The site has been very quiet the past few weeks, mainly because I have been extremely busy trying to get Liz Brown and Elizabeth Scott elected as successors to myself and Grenville Holland the face of a really strong challenge from the Greens.
In the end we succeeded and I am massively pleased to have two really capable women in Liz Brown and Elizabeth Scott replacing us as the Lib dem Councillors for the Neville’s Cross division of Durham County Council (DCC).
My decision not to stand for re-election in 2017 was actually taken in the autumn of 2012. Having first been elected to DCC in 1985, I had Lib Dem Group Leader there since 1989 and the plan was to stand for one last term in 2013, step down as Group Leader immediately afterwards, and then retire this year, which is how it has turned out.
I have been extremely fortunate in many ways. Leaving on my own terms, certainly, but most of all having had the privilege of serving the Neville’s Cross division on Durham County Council since 1985. The boundaries have changed a couple of times during that period as has much else. Durham is a very different place than it was 32 years ago.
When I first got elected I had 1,950 doors to leaflet and knock on, now it is over 3,100 and will rise to over 3,500 when the new estates at Mount Oswald and the former Police HQ sites are completed. Not many areas in County Durham have seen an increase as large as that. Indeed, the increase in housing has been a major concern of residents over the past 10 years or so, particularly as the houses that have been built have not been affordable for the vast majority of people in the area.
The other big change over the period has been the size of the University in relation to the City. I came to Durham to work in the University in 1976 when there were just 4,000 students. By the mid 2020s, the expectation is that the number will be over 21,000 (it is now around 15,000). This has impacted mainly on the City Centre division (formerly Elvet and now Elvet & Gilesgate) and on Neville’s Cross, causing massive concerns among residents over the imbalance that it has caused within the local community.
The failure of the City and County Councils to get to grips with the relationship between the University and the City has been one of the main failings of local democracy in recent decades, something that all city centre councillors have been campaigning on for many years. The new interim policy on student housing is a big step forward, but it is not perfect and really needs further thought and development as the Council has a second go at creating a Local Plan for County Durham.
As I said at my final Council meeting in March, I have have really enjoyed my time as a councillor and mainly from being able to help individuals deal with their issues. Standing up in full Council and making speeches is all very well, but the real reward is standing alongside local people and groups as they grapple with the local bureaucracy. I haven’t been able to solve every problem (and it is a foolish politician who promises to be able to do so), but even when I couldn’t sort something out, I got the impression that people appreciated being listened to and taken seriously.
So farewell to Neville’s Cross (at least as one of it’s elected representatives). I am confident that I am leaving it in good hands with Liz and Elizabeth.