A lengthy blog entry this month but there has been so much going on in March already.
Ahead of the third anniversary of the Coronavirus pandemic, South Tyneside took time to reflect and honour those affected by the virus that changed our lives. Council conferred the Freedom of South Tyneside, the highest honour we can bestow, to local NHS, care services and key workers earlier this month.
We made a commitment at the height of the pandemic that we would honour all those who supported our communities through one of the worst peacetime challenges and the biggest global health crisis of our lifetime. Permanent covid memorials have now been unveiled at six sites across the Borough.
Council also heard about the progress and achievements we've made in delivering the 20 - year vision and strategy since it was agreed in November.
We continue to deliver on the five ambitions within our vision.
As you know, last year we held the Conversation to consult about the future of South Shields town centre and I'm delighted to say that around 1,300 local people, aged from 12 to 75 took part.
Their views are now being built into our masterplan for the town. Consistent themes emerged from the public consultation, with residents asking for better variety of shops, a relocated College, quality green spaces, a refurbished Customs House, investment in the market place and more spaces for small local retailers to set up shop.
There was overwhelming support for the college relocation, with over 80% of people thinking it would benefit the town and almost two thirds believing it would create more opportunities for local businesses, a livelier town centre and increased footfall.
We will be launching the full masterplan in summer and we'll take forward as many of people's ideas as possible. Pop up cafes and shops, a cycle hub on the ferry landing, green spaces, retail space for small businesses and more activity at the market place with a food hall and recreational activities are all being considered as the plan takes shape. We wanted local people to be at the heart of discussions and this is about looking to the future and, together, shaping a town centre that appeals to all generations.
This month we've made real progress in our work to support stronger communities. New cutting-edge CCTV cameras are being upgraded at 10 locations across the borough. The £60,000 investment has been targeted at locations with higher levels of crime and anti-social behaviour, however, further upgrades are anticipated later this year.
Work to build 10 new council homes at Hindmarch Drive, Boldon, has begun. The development will be a mix of houses, bungalows and apartments. Housing is a lot more than just bricks and mortar, it can change people's quality of life, which is why we're proactive about developing the kind of good quality, affordable homes local people want.
The site of the former Lincoln Court Extra Care scheme in Hebburn Town Centre is the proposed site a 96-bed extra care facility, the first of three developments which are being delivered as a partnership project between the Council and Karbon Homes.
Combined, the schemes would deliver 250 - 300 new homes, helping address the lack of specialist affordable accommodation options in the borough that help people with care and support needs to live well and independently.
We're also supporting independent living through a new service called See and Solve. This meets our ambition for people to be healthy and well throughout their lives. The Council's Living Better Lives Resources Centre in Jarrow provides a range of equipment to help people maintain and retain their independence. Since the trial was introduced, waiting times have reduced dramatically.
A special primary school could be established following our successful application for a new free school. The school would be for pupils with significant social, emotional, and mental health (SEMH) needs and often with additional needs such as autism and ADHD. Providing specialist education tailored to student's unique needs is vital in ensuring that all our children can learn,
I was delighted to attend the official opening of the Operations and Maintenance base for Dogger Bank Wind Farm, the world's largest offshore wind farm. Over 400 long-term jobs have been created locally to support the 35-year life of the wind farm. South Tyneside presents a fantastic opportunity to boost job creation and bolster UK energy security, being at the very heart of the automotive, advanced manufacturing and green economies, in line with our ambition of connecting residents to jobs and skills.
Progress on our three innovative renewable energy projects is continuing at pace. The schemes - in each of the borough's towns, South Shields, Hebburn and Jarrow - will collectively cut carbon emissions by almost 4,000 tonnes a year.
The Council has also declared an ecological emergency and following cross party working, has agreed an action plan to help tackle the crisis. The ecological emergency is the decline of nature all around us; there are fewer species and less abundance of natural life due to our actions.
We have also launched 'Democracy: A Year of Action' a new campaign aimed at helping to raise awareness of the Council - what it does and how it works - while encouraging local communities to get more involved in the democratic process, local decision-making and have their say in local elections.
Recently, Young People's Parliament (YPP) member Rachael Mienie illustrated a map showcasing all the fantastic places for young people to visit in the Borough. The idea came about as part of the YPP's campaign on health and wellbeing which revealed that young people were not aware of the services available to them. A copy of the map has been sent to every secondary school in the Borough.
I know some of you may be concerned that the Community Interest Organisation which operates the Community Association at Chuter Ede in South Shields has informed groups of its decision to close for financial reasons. I wanted to reassure you that the Council was not involved in this decision at all. However, as owner of the building, the Council has stepped in and agreed to extend the closure date to the end of the summer holidays, and we are working with groups during this time to help them find new premises to operate from.
In addition to the work we've been doing to support communities through the cost-of-living crisis, we have joined forces with partners to raise awareness of pension credit. This benefit provides extra money to those of state pension age living on a low income. More than 2,600 eligible local residents are not claiming the credit, which could benefit them by around £32 a week.
I'd also like to flag the Government's £200 Alternative Fuels Payment (AFP) for people who heat their home using tank or bottled gas, liquid petroleum gas, oil, wood, or solid fuel. There are a small number of people that don't have a direct contract with an electricity supplier and will need to make a claim under the AFP Alternative Funding scheme. You can find out more at www.southtyneside.gov.uk/costofliving
Before I sign off for this month, I just wanted to remind you once again about Voter ID and the new requirements the government have brought in. Voters who prefer to vote in person at a polling station will need to bring have an accepted form of ID. More details about the new rules are available at electoralcommission.org.uk/voterID. The new rules do not apply if you choose to vote by post. To apply for a postal vote visit www.southtyneside.gov.uk/elections.
Councillor Tracey Dixon
Leader of South Tyneside Council