Saturday, 27 August 2011

Revealed - what's left of Ardrossan's historic Customs House

the3towns has discovered that what remains of Ardrossan’s historic Customs House has been ‘dumped’ on a pier at the town’s harbour.

The stones from the front facade of the building were supposed to have been stored so they could be incorporated into a new-build development.  However, as the above photos show, the sandstone blocks lie scattered across weed-strewn open ground, with some having been smashed and the possibility others could have been removed or even thrown in the harbour.

For over 150 years the Customs House occupied a prime site at the junction of Harbour Street and Dock Road, but was demolished in March 2010 to clear the area for a development to include ground-floor office space with residential accommodation above.  Initially, North Ayrshire Council’s Planning Committee rejected an application from Clydeport, owners of Ardrossan Harbour, which sought permission to knock-down the Catagory ‘B’ Listed Building.  However, that decision was overturned by a Scottish Government official and the bulldozers moved in.

The Planning Consent granted to Clydeport included a clause requiring that the distinctive curved, front facade of the Customs House should be taken down in such a way that it could be rebuilt and incorporated into the proposed new office and housing development.  To comply with the Planning Consent, during demolition of the building, contractors numbered each stone to ensure the facade could be put together again.  However, many of the stones dumped at the harbour no longer bear any numbers.

Speaking to the3towns after visiting the location of the stones, Ardrossan’s Independent councillor John Hunter said he was “absolutely disgusted” by what he saw.

“This is disgraceful,” said Cllr Hunter.  “I was led to believe the stones had been stored in a safe place and that the facade would be rebuilt and incorporated into the new development.  I can’t see any way that is likely to happen now.  Who knows how many of the stones have been removed or damaged.”

An angry Cllr Hunter continued, “The site reminded me of an overgrown graveyard, and that’s just what it is, it’s the graveyard of Ardrossan’s heritage.”

Cllr Hunter indicated he would be seeking answers over how the stones came to be dumped at the harbour, adding, “This is completely unacceptable.  The Customs House had historic significance for Ardrossan, it had stood since the mid-1840s and should have been preserved as part of our heritage.  To see what remains of it just dumped and scattered is heartbreaking.”    

MPs finally accept PFI/PPP is a rip-off

Members of Parliament at Westminster have backed views long-expressed by two Independent councillors representing the Three Towns.

John Hunter (Ardrossan & Arran) and Ronnie McNicol (Saltcoats & Stevenston) have warned for more than six years that developments funded by the Private Finance Initiative (latterly renamed Public Private Partnerships) were extremely poor value for the public purse, and would cost taxpayers dear.  Now, the influential House of Commons Treasury Select Committee has issued a report stating PFI/PPP “can not be relied upon to provide good value for money”.  Following an investigation, the Committee also found that PFI/PPP debts from building schools and hospitals, which are currently not listed on the UK Governments books, if accounted for publicly would add £35-billion to the national deficit.

John Hunter and Ronnie McNicol were elected to North Ayrshire Council in 2007, having previously played prominent roles in the Laighdykes Residents Group, which opposed Council plans to use scarce public open-space to build a new school.  The two men also raised serious doubts over the Labour-administration’s decision to embark on a Public Private Partnership scheme to design, build and maintain four new schools, including St Matthews Academy in Saltcoats and Stanley Primary in Ardrossan.  Ultimately, Labour councillors signed a £380-million contract: the capital value of the new schools was just £80-million.

At the time, John Hunter and Ronnie McNicol also flagged-up concerns over binding clauses in PFI/PPP contracts that mean private contractors must be paid ahead of any other Council funding commitments, such as the provision of social services.

The North Ayrshire Council Schools PPP Project also attained notoriety after it was revealed the local authority actually only had one credible and viable bid for its £380-million contract.  The Council maintained, and still maintains, that a second bid provided competition.  However, the second bid came from a company with no office, no accounts, no experience in building or maintaining schools, and paid-up share capital of just £2.00.  The directors of the company behind the second bid were subsequently arrested by the Metropolitan Police in relation to an alleged fraud involving a contract let by a London-based Health Trust.

North Ayrshire - still highest unemployment in Scotland

Latest Government figures, issued last week, show North Ayrshire remains the area with the highest level of unemployment in Scotland.

Against a Scotland-wide unemployment rate of 7.8-percent, North Ayrshire now has 12.7-percent of all residents without work.  Glasgow has the second-highest unemployment (12.4-percent), followed by North Lanarkshire (11.7-percent).

Figures also show unemployment amongst those under the age of 24 is soaring in North Ayrshire, with around a third of all Jobseekers in the area falling into that category.

Overall, the number of people seeking work in Scotland was up by 1,000 between April and June, reaching 209,000.  Commenting on the new figures, Scottish Secretary, Liberal Democrat Michael Moore MP said, “The UK government's priority is to continue to support the economy by reducing the deficit and putting in place measures to encourage growth in the private sector.  We are creating a new model of economic growth, driven by investment and exports, and more evenly balanced across the UK.”

Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond MSP, claimed the recession had been “both shorter and shallower in Scotland compared with the UK as a whole,” adding, “The action taken by the Scottish government has had a positive impact.  Our no compulsory redundancy policy for staff under our responsibility is helping to boost consumer confidence, and our commitment to the social wage - including the Council Tax freeze, no tuition fees, free prescriptions, and free concessionary travel - is giving Scots households maximum protection at a time when other bills and inflation are on a sharply rising curve.”

Saltcoats & Stevenston By-Election - latest

Candidates in the Saltcoats & Stevenston By-Election have been redoubling their efforts as the contest enters its final days.

Voters go to the polls on Thursday, August 25, to elect a successor for Labour councillor David Munn, who retired earlier this year due to ill health.

Labour began the campaign as firm favourites, but SNP activists say telephone polling in the area is putting them ahead.  The Nationalists also hope to benefit from the party’s historic victory at last May’s Scottish Parliament Election - both local constituencies, Cunninghame North and Cunninghame South, saw the SNP triumph over Labour.

The SNP candidate is Nan Wallace, who formerly was the North Ayrshire councillor for Stevenston South, a Ward that disappeared under reorganisation in 2007.  Supporting Mrs Wallace in the final days of campaigning is Margaret Burgess MSP, who said, “This by-election is a great opportunity for Saltcoats and Stevenston to gain another capable representative for the towns, and also to make an impact in North Ayrshire.

“Voting for Nan Wallace certainly means a formidable voice and an excellent representative for the Ward, but also a first-class elected member of North Ayrshire Council from day-one.”

Mrs Burgess emphasised the party is taking nothing for granted, despite its encouraging canvass returns, and urged everyone to turn-out on Thursday, and to vote SNP.

Another veteran campaigner contesting the seat is Louise McDaid of the Socialist Labour Party (SLP).  Mrs McDaid has previously stood for the SLP at Council and parliamentary elections.  Currently employed by North Ayrshire Council in Older Peoples’ Services, Louise McDaid also helped lead the national campaign to secure full refunds for the hundreds of ordinary men and women who lost their money when the Farepak savings company collapsed.

Louise McDaid told the3towns, “Like many other areas across the country, people of the Saltcoats and Stevenston communities face challenges on a daily basis - rising food and fuel prices, falling real wages, pensions and benefit levels, a lack of affordable housing and town centres in dire need of regeneration. But at the root of these problems is unemployment - people need jobs, particularly our youth facing record high joblessness. I know that local councils have only limited powers to tackle these core issues, particularly at a time when suffering from huge spending cuts from central government, so what can a local councillor do?
 
“If elected, I will look to mobilise public opinion and work with local people to come together to challenge central government and demand the resources and support necessary to regenerate North Ayrshire. We need investment, not cuts in local services and jobs. No amount of spin can disguise the simple fact that we need to build a decent future for our children. Only a vote for Socialist Labour will send that straightforward message.”

Annabel Goldie, Leader of the Scottish Conservatives, was in Saltcoats last Tuesday night (August 16) supporting the party’s candidate, Chris Barr.

Along with a group of activists, Ms Goldie helped canvass door-to-door an area including, Lindsay Avenue, Border Avenue, Kennedy Road and Caledonia Road.  Afterwards, the Tory Leader declared herself “very pleased” with the response received.

Candidate Chris Barr said, “It was a great pleasure to canvass with Annabel. She has a tremendous personality and is liked and respected by all who meet her. This has given my campaign a great boost.”

On the message he brings to the campaign, Mr Barr said, “Having watched the recent horrific scenes of violence, vandalism and destruction in England, it is clear that there are many deep-rooted problems in society that affect us all. Listening to the views of members of the local community throughout the past few weeks, it is clear there is a sense of pride in Saltcoats and Stevenston. Residents want safe, well maintained and prosperous communities where local businesses can thrive offering opportunities to the people of the surrounding area, a place where people can be proud to call home.

“I think that the lessons of the last week or two prove that community spirit is still alive and well in this country. Witnessing scenes where local communities pulled together to make a stance against rioters who destroyed their homes and local businesses tells me that in our own local community we can make a difference. Offering help and support to those most in need, and showing that anti-social behaviour and crime is not the way to go.  We need to bring together all members of the community for the greater good of our towns.”

Continuing, the Conservative candidate added, “I think a worthwhile society is where we all take responsibility for our local area, for the people around us, but most of all for ourselves. It is about time people stopped blaming society for their own selfish acts and started to look at what they can contribute no matter how small it may seem. We all have a responsibility to our local communities and every person has something to offer: volunteering, charity work, looking out for neighbours, supporting local events and helping others is all part of civic pride and community spirit – there is always someone who can benefit from your help.”

Mr Barr concluded, “I care passionately about our local area and as a Conservative councillor, I will work tirelessly to bring the people of the area back into the heart of the community, securing a bright and prosperous future for us all.”

Also standing is Saltcoats man Jimmy Miller, who represents the All Scotland Pensioners Party.  Mr Miller says it’s “time for a change,” adding, “at the moment all the mainstream political parties seem to be more concerned in scoring party-political points instead of concentrating on the issues that affect the residents of Saltcoats and Stevenston.  So let’s get back on track and concentrate on what really matters to the residents of these fine towns - unemployment, care of the elderly, respite for carers, anti-social behaviour, closing-down of amenity halls for our young and elderly, the state of our roads, maintaining the Community Wardens, and not forgetting dog poo.”

Mr Miller concluded, “This list is not exhaustive and, if elected, these would be my priorities.  So let’s have a change and elect someone who cares about local issues and not party-political infighting.”

Polls will be open on Thursday from 7:00am until 10:00pm, with Polling Places located at:

Saltcoats – Dykesmains Primary School, Simpson Avenue; the Focus Centre, Primrose Place; the Argyle Centre, Campbell Avenue.

Stevenston – Hayocks Community Centre, Hyslop Road; Glencairn Primary School (Annexe), New Street; Ardeer Neighbourhood Community Centre, Shore Road.

The full list of candidates standing in the Saltcoats & Stevenston By-Election is:

Gordon Bain (Scottish Liberal Democrats)
Chris Barr (Scottish Conservative and Unionist)
Louise McDaid (Socialist Labour Party)
Jimmy Miller (All Scotland Pensioners Party)
Jim Montgomerie (Scottish Labour Party) 
Gerard Pollock (Independent) 
Nan Wallace (Scottish National Party (SNP)

Burgess commends work of the Samaritans

At a time when many people are feeling the effects of the recession, with related financial and social problems, Cunninghame South MSP Margaret Burgess has commended the work done in Ayrshire by the Samaritans.

 Said Mrs Burgess, “The aim of the Samaritans is to provide emotional support to people in distress.  They can offer help on the phone, face to face, by e-mail, by letter or by people walking in to their local branches.”

Reflecting on the broad nature of problems raised with the Samaritans, Margaret Burgess continued, “People of all backgrounds and ages can contact the Samaritans at any time of the day or night.  They will be listened to in confidence without fear of being judged, and will be offered support.

“Reasons for contacting Samaritans can include relationship and family problems, financial worries, job-related or study-related stress, or the loss of a friend or family member.”

The SNP MSP concluded, “Being listened to can be a huge relief and is often the first step in finding a way to cope.”

The Samaritans can be contacted by phone on 08457 90 90 90 or by e-mailing jo@samaritans.org   

North Ayrshire basketball camp a success

North Ayrshire Provost Pat McPhee last week joined Olympic mascot ‘Wenlock’ and a host of special guests to celebrate Scotland's basketball stars of the future at Camp2011, the first time such a national event had been held in the local area.
 
Run by BasketballScotland, with support from North Ayrshire Council and KA Leisure, the camp brought together over 130 of the most talented young athletes in Scotland and beyond.

In addition to Provost McPhee and Wenlock, presentations were made by Stewart Harris, Chief Executive of sportscotland, Chris Spice, Head of Performance for GB Basketball, and Libby Cairns, Chief Executive of KA Leisure.
 
Commenting, Provost McPhee said, “There was a wonderful atmosphere in the camp, as the young people joined together to take part in a sport they obviously love. They received top-class training and were made to feel part of a team.
 
"It was clear from watching them that there are some great talents in Scotland – and this is not just confined to boys, as there were lots of girls taking part. Indeed, in some cases they were even beating the boys.”
 
The residential basketball camp took place at the Inverclyde National Sports Centre in Largs, in addition to satellite venues in Largs and Saltcoats, attracting players from all over Scotland, England and Europe.
 
David Taylor, camp2011 programme director, said, “This year's event was the best basketball camp we have ever staged in Scotland, and attracted top overseas coaches from the USA and Spain. 
 
“With the help of North Ayrshire Council and KA Leisure we hope that camp2012 will double in size, as we aim to stage an event fit for the Olympics next year.”

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Irvine Bay 'handed keys' of Saltcoats Town Hall

Controversy over the future of Saltcoats Town Hall deepened this week after North Ayrshire Council appeared to hand responsibility for the building to the Irvine Bay Regeneration Company.

A meeting of Saltcoats traders, held last week, was told by a representative of Irvine Bay that the Council was due to “hand over the keys” last Monday (August 8).  A further development has seen the private regeneration company designated as “Lead partner” in a proposal to turn the Town Hall into “a hub”, to include office and retail space, in addition to 600 square-metres of “community letting space”.

The redevelopment plan is listed as one of a number of bids for funding that ‘might’ be made to the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency.  Projected costs are detailed at around £3-million, the same amount initially set-aside by North Ayrshire Council for a refurbishment of the Town Hall.

The previous £3-million commitment to renovate Saltcoats Town Hall was made by Labour councillors prior to the last Council Election in 2007.  However, after the election, the funding was reduced to £2-million, and was then completely withdrawn.  The Town Hall was closed by the Labour-run Council in April 2009.

The latest £3-million renovation plan comes two weeks before a by-election in the Saltcoats & Stevenston Ward, and less than a year from the next full Council Election in May 2012.

Saltcoats & Stevenston Independent councilor Ronnie McNicol has consistently pursued answers over what happened to the £3-million previously promised by Labour councilors.  Only £1-million was reallocated – to a community centre in Largs – and Cllr McNicol has challenged Labour Council Leader David O’Neill to explain what happened to the other £2-million that should have been used to refurbish Saltcoats Town Hall.  No Labour councillor has been able to provide an answer.

No goods or services provided - but Council paid-out £500,000

A report to be presented to Monday’s (August 15) meeting of North Ayrshire Council’s Scrutiny Committee will reveal the cash-strapped local authority paid-out half-a-million pounds without receiving anything in return.

The shocking revelation of substantial ‘pre-payments’ confirms staff within the Social Services department paid the money in the financial year 2009/10.  However, even more worrying – and not included in the Scrutiny Committee report – is a statement by a member of staff, contained in an audit report, which argues the payments were made in the belief that this was what a very senior official wanted, so that the department’s spending would “not come in on budget”.  The ‘pre-payments’ are believed to have created what appeared to be an ‘overspend’, which resulted in the department receiving more money in the following financial year.

the3towns understands that, in one case, a sum of £150,000 was paid by the Social Services department to a Housing Association but no goods or services had been received in relation to the payment.  Intriguingly, it appears the money was repaid in full, but not until the next financial year.  A Council official, who spoke to the3towns on condition of anonymity, said, “This appears to have been a wilful act to manipulate an internal budget, which would feed into the overall budget process of the Council.”

The senior official whom staff believed had sanctioned the payments has since retired from the Council.

The report going before the Scrutiny Committee this week states, “There is always a risk that procedures will not be followed,” but advises that a new audit process will “minimise that risk as services are required to input data as goods are ordered, received and invoiced – with different levels of staff being authorised to sign off actions. Services will be reminded, once again, of the council’s financial regulations and the consequences of non compliance.”

Concern over Glasgow Street/Princes Street 'plan'

A document produced by North Ayrshire Council has caused controversy after referring to a “Regeneration Plan” for the corner of Glasgow Street and Princes Street in Ardrossan.  Councillors spoken to by the3towns have confirmed they know nothing of a plan to redevelop that part of the town.

The controversial report containing the outline of a redevelopment project - to include office space, shops and housing – was produced jointly by the Council and the Irvine Bay Regeneration Company, and forms part of proposed bids for funding from the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency.  Money from the publicly-funded nuclear body may become available in the years ahead as compensation for jobs lost to local communities when the Hunterston ‘A’ power station is decommissioned.

The report states, “The plan recognises the Glasgow Street/Princes Street junction (the ‘Heart of the Town’) as a critical aspect of the regeneration programme for Ardrossan. This project will deliver a series of physical improvements to both the built environment and public realm within the area. It will focus upon the redevelopment of the Glasgow Street/Princes Street corner to form a mixed use building with retail, office and residential floorspace.”

According to Council/Irvine Bay projections, the proposed development would have costs ranging from between £100,000 and £500,000 in the financial year 2012/13 to “more than £1-million” by 2014/15 and beyond.

Currently located on the site of the proposed development are shops and flats, owned by North Ayrshire Council.  However, fears have been expressed that the proposals for “the Glasgow Street/Princes Street corner” may stretch far enough along Princes Street to also include Ardrossan Library. 

Previously, the Labour administration of North Ayrshire Council backed plans to close Ardrossan Library, with a suggestion that some form of library facility could be located within the Civic Centre in Glasgow Street.

Deputy Provost asked to reconsider demo comments

One of North Ayrshire’s most senior councillors, Deputy Provost Ian Clarkson, has been asked to consider the appropriateness of comments he made following the recent demonstration in Irvine by the far-right Scottish Defence League (SDL), and a counter-demonstration by anti-racism activists.

Following the July 30 protest – reported in last week’s the3towns – Cllr Clarkson told an Irvine newspaper that he had seen “families who were upset at the vile taunts between the two sets of demonstrators,” and that “there were offensive posters and loud chants from both sides”.  However, Colin Turbett, chairperson of the North Ayrshire branch of trade union Unison, has written to Cllr Clarkson, setting out what actually happened and asking the Labour member to reflect on the version of events he gave to the newspaper.

In the letter to the Deputy Provost, Colin Turbett says, “Our [Unison] Branch, which represents a very large proportion of the workforce at North Ayrshire Council, was most surprised at remarks quoted from you about the demonstration in Irvine on Saturday 30th July. Any comparison between the counter demonstration, which involved prominent members of your own party, including an MP and MSP, and the far right SDL, is entirely misplaced.”

Referring to the SDL’s overtly anti-Muslim agenda – one poster in Irvine carried the hugely-offensive slogan ‘Mohammed was a paedophile’ – Mr Turbett said, “The SDL were deliberately provocative and clearly aimed their message at our area’s large number of potentially disaffected young people who are suffering from high levels of unemployment as a result of the recession. The counter-demonstration, consisting of local people, including a number of our members, as well as a welcome group of supporters from elsewhere, was called by us at very short notice in order to ensure that the SDL did not get free-rein to put across their poisonous message.”

While a heavy presence from Strathclyde Police was required to escort SDL members to and from the protest at the Irvine Cross end of the shopping mall, Colin Turbett points out the larger counter-protest drew praise from locals and shoppers.  Said the Unison official, “Our counter demonstration was deliberately noisy once the SDL contingent arrived, but was orderly and all Police instructions were obeyed. Our slogans were not offensive to anyone but followers of the far-right. The SDL slogans on their placards were very offensive and we were surprised the Police took no action against one in particular.”

Concluding his letter to Cllr Clarkson, Colin Turbett states, “It is a pity that you chose not to come and talk to any of us on the day concerned. If you had we might have explained that the antics of the SDL are not unlike that of the Nazis in relation to Jews in early 1930s Germany. We now know where anti-Semitic street rallies ended up there and recent events in Oslo show just how far some of these people will go in our own times. No one now would argue that anti-Nazi counter demonstrations in early thirties Germany were misplaced, but you seem to have forgotten history when it comes to the present day and our own community.”

Saltcoats & Stevenston By-Election - latest

With less than two-weeks until polling day on August 25, candidates in the Saltcoats & Stevenston by-election continue to seek the support of local voters.

The election is being held to replace Labour councillor David Munn, who retired because of ill health.  Labour, therefore, began the contest as favourites, but an SNP source this week confirmed to the3towns that the party is “happy” with canvass returns, so far.  However, the activist indicated they were taking nothing for granted and would continue to build support as Election Day nears.

The SNP candidate is former councillor Nan Wallace, who told the3towns, “This by-election is not just about ensuring effective and experienced representation for Saltcoats and Stevenston, important as that is, it’s also about the future of North Ayrshire.”

Mrs Wallace continued, “Votes for the SNP will strengthen the hand of the successful SNP team – our Group on North Ayrshire Council, which works with the two local SNP MSPs, Kenneth Gibson in Cunninghame North and Margaret Burgess in Cunnninghame South.”

On the campaign itself, Nan Wallace said, “It’s going very well, so far, and we are delighted with the response of people in both Saltcoats and Stevenston.

“In the final two weeks, we’ll be reminding people that Labour has been in power in North Ayrshire for over 30 years - enough is enough – and we’ll be urging everyone to make sure they turn out on Thursday the 25th and vote SNP.  Saltcoats and Stevenston can deliver a major step in taking North Ayrshire forward.”

Another experienced campaigner contesting the seat is Louise McDaid of the Socialist Labour Party (SLP).  Mrs McDaid has previously represented the party in Council and parliamentary elections.

Presently, Louise McDaid works for North Ayrshire Council in Older People’s Services, is a trade union shop steward and a volunteer with a local Credit Union.  The SLP candidate also helped lead the national campaign seeking justice for thousands of working class people who lost savings with the failed Farepak company, a fight that is still ongoing in attempting to secure full compensation for all those who lost money.

Commenting this week, Louise McDaid said, “Socialist Labour offers the voters of Stevenston and Saltcoats a clear alternative to the cuts agenda of the other parties in this election - New Labour, SNP, Tories and Lib Dems have all voted for cuts in jobs and essential services locally.  As a Socialist Labour councillor I would work both within the Council chamber and with local communities to oppose cuts in jobs and services, and closures of local centres and amenities.”

Conluding, Mrs McDaid added, “I believe every vote for one of the so-called 'mainstream' parties is a vote for spending cuts, leading to greater unemployment and further degeneration of our local communities.  A vote for the Socialist Labour Party sends a clear message that the people of Saltcoats & Stevenston say no’ to cuts and closures, and ‘yes’ to jobs and investment.”

The full list of candidates standing in the Saltcoats & Stevenston By-Election is:

Gordon Bain (Scottish Liberal Democrats)
Chris Barr (Scottish Conservative and Unionist)
Louise McDaid (Socialist Labour Party)
Jimmy Miller (All Scotland Pensioners Party)
Jim Montgomerie (Scottish Labour Party) 
Gerard Pollock (Independent) 
Nan Wallace (Scottish National Party (SNP)

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Labour to ditch councillor

Speculation was this week mounting that the political career of Labour councillor Alan Munro is at an end.

A source within the North Ayrshire & Arran Labour Party, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the3towns that Mr Munro will not be allowed to represent the party at the next Council Election in May 2012.  It is understood senior Labour activists have moved after this newspaper revealed Cllr Munro had submitted five separate expenses claims relating to meetings that official documents show he did not attend.

Said the Labour member who spoke to the3towns, “The outcome of the police enquiry is almost immaterial.  He won’t be a Labour candidate at the next election.”  The source further indicated that, even if the police investigation is not completed before next May, “Alan Munro will be told he’s retiring.”

An investigation by the3towns into expenses claimed by North Ayrshire councillors revealed that Alan Munro, who represents Saltcoats & Stevenston, submitted mileage claims – and was paid by the Council – for five return journeys between his home in Stevenston and North Ayrshire Council headquarters in Irvine.  However, official Council minutes show the Labour man did not attend the meetings to which he claimed his journeys related.

Strathclyde Police confirmed a complaint had been received alleging “serious misconduct” on the part of a North Ayrshire councillor. 

Plans to transform Ardrossan shops

A run-down shopping area at Ardrossan’s Central Avenue could be in for major changes if councillors on North Ayrshire’s Planning Committee agree two applications submitted by local traders S & J Fitzsimmons.

At this week’s Committee meeting, Planning officials will recommend approval of the plans that propose to convert the former Co-op general store into a cafe, with seating for 33 people.  At the other end of the block, the same applicants want to combine three retail units – numbers 16, 18 and 22, currently a laundry, bakery and general store – to form a hot food takeaway and enlarged general store.

Councillors will hear that no objections were received to either of the proposals.  The former Co-op store, which is owned by North Ayrshire Council, has been closed for over a year, with all efforts to market it as a shop having proved unsuccessful.  The plans to transform the unit into a cafe would see the frontage altered and new access created.

With regard to the larger development, at the Queens Drive end of the shopping area, the applicants propose to erect a small extension to the rear of the property.  Internally, number 22 would be split in half, with the front area and part of the proposed extension forming a hot food takeaway outlet.  The rest of number 22 would be combined with the other two shops and the remainder of the extension to create an enlarged general store.

In recommending that both applications be agreed, Council Planning officials state, “the premises are well located to cater for both foot and vehicular traffic with generous car parking provision being located adjacent to the premises. It is considered that the proposed development can be justified against the relevant criteria of the Development Control Statement of the Local Plan [and] it is considered that the proposed development is acceptable”.

With regard to the Council’s ownership interest in the proposed developments, the local authority’s senior legal officer, Mr Ian Mackay, states, “there is no need for the application to be referred to the Scottish Government, as the proposal does not represent a significant departure from the development plan.”

Far-right protestors in North Ayrshire

Around forty members of the far-right Scottish Defence League (SDL) were allowed to hold a protest outside the shopping mall in Irvine last Saturday (July 30).

The group, an offshoot of the English Defence League, has been heavily criticised in the past for comments and protests attacking Muslim and Asian members of society, claiming ‘white people’ are discriminated against and calling for a ban on the building of mosques.

Strathclyde Police were aware of the SDL’s plans and were waiting for them as they arrived, mainly by train.  Officers prevented the group from entering the shopping mall, instead marching them across the nearby Low Green bridge and up the stairs adjacent to the Forum Centre.

Once there, however, the SDL was confronted by a much larger group of anti-racism activists, with police keeping apart the rival protesters and maintaining a channel that allowed shoppers to enter and leave the mall.  Throughout the protest a police helicopter hovered overhead, while mounted officers and police in riot gear were stationed in nearby streets in case violence flared.

An SDL member who addressed his small group of supporters repeatedly made reference to “Ulster and Scotland” before revealing he had travelled from England because “the small city I come from is sinking beneath the weight of the migrants that have invaded our island realm.”

The man concluded, “To those who conspire to break the British defence leagues and end the long history of the common people of this old island realm, the SDL has only this to say, we march till the last step and breath, there will be No Surrender.”

Throughout the short tirade the speaker was heckled by the anti-racism counter-protestors, many of whom were members of the trade union Unison.

Police officers then herded the SDL back down the Forum steps, across the bridge and out of North Ayrshire.

Margaret's Stevenston Surgeries

Announcing a programme of local Surgeries, Cunninghame South MSP Margaret Burgess reiterated her commitment to work for all of the people in her constituency.

Mrs Burgess swept to victory at last May’s Scottish Parliament Election, unseating Labour’s Irene Oldfather who had held the seat since 1999.  Now, the SNP MSP has announced she will hold regular Surgeries in Stevenston, as well as the other towns that make up Cunninghame South.

Speaking to the3towns, Margaret Burgess said, “It is my job to be working for the people and communities of Cunninghame South, and I believe that it’s important for politicians to be accessible to constituents, and to reach out to communities.”

Confirming the details of monthly Surgeries, Mrs Burgess said, “Anyone who needs my advice or assistance can come along without the need for an appointment.”

There will be two Surgeries in Stevenston, at the Hayocks Community Centre on the first Friday of each month (10:00am-11:00am) and the Ardeer Community Centre on the first Monday (10:00am-11:00am).

At other times, constituents can contact Margaret Burgess’ local office on 01294 276730, while the MSP’s e-mail address is: margaret.burgess.msp@scottish.parliament.uk

Stevenston is the only one of the Three Towns that falls within Mrs Burgess’ Cunninghame South constituency.  Ardrossan and Saltcoats are located within the neighbouring constituency of Cunninghame North, which is represented by Kenneth Gibson MSP, also of the SNP.

Saltcoats & Stevenston By-Election latest

With less than three weeks until polling day (August 25) in the Saltcoats & Stevenston By-Election, three of the candidates have been stating their case to succeed Labour’s David Munn, who retired through ill health.

While Labour are hopeful of retaining the seat, the main challenge will come from the SNP’s Nan Wallace, a former councillor for Stevenston South, a Ward that disappeared as part of electoral changes to local government in 2007.  Speaking to the3towns, Mrs Wallace said she is proud to stand on the SNP’s record in North Ayrshire, compared with that of the Labour Party.  “In this by-election the Labour campaign seems shy of talking about their record in North Ayrshire,” said the SNP candidate.  “They’ve held Executive power but seem afraid of their own record - it’s as if they want to disown it.”

Mrs Wallace, who is also a former chairperson of Stevenston Community Council, added, “I am proud to stand on the record of the SNP in North Ayrshire and across Scotland.
 
“The fact is, for most of the last 40 years Labour was trusted with people’s votes in North Ayrshire.  They have held power at council, Scottish Parliament and Westminster levels for most of that time.

“Now, the SNP will go along with a sensible approach, but when it comes to Labour abolishing sheltered housing wardens, dismissing classroom support-staff in North Ayrshire schools and threatening community centres,  then we reserve the right to speak out and to oppose.”

Concluding, the experienced candidate said, “It’s time for something better in North Ayrshire, time to take North Ayrshire forward – and where better to start than in Saltcoats and Stevenston in this by-election.”

Also confirmed as a candidate this week was Saltcoats man Jimmy Miller, who will represent the All Scotland Pensioners Party.  Commenting, the party’s leader, former MSP John Swinburne, said, “Jimmy attracted 4,771 votes when he stood for us on the West of Scotland Regional List last May at the Scottish Parliament Election.

“Jimmy has spent many years fighting for pensioners on a host of issues, but it should be noted that, if elected, he will represent all of the voters and their families across a full range of issues because it is not only pensioners but also their children and grandchildren's interests that he will be concentrating upon to improve their situation in these difficult times.”

Representing the Liberal Democrats is 34 year-old Gordon Bain, owner of an Ayrshire-based website design company.  Mr Bain grew up in Ardrossan and now lives in Irvine.  Speaking following his selection to fight the by-election, Gordon Bain said, “I'm delighted to have been chosen as the Lib Dem candidate. As a dedicated Liberal Democrat I've campaigned across Ayrshire. I believe that more work has to be done to stimulate the local economy and create job opportunities for local residents. If elected, I'd also fight for more youth activities running across Saltcoats and Stevenston to help tackle anti-social behaviour.

Other confirmed candidates are Jim Montgomerie (Labour) and Irvine man Chris Barr for the Conservatives.