Saturday, 26 May 2012

Local councillors take senior positions in new administration

Saltcoats & Stevenston SNP councillor Willie Gibson was confirmed as the new Leader of North Ayrshire Council at the local authority’s first meeting since the May 3rd Election.

On his appointment, Cllr Gibson told last Wednesday’s (May 16) meeting, “It is an honour to become leader after having been a councillor for only five years.”  The retired deputy head-teacher indicated he intended to “look after the whole of North Ayrshire”, and praised his predecessor, Labour’s David ONeill, whom he described as being “a gentleman and man of his word”.

Continuing the conciliatory tone of his speech, Mr Gibson further praised Cllr O’Neill by stating the Labour man had “done a great job” as Leader of the Council.

The SNP will run the local authority as a minority administration, requiring the support of at least four opposition councillors to secure a majority on a vote of the full Council.  The recent election saw 12 SNP councillors elected to Labour’s 11, with six Independents and one Tory holding the balance of power.

Cllr Gibson praised Independent councillors, “particularly those who have been re-elected”, adding it was “harder to get elected as an Independent”.  The Council Leader stated there would be no coalition with any Independents, but said he “appreciated their contribution” and that he looked forward to “working with them on a case-by-case basis”.

The Deputy Leader of the Council is Alan Hill, SNP councillor for the North Coast & Cumbrae.  Cllr Hill, a solicitor, has served his local community since first being elected in 1999.

The top civic role in North Ayrshire was secured by the SNP’s Joan Sturgeon, who defeated Labour’s Ian Clarkson 17-12 to become the area’s Provost.  Mrs Sturgeon is councillor for Irvine East and mother of Scotland’s Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP.  On being elected to the position of Provost, Cllr Sturgeon indicated she was “honoured”, and would “do my best in the role”.

The SNP nominated Independent councillor Robert Barr (Dalry & West Kilbride) for the position of Deputy Provost, while Labour proposed Jim Montgomerie (Saltcoats & Stevenston).  In a vote, Cllr Barr secured the position by 17-11.  On taking his place next to Provost Sturgeon, Robert Barr thanked members for their support and said he would “do my best to be an ambassador for North Ayrshire,” adding, “I will treat everyone with the respect I expect to get.”

Since last week’s meeting, the SNP has confirmed it has scrapped the Executive operated by the previous Labour administration.  There will now be a seven-member Cabinet overseeing the work of Council departments and chairing Cross-Party Policy Boards.

Council Leader Willie Gibson will have responsibility for Strategy, Community Planning and Community Health: while Deputy Leader Alan Hill will look after Community and Culture, Policy and Service.

Other cabinet appointments are:

Tony Gurney – Education Attainment and Achievement
Marie Burns – Economic Development and Regeneration
Anthea Dickson – Health and Social Care
John Ferguson – Environment and Infrastructure
Alex McLean – Finance and Corporate Support

Last Wednesday’s Council meeting also agreed to appoint Ardrossan & Arran Independent councillor John Hunter as Chair of a new Scrutiny and Petitions Committee (see separate story), while Saltcoats & Stevenston Independent Ronnie McNicol will Chair both the Licensing  Board and Licensing Committee.

Former SNP Group Leader Matthew Brown will Chair the Planning Committee, while Labour councillor Peter McNamara (Ardrossan & Arran) will Chair a new Audit Committee.

Concerns over 'razor wire' danger

Concerns were being expressed this week over ‘razor wire’ at an Ardrossan storage facility.

A worried mum contacted the3towns after her young child reached-out towards the wire while they walked on a public path adjacent to the Home Hardware distribution centre, located off Dalry Road.  The mother, who did not want to be named, said, “I can understand that Home Hardware needs to protect their place from burglars and vandals, but they’ve got razor wire right behind their fence, and it’s so low down my wee one nearly grabbed it as we walked past.”

When the3towns visited the location last week, razor wire was actually sticking through the perimeter fence at a height of less than 3-feet off the ground.

The Home Hardware centre sits on land adjacent to the James McFarlane School and Stanley Primary.  A public path, linking Dalry Road and Central Avenue, runs alongside the facility’s perimeter fence for some distance.  The area where razor wire protrudes through the fence is located at the site’s main entrance.

A solicitor contacted by the3towns on the issue of razor wire said, “It’s a grey area.  The law is not absolutely clear on its use.”

The legal representative added, “While the police would generally advise against the use of razor wire or barbed wire, on the basis that building owners have a duty of care to ensure that visitors to the property are reasonably safe, there is no specific legislation that forbids its use.”

However, anyone injured by razor wire – ironically, including anyone attempting to break into a property – could take legal action against the owners of the building or land.

Home Hardware has erected signs warning of the presence of ‘razor barbs’, and the part of the perimeter fence through which the razor wire protrudes appears to have been damaged.

the3towns understands the matter has been raised with Independent councillor John Hunter, and that North Ayrshire Council will seek the co-operation of Home Hardware to remove any danger to the public.

Hunter to chair new Scrutiny and Petitions Committee

Ardrossan & Arran Independent councillor John Hunter has been handed a crucial role as Chair of a new North Ayrshire Council ‘Scrutiny and Petitions Committee’.

Cllr Hunter chaired the Scrutiny Committee in the previous Council (2007-2012) and it was his acknowledged abilities in such a challenging role that saw him nominated by the SNP administration to take charge of the new committee with an expanded remit.

Labour members proposed Largs councillor Alex Gallagher to Chair Scrutiny and Petitions, but in a vote John Hunter triumphed by 18-12.

In addition to scrutinising decisions and actions taken by the SNP administration, the new committee will also receive public petitions.  Previously, petitions could be submitted to meetings of the full Council only with the Provost’s agreement, and there was no requirement for councillors to consider the issue raised.  Prior to the Council setting its budget in February, the North Ayrshire Branch of the Scottish Socialist Party submitted a petition calling on councillors to refuse to implement further cuts to jobs and services, and instead to set a budget to meet the needs of local communities.  The petition contained the signatures of almost 1,500 members of the public, but councillors ignored it and the SSP was refused permission to address the meeting.

With the creation of a petitions element to the Scrutiny Committee’s remit, it is hoped members of the public will now be able to submit petitions on issues of concern and that councillors will strive to resolve matters raised or, at the very least, secure answers to questions highlighted in petitions.

The full membership of the new Scrutiny and Petitions Committee is:

Chair – John Hunter (Independent), Vice-Chair – Alex Gallagher (Labour), Matthew Brown (SNP), Catherine McMillan (SNP), Alan Munro (Labour), Joan Sturgeon (SNP). 

One further place remains to be filled. 

Returning Officer confirms review of Polling Places

North Ayrshire Council is to carry out a review of Polling Places and how they operated at the May 3 local government election.

Concerns were raised by councillors as North Ayrshire’s Returning Officer, Council Chief Executive Elma Murray, presented a report on the Election to last week’s Council meeting (May 16).

the3towns previously revealed how major problems with changes to Polling Places in Ardrossan almost certainly contributed to the very low turnout at the Council Election.  Ms Murray’s report to councillors confirmed the total turnout across North Ayrshire barely reached 39 per cent.

Hundreds of Ardrossan electors were told to vote at a new Polling Place in St Peter’s Primary School, despite living nearer the long-standing facility at the Whitlees Community Centre.  Meanwhile, residents of Greenacres and the Knockrivoch estate had to travel into Saltcoats to vote at a Polling Place in St Anthony’s Primary School.  Other residents, who for years had voted at the Whitlees Centre (and previously at the adjacent Stanley School), were this time re-directed to the Civic Centre in Glasgow Street.

Amid the confusion, there were reports of people turning up at the wrong Polling Place and returning home without voting, rather than make their way to another facility elsewhere in the town. 

At the Council meeting last Wednesday, elected members raised similar concerns regarding Polling Places in Irvine and the Garnock Valley.  The former Council Leader, Labour’s David O’Neill, asked that Ms Murray and her election staff “have a look at how Polling Stations operated”.  The Council Chief Executive indicated she would “look at members’ comments”, which she hoped would lead to operations being “much better informed in future”.

However, former Labour MSP Irene Oldfather, now a councillor for Irvine East, urged that officers should do more than simply look at members’ comments, arguing an investigation into “the actual designation of Polling Places” was required.  Apparently, less than 10 per cent of registered electors actually voted at the Polling Station covering the Towerlands area of the Irvine East Ward. 

Independent councillor Robert Barr indicated problems had also occurred when voters registered at the East Lugton Farm and Caravan Park were required to travel into Dalry, passing a Polling Place in Barmill on the way.

In response, Elma Murray stated a full review of the electoral arrangements on May 3rd would be carried out, with the intention that future polls would operate “much better than this time around”.

Benefit change could hurt the blind

Labour MP Katy Clark has written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions outlining her concerns over the potential impact of replacing Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with a new benefit called Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

In particular, Ms Clark has highlighted a warning from the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB), which says that under the UK Government’s draft proposals blind and partially-sighted people could fail to qualify for the higher components of the benefit and could therefore see their incomes significantly reduced.

Katy Clark said, “It would be completely unacceptable if, as a result of the change to PIP, the standard of living of blind and partially-sighted people was reduced. 

“I have been concerned for some time that the change from DLA to PIP has simply been about saving money rather than supporting disabled people, and unfortunately the most recent criteria published by the Government confirm my fears.”

Ms Clark continued, “Blind and partially-sighted people often require assistance when using public transport and expensive specialist equipment in the home to allow them to perform basic tasks, such as cooking and using a sink, which most people take for granted.

“I have already been contacted by a number of blind and partially-sighted constituents who have outlined to me how DLA helps them live independently in their day-to-day lives. They are deeply troubled by the Government’s proposals and believe if they go ahead in their current form their quality of life will be seriously affected.”

Katy Clark, who represents North Ayrshire & Arran, concluded by urging the UK Government to “enter into talks with the RNIB and think again about these damaging changes.”

Consultation on mental health facility

Plans for a new mental health facility based at Ayrshire Central Hospital in Irvine have entered the pre-planning consultation phase.

As previously reported by the3towns, NHS Ayrshire & Arran has identified the North Ayrshire site as providing the best location for a county-wide adult mental health inpatient facility.  Subject to approval from Scottish Government, the local Health Board plans a new-build, two-storey unit providing 206 beds for “people who need a level of care and rehabilitation that can only be provided by a stay in hospital”.  The 16,600m2 building would be constructed on land within the boundary of the existing Ayrshire Central Hospital.

According to NHS Ayrshire & Arran, the new facility would include beds for adult acute mental health patients; mental health and addiction rehabilitation; elderly mental health patients; long-term care for older people; rehabilitation for older people; and additional outpatient clinics and treatments.

Jim Crichton, Director of Primary Care and Mental Health Services, said, “These are exciting times for mental health and community services in Ayrshire and Arran.  We are at the stage where we are looking at the design of the new building to ensure that it will meet the needs of both mental health service users and the surrounding community - now and well into the future.”

On the consultation phase, Mr Crichton said, “We are asking people to tell us their views on the new building, so that we can proceed with applying for planning permission - which will take us one step closer to providing outstanding facilities.”

The Health Board has arranged two ‘open events’ where local people are invited to go along to ask questions and offer opinions in relation to the proposal.  Both will take place in the Recreation Hall at Ayrshire Central Hospital in Irvine.  The first, on Wednesday, May 30 will be from 7.00pm until 9.00pm, with the second running between 2.00pm and 5.00pm on Friday, June 1.

NHS Ayrshire & Arran can also be contacted on this issue by writing, free-of-charge, to: Freepost RSXC-XULE-BCAU, NHS Ayrshire & Arran, NACH Programme Office, 23 Lister Street, University Hospital Crosshouse, Kilmarnock KA2 0BB.  Alternatively, calls can be made to 0800 169 1441, which is also free-of-charge, or by e-mailing NACH@aapct.scot.nhs.uk

Closing date for responses to the consultation is Friday, August 3 2012, and the Health Board stresses that comments should be sent directly to NHS Ayrshire & Arran, not to the planning authority, North Ayrshire Council.  A further opportunity to comment will be available as part of any North Ayrshire Council planning application process.

Katy opposes regional pay plan

Local MP Katy Clark has criticised UK Government proposals to introduce regional pay in the public sector.

Initially floated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, the plan would see people paid different rates for doing the same job, depending on where they live.  For example, someone employed in Saltcoats Jobcentre could be paid less than a colleague performing the same role in London, on the basis that the cost of living in the English capital is higher but despite the fact the North Ayrshire employee would be dealing with the consequences of a higher rate of unemployment.

Speaking to the3towns, Katy Clark said, “I am extremely concerned at the Government’s proposals to introduce regional pay in the public sector.  This change would effectively take money away from some of the poorest communities in the United Kingdom at a time when many are already suffering as a result of the Government’s cuts programme.”

The Labour MP for North Ayrshire & Arran added, “Rather than attacking the pay and conditions of those running our public services, the Government should be focusing all its efforts into formulating a coherent plan for growth.”

Ms Clark indicated she would “do all I can in Parliament to oppose these damaging proposals”.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Saltcoats & Stevenston councillor will be new Council Leader

The centre of power in local politics is moving to the Three Towns.

the3towns understands Saltcoats & Stevenston councillor Willie Gibson will replace Matthew Brown as leader of North Ayrshire Council’s SNP Group and will also assume the role of Council Leader when the Nationalists form the new administration at Wednesday’s NAC meeting (May 16).  Deputy Leader of the Council will be Alan Hill who represents the North Coast.

The SNP, which finished one seat ahead of Labour at last week’s Council Election (12 to 11), have notified Chief Executive Elma Murray of their intention to form a minority administration.  This means the Nats will require to secure the support of at least four opposition councillors each time there is a vote on an issue – if all 30 councillors are in attendance, 16 votes are required to deliver a majority.

The SNP will nominate one of their Irvine East councillors, Joan Sturgeon, for the position of Provost.  Mrs Sturgeon is the mother of Scotland’s Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP.  The Provost chairs meetings of the full Council and undertakes a range of civic duties across North Ayrshire.  It is also expected that the SNP will support Dalry & West Kilbride Independent councillor Robert Barr for the position of Deputy Provost.

Although beaten and out of office for the first time in 30 years, the3towns understands the Council’s Labour Group has decided to stick with Irvine West councillor David O’Neill as their leader.  Ardrossan & Arran veteran Peter McNamara will be Deputy Leader.

Two Independent councillors from the Three Towns are expected to be nominated for Convenerships of important Council committees.  Following sterling work chairing the Scrutiny Committee in the last administration, John Hunter is likely to be asked to continue in that role, while former Saltcoats hotelier Ronnie McNicol is favourite to chair the Licensing Committee.

After stepping down as SNP Group Leader, Irvine West councillor Matthew Brown, a retired solicitor, is lined-up to chair the Planning Committee.

More unrepaired damage at Ardrossan Harbour

Further evidence of neglect at Ardrossan Harbour has come to light with the emergence of the above photograph.

Last week the3towns revealed a shocking photo showing part of the foundations holding up the lighthouse at the harbour mouth had been washed away and left unrepaired by the facility’s owners, Clydeport.  This week’s revelations centre on what was the ‘tanker berth’ at the other end of the harbour complex.

Having seen the above photo, a North Ayrshire Council official who spoke to the3towns on condition of anonymity said, “It looks like holes have been blown in it by an artillery barrage.”

The damaged area is earmarked for a new marina, but the Council official said, “An application for planning consent has been submitted, but that doesn’t mean construction of a new marina facility is imminent.  Presumably, any developer would have to shore-up the existing seawall and repair damage or build a new sea defence before beginning on building a marina at that point.”

The second-phase marina is part of plans drawn-up the Irvine Bay Regeneration Company, which include a substantial housing development on adjacent land formerly occupied by the Shell oil and bitumen refinery.

As the3towns reported last week, Clydeport, which is part of the giant Manchester-based Peel Ports Group, has previously declined to answer questions regarding the state of Ardrossan Harbour and the company’s lack of maintenance.

In the last financial year, Clydeport posted pre-tax profits of £10.4million, with gross profit margins rising from 26.7 per cent to 29.1 per cent.  During the year, Clydeport paid a £12million dividend to its parent company, with Peel Ports Group declaring an operating profit of £69.8million.

Call for enquiry over Ardrossan voting chaos

A review of polling arrangements in Ardrossan is likely to be carried out after reports of voter chaos at last Thursday’s Council Election.

After having just two Polling Places for many years – the Whitlees Centre (previously Stanley School) and the Civic Centre – last week’s election saw the introduction of St Peter’s Primary School in South Isle Road.  The extra Polling Place was created to make it easier for people to attend and vote, but the division of the Ardrossan electorate led to many turning up at the wrong place, while others stayed at home rather than face a considerable trek to their nominated Polling Station.

Controversially, residents above Stanley Road and as far south as Laird Weir were told to vote at St Peter’s Primary, with many passing the Whitlees Centre on the way.  Some homes in Dalry Road look onto Stanley Primary School and the adjacent Whitlees Centre, but residents were also told make the trip up the hill to St Peter’s.

Those living in Greenacres and the Knockrivoch estate were sent in the opposite direction and had to trek into Saltcoats to vote at St Anthony’s Primary School in Dykesmains Road.  Meanwhile, some Saltcoats residents were unhappy to find their streets located in the Ardrossan & Arran Ward.

A number of locals, used to voting at the Whitlees Centre, gave up and went home after they turned up at the facility, only to be told by election staff that they should have gone to St Peter’s Primary or the Civic Centre.

The total turnout for the Ardrossan & Arran Ward was just 40.8 per cent: the3towns understands some of the lowest voting figures within the Ward were from streets that had previously voted at the Whitlees Centre but this time had been reallocated to St Peter’s Primary.

A North Ayrshire Council official confirmed to the3towns that members of the public and officials on duty at Polling Stations in Ardrossan had reported complaints regarding confusion over where people were told to vote and electors turning up at the wrong place.  The official said, “Complaints were received throughout the day and these will certainly form part of our review in relation to how the Election was conducted.”

Palestine Solidarity group formed in North Ayrshire

A branch of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) has been established in North Ayrshire.

The first meeting of the new branch was held last Wednesday (May 9) in the Vineburgh Community Centre, Irvine.  Organised by retired nurse Jim Henry, who was recently imprisoned in Israel after attempting to visit Palestine, the meeting attracted members of the public from across North Ayrshire, including the Three Towns and Garnock Valley.

As previously reported by the3towns, Mr Henry was one of five Scots who landed at Tel Aviv airport on April 15 as part of the ‘Welcome to Palestine 2012’ initiative.  Others who intended travelling were refused permission to board aircraft at Edinburgh, despite being in possession of valid travel documents and having committed no crime.  Israeli authorities are believed to have compiled a list of names, which was provided to UK airports and airline Fly2, with the instruction that named people should not be allowed to board aircraft bound for Israel.

Jim Henry’s name was not on the list and he managed to travel.  However, on landing at Ben Gureon airport in Tel Aviv he was immediately arrested after indicating he wished to visit friends in Israeli-occupied Palestine.

Last Wednesday’s meeting heard 60 year-old Mr Henry describe his experience incarcerated in the notorious Givon jail near Tel Aviv, including being subjected to a strip search. 

Having committed no crime, Jim Henry repeatedly requested an explanation for his arrest and detention, only to be told he was considered a ‘threat to the State of Israel’.  On learning he was Scottish, one Israeli prison guard taunted Mr Henry saying, “In Israel we are men.  Not like Scotland where the men are women and wear skirts.”

There is no way of travelling directly to Palestine because of Israel’s occupation of the land and blockade of its borders, effectively making a prison of the West Bank and Gaza.  However, unlike prisons the world over, Palestinians are not even allowed visitors, as testified by Jim Henry’s treatment at the hands of the Israelis.

The Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign calls for Israel to comply with United Nations resolutions and remove its armed forces and illegal settlers from Palestinian land.  The SPSC also campaigns for the UN to recognise the right of the Palestinian people to exist as a nation and to return to land illegally occupied by Israel.

The next meeting of the North Ayrshire branch of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign will be on Wednesday, May 23 at 7:00pm in the Vineburgh Community Centre, Quarry Road, Irvine.  All members of the local public interested in joining the campaign for justice for Palestine are encouraged to attend.

'No-go areas' for ambulance crews

Shocking figures released by the Scottish Ambulance Service show there are 22 streets in the NHS Ayrshire & Arran area where ambulance crews will not enter without a police escort.

The information came to light following a Freedom of Information request submitted by the Scottish Conservatives. 

Across Scotland there were a total of 437 ‘no-go areas’ for ambulance staff, with Greater Glasgow & Clyde recording the highest level, 125, and Lothians second-top on 86.

A spokesman for the Scottish Ambulance Service said the safety of staff was paramount, adding, “If any ambulance crews feel their safety may be compromised, they are instructed to hold nearby the scene and await support from the police, or additional ambulance crews.

"As a further protective measure, addresses where there have been previous incidents of violence or threatening behaviour towards staff are flagged in control rooms.  This means that if a 999 call comes in from a flagged address, dispatch staff can request additional police support.”

Reacting to the figures, Conservative Justice spokesman David McLetchie MSP criticised the SNP Scottish Government, saying they “must act on this immediately for the benefit of the wider public and the workers themselves”.

Mr McLetchie added, “People who threaten, or worse, attack emergency staff should be dealt with in the severest possible way.

“At a time when budgets are pressed, we cannot afford to have ambulances waiting outside addresses because the occupants are too violent to deal with.”

However, a Scottish Government spokeswoman responded, “Violence against NHS staff is clearly unacceptable but this represents a very small proportion of around 2.5 million residences across Scotland.
“We take the safety of our NHS staff very seriously, that is why they have the support of their police colleagues and are also covered by the Emergency Workers Act, which provides legal protection.”

Burgess praises MS Society

Local MSP Margaret Burgess has praised the work of the MS Society, which supports people suffering from Multiple Sclerosis.

Mrs Burgess, MSP for Cunninghame South, met last week with the local branch of the Society, and learned there are currently 950 registered MS sufferers in the NHS Ayrshire & Arran area.  In addition, Scotland has one of the highest levels of MS in the world: recent research showed 200 per 100,000 of the national population suffered from the illness, while in Ayrshire the figure rose to 240 per 100,000.

Following her meeting with the MS Society, Margaret Burgess said, “The local branch, based in Kilwinning, is very active.  It is the largest branch in Scotland and provides a range of support services to people with MS and their families.”

The service is managed and staffed entirely by volunteers and has been in existence for 42 years.

Mrs Burgess said, “Branch members told me that once a person is diagnosed with MS, patients in Ayrshire receive excellent treatment and services.

“However, they also told me that the situation is not the same everywhere in Scotland. We need to ensure the very best treatment is available to all those who have MS, wherever they live.”

The local branch of the MS Society has adopted a ward in the Douglas Grant rehabilitation unit at Ayrshire Central Hospital and supports it by donating furniture, furnishings, televisions and other items to enhance the quality and experience of the people who use the unit. With the help of the staff of Hunterston B power station, they have also been able to provide lifting hoists and a specialised shower that is of great benefit to both staff and patients.
 
“The Kilwinning resource centre is also a place where people can go and just talk to someone,” said Margaret Burgess, “They can get help with forms, in respect of all the complications that are going to arise because of welfare reform, which is a concern to people with MS. We must recognise that, because of the variability of their condition, it has always been difficult for them when they are trying to get the benefits to which they are entitled.”

Mrs Burgess, a former manager with Citizens Advice Bureau, added, “The branch also has a grants system.  It distributes more than £25,000 a year to people in Ayrshire who have MS. The only criteria are that a grant should improve a person’s quality of life or alleviate crisis for individuals or their families.

“Outwith Ayrshire, the branch has donated £37,000 over the past two years to the J.K. Rowling research unit at the University of Edinburgh. As surveys continually stress, research to find a cure is the number-one 1 priority.”

The SNP MSP concluded by paying tribute to the volunteers “in Ayrshire and throughout Scotland who raise the funds and who work in and manage their local MS Society branches, because their efforts and dedication make a real difference to the quality of life of people who are living with MS.”

Anti-smoking initiative takes to the road

Fresh Air-shire, NHS Ayrshire & Arran's smoking cessation service, is taking to the roads this summer to highlight the ever-increasing cost of smoking.

Information adverts will appear on the side of 80 Stagecoach buses and inside 200 more. The adverts aim to highlight the rising cost of smoking - a 20-a-day smoker will spend approximately £2,548 on cigarettes each year.

Following the UK Budget in April, the cost of a 20-pack of cigarettes has risen to roughly £7.00 and, as well as the cost to a smoker's pocket, there is also a heavy health-related price, with more than 13,500 people dying each year in Scotland due to smoking-related illnesses. 

Dr Carol Davidson, NHS Ayrshire & Arran’s Executive Director for Public Health, said, “It's so important we try to reach as many people as possible with the message that it's never too late to quit smoking.

“Smokers are putting their own health at risk, as well as their family members, if they smoke in the home or car.  Smokers are paying a high price at the tills to continue to do something that causes so much damage to their health.”

Dr Davidson continued, “Help is at hand, however, as we have a wide-range of support for people who want to quit smoking.  This ranges from one-to-one or group support with a smoking cessation advisor, to providing access to Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) - Fresh Air-shire is here to help.”

Anyone wanting help to quit smoking is urged to get in touch by calling Fresh Air-shire on 0800 783 9132 or emailing them on FreshAir-shire@aapct.scot.nhs.uk

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Election Result - few changes but SNP emerge as largest group

Thursday’s North Ayrshire Council Election saw the SNP take an additional four seats, making them the largest political group and putting them in poll position to form the local authority’s new administration.

The Nationalists emerged with 12 councillors to Labour’s 11.  Six Independents and one Tory hold the balance of power.

There were two major casualties from the previous administration: In Irvine West the SNP’s Ruth Maguire took the scalp of Tory Provost Pat McPhee, while the Nats’ Cathy McMillan took-out Labour’s John Reid in Dalry & West Kilbride.  Mr Reid had previously been Deputy Leader of the Council.
In the Three Towns there was only one change – Arran-based SNP candidate John Bruce replaced fellow islander Margie Currie who stood down at the Election.  Also in the Ardrossan & Arran seat, Independent John Hunter was the first to be returned, followed by the SNP’s Tony Gurney and Labour’s Peter McNamara.

All four sitting councillors were re-elected in the Saltcoats & Stevenston Ward – Willie Gibson (SNP), Ronnie McNicol (Independent), Jim Montgomerie (Labour) and Alan Munro (Labour).  However, following the count at the Magnum Centre in Irvine, concerns were being expressed over the high number of postal votes in part of Stevenston, many of which were believed to have applied for a ‘waiver’ that meant they could be submitted without the voter’s signature.

It is expected the SNP will seek support from Independents to provide the overall majority the party needs to form an administration.  However, it is unlikely a formal coalition would be formed and the Nationalists may need to take issues forward on a case-by-case basis.

the3towns also understands the SNP will need to appoint a new Group Leader after veteran councillor Matthew Brown (Irvine West) indicated he would be standing down from the position.

Full Three Towns results:


More neglect at Ardrossan Harbour

the3towns this week reveals a shocking new example of ongoing neglect at Ardrossan Harbour.

The latest revelation shows significant damage to the foundations of the lighthouse at the harbour mouth, which the3towns believes was caused by the storm that hit the area at the turn of the year.  Five months later, no repairs have been carried out by the harbour’s owner, Clydeport.

With its core structure damaged, a view of the lighthouse from the car park area serving the Arran ferry appears to show the structure leaning towards the sea.

the3towns has previously revealed severe damage to the harbour’s breakwater and sea wall.  On one section, huge concrete slabs have been dislodged and removed by waves, leaving a gaping hole into which seawater rushes at high tide. 

Clydeport, which is part of the giant Manchester-based Peel Ports Group, has previously declined to respond to questions from the3towns regarding the state of Ardrossan Harbour and the company’s lack of maintenance.

In the last financial year, Clydeport posted pre-tax profits of £10.4million, with gross profit margins rising from 26.7 per cent to 29.1 per cent.  During the year, Clydeport paid a £12million dividend to its parent company, with Peel Ports Group declaring an operating profit of £69.8million.

Public enquiry into 'multi-fuel' power station plan

The Scottish Government is to conduct a public enquiry into plans for a multi-fuel power station at Hunterson.

Officials this week confirmed the Directorate for Planning and Environmental Appeals (DFPEA) is to make arrangements for the enquiry, which will take evidence from all interested parties.  Once concluded, the enquiry’s findings and recommendations will be submitted to Ministers in the SNP Scottish Government.

The move comes after councillors on North Ayrshire Council unanimously rejected an application for a ‘clean’ coal power station lodged by Ayrshire Power, an offshoot of Peel Holdings which owns the Hunterston site.  Subsequently, North Ayrshire’s Local Development Plan Committee, meeting on March 5, saw SNP councillors successfully move to delete all reference to the coal-fired Hunterston station.  However, dependent on the findings of the public enquiry, Government Ministers from the same party could put the project back on the table.

The decision to hold an enquiry has sparked anger amongst local people who thought they had seen-off the power station proposals.  Community activist Kenny McDougall told the3towns, “We are talking about a power station that will spew its pollution into our countryside.  A power station that will have stacks higher than Fairlie moor.”

Mr McDougall, also a member of the Hunterston Site Stakeholders Group, flagged-up concerns over claims a multi-fuel power station would utilise carbon capture to offset pollution caused by burning fossil fuel.  “The proposal is to have carbon capture, but only when it becomes available, which may mean 20 years down the road or maybe not at all,” said Mr McDougall.

Another issue of concern to the Ardrossan man is ‘slag’, a waste product produced from burning coal to generate power.   Mr McDougall said, “The fuel will come in by ship but the waste must be taken away by road and train.  I’ve asked where the waste will be transported to, but I have yet to get an answer.”

Worryingly, Mr McDougall believes the amount of slag produced could require freight trains travelling to and from Hunterston on a round-the-clock basis, seven days a week.  “These trains would be travelling on the main Glasgow-Largs line,” said Mr McDougall, “So how will passenger trains be affected by such constant use?”

The former Ardrossan Community Councillor previously questioned the competence of Ayrshire Power (Peel Holdings) in relation to building and operating a power station, only to be told the company was simply operating as a ‘broker’, and would sub-contract the plant’s construction and operation.  Said Kenny McDougall, “Scotland already exports around 25 per cent of the power we generate, so we don’t need a multi-fuel facility at Hunterston.  We should say no to this power station proposal.”

Initiative to tackle poverty

The ABCD project, which works with communities to improve the life-chances of children from birth to eight years of age, has held a Family Fun Easter ‘eggstravaganza’ event in the Whitlees Centre, Ardrossan.

The venue was chosen because of its location in an area of the Three Towns that has a high number of children in families affected by poverty and deprivation.

Jennifer Stevenson, ABCD Project Lead, commented, “The feedback we have received from the event is highly positive and everyone felt it was great fun for all the family.

“It helped raise awareness of the local services we have, and we are very pleased the local community really got on board with the project and took ownership of it.”

In addition to the serious message of helping to tackle social problems and deliver a better start in life for children, the event also provided a range of activities, including games, arts and crafts, competitions and raffles, a giant inflatable slide, ‘moonwalker bouncy fun’, a play corner and information stalls.

The ABCD project is organised by NHS Ayrshire & Arran.  Project Lead Jennifer Stevenson can be contacted on 01294 323319 or by e-mail at jennifer.stevenson@aapct.scot.nhs.uk.

The recent event in Ardrossan was supported by a number of local organisations, including the Ardrossan Youth Association, 3 Towns FM, KA Leisure, Money Matters, North Ayrshire Council Library Services, The Ayrshire Community Trust and Strathclyde Fire and Rescue.