Update on the Deepings’ new Leisure Centre…

Deepings PoolAt last night’s SK Business and Economic Summit 2018, I was expecting there might be an announcement regarding progress towards the new Deepings Leisure Centre promised last year at the SK Business and Economic Summit 2017. I have been asking questions about this project, informally and formally, throughout the year.

There was indeed an announcement (Drum roll, please) …

“Last year I also made a commitment to renewing and upgrading our leisure provision across the District.

This is a major undertaking and will represent a significant investment in each of our four market towns.

Plans for this investment are progressing well and will see the provision of new leisure centres in Stamford and Market Deeping.

We will also be keeping and investing heavily in our facilities in Bourne and Grantham.

We are currently in the process of determining locations for each of these new sites and what facilities will be provided, and we intend to announce the details in early 2019.”

Cllr Matthew Lee, Leader of SKDC, 11th October 2018.

Well that’s a bit of a disappointment. A whole year has passed and we don’t even have a location and we don’t know what facilities will be provided. Continue reading

SKDC Cabinet Meeting in the Deepings

On Thursday 6th September, senior councillors and officers of South Kesteven District Council held a Cabinet meeting in Market Deeping for the first time ever. The meeting discussed the establishment of a new Council company “DeliverSK” and a revised Data Protection policy as well as taking questions concerning issues in the Deepings from a local ward member.

Coun Ashley Baxter (Ind) who represents Market and West Deeping Ward comments “For three years, I have been lobbying my fellow Councillors to hold some meetings outside of the Grantham offices. I am delighted that the Cabinet has finally found their way to the Deepings.”

IMG_0731.JPG Continue reading

Why can’t we put fruit and veg in the @southkesteven green garden waste bin?

Not very long ago, one of my constituents had her green bin refused because it had an onion in it and I had to go and investigate why.

After speaking to SKDC, then LCC, then the recycling plant at Langar, I finally got a clear answer from WRAP.

To save your phone bill and all the tedium of doing this yourself, I’ll tell you that, in the eyes of the Food Hygiene industry, anything that has been into a kitchen could theoretically have been in contact with a chopping board or knife infected by rotten meat or E-coli or whatever. As no-one can tell whether a particular apple has visited a kitchen we have to assume they are all dangerous.

It sounds ridiculous but it is the law and, like any organisation, South Kesteven always has to abide by the law.

The best thing to do with uncooked fruit is to put it on your compost heap.

Yet another @SouthKesteven senior job stitched up for a #Peterborough crony. This time it’s CEO at @InvestSK…

Regular readers will have seen recent revelations relating to my research of remuneration, recruitment and redundancy at South Kesteven District Council (SKDC).

It came as no surprise that last week the Council announced the appointment of Steve Bowyer as CEO of the newly incorporated InvestSK Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of SKDC. Once again the appointment has been made by the Leader, Cllr Matthew Lee, and the Chief Exec of SKDC, without any attempt to advertise the post or undertake any kind of competitive interview process.

Cllr Kelham Cooke (Con), Steve Bowyer and Cllr Matthew Lee (Con)

InvestSK is an imitation of Opportunity Peterborough which is the long established economic development arm of Peterborough City Council. It is argued that a free-standing company can have more impact on potential investors and employers than a department of the Council. Since last year’s coup d’etat within the SKDC Tory group, the Council has been paying Opportunity Peterborough over £200,000 for vaguely defined consultancy services. Now that the consultants have their feet under the table, a decision has been made to poach their Chief Executive, Steve Bowyer. He will paid a salary ‘commensurate with the role’ which we can assume is well over £100,000 (I have requested the actual figure but I’ve been informed the information is exempt from publication under FoI).

Like so many other recent recruitments, Mr Bowyer is a former colleague of Cllr Lee who was a Director of Opportunity Peterborough from 2010 to 2013. Mr Bowyer does not live in Peterborough or South Kesteven but I am informed that Grantham is closer to his Leicestershire home. Continue reading

Are you worried about trees?

A resident of Market Deeping recently got in touch with me about the tree in a neighbouring property. He told me it was very tall and was worried out the potential impact on his house if it continued growing or, perhaps worse still, if it fell down.

This post outlines what advice I offered and I share it in the hope that it might be useful to people with tree concerns either in Market and West Deeping or elsewhere.

I’ve started by looking for the tree on Google Maps to try to identify at which property it was located. By knowing the exact location of the tree I could try and work out who had responsibility for the tree.

The location also helped me to determine whether or not the tree was subject to TPO (Tree Preservation Order) and whether or not it was in a Conservation Area. All works to trees with TPOs and/or in Conservation Areas has to have prior consent from the planning authority (in our case, SKDC). If anyone decides to do works to a tree it is worth double-checking this information so that no-one ends up getting fined.

Having established the identity of the tree and the likely owner, and if you are worried that the tree might be a danger to your house there are various things you can do:

  • Speak to the owner of the tree.

Pollarding a tree is one of those jobs that easily gets put off. He/she might be in just as much danger as you are and a friendly word of concern from you might be the prompt they need to take action. This doesn’t have to be a confrontation and obviously I have no idea what kind of relationship you have with this neighbour, if any.

Some of my own neighbours once spoke to me about a tree in my own garden. It kept growing without me noticing. The first time I cut it down to half its size and the second or third time I had it removed completely. It wasn’t a very precious tree and I valued the good will of my neighbours more than I valued the tree.

  • Speak to an arboriculturalist

In the right conditions, trees can last for hundreds of years. Is there a particular reason why you think all or part of this tree is likely to be is in danger of falling or breaking?  A professional tree expert (arboriculturalist) will give you guidance on the health and condition of the tree and how likely it is to fall. I can put you in touch with an arboriculturalist who lives in my ward but there are two potential drawbacks to this approach: a) she might charge; and b) she might need access to the base of the tree.

Perhaps you might persuade your neighbour that the tree should be inspected.

  • Speak to your insurance company.

If your neighbour isn’t convinced by a friendly chat they might be more persuaded by the idea that they could be responsible for the costs of damage to your property (and indeed their own). The likelihood of the tree falling down in a storm is only one aspect. There may be other reasons why your insurance is affected e.g. by root damage to foundations, drainage and water courses.

  • Speak to the Council

I have put this option last because I think it is the least likely to have any effect. The Council’s tree consultant tends to spend his limited time protecting trees from damage and development. If there was reason to believe the tree was an immediate or imminent danger to life or property then the Council might intervene but I have only heard of this happening once and that was a rotten oak in a school field near Nottingham.

If there are branches of the tree that overhang your property I think you have some rights to trim them back as far as your own perimeter (assuming there is no issue with TPO or Conservation Area) but it is worth trying to speak to your neighbour about it first.

Finally, I would say that, generally speaking, everyone like trees. They don’t answer back nor set out to cause arguments. They provide shade and encourage wildlife etc. If it is the height of the tree which is a problem then it might be easier to persuade your neighbour to pollard the tree by a few metres than to have it cut down completely.

I hope this is useful. Please let me know if you have any other thoughts on trees, especially in the Deepings.

The return of golden handshakes at @southkesteven.

Last week, SKDC had a corporate sense of deja vu. Lots of concern about alleged golden handshakes given to senior staff unexpectedly leaving.

Back in 2009, there was a difference of opinion between the Leader of South Kesteven District Council, Cllr Linda Neal and her Chief Executive, Duncan Kerr, about whether he should be allowed an extended period of leave to go on a cycle ride across Europe. The end result was that Mr Kerr was given unlimited leave, or rather, he was told to leave and never come back.

Thanks to years of whining from those pesky trade unions, a Council can’t just sack senior staff on the spot without any evidence of Gross Misconduct and so Mr Kerr was ‘encouraged’ to leave with the help of a financial settlement. It is believed to have been over £100.000 but I don’t think the figures were ever made public so we don’t really know, (even though Cllr Phil Dilks (Lab) tried every trick in the book to try to get the figures public.

Almost a decade later, last November, another Senior Manager of SKDC was made an offer he couldn’t refuse. He was working there for years quite happily, and all of a sudden there was a new Tory administration and it was decided he had to go in a hurry. For legal reasons we are not supposed to say how much the staff member was paid in compensation of his swift departure. I mentioned at Full Council last week that it was over £100,000 and I was tacitly accused of breaking confidentiality. I don’t see how I could break confidentiality when I wasn’t told the information in the first place, I had just put two and two together. Anyway, I won’t risk breaking confidentiality again but I will just draw readers attention to a couple of lines from the agenda pack for the Governance and Audit Committee of 21st June which have been in the public domain for several weeks.

Page 180 of this publicly available report states:

a) The Strategic Director (S151 Officer) left the Council on 23rd November 2017.
b) The ‘Compensation for Loss of Employment’ relating to the Strategic Director (S151 Officer) was £141,000.
I’ll leave you to join the dots!

Wyndham Park? Where’s that?

For Councillors in Grantham, the historic Wyndham Park is the jewel in the crown of South Kesteven. Most people in the Deepings have never heard of Wyndham Park, let alone visit the park, and I suspect they would be surprised to hear how much attention the park is given by the communications team at SKDC.

Please fill in the online Wyndham Park survey, regardless of how much you know about the park. It presents an opportunity to feedback to SKDC about open spaces in general and to suggest they might be able to give more attention to green spaces in Bourne, Stamford and the Deepings.

In the last 18 months, there have been around 20 press releases relating to events and activities at Wyndham Park including two relating to surveys relating to people’s views about the park. A survey was carried out in July 2017 and another is being carried out this month (July 2018). It is no surprise that no survey has been undertaken regarding the council’s green and open spaces around the rest of the district including Jubilee Park in Deeping St James and Greenlands in Market Deeping which are both owned and managed by SKDC.

Wyndham Park has been awarded Green Flag status, it has had a series of public events including forest schools, easter egg hunts, May pole dancing etc.

Continue reading

Breaking news: @SouthKesteven Councillor for Deeping St James joins the Tories

Longstanding Parish and District Councillor, Cllr Judy Stevens has decided that she would be better off entering next year’s elections as a Conservative.

Cllr Stevens is well-known as a tireless community activist involved in many organisations and initiatives in the village of Deeping St James. She was at the forefront of the Deeping St James in Bloom campaign and can still be seen regularly weeding, tending plants and picking litter.

Fellow Deepings Councillor, Ashley Baxter, who is still Independent, comments “Judy has clearly been seduced by the flattery and empty promises of the SKDC Tory Leadership. One can only assume that she has been promised a Special Responsibility Allowance next year as a Committee Chair or Cabinet Member. While I am disappointed that Judy Stevens has abandoned her independent status I guess it would be better to have someone in such positions of authority who have a track record of speaking up for residents and being practically involved in the community rather than some of the Tory yes-men who turn up just to collect the allowances and make up the numbers e.g. one of the existing DSJ Tory Councillors now lives on the other side of Peterborough and was until recently a Vice-Chair of a Committee.

The best outcome next May would be for more Independent candidates to stand and win so the Tories lose their majority. Failing that I hope that Judy can cause havoc among the already divided Tory group.