Do you want to know a secret?

Back in September, South Kesteven held a cabinet meeting in Market Deeping. I attended and asked plenty of questions (it would have been rude not to!). The final item on the agenda concerned “Strategic Regeneration Acquisitions – land in South Kesteven”

The item was considered commercially sensitive and was therefore held in ‘closed session’ i.e. the press and public were excluded. I stayed in the meeting in order to find out what the fuss was about. After a brief discussion the following decision was made:

Cabinet authorises the acquisition of a parcel of land in the South Kesteven area (a) subject to contract, satisfactory replies to searches and enquiries and to the terms negotiated; and (b) subject to approval by Council of the necessary budget allocation.

During the discussion, no-one mentioned which piece of land was being acquired and so, at the end of the meeting, I asked to see the paperwork and was given detailed information about this important decision. It seemed to me that, in principle, the purchase seemed a sensible investment.

The decision was ratified by the next Full Council meeting on 27th September when, once again, the press and most of the Council officers were asked to leave the meeting for the duration of the event along with the single solitary member of the public who was in attendance. Clearly, this was a highly-sensitive negotiation which must not be allowed to leak.

The proposal was presented as part of a bundle of amendments to the budget framework which were agreed unanimously by the 38 Councillors present (don’t ask me what the other 18 thought as they didn’t turn up).

Two week’s later, the secret investment was unveiled by the leader as part of a speech to an SKDC economic summit at Grimsthorpe Castle. Unfortunately, attendance at the event was by invitation only and I was told in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t invited, Fortunately, the Stamford Mercury was invited and helpfully they published the Leaders’s speech in full which included the following comment:

“I’m therefore pleased to announce this evening that we are in the final stages of the acquisition of a large development site on the edge of Stamford that is currently occupied by Cummins… the future of the site on Barnack Road will continue to provide local employment opportunities. “

Before the ‘Summit’ I was advised by the Chief Exec that Cllr Lee intends to speak to the Council about the event.

Soon after the Grimsthorpe event, Cllr Lee sent an email to Councillors lauding the success of the summit in which he said:

“While it was announced officially last night, it was clear that the location was, in fact, an open secret among many in Stamford. This underlines the importance of us having DeliverSK so that our commercial discussions can remain confidential in the future.”

Two months later, at Full Council in November I asked a question regarding when information about the event, which had cost Council Tax payers over £14,000, would be shared formally with Councillors. The answer was vague and included a thinly-veiled attack on me for my supposed cynicism.

A month later than that, I attended the SKDC Cabinet and asked some more questions including whether Cllr Lee could elaborate publicly on the details of the land acquisition as, so far, Councillors had only been formally briefed in secret. Astonishingly, Cllr Lee responded that, due to the ongoing procedures concerning over site, he could not make comment about the site openly in a Council meeting.

I’m confused. Back in October, the Conservative Leader of SKDC publicly announced, to the press and business community, the specific location of 15-acre SKDC land acquisition in Stamford but, when I asked for the same information as a Councillor at a council meeting, for some incomprehensible reason he was ‘keeping mum’.

I expect all will be revealed soon, probably in a volley of photo-opportunities and press releases, and just weeks before the SKDC election!

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

Art for art’s sake…

An SKDC press release today announced a public consultation on the arts…

“Groups and individuals with an interest in arts, heritage, culture and all manner of creative activities are being invited to help develop South Kesteven District Council’s new cultural strategy.

The public engagement process will begin in the four market towns with a series of meetings for stakeholders and strategic partners, starting in Stamford on 23 January.

Initially these meetings will be by invitation only, but a wider programme of consultation – both online and face-to-face – will be introduced throughout the spring and early summer.

SKDC officers, working with colleagues within InvestSK, will lead the meetings to discuss the cultural sector and celebrate the vital role that arts and heritage play in the district’s economic development.

The meetings will explore SK’s current cultural landscape, identifying priorities for future delivery, considering resource implications, recognising challenges and discovering opportunities.

Any arts or heritage practitioner or local group wishing to attend the initial meetings can register an interest to attend. Places are free but limited so do please get in touch as soon as possible.

Register or express an interest in being involved by contacting Michael Cross (Heads of Arts for InvestSK) by email michael.cross@investsk.co.uk or by calling 07966 299400.

Dates for the sessions are:

Stamford Arts Centre Ballroom – 23 January 2019 7pm-9pm

Grantham Guildhall Arts Centre – 29 January 2019 7pm-9pm

Ballroom Bourne Corn Exchange – 31 January 2019 7pm-9pm

The Deepings – Oddfellows Hall, Market Deeping – 12 February 2019 7pm-9pm

ENDS

Report to Market Deeping Town Council – December 2018

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

Meetings Attended

I have attended three formal meetings during the last month.

20/11/2018        Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee

Street Lighting

This meeting included yet another discussion of the Council’s Street Lighting Policy and whether or notthe District Council should be committed to keeping its street-lights on during the hours of darkness (unlike the Conservative County Council who turn many of their lights off).

Since the last meeting, the Committee has held two workshops on this issue which were not open to the public. I attended the first but was unable to attend the second. After a protracted e-mail exchange I managed to obtain the notes from the workshops and, more importantly, establish that they should be in the public domain. This is a significant victory as I have been challenging the practice of Members’ workshops for many months. On reading the notes of the second workshop I was quietly pleased that I hadn’t curtailed a sojourn in Bournmouth in order to attend as the meeting had been attended by only three Councillors and lasted less than 25 minutes.

A longer debate about street-lighting took place at the OSC meeting and concluded with arecommendation that a) Cabinet adopt the Street Lighting Policy which I drafted and was approved by the Environment OSC earlier in the year; and b) the Council invests a significant amount of money into a capital programme to replace existing street-lamps with more efficient LED equivalents.

The issue will now be presented to the Cabinet who will hopefully this time be able to act on the recommendations rather than referring it back to the Committee as they did last time.

Recycling and Waste

The meeting listened to a presentation about the many issues affecting waste and recycling in South Kesteven which included some handy recycling tips and home-truths about the problems of contamination of recycling materials. The SKDC Food Waste trial has so far been very successful in reducing recycling contaminations for the small number of households covered by the pilot scheme (contamination down from about 30% to less than 10%).

The meeting also discussed the Lincolnshire Joint Waste Strategy. This document had been produced by the County and District Councils. A consultation had taken place regarding the strategy which affects literally everyone in Lincolnshire and 147 responses had been received, 6 of which were from District Councillors including myself.

22/11/2018          SKDC Full Council

On a more positive note, the Council celebrated the achievements of various communities across the District with presentation of the Best Kept Village Awards which included Market Deeping winning the ‘large settlement’ category.

Later in the meeting I asked when the Council Leader, Coun Matthew Lee (Con), was planning to report back to Councillors on the SK Economic Summit which took place at Grimsthorpe Castle in October at a cost of £14,736. He replied to say that he continued to talk about the summit at all sorts of meetings but didn’t say which ones. I also asked about progress towards the planned weekly Saturday market in Market Deeping.

The meeting concluded with a heated debate about whether or not major planning applications should be decided by the Development Management Committee or allowed to be ‘nodded through’ by Officer sat the discretion of the Chair. A motion was proposed by Cllr Phil Dilks (Lab) after a recent decision to approve an enormous 49-metre high cold storage centre was taken without reference to the Committee (unless you include an informal private meeting at which questions were limited). The Conservatives apparently think this is acceptable.

11/12/2018          Development Management Committee

The first hour’s discussed a part-heard application for detailed permission for 174 dwellings on the Elsea Park estate in Bourne. This time, I voted to refuse the scheme despite Officers’ recommendations that it be approved and the rest of the committee agreed with me.

There then followed a discussion of a house in Dyke where Officers recommended refusal. The Committee was evenly split and a decision only taken when the acting Chairman changed his casting vote.

Finally there was a discussion about a dog-training facility in the North of the District which was approved subject to some very tight conditions concerning hours of operation.

Friends of Mill Field

Regular readers will be aware that, around 18 months ago, residents of Market Deeping submitted a Village Green application concerning the fields adjacent to Mill Field Road, Market Deeping. This is the only remaining unmanaged and easily accessible open space in the town.

A consultation event at the Deepings school in June 2018 concerning the site attracted 547 responses of which over 90% were opposed to any development on the site. Despite this, and despite the ongoing legal process, Lincolnshire County Council has recently submitted a planning application for the site although it has not yet been validated by Officers.

The Public Inquiry concerning the Village Green application will take place on Tuesday January 8th and Wednesday 9th starting at 10am. There will be an evening session at the Open Door Centre opposite the Deepings School on Wednesday Jan 9th from 6pm – 8pm. All members of the public and press are welcome to attend any session of the inquiry.

Monitoring Officer

Last week Councillors were informed that the Solicitor to the Council, is leaving the Council after thirty years of service as an employee. Mrs Youles’ departure will be a great loss of experience, expertise and information to the Council. She was also the Council’s Monitoring Officer which is one of the three designated posts that all local authorities have a statutory duty to employ. The Monitoring Officer has the specific duty to ensure that the Council, its officers and its Elected Councillors maintain the highest standards of conduct in all they do.

Contracts of senior staff normally require a notice period of at least two or three months. Councillors have been offered no explanation of the reasons for the apparently sudden departure of the Monitoring Officer but the circumstances appear similar to the departure last year of the Council’s Section151 Officer which is another of the three statutory posts. On that occasion, it later transpired that the Officer was offered a ‘golden handshake’ of £141,000 to leave quickly and quietly. I have e-mailed the Chief Executive to ask if there will be a financial cost to the Council attached to the departure of the Monitoring Officer and, if so, how much.

Market Deeping Christmas Market

I was pleased to help with the annual Christmas Market which this year wasmanaged by a team of volunteers led by Cllr Virginia Moran ably assisted by the sterling efforts of the Clerk and the park-keepers. I understand that this year’s market was the first ever to cover its own cost which is obviously good news for Market Deeping tax-payers as well as all the people who enjoyed the market.

I was involved in organising the entertainment programme which consisted of many varied acts including rock bands, choirs and line-dancers. I am particularly grateful to Cllr Andy Pelling of DSJ and Phil Jones for acting as stage technicians and comperes throughout the day.

The first two acts of the day were the Deeping St James school band and the Deepings United Schools Choir. They were so impressive that I have decided to allocate £300 of my Councillor’s Ward Budget towards the equipment they need for community performances.

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