Friday, 20 April 2007

South Downs National Park

The South Downs National Park decision process has been held up by a legal challenge on the meaning of "natural beauty". Defra has details of the challenge on their web site. Essentially the court found that Hinton Admiral Park did not qualify as possessing "natural" beauty, so it could not be included in the New Forest National Park.

Defra appealed, lost, and changed the legislation, so that farmland, managed woodland, parks and other areas affected by human intervention could be included in National Parks to preserve their "Natural Beauty".

So, Defra have now restarted the decision process. They've begun a round of consultation, and may even reopen the enquiry.

I support the National Park in principle, but I'm not sure about the precise boundaries. That doesn't mean I oppose any of the proposed boundaries, it just means I've not considered the issues.

East Sussex County Council seems to have opposed the National Park on the grounds that there's no proof that the Park Authority will manage the park with better financial efficiency than current arrangements. Frankly, I'd have been embarrassed to be associated with such an argument. The point of the Park is surely not simply to improve financial efficiency, and this really isn't a logical reason to oppose it - heck, they're not even claiming that money will be wasted, just that there might not be any savings!

West Sussex County Council seems to have made the same objection, and the rather more principled objection that planning will be taken out of the hands of the elected authorities. I have more sympathy for that argument, and that might be a good reason for keeping Lewes, say, out of the Park boundaries. However, I believe that the Park can delegate some of its planning role, and that any problem here would lie in the implementation, and not be a reason for objecting in principle to the Park.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Falmer Stadium

A few people have asked about Falmer Stadium.

I'm going to assume that I'll never get a vote on this issue, so the problem of fettered discretion doesn't arise for me. So, I'll speak frankly.

Before I moved to Lewes, I signed the petition in favour of the Falmer Stadium. I'm an Arsenal fan, and we've moved into a great new stadium this year. Brighton got sold down the river over their old stadium. They've done well for themselves since, despite having to endure ground sharing, and a badly undersized stadium. They really do deserve a good stadium.

I never really believed that the proposed site was a particularly beautiful one. I think the proposed National Park would protect the surrounding area from further development. Public transport is reasonably good at Falmer. OK, it would take a long time to empty the stadium using just the public transport available, but football fans are willing to walk a couple of miles to and from a match.

Since moving to Lewes, I've discovered that the main reason for opposition to the development is actually to prevent Falmer village being subsumed into the Brighton conurbation. That's a reasonable objective, and one that I sympathise with. So, now I'm in two minds about the stadium, but still probably in favour on balance. Perhaps I could be persuaded that there's a better site - I'd certainly like to see it more central.

The whole saga of the stadium proposal has dragged on and on. But, I don't think anyone has done the Albion any favours with this.

First, the club itself should not have put in a proposal that crossed the boundary into Lewes District. The application was mired from that point. It was always going to be much more difficult for them to get the application accepted when it fell into two jurisdictions. If they'd put the coach park south of village way, instead of in Lewes District, perhaps the application would have been acceptable.

Second, John Prescott did the Albion no favours by (a) sitting on the application for so long, and then (b) failing to realise that the development fell partly outside the boundaries of Brighton and Hove. That failure ultimately allowed Lewes District Council to apply to court to overturn the decision.

LDC's application was opposed by some as a "Waste of money". You still see posters in Lewes saying "LDC - End the challenge". Well, the challenge was won, without spending any money on court fees. Why? Because the government realised that the decision was flawed, and agreed to reconsider.

Of course, the Lib-Dems in Lewes didn't do the Albion any favours by opposing the stadium development. But, you should note that the LDC cabinet has Tory and Lib-Dem members, and they were unanimous in opposing the development. They were also supported by Falmer parish council, and many other organisations. Lib-Dems in Brighton, by the way, supported the development.

Fettered Discretion

In talking about my views on various issues, I have to be careful that I don't disqualify myself from voting on those issues.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life requires that official decisions should be made by people with open minds, based upon the facts available at the time the decision is made. I think that's reasonable. Clearly it's hard to do if you've already committed yourself to a view.

For example, if you make public your views on a planning matter, before the application is submitted, then you may disqualify yourself from voting on the matter. It's reasonable to outline concerns - they can be used by the applicant to modify their application - but not reasonable to say that the application is either acceptable or unacceptable before the application is in.

This is a difficult area, because voters have a right to ask my opinions on various issues. And, they have a right to know what kind of person they're electing. Do I share their concerns? Will I support their views? All I can say is that I'll try to answer any questions as fully as possible. And, I'll indicate where I'm unable to express myself fully.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

About the election.

Many people aren't familiar with the roles of the different councils in the area - particularly if they've come from areas with a unitary authority.

There are three levels of local government here, represented by Lewes Town Council, Lewes District Council, and East Sussex County Council.

Lewes Town Council covers just the town of Lewes. It has quite a limited role, but looks after some important local amenities, such as the Town Hall, the All Saints Centre, allotments, and so on. Councillors are elected from three wards, Priory, Castle, and Bridge, which each elect six councillors. Each elector gets six votes, each of which can be given to a single candidate. The Liberal Democrats currently have 15 of the 18 seats. There's an overview of the Town Council functions on their web site. The Town Council has a budget of about £800,000

The District Council covers an area from Seaford, Newhaven and Peacehaven on the coast, extending inland through Lewes up to Ditchling, Chailey and Newick. This map shows the boundaries, as well as the rough locations of the various wards, and who the current councillors are. The town of Lewes has three wards, which are the same as for the Town Council. Priory ward has three councillors, but Castle and Bridge have two each. Priory ward electors get three votes in the District Council elections. The District Council has 73,000 electors and a budget of about £12 million. The Liberal Democrats currently have a small overall majority on the Disctrict Council (26 of 41 seats), including 6 of the 7 Lewes based councillors.

The County Council has one and a half wards in Lewes - One covers Priory and Castle wards, and the other covers Ringmer and Lewes Bridge ward. Each of these returns just one councillor to the County Council. The County Council is run by a Tory administration, though the Liberal Democrats return most of the councillors from this end of the county. There's no election for the County Council this year.

Saturday, 14 April 2007

Your Questions

Got any questions that I haven't answered here. Click the "comments" link below, and post your question here. You don't need to register, or identify yourself, but it would be nice if you do.

I reserve the right to refuse to answer, or delete any anonymous or abusive comments, or any comments that might cause offense to other visitors to this site.

Friday, 13 April 2007

Local transport

Yesterday, I said I had some ideas for reducing Lewes' traffic problems.

They're not revolutionary ideas, but we need to do more to encourage people to use cars less. We already do enough discouragement.

First, we need to have some proper joined up thinking about transport. For example, we need to ask ourselves why parking charges are enforceable on days and times when buses aren't available.


We need to run buses to the railway station, in particular to get people home from the station in the evenings. Perhaps a shared taxi-like service would do. Airports in the US, for example, run minivans, that will take half a dozen people, and drive them to their destinations. It's more convenient than a bus, but cheaper than a taxi.

Buses need to run later at night. Its ridiculous that only handful of local buses run after 5:45, and none at all after 6:30, and none on Sundays or bank holidays. Several people have said to me that they'd take the bus to work in the morning, if only they could get home at night.

Buses might also be used more frequently if people could find out when they run. None of the bus stops on the Nevill estate have timetables on them. Nor does the Tesco bus stop. Countryliner bus drivers can't give you a timetable - I got the last one off one driver when I asked. Another driver told me they weren't given timetables. They are available online: Countryliner, Brighton & Hove. There's even real time information for the 28 and 29 at Lewes Prison, for example. None of that is any use if you're at the stop, though.

car shares

As well as public transport, people need to be encouraged to share cars. As I walk past the queue of traffic to the Prison crossroads every morning, I see that almost all the cars queuing have no passengers - just the driver. If just 20% of those cars took a passenger, maybe there'd be no queues. There are car share schemes out there, but they need better publicity, and better incentives from the council and from employers.

car clubs

Car clubs could help, too. There are some informal car clubs operating in Lewes, using Google Calendar to book the car - which is a nice innovation. I've also looked at all the large car clubs that operate around the country. There's at least one (City Car Club) in Brighton, for example.

So, how do they help? Well, for every shared car, about 30 club members are required. Of those 30 members, about six will sell their second car, or even their only car. So, each shared car frees up about five residential parking spaces. Some large employers participate in car clubs, using the cars during the day, while residents use them in the evening. That means that essential car users don't need to bring their car to work, so it encourages use of public transport. In fact, if you have to book and pay for every car journey, then you're more likely to consider using the bus or train instead. Finally, it's cheaper to share a car, because you share the license, MOT, servicing, depreciation and so on.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Good Friday parking

Out canvassing on Prince Edward's Road yesterday, one resident told me an extraordinary story. On Good Friday, he'd seen a car full of parking attendants descend on cars parked outside Christ Church, ticket them and drive off in the direction of St. Johns Sub Castro. When he asked them if they should warn worshippers that they were being ticketed, they said it wasn't their job to do that.

Now, I suppose the job of parking attendant would be impossible if they were required to warn car owners before ticketing, so that is perhaps understandable. But, what were they doing there?

I spoke to a manager at the parking shop, and asked him about this. "No way" were they targetting church goers, they were just doing their usual patrols, he said. But, who do they expect to find parking on a Good Friday morning in Lewes. It's not a busy town on bank holidays, so why are bank holidays enforceable in Lewes?

It's a County Council policy, which the NCP manager wasn't prepared to comment on (nor would I in his position!) I find it somewhat bizarre that the Tory County Council would unnecessarily enforce parking on Christian holidays - given that the Church of England has been described as the "Tory Party at Prayer" (my apologies to non-Tory Christians, and non-CofE Torys alike - oh).

I think it's also unreasonable that parking charges are enforced on days that the local buses don't run - which is also the responsibility of the County Council.

A resident of Bradford Road asked why parking charges are enforcable on Saturday. Well, Saturdays are quite busy in Lewes, and the buses do run. However, in that area, parking problems are mostly caused by the influx of County Council employees (I know, because I used to live in De Montfort Road, and parking was only hard on weekdays during office hours).

So, I've written to the County Council officer responsible, to ask what the thinking is behind these policies. It seems to me they could easily change the policy on Bank Holidays, but I'm not so sure about Saturdays.

I've also got some ideas about how to encourage people to use other forms of transport, as opposed to discouragment with charges and fines. I know that traffic and parking in Lewes are hard, and the problems need to be tackled - for the sake of all road users. I'll talk about my ideas in a future posting, but if you have any comments on parking or traffic, please make them here!

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Why the Lib-Dems?

Why did I join the Lib-Dems?

It wasn't an automatic choice for me. Before I moved to Lewes, I thought about joining the Co-operative Party, because I'd been involved in housing co-ops for a long time. The Co-op party is a party within the Labour party, and one of the Brighton Labour MPs is a member. The other option for me was the Lib-Dems, basically on the basis that I think their policies are generally well thought out, and not a result of either populism or dogma.

However, when it became clear that Tony Blair was going to invade Iraq, I swore I'd never vote Labour again. Once I was in Lewes, the Lib-Dems were the obvious party to choose. When I took a look at the national policies, I was pleased to discover that the Lib-Dems also support co-operatives.

I also liked the look of the environmental policies, and policies on crime and civil liberties.

I joined the Liberal Democrat party shortly before the 2005 elections.

Shortly after the election, I started going to Lewes Town Branch meetings, and quickly got involved with several things. I was elected branch secretary, and representative to the Constituency Party from the start of 2006. I also started to help Norman Baker with his monthly Lewes surgeries (he has weekly surgeries, but the others are in other parts of the consituency), which was a good way to start to find out about local concerns.

Many people think that the three main parties are all the same. But, we're different from Labour because we believe in civil liberties. We're different from the Tories, because we believe in economic fairness.

Sunday, 8 April 2007

Who am I?

I was born in 1964, and grew up in Cambridge, and St. Ives Cambridgeshire.

My education was science based. I've a degree in Maths, Statistics and Environmental Toxicology from Anglia Ruskin University, and a masters degree in Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science from the University of Sussex.

Currently I work at the University of Sussex, managing the email service for the University. I'm also secretary of Lewes Town Liberal Democrats, and I'm an active member of Transition Town Lewes.

I moved to de Montfort Road, Lewes from Brighton in the summer of 2003, and moved up to the Nevill Estate a few days before Christmas in 2005.

About my name.

I often get asked about my name. In fact, most people that meet me ask where it comes from, as well as either how it's pronounce or how it's spelled. So, here we are:

The name Eiloart was invented by a piano tuner who moved to England from Poland, with his family in about 1800. His name had been "Mispel". The family settled in North London, and we have a (probably) complete family tree.

The name is pronounced "EYE-low-art", with the emphasis on the EYE. It's a natural pronunciation for a German speaker.

There's one other Ian Eiloart in the world. He's not a close relative, and I've never met him.

I've two middle names: "Alexander Beaupré". The first was for my maternal grandfather, who died before my parents met. The second is a name passed down from my paternal grandfather, Arnold Beaupré Eiloart. It means "Beautiful Meadow" in French, and he was given the name because he was born in a tent. His mother had been sent to the countryside as a treatment for TB. My father, half-brothers and nephew all have the name Beaupré, too.

For the first time, election candidates don't have to have all their names on the ballot paper. I've chosen not too, for two reasons. First, "Ian Eiloart" is distinctive enough without the middle names. Secondly, the full name is a bit cumbersome.

Friday, 6 April 2007

I'm a District Council candidate.

Yesterday, Lewes District Council published [pdf] the names of candidates for the May elections. My name was among them, for the first time. I've not stood for public office before, so this is a new experience for me.

I'm lucky enough to have a very experienced and hard working bunch of people around me. Well, that's not so much down to luck: part of the reason that I joined the Lib-Dems is that they are an established party, that are doing well here. We currently are the majority party on both the Town and District councils here, as well have having the sitting MP (Norman Baker). There's no room for complacency though, the Tories aren't far behind.

Of course, I also support most of the Lib-Dems policies, locally and nationally. I also share the basic principles of the party, and think that the party tends more than most to base policies on principle rather than either dogma or (increasingly) populism.

I aim to blog daily during the campaign, so check back here regularly if you're interested to get more information that we can give in our printed literature.