Here is a summary of what’s been happening on the District (and County) Council sphere since last month. I hope you find some of it engaging…
Mill Field #1 – Ambush!
Despite the ongoing legal process concerning the community-led Village Green application for Mill Field, the County Council have held a so-called ‘community listening event’ to consult residents about their plans to sell off our land for housing.
The consultation took place on 17th May but the publicity was only sent out a week beforehand to ensure it missed the printed media. Indeed, the County Councillor for ‘Deepings West’ didn’t mention the event when she gave a verbal report to Market Deeping Town Council meeting on 9th May. Nevertheless, the Friends of Mill Field were organised enough to deliver around 1,000 leaflets to ensure at least some local people were aware the event was taking place.
On the morning of the consultation event I was interviewed about Mill Field on the BBC Radio Lincolnshire breakfast show opposite Cllr Martin Hill who tried to explain why the County wants to sell the field for housing. Meanwhile, I explained that the field is much valued by our community as an informal recreation area and it not allocated for development in the forthcoming local plan.
On the evening of the consultation, almost 200 residents attended the Deepings school to express their views about building on the Mill Field site (so many that we couldn’t easily fit them together, hence the stitched together photo). At the recent Annual Town Meeting, The Town Council agreed to publicly support the Friends of Mill Field campaign so it was good to see Town Cllrs Adam Brookes, Virginia Moran and Roy Stephenson were supporting their community at this event.
Anyone who missed the consultation event but wishes to express a view about Mill Field can do so via an online survey on the County Council website until 17th June.
Mill Field #2 – Public Inquiry
The Village Green application submitted to Lincolnshire County Council in June last year has now been reviewed by an independent inspector who has decided that a public inquiry is necessary to determine the case. It will be held in the Deepings later this year and more information can be found at the Friends of Mill Field website.
During the construction of Phase 3 of the Persimmon Estate behind Tesco, a public footpath was re-routed and relaid in a very shoddy fashion. There is a pinchpoint behind tesco where the County Council have allowed the developer to leave a gap which is very narrow with an adverse camber which is dangerous to pedestrians and almost inaccessible to wheel chairs and cyclists. This should be an important route for parents and children attending the two adjacent local primary schools but neither the developer nor the County Council have given this any thought or attention.
As Cllr Adam Brookes has helpfully highlighted on his website, the Planning Inspectorate will be holding a public inquiry into the re-routing of Footpath 4 on 21st August. Everyone who has made an objection or representation and any one who wishes to give evidence at the Inquiry must ensure their statement of case is received by the Secretary of State before 26th June.
Local Plan Consultation
The final draft SKDC Local Plan will be released during June. The new Local Plan will shape and guide proposals for growth and investment in South Kesteven up to 2036. It will provide greater certainty to all parties regarding the local development process and sets out proposed planning policies for South Kesteven District.
I would politely and strongly encourage all residents to look at the plans for the Deepings and respond to the consultation.
Growth overview and scrutiny committee – Special Meeting – 29th May
This meeting was the result of a ‘call-in’ procedure. These are quite rare because they only happen in circumstances where Members of the Council believe a decision has been taken without due process or proper scrutiny.
I led this particular call-in because I noticed the Cabinet had taken a decision to turn its economic development department (aka Invest SK) into a Company Limited by Guarantee. This could mean almost £1million of ratepayers money being put at arms length from the Council with less accountability and transparency.
During the special meeting it was revealed that the decision had been made urgently because a recent staff promotion at SKDC has left a vacancy at Invest SK and the £200.000pa contract between InvestSK and Opportunity Peterborough is due to expire at the end of July. In response to my questions, the Cabinet also admitted that there is not yet any business plan, articles of association or clarity of working arrangements for the new company.
Development Management Meeting – 29th May 2018
A relatively brief planning meeting (1.5 hours) with a relatively light agenda including discussion of a 106 agreement in Grantham, a large bungalow in Stamford and a house extension in Grantham.
SKDC Annual Meeting of the Council – 24th May
Before the meeting, the Councillors had their annual group photograph. This was organised with far more pomp than in recent years. A professional photographer with lights and ladders welcomed us into the guildhall where we were arranged on the stage between two specially purchased flags.
The printed documents for the meeting ran to over 350 pages because they included the draft Local Plan in its entirety and printed agenda, minutes and appendices of every Cabinet meeting since February. If each page cost 2p for printing and paper then the likely cost of producing all the agenda packs would have been £500.
The Annual Meeting began with the unanimous election of Cllr George Chivers (Con – Belmont Ward) as Chairman, who is Scottish and ex-RAF, and tributes to the retiring Chairman Cllr Bob Sampson (Ind – Loveden Heath).
The first half of the agenda consisted mainly of Council bureaucratic announcements concerning appointments and meetings. The Council then formally approved the consultation draft of the Local Plan and glossy corporate strategy.
The meeting concluded with a debate on the motion I submitted calling for a Community Governance Review in order to establish whether Grantham should have an independent Town Council. My argument was based on my experience on the planning committee where applications in the smaller towns and villages usually attract a co-ordinated response from Town and Parish Council but there is no such response on behalf of Grantham residents. Furthermore, there are many decisions about Grantham made by Councillors from across the District which would be better made by those who know and represent the town. Some Grantham Councillors argued that there was insufficient political appetite for a Council and after some debate the motion was effectively defeated by an amendment from Cllr Ray Wootten saying the Council should only consider a Town Council if SKDC was replaced by a unitary authority or if a community petition obliged the council to consult on the issue.
Earlier in the meeting I had raised the question of holding occasional meetings outside Grantham. One of the Cabinet members suggested the recent Cabinet meeting in Bourne had been a waste of money because of the cost of travel from Grantham and because only seven members of the public attended. Ironically, as he said these words in the Council chamber in Grantham, there were only seven people in the public gallery, some of whom I suspect were Council officers. Happily, the Leader and other Councillors were more positive and supportive and it has since been confirmed that some future meetings will be held elsewhere including:
Cabinet Meeting IN THE DEEPINGS!
The Leader stated that a meeting of the SKDC Cabinet would be convened in the Deepings in September or October. This is an excellent opportunity to see democracy in action.
Growth Overview and Scrutiny Committee IN BOURNE! – 13th June, 10am.
The agenda of this meeting consists of a Quarterly Performance Monitoring Report and a Review of the Committee’s workplan. It will also set a date for a Members’ workshop on Car Parking which is likely to be held in secret. This is not the most exciting agenda but the meeting begins with an opportunity for members of the public to make comments about the Council’s plans for growth in housing, retail and economy.
As ever, if you need any further information please get in touch.
Cllr Ashley Baxter
Independent District Councillor
for Market and West Deeping