A Report for FIBS by Corina Goss (CG)
CG: My guest today is Cllr. Stephen Luxton. Thank you very much for joining me on "One to One" today.
SL: Itís good to be here. Itís the first time I have been back into the studio since the election. Quite a bit has happened but most of it has been reasonably positive so far.
CG: You are coming up to your first year as a Councillor. How have you found it? Is it what you thought it would be?
SL: Yes and no. I think you get into a lot more detail on many things. Perhaps the best way to put it is that there is an awful lot going on behind the scenes that you get involved in that often out of necessity canít be broadcast or made public. There is a lot of beavering away going on behind the scenes and I donít think I really appreciated exactly what was involved until after the election. To a certain extent, in the first week I wondered what the hell had hit me but since then things have quieted down quite a bit. It has been enjoyable so far.
CG: What is a week in the life of Councillor Luxton like?
SL: It can vary enormously. At one extreme we have Budget Week where you spend the whole week doing something and other weeks you have absolutely nothing. There is no typical week. I suppose, on average, it probably takes up, as we were told at the time, two days a week plus odd bits and pieces here and there but there really hasnít been a typical week as such.
CG: Do you get a lot of communication from the public? Do people phone you up at home with problems and moans and gripes?
SL: Not as much as I expected, though I probably will regret saying that. You do get phone calls. Roads is one of the most popular issues for discussion. The Councillors, in general, get letters from various people Ė some, more often than others through the month, which we discuss at the monthly meeting of GPC and some of those we respond to as a group. Other times you get a letter addressed to you as a portfolio holder and you deal with that and discuss it with whoever is appropriate.
CG: The main things you are involved with are Transport, Mineral Resources, Police and I. T. In those areas, what are the major achievements you feel you have covered in the last 12 months?
SL: Itís been up and down in all areas. Transport Ė roads are a subject close to many peopleís hearts. There has been a bit of an upheaval in the road programme recently. We went forward quite a long way and then went backwards a little bit when it became clear that what had been proposed hadnít been entirely feasible. I think one of the key things that we are looking at doing now is accelerating the road building on West Falkland. If you look at the road programme, you can see that under the old one, the West Roads wouldnít be completed until 4 or 5 years after the East Roads. Essentially what we are looking at doing is building up a second road building gang on West Falkland using PWD resources from the East Gang and perhaps some of the existing West resources to be moved to the north to start road building there. Obviously there have been quite a few changes and discussion to deal with that. It was originally going to be scheduled for the end of this season. We are now going to look towards making a move towards the end of next season. That will give more time for planning and to decide exactly what to do. I think itís important to speed things up a bit on the West because there is still an awful lot of road left to be built. On the East, Walker Creek is the last major piece of road. Once thatís done the rest of it is only small pieces.
CG: But by concentrating on the West, does this mean that people that were waiting for their roads are going to lose out?
SL: Not any more. That was the major criticism of the original intention, which was to delay the Walker Creek Road. There was a number of factors which had been raised in the past that were not properly brought into the discussion at the Transport Advisory Committee when we actually approved the first revision to the programme. Those include, firstly, the state of the Walker Creek Jetty, which is fairly appalling. I also learned almost by accident is that the Walker Creek Estuary has been closed through the winter and itís likely to be an on-going problem. That puts people back to a situation they would have been in many years ago where there was no flying, a fairly doggy jetty and the only way in or out was overland. That was why the road was reinstated. That will obviously bring them forward a lot. Hopefully they will be pleased to see a continuation of that. There has been a slight change in that instead of continuing to Newhaven and finishing that road, which was the original intention for this season, we are not going on to Walker Creek. The Newhaven road will immediately follow that. The reasoning behind that is that until the situation with the Squid fishery is known, it is unlikely we are going to commit any significant amount of money to developing a facility at Newhaven. That therefore means that we may as well build the road to Walker Creek first because there are people there and there are the other factors such as the Jetty and the airstrip.
CG: When you talk about the facility at Newhaven, are you talking about the cross sound ferry that was proposed?
SL: Yes. Some form of ferry terminal Ė the exact nature of that has yet to be defined. There have been some ideas put forward by Byron Marine and in the fairly near future, we are actually going to start looking at that from a design and costing side in rather more detail so that if our income does pick up we will then be in a position to move forward with putting something there fairly quickly, if thatís what people agree to. The key thing there is that the lead time in designing these things and making sure that everybodyís happy with it is significant, so you really want to have the design on hand when you can approve funding to go ahead.
CG: Surely you are saying that if the money isnít there from the fishery then it will be put on hold. But wouldnít this be an investment by means of the Abattoir?
SL: Yes. It would be. I am not so much saying put on hold. At the moment, I think the general feeling amongst Councillors Ė many other people as well Ė is that we shouldnít be accelerating too many projects or voting too much money until we are clear about the state of the fishery. It may turn out that itís just a one-year blip and come next March and April, everythingís back to normal. In that case, we can get on with whatever we want to do. I think the thing at the moment is we just spent a lot of valuable time cutting back the budget and it would be a bit daft to start putting expensive projects back in when we have already cut some out.
CG: I canít have you in here and not mention the MPA Road. You must come under a lot of criticism.
SL: I am perhaps fortunate in the fact it isnít so much a TAC matter as a PWD matter because it is maintenance rather than new-build. Itís one of those things that comes up every winter. Through the summer, everybodyís reasonably happy with it. Yes. It would be nice to blacktop it but the cost is fantastic. Itís somewhere in the region of £19 Million, which is not money I think is worth spending on it.
CG: You seriously believe that, even though there have been numerous accidents and deaths on the road?
SL: Itís a question of priorities, really. £19 Million Ė if I could compare it to the new port, - the deep water port Ė itís one of those things whether you either build or carry out a single project like that or you can carry out all sorts of other things which people equally want to see done for the same amount of money. I personally believe that if we ploughed into it and spent that sort of money on it - that would be a bit premature. We should sit back and look at the options and come up with something a bit cheaper that would give the same result.
CG: If the Falklands does get a second LanChile flight and would increase transportation of animals to the Abattoir, surely the wear and tare on the road would increase.
SL: Yes. It will. I donít think a second LanChile flight would make a colossal amount of difference to the level of traffic. There would be an extra bus going out there and a few other vehicles as well but in terms of the increase, of the whole weekís traffic, probably not very much. Itís another reason for looking at getting it surfaced. I wouldnít say more than that and again, until our income source stabilizes. A t the end of the day we are going to need something to pay for it. Itís a very expensive project I donít think we should be rushing into.
CG: You also deal with Mineral Resources. Whatís happening with the mineral resources at the moment and the off shore oil surveys?
SL: With that, really, everythingís just sort of going ahead very quietly and people are getting on and doing things. I donít think there is a rig on the horizon yet. It would be nice if there was but obviously there has been a substantial amount of acreage awarded down south and new ground in deep water which couldnít be explored before. Things have just sort of been taking on nicely in the sectors to the north as well. Again, thereís no likelihood of a rig coming over the horizon next week or anything like that. Certainly the future looks promising. We just have to sit back and wait and see what happens. But, particularly with the squid fishery as it is at the moment, we certainly hope that something will.
CG: What exactly happens? How are these surveys carried out and who does them?
SL: The first line of surveys are the seismic surveys of the strata below the seabed. They will take it away, process it, look at it, scratch their heads and then come back. Then they will do a detailed seismic survey and possibly other things like aero-magnetic and so on. Basically the very expensive bit about any drilling operation is actually drilling the hole so they will get as much information as they can to decide where to put it. Really, to a certain extent, thatís where the exploration is at the moment. There was a lot of data that came out of the first drilling round. It didnít find any oil but it answered a lot of questions. And, there are a lot of people with a firm idea about where they would like t drill a hole next, which would be a question of various companies getting together in partnership and getting enough money together to get another rig down.
CG: And, what about on-shore mineral exploration? A while ago there was a lot of talk about gold in the North Arm area and Goose Green and then it went quiet.
SL: Thatís not actually something that I have been involved with closely because of the conflict of interest with FIC being involved with that. So, I admit that I know less about that than anybody else on the Mineral Resources Committee. I have deliberately excused myself from most of the discussions on that. I think gold is a bit of a long-shot but there are various minerals that are being looked for. There is a programme over this coming summer of exploration and trenching and so on in various areas. And, again, I think it is something we shouldn't expect it to produce big bucks any time in the near future. But it'í something else that its carrying on fairly quietly and hopefully produce results in the long-term.
CG: And you are involved in the Police Committee. You must face a lot of criticism as well because you must hear an awful lot of criticism of the police, particularly to do with force numbers.
SL: Itís one of those things where I donít particularly get my ear bent personally. The number of people on the police force is one of those statistics where, to a certain extent, there are a lot of red herrings. And the fact is that a decision has been made probably 10 years ago Ė longer than that Ė on the required force level in terms of the number of people on duty at one particular time. To have three people on duty at any one time, you need a minimum number of people. If you are running a shift system, itís not really something that you could take people out of in ones and twos. It would require a policy decision to actually reduce the number of policemen on the force. This would not be a decision that would be taken lightly.
CG: And, the police station, - the new police station Ė is another area that has gone very quiet as well. Is that because of the fishery?
SL: That is on hold until further notice. Thatís one of the projects that has been put on hold. Ross Road was another big one Ė certainly until we know whatís happening in the early part of next year with the fishery.
CG: But has a site been chosen for the new Police Station?
SL: The site at the moment is intended to be just up above the power station to the south-east of the road up to Sapper Hill from the power station.
CG: Work was started up there and I think some services were put in. Do you know how far the work got?
SL: I donít actually know where it is at the moment in terms of whatís been completed on site. There was a fairly lengthy programme of amending and revising the design, which was gone through by a number of members of the administration recently with a view to bringing the costs of the project down. I think in terms of what has been spent on the site so far, it has only been a small amount putting services in.
CG: The last area you are involved with is I. T. Another quiet one, I think. Whatís happening there?
SL: At the moment the significant development in I. T. Since that has been one of my portfolios is that the pilot project of the wide-area network has been completed and so far seems to be working very well. The various departments were linked into it Ė the hospital, secretariat, treasury and PWD, with a view that if it would work in those departments Ė PWD being the major one because of the size of it Ė if it would work there Ė it would work anywhere else. And, so far, it has gone very well. All credit to the people who have been involved with it. The feedback from users is all positive. I think the costs have been quite reasonable and it certainly seems to be benefiting everybody thatís been involved with it so far.
CG: So, explain to a techno-phobic, what are the benefits of having a wide area network?
SL: There have been elements of it which are not complete yet but the long Ėterm benefits are linking the PWD accounting system into the treasury to avoid dual entries of data. Thatís one of the things they want to get away from. Obviously, it makes sense to integrate everything if they can. The main benefit from that Ė which is a part that is not complete but the infrastructure is there Ė is permanent internet access, which is much quicker at a fixed cost per year no matter how much you use it. Obviously that would encourage people to use it a lot more. Though I have not used the Government system, FIC have just put in a similar system. And, certainly from personal experience, I can say that the benefits are very significant.
CG: Thank you very much.
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