A discussion was held between Chi, Local Councillors and Organisations at the Monument Ward Summit to enable Chi to better represent the Ward in Parliament.
Chi Onwurah MP
Cllr Jane Byrne
Cllr Jamie Driscoll
Cllr Rosie Hogg
Residents Liz Archer – Assistant Director Housing Services YHN
Sergeant Richard Gentry – Northumbria Police, Neighbourhood Central
Jon & Dee Cook – Hillsong Church
Elaine Armstrong (Chair) & Bob Armstrong Friends of Leazes Park
Abi Kelly – Director Corporate Affairs Newcastle University
John Pearson & Wendy Watson– St Thomas’s church
Paul Cleever-Thorpe, Minister Brunswick Methodist Church
Hugh Stolliday Friends of Summerhill
Julian Prior – CEO Action Foundation
Apologies: Rosie Serdiville – Leazes/St Thomas’, Joe Kirwin – St Mary’s Cathedral Outreach project City Centre, Alma Bell – Development Outreach officer Northumbria Deaf Mission, Northumbria University, Maysie Sharp, Friends of Summerhill.
Chi Onwurah MP
Chi Onwurah MP opened the meeting as Chair. She introduced herself to those attending and explained how she saw representing her constituency in Parliament as being a very important part of her role. Chi explained that she recognised that each ward in her constituency is different and that the purpose for holding Ward Summits is to bring together to community leaders and representatives of the wards, in order to gain their perspective on what the specific needs of Monument are.
Chi highlighted that across the Newcastle upon Tyne Central constituency Housing, Benefits, and Immigration issues are generally the top three issues raised. A short presentation showing five months of constituency caseworks figures was then shown. The presentation contained a monthly breakdown of individual issues raised with the constituency office and also showed the policy issues raised with the office. The most common categories of individual issues raised with the office are Housing, Benefits and Immigration. Policy Issues vary as they tend to be more influenced by larger trends and world events. Chi publishes these figures every month on her website. The presentation also contained the distribution of Brexit views in January 2019 across the constituency. https://chionwurahmp.com/category/constituency/
This analysis gave an overview of the whole constituency. Chi however recognised that this may not reflect the top priorities for Monument. Chi then asked to hear about the specific issues of the ward from those who had gathered and again expressed the importance of community leaders communicating the specific needs of the Monument area, so that they can best be addressed.
Jane Byrne Cllr
Councillor Jane Byrne noted that Monument Ward is diverse and a new ward borne from others and identified the three priorities have been set for the new Ward: Financial Inclusion, Green & Clean, and Community Building.
Jane spoke on Financial Inclusion, emphasizing that appropriate benefits advice and support is required, particularly in the private rented sector and with some housing associations, whilst YHN offer good support. A project is being developed with Welfare Rights at Cruddas Park, for in-house welfare rights advice/support which is jointly funded. In future the community homeless who are disposed need support and financial inclusion for other groups is also a focus.
Rosie Hogg Cllr
Councillor Rosie Hogg spoke on the Green & Clean priority. They are working with Leazes Park Trust to secure funding whilst transitioning to the new park model. Rosie highlighted sustainable travel policies such as joining up the cycle networks, making Mobikes work better and reduce issues around John Dobson St skateboarding disturbances in cycle lane. The Council is working with Newcastle University Sustainability office to target bike users, discourage pavement riding and deal with bin issues. Air quality issues are being flagged for involvement with schools and residents. A bigger sustainable and cleaner city is desired.
Jamie Driscoll Cllr
Councillor Jamie Driscoll discussed the wider differences in the community that exist in Monument ward compared with other wards in Newcastle Central with a high ‘churn’ of short term residents. Surveys identified that Monument had the lowest number of residents who know their neighbour. In terms of student integration Newcastle University responded well, however often students move out of Monument after one year. There is a need to navigate the challenge of representing residents, commerce and visitors into the ward.
In the following discussion Chi asked attendees to comment on their support of the priorities that had been set out, and to propose any other priorities they would like to suggest.
YHN raised the changes in Universal Credit payment cycles causing hardship and the additional issue of the 2019/2020 financial year being fifty-three weeks and with UC payments remaining based on fifty-two weeks this would present a problem to one third of their tenants (approximately 8,000); this would also apply to many private rented tenants. Chi agreed to ask a Parliamentary Question.
The Council suggest a registration scheme for landlords to stem the gap in knowledge on private rentals although this would have limited powers. Suggestion that GP surgery is a route to vulnerable tenants. Potential Council tax reduction scheme offer following council tax benefit withdrawal.
Refugee status changes can be executed in less than twenty-eight days, whilst UC takes thirty-five days – working to extend to fifty-six days same as those threatened with homelessness. Chi has raised this with the Government – they should have same standards as private sector – Chi to raise again due to lack of reply.
Newcastle University raised the issue of high street vibrancy and the influence on the ward of recent threats of job losses if retailers move from city centre. Cllr Byrne commented that Council policy supports the city centre – NE1’s priority is for a ‘city centre experience’ – but this is a Council rather than ward priority, ward priorities are set for residents and the community. Chi noted that Eldon Square has one of the highest footfall of shopping centres nationally. Cllr Byrne agreed to circulate a cabinet briefing from Cllr Ged Bell (Innovation) regarding borrowing to support building on Pilgrim St.
Chi pointed out that the rise in student accommodation did not increase income rates for the council. Students are not paying council tax and owners don’t pay business rates. It was noted that private developers are making lots of money.
Cycling on Northumberland Street and elsewhere was raised. Police are working with delivery companies and making progress. Suggestion to improve signage and perhaps introduce street furniture as a disincentive to dangerous cycling, studs on kerbs to dissuade skateboarders from using cycle lanes (John Dobson St). The Council are working with Newcastle University on responsible cycling education. Suggestion to flag signage, rights and responsibilities and key messages to those newly arrived in the city, perhaps through language schools. Accessibility – due to cycle lanes at Haymarket complaints received that disabled can’t be dropped off, also restricted access to Gate area – Cllr Hogg to review Council Accessibility scheme. Council to refer to forum with Taxi drivers – could this be misinformation?
Homelessness & Begging
Chi confirmed this is an issue on which she has had extensive correspondence with the Council. There has been a significant increase in rough sleeping since 2010, it is visible on our streets. All agreed there is a need to set what can be done, including exploring if what is provided is fit for purpose, regarding restrictions and quality of hostels. Currently connection with the city is a key assessment factor – it was highlighted that protocol in sub-zero temperatures was not clear. Cllr Hogg undertook to co-ordinate circulation and updating the emergency number sheet.
Reference made to the report from the urban observatory that particulate matter levels are above safe limit on St James’ Boulevard.
Northumbria Police commented that much hate crime is unreported, they are trying to encourage reporting.
The meeting adjourned due to lack of time but it was agreed that mental health was a significant issue, connected to homelessness.
All agreed that a number of important issues had been discussed and some priorities identified: homelessness, community cohesion and financial inclusion. It was also agreed that local churches do a significant amount of work in Monument ward in these areas. Cllr Byrne encouraged attendees to contact Cllrs as they would like to hear more and use the ward budget to support community organisations.
Chi suggested that on circulation of the draft minutes attendees may like to select three priorities and let her know of any additional thoughts.