Strikes blaze

ON Saturday morning, I received texts and phone calls from my friends about the devastating fire at Strikes. It was huge shock.

I have seen the garden centre at Stokesley grow from a simple plant nursery to the spectacular destination of choice for many garden lovers from Teesside and North Yorkshire.

Over the years, more lines were added to enhance the sales of indoor and outdoor plants. The simple café became a refuge for gardeners to take a break from plant selection to have coffee and delicious scones. The ample free parking helped boost trade and “Let's meet at Strikes” was the message sent to friends.

As the years went by, changes in our ways of gardening were reflected in the up-to-date ranges of patio furniture, colourful pots and barbecues. The café grew to meet the needs of the coffee loving public. The garden centre had become the new department store. You could get clothes, cookware, food, furniture, cards and gifts for all occasions.

It was a completely new way of shopping. The garden centre experience had arrived; it proved to be a very popular destination. A recently completed refurbishment saw the creation of more sales areas and a beautifully designed café in very striking and contemporary colours.

This year, after the usual wondrous Christmas displays had been replaced with the fresh colours of spring and new stock was being opened up and displayed, the centre was ready for the joys of the summer months to come.

A tragedy for the owners who had put so much effort - and money - into the refurbishment but also for the wonderful manager and the expert and friendly staff.

I do hope they know that we, the garden centre friends, have sympathy for them and are thinking about them during this extremely difficult time. We are not the people who put thoughtless and hurtful comments on social media.

I feel sure that the outdoor plant areas will re-open soon and then we will all be back to fill our gardens with fabulous colour.

We will have to be patient and wait a little while longer for the coffee and those delicious scones.

A wise person said: “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” Strikes at Stokesley will bloom again.

Terence Fleming, Guisborough

Army homes

I READ with interest Rishi Sunak's comments on the expansion of Catterick Garrison (D&S Times, April 6). He presents a slightly rose-tinted view of how this is to come about and local parishes are aware their residential amenity may be adversely jeopardised.

Unfortunately the process started very badly with 170 army houses being approved in July 2017 by Richmondshire planning on a greenfield site either side of Breckenbrough Lane, together with a new roundabout on the corner by Somme Barracks.

Little notice was taken of the objectors' views and the meeting seemed to be a "fait accompli". This development is on Grade 3 agricultural land which includes the destruction of the pretty wood bordering Cleveland Road, had been refused the year before and was clearly outside the parameters of RDC's core policy for residential development - we still wait to see what infrastructure is to be put in place. We understand that the Local Plan is now being rewritten and altered to include the army development.

It was only by combining these houses with others being built around Le Cateau school, geographically quite separate, that the Defence Infrastructure Organisation could claim that this was "mainly" a brownfield site. This was a device we saw through straight away and it sowed seeds of mistrust for whatever was to follow. A large number of brownfield sites within the Garrison footprint were discussed at the meeting but the army dismissed these one by one on the basis that they were either unsuitable or needed for something else at a future date.

It seems that all the agricultural land south of Sour Beck and nearly up to Brough Lane is at risk of development either with more housing or the two new roads. Whilst we accept the Army has to house the increased number of soldiers and their families coming to the area, they also have to reduce their enormous budget deficit. One way doing that is to get planning permission and sell to developers those areas of land that they can do without in the area.

Many of us come to live in this beautiful part of North Yorkshire for the stunning countryside and we can only hope that the army looks again at the enormous area they own to prevent any more greenfield land being developed, A step in the right direction would be to withdraw the contentious Breckenbrough Lane application before any houses are built.

Martin Richardson, chairman Tunstall Parish Council

School report

I WAS impressed by the North Yorks county councillors' challenging response to the Ofsted report on Northallerton School and Sixth Form College (D&S Times, March 23). They were rightly asking questions about how this could have happened.

They were also openly raising the question as to what could be done to improve the effectiveness of the local education authority’s monitoring, challenge and support for schools in the intervening years between external inspections by Ofsted.

The challenge for the LEA is to sharpen its systems to pick up when schools are gradually disimproving. That old fable comes to mind about how the frog that falls into hot water survives while the one that falls into slowly, heating, cold, water perishes.

I would suggest that annual surveys - independently analysed and interpreted - of the views of parents, pupils and staff are something that the local education authority should include as part of its monitoring of the effectiveness of all secondary school's leadership and management.

In England, we are privileged to have an external regulator with credibility. Let's do more to build on that positive starting point.

Jim Griffin, Northallerton

Street parking

THE Department for Transport has announced it is considering an overhaul of traffic laws to prevent vehicles from blocking paths and causing difficulties for wheelchair users, people with pushchairs and blind pedestrians. Not before time.

This seems to conflict with my assertions in letters to you that parking on pavements is already illegal. However, the report in The Times goes on to say that parking on pavements is generally allowed except where vehicles are causing an obstruction. Given that any vehicle even partially parked on the pavement is causing an obstruction what is really meant is that vehicles so parked are generally ignored, not ‘allowed’. And the exception is hardly an exception when nothing is done about cars causing obstructions. Which is, of course, what has been happening in Northallerton and elsewhere.

The RAC commented “Motorists thinking that they are doing their fellow road users a favour by parking up on the pavement should also have an eye to the people whose paths they might be blocking … where thoughtless parking can mean wheelchair users and parents with prams have to contend with traffic”. Exactly. I would only mention the omission of the blind and add the police should also have an eye to this – even if some of the cars obstructing pavements have been parked by their own staff.

Unfortunately, the DfT’s statement is perhaps not the good news it seems to be. A recent investigation has shown just how many of these promised surveys by the government are simply abandoned so it might not happen, indeed the DfT itself apparently promised a review on this two years ago but it was never carried out.

And it seems that even if the DfT does something it will only be to allow councils to make it illegal as it has been in London for more than 40 years. Despite an assertion that councils have long pushed for the change, saying it is a “nonsense” those outside London are treated differently, would councils hereabouts act to make it illegal?

In any case whether councils hereabouts made it illegal is irrelevant because it is already illegal: parking on pavements always causes an obstruction.

As I have argued repeatedly, the police should take action because they owe it to wheelchair users, people with pushchairs and blind pedestrians. And it seems the DfT and RAC agree with me.

David Severs ,retd chief superintendent, Northallerton

Drug prices

I DESPAIR that none of our politicians can act in a professional manner.

In my local pharmacist I saw a small poster telling us not to ask our doctor for a prescription for paracetamol tablets because they cost the NHS four times the price than we can buy the tablets over the counter.

Considering that Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health, has been in the job since 2012 and hasn’t corrected this anomaly then what chance is there that he can buy other drugs cost-effectively as well as look into the problems like the lack of doctors, nurses, radiographers, midwives and mental health workers?

A few months ago the Prime Minister was having a “Ministerial reshuffle” but Jeremy Hunt persuaded her to let him to continue as Minister for Health because he was doing such a good job.

It is not just the Government. What are the other political parties doing on this matter? Are they asleep? They should be challenging the Government on issues such as this and trying to encourage us to consider voting for them “because they are more competent” in a future election.

Brian Tyldesley, Middleham

Rail target

I WAS interested in the article about wartime evacuation in Northallerton (D&S Times, April 6). I guess that as a country market town, on the surface it looked to be a good place for kids from the big industrial conurbations.

But for one thing.

Northallerton was a vital railway junction – probably the most vital junction – in the North-East. From each end of Northallerton station lines went to London, Newcastle and Edinburgh, to Teesside and Wearside via Yarm and to Leeds and West Yorkshire via Ripon. And there was even the little country branch line to the West Coast main line via Hawes.

Some years ago, I read in a railway magazine that Northallerton was considered to be such an important junction that any protracted bombing could have severed the country's rail network in a time when the majority of goods, war materials and troops went by train.

The wartime Railway Executive was so concerned they constructed duplicate bridge sections (including an ingenious sliding section) and railway junction pointwork and layout that were stored under camouflage in nearby fields so that if the junction was bombed repair work could start rapidly.

Given that Allied attempts to wreck similar key junctions and viaducts in Germany and occupied France needed massive raids to destroy them, the thought that Northallerton itself could escape was pretty fanciful thinking, I feel.

David Walsh, Skelton

Road delays

THE A684 Morton on Swale is a main link east/west and receives very heavy use, particularly at peak times. It carries many journeys made by emergency services.

Work on the road bridge at Morton-on-Swale has been undertaken over the last two weeks and at the time of writing continues. Traffic lights restrict vehicles to one lane, which results in traffic queuing from Ainderby Steeple to the east and stretching west well beyond Scruton crossroads.

Work has not been undertaken either at night or during weekends (including Easter). The cost in man hours lost to motorists will be well into tens of thousands. Yes, it will cost more to employ people on night work/weekends – but a miniscule amount to that lost to businesses with vehicles trapped.

There may have been warnings of delays on radio/TV but if so I have failed to be alerted. Whoever is responsible for the above should hang their heads in shame; it has been a disgrace. As someone who users mainly two wheeled transport it has created little disruption personally.

D Fawcett, Morton on Swale

Boundary review

AS district councillor for Lower Wensleydale and a lifelong resident of Patrick Brompton, I was delighted to read the Local Government Boundary Commission for England’s final recommendations (D&S Times, April 6).

In their findings they have allowed Patrick Brompton to remain in the Lower Wensleydale ward rather than being placed in the Scotton ward.

This change in the LGBC original recommendations was allowed due to the detailed evidence of strong community links between ourselves and Newton Le Willows and Lower Wensleydale.

I would like to thank the residents of Patrick Brompton, Newton Le Willows and community organisations for writing to the LGBC and voicing their concerns on the Draft proposals and pointing out the arguments against them.

Cllr Richard Ormston, Patrick Brompton

Pub access

I AM pleased to confirm your review of the Black Bull at Moulton. The service is always impeccable and the food excellent.

The particulars advise “Disabled Access”. Well, ye, but the disabled parking bays are above a substantial flight of steps with a handrail on one side only; the alternative involves a long way round with a steep ramp or walking back a fair way down the road to the roadside entrance.

Dropping off and picking up at the roadside is tricky without disrupting passing traffic and is not an option for a disabled driver.

I mention the problem every time I visit. I appreciate that the site is awkward, but more handrails would help. There is indeed disabled access but be warned - only with a struggle.

Philip Harvey, Middleton Tyas

No change?

AN interesting letter in this week's paper from Dr John Gibbins on the "one party state" of North Yorkshire (D&S Times, April 6). Perhaps he meant "states" as all of the local councils share the same hue.

A recent book on 17th-century Northallerton wills notes that the town at that time was run by "a self-perpetuating oligarchy of the middling sort".

Seemingly some things don't change, but I suppose it all depends on your point of view, one person's oligarchy or clique being another person's body of "movers and shakers", acting in the interests of the town and its residents.

Tony Robinson, Northallerton