Introducing part 2 of Lee Wangers (Tunstall - Independents 4 u) Q/A session.
Lee has also started a website for the Independents 4 U group's election campaign.
1. What are the biggest problems facing this area?
The biggest problem facing this area is the same problem facing all other areas, jobs, or rather the lack of jobs.
Having a well-paid job helps to put everything else into place.
With more money your health improves, because you can afford to eat better, you can afford to have holidays or you could afford the membership of a fitness club.
You have more disposable income so your lifestyle improves, you can buy a car or a better car, new furniture or home improvements.
You might move from a rented home to buying your first house, or if you own your own house you might move to a better house or area.
Parents will want their children to do well but it is difficult to stimulate them when they see parents struggling with little hope of improvement. When you see things improving for your family it’s an incentive for you as an individual to try harder at school or work to improve yourself.
Creating or bringing more jobs into the area is the biggest task facing all of us.
The second problem facing the area is anti-social behaviour.
Anti-social behaviour is something that affects all of us at some time. It can mean different things to different people. It might be a neighbour who plays his music too loud and at ungodly hours, or the teenagers who hang around in groups with their hoods up appearing menacing, bored and looking for trouble, right through to the absentee landlords who buy cheap houses, spend no money on them and fill them anyone as long as the social pay the rent. What ever it is, it can affect the quality of your life and rob you of the quiet enjoyment of your own home. And it shouldn’t be tolerated in any form.
Some of our estates and areas seem to be ruled by a small number of anti-social families. They have often lived on the estate for years, everybody knows them and people can live in terror of them, not wanting to say anything for fear of retribution and so they get away with it. They frighten good families away and try to fill up the estate with their relatives and friends
I don’t know why so many of these anti-social families seem to be given a council house, especially when you know how many good people want a house?
Our council have powers to tackle anti-social families on our council estates. Tenancy agreements say that the tenant is responsible for themselves, family and visitors and that they can be evicted for breaching their conditions
The council seem very reluctant to use these powers, and it is difficult to get sufficient evidence against these families for that fear of retribution. I have, and will continue to argue for the use of covert surveillance and even the use of professional witnesses to get this evidence needed to evict these families. Residents deserve and should have a right to a decent and quiet neighbourhood.
The police also do not do enough. Everybody has heard of the very successful police Operation Nemesis, where police can close a house used by drug users. But did you know that for the past 3 years the police have had the same power to close houses where anti-social behaviour is a constant problem. Whether it’s your own home or rented the police could remove you from the house and board it up for 3 months. This should be used as a last resort, but with the amount of anti-social behaviour that gets reported you might be surprised to know that this power has only been used twice in our city in the last 3 years.
Residents, council and police need to be tougher on anti-social behaviour, we should work together pooling our resources and target these wrong doers who make the lives of so many a misery.
Absentee landlords are a plague on our terraced areas. They are getting rich on rent money from the social, by renting out often sub-standard houses to tenants who usually have been evicted from everywhere else and have nowhere else to go. These landlords and their tenants contribute to the decline of an area.
Selective Licensing is the hopeful answer to turning these areas around.
If I am remembered for anything I hope it will be for being the person responsible for introducing Selective Licensing to Tunstall.
The regret that I have is that it has taken three years since I took council officials to Gateshead to look at their Selective Licensing scheme, for our council to finally be ready to introduce it.
2. What issues would you tackle first?
Some issues are simple one phone call fixes, others can take weeks of work, while yet others will be ongoing for years.
Some issues have consequences just for one person while others can involve a whole street, estate or community.
The simple answer is that you treat them all the same and work on them all at the same time, they all are important to someone.
It’s just a case of keeping all the balls in the air. Sometimes difficult but not impossible!
3. Without much budget how will you implement your ideas?
By being inventive, making better use of the resources that we have got, involving other organisations and constantly looking for other sources of income.
4. How would you generate income for the local area?
Would depend on what the money was needed for, different problems – different solutions, but probable a lot of the above (question 3). I have had a lot of experience of raising funds for the annual Christmas Lights switch on in Tower Square.
5. What are your thoughts on anti-Social Behaviour?
See the second part of my answer to Question one.
Questions by Jon Morgan, Bankeyfields.
Q1. Who should be running the council, the Council Officers or the Councillors?
Councillors should set out policy, give direction and set the council tax.
Officers should run the council in the way that they are directed by Councillors as per their policy.
Q2. How do you envisage keeping local facilities such as Tunstall Pool open?
My views on Tunstall Pool are well known and I have also gone to trouble of writing to all the residents from Tunstall who signed the petition to save the pool, (provided I could decipher their address) on this occasion and the last time the pool was last threatened with closure, giving them my views.
While I write this, the pool is currently closed, what we must do is see that the pool is just mothballed and not emptied of water so that it can be easily reopened.
There are a group of local people who are interested in taking over the management of the pool. They are trying to form a Trust and want to apply for charitable status. They have also had initial talks to the council and are looking at various sources to secure some funding.
I believe that the council will soon announce that they are going to continue to mothball the pool until the end of May to give this group more time to get their act together.
Although this is very nice, the problem is, will the council completely close the pool at the end of May if significant progress has not been made by this group by then.
Knowing how long it can take to get charitable status, and it can be even longer to get responses from possible funders, this is a distinct possibility.
What I would do once elected would be to try to extend the time that the pool will be mothballed; to give every chance for this group who want to take over the pool to obtain their charitable status, form a trust and obtain some funding.
This group is the only chance there is to get the pool reopened and they must be given every opportunity to do so.
Q3. How will you deal with anti-social behaviour?
I have previously answered this question.
Q4. How are the council/you going to get business to move to the area?
All the industrial cities in the West Midlands are trying to create jobs and attract business and investment into their areas.
What we must do is to make Stoke-on-Trent a preferred destination for businesses that are being formed, want to expand or relocate.
We need to stop talking ourselves down and get rid of the ‘can’t do’ attitude and change it for a ‘will do’ attitude.
Stoke-on-Trent is in an excellent central location with good transport links to all over the country.
We also have reasonably priced housing and a loyal adaptable workforce.
Stoke-on-Trent needs to sell itself better. Tell the world that we are open for business.
Stoke-on-Trent needs to do all that it can to provide the environment that prospective businesses want, like using its compulsory purchase powers to site assemble sites if a prospective employer can’t find a suitable site.
Businesses won’t come to the area if they can’t find suitable workers, so our universities should be doing degrees and courses that relate to the skills and qualifications that businesses require.
It was a blow and inconceivable when the city failed to be selected as an Enterprise Zone. Lets hope that our council and MP’s do a better job at convincing the government to select Stoke-on-Trent as an Enterprise Zone in the next round of bidding.
The benefits for new businesses to start up or locate to an Enterprise Zone are enormous and will be a great catalyst and give Stoke-on-Trent an edge over areas that are not Enterprise Zones.
Q5. How will you get money spent in our area in preference to other areas?
The hard part is knowing where there is any money in the first place. Funding normally comes with strings attached and you have to make certain that you pull all the right strings to make certain that your need fits the criteria of the funder.
With other money and facilities for that matter, it sometimes just comes down to pester power and I am a very good at pestering.
Questions by Richard Hawthorn, Bankeyfields.
Officers do sometimes appear to take a lot on themselves, but maybe they have to, if they are not getting any direction.
But there should be no fight to take power back.
As I have already stated, councillors set policy and it’s down to officers to implement that policy; provided what the councillors want to implement is legal and within budget.
Q2. Will you take steps to have the 106 money (with accrued interest) returned to its rightful owners. The area that it was designated for?
Many people do not understand 106 agreements and it really is quite simple.
Most developments, industrial or residential have a 106 agreement attached. The idea is that the development will have an effect on the surrounding area and the 106 agreement, usually gives a sum of money (although not always) to offset the impact of the development.
For houses, if it is money, it usually is about £1000 per house as the capitol element and a further £600 per house for ongoing costs and maintenance. This means if the money is for say a play area, there would be a sum of money to build the play area and a smaller sum for the ongoing maintenance of the play area.
For residential developments, play areas is are common requirement, although it could be for Highway alterations if the development would bring more traffic to the area, or for an extra classroom if the development would mean that the local school might not cope with the extra children that would live on the development.
More and more times we see contributions from the development for affordable housing.
For Industrial type developments the 106 agreement could be for Highway alterations, e.g. a new roundabout to ease the traffic flow to the development. It could be towards public transport to pay for a bus service to bring workers to the development.
Very large developments often have an additional provision for public art.
Discussions usually take place between council officers and the developer as to how much is given and what it can be used for. Councillors have often asked to be included, or what used to be the AIT to be included in discussions. Developers don't usually like 106 agreements looking on it as a sort of local tax on their development and try to pay as little as possible and it can be quite a negotiation to convince some developers that their development will have an impact on the area that warrants giving a 106 contribution.
It depends on the negotiated terms on what and where the 106 contribution can be used. Usually it is in the vicinity of the development but can sometimes be quite some way away, such as contributions for improvements to the local park, which is used by everyone. Again it would be nice if Councillors made a contribution to the negotiations.
There is usually a time limit on spending the money (but not always). If it is not spent then it should then the developer gets it back.
When 106 monies have been paid they are invested until needed. The interest is always added to the 106 money making it bigger.
The councils Planning Dept have not always been on the ball at collecting 106 monies. They now have a dedicated officer whose job is to monitor 106 agreement’s, in the past it was a very haphazard affair.
It looks like we are not going to get the 106 money from the Barbers Cinema development.
We are still waiting for 106 money from the old Great Mills development at the end of Furlong Road, the money was due to be paid some time ago and i believe the council is still waiting.
A Strange one is the 106 agreement from the Westport Lake housing development. The 106 agreement was for about £150K for a play facility in the vicinity of the development. With no time limit on spending the money. The council managed to find money from somewhere else and built a very nice play area. And so the 106 money has never been used and is sitting there gathering interest. What is needed at Westport Lake is an extended car park and better access, but the terms of the agreement is for play facilities and can't be used for anything else. I expect it will eventually be used for play facilities at Brownhills School or Trubshaw Cross playing fields in the end.
In conclusion, 106 monies are invested until they are needed and any interest that is accrued is added to it. The 106 agreement is a legally binding agreement and 106 monies can only be used for the purpose for which they were intended. If they aren’t used then they go back to the developer.
Q3. Who will be your priority, your party, your voters, or the council?
This one is simple as I do not belong to a political party it won’t be my party.
When elected you are told that you become a city councillor with a special responsibility for the electors and area that you were elected to, and are told that the city should come first.
But I have always believed that those who elected me are the people who I work for and I will always put them and our area first.
Being an Independent councillor makes this fairly easy to do, as I have no political masters, and my only allegiance is to those who elected me.
Q4. Will you serve the voters irrespective of political beliefs?
Questions from Terry Cope.