Category Archives: Uncategorized

To change the course of our country

Tomorrow we expect Parliament to overrule the Fixed Parliament Act and call an early general election for 8 June. Mrs May’s speech today was breathtakingly self-centred, showing how much she values her own status and her own party over our country. 

Do you trust anything she says?

I’m committed to doing what I can to help turn out the Tory Government. 

I’ll actively support the Liberal Democrats, the party that supports Remain, the NHS, our schools, and improving our transport infrastucture. I support freedom of movement in Europe and recognise the real contributions of immigrants.  We oppose the snoopers charter, the rape clause for child benefits, the cuts to our most vulnerable disabled residents. We oppose the policy for more grammar schools, which leaves more children behind. The hurtful, intolerant, inhumane polices show us the Tory mind at work. 

So I’ll be rearranging my commitments for the next 7 weeks. If it’s not urgent, I’ll take it on after the GE. 

It’s a Brexit election! Game on. 

Children’s Centres Grants speech to council

On 15 Feb here’s what I said about the Children’s Centre grants amendment motion:

I think we all agree the Children’s Centres provide vital community resource for early intervention for children under 5 and their families. It’s the main programme I’m aware of that improves children’s social mobility and therefore their life chances.

I heard this Government tout grammar schools as a way to give every child a chance at achieving their potential. But studies show unequivocally that children’s life outcomes are largely determined by the time they are 5 years old. Their life achievements are more predicted by the demographics of their families than any other thing. So it makes sense that programmes designed for early intervention have the best chance for success.

I’ve heard the argument that children’s centres are not district business, they are county. Clearly  county can’t afford to support the children’s centres any longer. Towns and parishes are doing what they can to help their local children’s centres, because it’s the right thing to do. We aren’t proposing taking on the management of children’s centres; they are actively working toward managing themselves. We propose a grants pot to help those organisations through their first year.

I’ve heard the argument that it’s not a statutory responsibility. We do lots of things we aren’t required to do. Did you know we have no statutory responsibility to supply leisure centres? But we spend millions on them.

Children’s Centres are exactly the sort of not-for-profit organisation our grants schemes are intended to support. Once we have transformed our local government into a unitary authority, this sort of service provision will be very much in our remit. In the meantime, we are able to help, and we should.

Scrutiny -leisure and CIL

Last night at Scrutiny we looked closely at three Leisure reports that serve as part of the evidence underpinning the emerging Local Plan 2031 Part 2. 

Playing pitches (both grass and arificial grass), community halls and parks and green open spaces, children’s playgrounds, allotments will all be safe. They can only be replaced, not lost. 

Many towns and villages have facilities in need of refurbishment and replacement, and these reports suggested priorities. Many settlements are underprovided with some facilities. Again, a recommended improvements re prioritised. 

Once accepted, these reports become background to policy decisions. 

This was a large body of work taking years to produce. It will underpin planning policies and support planning application decisions for years to come. 

We also reviewed the draft CIL (community infrastructure levy) charging schedule. A lot of attention has gone into balancing the need for a schedule that’s viable for developers, but that still provides enough money to build needed infrastructure to support the levels of growth to which Vale has committed. 

I was heartened at the good quality of these studies and reports.

Pre-application advice to be made public

A new planning policy comes into effect in January 2017. 

Vale of White Horse offers pre-application planning advice to individuals and companies on a commercial basis. This is one of the ways that enable us to keep council tax low in South Oxfordshire.

Prior to a full planning application being made, we respect the commercial confidentiality of the advice given. However, in the interest of being transparent we are putting a new process in place from January 2017 whereby our advice on new cases will be available publicly on our website once the full application is submitted.

New Local Plan and pending appeals

Some of you have asked me whether pending appeals will be decided according to the old policies in place when the application was originally determined, or if the new Local Plan policy will take precedence once it’s adopted. (Adoption expected 14 Dec 16.)

I’ve had conflicting answers to that question, and have this mor img sorted it out by speaking to a senior planner. 

Once a new policy is adopted, the local authority must notify the inspectorate. The new policy is definitely a material consideration, but how much weight it is given in an appeal is down to the inspector. So that would be the case here from 14 Dec 16. 

So for any appeals that are pending, it could go either way. But we would generally expect the inspector to give lots of weight to the new policy. 

My position on Brexit

I posted a Facebook comment somewhere, which, in retrospect, succinctly sums up my position in the Brexit debate. So I’m going to stick it here so I can find it again when asked my opinion. 😉

AFAIC, the referendum was advisory and not binding; that was explicit. The government should use the popular opinion as expressed in that referendum in making their decisions. 

But parliament is still sovereign; we in the UK are not a direct democracy. The decision about whether to leave the EU is parliament’s, and also the terms under which we should or should not. 

That’s my opinion. I think that agrees with Lib Dem position.

Personally, I still want us to remain in the EU.

Tilbury Lane Gate

I’m really pleased to report that Vale planners are exploring some permanent solutions to this intractable problem of the Tilbury Lane gate. 

I can’t really share details until they have more of it all worked out. But my optimistic fingers are deffo crossed. 

Here’s how it came about. 

In an attempt to resume normal life after elections of the past few months, I asked some senior Vale planners about the problem of road access in Tilbury Fields: the gate keeps malfunctioning (knocked down, usually, but currently locked open) and I think we need a different solution. 

Here’s my thinking on it. 

There are basically three approaches to problem solving. In order of sophistication, they are: 

1. Do more of the same. Fix the gate, break the gate, fix the gate, break the gate, get a new gate, gate doesn’t work, fix the gate … as nauseam. 

2. Do something different. Abandon the idea of a gate and try something else. Rising bollards? Manned security hut? 

3. Explore and discuss the idea that blocking the private, single track Tilbury Lane was never a solution to the problem at all. Instead, consider a new road to Tilbury Farm, a new access road to Tilbury Fields, some other clever way of preventing vehicles from taking the lane, or something like that. 

I’ve been trying to encourage exploration of possibilities in No 3. 

Scrutiny and the Five Councils Partnership

This past summer, Vale and South Oxfordshire were the first to roll out a massive outsourcing project. In the coming months, three other councils will be rolling out the same contract. This new model for joint outsourcing breaks new ground for councils as well as for the service providers, Capita and Vinci. 

Last night, the Joint Vale and South Scrutiny Committee decided they would to ask senior officers and cabinet holders to come along to a joint scrutiny committee meeting in January to report on progress of the 5 councils partnership, lessons learnt so far in the transition and roll-out and any issues arising from the terms of the contract. The committee feels this is one of the most important things (if not THE most important thing) the council is doing right now and would like to take a close look. 

We’re aiming for late January; Democratic Services officers will be setting it up. 

It will be an opportunity for all members of both councils to submit questions, come along and hear what’s happening. Even members of the public can participate, if they are interested. 

Air Quality in Vale

Three Vale areas suffer regular levels of NO2 levels in excess of EU thresholds: Botley along the A34, Marcham in Packhorse Lane, and the centre of Abingdon. 

Someone asked me today what I thought it meant to Vale that a court found (again) that the UK government isn’t doing enough to improve air quality. 

IMO, part of the problem is in the structure of responsibilities. I think someone in the Prime Minister’s Cabinet needs to have an overall responsibility for this, and to make clear what local government bodies can and should do. I think MPs should be doing more. Obv the courts agree. 🙂

Districts are tasked with monitoring and forming action plans. That’s where we (Lib Dems) have tried to apply pressure to the current administration. Today we have regular air quality measurements in the main problem areas, and under pressure from us, Tory Cabinet recently created action plans for those three areas too. 

But the measurement methods are a bit old fashioned and maybe not as thorough as they could be. And the action plans inevitably involve bodies other than the districts (county, highways, transport legislation etc) and we have not much clout in getting them to fund anything or do anything. 

Within the past year, we tabled a motion for council to write to the Government urging them to tighten up the requirements and testing for diesel engine emissions standards. It was voted down, but many Tories either supported us or abstained. We’ll try something like this again after the 6 months is up.

Just this week we submitted a budget proposal to the Tory administration for modernising our air quality monitoring equipment. We think Vale should be measuring particulates and providing real time information so vulnerable people can decide if they want to risk venturing outdoors on a given day. 

If we can be sure we are usefully measuring the most harmful of our air pollution problems, then when other bodies finally decide to do something, we’ll have the data. 

I don’t think it’s OK that nothing is happening, not at all. But I think that the FACT that nothing is happening points to a systemic problem that the lowest level of government (districts) is not equipped, nor expected, to handle. 
In all of this, I discovered that the most recent public health report on mortality estimates that 52 people in Vale die prematurely every year, due to air pollution. 

So it’s worth doing all we can.