Conservatives condemn Labour and Green parking scrouges

Conservative councillors have slammed their Labour and Green counterparts for voting down their proposal to offer residents and visitors to the city free parking over the Christmas period.

Councillor Steve Bell, who proposed the Conservative motion, said: “Brighton &Hove has an unenviable reputation for ripping off motorists and makes the biggest profit from parking charges of any Council outside of London. It really wouldn’t have taken much for the Labour Administration to give this small gesture of seasonal goodwill to our residents, visitors and most importantly, the local businesses who depend so heavily on Christmas trade.”

Councillor Lee Wares, who seconded the motion, added: “We have recently learnt that the number of day trippers to the city has fallen by around 1 million. What better way to try and encourage some of these people back than to offer them free parking over the festive season. We were specifically targeting car parks in places such as London Road and Norton Road in Hove, not car parks in the most popular shopping areas in the city centre. Traders in these areas will be especially disappointed with the Labour and Green Parties.”

Conservatives seek clarity on housing ‘joint venture’

Conservative Group Housing Spokesman, Cllr. Mary Mears, writes about the Labour Administration’s proposal to set up a housing ‘joint venture’ with Hyde Housing and the decision by the Housing Committee to defer a decision on whether or not to give it the go-ahead.

Council Leader, Warren Morgan, accuses the Conservatives of seeking to “block, frustrate and delay” his Administration’s proposal to create a joint housing venture with Hyde Housing in order to build 1,000 new homes in the city. The Labour Chair of the Housing Committee, where this proposal was debated last week, said we were “playing games” by voting to defer the decision for further information.

I can assure residents that nothing is further from the truth. We agree that in principle a joint venture is an excellent way for the Council to effectively double the return on its investment; however we feel that the proposal has been rushed through and key financial questions remain unanswered.

When over £50 million of public money is at stake it is important that we get this right. Along with the money loaned to the i360, this would bring the Council’s general fund debt to almost £100 million from the Public Works Loans Board. Is Cllr. Morgan seriously suggesting that as opposition councillors we just nod this through without proper scrutiny?

Cllr Morgan also states that this proposal has been known about for some time.

As the Conservative member on the Estate Regeneration Board I received my first detailed briefing on the 5th September with the Conservative Group only receiving a presentation 2 days before the housing committee… which we had to request!

We have been kept very much in the dark about some key points of the proposal – we don’t even know which sites will go into the joint venture, even though I understand they have been discussed for some time. Nor are we happy that the Administration is proposing that the new Board will not contain one single elected councillor!

Some people have compared our decision to call for a deferral to the Conservative Group’s support for the loan to the i360. The key difference in that instance was that we had received numerous detailed briefings from officers and lawyers many months before a decision was made.

Hyde is an ever growing Company involved with many new builds from Saltdean to the King Alfred. I’m sure residents would expect elected members to ensure proper scrutiny and due diligence takes place on such an important decision before any agreement is made.

Woodingdean Residents Unite Over Phone Mast Blunder

Cllrs. Dee Simson and Steve Bell join the protest

Cllrs. Dee Simson and Steve Bell join the protest

Woodingdean residents have staged a public protest against Brighton & Hove City Council following the error which resulted in permission being granted by default for the erection of a 12.5 metre telephone mast and 2 equipment cabinets on Warren Road in front of the area’s historic cottages and almost directly outside a children’s nursery.

The demonstration was attended by approximately 80 residents including children, concerned parents, local residents and Ward Councillors Dee Simson and Steve Bell.

The Council refused permission for the telecommunications company’s application to erect a mast and cabinet but failed to issue the decision notice outlining the refusal in the required statutory time of 56 days. Therefore, under the regulations, planning permission is granted by default.

Woodingdean Ward Councillor, Dee Simson said: “We are really pleased with the number of people who attended this demonstration and hope that the Council stands up and takes note at the strength of feeling in this community about what has happened here. It is simply not fair for the residents of Woodingdean to have to take the brunt of the Council’s error.”

Councillor Bell added “I will be raising the issue at the next Full Council to ensure the Administration is held to account. We will not go away until a suitable solution has been found.”

Woodingdean Residents Organise Phone Mast Demonstration

Woodingdean residents are to stage a public protest against Brighton & Hove City Council following the error which result in permission being granted by default for the erection of a 12.5 metre telephone mast and 2 equipment cabinets on Warren Road in front of the area’s historic cottages.

The demonstration will take place on Tuesday 4th October at 3.30pm on the grass verge outside the cottages where the mast is due to be placed.

The Council refused permission for the telecommunications company’s application to erect a mast and cabinet but failed to issue the decision notice outlining the refusal in the required statutory time of 56 days. Therefore, under the regulations, planning permission is granted by default.

Woodingdean Ward Councillors, Dee Simson and Steve Bell, who will both be at the demonstration, said: “We urge as many residents as possible to come along to the protest and show the Council the strength of feeling there is locally about this whole situation. It is now incumbent upon the Council, having made the blunder, to put right their error by whatever means possible. The residents certainly won’t take this lying down.”


Cllr. Dee Simson – 07795336425
Cllr. Steve Bell – 07809100445

Cllr. Geoffrey Theobald – we do need new housing but plans must be scrutinised

Making sure that all our residents are able to access decent and affordable housing is undoubtedly one of the most pressing challenges facing this city over the next few years. Rising prices and rents in the private sector, an increasing population including a large expansion of student numbers and a severe lack of space to build new housing have all combined to make this ever more difficult in Brighton and Hove.

At the Housing & New Homes Committee last week, Council officers brought forward a proposal to try and address some of these issues – setting up a ‘joint housing venture’ with Hyde Housing Association which it is hoped will deliver 1,000 new affordable homes.
Although we agree that in principle a joint venture such as this is a good idea (the Council would effectively be doubling the number of homes built for the same level of investment) we do feel that the proposals have been rushed through. The Conservative Group was only given a detailed briefing by officers two days before the meeting and this was at my own request.

We also have concerns about some of the financial details and potential risks to council taxpayers. For example, the Council is proposing to borrow £50 million against its General Fund yet has not carried out a tendering exercise to determine whether Hyde’s offer represents the best value for money. As a result, at the meeting our Committee members spent a long time asking very detailed questions about the plans, and in the end proposed that the decision is deferred for a couple of months in order to further explore some of these issues.

Unfortunately, the Labour Chair of the Committee didn’t take too kindly to this and accused one of our members in particular – Cllr. Joe Miller – of ‘playing games’. This is a comment which I hope she now regrets in the cold light of day. Setting up a joint housing venture is an extremely important decision for the Council and Joe and his colleagues in our Group were quite right to question officers and lawyers forensically on the potential risks to council taxpayers. In fact, had they not done so it would have been a dereliction of their duty. I can remember being in a similar situation when I was first elected to Brighton Council, being attacked by older members for doing my job, and so I back Joe 100%.

There is cross party agreement on the Council on the seriousness of the housing crisis and we really want to see this proposal succeed. Indeed, in our last local election manifesto we put forward a similar proposal for the Council to borrow money to build new homes. When we were in Administration in 2009 we also set up an innovative new company to refurbish some of the Council’s worst housing stock – a project which has been very successful.

However, the pressing need to take action does not mean that any proposals put forward by the Administration should be immune from proper scrutiny, particularly when such large sums of public money are involved.

Geoffrey Theobald: Bowls and Allotment Price Hikes are a False Economy

One issue that has started to hit my inbox in recent weeks is the worrying proposal by the Council’s Labour Administration to cut funding to both bowling clubs and allotments across the city.

At my regular Patcham Ward Surgery recently I had a visit from a member of a Bowls club who told me that the Council’s proposals could mean that they have no option but to more than double the annual fee they charge their members. He was rightly concerned that this level of increase, in one hit, would almost certainly lead to many club members having no option but to resign. In fact, they have calculated that such increases would lead to the closure of 6 out of the city’s 11 clubs, which in a city of almost 300,000 people is totally inadequate.

Bowls is enjoyed by residents of Brighton & Hove, particularly older residents for whom it is an important way of keeping physically and mentally fit and of maintaining social interaction in later life.

It is a similar story with allotments which provide enormous health benefits, as well as promoting local sustainable food production and encouraging wildlife.

Yet the Council is proposing to increase fees for allotment holders by 32%. I am told by the Brighton & Hove Allotment Federation that many plot holders on lower wages would find this increase hard to bear. As one correspondent said in an e-mail to me, allotments were traditionally intended for workers on low wages who didn’t have gardens, and it would be a travesty to price them out and turn allotments into a playground for the better off.

This is not the first time that this has come up. Back in 2012/13 the former Green Administration brought forward proposals to increase the fees for allotment holders in the city by 70% which thankfully, the Conservative Group, with support from the Labour Group, managed to block. Similarly, the Greens tried to introduce a huge cut in the funding provided to maintain bowling greens across the city which, following a petition from residents and a Full Council Notice of Motion from the Conservative Group, was substantially watered down.

And so now, it is déjà vu, with the Labour Party trying to bring in the same funding cuts that they so vociferously opposed under the Green Administration.

I fully accept (as do both the allotment and bowls representatives) that we should aim to make all clubs and activities supported by the Council as self-sufficient as possible. However, the frustrating thing for me is that these are relatively small amounts of money which the Council is looking to save, yet they have a disproportionate impact on residents. For example, the overall ‘subsidy’ for allotments across the city is around £40,000 – a relatively small amount when set against the Council’s gross budget of some £750 million.

These proposals in their current form are a false economy and the Labour Administration must go away and have a serious rethink.

Councillor Geoffrey Theobald OBE
Conservative Group Leader, Brighton & Hove City Council

Anger as Council Admits Error Resulting in Erection of Phone Mast at Historic Woodingdean Site

Woodingdean residents have been left reeling in anger following a mistake by Brighton and Hove Council’s Planning Department which has resulted in the erection of a 12.5metre telephone monopole and 2 equipment cabinets on Warren Road in front of the area’s historic cottages.

The error has come to light upon investigation by local Councillor Dee Simson after initial construction of the equipment cabinets began last week despite permission for the telecommunications company’s initial application in March being refused on 23 May. After requesting Planning Enforcement officers attend the scene, Cllr Simson was later notified that council officers had failed to issue the decision notice outlining the refusal in the required time of 56 days.

Speaking on the issue, Cllr Simson said “The incompetence in this whole situation is unbelievable. Woodingdean residents are now left with a 12.5metre phone mast that should never have been allowed to be erected. Residents met their democratic obligations by submitting written objections to the mast along with myself and others so why can’t the council fulfil theirs? The people of Woodingdean are quite understandably very upset that such a structure is being placed in front of the village’s historic cottages which they consider precious to the community. It will completely change the street scene.”

Councillor Steve Bell added “It is not good enough for the Council to simply apologise for an error of this kind which has only come to light because I pushed for further investigation. Something must be done.”

Geoffrey Theobald: A New Lease of Life for the Libraries of Brighton and Hove

I am very pleased that the Conservative Group’s support for the Libraries Extra Scheme has meant that residents are now able to use their local community library, even outside of staffed hours, simply by upgrading to a free Libraries Extra Membership Card.

This new service makes a mockery of the Labour Administration’s claims during the recent Hove Library saga that by voting to retain it in the Carnegie building, the Conservative and Green Groups would effectively be condemning up to 7 of the city’s branch libraries to closure. I said at the time that this was the worst kind of political scaremongering, for they must have known full well that these extended opening hours were to be rolled out within a matter of weeks.

Libraries Extra means that, rather than closing, most libraries will now be available seven days a week, more than doubling the amount of opening hours across the city from 362 to 768 hours per week.

I was always incredibly frustrated that Patcham Library in my ward, despite being the third most popular library in the city (after the Jubilee and Hove Libraries), was only open for three days a week. This always seemed to me to be a real waste of a much-valued local resource, but now, with the Libraries Extra scheme, I’m delighted that residents will be able to benefit from it seven days a week.

Councillor Geoffrey Theobald OBE
Conservative Group Leader, Brighton & Hove City Council

BML2 Must Quell the Current Misery for the South Coast’s Commuters and Businesses

Written by Councillor Geoffrey Theobald OBE – Leader of the Conservative Group, Brighton & Hove City Council


Commuters across the south coast for many months have faced utter misery with train cancellations and train strikes on top of the ‘revised service’ currently being administered across the Southern trains network to cope with the ongoing dispute between the RMT Union and the rail company.

And it is not just rail users who are feeling the effects of the recent strike action: business owners in my fair city of Brighton and Hove who rely so heavily on people travelling into the city are suffering significant drops in trade during these walk-outs. The Brighton Pier suffered up to a 30% drop in the number of visitors on the first day of the August strike. Further anguish awaits the south coast as we face up to five more strikes on our transport network in the coming months which could do damage to Brighton and Hove’s local economy unless disputes are resolved soon.

The new Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, will no doubt have an inbox full of angry messages about Southern’s problems, not least because his constituency of Epsom and Ewell comes under their network. His very welcome intervention last week with £20 million funding and the appointment of a rail industry troubleshooter to help get the service back to where it should be shows that he recognises just how damaging the situation is.

Our City is on the cusp of so many exciting new developments, with the British Airways i360 recently open and attracting great swathes of tourists to our shores and future plans, including a considerable campus expansion and the development of a biomedical centre at Sussex University, a state-of-the-art Advanced Engineering Building at the University of Brighton, a new conference centre with the waterfront project and not to mention the possibility of Brighton and Hove Albion making it to the Premier League next season.

Yet as the city grows in importance and population the current rail service cannot cope even if the trains are running perfectly, let alone for the future we are attempting to forge for Brighton and Hove as so much more than a seaside jaunt.

To me these are some of the many reasons why we are crying out for an additional Brighton to London rail mainline – BML2. BML2 would bring not only enormous economic benefits to the wider Greater Brighton area, but also ease congestion on what is the busiest train line in the country. An additional line could provide a quick and reliable rail alternative when sections of the existing Brighton mainline are closed altogether for maintenance or when there are problems. Inconvenience that residents from Worthing to Eastbourne and long-suffering commuters are all too familiar with. It could also be administered by a new rail company with fresh terms of engagement with the trade unions.

Fundamentally it’s about providing far more capacity into the network so that more trains can operate and hardworking people can rely on getting to work on time, comfortably and without delays. They may even get a seat! The constant disruption of strikes and late-running or cancelled services on top of misinformation and severe overcrowding affects society exponentially as transport is a pivotal element of a successful economy.

As a strong supporter of the campaign for a second Brighton to London rail mainline for a number of years, I remain hopeful that BML2 will get the green light from the Government as it really is a vital missing piece in the jigsaw of an efficient and integrated sustainable transport system in the south-east of England.

I await with baited breath the new feasibility study into BML2 commissioned by George Osborne prior to his departure which is due to report in the Autumn and very much hope that the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, will have the same interest as his predecessor in building a new main line in the south in order to take this forward. Indeed the appointment of Brighton Kemptown MP Simon Kirby to Economic Secretary to the Treasury in Theresa May’s new Government can only be a positive step forward for the cause as Simon has been a vocal and long-standing supporter of BML2.

Theresa May has been clear that post-Brexit, Britain is open for business and investment on a global scale. In this sense, BML2 would be an enormously valuable transport scheme which would offer so much opportunity for growth and prosperity across London and the South East. Whitehall must therefore grasp the nettle and move forward with BML2 without any more delay.

Geoffrey Theobald: Olympic Spirit Hasn’t Rubbed Off on Labour

Like many millions of people across the country I was glued to the coverage of the Rio Olympics and thoroughly enjoyed celebrating the wonderful performances of so many of the British athletes across such a wide range of disciplines. At the time of writing, we have moved up to second in the overall medals table, ahead of China (population 1.4 billion) – an astonishing achievement. When I cast my mind back to Olympic Games of 20 or so years ago, when we were lucky if we got up to 2 or 3 gold medals, the improvement is one of our country’s true success stories.

Without wishing to turn this political, I do think that a lot of credit must be given to Sir John Major, the Prime Minister who established the National Lottery, the proceeds of which have done so much to stimulate both grass roots and elite sport in this country. 1.7 million more people now play sport or exercise once a week than they did in 2005. Sport is now so much a part of our national culture and identity and that can only be a good thing for our future health and well-being. In addition, sport brings people together like nothing else and I strongly believe that it is a fundamentally good thing for our society.

This Olympic spirit of togetherness does not seem to have rubbed off on the Labour Party! Whilst we see heart-warming pictures of North and South Korean athletes posing together for selfies, it seems that Labour’s warring factions, both nationally and locally, are unable to put their differences aside.

I do wonder how all this internal squabbling and navel gazing is impacting upon the Labour Administration’s running of Brighton & Hove City Council. No doubt Council Leader Warren Morgan will say that he hasn’t taken his eye off the ball and it isn’t having any effect, but he does seem to be spending an awful lot of time writing long articles about why Jeremy Corbyn is not the best man to lead his party. Cllr. Morgan is very fond of saying that his Administration will be judged on how well they “get the basics right”. Well, after 15 months at the helm my judgement would be “easily distracted – could do much better”.

Take recycling as an example. Over the last year the rate has dropped to a new low of under 25% making us the worst performing Council of our type. The city’s ‘street community’ continues to grow in spite of Labour’s pledge to eliminate rough sleeping. Performance in areas such as GCSE grades for children receiving free school meals, numbers of children on protection plans, delayed discharges from hospital, admissions to residential and nursing homes, air pollution and staff sickness levels all remain extremely poor when compared to other councils.

Indeed, in a recent report to the Policy, Resources & Growth Committee, almost half of the Council’s 100 or so key performance indicators were on either red or amber, meaning ‘off target’. This situation has to change, and residents need a Council Administration that is fully focussed on the job in hand, not one which seems to be more interested in tearing itself apart. Currently, the Council has neither Momentum nor Progress.

Written By Councillor Geoffrey Theobald OBE, Leader of Brighton and Hove Conservative Group