Report to Market Deeping Town Council – October 2019

Report to MDTC Full Council  9th October 2019
from ASHLEY BAXTER, SKDC Councillor for Market & West Deeping.

Meetings Attended (and Not Attended!)

17/09/2019   Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee  

This was a meeting where we discussed the Council’s approach to Climate Change. I had already proposed a Climate Emergency motion to Full Council (see below) but Cllr Peter Moseley (Con) also proposed a similar idea. The OSC discussed the idea of setting up a ‘Task and Finish’ group on Climate Change. This is definitely a different forum to the ongoing secret workshops on climate change commissioned by the previous OSC meeting. It will have 6 Councillors, 5 Officers and, at my suggestion, 1 external expert to offer an alternative perspective.

At this meeting we also discussed and (almost) agreed a new protocol for informing District Councillors about trees in their respective wards. This should mean that we should at least be made aware of imminent felling of trees by the Council even if we might not be able to save them.

The Committee also proposed to recommend to Cabinet that SKDC adopts the Woodland Trust’s Local Authority Tree Charter. If this sounds familiar it is because it is very, very similar to the Woodland Trust’s other tree charter which most Conservative Councillors voted against when I presented it to Full Council a few months ago. Happily, we have now reached an acceptable form of words and, because it is now a Tory idea, we should be signed up very soon.

The OSC also discussed progress on some other issues including the Food Waste Collection pilot scheme which has apparently been applauded by DEFRA for its excellent participation rate although they haven’t yet gone so far as to offer the additional funding required to roll it out across the district, let alone the county or country.

Continue reading

Report to Market Deeping Town Council – September 2019

Report to MDTC Full Council 11th September 2019
from ASHLEY BAXTER, SKDC Councillor for Market & West Deeping.

Greetings to all Town Councillors! I hope you enjoyed your summer break. Here are some SKDC highlights from the summer of 2019…

Resignations and Appointments

In July, the SKDC Chief Executive, Aidan Rave, resigned from his post “to pursue new ventures”. Sources told the Grantham Journal that there was a “clash of personalities” between him and leader of the council, Cllr Matthew Lee (Con) which led to a “big row”.

The Council has appointed Paul Thomas as an interim Chief Executive. Mr Thomas has been with the Council for several years and, for what it’s worth, I think he is a sensible appointment.

Nineteen days later, Cllr Matthew Lee resigned himself as Leader of the Conservatives and de facto Leader of the Council. He did not publish any statement so we can only speculate why he threw in the towel after just two years at the helm.

The Conservatives met on 2nd September to elect a new leader. Deputy Council Leader Kelham Cooke competed with former Council Leader Bob Adams for the ‘honour’ and Cllr Cooke won the day. He is now almost certain to be formally elected as Leader of the Council later this month. He has promised a new more collaborative approach which would be most welcome.

Meetings Attended

Since the July meeting of MDTC, I have attended a few formal Council meetings.

Continue reading

Report to Market Deeping Town Council – July 2019

Report to MDTC Full Council 12th July 2019
from ASHLEY BAXTER, one of the ten Councillors forming the Independent Group at SKDC.

I am pleased to report that, less than two months after the elections, one of the Conservatives has resigned the whip and become ‘Independent unaligned’. This means there are now 17 opposition councillors compared to 39 Tories. We just need 11 more defections and the Council will be on a knife-edge!

Meetings Attended

I have attended four formal Council meetings during the lastmonth.

14/06/2019   Finance, Economic Development and Corporate ServicesOverview and Scrutiny Committee          

This meeting was held to consider the call-in request that I had organised before the election in light of a decision by Cllr Adam Stokes (Con) to allocate money from the new Invest-to-save fund. Before the meeting I had submitted more than 20 written questions and I was pleased to discover that newly-elected Cllr Whittington (Con) had submitted some of his own. Continue reading

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!

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

Report to Market Deeping Town Council – March 2019

Report to MDTC Full Council 13th March 2019
from ASHLEY BAXTER, the Deepings’ only Independent District Councillor.

Meetings Attended

I have attended sixformal meetings during the last month.

25/02/2019   EmploymentCommittee

Thismeeting was convened in response to a question I asked at January’s FullCouncil regarding whether or not a Council’s Chief Executive had properly declared all his relevant business interests. Most of the meeting was held in secret but the Council subsequently issued the following statement: Continue reading

Report to Market Deeping Town Council – February 2019

Since my last monthly report, I have attended the following formal SKDC meetings as well as some other less formal meetings and community events:

10/01/2019    Budget- Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committee  

This meeting was the first opportunity to analyse the forthcoming Council budget for 2019/20.  The meeting was rather chaotic as Councillors were invited to ask questions and make comments on a report and appendices totalling 53 pages.  There was no deliberate sub-division of topics and consequently the comments were made in a scatter-gun manner and few, if any, definitive recommendations resulted.

15/01/2019    Development Management Committee

This was a relatively short meeting (two hours) which considered three applications:

  • Zone 9,Elsea Park, Bourne.- This was the third time that this application had been discussed and considered by the Committee. On the first occasion it was deferred and the second occasion Councillors voted against Officers’ recommendations and so it had to be reconsidered after a ‘cooling off’ period.  This time round the application was approved with 5 votes in favour, 2 against and 4 abstention.  On a positive note, it has been agreed that future applications of this type will be referred to the Council’s recently appointed Design Officer in order to avoid similar half-hearted planning approvals.
  • Frognall– After considerable debate, a large house extension was approved opposite the former Rose PH.
  • Stowe Road, Langtoft – Outline approval for up to 35 dwellings subject to agreement of conditions including agreeing a sewerage plan with Anglian Water.

22/01/2019    Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee

As regular readers might know, I have a 100% record of attendance at meetings since August 2015. On receipt of the very thin agenda for the Environment Committee I did wonder whether it was really worth making the 60 miles round trip to Grantham to discuss virtually nothing of consequence. My sense of duty got the better of me and when the meeting closed after just an hour I had only confirmed that the whole exercise had been a waste of time.

There were no published papers for the meeting other than the printed agenda and notes of the previous meeting. No Cabinet Members were present at the meeting. The Chair failed to explain why the decisions of the previous meeting had not been acted upon, not even the draft ‘Street Lighting Policy’ which has been kicking around for more than a year.  We listened to a presentation from an Officer regarding a government consultation on Waste and Recycling.  A slide entitled “Key Milestones” mentioned a “Transposition of the Circular Economy Package” is due to be delivered before the end of 2019. I asked what this means but, sadly, nobody knew the answer.

Pointless

31/01/2019    Council

Full Council agenda started off with questions from members of the public. The first of these concerned ongoing problems with a heating system which was installed three years ago at the Riverside Housing Complex in Grantham which has never worked properly.  In response, the Conservative Cabinet Member for Housing, Cllr Nick Neilson (Con) and the Deputy Leader, Cllr Kelham Cooke (Con) both apologised for the errors made since 2016 and promised to investigate and find a resolution.

Later in the meeting, I asked a question about the business relationship between a senior officer of the Council and a private consultancy which has been paid almost £60,000 over 18 months for various staff recruitment exercises. This question has been referred to a future meeting of the Council’s Employment Committee.

05/02/2019    DevelopmentManagement Committee

A specially extended meeting began at 10am and continued until 5.30pm. Despite the long day, this was undoubtedly the most interesting and entertaining planning committee I have attended to date.

In the morning, Councillors discussed an application for a Designer Outlet Village next to the A1 at Gonerby Moor. This multi-million pound project is expected to retain 700 jobs and to create 1,200 new jobs in the District as well as attracting literally millions of visitors to the District. Nevertheless, three of the Tories voted against the scheme including Cllr Jacky Smith (Con) who expressed concern about the proposed creation of a ‘training academy’ even though she is Cabinet Member for Skills and Wellbeing and the centre has the support of Grantham college.

The afternoon started with an application for a 6m high statue of Baroness Thatcher. I had personally ‘called-in’ this application because it is so significant and controversial. In the event it was approved unanimously by the Committee (including me). This decision attracted international media attention including from the Guardian and the Times.

For more information read my blog-post “The statue that no-one else wants”.

13/02/2019    Growth Overview and Scrutiny Committee

This morning’s meeting revealed that the costs of the SKDC Senior Management Restructure have risen by over £150,000 since the last meeting, mostly due to unexpected redundancy payments and other staffing costs.

The meeting also considered the performance monitoring issues. I have been asking for this issue to be re-considered since it was last presented back in June last year.  At that time “it was noted that the report was based on the previous Corporate Strategy.  A New Corporate Strategy was now in place and would have more appropriate KPIs.”  I was most surprised that this morning, eight months on, we were presented with the old KPIs measured up to September. Therefore rather than receiving new up-to-date KPIs we were given old KPIs which were already six months out of date.

We then went on to discuss financial monitoring.  During last year’s budget setting process I was among a small group of Councillors who regarded many of the ‘ambitious’ budget predictions as pie-in-the-sky forecasts. I am sorry, though not surprised, to report that we were right and we were told this morning that the following projected savings have not been achieved:

Will anyone be held to account for making ridiculous savings targets and then missing them completely? I very much doubt it. Besides which, the budget has been altered several times since last year to accommodate millions of pounds of unplanned expenditure including land purchases and sudden redundancy payments.

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

Report to Market Deeping Town Council – January 2019

Report to MDTC Full Council 9th January, 2019
(from SKDC Councillor ASHLEY BAXTER)

Happy New Year to all Councillors, Council Staff
 and residents of Market Deeping and West Deeping!

Friends of Mill Field

After more than two years of hard work and preparation, the Friends of Mill Field have this week arrived at the crucial Public Inquiry stage of their Village Green application. The result will have a massive impact not just the land in question but also on the whole town of Market Deeping.

Yesterday (Tuesday 8th) the enquiry began at the Eventus Centre and was attended by well over 50 members of the public during the day. Today (Wednesday 9th) the enquiry continues at Eventus during the day and at Open Door Church during the evening.

All members of the public and press are welcome to attend any session of the inquiry. I intend to attend the evening session as an observer (and as an Open Door volunteer) and, consequently, I ask Market Deeping Town Council to accept my apologies for not attending the Full Council meeting this evening.

Members’ Ward Budget

Last month I reported that I had allocated £300 of Council Taxpayers’ money to the Deepings United School Rock Band to assist aspiring musicians of primary school age. This month, I am pleased to report that a contribution of £250 has been allocated to the Deepings School Library to assist in the creation of a special area to encourage boys to read more. Research has proven that boys, of every age, no matter the nature of the literature before them, typically read less thoroughly than girls. I hope that the SKDC grant will encourage boys at Deepings School to read, become more educated, more thoughtful, more courteous, more productive and consequently better adults, better husbands and better fathers. However, I’m not sure how much impact £250 will have on this aspiration. In the interests of equal opportunities, all the library resources connected to the project will be available to girls as well as boys.

Meetings Attended

Since my last monthly report, I have attended only one formal SKDC meeting and then, only as an observer. Until November I would have expected to have attended the Council’s ‘Shareholder Committee’.

20/12/2018   Cabinet

The meeting included proposals for an invest-to-save fund which would give the Cabinet Member for Finance some flexibility to invest in projects and schemes expected to give a healthy return. I welcome what seems to be a good idea but I did ask whether there would be any checks and balances and/or preferred payback period. The Cabinet responded by saying that all decisions would need approval by the Section 151 Officer whose has a statutory duty to ensure the Council takes proper care of our money and assets.

Later in the meeting I asked questions about street lighting, the Deepings leisure centre and the imminent acquisition of land at Stamford by SKDC.

08/01/2019 Shareholder Committee

I was previously the Independent representative on the Shareholder Committee and had attended every meeting since its inception almost three years ago. Sadly, due to another defection of an Independent to the Conservatives, I have been removed from the Shareholder Committee in order to ensure membership of Committees across the Council accurately accords with the balance of political groups at SKDC. Healthy democracy needs healthy opposition and the increasing domination of the majority party (in our case Conservatives) does nothing to improve decision-making or scrutiny.

Research Assistant

On 4th December, the SKDC website advertised a job with a salary of £27,000. The deadline for applications was one week later. Five people applied for the job. One person was invited for interview after which he was offered the job which he started on 2nd January. It is my understanding that the successful applicant is currently an elected Conservative Councillor at Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council.

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