Category Archives: Questions and Motions

Treasury outturn report – investment properties

Last night at Vale full council meeting, in response to the Treasury Outturn Report, I asked the following questions:

Please can you explain the loss in investment property net book value of £12.4 million over the past year?  Can someone perhaps create a one paragraph plain English translation? 

  • Emcor house was sold; what was the net book value lost there? 
  • Land in Botley was reclassified, which led to a book value loss of how much? Why does reclassification result in a loss of value in 2015/16?

In section 14, how do the void periods in Old Abbey House affect net book value, or is it only income that’s affected?

Cllr Robert Sharp, Cabinet member for finance replied. I’ll post the exact reply once I have it from the officers, probably in form of minutes. But from my notes…

  • Emcor house had a net book value of £800k. It was sold for £1.495m
  • Land at Botley was reclassified. Loss for last year to net book value is £7m
  • Void periods at Old Abbey House don’t affect net book value, only income.

There was no place for me to ask a follow up, so I have done via email this morning. ”

“As I understood what you said, the net book value reduction was from Emcor House sale (£800k) and Botley land reclassification (£7m). But the total change reported was £12.4 million. What makes up the rest of the change please?”

My questions refer to Appendix D of the Treasury Outturn Report. See sections 12-15.

Unitaries – my motion 12 Oct 16

Last night at the Vale full council meeting, I tabled the following motion in support of one of my main objectives for this year (see my blog post about my objectives):

Council notes that government is still open to practical suggestions for devolved government.

Council notes that the benefits of devolution are far more likely to be achieved if council leaders in Oxfordshire are serious about reaching a consensus.

Council also notes that both of the recently-commissioned reports identified strengths and weaknesses in each proposal, and made recommendations for addressing them.

Council believes these recommendations are capable of forming the basis for further discussion.

Council therefore:

  • Calls on all council leaders in the county to resume talks about a workable model of local government re-organisation, with the express intention of reaching a workable consensus, and with the primary objective of achieving the best outcomes for the people of Oxfordshire in terms of service delivery and efficiencies 
  • Calls on the leader of Vale of white Horse District Council to play a full and constructive part in such talks

There was heartening debate where several councillors spoke. And then council unanimously agree to it. So, the motion carried.

My speech on this one: 

When this process first began, everybody agreed that the current two-tier system was not a sustainable solution for service delivery in Oxfordshire. No one could agree on the best solution, so the feuding local authorities commissioned two separate consultants to assess possible models of local government reorganisation. The studies were thorough and cost the taxpayers nearly £200,000. But they agreed on one thing: the savings from streamlining local government would be significant.

Our top priority should be to  preserve, and hopefully improve, delivery of services to residents of Oxfordshire. This of course includes residents of the Vale.

There’s no time for the councils’ leaders to argue amongst themselves. Time spent on defending their own power positions means time lost to find a workable solution to save vital services. Leaders appear to be unable, or unwilling, to compromise in order to find a workable way to transform local government from two tiers to one. The people don’t like to see their politicians bickering. Personally, I’ve even gone so far as to recommend they employ a facilitator experienced in conflict resolution.

Whatever the original intentions, now county, who are desperate for financial savings, continue to insist on one solution, and the leaders of city and the districts are wedded to another solution. The stand-off and the reputation smearing name calling simply must stop. We need our council leaders to work together to find a solution. I ask for council to support this motion that urges all our leaders to come together to work for a solution for the people of Oxfordshire.

Is it OK for us to thank ourselves?

A Tory councillor, formerly of these parts, tabled a motion at council meeting 20 July 2016:

Council welcomes the interim findings of the Local Plan Inspector, which allows the process to move on to modifications stage ahead of final adoption. Council thanks the officers and councillors involved in directing the Local Plan process for their hard work, professionalism and perseverance and looks forward to the successful adoption of the Local Plan Part 1 in due course.

My first thought? Well, here’s another of those Tory self-congratulatory motions telling the world what a good job they think they’ve done. But it was residents, parish councils and community groups who fought the Tories the whole way to save some of the Green Belt and AONB.

So we (Lib Dems) proposed an amendment:

Council welcomes the interim findings of the Local Plan Inspector, which allows the process to move on to modifications stage ahead of final adoption. Council thanks the officers, and councillors, parish councils, residents and community groups involved in directing the Local Plan process for their hard work, professionalism and perseverance and looks forward to the successful adoption of the Local Plan Part 1 in due course. 

I had an email from Cllr Sandy Lovatt, who said he’d like to see ‘councillors’ come out, as self-congratulatory motions aren’t the done thing. I agreed, as that was totally my first thought.

In the debate, I said:

  • The original motion thanks ‘councillors’  I think self-congratulatory motions are bad form, so I support removing that word.
  • Thousands of members of the public engaged in the Locl Plan process, and dozens of parish councils and community organisations did too. This was the biggest Examination anyone had ever seen. It is due to the engagement of everyone that the plan is now likely to be found sound, and that much of the Green Belt and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is preserved.

To be honest, I don’t remember whether ‘councillors’ stayed in was was taken out. I pronounced this a silly thing to be spending time debating, and said I would support it either way.

Motion, as amended, passed.

Motion for £2m for affordable homes in Botley

UPDATE:

Tories tabled an amendment to our motion for Botley’s affordable housing, to make the motion read:

Council notes that the planning permission for West Way development in Botley, which includes 140+ new houses, will not include any provision of affordable housing. Council also notes that the developers have contributed £2,000,000 to off-site affordable housing.

Council will ring fence the contribution in lieu of affordable housing in the Affordable Housing earmarked reserve fund as has been the case with similar contributions. Priority will be given to funding schemes in North Hinksey area and Cumnor area and council asks officers to work with North Hinksey Parish Council, Cumnor Parish Council and local Members to identify suitable schemes.

As Council debated this motion, I said:

  • Vale policy is that for developments of more than 10 homes, 40% of them must be affordable. The applicants at West Way claimed their project was so risky and expensive that they couldn’t provide any affordable housing at all, but they offered £2,000,000 as a contribution to affordable housing elsewhere.
  • The people of Botley would like council to make it a priority to provide some affordable housing in Botley.
  • Our whole central area is to be demolished. We’re losing all our office space, and after the rebuild there will be fewer shops than we have now.
  • We need houses that are affordable to the working professionals who want to live here: teachers, nurses, university staff, etc.
  • Its not clear what sort of opportunities exist in Botley; we’re feeling rather full at the moment. But there are organisations that have creative models, such as Community Land Trusts, who build houses that will be permanently affordable for local people. Council can explore some of those options.

The motion passed, I’m happy to report. We now have £2,000,000 to support affordable housing schemes for Botley. If it isn’t spent in 10 years, it will go back to Mace. So let’s get busy.

——– Original post…

The Lib Dem councillors of the Vale have tabled a motion concerning affordable housing in Botley. Full council meeting 20 July is open to the public.

“Council notes that the planning permission for West Way development in Botley, which includes 140+ new houses, will not include any provision of affordable housing. Council also notes that the developers have contributed £2,000,000 to affordable housing elsewhere. This council believes in fair play, and that communities who accept new housing developments should benefit from developer contributions; therefore the council asks officers to take the necessary steps to ring fence this donation, and any future overage, for affordable housing in Botley, and to explore options for providing such affordable housing in Botley.”

We’ll try to get some Tory support for this. I can’t see how it’s party political.

Why I abstained from the chairman’s motion

I’m being asked why the Lib Dems abstained from the vote on the chairman’s motion last night.

Our Lib Dem group had a free vote on it. That means everyone was free to vote as they saw fit, and without needing to share their reasons. So I can share my reasons for not supporting the motion, but I cannot speak for other members, each of whom made their own decision.

All of this blog post is my view of things. I do not speak for others.

It so happened that all of the Lib Dems abstained because we couldn’t support the motion. The leader of the council said last night that we had opposed it. We didn’t oppose it; we simply didn’t support it. Our abstention was a statement of principle. We are a small minority of the council, and whatever the Conservatives want to vote through will succeed. Our votes don’t actually accomplish anything other than making a statement of principle.

  • Amnesty International’s national campaign had a clear objective: supporters who were concerned about the reported rise of racist and xenophobic incidents and hate crimes since the EU referendum were to ask their local councillors to table a motion at their next council meeting:

“We are proud to live in a diverse and tolerant society. Racism, xenophobia and hate crimes have no place in our country. Our council condemns racism, xenophobia and hate crimes unequivocally. We will not allow hate to become acceptable. We will work to ensure that local bodies and programmes have the support and resources they need to fight and prevent racism and xenophobiaWe reassure all people living in this area that they are valued members of our community.”

  • The Vale Lib Dem group discussed this, and we decided to table the motion exactly as our residents had requested. Every one of us supports Amnesty International’s aims.
  • This motion asks local councils to unite with one voice against the hate crimes that have seen a rise in the UK since the EU referendum. It asks councils to actively work to fight against hate crimes. We are fortunate in Vale not to be seeing much the hateful sorts of behaviour directed toward foreigners that is growing elsewhere in our country.
  • Chairman also had sight of Amnesty International’s campaign, and saw a reason to bowdlerise their motion, to add in references to our existing equalities policies concerning discrimination on age, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, etc.  The Amnesty International campaign isn’t about that. It’s about standing up against the hate we’re seeing that’s based on race or nationality, and that’s increased since Brexit. Somehow Chairman decided to broaden it, thereby softening the stand. He submitted this motion:

“We are proud to live in a diverse and tolerant society.   We believe that hate crimes have no place in our country, whether they are based on race, religion, sexual orientation, age, disability or gender identity. Vale of White Horse District Council condemn racism, xenophobia and hate crimes unequivocally.  We will not allow hate to become acceptable. We reassure all people living in the Vale that they are valued members of our community.”

  • Chairman also removed a sentence about a commitment to support organisations and programmes in our area that fight racism. For me, this was the deal-breaker. It was where we could stand up and promise to DO something in this fight; without this part, it’s just cheap words, and embarrassing for that. There’s difference here in how Conservatives view this sort of support and how the Lib Dems do. The Conservative view, as expressed by the leader, was that since there was nothing in their motion that prevented support and resources to anti-hate programmes, therefore it was supportive. (Remember they deliberately removed this sentence from the motion.) Lib Dems feel that explicit statements of support followed by inclusive action is what ‘support’ looks like. We feel that support for community programmes is a key responsibility of our grants scheme and no one should be discouraged from applying for a grant to support their programmes.
  • Maybe this is a main difference between the two parties; that side of the aisle thinks a closed door is still an invitation as long as it’s not locked. We prefer the unmistakable invitation of an open door.
  • I did wonder if Chairman’s motion would be more appropriately tabled at Abingdon Town Council, where he is currently Leader. It was the town council that caught the attention of the national press, and quite a bit of public ire, when they decided NOT to support a gay pride event by flying a flag for a day, or something like that. It’s the Abingdon Town Council that could benefit from such an anti-discrimination motion.
  • Vale council is not allowed to address issues that have been decided on in the past 6 months. The chairman’s motion was higher on the agenda (they’re on the agenda in the order received) so once we had voted on the chairman’s motion, ours could no longer be tabled. Chairman would not give way so our motion could be considered.
  • I support Amnesty International’s campaign against the hate crimes fomented by racism and xenophobia, which are on the rise since Brexit. I thought the chairman’s motion was watered down based on political fears (we might have to support something we don’t want to) and parochial events (gay flag blowback in Abingdon). For all these reasons, I did not support the chairman’s motion.

Motion for tolerance

Update: to read about the outcome of this, see my post Why I abstained on the Chairman’s motion.

Vale Lib Dems have proposed a motion in support of Amnesty International’s campaign against hate crimes. Full council meeting on 20 July is open to the public.

“We are proud to live in a diverse and tolerant society. Racism, xenophobia and hate crimes have no place in our country. Our council condemns racism, xenophobia and hate crimes unequivocally. We will not allow hate to become acceptable. We will work to ensure that local bodies and programmes have the support and resources they need to fight and prevent racism and xenophobia. We reassure all people living in this area that they are valued members of our
community.”

Motion to allow only enforceable conditions

Update: Tories proposed an amendment, which made the motion read like this:

During the process of approval of planning applications, the public sometimes has a mistaken concept of the protection afforded by the conditions attached to the planning permission. Officers and members already make great efforts to ensure that conditions are only imposed where they are deemed to be enforceable. This Council will continue to impose such conditions only when enforceable in accordance with national guidelines and our own enforcement policy.

I said, “Conditions are applied to permission for applications that would be unacceptable without the conditions. The conditions are explicitly attached to make an otherwise unacceptable development acceptable. (Then list of examples.) We need better governance over our planning conditions. If the condition is necessary to make a development acceptable, then they need to be enforceable and enforced. We shouldn’t see any applications be approved to remove conditions. That would be a useful metric to track.” Debate continued with many examples of recent conditions deemed (after the fact) to be unenforceable.

I also pointed out that the ruling group was becoming predictable: any motion we table with any element of criticism, is amended to read, ‘We already do this really well and will continue to do it really well.’ That’s pretty immature.

The amended motion was passed. Cllr Roger Cox is responsible for the quality of planning conditions.

—- Original post follows…..

Vale Lib Dems have proposed a motion to allow only enforceable conditions to be attached to planning permissions. Full council meeting 20 July is open to the public.

“During the process of the approval of planning applications, the public sometimes has a mistaken concept of the protection afforded by the conditions attached to planning permission. This council will only attach such conditions as are deemed enforceable.”

Motion for more open and transparent consultations.

Lib Dems tabled this motion at council 20 July 2016.

I said this:

  • At the Local Plan examination, Inspector allowed a resident a seat at the table specifically because his consultation response had been lost.
  • The Housing Delivery Update Consultation has has many problems identified, For example, in the village of Radley, there were 550 letters of protest et they were counted as one objection, Consequently, the report state that there were 40 comments received concerning north Radley, rather than 590, and 45 concerning NW Radley rather than 595.
  • Something went wrong with the Abbey Meadow consultation.The public thought they were promised one thing, and the council thought it was something else.
  • In the consultation for the controversial Botley SPD, two responses were completely missed out: the response from Savilles (the developers agent); and the response from a consultant for West Way Concern, who pointed out questions of lawfulness that were later cause for the three month delay to reassess.
  • The LEP SEP refresh, as council just heard from Julie Mabberly and Annie Thomas.(Speakers from the public on the night.)

Debate included some heartfelt expressions of dismay from Tories about how much they hated to see young officers cut down when they try so hard. No one blames inexperienced officers. It’s the strategic decision makers who are responsible for these failures; the most inexperienced staff, or indeed temporary staff, are charged with logging consultation responses. I think no one senior ever reads them! Had any senior officer or member read the consultation response about serious questions of lawfulness, legal expenses incurred by the pubic and the council could have been avoided.

This motion passed.

From the new list of Cabinet members responsibilities, I can’t tell where consultations lie; it isn’t included in the Leader’s delegation list (which says a lot). I’ll see if I can find out.

Trying hard isn’t the most important thing here. It’s the senior managers and Cabinet members who must ensure the right level of staff are on the right jobs. If we are legally held to account for our decisions, it isn’t trying hard that’s the most important thing, but being effective and making the right decisions. This is a recurring theme of the Tories, that trying hard should be enough.

——— Original post follows…

Vale Lib Dems have tabled a motion to do more to hold fair, open and transparent consultations. Full council meeting 20 July is open to the public.

“This council resolves to manage our public consultations with openness and transparency, using industry best practice. Our public consultations will use open-ended questions that encourage a range of responses, and officers will produce consultation reports that highlight all major concerns raised and the actions to be taken in response. Where we have control of the consultation, we will ensure openness and transparency. Where we are part of a governing body managing the consultation, we will openly encourage openness and transparency.”

Question to Cllr Dickson about the delayed Village Halls survey

At the Vale full council meeting on 11 May 16, Cabinet member for Leisure, Cllr Charlotte Dickson, was away. Today she provided a written answer to the question submitted by Cllr Judy Roberts

(A few months ago, the leader of council, Cllr Matthew Barber, assured the Vale’s Scrutiny Committee that there had been no loss of performance or service delivery by the planning team due to their ongoing recruitment and retention challenges.)

Question

Could the Cabinet member please explain the reasons for the delay in publication of the Village and Community Halls Survey, which was due in July 2015?

Written answer

The surveys of community and village halls formed part of the work that consultants carried out on the joint playing pitch strategy and associated work. We have received draft reports from the consultants and, as reported to Council in July 2015, we were on track to complete by the end of 2015. 

However, due to the demands of the Local Plan Examination, both in preparation and participation, during last autumn and winter/spring this year, a review of the work has been delayed. 

This work is now re-programmed for late spring/summer.

Question to Cllr Dickson about Abbey Meadows pool project

At the Vale full council meeting on 11 May 16, Cabinet member for Leisure, Cllr Charlotte Dickson, was away. Today she provided a written answer to the question submitted by Cllr Helen Pighills. 

(I’m told the complete re-do of the Hinksey Outdoor pool, including adding a beach area to make it more accessible, cost about £300,000. I’m trying to verify that. Abingdon residents have formally complained that Cabinet haven’t done what they promised.)

Question

In the consultation on Abbey Meadows the public were overwhelmingly in support of Scenario A: ‘A place to swim and play’

The consultation leaflet stated ‘We would aim to carry out essential repairs to the swimming pool and changing rooms’.

Furthermore under ‘Improvements we can make’, the leaflet listed ‘Repair the outdoor swimming pool’ with ‘refurbish the changing rooms’ appearing in the ‘Additional improvements we will consider’.

Why then does the recently issued cabinet decision include refurbishment of the changing rooms with no mention of essential repairs to and upgrading of the pool including its ageing pool tank and heating/filtration system?

Written answer

We listened to the consultation feedback and are working to deliver Scenario A – a place to swim and play. The outdoor pool is opening to the public on Saturday 28 May and officers worked with GLL over the winter to improve the heating system, undertake an industrial clean and paint the pool tanks. We have an ongoing maintenance budget to carry out any other essential works – as we committed to in the consultation leaflet. 

The pool is clearly important to residents, which is why we are keeping it open. The changing rooms are an integral part of the pool complex and, therefore, need to meet health and safety standards. As the changing rooms are often the first area that people use and last area they leave, it is vital that they provide a pleasant environment. A refurbished changing facility will also provide a much more attractive approach to the complex, which in turn will enhance the whole area.

Refurbishing the changing rooms was ranked as the second most popular improvement by people taking part in the consultation, so there is clearly public support for this to happen, which is why we’ve selected it as a priority.

As well as doing what we can to refurbish the pool over the past winter, officers are working to procure contractors for the play area and building work improvements in order for these works to take place next winter in an attempt to minimise the disruption caused to residents and visitors.

However, we are also aware that there are thousands of visitors to Abbey Meadow every year who do not use the pool, and we have taken them into account. One of the key aspirations of the project is to improve the wider Abbey Meadow area so that it attracts more visitors throughout the year. To completely refurbish the pool would cost in excess of £520,000, not including costs associated with survey work and professional design fees. This would not leave any funding for changes elsewhere in Abbey Meadow, which will be key to bringing more people to the area throughout the year. Given the available budget, we believe that it is fairer, along with keeping the pool open and refurbishing the changing rooms, to carry out as many of the other top ten improvements throughout Abbey Meadow as possible for the thousands of visitors who spend time in this area.

We are actively seeking additional funding so that we can achieve some of the other suggestions. We have already built into the budget some £45,000 of section 106 money from the Old Goal development earmarked for play equipment and this will allow the available budget to go further.