Liberal Democrats have warned that the Government’s planning proposals will “disempower” local authorities like Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council and allow developers to “run roughshod” over local communities’ wishes.
Former Councillor Mark Smith and local activist Nigel Fearn recently attended online Planning Committee meetings of the Council. Oldbury activist Ian Walker also plans to attend one if the recent controversial application for the Wolverhampton Road in Oldbury comes before the Committee again. (That application was withdrawn by the applicant prior to the meeting on 5 September) As usual, some of the Councillor contributions were of limited use, but officers are usually helpful and sometimes correct accidental misunderstanding from Councillors or the clerks. But we need to keep an eye on things to ensure developers, and the Council, don’t get away with lax oversight of their plans.
Residents have the right to attend most Council meetings, but need to ask an officer if they want to speak at a meeting. However, you can join meetings anonymously as an observer, as long as you have the link to the meeting. You can see what meetings are scheduled for each month using the Council's Meetings Calendar. (You will need to use Microsoft Teams to join meetings.)
Our Honorary President, and Honorary Alderman, Sadie Smith, was Mayor of Sandwell for 2006 to 2007. She used her time in office to setup a Multi-Faith advisory group, and championed the work of the Royal Osteoporosis Society. She was the first Liberal Democrat mayor of Sandwell, and only the second Mayor not to be a Labour Councillor, following the previous mayor Bill Archer.
Although much of a Mayor’s job is to represent the Borough at various events and functions, they can also use the time to highlight particular issues, and help raise funds for charity. Normally, this honour would have been bestowed on the longest serving Councillor, the late Martyn Smith (Leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Sandwell Council), but Martyn declined the offer.
Sadie chose to focus on helping improve community relations during her year by setting up the multi-faith working group that produced a report to the Council with proposals for them to implement. (This report was written by the Chair of the Multi-faith working group, Canon John Barnett, and presented to the Council.) Many of its recommendations were implemented, but the Labour faction in control chose to water-down some of the more fundamental reforms that were required, such as the need to increase the diversity of the Council's officers and workforce.
I could talk about the damage austerity had done to schools, and the way in which Covid-19 highlighted the wider role a school plays in the community, as we have witnessed through the campaign of Marcus Rashford. I could write about the need to have a strong education system in order to allow people to work, or the social aspect of schools that many of our children and young adults have so desperately missed. I could focus on the botched attempts to get pupils back into school, when double the amount of classrooms and teachers would have been needed, but what I would like to focus on is the exams.
We have raised the problem of increasing knife crime, in Warley, with the Police.
This is the spot a knife was used to threaten players coming off the basketball court and a new bike stolen from them. Bob Smith, Chair of Sandwell LibDems, visited this well-used, family and community area that parents and local residents complain is becoming more dangerous. A week after this another lad was mugged by three men who took his bike in the same park. There is also the problem of used Nitrate Oxide capsules scattered all around, as we see all too often elsewhere in Sandwell.
The Sandwell Liberal Democrats elected a new Executive Committee at its AGM in October. This was announced to members and supporters in December, and has hit the ground running, thanks to the cooperation and support of previous Executives. Their help has ensured that the new team have had a smooth handover of responsibilities. Here is a quick guide to the new Executive.
The West Midlands is at the heart of the country's canal network, and local campaigner and Sandwell Lib Dem Membership Secretary, Nigel Fearn, would like to see better use made of these alternative routes. Some of the canals in Sandwell have already seen improvements made to them, thanks to the Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership. This has seen some of the towpaths in Sandwell cleared to make it easier for people to use them for cycling or walking, and they offer a healthy, greener, and often more direct route into places. We encourage this trend and call for further improvements to make it safe for cyclists and walkers to use these routes. Nigel has been campaigning on this issue for several years.
Liberal Democrats agree that local councils and businesses need to do all they can to combat global warming. This means investing in public transport, buses, trams and railways, and consulting local people properly so they can have their say on plans. It is important to ensure residents contribute to the discussions, as well as enable them to travel more easily while reducing their impact on the environment. Here are the main concerns we have with how what should have been a sound scheme to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, has been mismanaged through poor communication.
The coronavirus (COVID19) is spread by respiratory droplets, and does not linger on porous surfaces, such as letters or parcels, says the post office. Here is our recommended advice for staying safe.
- Wear a mask when out shopping, or where mixing with strangers in an enclosed space.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Do not sign for letters or parcels. (Although they should not ask you to, according to their advice above.)
- Stay at home when you’re sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the bin.
- Where possible, use contactless payments, or paper bank notes rather than the new polymer ones.
Be kind. Phone friends and family if they have to self-isolate, or nervous about the continuing threat of the virus.
If you can, offer to help people who have difficulty getting out with shopping and other tasks. However, be sure to follow the NHS Advice on precautions you need to take, and maintain social distancing to protect yourself and others.
Sandwell Council is also providing support for its residents. Check their Coronavirus - Emergency help from the council page for details. There may also be a local community group in your area that is already offering help, such as the Great Barr Volunteers group.
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And finally, have your job been affected by the virus?
Has it made you appreciate local al shops and businesses more?
If it has, let us know by completing our brief Coronavirus Survey.