Saturday, 29 October 2011

Ex-MSPs could be councillors

According to information passed to the3towns, two former Labour MSPs could be looking for seats on North Ayrshire Council.

Allan Wilson, who represented Cunninghame North from 1999 until 2007, and Irene Oldfather, MSP for Cunninghame South between 1999 and 2011, are believed to be considering standing at next May’s Council Election.  Mrs Oldfather was a North Ayrshire councillor before being elected to the Scottish Parliament.

Speculation within Labour ranks revolves around Mrs Oldfather looking to stand in Kilwinning, where it is understood the two current Labour councillors may not seek re-election next year.  One of the councillors, Margaret MacDougall, was surprisingly elected to the Scottish Parliament last May as a Labour List MSP for West of Scotland: the other is Mrs Oldfather’s son, Ryan.

In the information passed to the3towns, it is also speculated that former Enterprise Minister Allan Wilson could be interested in representing his home town of Kilbirnie, as a councillor for the Garnock Valley seat that also includes Beith.  However, at the last Council Election in 2007, Labour only secured one councillor in this seat, which would mean Mr Wilson possibly attempting to unseat Cllr John Bell, currently the Education portfolio-holder on NAC’s ruling Labour Executive.

Mr Wilson lost the Cunninghame North seat to the SNP’s Kenneth Gibson at the 2007 Scottish Parliament Election, and failed in his attempt to re-take the constituency for Labour earlier this year.  Mrs Oldfather was beaten by Margaret Burgess of the SNP last May.

Meanwhile, North Ayrshire Council’s Chief Executive Elma Murray, also the area’s Electoral Returning Officer, has invited prospective Council candidates to make contact with the local authority.

Next year’s election will take place on Thursday, May 3, and will see 30 councillors elected across the district.  Two Wards covering the Three Towns – Saltcoats & Stevenston and Ardrossan & Arran – will each elect four councillors using the Single Transferable Vote system of Proportional Representation.
 
Ms Murray said, “Although there is some time until the elections, we have already begun our planning to ensure the election goes as smoothly as possible.
 
“I am keen to identify any prospective candidates, to ensure they are invited to attend a briefing on arrangements for the election in North Ayrshire.”  The proposed date for the briefing is Saturday, February 18 2012.

Elma Murray continued, “Political parties will have their own processes for choosing candidates and I expect that party candidates will be announced over the coming months. These candidates will be invited to the briefing.   
 
“Anyone who may be thinking about standing as an independent candidate in any of the eight electoral wards should also get in touch with the Election Office to ensure they are invited to the briefing.”
 
Prospective candidates for the elections are asked to contact the Council's Election Office on 01294 324130 or 324133, or by e-mailing elections@north-ayrshire.gov.uk

Council owed over £1m in rent

North Ayrshire Council is owed more than £1million in rent arrears.

The staggering figure is revealed in a report compiled by the local authority’s Corporate Director (Finance & Infrastructure), Ms Laura Friel.

Of the total figure (£1,118,254), Ms Friel indicates the Council considers £168,529 is unlikely to ever be recovered.  As such, the official is to seek permission from councillors on the Labour Executive to write-off the sum.  In addition, a further £32,112 spent by the Council on legal action attempting to chase-up unpaid rent is also now considered to be unrecoverable – producing a total write-off of £200,641.

In a report for the Executive Committee, the Corporate Director states she anticipates a further write-off of unpaid rent will be necessary towards the end of the current financial year (2011/2012).

Ms Friel’s report concludes, “There are certain arrears which are considered to be irrecoverable, for a wide variety of reasons and it is recommended that the Executive exercises its powers to write these off on the understanding that, if new information comes to light, the debts will be pursued.”

Shock for NAC over Saltcoats prom

After approaching Network Rail ‘on several occasions’ regarding the urgent need to carry out repairs to the East Promenade in Saltcoats, adjacent to the main Largs-Glasgow railway line, North Ayrshire Council has discovered that responsibility for the repairs actually lies with the local authority.

A report by the Council’s Corporate Director (Education & Skills), Ms Carol Kirk, states, “Until recently, it was understood by both the Council and Network Rail that Network Rail was fully responsible for the sea wall and promenade along the length beside the railway at the Saltcoats end, with Network Rail and the Council being jointly responsible for the remaining length [around 40 per cent].”

However, Ms Kirk’s report goes on, “During the Autumn of 2010, a surfacing repair scheme was prepared and passed to Network Rail for their attention.  Following this, queries were raised by Network Rail on the extent of their responsibility and this led to further investigations being carried out by the Council's Legal Service”.  The outcome of the investigation concluded that, in fact, the Council was responsible for maintaining the surface of the full promenade.

Referring to the condition of the prom, Ms Kirk says, “the damaged surfacing presents a considerable risk to public safety,” with repairs required “as a matter of urgency.”  The Corporate Director’s report adds, “The promenade is widely used by local residents and tourists and is considered to be an essential amenity by the local residents. The option of closing-off the promenade is likely, therefore, to be unacceptable.”

Councillors on the local authority’s ruling Labour Executive will this week be asked to agree funding of £50,000 for repairs to the surface of the promenade.

Winter roads concern

North Ayrshire Council’s plans for tackling what forecasters are already warning will be another freezing winter have met with a mixed response from local MP Katy Clark.

Ms Clark, MP for North Ayrshire & Arran, wrote to the Council, seeking assurances that plans were in place to prevent a repeat of problems experienced in the past two winters.  Said the Labour MP, “Given we are expecting a cold winter, and following the severe weather of recent winters, I wanted to ensure that North Ayrshire Council had learnt the lessons they promised they would, and their response seems fairly positive.”

Continuing, Katy Clark said, “Two-years ago the snow caught local authorities across Scotland by surprise and locally many of our roads ground to a halt, causing severe delays for many drivers while public transport was cancelled.

“Last year we saw similar weather and although there again was disruption to public transport and our motorways, I have to say locally the Council did a good job in keeping our roads moving.”

For this year North Ayrshire Council has increased its stock of grit to double the amount of two-years ago.  One-hundred additional grit bins are still in place from last year, and a mixture of grit and salt will be available to the public at every amenity site in the district: previously it was only available at Kilwinning.

The Council is also understood to have reviewed how it communicates with the public during severe weather conditions.  This year the local authority will provide information leaflets, and hopes to use local radio stations more effectively, in addition to posting messages on social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Despite these initiatives, Katy Clark sounded a note of caution, saying, “As always, priority will be given to our main roads and, despite the new measures, resources will still not be sufficient to allow every road to be gritted immediately.  This often leads to some very severe accidents with people slipping outside their house on pavements and side roads.”

Ms Clark concluded, “There is little scope for treating pavements within the plans and, as in previous years, I would ask that my constituents do not hesitate to contact me if they have any specific problems with gritting.”

Justice for Farepak savers - e-petition

West Kilbride woman Louise McDaid is asking everyone to sign an e-petition calling on the UK Government to take action that would see justice delivered to the people who lost their savings when Farepak Food & Gifts Ltd collapsed in 2006.

Mrs McDaid has helped lead the national fight for compensation, but it is understood that around £39million is still owed to ordinary women and men who paid into Farepak savings schemes prior to the company’s collapse.  So far, savers have received back just 15p for every pound they deposited with Farepak.

In February of this year, the UK Insolvency Service applied to the High Court to disqualify all nine former directors of Farepak.  However, this legal process could take up to two-years.  One of the directors, Sir Clive Thompson, is currently Deputy-Chairman of a company called Strategic Equity Capital, where he has registered share capital of over £3million.

Speaking to the3towns, Louise McDaid said, “We have lodged a Government e-petition that is currently being looked at by the UK Treasury.

“We need 100,000 people to sign the petition, which would mean the issue then had to be debated by MPs in the House of Commons.  Surely we deserve some answers as to why, five years on, we have still not received justice.”

Mrs McDaid concluded, “Our demands are simple: we want those responsible to be held accountable.  We want all our money back, and we want proper regulations put in place that prevent this ever happening again, regulations that will protect anyone who prepays for goods or services - everything from a three-piece suite to funeral arrangements.”

Initial projects agreed for nuclear funding bid

This week’s meeting of North Ayrshire Council (October 26) will be asked to agree an ‘Investment Framework’ that will seek to secure funding from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

The document to be presented to councillors explains the NDA has “recognised the case for intervention within North Ayrshire” to “mitigate against the impacts” of decommissioning nuclear power stations at Hunterston and the related loss of jobs and spending-power in local communities.

At a previous meeting of the Council, elected members delayed progress of the Investment Framework until officials could provide a seminar on the subject, after which councillors could make their views known in relation to potential projects for which funding could be sought.

A report for this week’s meeting, compiled by Council Chief Executive Elma Murray, indicates she and her counterpart at the Irvine Bay Regeneration Company subsequently met with NDA's Socio-Economic Officer to further discuss the Investment Framework, after which the nuclear body “sought an indication of which projects...may be progressed at an early stage and be the subject of funding applications within the current financial year.”

Ms Murray’s report goes on, “A meeting was also held with the Hunterston Site Stakeholders Socio-Economic Sub Group”, at which five projects, including the construction of quayside offices at Ardrossan Harbour, were agreed.  The five projects were considered to be opportunities for 'quick wins' or early applications “given that mechanisms are in place to implement [them], or their delivery requires match funding within the short term to allow other funding sources to be confirmed.”

The report adds, “The Investment Framework represents a series of investments for which NDA funding will be pursued over the long term. Those projects within the Framework not subject of an application within the current financial year will be further progressed including, for example, projects where a business case requires to be developed or the scope of a study confirmed.

Councillors will be asked to endorse the Investment Framework and submit it to the NDA along with details of the five projects agreed at the meeting attended by Ms Murray, the Chief Executive of the Irvine Bay Regeneration Company and the Hunterston Site Stakeholders Group.

Fuel poverty much worse in Scotland

A new report, published by the UK Fuel Poverty Monitor, shows that almost 33 per cent of Scottish households are now in the ‘fuel poor’ bracket, compared with just 18.4 per cent in England.

Worryingly, the figures in the report were compiled before the six major energy companies announced hikes to their charges for gas and electricity.

Reacting to the Fuel Poverty report, local MP Katy Clark said, “The figures demonstrate that not enough is being done to prioritise the needs of low-income and vulnerable families in the UK, and particularly in Scotland.”

Ms Clark continued, “There are huge disparities between Scotland and England, highlighting that the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition’s policies do not do enough to account for the differing weather conditions, differing costs and differing needs of families North and South of the border.  There needs to be more recognition in Government policy to account for these inequalities.”

Reflecting on the situation within her North Ayrshire & Arran constituency, Katy Clark said, “The Government needs to hold the big-six energy companies to account, and take measures to regulate the domestic price of fuel. 

“I have serious concerns for local people in particular, given the high rates of unemployment and poverty in the area.  I am anxious that this situation should not be allowed to worsen any further for these families.”

Police seek public help after Stevenston blaze

Strathclyde Police is appealing for help from the local public following a suspicious fire in Stevenston in the early hours of last Saturday (October 15).

Around 2:30 in the morning, officers received a report of a fire in Carment Drive, and when emergency services attended they found the front doors of two, first- floor neighbouring flats were on fire.

One woman, aged 31, jumped from a first-floor window and another, aged 34, was rescued by the Fire Service.  Both woman were taken to hospital as a precaution but were not seriously injured.

Police enquiries are continuing to establish the exact cause of the fire, but officers indicate it does appear to be suspicious.

Detective Sergeant Alan Sommerville from Saltcoats CID said, “Fortunately, the two women who were in the property managed to get out without serious injury.  At the moment, we can find no motive for this wilful fire-raising.

“I am appealing to anyone who was in the Carment Drive area of Stevenston in the early hours of Saturday morning, and who may have seen someone hanging around or seen or heard anything in any way suspicious, to get in touch as soon as possible.”

DS Sommerville concluded, “I would further ask if anyone has any information on the person responsible for this fire to contact Saltcoats CID on 01294 404500. Alternatively, they can contact CRIMESTOPPERS on 0800 555 111 if they prefer to remain anonymous.”

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Major changes proposed to North Ayrshire & Arran constituency

The Westminster parliamentary constituency of North Ayrshire & Arran could see significant changes under proposals announced by the Boundary Commission for Scotland.

The Commission’s plans would see Irvine and Kilwinning added to the current constituency – Ardrossan, Saltcoats, Stevenston and the Isle of Arran would remain – but West Kilbride, Fairlie, Largs, Skelmorlie, Dalry, Beith and Kilbirnie would be transferred into a new seat to be called Renfrewshire South & Largs.

Local towns moving out of the North Ayrshire & Arran constituency would find themselves sharing an MP with Renfrewshire’s Elderslie, Kilbarchan, Bridge of Weir, Lochwinnoch, Howwood and Linwood.

The Boundary Commission announced its proposals last Thursday (October 13) and there will now be a public consultation period lasting until January 4 2012.  During the consultation there will be one public meeting in relation to proposals affecting North Ayrshire & Arran, which will be held in the Teacher Building, St Enoch Square, Glasgow on November 22 2011, beginning at 10:00am.  The meeting will be chaired by a Sheriff Principal appointed by the Boundary Commission.

Should the Commission then decide to change its plans, it will announce revised proposals early in the new year, after which there will be another eight-week public consultation period.  Only then will final proposals be sent to the Secretary of State for Scotland, Liberal Democrat MP Michael Moore.

North Ayrshire & Arran MP Katy Clark told the3towns, “The Conservative-led Coalition Government wish to reduce the number of MPs for party-political reasons and Scotland will lose seven MPs as a result.”

The Labour MP continued, “Many of the new seats bear little resemblance to the historical boundaries people are used to.
     
“I was surprised at the Renfrewshire South & Largs proposals as they ignore traditional local authority boundaries and links.”

Concluding, Ms Clark said, “These are only proposals at this stage and the eventual boundaries could look very different. 

“I am disappointed it is being suggested that North Ayrshire should be split in this way, but it goes without saying that I will continue to serve all of my constituents to the best of my ability.”

Anyone wishing to make representations to the Boundary Commission for Scotland regarding its proposals for North Ayrshire & Arran and Renfrewshire South & Largs can do so by e-mail at: comments@scottishboundaries.gov.uk or by writing to the Commission at: Thistle House, 91 Haymarket Terrace, Edinburgh EH12 5HD.

Saltcoats man faces charge of plotting to kill Celtic manager

A Saltcoats man accused of plotting to kill Celtic manager Neil Lennon appeared at the High Court in Glasgow last Thursday (October 13).  Neil  McKenzie of Links Road appeared alongside his co-accused, Kilwinning man Trevor Muirhead.

During a hearing before Lord Glennie, McKenzie dispensed with his original lawyer, Brian McCluskey, indicating that, instead, he wished to appoint Matthew Berlow.  This was accepted by the judge, who also acknowledged that both accused would be represented by senior Queen’s Counsel Donald Findlay and Gordon Jackson.  Mr Jackson, originally from Saltcoats, is a former Labour MSP, while Donald Findlay was once vice-chairman of Rangers Football Club.

McKenzie, 42, and Muirhead, 43, deny sending suspected parcel bombs to Neil Lennon, leading QC Paul McBride and ex-MSP Trish Godman – the latter two are prominent supporters of Celtic Football Club.

The packages are said to have contained a potentially deadly mixture of nails and an explosive substance or petrol.

It is alleged by the prosecution that both men planned to "assault and murder" their three intended victims between March 1 and April 15 this year as part of a sectarian conspiracy.  Prosecutors also claim that McKenzie and Muirhead bought nails, envelopes, travel bottles, digital sports watches and other items at two shops in Stevenston, while it is alleged another person was induced by a female relative of Muirhead to acquire cream peroxide.

The men are accused of then posting a package to Neil Lennon at Celtic's training complex in Lennoxtown.  A plastic bottle with wires attached was said to have contained Triacetone Triperoxide, a plastic bag holding nails and a watch component.  The prosecution claims the accused believed it to have been an improvised explosive device capable of causing "severe injury and death".

Similar packages are alleged to have been sent to Neil Lennon's QC, Paul McBride, at the Advocates' Library in Parliament House, Edinburgh, and to former politician Trish Godman at an address in Bridge of Weir.

The charge claims the accused sent another suspected bomb to the offices of Cairde Na h'√Čireann (Friends of Ireland) in Gallowgate, Glasgow.

McKenzie and Muirhead face an alternative allegation contrary to the Explosive Substances Act of "unlawfully and maliciously conspiring" to endanger life or cause serious injury.

All accusations are said to have been aggravated by religious prejudice.

Both men are further accused that on May 9 in Kilwinning, they threatened to plant an improvised explosive device outside a police station knowing the bomb allegations were being investigated.
They are then charged with attempting to defeat the ends of justice by disposing of a quantity of cream peroxide and wiring.

The accused are finally alleged to have made and possessed Triacetone Triperoxide with the intent to endanger life.

McKenzie and Muirhead deny the charges and trial has been set for next month.

Historic stones still lying in the open

the3towns can reveal that stones from Ardrossan’s historic Customs House have been moved to a new location at the town’s harbour (see above photograph).

However, two-months  after harbour owners Clydeport gave an assurance that the stones would be wrapped to protect them, their new location still leaves them open to the elements.

In July the3towns broke the news that stones from the Customs House had been ‘dumped’ on a pier at the harbour.  This was despite consent to demolish the 150 year-old building requiring that they be stored securely, so the facade could be rebuilt and incorporated into a planned office and residential development.

The Customs House, a Catagory ‘B’ Listed Building, had stood on a prime site at the junction of Harbour Street and Dock Road since the mid-1840s, but was demolished in March 2010 after a Scottish Government official overturned the decision of North Ayrshire Council’s Planning Committee to reject an application from Clydeport.

Following the3towns’ original report on the stones having been ‘dumped’ on a pier adjacent to the sea, Ardrossan Independent councillor John Hunter raised the matter with Planning officials, who contacted Clydeport.  The company, owned by Manchester-based Peel Ports Group, assured North Ayrshire Council that the stones would be wrapped “as soon as practicable”.  But, as the above photo shows, while the stones have been relocated away from the water’s edge, they remain uncovered.

Speaking to the3towns, John Hunter raised concerns over whether the Customs House facade would ever be incorporated into the proposed new development, saying, “I have seen for myself that many stones no longer have identifying numbers.  The numbers were applied to assist in rebuilding the facade as part of the proposed new development, but with them having been erased, rebuilding would be a bit like doing a jigsaw without the photo on the box, and with some parts possibly missing.”

Katy's concern over child poverty

Labour MP Katy Clark has expressed ‘extreme worry’ over new figures that show the UK’s economic crisis will plunge an additional 600,000 children into absolute poverty by 2013.

The shocking forecast, from the Institute of Fiscal Studies, also predicted the largest decline in incomes for 35 years, with the UK Tory-Lib Dem Government’s changes to taxes and benefits likely to increase the number of people living in both relative and absolute poverty.  Absolute and relative child poverty rates are projected to reach 23 per cent and 24 per cent respectively by 2020.

Said  Katy Clark, “I am extremely worried by this evidence presented by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, which has predicted a significant increase in child poverty over the next ten- years if the Government chooses to continue down the same policy path. 

“It is vital that combating child poverty is put at the forefront of legislation.  However, it’s clear that not enough is being done. 

“The previous Labour Government managed to reduce child poverty by nearly a quarter between 1998 and 2009 through supporting benefits and providing tax credits for families with children. Unfortunately, the current approach taken by the Tory-Lib Dem Government threatens to seriously undermine the progress that was made.”

Referring to the situation in her own constituency, Ms Clark concluded, “For an area like North Ayrshire, which has the highest rate of Jobseekers Allowance claimants in the whole of Scotland, I have grave concerns about the impact of the government’s tax and welfare policies.   It should not be children who suffer the most.”

'Tory NHS cuts won't happen here' - Margaret Burgess MSP

Tory health reforms, designed to privatise parts of the NHS, will not happen in Scotland.  That’s the assurance given by Cunninghame South MSP Margaret Burgess.

Speaking to the3towns, Mrs Burgess said, “The public, patients and practitioners in Cunninghame South can be very clear that these reforms will not apply to Scotland.  Scotland’s National Health Service is safe from this disastrous plan for Tory and Lib Dem privatisation of the NHS in England.”

Margaret Burgess spoke-out after UK-wide news bulletins carried reports of wide-ranging reforms planned for the NHS by the Tory-led Westminster Government.  Much of last Thursday’s Question Time programme on BBC1 was also devoted to the proposals.  However, Health is an area of government devolved to the Scottish Parliament, and Mrs Burgess has made clear the SNP administration will not be going down the road followed by the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition in London.

The SNP MSP said, “Scotland’s National Health Service is independent and under the SNP it will be run in the interests of the people of Scotland, not the profits of private companies. The more we hear of patients being directed away from the NHS toward private providers, the clearer we are that these moves are wrong.”

Mrs Burgess concluded, “Scots value the NHS.  Privatisation may be the Tory way but it is not our way.”

Local public backs SSP's 'Anti-Cuts' petition

Local people have been queuing to sign a petition calling for an end to government-imposed austerity measures.

Campbell Martin of the Scottish Socialist Party told said, “The reaction of the public in Saltcoats town centre shows the strength of anger against cuts here in North Ayrshire to pay for the debts run-up by multi-millionaire bankers in London.”

The SSP’s petition calls on the Tory-Lib Dem UK Government and the SNP Government in Edinburgh to stop the cuts.  Said Campbell Martin, “The reaction we’ve had from local people has been great, and it’s clear they’ve had enough of cuts to jobs, cuts to public services, cuts to benefits, cuts to pensions, cuts to education – while the bankers who caused the economic crisis awarded themselves bonuses last year of £70million.”

Mr Martin, a former SNP MSP, said, “All the so-called mainstream political parties – Tory, Labour, Lib Dems and SNP – support the cuts and support the failed capitalist system.  It’s only the Scottish Socialist Party that is actively opposing the cuts.

“People have also been telling us they’re delighted to see a political party that’s on their side and is actually standing up for ordinary men, women and children in this area.”

The Scottish Socialist Party argues there is no need for any cuts.  Instead, the party points out that if the wealthiest people in the country paid their fair share in taxes, the current national deficit would be all-but wiped out in just one year.  Independent economists estimate that corporations and company directors avoid and evade around £120billion of taxes each year.  In addition, a 10 per cent tax on just the richest 100 people in Scotland would generate a further £1.6billion.

Campbell Martin concluded, “North Ayrshire has the highest unemployment and some of the worst deprivation in Scotland, yet we are being forced to pay the debts of multi-millionaire bankers.  That’s completely unfair, and it has to stop.”

Praise for council-house building under SNP Government

A local MSP has contrasted the number of council houses built by the SNP Government with the figures under the previous Labour-Lib Dem administration, stating the numbers “speak for themselves”.

Cunninghame South’s Margaret Burgess revealed 1,055 new council houses had been built under the SNP Government last year, with plans for a further 5,000 before the end of the current parliament, but that just 6 council houses were constructed in the whole of Scotland during the four-year term of the previous Labour-led administration.

Said Mrs Burgess, “The evidence of this is there to see in the new houses built in this constituency.  The SNP Government has invested a record £1.7bn in housing between 2008 and 2011, supporting the delivery of 27,528 affordable new-build starts between 2007 and 2011, with 24,646 completions over the same period.

“This is the largest number in any comparable period since the early 1980s, and North Ayrshire shared in this, with more to come.”

The SNP MSP continued, “The Scottish Government is doing all it can to provide affordable housing, in spite of horrendous funding constraints, and is committed to delivering 30,000 affordable homes over the next five years.  At least two-thirds of these houses will be homes for social rent.

“Again, with announcements of further new housing in North Ayrshire, there is more local evidence of the turn-around in both housing association and council house building.”

Mrs Burgess, whose constituency includes Stevenston, added, “There has also been help for first time buyers and homeowners.  The Scottish Government has helped those looking to get onto the property ladder through initiatives such as the New Supply Shared Equity, Open Market Shared Equity and Rural Home Ownership Grants.

“Building council houses, help for first time buyers and providing affordable homes are all part of the Scottish Government’s record on housing.”

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Divers inspect Ardrossan Harbour

Following reports by the3towns, which revealed a massive hole in the sea wall at Ardrossan Harbour, the facility’s owners last week had divers inspecting an inside wall below the waterline.

Two divers were lowered into the water in a metal cage suspended from a hoist.  While under the water, the men were in radio contact with colleagues located in a communication vehicle parked on the quay.

The inspection, carried out last Wednesday morning (October 5), took several hours and focussed on an area of the harbour basin adjacent to the breach in the external sea wall.  Divers appeared to mark a part of the internal wall opposite the berth where the Arran ferry docks.

Following the3towns’ revelation of the hole in the sea wall, concerns were expressed regarding the condition of the quay leading to the harbour’s lighthouse.  Having seen the3towns’ photo of the hole, Ardrossan Independent councillor John Hunter spoke of the need for the matter to be investigated by the harbour’s owners, Clydeport.  At the time, Cllr Hunter said, “Unfortunately, this is another example of Clydeport’s lack of maintenance to the infrastructure at Ardrossan Harbour.

“The photo shows what appears to be a substantial hole, which causes me concern regarding the stability of what lies above the damage.  If the pier has been undermined, then there are Health and Safety issues that could present a danger to the public.”

In last week’s edition, the3towns published photographs showing severe damage to the breakwater at Ardrossan Harbour, caused principally by a lack of maintenance.  Our article also revealed that Clydeport last year posted pre-tax profits of £10.4million, and paid a £12million dividend to its parent company, the Manchester-based Peel Ports Group.

Charges result in fewer 'special uplifts' and more fly-tipping

A North Ayrshire Council review of its decision to charge local residents for ‘special uplifts’ of household items reveals a massive drop in the expected number of people using the service – and an increase in fly-tipping in the local area.

From April 1 2010 the Council has charged householders £12.00 for uplifts of up to five items.  The charge is payable at the time of service request and if more than five household items are to be collected additional fees are applied.

However, a report going before this week’s meeting of the local authority’s ruling Labour Executive records that “the reduction in the number of service requests [for special uplifts] was significantly greater than anticipated”.  The Council’s new Corporate Director (Finance and Infrastructure), Ms Laura Friel, will tell the Executive that “the introduction of charges was anticipated to realise annual income of £215,000,” but that the actual amount raised was just £76,185.

Also contained in Ms Friel’s report is the admission that, since the introduction of charges for special uplifts, “the amount of fly-tipping collected by the Streetscene service appears to have increased”.  However, the Corporate Director argues, “It is likely the increase is attributable to more effective recording systems introduced to enable effective interventions to address this environmental crime.”

Labour councillors will be asked simply to note “the outcomes” of the review of the special uplift service.

Parents call for action over road safety concerns

Parents of pupils at St Peters Primary School in Ardrossan have called for action over a broken ‘speed warning sign’ and the location of a bus stop.

A mother who contacted the3towns said, “The Council put up the sign in Dalry Road years ago, and it worked for a wee while, but it hasn’t worked now for years.”

The parent continued, “The sign is supposed to light up and show the speed vehicles are doing as they come down Dalry Road past the school.  The point of it is to show drivers if they are going too fast and hopefully slow them down, but it isn’t working – and it is placed too far down the road.  Drivers are already past the school entrance before they reach the sign.”

Another concerned mother raised the issue of the bus stop, which is located next to barriers erected to protect young pupils, and immediately in front of the broken speed sign.  Said the woman, “If a bus stops there the view of children is blocked, and so is the speed sign.  Even if it was working it would be blocked from drivers’ view by a bus at the stop.”

The parent concluded, “Someone at the Council needs to get out from behind their desk and come and look at the situation in Dalry Road, and hopefully after they have seen it they will make some changes to make our children safer.”

the3towns has previously reported on problems around St Peters Primary School – in South Isle Road and the carriageway that runs parallel to the main Dalry Road.  Those issues relate to irresponsible parents parking on zig-zags, on bends, at junctions and across people’s driveways while they wait for their children to come out of school at home time.    

Benefits changes could mean increased homelessness

Changes to the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) being introduced by the Tory-Lib Dem UK Government could result in an increase to homelessness in North Ayrshire.

Local Housing Allowance replaced Housing Benefit in 2008, under the previous Labour UK government.  However, with regard to private rented properties, proposals by the current Tory-led administration will restrict LHA payments to accommodation with the lowest rents.  Before, LHA could be paid to someone renting a property where the rent fell within the lowest 50 per cent of charges in terms of the Broad Rental Market Area in Ayrshire – that is now to be reduced to the lowest 30 per cent.

The Scottish Local Government Forum Against Poverty has calculated the reduction in the number of properties for which LHA can be claimed will result in a weekly loss of benefit totalling £14,367 or £747,094 annually.

North Ayrshire Council currently operates a safeguard policy, which offers to pay LHA directly to private landlords provided they reduce their rent charge in line with the UK government’s reduction in benefit payments, in order to secure or maintain a tenancy.  However, the Council’s Corporate Director (Finance and Infrastructure), Ms Laura Friel, has warned that, “If landlords do not reduce their rent then this may force people to move to alternative accommodation, if available, and it may increase the level of homelessness.”

In a report for councillors on North Ayrshire’s ruling Labour Executive, Ms Friel concludes, “changes to the LHA may impact on [the Council’s] ability to discharge its homelessness duties and may increase the numbers on the social housing waiting list if private accommodation becomes less affordable for benefit claimants.”