Saturday, 18 August 2012

End of Blog

Due to the complications of multiple accounts with Blogger, Google etc, I shall not be posting any more blogs on this site. The new site will be

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Those Political Boundary Lines

The latest threat to jeopardise the proposed constituency boundary changes – reducing the number of MPs from 650 to 600 – by the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, throws the problem for this area once again into sharp focus.

The proposed new boundary changes would see Houghton Regis and Dunstable being separated into two different constituencies. Dunstable would no longer be a part of South West Bedfordshire. Caddington, Chaul End, Kensworth and East Hyde would become part of a redrawn Hemel Hempstead constituency. Nadine Dorries present seat would be abolished.

But the South West Beds constituency has exactly the right number of constituents at the moment. So, why does it need to change?

It's already fairly confusing for local people as the current area newspapers regularly report the activites of five Members of Parliament. The re-jig would reduce that count to four. But will people, especially those in Dunstable, remember the changes if they do go through, and remember to contact the correct MP? Implementing the proposals would be a recipe for chaos at a time the country needs stability.

Political parties organised by Constituency boundaries face the upheaval of changing their structures and bank accounts to cope with the changes. Spending time on that instead of the real issues of the day is a detraction that we can certainly do without.

There is an overwhelming sense of being mere mortals in the face of these god-like proposals from the Boundary Commission for England.

Dunstable Town Council organised a petition protesting at Dunstable being shifted to a new constituency comprising eight Luton wards and the four Dunstable wards. The petition was supported by local Tory MP, Andrew Selous. The new threat from Nick Clegg may be a blessing for those protestors. Perhaps Andrew will support Mr Clegg?

The new boundaries are designed to even out the number of MPs in each seat, but given that population growth is likely to be strongest from current centres of population, it won't be long before they'll have to look at these boundaries again.

A new poll by Lib Dem Voice, which represents grassroot activists, found that 48 per cent would prefer to be in alliance with the Labour party in 2015 compared to just 19 per cent who want to carry on with the Tories.

Meanwhile, the reform of the House of Lords has effectively been dumped by the Tories. Perhaps now is not the time to be looking at this with the Eurozone in meltdown, but let's not forget that it does need addressing in the future. Inherited priviledges to attend a major place in the UK to decide the laws on how we live our lives is just not democracy.

There’s zero chance of Clegg cutting any boundary deal with Tories over party funding

Estimates by Boundary Commission for England.for the new boundaries:
18 Hemel Hempstead CC 76,457
26 Luton North and Dunstable BC 78,957
27 Luton South BC 75,106
43 South West Bedfordshire CC 77,807
44 South West Hertfordshire CC 79,167
46 St Albans CC 78,920

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Garages Boarded up While Waiting List Exists

Central Bedfordshire Council have a waiting list of 162 for a council garage. In Houghton Regis the Council owns 482 garages, 273 are rented out, and 43 are boarded up. In Dunstable the Council owns 666 garages, 246 are rented out and 80 boarded up. Parkside Houghton Regis town councillor, Alan Winter, obtained the figures through a Freedom of Information request. Cllr Winter commented, "It's a great shame that in our town 43 are boarded up while a waiting list exists. I used to park a Mondeo in a garage the size of a typical estate garage, so I don't buy the argument that garages are too small. A garage is the best place for a car for security, and they should be used. I shall be asking the Central Bedfordshire Council to step up its efforts to bring the boarded garages back into use."

Sunday, 15 July 2012

New Names Wanted for New Neighbourhoods

I read that land in the north of Houghton Regis was given to the Prior and this land was called Caldecote (Vivienne Evans, A Brief History of Dunstable with the Priory 1100-1550). Now that redevelopment proposals are being publicly discussed, they are also casting around for new suggestions for up to three new neighbourhoods. I think it important that the new neighbourhoods are given appropriate names.

We start from the current three electoral wards for Houghton Regis: Tithe Farm, Parkside, and Houghton Hall.

Developers suggestions have included "Houstone", "Milard", and "Kyngs".

Well, "Houstone" is an ancient name for the whole of Houghton Regis, and I don't find that very imaginitive. Milard comes from Alice Milard. Alice Smyth, widower, purchased land from the Duke of Bedford's very extensive estates, and proceeded to have Houghton Hall constructed next to the Village Green, completed in 1700. Her new husband, William Milard, later gained a knighthood. "Kyngs" is just another throwback name to ancient times when the whole area may have been known as Kyngs Houstone or Kyngs Houghton before 1066. (check out my time line for Houghton Regis at )

Alice Milard was actually a daughter of one of the well known Brandreth's, so really, the argument ought to be to call a place Brandreth, except that the electoral ward known today as "Houghton Hall" is more representative of the area owned by the Brandreth's.

In the 2006 book "Selling Sparrows" "Great Crixsey" is mentioned within an enclosure map MA84/2 of 1796, as an area of land mentioned to the south of "Carcutt" Farm. Today we know it as Calcutt Farm. So there are three potential locality names - Carcutt, Calcutt, and Great Crixsey. Why not re-use, at least as small estate, or as road names?

My colleagues on the Facebook Group Houghton Regis .... Back in the Day are suggesting "Washbrook" and I discovered there was a "Washbrook Corner" in Houghton Regis in the 1841 census. I've located it on the same 1796 map mentioned above, being immediately to the west of the land marked Great Crixsley on Bedford Road, opposite the junction with Thorn Road. Roger Chant writes, "The Washbrook was so called as it was where drovers washed their sheep whilst driving them to market, probably in Dunstable. When we were kids there was a bit of a slope into and out of the stream on the eastern side of the bridge. "

I'm aware that various plants were cultivated for local chemists. So how about "Sage", "Parsley" and "Thyme" –– but only if they were relevant to our area!

So, thinking caps on– and let's hopefully end up with some reasonably good names–

The Draft Houghton Regis Proposals can be found here, on CBC website.

Time Banks

Here's a problem:
Mary loves baking, hates gardening.
Peter misses his mum's cooking now she's passed on.
Fred doesn't mind gardening, but hates ironing.
Betty loves ironing, hates wall-papering.
Peter happens to be quite good at wall papering.

         On Friday I attended a "Time Banking" seminar at Chicksands, hosted by Central Bedfordshire Council. Here's what happens: you volunteer an hour of your time to help someone, and get a credit of one hour in the time bank. When you need something done, you go to the time bank and prevail upon the skill that someone else has.

 So, Mary does some baking for Peter. Mary's credit 1 hour.
 Peter does some wall papering for Betty. Peter's credit 2.5 hours, less the hour already taken.
Fred does 3 hours gardening for Mary. Fred's credit 3 hours.
Betty does Fred's ironing. Betty Credit 1 hour.

 A free software programme works out the balance of time for you. If you've got lots of credit, why not link up with another time bank in Cornwall, and get some free instruction on surfing? Or maybe you'd like to gift this time to mother for Mothers Day?

 Find out more at

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Change this Car Insurance Postcode Lottery!

Car insurance prices for Houghton Regis must be among the highest in the country.

Compared to last year my current insurer wants to hike up my fully comprehensive insurance premium by a staggering 50%. Yet none of my details have changed. Entering my details into a price comparison website this weekend I quickly found that I could get insurance for about the same as I paid last year. So that brought a small smile to my face.

But when I discussed this with someone living in Hertfordshire they were still wondering why my lowest quote was so high.

So, just changing the postcode in the price comparison website what difference did I find? Taking the average quote of the three companies offering the lowest prices, here's what I found:

Houghton Regis ......... £371.92
Dunstable .................. £339.50
Blackpool .................. £333.93
Hemel Hempstead ....... £318.69
Welwyn ..................... £307.08
Thetford ...................... £254.59
Camborne, (Corn.) ....... £216.25

Even on these figures, one company offered £0 compulsory excess in Cornwall, Thetford, and Blackpool; 2 offered £0 complusory excess in Welwyn and Hemel Hempstead. But for Dunstable and Houghton Regis, the mimimum compulsory excess offered by only one of these companies was £100.

Well, it's not fair. We're not a wealthy town. It's a diaboloical injustice! A car insurance postal code lottery! And we need to be put on a level playing field. Just because there may be a greater concentration of claims in one area - and I have no idea if there actually is - should not automatically result in everyone residing in that area being tarred with the same brush.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Join Us

The stark difference between a Liberal Democrat newsletter for Houghton Regis and a Labour newsletter for Houghton Regis, is that the Liberal Democrats actually have news about the town in it, whereas Labour's doesn't even acknowledge the presence of their solitary councillor. The Liberal Democrats is a bottom up party, Labour is a top down party. Join us.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

A New Sense of Pride for A "Therapeutic" Cleansing

I've receieved several messages from a poorly Councillor Rita Egan this week, copying me in on progress of rubbish clearance on Shanley's land to the east of Houghton Regis. A bulldozer was at work there late last year mowing the bushes down (and some trees), scrapping up the land and depositing it all, along with years of accumulated dumped rubbish, into piles in their fields. As you can imagine this brought a string of complaints our way, and other residents took the issue up with Central Beds indepently of us.

Well, I can say that Rita went to the highest accountable person at Central Beds, Councillor Budge Wells, who came along personally to see the mess with the Environmental officer. They've had meetings with the landowners, who have promised a clear up and removal of the rubbish.

Other piles were left in bushes on the same land to the west of the old bus-link towards Lewsey Farm that I photographed months ago and sent to CBC asking for some action.

After Rita's messages I was aware that something was supposed to happen this week, so took a walk down the buslink after work one day to see for myself. Two piles of debris had been created after dragging it out from the bushes, and Councillor Pete Carrington tells me that a small truck was brought up the following morning and carted it away. But it does seem they were unaware of the amount on the fields next to Houghton Park Road, and will need to come back with a bigger truck. On Thursday Rita wrote me "They will be out tomorrow with diggers trying to clean up Houghton Park Rd. They are all monitoring the situation and this really is on everyone's radar."

Public Spirit

But I was cheered by the sight of public spirited local resident, Sally Gray, while I took my stroll down that lane. She had her own litter picker and sack and was concentrating on clearing particulalry glass from the green space to the west of the buslink. "Actually, it's quite therapeutic," she told me.

This is the land that Central Beds Council are one day hoping to drive a new road through from Portz Avenue. Really, they don't have a strong enough workforce to clear rubbish. To walk through this strip of wildlife refuge green land buffering Luton from Houghton Regis does make one appreciate what will be lost. It is a great shame that this route (south of Parkside) is being preferred above all others as the relief route. Anyway, I digress.

I've taken part in litter picking on two occaisions in March; at the Houghton Regis Chalk Quarry; and on Blows Down. Normally desk-bound, I certainly agree it can be theraputic.

I'm optimistic that the Quarry will become a much loved public space; and the exercise of rubbish clearance gave my walk on Blows Down a sense of purpose. With every scrap of can, bottle, or discarded bag removed the collecting bag grew heavier and heavier telling me that we were succeeding.

The Town Council in Houghton Regis is hoping to organise some community litter-picking around the town, so I do hope that when the call comes, people will respond. "We" made the rubbish, and "we" need to be more responsible for the environment we all live in.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Market - Let's Get It Right

I attended the Town Council Management meeting in Houghton Regis this week. Based on the premise that a Market Charter exists for Dunstable, and that precludes any other market from taking place within six and three quarter miles, we apparently cannot have a market in Houghton Regis. But what we can have is a maximum of four stalls. If we continue thinking like this, some poor soul in many years to come will still be trying to change the rules and looking for a starting point.

First off, Dunstable's alleged Market Charter goes back to the days when populations were measured in hundreds rather than thousands, and the whole point of that restriction was presumably to maintain a reasonable level of trade to make it worthwhile. This is the 21st century now, and the population of Houghton Regis is bubbling around 18,000, with the Dunstable population around 35,000. So I don't see any need for the restriction to still apply.

It is written in The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland 1868, of Dunstable, "A synod was held here in the early part of the 13th century, about which time was founded a monastery of Black Friars by Henry I., who erected a royal residence at Kingsbury Farm, rebuilt the town of Dunstable, which had been devastated by the Danes two centuries before, and constituted it a borough, with privilege to hold two markets weekly, Sunday and Wednesday, and a fair on St. Peter's day."

"But Dunstable has a market on a Friday", I hear you say. I am told that this Friday Market is held under The Food Act 1984.

Well, whatever Act allows Dunstable to have a market on a Friday, ought to be a way forward for Houghton Regis to also have a proper market, too. Whether it wants, or needs one at this time, is besides the point; it might desire one in the future. However, under section 50 of this Act is written "A market shall not be established in pursuance of this section so as to interfere with any rights, powers or privileges enjoyed within the authority’s area in respect of a market by any person, without that person’s consent."

So Dunstable's Friday market was presumably considered as not interfering with the priviledge of the other two days. Or 'the authority' just consented.

'The authority', I'm guessing, would be the South Bedfordshire District Council, now superceded by the Central Bedfordshire Council. So it might appear that Houghton Regis is blocked from holding markets because it might require permission from CBC who allow our neighbouring town to enjoy many different market days. I cannot see how they could reasonably refuse a request from Houghton Regis, if a request was desired to be made. To deny it would be inequitable.

So, Dunstable has a "priviledge to hold two markets"; I was curious because Gazetteer did not explicity state "Market Charter". And apparently one of them is for a Sunday!

Digging deeper, in the GAZETTEER OF MARKETS AND FAIRS IN ENGLAND AND WALES TO 1516, it states of Dunstable "M (Prescriptive: borough) recorded 1131x33, when K Hen I issued a general notification of his grant of Dunstable with its market and other liberties to the Ca of St Peter of Dunstable (Regesta, ii, no. 1827). In 1287, the P of Dunstable held Wed and Sat markets, which he claimed by right of a charter granted by K Ric I on 3 Jul 1190 (QW, p. 14)"

In these abbreviations "M" is market. "Prescriptive" just made me plain curious. It transpires that all markets and fairs were treated as prescriptive unless evidence of a grant was found. (source). So, when this Gazetteer was written, there was no evidence of an actual grant. And it states "Wed and Sat markets".

The National Archives are not a lot of help in this study. Whilst records may be traced here showing an early royal grant of such rights, they may have no bearing whatever on present day market rights, which have been much affected by modifications or revocations of earlier charters, by grants of new rights (for example in borough charters), by the demise of old jurisdictions (as at the dissolution of the monasteries) and by modern local government reorganisation and boundary changes.

When I wrote to Wendy Fair Markets on this subject they explained,

"You are right that the original Charter was only for Wednesday and Saturday, but Local Authorities have far reaching powers to establish new markets, in particular under the Food Act 1984 and the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976. They can also just use the Planning Act to give a market Planning Permission and then they can trade as long as it is on private land. If it is on Public Highway they also need permission of the Highway Authority under The Highways Act (1980) or they may need Street Traders Licence’s under The London and Local Authorities Act 1991 or The Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982."

In conclusion, my general feeling is that there is plenty of doubt around the restrictions of Dunstable's charter priviledge that allow it to hold markets on two days of the week (Wednesday and either Saturday or Sunday - it's a grey area) that preclude any other town from holding a proper market within six and three quarter miles. Additionally, there are plenty of other mechanisms to permit the number of stalls in Houghton Regis to rise above four, should the demand ever arise.

Luton Airport

Airport Consultations

I'm beginning to think that it's an urban myth that Cllr Richard Stay is a right wing Tory. Angered that Luton airport consultations did not extend to his patch he's been actively promoting his own meetings for residents that have been "well attended". On his blog he writes "An empty chair was placed at the front because the airport's owners had refused to attend. Very shabby behaviour." In the same circumstances I'd probably have done the same.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

University Technical College - CBC in Urgent Funding Approval Request

A tight schedule to the opening of the University Technical College at the Kingsland site, Houghton Regis, in September this year, is forcing Central Bedfordshire Council to look to early agreement of £400,000 worth of expenditure to help make the site ready.

Reports to go before CBC Executive Committee on 27th March point out that the authority will lose £111,000 per annum rental income from Central Bedfordshire College, as their use of the site buidings at Kingsland reduces. This income will not be replaced by the UTC as the government require the lease/s to the UTC to be for 125 years at a ‘peppercorn’ level.

While that loss of income will raise one or two eyebrows, the UTC itself will complement the aspirations and duties of CBC in the areas of broadenng choice, diversity and opportunity in education provision. And it is fair to say that UTC will play a part in developing the local and regional economy, and the future workforce. How big a part will not be measurable for some years to come, and it is understood that UTC students may come from a ten mile radius. Hopefully, and I say this with unabashed biase, Houghton Regis young people will be the ones that gain the most.

As to the £400,000 worth of expenditure by CBC, which augments the £6.6million worth of PfS funding, the authority is pointing out that they have this money already from Section 106 funding for new school places.

So, what will the £400,000 go on? The aspiration is to use the space currently occupied by Central Bedfordshire College, which is in Blocks 2 and 3. There are a number of present users on the site that need to be relocated; reviews of rooming requirements need to be conducted; safety and internal boundary issues need resolving; work needs to be done on the 125 year lease. The documents do sound a bit wooly as to how this money is to be spent, and if I was a Central Bedfordshire Councillor I'd be really trying to drill down into those headings.

Finally, I like the commentary in the accompanying document that refers to the implications of not providing this finance: "Given the Council’s outline earlier agreement, not proceeding could have political and reputational ramifications."

Not half!

CBC Executive Agenda Item 4:

PfS: Partnership for Schools

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Busy Day at The Houghton Regis Quarry

The Houghton Regis Chalk Quarry had a clean up day yesterday. I was so pleased a lot of volunteers came out to help.


After ....

Lots more to do ...

More pictures shared here:

I wrote the story here: