Stratford on Avon

Liberal Democrats require a 4% swing to win Stratford upon Avon constituency at the next General Election.

Fire: Bidford saved, Studley lost

Fire: Bidford saved, Studley lost

Bidford Young Firefighters, Martin Turner, Cllrs Peter Barnes and Daren Pemberton during the campaign.

Bidford Young Firefighters, Martin Turner, Cllrs Peter Barnes and Daren Pemberton during the campaign.

After months of delay — with no explanation — the county council finally voted on the future of the fire service across Warwickshire. An independent report commissioned by the council on their consultation highlighted many of the concerns I’ve previously expressed on this site: much of the consultation document was incomprehensible, the choice of a tabulated questionnaire prevented people from expressing their views, and the way the consultation was handled did more to promote opposition than to create consensus. The report also pointed out that, whatever mitigating factors might be asserted, the vast majority of people opposed the cuts.

In the event, Conservative portfolio holder Richard Hobbs recommended what he termed ‘Option B’ – closure of Studley but a reprieve for Bidford. We had suspected all along that the original proposal was put forward in order to make the real proposal seem more palatable.

Although everyone in the Bidford campaign must be pleased with the assurance of a future for our fire station, Studley residents will be bitterly disappointed. Questions raised in the consultation were never answered, and it is hard to see to what extent the Conservative cabinet changed its view in response to constructive proposals by the campaigners.

End is begin

Apologies if you are looking for the earlier version of this article — there was a server glitch and we had to roll back to an earlier version.

In Stratford on Avon the Lib Dem vote rose by 1.7% — higher than the national rise of 1%. Two weeks ago, our poll figures were putting us in contention to win this seat, but the change in the national mood — largely fuelled by the ‘only Cameron can get Brown out’ message pedalled by national newspapers, and now shown to be vacuous — meant that we got none of the 16% boost that we were looking at.

My congratulations to Nadhim Zahawi, who fought a good campaign.

To the 29% of the electorate here who voted for me: Thank you. We have not won this time, but that does not mean we will not win next time. Thank you for the confidence you placed in me. As I promised in my campaign literature, I will continue to live here and work here, and continue to press for all the issues which were so important during the campaign.

We may well see another General Election in the next six months… so don’t settle back down to ‘business as usual’.

For now, we wait the outcome of the discussions between leaders. All must surely recognised that for the Lib Dems nationally to gain 1% and yet lose 5 seats, and to get almost 1/4 of the votes and substantially less than 10% of the seats, demonstrates clearly that our election system is now desperately in need of reform.

Stratford’s Concrete Collar?

Stratford’s Concrete Collar?

Heritage site not building site - councillors, candidates and campaigners protest

Heritage site not building site - councillors, candidates and campaigners protest

22 April is the extended deadline for responses to the District Core Strategy. I wonder how many people are aware of this, or its impact on their lives? Essentially, based on a regional core strategy, based in turn on directives from central government, Stratford District Council intends to put thousands of new homes into the constituency, some of them perhaps in villages such as Great Alne, where one developer wants to double the size of village in a feat of unsustainability, but mostly on the land around Stratford-upon-Avon.

Stratford is without doubt one of the most beautiful and desirable parts of England. I love this area, and love living and working locally. It’s also true that we need affordable housing for our young people. But South Warwickshire itself is growing unsustainably. Our elderly population is growing at 36% every decade — an astonishing figure.

The desirability of Stratford makes it attractive to wealthy buyers, but the need of people who live here now is affordable housing. The appetite of developers, though, is for luxury accommodation which maximises profits on the land available. But do we have the services which can support this? Even now, the County Council is still pushing to reduce our number of fire-stations, fire-fighters and appliances. The NHS here receives proportionately less money per person than most of the rest of the UK, because the York formula, on which allocation is calculated, takes deprivation into account, but not age. Currently NHS services in South Warwickshire are very good — but a massive influx of people will stretch them. Roads will become more congested, suburbs will grow up with no particular community focus and no community tradition.

Of course there is a balance and a trade-off. It’s easy to shout ‘not in my back yard’, and suggest that any change is bad change. But I’ve now listened to dozens of people who are well informed on planning, development and sustainability issues. All of them are saying the same thing: the proposed developments are just too much.

What? No tourist office?

Warwickshire’s Shakespeare Country ceases trading I went down to the Stratford Tourist Information Office at the Bridge Foot yesterday. It was closed.

It was closed because it has closed down. On Monday, Stratford District Council decided to defer a decision to give it the £275,000 funding it relies on to trade. When I got there on Wednesday, I was greeted by a lady who had just been told she had no job. She introduced me to a circle of people — bright, alert people, who clearly have been a welcome and efficient sight to tourists arriving in the town — who had also just lost their jobs. They made me promise I wasn’t from the press.

Back in front of the now closed and papered up tourist office, I found a pile of leaflets which had been left for the wind and the rain and anybody who might want them. Two tourists — Chinese, I think — were looking round. I welcomed them to Stratford, and apologised that the tourist office was closed. What else could one do?

An hour before this, I was on BBC Radio Coventry and Warwickshire explaining why closing the tourist office was complete folly in the week before Easter. Not that this is a difficult thing to explain. I was followed by Stratford’s Conservative Council leader Les Topham. Topham began by saying that this was exactly the kind of stupid thing that a Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate would say. I wondered if I had perhaps made an error of fact. Had I got the contribution of tourism to the local economy (£1 billion a year) wrong? Or perhaps I had got some of the other details wrong? It’s easy to make a mistake when you’re on the radio. But he didn’t accuse me of anything like that. Instead, he played the ‘It’s not our fault’ card. “It wasn’t the District Council that boarded up the office, it was the company”, he said. True, but irrelevant. The BBC presenter pushed the point for me. But Les was adamant: all they had done was withdraw the funding. It was the tourism company’s own decision to close.

Say what?

I used to work in a funding body (West Midlands Arts), so I know how this works. If the major funder pulls the plug, that’s it. The lights go off. Unlike a commercial company, which may be able to sell itself on as a going concern, a not-for-profit which has one major source of funding no longer has a financial future if that source of funding is taken away. Les Topham’s assertion that it wasn’t the council’s fault is eerily similar to other assertions made by Stratford District Council over the last few years. Somehow, it’s never their fault.

I accept that the company had problems. I also accept that it may well not have had a long term future funded by the tax-payer. But pulling the plug in the week before Easter? As one of my colleagues suggested, it looks like someone is trying to close Stratford down. With shops boarded up here and there it’s obvious that the recession has hit us. But take away the tourist information centre from the UK’s third biggest tourist attraction, and you send out a signal which can be read anywhere.

Apparently they are going to have some people giving out leaflets in the Leisure Centre (not, I think, that many people travel on buses from London or wherever else they have been visiting to go to Stratford’s famous Leisure Centre) and some in the town. Fine. But if you get out your SatNav and ask it for Tourist Information, it takes you to the office at the Bridge Foot. If you look on a map, or any of countless leaflets in circulation or treasured inside shoeboxes across half the world, the tourism centre is marked as where it’s been for years.

Except it isn’t.

Seriously, it is time for the Stratford Tories to go. Les Topham remarked (in the Stratford Herald) last year that they didn’t seem to be very popular in Stratford, and he couldn’t work out why. Les, you can call me ‘stupid’ on the radio if you like, but I and anyone else can see why your team is not popular in Stratford. Can’t you?

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