Last night, Harlow Council agreed to enter into partnership with all of the other North Essex Councils to streamline parking issues. Permit parking currently costs council tax payers in Essex over £1 Million a year to run – that’s a ridiculous state of affairs when it should be cost neutral.

By working together to get economies of scale in impliment best practive accross the county we will be saving council tax payers cash. That must be a good thing!

A really good meeting of the Regeneration working group on Harlow Council last night, discussing the redevelopment of Market Square.

The whole of the Town Centre North redevelopment may have been slowed by the recession but we are keen to ensure we revive the market as quickly as possible.

The plan includes collapsible stalls instead of the present metal monstrosities and a lot more “green” in the form of trees and grass. There is also a plan for a young children’s play area to encourage more activity in and around the market square, a performance area and even a sculpture space – Harlow’s equivalent of the Trafalgar Square 4th plinth!

The good news is that in working with and talking to the current stall holders we have found a way to do the redevelopment without moving them off site for the duration of the works.

I am really looking forward to a more “open” and vibrant market square.

A good meeting this evening, up in Saffron Walden, with members of Harlow Council and Uttlesford Council working as a Joint Committee, to drive forward the planned project to share our Revenues and Benefits services.

Uttlesford Council have an interesting convention, where they allow some time at the start of the meeting for members of the public/staff etc to say what they want about the agenda before the committee. It was interesting therefore to hear the views of three members of staff.

Overall they were broadly supportive about the move, although worried about job losses and concerned there be no loss of service to the users of the offices. The latter is of course something the politicians of both councils have said they don’t want to see either.

The Joint Committee looks like it could have a lot of work, but will be an enjoyable foray into how else we can share services with other councils.

Tonight’s Executive Committee meeting of Harlow Council had the very sensitive issue of the future of Parndon Wood Cemetery and Crematorium discussed at it.

Sadly Harlow Council, over the last couple of decades, has not looked after Parndon Wood as well as it could have done; Today there are a number of issues with the site, not least poor road surfaces, a leaky building that does not have the right facilities for a modern Burial or Cremation service. Behind the scenes there are issues too, with new equipment needed to comply with National and European legislation. As we know the council has very little money to spend on these items, yet rightly so the money must be spent on making sure that our local cemetery and crematorium is of a high standard and  provides a good and dignified service to those in a time of grief.

So what other option is there? Well getting a Private Company to come in and help us run the site, one with experience of running similar sites around the country was an obvious answer; to be fair it was the answer selected by the previous Labour/Lib Dem coalition that ran Harlow Council, as they voted to do in January 2008 (5 months before I took over running the council). We have continued the process and voted to confirm one of the companies tonight.

The Lib Dem group stayed sure in their support for the process joining us in accepting the deal as a great chance to make the much needed improvements that are needed at Parndon Wood at as little cost to the taxpayer as possible. The Labour Group denied ever looking for a private bidder despite printed evidence to the contrary here, which clearly shows that they not only resolved to seek an external partner but that one of their cllrs was actually chairing the meeting that decided it. Instead tonight we saw the Labour Group start to play politics with grief and moving back to the very left wing ideological position that private equals evil.

I commend the members of my group and indeed the leader of the Lib Dems who tried to deal with the issue sensitively and without thought of the politics of the situation.

Currently sitting in the chamber at Harlow Council, but for once in the audience gallery. I have come along tonight to see a planning meeting which is discussing two quite controversial planning applications.

It’s really good to see the public gallery nearly full. I think it’s great when people take part in the local democatic process.

What I look forward to though is the freedom offered to councillors in the new Locslism bill; Eric Pickles has promised to abolish the rues, which currently prohibit a local councillor who expresses a view on a planning application from voting. These rules introduced by the previous Government were plain crazy and prevented councillors who know local areas well and have, often, been elected on a mandate involving stopping contentious issues were denied the right to represent their residents.