Liberal Democrats in Gateshead are calling on Gateshead Council to put into action a plan to increase local food production to help protect the environment and boost the health of residents.
Policies for increasing the amount of food produced locally include doubling the number of allotments in the borough by 2025, reviewing all land in the borough with the aim of creating more community gardens, orchards and woodland and ensuring every school has an allotment to educate young people in the importance of healthy food and how it is produced.
Lib Dem Leader of the Opposition in Gateshead, Cllr Jonathan Wallace, gave up paid employment a decade ago to “live the good life” by growing his own food. He is calling on the council to kickstart a local food revolution.
“There is a huge demand for allotments because people want to be able to produce at least some of their own food,” said Jonathan. “But allotments are in short supply and over the past decades, there are fewer and fewer around.
“So we want Gateshead to carry out a review of land to identify possible sites for new allotments and community gardens. The Council could also help join up people with spare garden space with those with little or no garden.
“We also want to see more community cafes opened, supplying meals using food grown in the borough. Allotment societies using council services could ‘pay’ for them by donating produce which could then be used in community cafes or in food banks. 75 years ago many councils did this and we need a 21st century version.
“Shipping food over huge distances, often from the other side of the world, uses up large amounts of fuel for transport and resources for packaging. In Gateshead we could tackle that head on.
“The Council could be a catalyst that brings together people and food producers. For the sake of the environment and for the health of residents of the borough, Gateshead needs to pursue a radical set of proposals to ensure much more food is grown in Gateshead.”
The Liberal Democrats ideas for boosting local food production include:
- a review of all land in the borough by Gateshead Council (whether owned by the council or not) to identify areas for additional allotments, community gardens, woodland, orchards and community farms;
- doubling the number of allotments in Gateshead by 2025;
- creating an annual “Grown in Gateshead” festival to boost food tourism and promote healthy, locally produced food;
- ensure every school has an allotment so that children can be taught gardening skills and increase their interest in growing food;
- Council to assist in establishing regular town food fairs in which local food producers and allotment societies can sell their surplus produce in the centres of the smaller towns in the borough;
- setting up an army of food volunteers to go into schools and communities to spread the message about growing local food and to pass on skills;
- creating annual local food awards to be presented to Gateshead based allotment societies, cafes, farms and manufacturers.
- creating a certificate for businesses which sell local produce which can be displayed to customers;
- working with GPs to prescribe gardening activities to tackle both mental and physical health where appropriate;
- supporting the establishment of more community cafes to ensure wholesome, healthy and sustainable meals are available at affordable prices in low income communities using food surpluses produced on local gardens, allotments and community farms;
- where appropriate, allowing allotment societies and community farms to pay for council services with surplus food which can then be passed on by the Council to community cafes;
- hosting an annual conference to bring together and share experience of those involved in local food production;
- setting up a register of people with surplus garden space or unused land which could be cultivated by others in the community. The aim would be to link up those with spare space with those who need or want space to grown fruit and vegetables;
- ensuring any replacement hedges on council property consist of fruit bearing shrubs and trees.
- establishing poultry clubs in which poultry keepers can share their knowledge but also supply hatchlings and point of lay birds for those wanting to keep chickens. The model can also be used for other domesticated animals, for example goat clubs could be set up in which people can share billies, nannies, equipment, skills and milking goats.
Liberal Democrats in Gateshead are to launch a bid to end local government pension fund investment in companies that produce fossil fuels.
The Lib Dem opposition on Gateshead Council will move a motion at the meeting to be held at 2.30pm on Thursday 25th March. It will call on the Tyne and Wear Pension Fund to disinvest from companies that produce and sell coal, gas and petroleum.
Lib Dem leader of the opposition, Cllr Jonathan Wallace, said, “Gateshead Council rightly warns that our world is at risk from global climate change and that we all need to change the way we operate to reduce our impact on the environment.
“But we must not stop with simply making the call. We need more than words, we need action. The Lib Dem group on Gateshead Council want an end to investing by Tyne and Wear Pension Fund in fossil fuel companies. Investment should instead go into companies producing clean, green, sustainable energy and fuel.
“The Tyne and Wear Pension Fund should gradually offload its remaining holdings in fossil fuel companies.
“There is a further reason for doing this: as more and more people move over to cleaner forms of transport and more and more companies and households shift to renewable fuels, the demand for fossil fuels is reducing. That means these companies have assets that are of diminishing value.
“That will affect the value of our pension investments. That means now is the time to disinvest from fossil fuel companies.”
Repairs are to be carried out to partially collapsed manholes in Beggarswood recreation area in Lobley Hill, Gateshead, following concerns about their dangerous state.
Worried residents contacted Lib Dem Councillors who then raised the problem with officers at Gateshead Council.
The manholes are part of the culvert that covered over the Blackburn stream. The dene through which the stream runs was used as a rubbish tip in the 1960s and 1970s before being converted into a recreational area.
Cllr Jonathan Wallace said, “Residents contacted me concerned that the partial collapse could be a risk to dogs or children. I’m pleased the officers came out to check on the damage and will carry out repairs.”
Lib Dem campaigner Jonathan Mohammed said, “We want to ensure Beggarswood is a safe place for children to play and people to walk.”
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.
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.