Report to MDTC Full Council 12th September 2018
(from SKDC Cllr Ashley Baxter)
The summer months are traditionally less busy for Councillors but this month’s report is as busy as ever with lots of news from SKDC.
SKDC Full Council – 26th July 2018
The Council discussed the following issues:
St Peter’s Hill development
The Council agreed to invest an additional £1.66 million on a facelift for Grantham town centre. This is in addition to over £5 million already committed to a new cinema which had somehow been designed without a suitable public entrance.
Apparently, some Town and Parish Councils occasionally find it difficult to recruit sufficient councillors to maintain their legal obligations. The Council agreed on a mechanism to be used in such circumstances to enable these Town and Parish Councils to continue to operate until vacancies could be filled by more conventional means.
Speaking at Development Control Committee
About 8 months ago, the Council decided to ban elected members of the Development Control Committee from asking questions of Members of the Public who attend to make representations about planning applications. This has resulted in the Development Control meetings descending at times into farce with perfectly reasonable questions being declared inappropriate by the despotic Chair.
Planning decisions are supposed to be beyond party politics. Nevertheless, every single Tory voted in favour of the restriction on questions while every opposition member voted against. The Conservatives are clearly happy with the new arrangement which discourages public speaking and give the Chair more power and so it has now been adopted permanently into the constitution.
Appointment of Section 151 Officer
The Council was asked to ‘rubber-stamp’ the appointment of Ms Debbie Muddimer as the Council’s Director of Resources. Ms Muddimer has been working part-time at the Council since her emergency appointment a few months ago. However, she has not been subject to any competitive recruitment or interview process. For this reason, some people, including me, were unhappy with the manner of her appointment. During the debate, I raised the issue of the redundancy payment to the previous Section 151 officer who left ‘in a hurry’ with a redundancy settlement of £141,000.
At each meeting, paper copies of previous cabinet meetings are sent to all Councillors. This month I asked a question about a decision that had been made by the Cabinet but because it related to the most recent meeting I was instructed that the question was out of order and I would have to save my question until September.
Councillors asked each other questions about a variety of subjects including recruitment procedures, Margaret Thatcher and Brexit.
I proposed a motion that the volume of papers sent out to Councillors could be radically reduced by withdrawing the appendices concerning previous cabinet meetings which, I argued, were pointless (see above). I argued that the papers were already available on-line and all Councillors had been issued with i-pads and the cost of printing and posting the agenda packs for the May meeting had been over £750. Sadly, the motion was defeated.
Deepings Police Station
Cllr Phil Dilks (Lab) proposed the Council congratulate the Deepings Police Volunteer Team for their sustained effort in assisting local policing and, furthermore, support the nomination of the Deepings Police Volunteer Team in the 2018 Lord Ferrer’s Police Awards. Happily this motion was agreed unanimously.
Development Management Committee – 24th July 2018
Development Management Committee ,24/07/2018
The meeting discussed applications including the following:
- The Council granted planning permission to Gravitas Ltd (a company wholly owned by SKDC) to build houses at Wherry’s Lane in Bourne.
- A new rugby club in Grantham was granted planning permission.
- Discussion took place regarding a residential development in Corby Glen. While the debate was in full-flow I asked a question about an access path to a neighbouring playing field. This prompted the Chair and the Officers at the front of the room to gather in a huddle for five minutes before declaring that the application should be deferred. Nobody really explained why.
Development Management Committee – 21st August 2018
Development Management Committee ,21/08/2018
The meeting discussed applications including the following:
- The Council granted itself planning permission for works to the ‘Public Realm’ at St Peter’s Hill in Grantham (see Full Council report above). The Chair made it abundantly clear that there would be no discussion of any detail of the application.
- A retrospective planning application for a Beauty Salon behind houses on the junction of Towngate East in Market Deeping was granted. I had personally asked for this application to be referred to the Development Management Committee because of concerns raised by local residents and the Town Council.
- The residential development of up to 19 dwellings mentioned at the previous meeting (see above) was approved.
Growth Overview and Scrutiny Committee – 25th July 2018
Growth Overview and Scrutiny Committee ,25/07/2018
Although I am not a Member of this Committee, I attended it in order to monitor progress regarding the establishment of the Council’s new created wholly-owned company, InvestSK. It was quite worrying that despite the concerns raised by myself and others at the previous ‘call-in’ meeting, there appears to be no consistency in the Conservative narrative concerning the company, not even between one meeting and the next. For example, at the call-in meeting in May, it was agreed that InvestSK would be accountable to an ‘Advisory Committee’, although it was not clear who would be invited to serve on this committee. By the meeting in July, the Strategic Director Growth indicated he believed the Advisory Committee would no longer be needed. This would mean that the Council would be handing over £1 million this year to a company accountable to no-one except its own three Directors (The Leader, his Deputy and the Chief Executive of SKDC).
Later in the meeting, Members attempted to discuss quarterly financial figures. In response to one of my questions it was revealed that there is no system in place for reviewing the Council’s quarterly performance figures. Consequently it was recommended that performance monitoring data is presented to future meetings of the Growth OSC.
There was no mention at the July meeting of any suggestion of a further new company called ‘DeliverSK’.
Growth Overview and Scrutiny Committee – 29th August 2018
Growth Overview and Scrutiny Committee ,29/08/2018
This was an unscheduled meeting called specifically to discuss the proposals for a new company called ‘DeliverSK’. I attended, substituting for Cllr Paul Wood (Ind), in order to try and understand the purpose and process of bringing this new company into existence. The Council has decided to spend over £500,000 in establishing a 50/50 partnership with an as yet unidentified private sector partner. I put together four pages of questions concerning the legality, purpose and likely operation of this new company which will effectively be a parent company for a potential panoply of Special Purpose Vehicles delivering housing, leisure facilities, offices and other projects using funding which would allegedly be otherwise unavailable to a District Council.
Footpath Inquiry – 21st August, 2018
I gave evidence to the public inquiry which took place at the Oddfellows’ Hall concerning the footpath behind Tesco. In my opinion the footpath in current use is not fit for purpose and it should have been built properly as a joint footpath and cycleway from day one. I am sure Cllr Adam Brookes would be happy to offer more information about the inquiry especially as he has worked so hard to make the best of the damage done by lackadaisical builders.
SKDC Cabinet Meeting in the Deepings – 6th September, 2018
The Council held its first ever Cabinet meeting in the Deepings last week. It was hosted by the Eventus Centre and was well attended by members of the public (compared to similar meetings in Grantham and elsewhere). The cabinet discussed ‘DeliverSK’, a new Data Protection Policy and planning guidance for the Rectory Park in Grantham.
I took the opportunity to ask questions of the Cabinet in order to get definitive answers on the public record:
- Persimmon Planning Enforcement
The responsible Cabinet Member agreed to take formal enforcement action against Persimmon if they didn’t show adequate progress with regard to road resurfacing by the end of the month (Since the meeting Persimmon have announced a start date of 17th September).
- Deepings Saturday Market
This project has stalled due to the typically lethargic attitude of the County Council. It is hoped it might be launched later this calendar year but it won’t be in September as originally advised.
- Deepings Leisure Centre
The Leader, Cllr Matthew Lee (Con), is still confident that the construction of the new Deepings Leisure Centre would begin before the end of the 2020/2021 Financial Year but, at this stage, he is unable to announce any detail of site or specification of the centre.
Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee – 11th September 2018
Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee ,11/09/2018
During this meeting I raised the issue of Street Lighting which was referred back to the Committee by the Cabinet but which the Chairman had decided not to include as an agenda item.
The meeting also discussed:
- A new policy on wheel-chair accessible taxis
- Food hygiene inspections – This is relevant to over 1300+ food businesses in South Kesteven
- Food waste collection pilot scheme – This is going well but no news yet on whether the scheme will be rolled out to more homes. It was agreed that recycling waste will be a subject of a future meeting.
- Trade Waste collection scheme – nearly 200 businesses have now signed up for regular collections)
- Environmental Enforcement – One Officer has been in post for almost a month and has issued over 50 Fixed Penalty Notices for littering etc. He has visited the Deepings but has not yet been able to catch any perpetrators here. Two more Officers are currently being trained and will be patrolling soon.
Street Lighting Workshop – 11th September 2018
Although the Cabinet had asked for Street Lighting proposals to be sent back to the Environment Committee, the Committee chairman decided not to put the issue on the agenda and instead to hold another workshop on the issue behind closed doors. I am not permitted to say what happened in the workshop although I think it will come as no surprise was that one of the decisions made was to hold another workshop later in the year!
Shareholder Committee ,11/09/2018
This meeting took place mostly in private as it concerned the commercially sensitive decision concerning the award of contract for the Wherry’s Lane development project.
However, the agenda also included publication of action notes from the hitherto secret workshop held on the 16th January. The content of notes is not particularly contentious, sensitive or inflammatory but I see their publication as a small personal victory. Without my involvement there would be no public record that the meeting even took place and I feel it is ridiculous that the Council has concealed the notes for nearly eight months.
SKDC Consultation on Community Involvement
The Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) is a legally required document that outlines how organisations and individuals can be involved in both the plan making process and the consideration of planning applications.
South Kesteven District Council last updated its SCI in 2014. Since this date there have been a number of changes to the planning system so there SKDC needs to update its SCI.
The Council has just launched a consultation on the revised draft SCI and comments are welcome until Tuesday 23rd October. For more details follow this link:
I am sorry to report that the formerly ‘Independent’ Councillor for Deeping St James, Coun Judy Stevens, has recently defected to the Conservatives.
As ever, if you need more information on anything within this report, please do get in touch.
Cllr Ashley Baxter
Market and West Deeping Ward