School Solar Panels
The Fens Wind-power Co-operative which owned two of the turbines at Deeping St Nicholas is being wound up and is making a significant donation to environmental the local community. 57k has been allocated to install solar panels at local schools. I am pleased to report that, thanks to my intervention, two of Market Deeping’s schools are likely to benefit from the scheme. Furthermore, a fuel poverty advice programme which is planned for South Holland should also be available to Deepings residents. I am awaiting further details of how this will operate.
Environment Overview and Scrutiny Group – 20rd February 2018
A dull meeting with the supposed aim of scrutinising the Council’s performance on a range of environmental issues including air quality, litter and trade waste. The Tories, as usual, asked almost no questions during the meeting. Cllr Craft (Ind, ex-Tory) and I asked quite a few questions.
Secret Street Lighting Workshop – 20th February 2018
A meeting took place, behind closed doors, to consider various options for reducing energy used by streetlighting including the option of switching them off. I am not permitted to say exactly what was discussed during the workshop but I can tell you: a) personally I have argued, at every opportunity, against turning off SKDC streetlights; and b) the principal outcome of the workshop was to agree to hold another secret workshop on 27th March.
SKDC Full Council (Budget) Meeting – 1st March 2018
Only 30 out of 56 Councillors braved the snowy weather to attend the Council’s annual budget meeting.
Last year, the Council agreed its annual budget unanimously although the subsequent leadership coup led to various significant amendments. This year’s budget was far more contentious with various balancing figures seemingly plucked from thin air. These include: a £30k reduction in consultancy costs to be achieved by consolidating the consultancy budgets from around the various council departments; £345k in unspecified reductions in corporate costs; £350k proposed expenditure on a ‘leisure and heritage strategy’.
There was a good deal of discontent with the proposed budget among some of the Tory ranks and also among the opposition. There were some ambitious ideas including an extension of the Big Clean project and an in-house enforcement team for enviro-crime (litter, graffiti etc) which I applauded but in order that the budget should not be passed through on the nod, I presented three costed amendments which would have reduced the overall budget requirement by £400k:
• A modest increase in car park charges in Stamford and Grantham (of less than 25% and less than 20p/hour). This would have raised revenue of £182k/annum. In contrast, the Tory budget suggests an increased revenue for car park charges of £250k/annum merely by stricter enforcement, new technology (with a significant capital cost for installation), better promotion and without increasing charges.
• Adjustments to the some of the figures, especially the more outlandish proposals (e.g. combining the new ‘innovation team’ (£97k) with the new ‘transformation team’ (£120k) and reducing the budget by 20%)
• Protecting the existing dedicated 50k reserve for Hardship and Welfare rather than allowing it to be absorbed into the general pot.
During the debate, some cabinet members tried to divert attention from the real arguments by falsely accusing me of breaches of protocol: firstly, the Leader, Cllr Matthew Lee (Con), protested that I was planning to raise 9 separate amendments (the paperwork in front of him showed clearly there were only 3); secondly, Cllr Lee suggested that I hadn’t liaised with council officers before presenting the amendments (I most certainly had liaised with officers); thirdly Cllr Adam Stokes (Con), Portfolio Holder for Finance, complained that I hadn’t shared my amendments prior to the meeting (I had e-mailed the most of the content to him a week before the meeting and received no response).
Unsurprisingly, my three amendments were defeated, however the nebulous and over-optimistic budget has at least been publicly challenged.
Cllr Morgan (Lab) also submitted an amendment to ask for a measly £1,000 contribution to the legal costs of the ongoing Grantham Hospital campaign. This debate prompted a succession of Tories to proclaim how much they supported this important campaign before they all voted against the amendment.
Later, the meeting agreed unanimously to make permanent the appointment of the hitherto interim Chief Executive, Aidan Rave. It also agreed to hold a consultation on the enlargement of Corby Glen Parish Council from 7 to 9 Councillors.
I travelled to and from the meeting, as I often do, with Cllr Judy Stevens of DSJ. There are obvious advantages to lift-sharing not least reducing the cost of mileage claims to the Council Tax payers. The journey home took over two hours due to the inclement weather and included over thirty minutes stationary in the snow on the A1. North Kesteven DC was due to hold its equivalent budget meeting on the same day but decided to postpone due to the inclement weather. Unfortunately, the South Kesteven constitution does not allow Full Council meetings to be postponed.
Development Management Meeting – 6th March 2018
A relatively short (almost 2.5 hours) but interesting meeting of the planning committee discussed three planning applications.
The first was a sub-terranean eco-build in Castle Bytham. This had the support of the Parish Council but planning officers recommended refusal because the project would an ‘isolated home in the countryside’ and was not ‘innovative’. I am pleased to report that Councillors agreed the site was not ‘isolated’ (it is barely 50 yards from the parish hall!) and it is innovative. Consequently the Ctte voted contrary to officers’ recommendations and approved the dwelling.
The second application was for a new storey school building in the environs of St Wulfram’s Church in Grantham. This was passed by 8 votes to 6 proving again that every individual vote makes a difference.
The third application concerned a Section 106 agreement where, several years ago, a developer had agreed to contribute £127k to the costs of improving a junction with the A1. The developer argued that this work was no longer necessary and therefore the money was not required. The application was deferred to allow for further consultation with LCC Highways to take place.
Friends of Mill Field – Update
The campaign to register Mill Field as a Village Green continues. A dedicated webpage will soon be established to enable supporters to donate towards the ongoing legal costs.
Some of the group were also planning to meet Cllr Mike King (Con), SKDC Portfolio holder for Planning. This meeting was postponed due to the inclement weather.
Despite a regular exchange of e-mails with the enforcement team at SKDC, no enforcement action has yet been taken in relation to the litany of unfinished works at the ‘Brambles’ estate behind Tesco. These include:
• Repairs to road surface on Godsey Lane
• Bringing Charter Avenue and other roads to an adoptable standard
• Non-compliant, even dangerous, footpath to the rear of Tesco
• Focal point and public open space
• Allotments to be handed over to Town Council
With regard to the allotments, I would suggest they are not fit for purpose. The allotments site is not secure leaving it vulnerable to vandalism, theft and other pests. Furthermore, the area has more tarmac than soil. A very disappointing response to a very well-intentioned idea. Incidentally, the Town Council has a duty under the Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908 (c.36) to provide allotments if residents want them.
Market Deeping Town Centre
The Co-op store is due to close on 17th March, 2018. The premises will be occupied by Poundstretcher although I do not know exactly when.
New River Retail have assured me there are no plans to close the petrol filling station.
I had a meeting with an SKDC officer and Councillor Moran regarding SKDC aspirations for a Saturday market. It seems likely that businesses and other stakeholders will soon be consulted on proposals.
West Deeping Village Hall is hosting a live theatre performance of “We are the Lions, Mr Manager” on Saturday 24th March.
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