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

Conservatives Applaud Labour U-turn On i360

Councillor Geoffrey Theobald, a long-standing supporter of the British Airways i360, comments on Council Leader, Warren Morgan’s, u-turn as the attraction nears its launch date: “Having been a strong advocate of the i360 project and all that it will bring to our city from the beginning, I am delighted that it will soon be open for everyone to enjoy. However, I do find it somewhat ironic that the Labour Group Leader is now issuing press releases extolling the virtues of the project when he vehemently opposed it when it was signed off by the Council. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for the support of the Conservative and Green Groups the i360 would not have got off the ground. So I am delighted that Cllr. Morgan now appears to have changed his mind and has bought into all the financial and economic arguments for building it that we have always been convinced of. The British Airways i360 is one of many exciting new developments for the seafront and will undoubtedly encourage tourism as another fantastic attraction in Brighton and Hove. “

Councillors Condemn Utterly Despicable Theft From Patcham Peace Gardens

Councillors Geoffrey Theobald, Carol Theobald and Lee Wares have condemned the theft and act of vandalism of 100 year old pathway from the Peace Gardens in Patcham after tonnes of large, heavy York stone paving slabs were dug up and removed leaving the gardens in a total mess on Thursday night.

Peace Garden 2

Peace Garden

The Peace Gardens were purchased by the Council in 1928 and thought to be a memorial to peace following the Great War of 1914-1918. Last year the gardens were awarded Fields in Trust status protecting the them forever. Over the years, residents have carefully and lovingly, alongside the Council, maintained the gardens.

Councillor Lee Wares said “in the week following the 100 year Centenary of the Battle of the Somme it takes a very evil and wicked person to carry out such an atrocious act. The theft in itself is bad enough but to destroy an area that people use to reflect and remember their lost ones is utterly despicable. It must have been a carefully organised theft to have taken up and removed tonnes of paving stones in the middle of the night without attracting attention”.

Councillor Carol Theobald commented “it is a very sad day and I know personally the many residents and volunteers who give their time to keep the gardens in a beautiful condition. There are many tributes and memorials in the garden in the form of benches and trees. I know everybody will be heart-broken at what has happened”.

Councillor Geoffrey Theobald added “This is a shocking theft and not one that you would ever contemplate happening. The Council do not insure such things and for now, I don’t know how we will be able to restore the gardens. We will work with Cityparks to try and restore the garden as soon as possible and I only hope that the Police are able to catch these vile people and bring them to justice”.

Cllr. Geoffrey Theobald welcomes likely selection of Theresa May as new PM

Conservative Group Leader on Brighton & Hove City Council, Cllr. Geoffrey Theobald, has welcomed the news that Theresa May MP is likely to be selected as the new national Conservative Party Leader and hence Prime Minister. Cllr.Theobald said:

“As a long-standing supporter of Theresa May I am very pleased that she has been given a clear run and is highly likely to become the next Leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister. In my view she is head and shoulders above the other candidates who put themselves forward and has exactly the sort of experience needed in these uncertain times for our country. I hope that we can all now get behind Theresa as she starts the difficult process of negotiating with our partners in the EU and I am confident that she will come back with a deal which will give businesses and investors the stability and confidence they need to secure the country’s future.”

Patcham Councillors Concern at Condition of Sports Fields Following Traveller Site Development

New Horsdean traveller site

New Horsdean traveller site

Vale Avenue Green

Vale Avenue Green

With the imminent opening of the Horsdean traveller site and the spending of £2.4m to create the perfect environment, Patcham Ward Councillors are very concerned at the condition of the sports field and the adjoining green space at Horsdean Recreation Ground.

To facilitate the construction of the traveller site, wide, deep excavations were dug to lay drains and water supplies through Horsdean Recreation Ground and the neighbouring green space in Vale Avenue in which trees had been planted. It was promised to residents and the local councillors that the reinstatement work would take a month to complete after which “nobody would know the work had ever happened”.

Seven months later, the restoration of the sports field and adjoining green space are still unfinished and Councillors have now been told that there is no money left in the project budget to reinstate the damaged areas to the high quality provided on the traveller site and that it will be a year or more before the disturbed areas will recover.

Cllr Lee Wares said “after months of discussions, debates and procrastination, we now know that there is no money left in the project to properly deal with the areas. It was promised that reinstatement would be such that everything would be left as it was found. This is no longer the case and it will be a further year or more before the areas even begin to return to the condition in which they were before”.

Cllr Wares added “we are told that reseeding the sports field is the best solution and that turf wouldn’t work, this is despite the traveller site having lush lawns laid ready for immediate use. We are told that pink large aggregate used for sub bases on roads is suitable for the dug up paths, in comparison with the properly laid out tarmac paths that have been laid across the traveller site”.

Cllr Geoffrey Theobald said “it beggar’s belief that millions of pounds have been spent with no provision for proper reinstatement in the areas outside the travellers site. The new traveller site is perfect, manicured and groomed ready for occupation. As against this, Horsdean Recreation Ground is used by thousands of residents and hundreds of children and adults playing sports and has effectively been turned into waste land. It has taken years of hard work by Cityparks and volunteers to create safe and suitable playing fields at Horsdean Recreation Ground but we are now back to square one”.

Cllr Carol Theobald commented “it’s a real kick in the teeth for the residents who not only paid for the development through their taxes but invested their goodwill in accommodating the works for the benefit of the development. This is not the result that they or we expected. I hope that this situation will be reconsidered and what local residents were promised will be delivered”.

Conservatives gain Council support for Armed Forces “Count Them In” campaign

Cllr. Ann Norman

Cllr. Ann Norman

Conservatives on Brighton & Hove City Council have managed to obtain cross-party support for the Royal British Legion and Poppyscotland Count Them In campaign. The campaign calls for additional questions to be included in the next Census in 2021 which will capture much needed data on the Armed Forces Community – particularly Reservists and Veterans – who are otherwise largely hidden from official statistics.

This information will help local authorities, charities and statutory bodies to more accurately identify areas where service life presents a disadvantage, which will in turn enable the Government, councils and the NHS to better allocate resources and deliver on their Armed Forces Covenant commitments.

Conservative Group Lead on Armed Forces Issues and member of the Brighton & Hove Civil Military Partnership Board, Cllr. Ann Norman, said: “I’m delighted that we’ve managed to get cross party agreement to support this campaign. I brought it forward, having been approached by the Royal British Legion, because I agree with their assessment that there is a glaring gap in knowledge about this often hidden community and the problems they face. It is really not right that we have more information about Jedi Knight followers in the UK than we do about the Armed Forces Community. The more councils that sign up to support this campaign the more likelihood we have of succeeding in getting these vitally important questions onto the 2021 Census return.”

Conservatives respond to Labour’s Library Scaremongering

Conservative Group Leader, Cllr. Geoffrey Theobald, has responded to an attack from Council Leader, Warren Morgan on his blog, about the Group’s handling of Labour’s proposed closure of Hove Library.

Cllr. Theobald said: “Resorting to threats and personal insults is frankly not the conduct you would expect from the Leader of an important City Council, and it damages Brighton & Hove’s reputation with the outside world. I’m afraid that these are the tactics of a desperate man who has completely failed to make his case for selling the Carnegie building and building an extension on the gardens surrounding Hove Museum. Indeed, with just days to go before the decision is to be made, we have yet to see the final report.

He is now trying to frighten residents by threatening to close up to 12 branch libraries across the city. Let me make it abundantly clear to Cllr. Morgan – the Conservative Group will not allow this to happen.

Indeed, his argument is coming crumbling down around him. At the very same meeting as the Hove Library issue is due to be debated, we are being asked to endorse a report that shows that the Council underspent its Budget by £4.8 million last year, despite dire warnings from Cllr. Morgan that the Council was on the verge of going bankrupt and faced a deficit of well over £8 million.

This surplus of £4.8 million would be enough to keep the Carnegie Building open for another 30 years!

And we must ask ourselves why Cllr. Morgan has chosen this moment to reveal that he has been having talks with a cinema chain about selling them the Carnegie Building? Especially when he knows full well that officers have advised that this building is entirely unsuitable for a cinema.

I have always had a completely open mind on this issue. My only criteria was that the residents of Hove should not receive a diminished library service as a result of any changes. If Cllr. Morgan had come to me in the first instance when the plans were still on the drawing board – rather than being presented as a fait accompli – we could have thrashed out a scheme that we could all have supported.

We have always been willing to support genuine innovation and radical thinking in order to provide Council services that deliver the best outcome for the residents of this city. We will not however be blackmailed into supporting something that has clearly not been thought through properly – particularly when it means selling off an iconic building that the residents of Hove love and are genuinely proud of.”

Let’s showcase the city on Patcham’s Gateway Roundabout

Patcham Ward Councillors are delighted to learn that Highways England is open to ideas for the future look of the Patcham A23 roundabout.

In response to an initial letter from the Ward Councillors, Highways England have responded to the Council saying that they want to start discussions about the future of the roundabout which was cleared of vegetation in February for safety reasons.

Cllr Lee Wares said “An opportunity exists for the ugliest roundabout in Sussex to be transformed into something more stunning or iconic that reflects the nature of our great City and we are urging the Labour Administration to grasp it with both hands. Of course there will be constraints and regulations to abide by but why not, for example, hold a competition for the children of our City to produce ideas to express what they think Brighton and Hove means to them?”

Cllr Wares added “So much emphasis is placed on public art and displays in the City and making our seafront attractive and quite rightly so but, let’s begin the experience here in Patcham”.

Cllr Geoffrey Theobald said “Hundreds of thousands of people pass this roundabout and I would hope that Highways England would agree to sponsors for the site to help fund something exciting and imaginative. We should not let this opportunity pass us by and end up with a wasteland covered in weeds or a few shrubs”.

Cllr Carol Theobald commented “I’m pleased that Highways England has recognised the importance of this site and are open to discussions. However, it’s not before time – we contacted them about two months ago try and get something done and have had to chase it up on several further occasions.”