Friday, 25 April 2014

Politics: Decision to be made on 20mph zone expansion

Road safety campaigners in Calderdale are waiting to see whether 20mph speed limits will be rolled-out in residential areas over the next three years.

Cabinet members at Calderdale Council will consider recommendations to reduce all 30mph speed limits in the distrcit to 20mph when they meet on Monday, April 28.

The proposals are one of three options suggested by council officers through a public consultation.

The three options being considered are to either gradually introduce the 20mph speed limit in all residential areas in Calderdale; introduce the speed limit near schools only; or to select areas which have high levels of road casualties.

Of the 1,200 residents who took part in the public consultation, 48 per cent preferred the first option, 36 per cent preferred the second, and 16 per cent preferred the third.

The proposed reduction of the speed limit is aimed at trying to reduce the amount of children who are killed or seriously injured in road traffic accidents.

In the period 2011-12, children in Calderdale were almost twice as likely to be killed or seriously hurt in an accident than the national average.

The plans could also see the introduction of variable speed limits outside the district’s 22 schools on main roads.

The plans would see the introduction of 20mph limits between certain times to make it safer for children travelling to and from school.

There have also been calls for improvements to pavements and cycleways to encourage more people to walk and cycle.

Almost a fifth of residential roads in Calderdale already have a 20mph limit.

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Friday, 18 April 2014

Business: 120 jobs boost at Halifax insurers

A booming insurance firm in Halifax has created 40 new jobs and plans to recruit up to 80 more over the next 18 months.

Covéa Insurance has opened a new department at its office at Blackwall to deal with household insurance claims.

The new staff started work this week after an eight-week training programme.

“We’ve got a really good mix of people on the team,” said manager Kelly Morris. “They’ve been trained in the technical and legal side of home claims, so it’s really paid off - they’re starting the role very confidently.”

The group hope to expand their business and plan to employ a further 80 staff at their new offices at Dean Clough.

“We’re branching out,” said claims director Adrian Furness. “We’re looking to launch a ‘direct’ arm, so we’ll be looking to recruit a sizeable sales force in Halifax.”

Covéa, the largest mutual insurer in Europe and in the UK, is a merger between Reading-based firm MMA and Halifax-based Provident.

“We’re proud of our Halifax tradition and that’s something we want to keep going,” said Adrian. “Despite being part of Covéa, we’re all about supporting the local community.”

He said Covéa is committed to developing the skills of younger people in Halifax and currently operate an apprenticeship scheme through Calderdale College.

“We set that up a couple of years ago and it’s been brilliant - the success rate has been amazing,” he said. “It’s been working well and we’re really keen to keep that going.”

He added that one of Covéa’s core values was its commitment to the local community.

Reportage: Around the corner - our five generations

Five generations of the same family live within a stone’s throw of each other at Copley, Halifax.

Jenna Holden, 27, and husband Dale welcomed 7lb 7oz Maizie Marie earlier this year.

The couple will not be short of babysitters, with four other generations of family to call on all living within yards of their front door.

Jenna, Dale and Maizie rent a flat in Dean Court, yards away from doting grandparents John and Paula Rae and Jenna’s 23-year-old brother Paul.

Meanwhile great-grandmother Sandra Megson, 66, and great-great-grandmother Pearl Nicherson, 93, are just across the road at Copley Mill House.

“We can look out of the window and see each other’s houses,” said Sandra. “It’s nice to be able to go for walks around the village with the pram - I’ve got three great-grandchildren, I’m so proud.”

Maizie recently turned three-months-old and has started to lift her head up and lie on her tummy.

“She’s gorgeous,” said Sandra. “She’s really beautiful. She laughs all the time - she’s a really happy baby.

“As soon as you look at her and say hello, she gives you a big beaming smile.”

The family followed Jenna who moved into a flat 10 years ago.

Grandmother Paula, said: “We wanted to be close to each other, and Copley is such a beautiful area.

“We are a close family and it’s great to be able to pop over and see mum and gran whenever I want to, as I don’t drive. I can see mum’s living room from my bedroom window. Having Jenna so close also means I can be on hand to help with the baby.”

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Health: Dad’s A&E concerns after cardiac arrest

A 38-year-old father from Halifax has expressed his concerns over the threat to close Calderdale Royal Hospital’s A&E.

Andy Thomas works as a lawyer in Halifax and lives at Savile Lea in the town with his wife Julia and his five-year-old son.

In February 2010, Mr Thomas had a cardiac arrest at his previous home between Barkisland and Stainland.

Ambulance crews were sent from Calderdale A&E and managed to get his heart beating again.

He was rushed to A&E where he received treatment including an implant in his chest which monitors his heart rate and detects abnormal rhythms - the device delivers an electric shock to his heart if cardiac arrest is likely.

“The issue for me is that although an ambulance can do most of the initial treatment, you’re going to have more ambulance travel time,” said Mr Thomas.

“My question is how many more ambulances are they going to put on, because more of them are going to be tied up travelling to Huddersfield.”

Mr Thomas can’t believe that Huddersfield A&E could be chosen over Halifax, he said: “From the one time I’ve been to Huddersfield A&E, it didn’t strike me as being very modern, whereas the site at Halifax is only a few years old.”

The implant that Mr Thomas had installed has been successful in regulating the issues he has had with his heart.But he is still concerned that something could go wrong or his condition could get worse.

“It’s a massive comfort to know that there’s an A&E so close to where I live,” he said.

“I had two shocks in a day and that knocked the stuffing out of me - that was quite exceptional and I felt that I needed to call an ambulance and go to A&E.

“Modern ambulances are very well equipped, but they are not hospitals on wheels.

“There are things like strokes, for example, where you need to get a person to hospital as quickly as possible, but you can’t tell what sort of stroke a person has had until they get scanned, and they can’t do that in an ambulance.”

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Music: Teen singer Jess signs record deal

An 18-year-old singer songwriter from Bradshaw, Halifax, has signed a worldwide recording deal which could see her songs being used in adverts and movies across the globe.

Jess Thristan, formerly of North Halifax Grammar School, has been writing her own songs for the past four years and has gained a following through posting videos of her songs on YouTube.

“I try to make songs that you don’t have to put much effort in to listen to - I think you can listen to my music and just chill out,” said Jess, whose musical taste ranges from the Beatles to Disney songs.

“One of my main influences is Demi Lovato - she is one of the reasons why I started playing guitar and writing music,” said Jess.
Her songs have recently been played to an audience of millions on Claire Balding’s BBC Radio 2 programme.

She said ideas for songs come to her at unusual times and are often about personal experiences and emotions she draws from movies.

I’ve found that as I’ve progressed with my music if I try to sit down with the intention of writing a song, nothing will come - I have to wait for it to come to me,” she said.

“Sometimes I’ll wake up at one in the morning and have an idea for some lyrics or a phrase, and I’ll have to write it down.
“So I’ll often piece together lyrics from different things that I’ve noted down.

“My most recent song Side By Side is about how all my friends have gone off to university, but I’ve taken a gap year to try and pursue my music - it’s about missing my best friends, so it’s a big thing to get used to.”

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Features: M62 special report: Call for expansion to managed motorway

Businesses reliant on the road network for their trade are calling for an extension to the M62’s managed or ‘smart’ motorway scheme which currently operates between junction 25 (Brighouse) and 30 (Rothwell).

The £136 million scheme opened last October and allows the Highways Agency to monitor and respond to traffic patterns on the motorway by changing speed limits and opening up the hard shoulder as necessary.

“The managed motorways have been really positive,” said Chris Shaw, operations manager at Collett Group, Halifax. “I get drivers calling up when warnings flash up to let us know about accidents further up the motorways, so that’s really helpful.”

Concerns have been raised about the safety of the managed motorway scheme in relation to the use of the hard shoulder to ease congestion.

“The M62’s always been a notoriously bad motorway, and without hard shoulders it seems incredibly dangerous” said Linda Riordan, MP for Halifax.

“There are laybys every hundred or so meters, but if anything happens, you can’t choose where you break down.

“Ideally, I’d like to see them widen the motorway before getting rid of the hard shoulder, but I don’t know if they can.

“We desperately need to find a better solution for this,” she added.

Antony Firth, asset management team leader at the Highways Agency, said fears about the hard shoulder are unfounded.

“A similar scheme was put in on the M42 to ease congestion, but the safety benefits have been quite astounding,” he said.

“There were a significant amount of casualties on the M42 prior to that scheme being put in, since the smart motorway was put in there have been no serious injuries.”

The main issue with managed motorways according to Julie Jessop, director and driver at Arrow Coach Travel, Brighouse, is that many road users aren’t used to how they work.

“We find the managed motorway runs a lot better than it did before,” she said. “A lot of people don’t get that when it says to use the hard should they should use the hard shoulder - they stay bunched up in the last three lanes.

“Not everybody uses the motorway all the time, so the Highways Agency should make an effort to make people aware.”

Features: M62 special report: Disruption affections businesses

Businesses in the transport sector have been feeling the impact of the last few weeks of disruption on the M62.

Haulage and coach hire firms have complained that the closure of the motorway for a prolonged period following incidents is causing delays for their customers.

Julie Jessop, director and driver at Arrow Coach Travel, Brighouse, said: “We travel to Wakefield to do school runs in the mornings and at night so we’re on the M62 most days.

“By law, we can only drive for nine hours a day, so if you’re stuck on the motorway for hours, it can limit what you can do - even if you’re not moving, you’re not classed as at rest while you’ve got passengers on board.

“The issue’s not only getting the children dropped off on time, but getting the drivers back in time for their next job.

“When our vehicles get stuck, it causes all manner of back office problems for us and has a knock-on effect to later jobs - this creates a lot of uncertainty for drivers and customers.”

Chris Shaw, operations manager at Collett Group, Halifax, said the problems on the M62 are just a snapshot of a nationwide problem.

“Our lads have Sat-Navs in their trucks, so they can usually find alternative routes around incidents,” he said.

“The trouble comes when it’s a new incident, and nothing’s been put up on the internet - they get caught up in the middle of it and get delayed - our concern is its effect on the customers when our deliveries are delayed.”

When an accident does occur on the M62, it results in congestion in the surrounding areas.

Paul Lisle, of Halifax Coaches, said: “We have two coaches that do local school contracts. When the M62 was closed a few weeks ago, we did a school trip between Sowerby Bridge and Hipperholme and Lightcliffe.

“Because we went by Elland we got caught up in the all the diverted traffic - it added an extra half hour on to what should have been a 40 minute journey.”

Features: M62 special report: Chaos and misery on the motorway

Drivers have faced hours of misery on the M62 in recent weeks after a number of accidents in the region have brought the motorway to a standstill.

Traffic has been held up on the motorway for as long seven hours while police and the Highways Agency cleared up after a series of incidents.

“When you have considerable disruption on a piece of road, the authorities are held to account on performance - they need to answer to the public whether the incidents were just an unfortunate event or whether there is a need to assess the way that road is run,” said Luke Bosdet, spokesman for the AA.

Between 2007 and 2012, there was an average of 13 accidents a month on the M62 in our region, resulting in 1,503 casualties.

Of these, 106 were killed or seriously injured.

The vast majority of them occurred between junction 22 (Rishworth Moor) and junction 34 (Selby).

“We have to make sure that the data is accurate and validated,” said Antony Firth, asset management team leader at the Highways Agency. “The most recent annual report is for casualties in 2012, and the initial headlines for that were published in July 2013 and the final report wasn’t updated until February 2014 - so we’re two years behind “

Since 2012, the M62 has gone through drastic changes, with traffic on the motorway between junction 25 (Brighouse) and 30 (Rothwell) being regulated by managed or ‘smart’ motorways.

There are concerns that the figures used by the Highways Agency to inform policy are for motorway conditions that are no longer relevant.

However, Mr Firth said that many of the problems on the motorways are the fault of drivers.

“We are always looking at the causes of road accidents - are there certain patterns, certain locations - we look for trends over a long period of time to see what can be done,” he said.

“There’s one common factor with 90 per cent of crashes and that’s humans drive cars and humans make errors.”

The police agree, and have been shocked over the years at the carelessness of some drivers on the motorways.

Chief Inspector Mark Bownass, of West Yorkshire Police’s Road Patrol Unit, said: “There are four major contributing factors to accidents on the motorway that lead to people being seriously injured or killed - excessive speed, drink and drug driving, failure to wear seatbelts and in-vehicle distractions like mobile phones.”

The police regularly patrol the motorway and have caught drivers using mobile phones, watching DVDs and applying make-up while driving.

“We’ve caught people driving with their mirror down, putting lipstick and mascara on,” said Mr Bownass.

“That kind of thing is dangerous - they’re not concentrating on the road so how can they be fully aware of what’s going on?”

Drivers have been critical of the amount of time it takes the Highways Agency and police to clean up the motorway after a major incident.

If someone is killed on the motorway, it is necessary that the police treat the crash site as a crime scene and thoroughly investigate the incident for the coroner.

“Long delays are a common gripe of people travelling on the motorways, but the police have a very difficult job to do,” said Mr Bosdet.

“If it was a member of your family who died in an accident, would you not want a full analysis of the circumstances?”

Mr Firth said some of the incidents that cause long delays are as a result of HGVs shedding their loads onto the motorway and the complexity involved in cleaning it up.

“There was an incident on the M6 on March 14 where a truck shed its load of milk across the carriageway.

“You’d think something like milk would be harmless and simple to clean up, but milk actually attacks the stuff our roads are made of - we had a similar thing last year on the M62 with orange juice.

“So, you have to clean up the road, get the lorry recovered and make sure it’s safe.

“You might have to replace barriers, resurface the road - there are all manner of reasons why there might be a delay.”

The main issue for many drivers when there are delays is the uncertainty of not knowing what has happened or how long they will be stuck in traffic.

“Half of the problem is about the flow of information at the time of the incident,” said Mr Busdet. “If there’s information coming about what’s going on and when things will be cleared, that will cool some of the tempers.”

The Highways Agency use local radio, social media and signs on the motorway to warn drivers of incidents - this can help drivers avoid the delays if not already caught up, but offers little solace to those already stuck on the motorway.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Reportage: Family's anguish as two pets are poisoned

A family in Elland are distraught after their two Jack Russell Terriers were killed by a suspected poisoning.

The two dogs, Laddie, three, and Leah, 10 months, swallowed what is believed to be rat poison in their back garden at Elizabeth Street.

Mother-of-three Leanne Moss said the dogs were let out into the garden before bedtime and came back in the house behaving oddly.

“Leah started blinking really fast and shaking, then Laddie started walking really stiff, so we knew there was something wrong,” she said.

“We called the vet, and before we left the house they started fitting and g being sick - I’ve got bruises all over me from where they were fitting.”

Her children Delten, six, Demi, seven, and Daniel, 10, were deeply upset when they were told about the deaths.

“It was bad enough losing two dogs at the same time, but having to tell the kids in the morning was devastating,” said Leanne.

“They’ve been crying since it happened - we can’t get over it, it’s very hard.”

Leanne believes that the dogs were poisoned deliberately and is calling for anyone with information to come forward and tell the police. She said: “I want to warn other people in the area to watch out - don’t want another family going through what we’ve been through.”

Inspector David Shaw of the Lower Valley Neighbourhood Policing Team, said: “We have been made aware of the death of two dogs at a residential property on Elizabeth Street, Elland. An external organisation has said that the manner in which the dogs died suggest that they had been poisoned.

“We are therefore currently investigating a suspected crime of criminal damage and would appeal to anyone with information about it to contact police on 101.

“At this stage we do not believe there are any other similar cases to this in the area,” added Insp Shaw.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Reportage: Jobs lost at salvage yards after police tender contracts out

Breakage yards in Calderdale have been struggling since West Yorkshire Police awarded salvaging contracts to a South Yorkshire company.

The disposal of broken and abandoned vehicles in the district was put out to tender by West Yorkshire Police and awarded to Doncaster Motor Spares Limited which trades under the name Motorhog.

As a consequence, Holmfield Autos, Halifax, had to lay off 70 per cent of its workforce.

Andrew Rothery, left, director of Holmfield Autos with Conservative parliamentary candidate Philip Allott.

“It’s impacted a lot of people all round this area,” said Gavin Rothery, manager director at Holmfield Autos.

“I used to spend most of my week driving between Halifax, Bradford, Keighley and Leeds to pick up vehicle.

“We’ve gone from doing 50 cars a week to less than five.”

Before tendering, the salvaging and recovery of vehicles was conducted by local independent companies who would all be given work.

Bob Lech, owner of Fairlee breakers yard, Luddendenfoot, said: “It’s ridiculous what they’ve done to us. It’s bad because they’re taking business away from the area.”

Parliamentary candidate Philip Allott criticised West Yorkshire Police’s handling of the tendering process, he said: “No West Yorkshire company benefited from the tendering - the police should be supporting their local economy.”

Director of business services at West Yorkshire Police, John Prentice, said: “An open tender was conducted in 2011 in accordance with European regulations, with adverts being placed in the Official Journal of the European Union and on the Bluelight Emergency Services eTendering site.

“Under the open tender process, local firms were provided with the opportunity to bid for this contract; with four suppliers within the force area, two in South Yorkshire and one in North Yorkshire doing so.

“The tender process covered the suppliers’ abilities to demonstrate that they met our specification and requirements, resulting in the contract being awarded to a supplier outside the force area.

“Ideally the force would wish to keep business in West Yorkshire. However, it is imperative that value for money is demonstrated.”

This article was published in the Halifax Courier March 28, 2014.