space to call his own.

There was some criticism of HARP. I attend their trustees meetings (as the Council’s representative) and I have nothing but praise for the organisation, but my opinion was did not entirely tally with those I spoke to today. However, there seemed to be recognition that HARP, in general, were doing a good job.

“They set you up to fail” was what one said of HARP, complaining of too many rules. Another said they were too “black and white” – not enough “grey” with them rules.

“Always worrying about what to eat. How you are going to get food, how you are going to get drinks.” “No address often means no help. Can’t get a place because you can’t get a deposit.”

One guy owed Southend-on-Sea Borough Council £720, and they would not house him because of this debt (says he).

“Drugs numb the pain” said another. I heard stories about rough sleepers being beaten up, kicked, and set on fire.

“Spoke to Family Mosaic yesterday, hopefully they can help.”

A few had mobile phones. I heard how some charged these. It seems you learn a few tricks on the streets.

I was thanked for coming and listening. They were all polite, all very erudite. They need help, but also recognised that (some at least) had made mistakes. Many had seen prison, some were re-offending owing to the need to eat. Many were keen to assure me that the rubbish thereabouts was not their fault – and I can attest to the area being a dumping ground long before the latest batch of rough sleepers had set up home here.

Many had arrived in the last week, although I think it has been used by some for up to a month.

I ended my visit by breaking one of my own rules of not giving in to begging. It was impossible ignoring a request for some money for a drink. I have so much compared to these people.

There is clearly camaraderie amongst those homeless. They do care about having no proper home, not being able to wash, have a toilet, cook, or a place to keep things. They do worry about a lack of regular income. They have problems, and need help. They were happy to talk, and polite. I was pleased I went, pleased to have chatted with them, and hope that in some small way I can make their lives better.

The Cliffs Museum must not be built with public money

My objection to building on green spaces is well documented. Whilst I would not say ‘never’, I need to be convinced of real need before I would prepared to endorse concreting over any of the remaining green spaces in Southend-on-Sea. This was largely why I objected to the proposals for the Cliffs Museum. I accept I lost that argument, not enough in the council chamber shared my views. However, I am still convince that putting a museum on the beautiful cliffs is a mad and bad scheme.

However, it was approved, and only awaits sufficient funding. This funding, it has so far been hoped, will come from private backers; I take solace in my belief that this is unlikely to provide the estimated £40 million required.

I hope, though, that no idea surfaces suggesting that any shortfall should be made up from public coffers. Aside from the issue of what has to be sacrificed (that is , cut) to make this happen, the lack of private investment surely suggests that this project is not a money maker. Public money should not, again, be wasted on a project in Southend-on-Sea that sees good money effectively thrown away. The last administration was very profligate, a fate thus far avoided by the Joint Administration.

I wonder how much has been donated so far? I expect it is a fraction of what is needed, and long may that continue. It may soon be time to consider alternate venues for the Prittlewell Prince (or whatever his actual true title). Maybe the old Beecroft Gallery, opposite the Cliffs Pavilion, could be adapted.

On the Seaway Car Park proposals, again

cineWorldPullsOutI was telephoned by the local press earlier this week in regards to the latest development at Seaway Car Park. I have spoken and written about this a number of times, but I think it is worth re-stating my views on the proposals.

I guess it all begins when one looks at deprivation, and how it clustered largely in the town centre. My post (Quietly raging), written just after my election, is still relevant, and explains why I cannot ignore what is going on at Seaway.

I will use bullet points to summarise what is the issue:

• The town centre wards have significant areas of deprivation.
• The town centre wards also see life expectancy rates more than ten years lower than other wards in the borough.
• Population density and overcrowding are a significant factor in deprivation.
• Whilst I do not suggest stopping all development, I am extremely concerned about further overcrowding an already crowded area.
• Milton also has significant traffic and parking issues.
• The town centre wards also do not have much open space – whilst only a car park, it is open.
• The road infrastructure already struggles to cope with existing traffic volumes – the commercial ventures here will attract more cars.
• There is a loss of parking, although I accept that some of this will be made up by other car parks. However, none are as close to the seafront as this is.
• The nearby residents will suffer a loss of view.
• Is there a need for a second cinema? Whilst I accept this is a commercial decision, I suspect that this will exacerbate the current south/north divide in the High Street – which sees (in my opinion) the southern, seafront, end doing much better than the northern, top, end.

Flying like an eagle (or, perhaps, a parrot or a pigeon)

Looking east towards the North Sea, Milton ward and beyond

Looking east towards the North Sea, Milton ward and beyond

The session ended with a polite but firm “sorry, not interested”. It began with what some in my party insist represents a big enough caucus to support a Labour Party moving leftwards in order to win, and that was someone for whom Labour is a compromise in the absence of a more left-wing alternative. This resident was thoroughly engaging, and we had a good discussion across a range of subjects. This leftie was alone in holding his views, and whilst it was certainly a small sample (insofar that I cannot speak to hundreds in an afternoon session) if there really is a hidden majority of those who want ideological socialist purity they do not reside in areas that I go canvassing.

In between I had a parrot perch on my right shoulder, which is a first for me and could be a first for any councillor in Southend-on-Sea. It was a very charming parrot. It was hot afternoon for campaigning, and a rewarding one. There was not huge numbers of Labour supporters, but each conversation was rewarding in its own way.

Someone had a pigeon problem, someone else had yet to register to vote over a year after moving in, another let me know why Labour could never attract their vote. Parking, rough sleepers, and dog’s mess also came up. A good afternoon, and a thirsty one.

My overall impression is of a Tory resurgence though, and in the absence of strong opposition my view is that the Conservatives are making hay. The distraction of a Labour leadership election cannot end soon enough for me. I have said it before, and I will say it again – Ed Miliband should have hung on for a while and we should have had the contest after the autumn, or even later. I do not understand the need for haste. It is largely acknowledge that the leadership election in 2010 allowed the Tories to set the narrative, and it could easily happen again in 2015.

Four planning applications for Milton ward

In amongst the latest applications are these four that will interest sime:-

APPLN. NO: 15/00908/CLE
Ward. Milton
Officer: Neil Auger Date Valid. 7 July 2015
USE PROPERTY AS HOUSE IN MULTIPLE OCCUPATION (LAWFUL DEVELOPMENTcCERTIFICATE – EXISTING)
44 HEYGATE AVENUE SOUTHEND-ON-SEA ESSEX

APPLN. NO: 15/00959/FUL
Ward. Milton
Officer: Janine Rowley Date Valid. 7 July 2015
CHANGE OF USE FROM NON RESIDENTIAL INSTITUTION (CLASS D1) TO RESIDENTIAL (CLASS C3)
CECIL JONES HOUSE 50 AVENUE ROAD WESTCLIFF-ON-SEA

APPLN. NO: 15/00960/FUL
Ward. Milton
Officer: Janine Rowley Date Valid. 7 July 2015
CHANGE OF USE FROM NON RESIDENTIAL INSTITUTION (CLASS D1) TO RESIDENTIAL (CLASS C3)
WARDENS FLAT CECIL JONES HOUSE 50 AVENUE ROAD

APPLN. NO: 15/01029/FUL
Ward. Milton
Officer: Janine Rowley Date Valid. 8 July 2015
CHANGE OF USE TO FIRST AND SECOND FLOORS FROM OFFICES AND STORAGE SPACE ANCILLARY TO GROUND FLOOR RETAIL USE (CLASS A1) INTO A FIVE BEDROOM HOUSE IN MULTIPLE OCCUPATION (CLASS SUI GENERIS)ORANGE MOBILE
99 HIGH STREET SOUTHEND-ON-SEA

Labour councillor wants the Cliffs Pavilion pedestrian crossing improved

Cllr Julian Ware-Lane believes that the pedestrian crossing at the Cliffs Pavilion, installed by the previous administration, is a flawed system. There is a north-south crossing that links the site of the old Beecroft Art Gallery with the Cliffs Pavilion, and this traverses a large triangular traffic island.

“I raised it at the time, have mentioned it since, and am raising it again – this crossing is inadequate”, says Cllr Ware-Lane.

Cllr Ware-Lane wanted a third exit from the triangular traffic island, running east-west across Westcliff Avenue. “This was ruled out as dangerous, yet if it is dangerous with a crossing, what is it like to cross without a crossing?” asks Julian.

Cllr Ware-Lane believes that good signage warning of people crossing would make it safe. This is a popular area for pedestrians, of all ages and the crossing adequately services those travelling from either the north or south, but leaves those from the east with a very tricky and potentially dangerous conundrum. Those who are not so fleet of foot literally take their life in their hands when negotiating this busy road junction.

Cllr Ware-Lane also criticises the choice of plants. “I am told that these are too tall and partially obstruct the view of on-coming traffic for those vehicles approaching this area from the west. There is also the question of why indigenous bee-friendly plants were not used. With bee species under threat in the UK, the Council should be setting an example through its choice of plant species.”
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