A Hexham man is leading a campaign to prevent Tynedale‘s rich mineral deposits from being exploited by high-tech mining interests.
Rather than digging for coal and lead though, the modern day miners want to use the controversial techniques of fracking and underground coal gasification to win natural gas from shale and coal deposits.
Fracking is the process of hydraulic fracturing of rock by injecting a mixture of sand, water and chemicals so that energy sources such as gas, petroleum and brine can be extracted.
And while there are currently no sites designated for such activities on the books of Northumberland County Council, campaigners want to be prepared should any applications come along.
Dr Jonathan Boniface, from Fellside, has become one of the leading lights in the newly-formed Keep Northumberland Frack Free group, which is to hold its first public meeting to discuss the threat of fracking and UCG in Hexham Community Centre on 27 June at 2pm.
Tynedale has been known over the centuries for its rich deposits of valuable minerals, from the lead, silver and zinc of the Allen Valleys, to the vast coalfields which underlie much of the district, from Haltwhistle and Halton Lea Gate to Prudhoe and Mickley.
Only a decade ago, Australian company Roc Oil found “gas saturated tight sands” in a £1m drilling exercise at Errington Red House, close to the Roman Wall near Bingfield.
It’s probably coincidence, but on the Hexham Courant newpaper’s website the headline
Conservative Guy Opperman has been returned as Hexham MP
is followed by several other bullet-point local headlines including:
– Man found hanged at Hexham bandstand
– Hexham restaurant to close after cutbacks
– Otterburn bus firm loses council deals
…which could well be a portent for the next five years of austerity – more deaths, closures and cutbacks.
> The story about the restaurant in particular is indicative of the future – it exited to give employment to people with mental health problems –
Tynedale people with mental health problems are being robbed of an employment lifeline after Northumberland County Council pulled the plug on funding.
The Tans vegetarian and seafood restaurant in Hexham’s St Mary’s Chare will close within weeks following the withdrawal of financial support for its operator, the Opus Employment Project.
The service, provided by Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (NTW) but funded by the council, has operated in Hexham for over 20 years,
Its role is to act as rehabilitation service for people with mental health problems, helping them embed into society through work, training and voluntary work as part of their recovery process.
The project employs seven members of staff, and there are currently four volunteers. There are currently a number of clients working at the restaurant.
The news of the impending closure of the project and the restaurant has rocked members of the community, particularly clients who have used it as a way of working their way back into society.
Philippa Long has worked at the restaurant for the past four years and said it has transformed her life, as it allows her to interact closely with members of the public.
She said: “Usually, we start in the kitchen and make things to be sold, and that gives you a sense of pride in your own work.
“Then you get to the point where you serve thanks to all the support you are given, and it makes such a big difference to your confidence and outlook on life.
“It has been life changing and quite a lot of people have gone from the restaurant to get other jobs from there.
“Closing this will be devastating to all the clients, and there’s a lot of people with less ability than us that are going to be struck a lot harder.”
In addition to clients, the news has been hard to swallow for customers and volunteers of the restaurant.
Having visited the Tans as a customer for the past 16 years, Janet Brown was so moved by the service that she started volunteering when she retired.
She was upset that the county was to cut the funding, saying that it was a much needed project for people living with mental health problems across Tynedale.
She said: “What strikes me about the project is that we see the clients come in and stand nervously at the back but, within weeks, they are serving and talking to people because of the great atmosphere here and the training they receive.
“You can see their confidence building week on week, and it is a unique service which is one of a kind in the country.
“It’s a model for how to deal with mental health issues within the community, and Tans is a flagship enterprise and NTW should be aiming to keep it open at all costs.”
A spokesman for the county council said funding was being withdrawn after discussions between NTW and the council, had concluded the Tans restaurant and Opus Employment Project had “poor linkages” to mainstream education and employment opportunities.
It also found that the service offered little in terms of promoting personalised outcomes and independence.
The spokesman said: “ They also serve a diminishing number of people, now supporting only about a quarter of the number of service users they were designed for.
“We are now embarking on individual reviews with the current service users and their families, discussing with them both existing alternative services in West Northumberland which could support them to become more independent and new services currently under development.
“For some people, the option of individually designed support arrangements using personal budgets may be the best option, and we will be offering advice about how this could work.
“No date has been agreed for closing these schemes, and no date will be set until the right alternatives have been found for all current service users and arrangements have been made for the staff working in the schemes.
“We recognise that the Tans restaurant has been a popular part of Hexham life for a long time, and if those involved wish to explore keeping it open on a different basis, the council would be able to talk to them about sources of advice.
“But the most important priority for the council and NTW is opening up new opportunities for people whose lives have been disrupted by mental illness.”
Source – Hexham Courant, 08 May 2015
A relaunched Northumberland Green Party branch has vowed to build on growing national support when they take on the Tories in next year’s General Election.
Tynedale Green Party, which has reformed in Hexham, will put forward a parliamentary candidate in 2015 for the first time since 1992, challenging Conservative MP Guy Opperman.
And its newly elected officers hope their efforts will be boosted by a 100% rise in England and Wales Green membership since the start of the year, and the possibility of joining further coalition governments in the future.
Graham Howard, who lives in Hexham and has been a supporter of Greenpeace since the 1980s, is press officer for the branch which covers all of Tynedale.
“We have a broken political system supported by vested corporate interests that resist any change.
“I work in the NHS and have seen this coalition turn the service on its head after it had been rebuilt under the previous Government.
“The Tories promised no ‘top-down re-organisation’ and then quite cynically reneged on that manifesto promise by instituting a totally unnecessary and brutal shake-up.
“Privatisation has been the mantra which has ruined so many industries at the expense of our basic infrastructure, for the financial benefit of a minority. The Greens must participate in the 2015 TV debates – they are the fastest growing party membership in the country.”
“Young voters are already much greener than older generations. That there are still climate change deniers able to get away with denying reality in the face of the science, would be laughable if it wasn’t so dangerous.”
John Hartshorne, a former Prudhoe schoolteacher, was the last Green Party candidate to stand 23 years ago.
“I joined because I believed that fundamental issues were not being discussed by politicians.
“Every one of us should have an interest in protecting and nurturing our world for our children, and teaching them the importance of compassion, tolerance and the inter-connectedness of all life.”
The next meeting of Tynedale Green Party is at 2pm on Saturday at Hexham Community Centre.
Mr Opperman said: “I look forward to a robust and honest debate on my record as Tynedale and Ponteland’s local MP.
“I am proud of my achievements such as protecting our local NHS, securing an extra £12m for our schools, fighting for our greenbelt and under this government seeing local unemployment fall by 51%.
“It has been a real honour to serve as the MP for my part of Northumberland over the last four years and I look forward to the campaign ahead. I hope I have tried to do things a little bit differently from the standard MP.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 10 Dec 2014
A Northumberland MP has issued a renewed call for the county to be governed by separate urban and rural authorities in the ongoing row over the future of its civic base.
Hexham Conservative MP Guy Opperman has revived a debate which raged prior to the creation of a single unitary authority for Northumberland in 2009 in the continuing dispute over county council plans to move its base and decentralise services.
Yet Labour leaders on the council have accused him of an “attempt to divide the county for purely party political ends” and of being “prepared to turn down hundreds of jobs and decentralised services for his constituency.”
The county was once governed by Northumberland County Council alongside six district councils.
A referendum in 2004 saw residents voting for two unitary authorities for the county, along a rural urban split, rather than one.
Labour leaders at the county council then submitted a proposal for a single unitary authority.
However, the districts favoured the creation of two authorities, one for the urban areas of Wansbeck and Blyth Valley and one for the rural centres of Alnwick, Berwick, Tynedale and Castle Morpeth.
Yet the government in July 2007 chose the single authority option.
Mr Opperman has now proposed a public debate on the creation of two authorities for the rural and urban areas, amid his opposition to the county council’s plans to move its base from County Hall at Morpeth to Ashington and to create nine service hubs around Northumberland.
The MP suggested a new unitary authority covering the Hexham and Berwick parliamentary constituencies could take over services now provided by the county council.
He questioned why Ashington should benefit from a new £40m council base, a £20m sports centre and a £74m overhaul of the town centre, while his constituency is “losing out.”
> Possibly because Hexham is a much richer town than Ashington, which has a lot of catching up to do. Anyone who has visited both towns will know what I mean.
Mr Opperman furthermore claimed the recent abolition of free transport for students in post-16 education demonstrated the council’s current leadership “simply don’t have an interest in the issues in rural communities.”
The MP said: “Perhaps now that Labour are wanting dramatic change it is time to consider whether the current county council should be made into two unitary authorities, one urban and one rural.”
He added: “Hexham certainly has a lot more in common with Alnwick than it does with Ashington or Blyth. A rural Northumberland authority covering West and North Northumberland would give people back a council which worked for them, listened to their concerns and didn’t ignore them in favour of the urban South East.”
Responding, a spokesman for the Labour group on the county council said: “This is Guy Opperman’s latest political wheeze. “Last week he was arguing that Scotland and the UK are better together and this week he wants to split Northumberland up.
“Here are the figures, the county population is 47% in the South East, 27% in the West and 26% in the North.
“His half baked proposal would see more than 55% of the government’s grant disappear to the South East and would see the West having to make do with less than 25% of the current grant.
“His figures just don’t add up.
“This is his latest attempt to divide the county for purely party political ends.
“Residents will rightly note that he’s prepared to turn down hundreds of jobs and decentralised services for his constituency and yet he stays silent as his government slashes the county council budget by a third.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 26 Sept 2014
The tremor that ran through the established order of things following the success of UKIP at last month’s European elections in Tynedale could be followed by a major aftershock.
> Would that be the tremor that saw UKIP get one North East Euro MP – in a parliament they don’t believe in but are happy to rack up personal expenses from – but also saw them win no local council seats, and indeed saw their local council holdings (2 seats, both in South Tyneside) reduced by 50% ?
Sounds more like the kind of tremor experienced by someone suffering from a nervous condition…
For a new North-East based political party is set to throw its hat into the ring in time for next year’s General Election.
And in the forefront of the North-East Party is retired Haydon Bridge GP Steven Ford.
Although he lost his deposit when standing as an independent at the 2010 General Election, finishing a distant fourth behind the main parties, Dr Ford is poised to give it another go.
He said: “The party is so new there are no candidates yet, but I am certainly prepared to have my name considered.”
The main plank of the NEP’s strategy will be to campaign for effective devolution of power to the North-East.
Dr Ford is confident that the new party will be a success, despite the fact that the North-East rejected the notion of a “Geordie Parliament” in a referendum organised by Labour’s deputy prime minister John Prescott in 2004.
He said: “The referendum in 2004 was for another layer of local government; a talking shop which was quite rightly rejected.
“What we want is more radical; we want to see a group of MPs in Westminster dedicated to looking after the interests of the North-East.
“The region has been neglected by successive governments, who have done nothing for the North-East.
“If the North-East is not being represented by the major parties, it must represent itself.”
A decade ago, voters in Tynedale turned their backs on the prospect of an elected North-East regional assembly by a majority of four to one.
Even the support of high-profile residents of the district like Brendan Foster and Alan Shearer failed to persuade voters that the so-called Geordie Parliament was a good idea.
> Just calling it a “Geordie Parliament” was a loser in itself – it gave the impression that it would be centered on, and for the main benefit of, Newcastle upon Tyne.
Kind of like calling a council for the whole of London a “Cockney Parliament” – it appears to exclude all those who don’t fit the narrow parameters .
A spokesman for the North-East Party said: “We want to ensure that, just like the people of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, we can take real control over the important issues of our lives, such as jobs, excellent public services, caring supportive communities, first-class public transport and world-class science and research.
“We will do politics better – independently, honestly and openly. We will be accountable to local communities.”
NEP’s immediate aim is to field candidates in 12 North-East constituencies, including the Tory stronghold of Hexham.
The aim is to return to Parliament 12 women and men who will stand up independently and accountably for the interests of North-East England, and who will work to bring real devolution to the region.
The spokesman said: “We want to hold an umbrella of support over people who share our values of democracy and equality and who stand for any local election on the basis that they will tackle local issues and make themselves fully accountable to local people.”
The first gathering of the new party will take place at Durham Conference Centre on Monday June 16 from 6-9pm.
Meanwhile, Dr Ford would be happy to hear from people interested in the party on firstname.lastname@example.org
UKIP has already confirmed it regards Hexham as a marginal seat following its European election successes.
It will choose a local person as its candidate for Hexham in September.
Source – Hexham Courant, 11 June 2014
Youngsters from Tynedale wishing to stay on at school, or go to college, will have to pay £600 per year just to get there from September.
As expected, Northumberland County Council is scrapping free transport for sixth formers and college students, in order to save £2.4m per year.
That means youngsters starting in sixth form will have to pay £600 to travel on the same school bus they have used for free since the age of 9.
But the move has evoked Tory fury, as the opposition at County Hall has accused the ruling Labour group of imposing a tax on teenagers, which could put them off gaining qualifications.
“I cannot believe that Labour are so willing to threaten the life chances of our young people with this teenage tax of theirs,” said Coun. Peter Jackson, leader of Northumberland Conservatives.
“This excessive tax on our students and their families will put many off furthering their education at all.”
Coun. Jackson said the intention appeared to be that the only college courses available to Northumberland students were those offered by Northumberland College at Ashington.
Coun. Jackson said: “This is an insult to the young people of this county.
“As we all know, Ashington is a most difficult place to access by public transport, if not impossible from some parts of Northumberland.
“The future prosperity of our county lies in the successful careers of our young people. Yet here we have a Labour-led council making the wrong choice.
“They are happy to protect the interests of a few at the top at the expense of those who live elsewhere.
“They plan to spend millions on a new county hall and a new leisure centre in Ashington, yet are not prepared to give all our young people an equal chance.”
Hexham’s Coun. Cath Homer said the “teenage tax” was a direct attack on local people and their children who are working hard to make ends meet.
She said: “We need to have young people able to access the best course in the best college to help them get the best chance in life.
“The Labour council has now imposed a take it or leave it plan which means only the richest will be able to have choice.
“This sends the wrong message to young people and could put the long term economic prosperity of the county at risk.
“I am very concerned that in years to come our young people will decide if Northumberland doesn’t value them, they will leave.”
The Tories were critical of the fact that the two Independent members of the council from Tynedale – Ovington’s Coun. Paul Kelly and Stocksfield’s Coun. Mrs Anne Dale – failed to back the Tory opposition to the proposal.
They pointed out that the £600 charge for school transport was the highest in the North-East.
County council leader Coun. Grant Davey said: “We do not make any cuts with relish. It is regrettable that we have to make any cuts, but we must balance our budget.
“Where we make cuts we will protect those in greatest need and continue to focus our resources on helping our county to grow. We will always do right by our communities.”
The new scheme will come into effect from September 1, but sixth formers already in the scheme will not be affected.
Special provision will be made to exempt the most vulnerable groups, such as students with special educational needs, or those from low income backgrounds, who attend their nearest appropriate school or college.
The average annual cost to the council of transport per student is currently in the region of £936 a year.
Northumberland is unusual among local authorities in that it still provides free transport for 16-19 year old students.
Durham County Council has already withdrawn its post-16 travel scheme and Cumbria County Council is also withdrawing the subsidy.
The number of Northumberland students claiming free transport has increased from 800 to 3,500 over the past five years, and 40 per cent of students travel to educational establishments outside the county.
Whilst the numbers of students claiming free travel has increased dramatically, the numbers of students from Northumberland attending post-16 education have remained static at around 7,000.
The council is now hoping that the withdrawal of free transport could lead to school sixth forms and colleges in Northumberland extending the range of courses they can offer.
Source – Hexham Courant, 09 June 2014
Tourism projects vital to Northumberland will be denied a chance to bid for Government cash.
Hopes of building on Northumberland’s tourist hotspot status were dashed when planners were told the latest Government advice was that new projects would not bring in enough jobs and so will not get any cash from a £2bn local growth fund.
Officials in Northumberland were told the news when they asked for £2m from the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, the business-led group backed by Government tasked with co-ordinating job creation efforts. Cash would have gone towards The Sill project, a visitor centre which would have created more than 100 jobs.
The partnership told Northumberland the blame lay with the Government, saying cities minister Greg Clark made the blunt assessment of the likelihood of funding bids being successful when he met business and council leaders last week.
But last night the Cabinet office said it was “absolutely wrong” to rule out tourism projects, and insisted the North East could try for cash if it could prove that the tourism project would create jobs.
Tourism in Northumberland alone is said to support some 16,000 jobs, but, Northumberland County Councilhas been told, strict funding rules for the new cash pot will rule out supporting visitor centres, galleries or hotels. The snub has raised fears at County Hall that money handed to the region through the Local Growth Fund will almost entirely benefit urban Tyneside and Sunderland.
“To say that ‘tourism isn’t an economic priority’ downplays the significant role this sector plays in the wider Northumberland economy but especially in Tynedale. Last year it accounted for over £700m in the county economy and underpinned over 13,000 jobs. The Conservative-led coalition doesn’t understand our needs.”
The Sill project, based near Haydon Bridge, is for a discovery centre and office space bringing in an expected 100,000 visitors, with 15,000 expected to stay overnight.
The partnership’s tourism advice also raises question marks over further tourism cash for other Northumberland projects, including a share of the £7m needed to further develop Kielder Forestwith a tree top walkway adventure centre and wildlife support.
A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “It is absolutely untrue to say that tourism projects are less likely be successful in bids for local growth deals.
“Any bid must be able to show good evidence of benefits for the local economy in terms of jobs and growth, and bids from the tourism industry will be considered on their individual merits alongside every other sector. It is for the North East Local Enterprise Partnership to decide what priority they give to the individual bids in the region, according to the evidence provided.”
A spokesman for the partnership said they were still finalising plans, adding that: “We have been advised that tourism and cultural projects are less likely to achieve these ambitious measures.
“This does not mean the end for the Sill or other projects which could not be prioritised at this time and we will be working with partners to identify alternative funding sources wherever possible.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 25 March 2014
And on a similar theme…
The Trust set up to safeguard Hadrian’s Wall is to be closed down as a result of funding cuts.
Staff at the Hadrian’s Wall Trust face an uncertain future after English Heritage decided it had no option but to pull the plug on support.
The body had being tasked with managing the World heritage Site, but control will now have to be shared among various councils along the route.
English Heritage, Natural England and the eight local authorities who part fund the Hadrian’s Wall Trust are working with NorthumberlandNational Park Authority and the Chairman of the World Heritage Site Management Plan Committee, to put new arrangements in place to safeguard one of the country’s most famous landmarks.
Henry Owen-John, English Heritage planning and conservation director for the North West, said the funders were left with little choice.
He said: “The Trust as a charity is working in a pretty tough financial climate, as are the people who contribute funds to it, such as English Heritage.
“The Trust has been very successful in raising money for specific projects, but the difficulty is finding funding to cover its core costs, the day to day costs, and it is this which has led us to our decision.
“These are difficult times that we all have to operate under. The Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site is unusual in that we do not normally cover the management sites, it is really just this and Stonehenge where this happens, and we have to bring that situation here to an end, and try to get the management self sustaining.
“The people who will take over after the closure of the trust are committed to the future management and coordination of the sites.
“Northumberland County Council will take a lead role in coordinating this now.”
Mr Owen-John said promotional work this year will continue.
“It will take approximately six months to bring the affairs of the trust to a satisfactory conclusion, and the spring and autumn promotional work will continue as planned this year.
“We want to continue marketing Hadrian’s Wall as a whole rather than each council just marketing its bit of the wall.”
English Heritage has had a hard time when it comes to securing Government cash. In 2010 it had some 30% of its budget axed.
In 2013 the Department for Culture, Media and Sport came back for more cuts, asking for 10% from the heritage group’s 2015/16 budget.
Last month The Journal revealed concerns among North East councils that plans to reform English Heritage could see it cherry pick the best sites for its new management arm at the cost of less glamorous sites.
The changes have prompted fears from former Newcastle council leader Lord Beecham and former regional minister Nick Brown that the moves were akin to privatising the service.
In response, Sir Laurie Magnus told The Journal he wanted to “make clear that English Heritage considers its sites in the North East to be among the most important, interesting and beautiful in England. The advantage of the proposed change is that we will be able to invest more in them not less.”
In Northumberland it is hoped the staff currently working for the trust will, where possible, be found work with the councils and other bodies helping look after the wall in future, with decisions being made over the next six months.
Grant Davey, leader of Northumberland County Council: “Hadrian’s Wall is a core part of the county’s tourism industry. We are working alongside our partners with businesses, communities and all other stakeholders along the route to support them and keep them informed of developments. Our priority is safeguarding the Wall into the future.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 25 March 2014