Thursday, 23 July 2009

Eco Town is not over.

It will be two weeks ago tomorrow that I was at Westminster to hear the announcement that Pennbury was not going to be included on the Government's eco-town shortlist.

Soon afterwards I was with protesters who were celebrating outside number 10 Downing Street, having completed one of the largest and most organised opposition campaigns I have ever seen, and I suspect ever seen in Leicestershire.

But their work is still not over. Having spoken to Kevin Feltham at a county council meeting this week, they, Cascet, are still desperate to undermine the Co-op and their proposals to build close to Leicester.

There's just one thing I cannot get over, and that has been the attitude of the city council in this. The tram I can understand was attractive, but the rest? After all that regeneration work they have done?

Eco-towns are a Labour policy, yes, some councillors are Co-op Labour members, but even the Labour Government did not think that much of the proposal, even from day one. The highest grade it ever got was a b/c I think. Keith Vaz and particularly Sir Peter Soulsby have been completely against it, and made that clear.

Now I was told very early on by a very senior councillor, who wouldn't make it up, that members of the city council cabinet were told by the party they had to support it. But I was always surprised at the extent they did. I remember on one occasion, Patrick Kitterick had a real go at Sir Peter Soulsby in the paper, called him something like a "maverick MP" for opposing it.

This has been the third time that the Co-op has tried to develop their farm land, and I suspect that it will not be the last time, in fact, it probably won't ever stop until they can get the result they want. Clearly they have decided that farming is not going to make enough money, or they need to raise some, or both, and housing is what they will try to do. The green plans are admirable, but in my humble opinion, almost impossible to deliver. Cynical I know, but money is the driving force and I just can't understand how they can make the money they want if they reach these standards.

I suspect that they will now try to apply for a smaller scale development, as a sustainable urban extension, using all the research and work they have done in the build up to their failed eco-town bid. No surprise there probably. And if they can sort a tram, then the city will probably back them again.

Clearly the Government's decision was a big blow to the Co-op, but it is clearly not over.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Back on board.

It's been a while....Been away from work on holidays with my mum, dad and brother who all live in Norway. Fully refreshed and ready for action.

All this stuff about the News of the World has really got my back up actually. I really may be being sensitive (it has been known!) but if it is true, the minority really are making things very difficult for everyone else.

Now journalists are not the most popular bunch nor the most trusted, we know that, but I do think that most are misunderstood.

Granted the Mercury does not have the financial clout of the NOTW, in fact we do not pay people for stories (apart from freelancers or agency copy), but we would never consider doing anything like this even if we could afford it. Several times a year people will approach me anonymously from organisations I cover and ask for money for information. I always say we don't do that and invariably they give the information anyway. It is a shame that other journalists will go to such lengths to get a story. It is not necessary. We are different.

The journalists I know and work with all enjoy different parts of the job, covering news, the arts, whatever, but they are driven by being fair and accurate. They realise the responsibilities we have to be accurate when we inform readers and also know we face the public embarrassment of being wrong, which inevitably leads to a correction/apology in the paper.

Take for example my recent story on parking bays being wrongly marked, that the city council said so vehemently was not true and would have you believe was reckless.

It was true and was far from reckless.

A week or so earlier than this another parking story broke about exemptions on a few city streets even though there were no signs advertising them. We spoke to several legal experts to discuss the implications of this, we were told that this meant you can park everywhere, but these national experts who had successfully appealed more than 100,000 tickets said strongly there was no case for this, that it would be wrong to say it. We didn't.

Later it became clear that some city parking bays were illegally marked. I had e-mails and phone calls from the public about this, even people from within the council e-mailed me. This story took me five days to research and write. We took tens of photographs of bays and sent them to independent experts. I spoke to experts on parking in other local authorities, some of whom were good enough to take time late into the evenings to give me guidance and professional views. I personally spent many hours measuring lines, bays, everything you can imagine. When we found what was wrong I went and remeasured and remeasured.

Finally, with all this evidence I went back to the legal experts who had advised us to leave the previous story alone. These same people were unequivocal in their response. These bays are illegal. You have a responsibility to the thousands of people who have parked in them to print what you have found, they said. So that's what we did.

Thank goodness that is out of my system.