February 2018 – Report to Market Deeping Town Council

Happy Valentines Day to all Town Councillors and residents of Market Deeping, West Deeping and all the other Deepings. May you be blessed with an understanding and experience of true love!

Communities Overview and Scrutiny Group – 23rd January 2016
I attended this meeting as a ‘substitute; for Cllr Helen Powell and was thus entitled to contribute to the debate*. I pointed out that this was the only Overview & Scrutiny Committee that has not discussed my proposal to hold at least one future meeting at a venue other than Grantham. The Chair said he did not intend to debate the matter but commented “You may rest assured that we will hold a meeting in the Deepings”. Sadly, this comment hasn’t made it into the minutes of the meeting.

The first agenda item concerned Community Cohesion and I asked what the Council is doing to engage young people (i.e. under 18s) with SKDC service provision. During the ensuing debate Cllr Neilson made the sensible suggestion that perhaps a future Committee meeting could be held at a school (e.g. the Deepings School) and that this might include some interaction with the students.

The next agenda item was a presentation from Inspector Outen of Lincolnshire Police. Copies of his presentation are available on request (by e-mail to a.baxter@southkesteven.gov.uk). I asked about the impact of recent changes to custody arrangements, magistrates’ courts, back-office privatisation and the Police and Crime Commissioner.

The final item concerned the proposed £56,000 budget for Members’ ward budgets (to be taken from Council Reserves). I commented that I thought to introduce such a scheme in the year before an election ‘looks bad’. I realise I am in a minority on this issue, even among Independent Councillors, but this is my opinion. If the scheme were delayed until after the District elections of May 2019 I might have a different view. The following link to a story from South Holland illustrates how such schemes can be used for political advantage.

Earlier in the month, a Members Workshop had been arranged to discuss the detail of the Members’ ward budget scheme. This was held behind closed doors and Councillors beyond the Committee membership were not informed that it was due to take place. It attended by just one Councillor. Action notes from the ‘workshop’ were presented to the Committee but on asking whether they were public I thought I was instructed that they were to remain confidential. After the meeting I took legal advice and it turns out the are public after all so I can happily share them with anyone who asks.

Shareholders’ Workshop
The public meeting of the Shareholders Committee scheduled for the same date was cancelled and replaced with a shareholders workshop held behind closed doors. I attended the meeting as did several other Councillors including two or three people who are not on the committee including Cllr Trollope-Bellew and Cllr Neilson. I am instructed that the discussions of the meeting are to remain confidential.

Streetlighting Workshop
The Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee decided to hold a secret workshop relating to proposals to turn off SKDC streetlights between midnight and 5.30am. It was originally scheduled for Januray but was postponed due to illness. A few days before it was due to take place, the Council leader stated publicly that he personally did not wish to see the streetlights turned off. The workshop has been rescheduled to take place on 20th February, behind closed doors, immediately after the public meeting of the Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee. I have informed the OSC Chair that I do not agree with turning off streetlights during the hours of darkness and I see no reason why the debate shouldn’t take place in public.

Full Council – 25th January 2018
The meeting began with a minute’s silence in memory of the recently deceased Cllr Terl Bryant and former Cllr Norman Radley.

Despite the agenda documentation running to over 300 pages, the meeting would have been extremely short had it not been for the session of Members’ open questions and three motions submitted by opposition councillors. (one by a Labour Councillor and the other two by me).

During the question time I asked about the current public use and future plans for the existing Deepings’ swimming pool, especially in light of the announcement that construction of a new leisure centre will begin by 2020.

The first motion, submitted by Cllr Tracey Forman, requested that the LGBT Pride flag should be flown for the whole of the month of February (LGBT History Month). This was amended and watered down and resulted in the Council agreeing to ‘signpost’ from its website to information about LGBT history and about reporting Hate-Crime. ( http://justlincolnshire.org.uk/index.php )

The second motion, submitted by me, was to lobby for Local Government reform in Lincolnshire, specifically to abolish the County Council and to replace it with smaller unitary authorities. This was an interesting debate with contributions mainly from people who had taken part in the County Council elections earlier this year with the exception of the Leader, Cllr Matthew Lee who argued against the motion because reform would be difficult and might take a long-time (a bit like Brexit as another Councillor was quick to point out). It was suggested by some that my motion was an act of ‘sour grapes’ on my part rather than genuine opposition to a top-heavy, anachronistic, out-of-touch, geographically remote, inefficient, expensive and unnecessary tier of local government. Needless to say, most Tories followed their leader and the motion failed this time.

The final motion, also submitted by me, was a proposal to elect the Chair of the Council by secret ballot. This would have put the election of the Chairman above suspicion of it being a political appointment or people being elected to Chairman merely through ‘long-service’. This motion was also defeated.

Development Management Committee – 6th February
There were no applications relating to the Deepings at the planning meeting.
An application for a development site on the outskirts of Grantham included the following argument in favour of building a hundred houses on a greenfield site:
“It is anticipated that the improvements to landscape infrastructure will make a significant contribution to local wildlife habitats through … diversifying the existing monotone nature of unimproved grassland…”
The application was refused.

Stamford By-elections
Following the death of Councillor Terl Bryant and the prolonged absenteeism of Cllr Katherine Brown, there are two by-elections scheduled in Stamford on March 8th. These will present an opportunity for people in Stamford to elect candidates who will speak up for their communities and hold the Tory Council leadership to account.

Market Deeping Town Centre
Since last month I have had no update about the SKDC aspirations for improving Market Deeping market and moving it to the market place.
Through correspondence with New River Retail I have heard that the Co-op is in the process of a large property portfolio transaction with a well-known value retailer, Poundstretcher. It seems likely that the Market Deeping ‘Rainbow’ Co-op store will form part of that transaction.
This is probably good news because, while we might prefer an ‘Aldi’, ‘Lidl’ or high-end retailer, it will be better to have a ‘value’ retailer than a large empty store in the centre of town. The building is not in the best condition and it comes with a full-repairing lease which is not very attractive to potential tenants. Furthermore, high-street retail is in decline because so many people are shopping on-line and so many more are hard-up as a result of wages not keeping pace with inflation, zero-hours contracts and impact of Tory austerity policies.
Other meetings
Since last month, I have also attended part of the West Deeping Parish Council meeting on 5th February and part of the Market Deeping Town Council Planning and Highways Committee on 7th February.

Budget Meeting – 1st March
The next meeting of SKDC Full Council will discuss the Council budget for the financial year 2018/2019.
Potentially contentious highlights include:
£56,000 for a Ward Members scheme to enable Councillors to give £1,000 to good causes in their ward.
£345.000 reduction in corporate costs (details unknown but likely to be off the staffing budget)
£332,000 for an Innovation Team and a Transformation Team (from reserves)
£200,000 for the continuation of the Big Clean (from reserves)

Friends of Mill Field
I attended a meeting of the Friends of Mill Field on 30th January to discuss Lincolnshire County Council’s opposition to the ongoing Village Green application. A formal response is being prepared and solicitors are being instructed. . A CrowdJustice page will soon be established to assist with the legal costs.
The cost is likely to be significant as our Conservative County Council has a track record for finding sufficient money to fight legal cases against their own residents even if they can’t afford to run the libraries of mend the roads.

That’s all for this report. As ever, if you need any further information please get in touch.

Cllr Ashley Baxter
Independent District Councillor
for Market and West Deeping

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