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Victoria Gardens Development FOI Request to Newton Abbot Town Council

with one comment

In the interest of transparency, this is the Freedom of Information request that I have today submitted to Newton Abbot Town Council. The Council is proposing to develop a small patch of land to include some trees and benches but, in its consultation, does not mention the cost. I believe that this is wrong and that the public has a right to know how much they will have to pay for this. Especially as the figures being put around are in excess of £500,000 over 40 years – representing a very significant chunk of the Town Council’s budget year on year and a very long term debt on local taxpayers.

I will post the response when it appears.


Dear Mr Rowe

I email with a series of requests under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The requests relate to the development at Victoria Gardens (“the Development”).

1- please confirm the amount budgeted by the Town Council for repayment of capital debt and interest of the Development in each of the financial years 2012-13 through to 2053-54. If there are years where there is no projected budget for this, please confirm the dates where this is the case.

2- please confirm the capital sum to be borrowed in respect of the Development.

3- please confirm whether the council is considering (or has agreed) a fixed interest debt instrument (or loan) or whether it is considering (or has agreed) a variable interest debt instrument (or loan).

4- please confirm the interest rates under consideration for the debt instrument (or loan) that is under consideration or that will be used for the Development.

5- please confirm the duration of the loan that is under consideration or that will be used for the Development.

6- please confirm the total projected to be repaid under the debt instrument (or loan) that is under consideration or that will be used for the Development.

7- please confirm whether any of the documents used for the public consultation on the Development had included the budget or cost for the Development.

8- please confirm the surface area of the Development site.

You will appreciate that FOI requests may be made by email and I am content for you to reply in the same way to *********. If you wish to reply by post, my address is **********.

I look forward to hearing from you within the designated timescale.

Yours sincerely

James Barisic

Written by James

September 21st, 2012 at 10:32 am

Equal Civil Marriage Consultation Response

without comments

The Government has today opened the consultation of equal civil marriage (also known as ‘gay marriage’). The website with the consultation document and how to respond can be found here:

Just so everyone knows where I stand on this, I’ll share with you my response to the consultation here. Please do get involved – your views are important.

Question 1 – Agree

Question 2 – Discrimination in relation to state recognition of a loving relationship, whether same sex or opposite sex, has no justification in logic, ethics or morality. Allowing only civil partnerships for same-sex couples amounts to discrimination and, inherently, civil partnerships will continue to be seen as ‘lesser’ than marriage.

Question 3 – This question does not apply to me.

Question 4 – This question does not apply to me.

Question 5 – Agree but subject to comments in response to Question 16 below in which I argue that the civil element of marriage should be removed from religious organisations.

Question 6 – Disagree.

Question 7 – This question does not apply to me.

Question 8 – Disagree. Although I would not support the continuation of civil partnerships if marriage is to be introduced, if civil partnerships are to be retained, there is no reason why opposite-sex couples should not enter into one.

Question 9 – This question does not apply to me.

Question 10 – Disagree. It should be automatic.

Question 11 – Yes, there should be an option.

Question 12 – This question does not apply to me.

Question 13 – This question does not apply to me.

Question 14 – 2.36 – This is an issue with maintaining civil partnerships and civil marriages for same-sex couples. If they are all viewed as a marriage, then this problem does not arise. It is the job of Her Majesty’s Government to protect Her subjects. While all efforts to continue to persuade other countries to recognise same-sex relationships, HMG must continue to offer all possible help to those in same-sex relationships, particularly being mindful of those countries who may not be as forward thinking as the United Kingdom.

- 2.37 – It is bizarre that the situation could be different in the constituent parts of the United Kingdom and it would be heartening to see each of the devolved bodies working together in a show of unity on this issue. Human rights should not recognise territorial boundaries.

Question 15 – It would be a sad day for the United Kingdom when any costs involved in protecting people from lesser treatment based on their sexuality outweighed the incredible benefit of acting in the correct way to other human beings.

Question 16 – While nothing should slow the move towards same sex civil marriage, the conduct of several religious bodies and leaders in the run up to this consultation has been less than enlightened (let alone in line with their own strictures to love their fellow humans and treat them with love and as they would wish to be treated themselves). As currently outlined, the Government’s proposals allow churches to continue to discriminate on the grounds of sexuality by barring same-sex marriage. This is nothing short of outrageous – especially given their role in the civil side of marriage. Just because someone believes a particular form of discrimination is correct does not mean they should be able to force that view on others – nobody should be above the law of discrimination. For historic reasons, churches and other religious organisations have controlled marriage. However, we do not live in history and we should be open to considering the church’s dual role in marriages – carrying out both the religious and civil elements. Other countries, notably France, operate under a concept of laïcité – religious involvement in government affairs is not allowed nor is government involvement in religious affairs. There, couples may be married (in a religious sense) in church but only once they have been married in civic premises will the marriage be recognised formally by the state. I would suggest that the United Kingdom should move to a position where marriage is made a state function and people may have their marriage solemnised in church if needed but that that should be separate. In its words and deeds, the church has shown that it is no longer an appropriate guardian of marriage as a recognition of a relationship of love.

Written by James

March 15th, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Posted in Democracy

About those Exeter Christmas lights…

with 7 comments

I have put my head above the parapet on something and it seems from my inbox that I am not alone on it!

Over the past few weeks, a campaign has been running to raise money for the Christmas lights in Exeter City Centre. The main focus of the campaign is to get money out of city centre businesses – and, in particular, the banks.

On Twitter, the City Centre Manger, John Harvey (who, I want to put it on record, I like a lot) has been attacking various targets for not putting money in to the pot.

Due to the deficiencies of Twitter (140 characters and all that), it’s not easy for me to put my point across on this and I feel a bit like I’m talking in soundbites. So I thought a blog might be in order to put some flesh on the bones. So, here we go…

This year, for various reason, there is no money for Christmas lights. Traditionally, this was something paid for out of the Council’s budget and it appears to cost somewhere in excess of £50,000 to put on. The lights are lovely.

Exeter City Council is, at the moment, making some big cuts to services. The pressures are coming at them from all angles – losing money in Icelandic banks, general Government cuts, spending on failed unitary bids and so on. But, at the same time, they are also writing off over £600,000 of unpaid rent and Council Tax. So they are obviously in no position to put their hands in their pockets.

Neither is Devon County Council. They are under pressure too.

So, the campaign is targeting the city centre businesses.

Now, maybe I’m looking at this a bit too simplistically but, if the Councils have no more money, why go after the businesses? Why assume they have money? Or that we are somehow entitled to it? Given how difficult it is to walk through Exeter without getting attacked by dozens of chuggers, it is possibly not surprising that they same tactics are being used now against the city’s businesses.

The level of vitriol being directed to these companies is simply wrong. They have already paid what has been asked of them. They have put in their contribution and now they are under attack.

I also do have a problem with a non-elected, predominantly publicly funded person attacking private companies for not donating money to something – whatever it is. It is their decision and they are not required to donate – respect that and don’t call them out. To read “Unacceptable that other #HighStreet banks haven’t yet come forward to support” on Twitter from the City Centre Manager is, I think, really unacceptable.

It is not right that organisations in Exeter do not feel they can speak out about this for fear of getting cast as the bad guy or somehow mean-spirited. And trust me, from the contacts that I have had that is exactly how they feel. They should feel free to speak and feel free not to contribute without fear of retribution.

I am now going to say something really unpopular but I hope that the illustration I give makes the point:

It is not mean-spirited to say that we have priorities and, when times are hard, maybe a few Christmas lights aren’t that important.

We are in the middle of an economically difficult period – possibly the worst there has ever been – and there is not an awful lot of money floating about. If we cannot afford Christmas lights, it will not kill us to go without them until there is enough money to pay for them. And if we can afford them, in the circumstances, maybe giving the money to one of the many organisations who are facing cuts that protect and support the most vulnerable in society would be a better use of it.

In fact, wouldn’t not having the lights and giving the money to the most vulnerable be in the real spirit of Christmas?

This attack on Exeter businesses has been very public so far and, therefore, I think it is only right that this discussion of the counterpoint is in the public domain too. I would welcome your contributions to this – especially from you, John! This is a discussion and I hope that you will take it in the manner in which it is meant. Your right of reply is absolute!

Written by James

October 14th, 2011 at 1:05 pm

No to AV for an entirely undemocratic reason – to keep the racists away

with 8 comments

Leaving aside the merits (or demerits in this case) of the AV system as opposed to various other systems that are actually proportional, there is one very simple and entirely undemocratic reason why I will be voting No to AV – I really don’t like racists.  I know that that is entirely unfair of me but at least I am honest enough to stand up, say that I do not like them and that is why I do not want AV.

The way I see it, I have one vote and each racist in the country has one vote.  If I vote for a candidate in one of the ‘normal’ parties that vote is worth one vote.  If my candidate loses, I have to live with that because I understand that elections are a choice and sometimes my candidate will get less votes than someone else who is more popular – as grumpy as it makes me, that’s life.  It’s not a perfect system but it is simple to understand and put into action.

Let’s take another person and give him a fictional name – we’ll call him Mr White.  Mr White is a racist so he wants to vote BNP.  Clearly he’s an idiot but he has a vote and can exercise it.  He has spent ages trying to work out how to draw an X and what their symbol looks like so he can put his X next to the picture of the BNP logo.  He has one vote. Fortunately, there aren’t too many idiots knocking about so the BNP candidate does not win.  Yaay!

Right, so that is how first past the post works.

In AV, Mr White gets an extra vote because the racist parties like the BNP are more likely than any other to come last. It is not the sensible people like you and I who get the extra vote – it’s the hate mongers at the bottom of the pile.  Our candidates, towards the top of the pile, do not get their votes redistributed because our candidates are unlikely to get eliminated. The greatest fallacy of this whole debate is to suggest that votes for the main three parties are going to get redistributed – it will happen so rarely that it is not even worth thinking about.

So, what’s the effect of this?  Simply put, the mainstream parties will have to pander to the likes of the BNP/EDL/National Front and other assorted dross in the hope that they can pick up their second preference vote and I do not like the idea of that.

I can’t put it much clearer than that.  AV supports the views of extremists.  First Past the Post doesn’t.

It’s just that nobody else seems brave enough to point that out!

Written by James

February 15th, 2011 at 9:48 pm