Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Politics: 'Don't back the frack' plea to MP

Calder Valley MP Craig Whittaker is coming under increasing pressure to back the council’s will to keep Calderdale fracking free.

On Monday (January 26) Mr Whittaker will cast his vote on the Infrastructure BIll which, if passed, will give more powers to companies wishing to drill for shale gas - a process known as “fracking”.

If passed, the new legislation will strip landowners and local authorities of the right to deny access to potential sites, even if those sites are directly below residential properties.

Anti-fracking campaigner Helen Chuntso took her fight directly to Mr Whittaker, leaving her Luddenden Foot home at 3.30am to meet him at the Houses of Parliament.

Following their meeting, Ms Chuntso said: “It’s clear that Mr Whittaker isn’t feeling any heat from his constituents about this issue at the moment. He is poorly-educated on the issues he claims to know about, and is wrong if he thinks his myths are aligned with Calderdale’s future.

"It’s clear that he’s utterly out of his depth on knowledge, and in all credit to him he listened to what I said - we’ll just have to see if he’ll subsequently ignore me.”

Concerns have been raised that one out of every 20 fracking projects has led to the contamination of underground wells - the bill will also make it possible for companies to leave chemical waste from the fracking process underground.

Ms Chuntso said: “The people of Calderdale have a right to protect their health as New York state and other countries have by banning fracking.”

In a statement, Mr Whittaker said: “Shale gas is a promising new potential energy resource which could create thousands of jobs, bring in billions in tax revenues and secure our energy supply for the future.

“However, let me assure you that I strongly believe fracking operations should be safe, and must not be at the expense of local communities or the environment.

“Earlier this year, the Prime Minister announced that local councils can keep 100 per cent of business rates they collect from shale gas sites - worth up to £1.7 million a year for a typical site. “Community benefits for local people will also be strengthened - the industry also announced that local communities would receive £100,000 when a test well is fracked - and a further 1 per cent of revenues if shale gas is discovered.

“This could be worth £5 to £10 million for a typical producing site over its lifetime.”

Jenny Shepherd, the Green Party’s parliamentary candidate for Calder Valley, is urging Mr Whittaker to vote against the bill.

She said: “Evidence from the USA shows that fracking brings massive health and environmental costs.

“Even the Tory Prime Minister no longer makes claims about the job-creating potential of fracking, since these were discredited in a 2013 Goverment report. The Infrastructure Bill is a dog’s dinner that shows that the ConDem government is prepared to break our obligations under international law to reduce climate change.”

Josh Fenton-Glynn, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Calder Valley, said it would be better for the Government to look at ways to move away from fossil fuels.

He said: “I oppose Fracking in Calderdale, because I believe a step toward greater fossil fuel dependency is a step in the wrong direction. Long term I want to encourage green investment in Calder Valley.”

James Baker, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Calderdale Council, wrote a motion that was passed through council last month to keep Calderdale fracking free - if the bill passes, this motion will not be enforceable.

He said: “As a party we are passionate about improving the energy efficiency of homes, and developing community owned sustainable energy schemes here in Calderdale. In contrast Mr Whittaker has shown he is happy to ignore local residents, and damage the environment.

“He argues there will be economic benefits, but to put it bluntly there won’t be economic benefits derived from living in a world ravaged by climate change.”

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Politics: Axe hangs over council services

Vital services in Calderdale could be at risk due to a £2.6 million cut in the council’s discretionary budget.

The area of the budget affected include provision for children’s centres, libraries, support for voluntary organisations, business grants, youth services, swimming pools and road gritting services.

Coun Tim Swift (Lab, Town), leader of the Labour group on Calderdale Council, said: “Local people must not be fooled into thinking that these services are unimportant – in fact, they cover many every day services that people value.

“Unless the Conservatives can tell us what they are ruling in, and what they are ruling out, all of these services could be under threat.”

Coun James Baker (Lib Dem, Warley), deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: “At the moment, there are no details on what these proposals actually mean.

“We are worried because many local services that are valued by local people, such as libraries, youth services and swimming pools may be cut because these can all be classed as discretionary services.”

Council leader Stephen Baines (Con, Northowram and Shelf) said: “The Budgets for 2015/16 and 2016/17 are the same as accepted by council in February 2014, delivering a zero increase in the first year and only one per cent for the second year.

“The items that I guess they are referring to are possible changes to provision of services for 2017/18, but at this stage it is only possible suggestions that would be put to a comprehensive consultation with the local taxpayers of Calderdale before decisions have to be made in February 2016.

“These would also include all-out elections every four years, a reduction in the number of councillors from 51 to 36 and increases in Council Tax rather than changes in service provision.”

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Thursday, 22 January 2015

Politics: Bid to cut number of wards and elections

Calderdale Council could see fewer wards, fewer elections and fewer councillors if proposals by the Conservative group are given the go-ahead.

Council leader Stephen Baines would like the number of wards reduced to 12, with three councillors per ward - 36 compared to the current 51.

Coun Baines (Con, Northowram and Shelf) said: “In Kirklees, your average council ward has between 12,000 and 13,000 of the electorate and in Leeds it’s around 17,00 - in Calderdale it’s around 8,500 to 9,000.

“Is it right, when we are looking for our officers to work harder and make do with fewer people, for councillors not to lead by example?”

Coun Baines would also like fewer council elections, with voters being asked to go to the polls once every four years rather than three times over a four-year period under the current system - doing this would save £500,000 every four years in election costs.

He said: “All this would have to be done through the Boundary Commission which would be a three-year process, which is why we’ll be going out to consultation on this.”

Tim Swift, leader of the Labour group, said: “We should only look at reducing the number of councillors and changing the electoral arrangements if we are sure that it will lead to more effective governance and representation - it should not be proposed purely as a money saving measure.

“Larger wards will make it even harder for electoral wards to represent natural communities.

“It could mean for example a single ward combining Todmorden and part of Hebden Bridge,” he said.

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Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Politics: 'Mansion tax' claims rapped by Labour

The Conservative parliamentary candidate for Halifax has been accused of being “out of touch” following claims that Halifax families will be affected by Labour’s mansion tax.

Philip Allott wrote on his Twitter page: “Labour to tax homeowners in Halifax, Northowram, Warley and Sowerby Bridge to fund NHS in Scotland.”

The tax, which will apply to houses worth more than £2 million, will not actually affect any homes in Halifax.

Mr Allott said the mansion tax would be an excuse for Labour to increase council tax.

He said: “It would just be an excuse to re-band properties - so properties in Halifax will face higher council tax bills.

“Although, in fairness, very few properties will be affected to be begin with, I see this as the start of a slippery slope rather than the end of a process - where I’m coming from is a principled point,” he said.

Labour MP for Halifax Linda Riordan said: “It’s now clear just how staggeringly out of touch the Conservative campaign is - they are out of touch with local communities, out of touch with local house values and out of touch with what matters to Halifax and Sowerby Bridge residents.

“Local people’s priorities are saving the A&E, reducing the cost of living and getting this town working again.

“There may be £2 million houses in the leafy suburbs of Harrogate, but there certainly aren’t any in Halifax,” she said.

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Monday, 19 January 2015

Politics: A&E cut not 'ruled in or out' by Minister

Arguments over the future of Calderdale Royal Hospital and the future of A&E provision in Calderdale have mounted this week.

Labour MP for Halifax Linda Riordan raised the issue on Tuesday in the House of Commons, asking if there was any clinical reason given for the downgrading of A&E provision.

Jane Ellison, Under Secretary of State for Health told the House: “This is a locally-led process. Nothing has been ruled in or out, no decision has been made, and first and foremost comes the safety and efficacy of local health services.

“May I commend to the hon. lady the approach of her constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker), who at all times has championed the best outcomes for his constituents’ health, rather than seek to make politics out of this?”

Mrs Riordan later responded to the comments, she said: “Let’s be clear, until the Government and health bosses say differently the current proposal is to close the A&E in Halifax.

"We know that because closure was the ‘preferred option’ of hospital bosses set out last year. That position has not changed.

"To say otherwise is misguided and misleading. Some clear communications from the Government, Trust and CCG would make things a bit clearer. Sadly, the sound of silence continues.”

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Sunday, 18 January 2015

Politics: School places crisis deepens

Over a quarter of primary schools in Calderdale have more pupils than places.

Recent figures reveal that Calderdale ranks above the national average in the amount of over-capacity schools.

Data shows that 24 of Calderdale’s 85 primary schools (28.2 per cent) say they are over-capacity - this is compared to a national average of 18 per cent.

It’s a similar situation for Calderdale’s 13 secondary schools, with three schools (23 per cent) saying they are operating above capacity - this is compared to a national average of 17 per cent.

Josh Fenton-Glynn, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Calder Valley, said: “David Cameron is irresponsibly diverting millions away from children in areas like Calderdale with a shortage of school places in order to fund his pet project Free Schools programme in areas where there are already enough places.

“This is affecting school standards and creating a classroom squeeze, with more infants being crammed into large classes and pupils being taught in makeshift temporary classrooms.”

The council estimates that it will need to find an additional 242 primary school places by September 2018.

Judith Wyllie, a senior officer at the council, said: “Schools may be described as ‘over capacity’ for a number of reasons, which can include those which have just one or two additional pupils.

“Currently, the greatest need for additional school places is in Central Halifax and we have invested in Savile Park School at Heath to create 210 new primary school places,” she said.

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Saturday, 17 January 2015

Politics: Council tax frozen for another year

Council tax is set to be frozen for another year as Calderdale Council’s Cabinet puts forward its budget proposals for 2015/16 to 2017/18.

The draft proposals, revealed by Cabinet this week, outline the council’s financial priorities for the next three years.

Coun Stephen Baines (Con, Northowram and Shelf), leader of Calderdale Council, said: “The main positive is that in these difficult financial times, there’s another zero increase in council tax.

“The only time we’ve seen an increase in council tax since 2010 is the year Labour were in charge and there were no elections,” he said.

The budget includes an extra £200,000 for the Economic Investment Fund which the Cabinet believes will help reduce unemployment levels.

Coun Tim Swift, leader of the Labour group, described the budget proposals as “vaccuous” and said he is working with members of his party to put together alternative budget proposals.

Coun Swift (Lab, Town) said: “They’ve put off all the difficult decisions until after the election - it lacks any direction or ambition for Calderdale.”

Coun Janet Battye, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said she was pleased there will be a full consultation on the budget proposals.

Coun Battye (Lib Dem, Calder) said: “When we last did a consultation in 2010, we got a lot of really useful information from people.

“It gave us some guiding priciples that we’ve been practicing for the past five years.

“So to go back out there five years later and consult on this is really good stuff,” she said.

“If we can get cross-party agreement when this comes to budget council next month, we’ll be all the stronger for it.”

Coun Baines dismissed Coun Swift’s criticism, he said: “We believe it’s important that we do consult, and we will be doing that after the election.

“I find it ironic that Labour were jumping up and down before Christmas about running a full consultation on the budget.

“Anything Labour say I tend to take with a pinch of salt.”
Deputy council leader Scott Benton (Con, Brighouse) said: “The critical point here is that we can’t forget the reason why local government is in this position and why we have to find savings of £9.4 million.”

The proposals will be put forward for a full consultation - the first since 2010 - and will be considered by full council on February 23.

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Friday, 16 January 2015

Reportage: It's full marks for our top mark schools

A Halifax primary school has come top of the class in the most recent Key Stage Two league tables from the Department for Education.

Copley Primary School saw 100 per cent of its Year six pupils reached the national benchmark of level four or above in reading, writing and mathematics.

The results put the school at the top of the charts for Calderdale primary schools with Sacred Heart Catholic Primary School, Scout Road Academy, Norland CofE Junior and Infant School and New Road Primary School all seeing 100 per cent of their pupils achieving level four or above.

Nan Oldfield, head teacher at Copley Primary School, said: “It’s fantastic news - we’re absolutely thrilled with the results.

“This is a result of a fantastic team effort by all the amazing staff at Copley, wonderful pupils who always work hard and consistently give us their best, and very supportive parents - it’s all three working together.”

Council leader Coun Stephen Baines (Con, Northowram/Shelf) said: “Copley is good example of a school that’s struggling in an old Victorian building - the current difficulties they have with the water issues in the floor areas - and is still providing an excellent level of education for its young people.

“Even with its difficulties, it can provide the sort of education that for me there’s no excuse for any school not to.
“I just want every school in Calderdale to be up at that standard - there’s no excuse for any school not to be up there with the best.

“The failure is that some schools don’t stretch their pupils enough. We shouldn’t be treading water, we should be pushing children to the limit of their capacity.”

Calderdale primaries are county's best

Calderdale primary schools have topped the table for local authorities in West Yorkshire, with 88 per cent of its primary pupils attending schools rated by Ofsted as being ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’.

This number compares with Leeds which scored 83 per cent, Kirklees which scored 74 per cent and Wakefield and Bradford which both scored 73 per cent.

In total, more than 700 schools in England are now considered to be performing below standard, the same proportion as last year.
Leader of Calderdale Council, Coun Stephen Baines (Con, Northowram/Shelf), said: “We have a tendency to be one of the best in West Yorkshire, but I actually look at the country as a whole and we’re not up there with the best in the country.

“Our target is to be the best and to offer every child a good standard of education.

“It’s through good leadship that we can give the best education for young people.”

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Reportage: £500,000 boost for heritage site repairs

Heritage and cultural venues across Calderdale will be given a £500,000 boost if proposals laid out in the Cabinet’s 2016/17 budget are given the go-ahead by full council.

The money has been set aside as part of the council’s Capital Programme to improve buildings which are significant to our history.

Council leader Stephen Baines (Con, Northowram and Shelf) said: “Throughout Calderdale there are historical buildings that do require some TLC, shall we say.

“Quite a lot of them need attention and we never have enough money for them.

“The two obvious ones, certainly in the Halifax area, are the Borough Market and Bankfield Museum, which both require a substantial amount of money to be spent on them, but there’s nothing at the moment.”

Deputy council leader Scott Benton said now was the ideal time to capitalise on our heritage to increase tourism following the success of the Tour de France and high profile TV shows like Last Tango in Halifax and Happy Valley.

Coun Benton (Con, Brighouse) said: “These television programmes have shown the best of the borough and put Calderdale on the map.

“It’s incredibly important that we preserve our cultural assets if we are thinking of ways we can improve our tourism.”

The extra £500,000 will be a one-off boost to the council’s budget and will not be an ongoing part of the council’s base budget.

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Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Health: A&E waiting times increase sharply

Figures released by NHS England this week have shown an increase in A&E waiting times across Calderdale and Huddersfield as the number of people waiting for more than four hours has increased by over a third in 12 months.

From October to December 2013, 4.5 per cent (1,514 out of 33,818 patient admissions) weren’t seen within the Government’s target of four hours - of the 1,514 total, 511 were classed as emergencies.

During the same period in 2014, 7 per cent (2,530 out of 35,927 patient admissions) were seen within four hours - of the 2,530 total, 686 were classed as emergencies.

Labour MP for Halifax Linda Riordan said: “This Government’s failed policies have caused an A&E crisis, huge waiting times and pressure on capacity.

“If two local A&Es can’t handle such a surge in demand, there’s no chance one A&E will be able to.

“Now more than ever, local people are saying ‘hands off our A&E’. Just imagine if we were having a really cold winter.

“We need an A&E in Halifax for Halifax. It’s time the Government and health bosses recognised that and stopped this callous closure proposal once and for all.”

A staff member at Calderdale Royal Hosptailwho wished to remain anonymous said: “Staff morale in most departments is already at rock bottom with many left feeling like they are on a sinking ship.”

A spokesperson from the Trust said: “Our Trust, as all trusts, are experiencing high levels of patients requiring A&E care and then admission.

“The pressure varies operationally from hour to hour. So far, no MAJAX (Major Incident Procedure) has been called.”

The national A&E crisis was addressed by David Cameron during Prime Minister’s Questions. He said: “I deeply regret any patient who does not get a good service.”

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Monday, 12 January 2015

Politics: Prime Minister launches election campaign at Dean Clough

The Prime Minister David Cameron was in Halifax to launch the Conservative party’s General Election campaign. Halifax has been marked as a key battleground in this year’s May election.

Speaking to party members at Dean Clough, Mr Cameron unveiled the first election poster for his party’s campaign urging voters to “stay on the road to a stronger economy”.

Mr Cameron said: “It’s so important that we stay on the road to a stronger economy - I want us to stay on the road for more jobs, to stay on the road for lower taxes, to stay on the road for more apprenticeships, to stay on the road for stronger schools, for security and dignity in old age.

“I say we should stay on the road to a stronger economy, not just because the alternatives are so disastrous, I say we should stay on this road because I’m absolutely clear about what the destination should be.”

Mr Cameron said the election was the “most important for a generation” and noted that under the current Government Halifax is in a better place than it was in 2010.

Mr Cameron said: “It has been a journey from a position where we were on the brink of bankruptcy to being one of the strongest and fastest-growing economies in anywhere in the Western world.”

The Prime Minister outlined a series of key election promises including the creation of new apprenticeships for young people, the building of 100,000 new starter homes, and a referendum on our place in Europe.

He said: “We want to deliver more jobs, lower taxes, build those homes and give people dignity and security during retirement - that is what will inform our entire election campaign, and that, I believe, is right for our country.”

Mr Cameron said that over the next Parliament he wants to see the deficit eradicated completely so the country can start to save for the future.

He said: “There is another road you can choose - but it has higher spending, higher borrowing, higher debt and a high burden on future generations.

“It’s a choice between security and chaos - people should know about the choice at the next election.”

Labour MP for Halifax Linda Riordan said: “A second-rate poster launch doesn’t hide five years’ worth of devastating Government cuts to Halifax communities.

“The future of our A&E didn’t even get a mention - that’s how out of touch the Conservatives are.

“The reality is this: the re-election of this Tory-led Government will quite simply be a road to ruin in this town.”

Halifax is a key marginal seat in the next election if the Conservatives are to fulfill their goal of achieving a majority in Parliament.

Government looking into devolving more powers to West Yorkshire

During his visit to Halifax, Prime Minister David Cameron said the Government was looking into ways it can devolve more powers to the West Yorkshire region.

Following the Scottish independence referendum last September, the Government said devolution plans would be completed by Christmas, but only plans for Greater Manchester and Sheffield have been unveiled.

Mr Cameron said: “We are looking at it right now - obviously we’ve seen good devo deals done in Manchester and Sheffield and I’m sure that more can be done.

“It’s part of a pattern and it’s not coming from nowhere - we’ve had a lot of city deals already that have provided a lot of extra resources and extra powers for Britain’s cities and I’m confident that a devo deal can be done.”

Mr Cameron said he wants to see a “northern powerhouse” which will see more investment and control to northern regions.

He said key to this is the redevelopment of the roads, broadband and railways, including the development of high speed rail and the electrification of key local lines.

He said: “The northern powerhouse is becoming a reality because of the investment that we’re putting into not just devolving powers to the great northern cities, but also ensuring that the infrastructure that is needed is also built.

“I’m confident this will happen, but what it needs is a proper negotiation, because we need to work out the best powers to devolve. What money can be found? What more development can be done? What room is there for business to expand?

“The whole point about these agreements is Whitehall emptying out as much of the powers and money as it can.”

Cameron impressed with growth of Covéa

On his visit to Dean Clough, Prime Minister David Cameron saw first-hand the offices of Halifax-based insurers Covéa.

Mr Cameron was impressed with the growth of the company, which has increased its number of employees by 20 per cent over the past year.

He said Covéa and Dean Clough were examples of how our economy has been changing for the better over the past few decades.
He said: “It’s a fascinating story really when you look at the Dean Clough Mills site, because when those jobs originally went back in the early 1980s, a lot of people said ‘where will the new jobs come from?’

“You’ve effectively got more people at work today on this site than there was when this was an enormous carpet factory.

“So the new jobs are there - if you reward enterprise, if you make it easy to establish businesses, if you help businesses to grow, the jobs are created.

“Today in our country there’s a record number of people in work - more than at any time in our history - so the new jobs come if you create an atmosphere where it pays to create and run businesses.

“What we are seeing is a rebalancing of the economy. In the last quarter employment in Yorkshire and Humberside actually grew faster than it did in other regions of the country.

“Yorkshire and Humberside has done remarkably well - there’s been about 119,000 more jobs, a 61,000 fall in employment.”

Covéa Insurance was formed in October 2012 bringing together three insurance firms - MMA Insurance, Gateway Insurance and Halifax-based Provident Insurance.

The company moved to its new offices at Dean Clough in November 2014, bringing together staff from three sites across Halifax.
It currently employs 560 staff in Halifax and is hoping to recruit a further 100 over the next year.

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Politics: Greens call for rail reform

The Green Party has announced it would like to see railways brought back into public ownership.

The announcement comes as rail fares continue to rise with the cost of a local season ticket increasing by 25 per cent since 2010.

Green parliamentary candidates Gary Scott (Halifax) and Jenny Shepherd (Calder Valley) spoke to passengers at Halifax and Hebden Bridge stations about proposals to nationalise the railways in a move which they claim could cut fares by up to 12 per cent.

Ms Shepherd said: “The rail network is being run for the benefit of private corporations and clearly isn’t delivering for the public.”

The campaign to nationalise the railways has also received support from the Labour party who have similar proposals, but it has been dismissed as a step backwards by the Conservatives.

Philip Allott, Conservative parliamentary candidate for Halifax, said: “Rail nationalisation would be a mitigated disaster. Anybody who travelled on British Rail will remember the late trains, the dirty carriages, unruly staff and the appalling state of the rolling stock, and will surely have the common sense not to want a return to that.”

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Sunday, 11 January 2015

Politics: Boris takes Piece Hall tour

The Mayor of London Boris Johnson was shown around the Piece Hall this week as part of a whirlwind tour of West Yorkshire.

Mr Johnson was in Halifax in the first week of the General Election campaign to promote Conservative parliamentary candidate for Halifax Philip Allott.

He said: “I’m here to support my friend Philip Allott - I think he’ll be a very good MP and I think he’ll represent every strand of opinion of everybody in this constituency.”

Mr Johnson was impressed with the Piece Hall, he said: “I’ve had a chance to look at this amazing regeneration which reminds me of a sort of Covent Garden in Halifax.”

Mr Johnson said he was convinced of Conservative victory at the General Election - contrary to the current polls which place Labour in the lead - noting that he “hadn’t considered any other hypothesis.”

He said: “Look at where the money is going - not what the opinion polls are saying.

“The betting has switched towards a Conservative victory in May.”

Mr Johnson also paid tribute to the ten journalists and two police officers who were massacred in Paris this week by Islamist terrorists at offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

He said: “Everyone in Britain will feel sympathy with the people of France and of course with the families of those who lost their lives.

“It’s an appalling attack on free speech - people should be able to express their views and obviously I hope that the perpetrators of this are captured and brought to justice.”

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Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Politics: Conservative campaign letters spark hospital row

A Conservative MP and parliamentary candidate have been accused of sending out inconsistent messages about proposals to downgrade A&E services in Halifax.

Calder Valley MP Craig Whittaker sent a campaign leaflet to his constituents claiming that there are no proposals on the table to close Calderdale Royal Hospital’s A&E department - despite documents published by the Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Trust which suggest the contrary.

Halifax parliamentary candidate Philip Allott has sent out a leaflet to Halifax residents suggesting that the proposals to close the A&E have been ‘scrapped’ - a message at odds with the claims of his Calder Valley counterpart.

Both Mr Whittaker and Mr Allott have been accused of sending out misleading and inaccurate material by members of both the Labour and Green parties.

Linda Riordan, Labour MP for Halifax, said: “The Tory campaigns in Halifax and Calder Valley are now in total disarray - they are so out of touch they didn’t even realise our A&E is under threat.

“The facts are simple. The Tory Government wants to close our A & E and if they get re-elected in May that is what will happen.

“Any other pretence, any other lamentable letter, is a complete sideshow. The campaign continues to save our A & E and save our NHS from these terrible Tory cuts.”

Mr Allott said: “The CCG have made it clear that they won’t be consulting on the Outline Business Case report - therefore we cannot say that the original proposals put forward by the Trust are still in place, because they are not.

“The CCG have called for the Trust to rewrite the document - this could take some time - so the immediate threat the A&E has been seen off.”

The chair of Calderdale CCG said the Outline Business Case is a ‘work-in-progress’.

Mr Whittaker has not yet responded to calls.

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Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Politics: Cut not as deep as predicted

The leader of Calderdale Council has said that recent Government cuts to the spending power of councils nationally was 'much less than predicted'.

The council will see its overall spending power cut by 2.1 per cent for 2015-16 compared to the national average of 1.8 per cent.

Council leader Stephen Baines (Con, Northowram and Shelf) said: “We set a budget last February for 2015/16 and 16/17 based on an estimated settlement - the actual settlement last week gives us an extra £900k, so if council agrees the budget could be accepted at the accepted increase of one per cent, together with the Government’s extra award for keeping Council Tax low, the tax will remain as last year.

“This means that the only increase in Council Tax during the length of this Parliament was the two per cent Labour pushed through in 2013 because there were no elections that year.”

The cut has been criticised by Labour MP for Halifax Linda Riordan.

She said: “It’s a savage settlement meaning local residents will pay more for less - the Government has failed Halifax yet again by giving us less services, less jobs and less investment.”

This cut is aside from the recent news that Calderdale will see an overall reduction in its budget for roads.

Calderdale Council’s head of Planning and Highways, Geoff Willerton, said: “The government money will contribute to our highway maintenance funding over the next six years.

“It will rise next year but will gradually fall below the current amount due to changes in the way the funding is calculated. We are looking at how the money can be spent to have maximum effect in Calderdale.”

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Sunday, 4 January 2015

Reportage: Road repair consultation to begin

Consultation will begin to work out the best way to repair unadopted roads in Siddal.

Residents on Browning Avenue, Ashgrove Avenue, Longbottom Street and Cleveland Avenue may be asked to pay more than £1,000 towards the repairs.

Mark Thompson, head of environment, housing and renewal at the council, said: “We are meeting with Siddal residents to talk to them about proposals to improve roads and paths in their neighbourhood which are in very poor condition.

“Proposed works include road resurfacing with traffic calming benefits; new, lower kerbs; and better drainage and lighting.

“The roads affected are private, meaning the council is not responsible for maintaining them. Also, the funding for improvements is very limited, so to make sure it benefits as many roads as possible, residents are being asked to contribute towards half of the cost of the works.

“We expect the consultation to finish early in the New Year, and we will take on board all residents’ views.”

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Saturday, 3 January 2015

Reportage: Funding boost to help fill-in the potholes

Work has begun to repair potholes on roads across Calderdale after the Government announced almost half-a-billion pounds worth of funding over the next six years for the Yorkshire region.

It’s the first time councils have been given locked-in funding over this length of time.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “Roads play a significant part in everyday life. Poorly maintained local roads, blighted by potholes, are a menace to all road users, particularly during the festive period as people travel to see family and friends.

“It is vital we have good quality roads. This government has already taken strong action by spending £1 billion more on local roads maintenance than was spent in the previous parliament.

“This huge investment is part of our long term economic plan to ensure we have a transport network fit for the 21st century.”

Over £4.7 billion will be shared between 115 councils, while a further £575 million will be available through a new fund to help repair and maintain local highway infrastructure such as junctions, bridges and street lighting.

Peter Box, chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, said: “West Yorkshire’s joint bid will see over £80m of road improvements in the next three years. Well-maintained roads lead to better reliability and journey times for buses, freight and car users, helping to make West Yorkshire a place businesses want to invest in.

“The certainty of £81m over three years, with a possible further £71m over the three years after that, is welcome; but I’m disappointed that the maintenance budgets of the individual councils have been reduced to create this fund, at a time when councils are being asked to reduce funding for services, including day-to-day highway maintenance.”

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Friday, 2 January 2015

Reportage: Letter reveals changes to parking rules

There will be more parking restrictions in Skircoat when a new Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) comes into force in May.

Parking charges were suspended in October when it was discovered an administrative error had made them unlawful.

A draft letter seen by the Courier reveals that rather than simply replacing the Skircoat TRO with the same conditions, the council intends bring in a series of new restrictions.

The letter was drafted by Geoff Willerton, head of Planning and Highways at the council, with the intention of being sent out to residents in Skircoat.

Mr Willerton wrote: “The Skircoat order will incorporate the changes that have been delayed because of the wider TRO issues, and these will include amendments to parking periods, and yellow lining to improve visibility at some junctions for example.

“It is also intended to alter parking times and the area of pay and display in Skircoat Green Road near to the shops and Post Office.

“In addition, Officers have been asked to consider an extension to the Skircoat parking order, over and above the area affected by the current issues.

“Unfortunately, this cannot be done at the same time as the rectification work now underway as it would require further consultation covering the whole area, and therefore a longer delay in putting right the problems.

“However, we will be looking at how to involve interested local residents, along with Ward Councillors, in considering the feasibility of the extension and hope to make a decision on whether or not this would be possible by the end of March.”

The TRO for Halifax town centre should be in force in February.
The TROs for the outer town centre and Skircoat are not seen as a high priority and will be in force by May.

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