By god I might just be mistaken or this could be the best-drilled, cross-party committee I’ve come across on my travels.
Eden Local Committee last Tuesday. A barnstormer of efficiency. No petty national mudslinging or point-scoring, it was a model of getting down to council business.
At the end, they even gave away a load of money to youth groups. It was perfect!
Held in Penrith’s PFI Fire Station, they rattled through the agenda like they were expecting an alarm to go off. At any moment, I expected a bell to ring and the floor to open, revealing a silver pole down which they all had to slide.
Penrith fire station is a modern, striking building externally, while internally, every landing and every corner looks exactly the same.
Surely a fire hazard in a fire station?
Praise has to go to Penrith businessman David Whipp-cracker, the sharp-minded, no-nonsense new committee chairman, who is a master at getting straight to the chuffing point.
Mr. Whipp has the throaty East Lancashire vowels of the voiceover on Bullseye, but by gum, the man knows how to gets a wriggle on with a big agenda.
“So you’re telling me Eden has 30 per cent of the area in Cumbria but is getting less than 10 per cent of the budget?,” he spikily asked an officer, whose left cheek inadvertently twitched.
Conservative Mr. Whipp runs both a fish and chip shop and a fruit and veg place. Smart guy. Both ends of the market covered!
LIGHTS OUT IN ALSTON
There’s new faces around the committee table after the May elections. Labour’s Claire Driver was batting well for Alston Moor.
Alston is the town with hardly any street lights, she politely complained, echoing the words of Pat Godwin, her counterpart on the district council.
Claire reckons there’s some people in Alston who don’t go out after 4pm in winter. That some roads have no lights at all.
Yet when she tried to nail down who is responsible no-one seems to know who to go to.
ROAD TO ULLSWATER
Over in Eden Lakes, Lib Demmer Neil “7-Up” Hughes was fighting the corner for Dockray and Matterdale End.
He wanted someone to look at the speeding traffic on the A5091.
A pair of visiting parish councillors stood and muttered darkly about dangerous roads, elderly citizens and a lack of pavements.
The DfT has knocked back a request for a 30mph speed limit. Basically, you’ve got to have loads of people injured or die before they’ll send someone out to put up a sign.
It’s safe to assume the DfT’s criteria setters have never had to walk down an unlit rat run in the Lake District in winter.
Pat Bell, Liberal Democrat, also put the world to rights.
The parking problems on Penrith’s housing estates were close to causing “civil unrest,” she said, nodding convincingly as the naysayers shook their heads in disbelief.
Pat is not known for her hyperbole.
MORE TEA VICAR
Kirkby Stephen’s ex-vicar Phil Dew was also making a debut for the Tories.
He jumped in straight away with cassock a-flapping.
He dared to question the spiralling costs of My Big Fat Appleby House Party, and you could almost hear all the oohs ping-pong around the room.
Apparently, on street sweeping alone, they’ve spent £65,000 this year just on Appleby Horse Fair – £23,000 over budget.
The Reverend put it as straight as he could. It’s a “disproportionate sum” for one town.
Mr. Whipp warmed to this theme.
“Are you sure we’re not being seen here as the soft option?” he asked an officer, about why the county council is picking up the tab.
It turns out that Appleby Horse Fair cost £230,000 to stage this year – £50,000 up on last year.
A situation described as “unsustainable” in future…
TOUGH ON PARKING
Lady Helen “Fearless” Fearon (Con, Penrith West) was also on form with the various parking fiascos around Penrith.
Apparently, whenever people try to complain to the police, they keep trying to fob the problem off onto the county council.
The PCSO’s don’t know what their parking responsibilities are, said Helen.
The only way to solve problem parking is to knock down half of Penrith and build a car park, said regular bus user Andy “The Voice” Connell, for the Lib Dems.
Andy cast a sly backward glance towards the press bench.
“Not that we’re suggesting we do that in any way,” he clarified.
Eden Local Committee: Tough on parking, tough on the causes of parking.