Liberal Democrat Councillors in Gateshead are to vote against Gateshead Council’s plans to increase council tax by 4.99% on Thursday.
The decision to oppose the budget at the council meeting on Thursday 25th February was taken by the Council’s Official Opposition after discovering that Gateshead has nearly £41 million sitting in the bank, a rise on last year’s balance.
Leader of the Opposition, Cllr Jonathan Wallace, said, “Gateshead Council currently has the highest council tax of any metropolitan council in England. At £1824, this is already a huge burden on residents. Labour’s rise will increase council tax by £90 a year.
“Liberal Democrats believe the Council, instead of taxing people until the pips squeak, should not increase council tax. Gateshead Council are sitting on a cash mountain of nearly £41 million. Despite covid, the reserves have increased from last year.
“In a time when people are about to emerge from a year of lockdowns and restrictions, with businesses badly bruised and jobs in jeopardy, now is not the time to pile more and more financial burdens of the people of Gateshead.
“The Council has nearly £41 million in reserves. Liberal Democrats want some of that to be used to freeze council tax. The people of Gateshead have battled their way through the covid crisis over the past year. Now is not the time to clobber them with an inflation-busting council tax rise.”
With all of us likely to need an annual covid jab in the years ahead, a leading Liberal Democrat Councillor in Gateshead has called on any system set up to administer vaccines in the future to tackle other health issues as well.
Cllr Jonathan Wallace, Leader of the Opposition on Gateshead Council, believes that an annual visit to a health centre for a covid jab would be an ideal opportunity to identify the early stages of cancer, tackle obesity, address substance abuse and help with mental health issues.
“For most people, an annual covid jab will be their only direct contact with the health service,” said Jonathan. “But we also know that many people will miss the signs of early onset of illnesses such as cancer.
“The longer we ignore our health problems, or the longer we simply don’t realise we have a health problem, the lower our survival chances and the higher the cost of treatment.
“But if each of us is going for an annual covid jab, we will be face to face with medical staff. It is an ideal opportunity to address other illnesses at an early stage.
“This would benefit not only the people receiving their covid jabs, it would also relieve the burden on the NHS in the future.
“I’ve asked Public Health if there are any plans for how covid vaccines will be delivered to the whole population on an annual basis in the future. At present, I’m told, there are no plans but work on this will have to start soon.
“It is an ideal opportunity to build a system that can reach every person in the country and address their health issues.
The decision to close the Gateshead flyover to traffic in July last year and then reopen it after a huge outcry from stranded drivers cost taxpayers nearly half a million pounds.
The figures were discovered by Liberal Democrat councillors following requests to Gateshead Council for information about the costs.
The northbound carriageway was closed to vehicles except for bikes but the knock-on effect was felt throughout central Gateshead when traffic ground to a halt.
Angry drivers bombarded the Council with demands that the flyover be reopened. The all-Labour cabinet decided to perform a u-turn and reopened the road.
The Liberal Democrats discovered that work on closing the road and then reopening it days later cost nearly £500,000.
“This is an appalling waste of money,” said Lib Dem Councillor Peter Maughan. “This scheme was a failure right from the start.
“£500,000 on an experiment to discourage drivers from travelling through Gateshead and over the Tyne Bridge was doomed to failure. I find it staggering that the Council Cabinet member responsible for environment and transport, Cllr John McElroy, ever agreed to this plan.”
Lib Dem Councillor for Low Fell, Daniel Duggan, who made multiple requests to the Council before they released the figures, said, “Far from cutting emissions from vehicles, which the closure was meant to address, this failed traffic management plan added to air pollution by trapping vehicles in a massive traffic jam.
“Councillor McElroy should consider his position and resign.”
A derelict school in the heart of Dunston, Gateshead, that has been empty and unused for over a decade is to be demolished and used for housing. And Lib Dem Councillors, who fought to have the site cleared, have welcomed the news.
Dunston Hill School was replaced with a new building nearby 13 years ago but the old building has been left to rot and become derelict.
Councillor Peter Maughan has had a long running battle with Gateshead Council, owners of the site, to demolish the old buildings and build badly needed affordable housing instead.
“The neglect of the old Dunston Hill School for over a decade has left residents living with a huge eyesore on their doorsteps,” said Peter.
“This is completely unacceptable. The site is on the main road through Dunston so the growing dereliction is seen every day by a large number of people.
“We want Dunston to be a thriving and attractive place in which to live but how can we achieve that when people are met by this derelict school with trees growing out of walls, collapsing roofs and boarded up windows?
“I have written to the Council’s chief executive to try again to get some action to have the site cleared. I have now had a positive response from council officers who have informed me that a developer is now lined up to build 37 homes on the site.
“I have been calling for this site to be used for badly needed affordable homes for over a decade. We could have had homes built here years ago which would have paid council tax, therefore generating income for the Council. Instead, we have a dangerous eyesore on which the council is losing the opportunity to get an income.”
Peter recently launched a petition for residents to sign who are angry with the decade of inaction to deal with the crumbling school. It can be viewed and signed here
“I am continuing to run the petition and will not give up campaigning about the old Dunston Hill School until the derelict buildings have been cleared and the new homes are built,” said Peter.
A planning dispute that has left a large house in Whickham half built for nearly 20 years could be resolved in the near future.
Government ministers have ordered a hearing into the house on Whickham Bank which has now stood unfinished for almost 17 years.
Planning permission for the partial 2 and 3 storey building was granted in 1998 but as the new house was being built, concerns were raised that neighbouring homes would be heavily overshadowed and residents would lose their privacy.
In 2005, Gateshead Council’s planning committee ordered the removal of the third storey but no work was carried out because of a legal dispute.
In 2010, the planning committee issued new instructions which allowed the 3rd storey to be retained but ordered the pitched roof be replaced with a flat one. However, no work was carried out and the house remained unfinished.
Last year, the planning committee agreed that the planning decision passed in 2010 should be reinstated but also agreed to put a final decision into the hands of the Secretary of State for Housing who has now agreed to hold a hearing into the issue.
Local Lib Dem Councillors have expressed their frustration that the issue has dragged on for nearly 20 years.
Cllr Sonya Hawkins said, “This issue has been unresolved for a huge length of time and it needs to be sorted out. The unfinished house is on one of the main roads in Whickham and in its current state is an eyesore.
“Ward councillors in Whickham North wrote to the Secretary for Housing raising our objections to replacing the pitched with a flat roof. We told the minister that our ideal solution would be to have the whole of the unfinished house demolished but in the absence of that, we want the permission granted in 2005 – to remove the 3rd storey – reinstated. This will reduce the impact the house has on people living nearby.
“The minister has now ordered a hearing be carried out. We will be representing residents at this hearing at which we will repeat our case that either full demolition or the removal of the 3rd storey will help to resolve the matter.
“The minister will then take a decision on the matter and hopefully the final chapter of the story of the unfinished house of Whickham will be written.”
History of the site:
- Planning permission for the house was granted in 1998.
- In 2005 much of the house had been built in line with the original planning permission, at which point concerns were raised about neighbouring homes being overshadowed and losing their privacy. As a result, in 2005, Gateshead Council's Planning Committee authorised the removal of the third storey.
- However, a legal dispute followed, no building work was carried out and the planning permission expired. In 2010, the planning committee reached a majority decision, voting for replacement of the pitched roof with a flat roof and ignoring pleas for the original decision of 2005 to be upheld. Conditions were also placed on the planning consent relating to landscaping and privacy issues.
- Despite this, the legal dispute remained unresolved and no work took place on the house.
- In May 2020, the planning committee put into action rarely used powers of section 102 of the Town and Country Act 1990 to reinstate the now expired planning permission with the final decision put into the hands of the Secretary of State for Housing.
- The Section 102 notice requires the owner of the house to make alterations to the existing building, including replacing the pitched roof with a lower flat roof design; installing obscure glazing to some windows and introducing a landscaping scheme on the site.
An action call to sort out flooding on a busy road in Gateshead has been made by Low Fell’s local councillors.
Concerns have been raised by residents with Lib Dem Cllrs Daniel Duggan, Susan Craig and Ron Beadle. People living nearby spoke of their worries about flooding happening on Chowdene Bank, near the bridge past St Andrew's Drive.
“I passed on the concerns of residents to Gateshead Council,” said Cllr Craig. “Officers informed me they have looked into the matter which was caused by the alignment of Network Rail's new bridge.
“Council officers says that, due to the drainage system in the area, it is not possible to carry out the required remedials without accessing Network Rail Land.
“However, they are managing to make progress and will be having a meeting with Network Rail shortly to discuss how the remedial work can be completed.
“Hopefully the flooding issue can then be sorted.”
Gateshead Council's leadership are proposing a series of cuts to services in their upcoming budget. The proposals are short on specifics but amongst those services at risk of cuts are adult social care, leisure services, and library services, and others. We are awaiting information on what the Council Tax proposals will be. You can read more and give your views here
The Opposition Liberal Democrats will be guided by three principles in approaching the budget process. First, to support people most in need, second to cut Council waste, and third to keep Council Tax down.
Liberal Democrat Councillors in Gateshead are demanding to know why £500,000 of public cash was paid to a public relations company, Drummond Central, to promote pandemic public health messages when the Council already has a PR team costing £239,600.
The decision to hire a private company was taken jointly by the seven North East local councils. The half million pounds used to pay for the publicity campaign was financed by the government.
“Although this was central government money, rather than council cash, I am still scratching my head wondering why this publicity campaign was not run by the team of nearly 7 full time equivalent staff already employed by Gateshead,” said Dunston and Whickham Councillor Peter Maughan.
“Half a million pounds of public cash has been poured into this private company by the seven local councils. I find Gateshead Council Leader Martin Gannon’s support for this rather surprising. He has been a constant critic of privatisation of public services but here his is backing precisely that.
“Cllr Gannon now needs to explain why our own council staff have been overlooked so that this work could go to a private PR company.”
Liberal Democrat Councillors in Gateshead have called on the Council to reverse its
decision not to open leisure centres and swimming pools in the borough.
The ending of the lockdown lifted restrictions that had prevented gyms, pools and indoor
sports facilities from opening. But Gateshead Council has decided to keep the venues
closed, other than Gateshead Stadium.
Liberal Democrats argue that the facilities need to be opened so that people can start to
repair their physical and mental health.
“This decision to keep swimming pools, council gyms and leisure centres closed is at
odds with what is happening in neighbouring authorities,” said Cllr Peter Maughan. “And
it does not make sense that Gateshead Stadium can reopen while other centres remain
“As long as social distancing can continue and equipment is kept clean, facilities should
be able to reopen.
“It is now clear that there will be a significant increase in physical and mental health
problems because of the pandemic. Council run indoor sports and leisure facilities are
crucial for thousands of Gateshead residents to help restore their health.
“If necessary, volunteers should be recruited to help operate leisure centres or be asked
to help run covid community hubs to allow council staff to return to their posts at leisure
“Private gyms are able to reopen but if council services remain closed, those most
affected will be those least able to afford to go private.
“Gateshead needs to get a grip and get gyms, pools and leisure centres reopened.
Otherwise the borough faces a health crisis in the months and years ahead.”