HOM Response to the Mayor’s Vision 2025

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Hands on Middlesbrough welcome the Mayor Budd’s promises to protect our historic buildings, to continue to hold One Planet Town Status and to promote Middlesbrough as a dementia friendly town.

However, the Mayor’s vision despite looking to the future, is in some respects short-sighted. It does not address how these promises will be actioned and by what process they will be carried out.

Hands on Middlesbrough is primarily concerned with the protection of Heritage and green spaces and we would like to request that the Mayor’s promises are at the heart of decision making within all council departments. This is a great opportunity for Middlesbrough council to set a good example now, by actively demonstrating a fair and green agenda, respect for our historic environment and respect for residents and the contribution they make to society.

Currently, a lot of energy is put into attracting people into Middlesbrough, and not enough to ensure that people with a variety of skills and abilities want to stay in the area.

A Fairer Society –A fair society is a society which treats people equally without favouritism or discrimination. In order for this to be carried out successfully, there needs to be:

  • A better understanding of the positive contribution that people make to the town in a variety of ways (e.g. volunteers) which should be encouraged and celebrated
  • Recognition that people invest financially and emotionally in their town, and both are of value
  • An understanding that “emotional responses” do not exist outside of rational thought but are intrinsically what connect people to their living environment and their community
  • A commitment from the council to accept that the developer isn’t always right and the business executive’s opinion is no more valuable than that of a shop assistant or a single mother
  • Fairness demonstrated by the council, in a variety of ways and adopted by all council departments as a core principle
  • A commitment to acknowledging, valuing and acting upon the concerns of local communities as part of a new effective and inclusive consultation process

Treating people fairly means showing them respect, being open and transparent and ensuring that information is easily accessible to all members of society. A good way to demonstrate fairness and respect is by doing so within the council chamber. As council meetings are now filmed, it can sometimes highlight to the general public a lack of respect for each other, hostility and a confrontational approach from some, to those with differing opinions. Fairness is something that should be embraced by all our representatives who have been elected to sit in the council chamber. They should speak to each other with respect, equally without favouritism or discrimination. This would be welcomed by the majority of the Middlesbrough population who are put off by the current in-fighting and political one-upmanship which by its very nature excludes members of the community. Exclusion leads to apathy, feelings of powerlessness and frustration by members of the community who often feel our representatives are not representing us.

Some ways in which the current processes inadvertently exclude people:

  • An ineffective community consultation process
  • Use of jargon throughout council departments (e.g. the planning department)
  • A confusing and cumbersome volunteer process
  • A hard to navigate council website
  • Failure to embrace social media as a means of communication
  • Dismissing “emotional” responses as “reactive” or “oppositional”
  • Political agendas effecting decision making
  • Exclusion of the general public and press to some council meetings
  • Dumbing down of important local key issues by simplistic press releases, soundbites and obvious publicity stunts

Hands on Middlesbrough believe that people should be encouraged to get involved in the council consultation process on a number of key issues, including the development and regeneration of the town and encouraged to contribute in positive ways to their living environment and community. By doing so, people will feel more connected to their surroundings and take responsibility for looking after their town, as they had a part in its development.

The volunteer process

The Council’s growing dependence on volunteers in the Borough across a host of disciplines will expand considerably by 2025. The Council should refine and perfect the use and support of volunteers starting now.

As Hands on Middlesbrough and Friends of Nature’s World volunteers, the majority of us have found the council volunteering process difficult and confusing. Many of us didn’t even receive a confirmation email when we registered and only a few were asked to provide documents for identification. We were then left to get on with “volunteering”, without knowing where to go for support, guidance or training. We were not given any guidance whatsoever, as to what we could or couldn’t do regarding maintenance onsite. On occasion, we heard from other volunteer groups that we may require a certificate to carry out certain tasks, but how we could access training still remains a mystery. Despite asking various council officers on a number of occasions, no-one seems to know the answer. Two years after our initial registration, we received a volunteer handbook and have yet to discover who is in charge of volunteers and who follows up on the application forms filled in online for new volunteers. The volunteer handbook is very basic and I would even go as far as saying a waste of paper.

Making the volunteer process easier and giving clear guidance, will help encourage people to take pride and responsibility for their living environment. It will encourage people young and old to work together, giving people the skills required to find work, contribute to their local community and feel a sense of achievement. Working as a volunteer has many benefits to health and wellbeing (in particular working outside).

Friends groups and community groups should be given support from the council, as we need these groups to ensure the town will thrive following further cuts to the council budget in the not too distant future.

Regenerating Priority Neighbourhoods

To regenerate priority neighbourhoods, improve the physical environment and support those that live within them to succeed means listening to what people actually want in their neighbourhood and not assuming that the council knows best.

For example, a work of art commissioned to enhance a dilapidated street may be a good idea, but people from the neighbourhood should always be consulted, regardless of whether it is in Gresham or Nunthorpe, and their views taken into consideration. Again it is about respect for people and the connection they have to their living environment and it is also about fairness. People should be encouraged to contribute to how they want their neighbourhood to develop and become part of the process. Support for neighbourhood plans should be readily available and there should be a move now towards community led development which will create a happier and fairer society by 2025 and help build stronger communities.

It is our view that community involvement is essential for a Fairer Society, and consultation on a range of issues, not as part of a tick box exercise but which demonstrate that the advice and comments of the community are going to be acted upon in some way. A fairer society means less jargon, information accessible to all and commitment encouragement to get involved with the town from the grassroots up.

A fairer society is based on reciprocal respect between council and individual and a desire to work together to benefit us all.

A Safer Middlesbrough

A dementia friendly town

As human beings we all need contact and connection with the outdoors, with fresh air and nature in all its various forms. A raft of evidence tells us what we intuitively know to be true: that activity and simply getting outdoors is good for us; and people with dementia are no different. The concept of a dementia friendly town is welcomed by our group, particularly if it acknowledges the importance of green space and our historic environment. It is also important that people are able to share their memories of the past with others in a safe and comfortable environment which will help tackle loneliness and isolation. To be a dementia friendly town is not just about car parking spaces and dementia friendly signs in the town centre, but should strive to be much more than that. It should recognise the emotional attachment that people have to their living environment, historic environment and green spaces. As the memory fades, these places of comfort are all the more important. It is these things which contribute to people feeling safe, secure and at home in their town and not only creates a dementia friendly town, but by default also helps create a friendly town.

 

Continuing to hold One Planet Living status    

Hands on Middlesbrough welcome the principles set out in One Planet Living and as a group we have noticed positive changes in our living environment and fully support schemes like the alley scheme and other initiatives ran by Middlesbrough Environment City and supported by Middlesbrough Council. However, by saying the council will continue to hold One Planet Living status does not ensure a meaningful commitment to those principles. Principles are often promoted but not adopted within council departments. For example, how does the increase in housing development on green space fit in with the one planet principle to protect green spaces and keep an eye on local planning applications? One Planet Living highlights the importance of natural habitats and wildlife; how does authorising the felling of hundreds of mature trees during bird nesting season fit in with these principles? How are tree “protection” orders, birds on amber and red conservation lists and bat roosting areas so easily overlooked to make way for a “sustainable development”. What is a sustainable development anyway, and how can it override anything with so called “protection”? Sustainable is used far too often as a way of justifying things that are in fact not sustainable. Saying you are going to give local people jobs, does not mean carting in a bus load from Newcastle. How is that sustainable? Unless the principles of One Planet Living are adopted throughout Middlesbrough council, then it is nothing but publicity without a genuine desire to change things. One planet living describes one of the most important expressions is found in preserving, reviving and promoting past local food traditions and culture into the future and celebrating together as a community. The preservation of culture and heritage is essential to how we connect to the place we live. Preserving the past is not resistant to change for the future, but should be a priority to maintain as it forms part of our identity as a town and our identity as residents.

A Stronger Middlesbrough

Protecting our historic buildings

Hands on Middlesbrough would like to thank Mayor Budd for publicly acknowledging the importance of protecting our historic buildings. While we do have some fantastic new buildings emerging in the town, which will no doubt become the heritage of the future, for the time being it is our historic buildings which are becoming at risk due to the cost of maintaining them and the problems finding alternative uses for such impressive and often large Victorian buildings. It is not just our Victorian heritage that needs protecting, but our cultural heritage and historic environment.

Planning applications are continually approved for a variety of historic sites, without first being screened by an archaeologist, the conservation officer works part-time and no one seems to know who our Heritage Champion is or what their role actually involves. Hopefully, these concerns will be addressed in the near future, as once heritage is gone it is gone, and we lose the opportunity to connect to our town’s past.

It is also important that records of findings on sites of historic significance are accessible to the public free of charge.

It should be a priority within the council to look for new uses for our historic buildings and it is also important that our council hold accountable those who do not look after a Grade Listed building.

For example, Acklam Hall sadly fell into “extreme disrepair” and ending up on the Heritage at Risk register. While there is no specific duty on property owners to maintain their buildings in a good state of repair (although it is clearly in their interests to do so) the Local Planning Authority does have powers to take action if it considered that a historic building has deteriorated to the extent that its future preservation may be at risk.

The Local Planning authority has the following powers:

  • Under section 54 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 the Local Planning Authority may serve a notice requesting that the owner to undertake those works considered necessarily for the preservation of the property. If the owner fails to carry these works, the authority has permission to execute the works and to recover the cost of these works from the owner(s).

 

  • Under section 48 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 the Local Authority may serve a repairs notice on the owner. This notice will specify the works which the Authority considers reasonably necessary for the proper preservation of the building. This is not restricted to urgent works.

 

  • If the work hasn’t taken place two months after the repairs notice has been served, the authority can start compulsory purchase order proceedings (under This is under Section 47 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990).

Middlesbrough Council has a responsibility and a duty of care to protect Listed Heritage and hold accountable those who put heritage at risk.

Recently, an article 4 was placed on The Crown, which apparently offered some protection against demolition. I hope the executive is planning on distributing more of these protection orders between now and 2025, as we have a number of buildings that are worthy of them. It is also a way of showing commitment to this principle to protect our historic buildings and gives some relevance to the Local List and the term “conservation area”.

Finally, as a group we would like to repeat our request for Middlesbrough council to set up a diverse and enthusiastic advisory board of individuals to be consulted directly on a range of issues. We have been told previously that the council does not have sufficient funds to action this, but I live in hope that things may change between now and 2025.

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