VOTE FOR THE DEEPINGS! – In the Ramblers ‘Best British Walking Neighbourhood’ awards.

The friendly Deepings has been shortlisted in the search to find Britain’s Best Walking Neighbourhood 2019. I hope you will vote at ramblers.org.uk/vote
The Ramblers nominated the area because of the Deepings Green Walk which was developed during the Deepings First Neighbourhood Planning process supported by Market Deeping Town Council and Deeping St James Parish Council which aims for all new developments to include “safe, accessible, attractive, linked” footpaths.

The annual award celebrates areas which create green and welcoming walkable neighbourhoods, supporting increased physical activity, as well as the health, social, economic and environmental benefits that brings to people and their communities. Last year’s winner was Hastings Old Town.

Announcing the finalists, The Ramblers recognised the local councils’ plan to create The Deepings Green Walk, a 15km circuit to link local facilities, housing and green spaces. It is a key part of The Deepings Neighbourhood Plan which all new development will be expected to support.

Mrs Pam Byrd, of the Deepings First Neighbourhood Plan group, said: “This came from the Neighbourhood Plan process, where instead of deciding where housing and industry should go, we looked at the green space and pathways first, the environment and the community, and then worked other things around that.

“I would encourage everyone to give The Deepings the best chance to win by encouraging their friends and family to get online and vote.”

Local rambler Peter Jackson said: “I’ve done walks around the Deepings and it is a beautiful place to walk around, with a lot of different environments. It’s very calm, very safe, and there are some beautiful views to be seen and paths to tread.”

The winner will be decided by an online public vote which closes on 30 June.†

The Deepings
https://www.ramblers.org.uk/get-involved/campaign-with-us/walking-neighbourhoods/britains-best-walking-neighbourhood-award/the-deepings.aspx

Report to Market Deeping Town Council – June 2019

Report to MDTC Full Council 13th June 2019
from ASHLEY BAXTER, one of the three Independent District Councillors serving the Deepings.

Meetings Attended

23/05/2019   Council ,23/05/2019                           

The first Full Council of the new administration was relatively long-winded mainly because of an ‘argument’ over Chairs and Vice-Chairs of Committees.

The Conservatives gained 53% of the votes at Cllr Matthew Lee (Con) chose to allocate 100% of the positions of power to members of his own party. This includes not only all 9 members of the SKDC Cabinet, but also every Chair and Vice-Chair of the various regulatory and scrutiny committees. The Independents challenged this as being clearly unfair but, as it turns out, all these posts are awarded at the discretion of the Leader and there is nothing the Council can do to challenge his power except remove him from the position of Leader. This would require 29 out of 56 Councillors to vote against him. Given that almost thirty of those Councillors had just been put ‘on the payroll’, it is extremely unlikely that this would happen.

After discussion among the Independent Group I have been awarded a place on the Environment OSC, and the Governance and Audit Committees. I have also been appointed as one of two Deputy Leaders of the Group. I might also be offered a place on the Companies Committee which hasn’t yet been formal constituted.

Cllr Ian Selby (Independent, unaligned) complained again that he is discriminated against when it comes to committee purely because he doesn’t wish to join a political group (like all the rest of the Independents who have formed an ‘Independent Group’ in order to be allowed seats on Committees). In response, one of the Tory Councillors, Cllr Bob Broughton, who recently defected from the Independents, said that he sympathised with Cllr Selby’s predicament and consequently Cllr Selby was offered one of the Conservative seats on the Planning Committee which means he will now be called to nearly two meetings a month for no extra allowances.

In my own report to MDTC I neglected to mention the debate about policing, so here is an extract from Independent Cllr Virginia Moran’s written report to MDTC:

“Cllr Phil Dilks proposed a motion that the Council Leader lobby local MPs in order to try to obtain more funding for Lincolnshire Police. He quoted Police figures which showed a 69% increase in reported incidents in the Deepings wards and the reported shortfall in funding was currently £3.2m which would result in further cuts in officers. This was rebutted by Cllr Ray Wootton who announced that he had spoken to the Police Commissioner and Lincolnshire Police was to be granted a further £10m in funding. The motion was subsequently voted down by ALL Conservative members in light of this statement.  Since the meeting investigations appear to have shown that this may not be the case.”

29/05/2019   Planning Committee ,29/05/2019

I attended, as a substitute, the first planning meeting with a new Chair, Cllr Bob Adams (Con). It was quite positive and included further discussion of the outline application for bungalows on Broadgate Lane DSJ. I was the only person to vote against because most of the rest of the Committee having been persuaded that a condition to ensure the houses to the rear of the site were to be bungalows was sufficient reassurance that a detailed scheme would be acceptable.

11/06/2019 Cabinet

This was quite a short meeting. The biggest decision was to invest £200,000 in LED Street Lighting and to adopt the policy that I wrote over a year ago which commits the council to leaving streetlights on throughout the hours of darkness (unlike the Conservative County Council who turn many off when they are needed the most).

This decision has taken over two years and over 15 meetings but it’s now decided and it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

Later in the meeting I asked questions firstly about the adoption of the roads, paths and open spaces on the Persimmon Estate; and secondly about the new leisure (still no more details available.

As ever, if you require any further information, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Cllr Ashley Baxter
Market and West Deeping Ward

Report to Market Deeping Town Council – May 2019

Report to MDTC Full Council 8th May 2019
from ASHLEY BAXTER, one of the three Independent District Councillors serving the Deepings.

Welcome to all new and returning Town and Parish Councillors in Market Deeping and West Deeping. I hope you enjoy your term of office and that, together, we will protect, improve and enhance the Deepings for all its residents and visitors.

At the count with Cllr Virginia Moran!

Many thanks to everyone who participated in the recent District Council elections, including all candidates and voters. The turnout in the Market & West Deeping ward was 33.9% – this means that only 1 in 3 people voted which is disappointing but not nearly as dismal as some wards in Grantham and Spalding where fewer than 1 in 5 people voted. Furthermore, some wards of South Kesteven had over 50 spoilt ballot papers; in Market and West Deeping ward there were only 4 spoilt papers.

I am really pleased to have topped the poll in Market & West Deeping with 1126 votes. Congratulations are also due to Cllr Broughton (Con) returned with 774 votes and Cllr Moran (Ind) elected for the first time with 766 votes. Commiserations to the other candidates for whom detailed results are available on the SKDC website.

Meetings Attended

Due to the recent elections, I have attended only one formal Council meeting during the last month. The next meeting will be Full Council on 23rd May.                                                                          

23/04/2019   Development Management Committee

The planning committee discussed some interesting applications including: a change of use of land from agricultural to a green burial site at Folkingham Farm (approved); and an outline application for the demolition of existing dwelling and erection of 4 dwellings at Broadgate Lane, Deeping St James (deferred).

I also attended some other meetings as follows:

23/04/2019 Annual Parish Meeting, Deeping St James

This event took place once again at the Deepings School. It included a musical performance by children of Linchfield School, presentations from various community groups as well as the presentation of the village’s ‘Making A Difference’ Awards by the Lord Lieutenant of Lincolnshire, Toby Dennis.

5/5/2019   Early Morning Service at the Deepings Lakes

Churches Together in The Deepings organise this annual event which celebrates the beauty of the Deepings’ nature reserve while remembering the ‘breakfast on the beach’ episode recorded in John’s Gospel.

6/5/2019 Uffington Scarecrow Festival

The theme of this year’s festival was ‘Myths, Legends and Fairy Tales’. The whole village works together to present a great spectacle. I was particularly impressed by scarecrows of Robin Hood, Red Riding Hood (no relation) and the Loch Ness Monster.

7/5/2019  Deepings Neighbourhood Policing Forum

Although I was unable to attend the whole of this meeting, I did participate in the discussion of the funding crisis and staff shortages facing Lincolnshire Police as well as the increasing problems of anti-social behaviour in the Deepings, particularly in the vicinity of Tesco. It seems that Tesco have dispensed with their security guard and CCTV is monitored remotely from a location miles from Deepings.

The PCSO in attendance at the forum was able to report some good news e.g. regarding the arrest of suspects in connection with thefts from vehicles. However, she said the police in Deeping were limited by the lack of regular ‘intel’ from the community and urged that people continue to phone 101 with any reports of low level crime, ASB and/or suspicious behaviour.

7/5/2019 Launch of ‘Love Deepings’ and the Deeping Business Club Awards

An upbeat launch of a new community-led campaign was held at the Deeping Sports and Social Club on Towngate East drew hundreds of people who listened to details of the new initiative to promote the Deepings as a wonderful place to live, work and visit.  It was revealed that the funding allocated by Cllr Phil Dilks (Ind) and myself from our SKDC Ward Member Budgets has been invested in handy visitor maps of the Deepings as part of the ‘#LoveDeepings’ campaign.

8/5/19 Inaugural meeting of the new Independent Group of South Kesteven District Councillors

The Independent Group now consists of at least 10 Councillors and possibly more. The initial meeting was informal, friendly and positive that despite the Conservative majority at SKDC, we will be able to achieve meaning results for the people who voted Independent in their thousands.

13/5/19 Training for Members of Planning Committee

This session was attended by over 20 Councillors and was somewhat reminiscent of a Speed Awareness Course. Attendance was compulsory for anyone who wishes to participate in the deliberations of the Planning Committee either as a fully-fledged member or as an occasional or one-off substitute.

The course included an overview of the UK planning system, the process used to determine individual applications and how Councillors can assist the community in getting the best planning decisions. The slides could have included a few more pictures and the session would have benefitted from more diverse teaching methods but it was led by two former leading lights of the planning profession so it’s hard to quibble.

13/5/19 West Deeping Parish Council

I attended the APM and part of the AGM of WDPC along with Cllr Moran. It was a small but friendly gathering. The long-standing Chair of the Council retired and was presented with a token of the Council’s appreciation. It has been agreed that the role of Chair of the Council will be shared on a rotational bases by three of the Councillors.

As ever, if you require any further information, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

La lucha continua, no terminara facilmente!

Cllr Ashley Baxter
Market and West Deeping Ward

Minutes of the May meeting of Market Deeping Council – Forty years on and ‘Plus ça change’!

I was recently given some ancient papers by a generous benefactor which include the minutes of the Market Deeping Parish Council (as it was then known) from exactly 40 years ago this month (May 1979).

At that time, the Council spent its time discussing the poor state of the roads, the overgrown verges, youths causing damage and creating a nuisance, the lack of a visible police presence, inconsiderate parking, and grants to the youth club.

Nothing at all like nowadays, eh?

Last night was the first meeting of the new Market Deeping Town Council. It is much the same as the old Market Deeping Town Council as before the election except for the two people who have retired (Thanks very much, Roy Stephenson and Colin Gamble) and the one person who has joined (Best of British to you, Brian Hembrow)!

I circulated my monthly written report before the meeting started but unfortunately I couldn’t stay for the election of Mayor (Congratulations Xan Collins) or the other exciting agenda items.

Being a Town (or Parish) Councillor is an unpaid, often thankless task and an uphill struggle. Please keep them on their toes but at the same time give them your support and the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes it can take a very long time to get stuff done!

Seriously? Are @SouthKesteven Conservatives really planning to procure services from a non-existent company?

Last year, the Conservative cabinet at South Kesteven had a good idea of designating a fund for ‘Invest-to-Save’ activities. It’s hard to argue with the principle of such an initiative especially when I have been arguing for years that the Council should invest in energy efficient lighting which typically has a financial payback of less than three years (slightly more complicated with street-lighting projects but it would still be worthwhile.

Last month, the Portfolio Holder for Finance, announced the first decision about the first ‘ project to use the ‘Invest to Save’ Reserve.

The ‘project’ decision was an amalgam of three initiatives. The first is a review of Council Financial Procedures. It is hoped it will result in efficiencies and savings (hopefully no involuntary redundancies but I always get nervous when Tories mention ‘efficiency savings’). The review will be undertaken by an external partner whom the report states has already been identified although the name of the partner is not mentioned in the report.

The second part concerns the ‘Internet of Things’. Again, the proposal is to work with an external partner but the partner has not been named.
“The initial area is to develop is intelligent street lighting across the district. The proposal is to combine an LED lamp with Internet of Things sensors. This will create saving on the power with LED and also allow proactive monitoring of use, condition and other factors such as footfall monitoring and air quality.The proposal will also see the implementation of an IoT network which can then be utilised for future initiatives.”

This sounds spectacular. At face value it could revolutionise street-lighting across the UK and possibly the world. The investment at this stage is only £10,000 which, in my experience of R&D, doesn’t usually pay for a lot of research or development. Regular readers will know that I have attended dozens of meetings about SKDC street lights and the cost of replacing or adapting all 3,000 of them to LED is likely to be over £300,000 so I’m fascinated to know what the anonymous partner is offering the council for £10,000. I suspect it might be non-existent technology but I am genuinely trying to curb my cynicism so let’s wait and see.

The third and final part of the report concerns advertising and sponsorship. It begins: “South Kesteven District Council has worked with Publitas Consulting to complete an audit of advertising income received by the Council and the potential extent of opportunity within the local market”.

It goes on to recommend that we spend a further £40,000 with Publitas Consulting to manage a procurement process on our behalf to generate additional advertising revenue.

I have a few problems with this proposal. The main one being that Publitas Consulting does not exist! A simple check of Companies House website reveals that there used to be an organisation called Publitas Consulting LLP but it was dissolved three years ago.

Looking for more evidence of Publitas Consulting I discovered a website consisting of a single page with a backdrop of a River Thames skyscape but no address or contact details other than a mobile phone number. I phoned the mobile number for more information and was greeted by an answerphone message stating I could leave messages for Swedish Interior Design Ltd and also Publitas Consulting. Now, to give them the benefit of the doubt, we’re all busy people and lots of us have roles in more than one organisation. Publitas Consulting might be the best in the business for income generation and just want to keep a low-profile but surely, if a Local Authority wants to spend money with an external partner company, then it is basic due diligence to make sure the company exists!

The decision was originally planned for 9th April 2019. Before then I did ask for more details from the relevant Portfolio Holder but I received no reply. When the decision was delayed I was hopeful that someone had looked a bit more closely at the credentials of Publitas. Unfortunately, the Decision was taken a few days later and consequently I have asked for it to be ‘Called In’. This should mean that a special meeting of the Growth Overview and Scrutiny Committee will be called and the details of the three sub-projects will be looked at properly.

A ‘call-in’ request requires five Councillors to agree that the decision needs more scrutiny. This is one of the reasons we need more Independent and opposition Councillors. A massive majority for the Conservatives (or any other party) is not good for democracy and accountability.

Report to Market Deeping Town Council – April 2019

Report to MDTC Full Council 10th April 2019
from ASHLEY BAXTER, the Deepings’ ONLY Independent District Councillor.

This is clearly the last report from the 2015-2019 Council term. I have really enjoyed the privilege of serving the residents of Market and West Deeping and obviously I hope I get the opportunity to serve for another four years.

Congratulations to the Councillors who have stood for re-election to the Town Council and have been returned unopposed.

Special thanks to former Mayor, Cllr Roy Stephenson, for his loyal service to Market Deeping Town Council over more than two decades. I hope he enjoys a long and happy retirement with his wife, Sue.

Meetings Attended

I have attended only one formal Council meeting during the last month.          

02/04/2019   Development Management Committee

The planning committee discussed a number of applications including an estate of 46 dwellings in Grantham. While it is appreciated that housing is needed, the committee decided that the design of the site was not thought through properly and it was rejected for this reason.

Later in the meeting the committee heard a cheeky application for a ‘garage’ which, at 4.3m high, would have been bigger than a bungalow. It was very close to a park, a river and a listed building. I am pleased to say the Committee refused the application.

01/04/2019 Friends of Mill Field

At the request of the Friends of Mill Field I organised a meeting with Senior Officers and Planners at SKDC. The purpose of the meeting was to compare notes of the current situation regarding Mill Field including the Village Green Inquiry, the status of the emerging Local Plan, the planning application recently submitted by LCC. It was also an opportunity to ensure staff at SKDC are aware of the history of the Mill Field and the significant local opposition to developing the site.

Mill Field, Market Deeping

One of the interesting points to emerge from the meeting was that the Assistant Director for Growth confirmed there are currently no discussions between SKDC and LCC regarding potential use of the Mill Field site for the proposed new Leisure Centre, i.e. it is intended the Leisure Centre will be somewhere else. This was welcome news to the FoMF delegation.

As ever, if you require any further information, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

See you next month (I hope!),

Cllr Ashley Baxter
Market and West Deeping Ward

What’s happened to the rest of the @SouthKesteven grants for good causes?

In a recent blog I explained that each of the 56 Councillors at SKDC has had a budget of £1,000 at their disposal for distribution to good causes. I allocated mine to the Deepings’ United Schools Rock Band, the Deepings School Library, the Deepings Scouts, the Deepings Business Clubs ‘Love Deeping’ initiative and the Deepings branch of Royal British Legion.

I have been trying to find out how the other Councillors have supported good causes across the District but I’ve hit a bit of a brick wall.

In the Deepings I have discovered that five out of the six Councillors has allocated their £1,000 to a variety of causes. However, one of the Councillors supposedly representing Deeping St James, Cllr Stephen Benn (Conservative), has made only a single grant of £330 to the Deepings Youth Group which means that charities in the Deepings have missed out on the remaining £670 in his pot. This comes as no surprise really as Cllr Benn appears to have lost interested in his Deeping St James ward after moving to Peterborough many months ago. In fact he has only attended nine meetings in the last two years even though he still receives his expenses (£6,475 for financial year 2017/18) This equates to over £1,000 per meeting attended! (Cllr Benn is not seeking re-election).

isI was interested to see if anyone else had decided not to distribute their £1,000 to good causes and was pleased to see that Councillor Barry Dobson (Dole Wood) has donated his to Bracebridge and Wilsthorpe Village Hall and the remainder to Lawrence Park in Thurlby (Lawrance Park is a recreation ground, not a person!). (Cllr Dobson is unopposed in the forthcoming SKDC election).

In the Casewick ward, which is next door to the Deepings, the two Conservative Councillors have spent only £650 between them which means that £1,350 will stay in the Council coffers. The funds which have been spent have been allocated to Langtoft Festival (£350), Uffington Parish Council (£200), Thurlby Parish Council (£100) and Barholm & Stowe Parish Meeting (£50). I was surprised that it was possible to make a donation to a Parish Council because, strictly speaking, they are local authorities rather than charities, I tried to find out what projects the donations were for, and who had donated them, but I cannot find anyone at SKDC who is prepared to tell me. In fact, I cannot even find which of the Councillors authorised the grants.

My colleague, Cllr Phil Dilks, who represents Deeping St James ward has taken this up with the Council’s Monitoring Officer who has replied by saying “I do not believe the information that you’ve requested is available at this stage and from a brief conversation with colleagues in finance, it will take them some time to put it together.”

I find it unbelievable that the Council has been sending out press releases about Members’ Ward Budgets for nearly a year but no-one has a central list of what each Councillor has spent (and hasn’t spent). Given the prevarication, it seems likely that there are other Councillors who have either forgotten to allocate their grants, or possibly have deliberately chosen not to spend the budgets designated for charities and good causes.

I have now submitted a Freedom of Information request asking for details of how the £56,000 of Members Ward budgets have been spent (or underspent). Unfortunately, SKDC is not obliged to publish details until 20 days have elapsed which will be after the District Council elections.

Where’s your money gone?

This time last year, I was one of a very few Councillors who voted against the creation of a Ward Members’ grant scheme. I was opposed to the idea because in the year before an election it would give Councillors an opportunity for self-promotion and electioneering which would be denied to other candidates. I explained my reasons at the time in a blog called Tory U-Turn on Members’ Ward Budgets. There have been other Tory U-turns before and since.

Given the Members’ Ward Budget was approved by a majority, I have done my best to distribute it to good causes. Here is what I’ve spent our thousand pounds on…

In November, the Deepings branch of the Royal British Legion realised in the run-up to the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, there was no musical accompaniment to the annual remembrance procession of uniformed organisations through Market Deeping. Through the magic of Facebook, a drummer was found but he needed a drum. Therefore, I designated £85.98 of my share of the Members’ Ward grant budget for the purchase of a snare drum which was used on the day and can be used at all future Royal British Legion events.

The second allocation was also musical. I was volunteered to organise the entertainment at the Market Deeping Christmas Market and first on my list of potential performers were the Deepings United Schools Rock Band. They had performed at the DSJ Annual Parish Meeting and were a knockout. In preparing for the Christmas Market we discovered that a small grant would enable them to perform outdoors more easily so I allocated £300 to the cause.

The Deepings School was the first organisation I approached for ideas to spend the grant funds. Originally, back in the summer, I had hoped to be able to somehow promote cycling to school but the costs of cycling infrastructure are quite high. We then considered putting on lessons in ‘parenting skills’ but these are apparently delivered by other organisations already and we would face the same challenges of persuading the parents most in need of lessons to actually attend. After some discussion we concluded the most useful contribution would be to encourage boys to read.

This might sound sexist but evidence suggests that when it comes to quantity and quality of reading, boys lag behind girls. In fact a report commissioned by an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Literacy in 2012, revealed that three out of four (76%) UK schools are concerned about boys’ underachievement in reading, yet there is no government strategy to address the issue.

Consequently, I decided to allocate £250 towards magazine subscriptions for the Deepings School Library. This will hopefully complement literacy strategies at the school as well as initiatives by the Deepings Community Library including lego club, Star Wars day, the summer reading scheme etc. (NB. For the avoidance of doubt, the boys in the picture are confident readers who appear for illustrative purposes only!)

Late last year, Alison Ireland of the Deepings Business Club approached Market Deeping Town Council and Deeping St James Parish Council with news of a forthcoming scheme to promote local businesses under a banner of “Love Deepings”. The idea of small independents working together to curtail the power of monolithic national organisations is appealing in business just as it is in politics so I was happy to offer a contribution towards the costs of establishing the campaign and I have allocated £150 for this.

The scouts were the next to approach me. We discussed the possibility of funding a minibus, or archery equipment but ended up agreeing on good old-fashioned tents (actually ‘old-fashioned’ is the wrong word but you know what I mean).

I have allocated the remainder of my fund (just over £200) to the Deepings Scouts. For this allocation I did declare an interest. I was a Cub, a Scout and a Venture Scout and scouting kept me sane during my teens. My youngest is a DSJ Scout now and my eldest is a Guide.

Along the way, I proposed another idea which was self-defence classes for young people. It took a bit longer to research than I had hoped but the Deepings Leisure Centre and a local martial arts club have come up with a potential short course. Staff at SKDC are quite interested and I’m hopeful it will run later this year.

So now you know how my Members Ward Budget has been spent and I hope you approve of some, even all, of the causes.

I am only one out of six SK Councillors in the Deepings. So there was another £5,000 available in our area. What’s happened to that?

The first Councillor to determine any of his budget was Cllr Broughton who subsidised the provision of play equipment at Cherry Tree Park by £110. Cllr Broughton also offered up his own time and effort to assist the National Citizenship team in sprucing up that play area last summer.

I know Cllr Phil Dilks of Deeping St James ward has donated £170 to the scouts, £170 to the ‘Love Deepings’ campaign and £330 towards the Jubilee Park trim trail. Cllr Stevens and the elusive Cllr Benn also supported the trim trail by the same amount making a total of almost £1,000.

Last week we discovered that Cllr Dilks, Cllr Stevens and Cllr Broughton each made allocations of around £300 to the Deepings Youth Group which is great news and means that Cllr Dilks has spent his full £1,000.

I am now trying to establish what has happened to the remaining budgets from all four Conservative councillors. I expect there are some donations I am not yet aware of, so I will return to this post and add more detail when it arrives.