The Great Wisbech Christmas Lights Question

The Great Wisbech Christmas Lights Question

http://www.wisbechtowncouncil.org.uk/christmaslights.html

The Scheme
· To update current lights in High Street, Market Street, Union Street
· To light the trees on the Freedom Bridge Roundabout.
· To replace lighting displays at every street entrance to the Market Place.
· To add additional lighting to the central Christmas Tree in the Market Place.
· To light up all the “living trees” around the central Christmas Tree.
All new lighting to be used in the Market Area to be made primarily of a variety of whites, to create a tasteful effect in keeping with a traditional market square.

The Details
All the new lights to be purchased outright from the supplier and installed by our local contractor.
The price is a one-off payment totalling just over £19,000. There is no ongoing cost other than the usual annual installation fee that we pay anyway.

Afterwards
If the lights are approved by the Public, we will look to install them either this year (2014), or more likely next year (2015).
The funds come entirely from available Town Council financial reserves and do NOT deplete those reserves below Government recommended levels.
A fundraising campaign will be launched at this year’s Christmas Lights Switch-On to replace some/all of the money over the next few years and will then ideally continue to run to pay for ongoing upkeep and upgrades.

Other Details:
Festivals are part of the Town Council’s responsibilities and It is within the Town Council’s remit to spend this amount of money on Christmas Lights without a consultation. The Town Council felt, nevertheless, that in these tough times it wanted to ask the people of Wisbech if they broadly supported this level of spend on this item or not. We have therefore asked people to say “yes” or “no” and the Town Council as a body has no preference as to the outcome. If people say “Yes” then we’ll know it’s supported and get on trying to implement it either this year or next year. If people say “no” then we’ll shelve this plan and look to other ways to improve the Christmas Lights going forwards.

Why?
Because every single year, Councillors get complaints about the Christmas Light display. People comment that Wisbech is not as good as other nearby Market Towns and that the Town Council should “do something.” This proposal was an attempt to do something in the short term rather than the very long term, but it is just that. A proposal. If people say they’d rather we did not do it, we will not do it. How often do you get a local Council put the decision entirely in your hands? That’s what we are doing.

Who Can Vote?
You can vote if you live in an area with the postcode PE13 or PE14. However, when we “count” the votes we will separate those who live within the Wisbech Town Council area and those who live outside it – for information purposes. You can post your vote to Wisbech Town Council, Council Chambers, 1 North Brink, Wisbech, , PE13 1JR
or send it to E-Mail: info@wisbechtowncouncil.org.uk
You *must* include name, address and postcode as well as a clear “yes” or “no” for your vote to be counted. The deadline for votes will be Saturday 8th November 2014.

http://www.wisbechtowncouncil.org.uk/consultationweb14.docx

District Councillor Activity

District Councillor Activity

A few things I’ve been asked by residents to look into and what I am doing about them.

(1) A suggestion to try and put a bench on the South Brink, halfway between Malt Drive and the Town Center, in order that older people who like to walk into town have somewhere to sit. Finding out costs and suitability. If it seems viable I’ll look into fundraising.

(2) Cromwell Road – footpaths overgrown and trees that need tending making the area treacherous for pedestrians. I’ve emailed FDC and will be following up in a day or two to see when the area is next due some attention.

(3) Tillery Park antisocial behaviour. A number of reports of this. In the first instance I’ve changed my dog-walking route in order to go through the park each evening and have a look at the issue first hand. I’ve also asked the Police to include Tillery Park more regularly in their patrols – which they seem to be doing as I saw them swing by last night! I’m also checking to make sure the CCTV is turned on all the time.

(4) Possible disease in some trees in the park. Have taken photos and will get advice tomorrow if possible.

A number of other issues which are personal to those involved and which I can’t talk about without their permission.

Please do not hesitate to let me know if there’s something I can help with.

Fenland Learning Centres. £178,000 Cut?

Fenland Learning Centres. £178,000 Cut?

Dear Reader, here is another of those stories that – if a Conservative had done it – would be all over the newspapers, would be eliciting catcalls to “resign immediately” and would engender colourful adjectives like “shameful” and “despicable” and “dereliction of duty.”  But because it features local UKIP, any newspaper coverage will be spun in a positive way, local activists will leap up to tell us “it’s not fair to blame things on UKIP” (not even things that are directly their responsibility) or people just won’t care because they think “they are all the same” even when the evidence shows they patently are not.

The case I’d like to direct you to is the County Council Economy & Environment Committee Meeting of 21st October 2014.  Bear in mind that County Council – like all Councils – have huge cuts to make and are beginning to run out of places to make them which won’t hurt somebody, somewhere.  So, in this environment, you have to pay very close attention to the small print on Council papers, just in case one of those cuts is being targeted at something that is going to really, really stuff your area over.  (If you will excuse my slang.)  It’s not that cuts aren’t necessary – obviously they are.  But the question is whether they are falling disproportionately on one side of the County over another?  And whether it really is a sensible idea to cut a vast sum of money that is presently being used to help the most vulnerable people in the most deprived area – while simultaneously proposing luxurious new cycle paths in the leafy South of the County.

Economy and Environment committee 21/10/14

The budget line proposals were

B/R.6.209 Cut additional support for Fenland Learning Centres – -178K – – -

This budget tops up a grant targeted at learners who are hard to reach and unemployed and require a level of support to progress to gaining skills and qualifications. As well as providing skills through learning, we have started to provide staff to support Job Clubs running in March and Wisbech Learning Centres with this funding. The complexities and difficulties of delivery in Fenland mean that the hardest to reach are often only reached as individuals or in small numbers meaning that traditional delivery models do not work and so we have adopted a different model of delivery. Under this model of delivery, the Council funding complements Skills for Learning grant and if the Council funding were to be lost, then the grant would also be at risk as the service is not viable without the total funding package. Without this service, the training which consists of a range of employability skills undertaken in the County Council Learning Centres would be reduced and at least one Learning Centre would be likely to close. In 2013/14, 1,000 learners benefited from this training and therefore this number would be reduced. This training is in addition to the main Skills Funding Agency grant funded training in Fenland.

So let’s try and dig through the wordy description here.  They are proposing cutting £178,000 pounds – One Hundred And Seventy-Eight Thousand Pounds – from the budget allocated to Fenland Learning Centres.  This will specifically hit “the hardest to reach, and the unemployed.”  They are quite clear that this cut will mean the complete loss of the Skills For Learning Grant as it wont be viable without the funding.  They are also quite clear that this will affect primarily March – and Wisbech.  The end result – vulnerable people in difficult situations in our poorest and most challenged areas will lose vital help they are getting to become employable and to have a chance to escape from their circumstances.  A Learning Centre would be “likely to close.”  Where’s the outrage?  Where are the headlines?  Where are the Bucknors with a petition?

NOW LOOK – I am not a deficit denier.  I know we have to save money.  But doesn’t it seem like we’re cutting possibly the most stupid thing there is to cut, here?  Not moving the funding to a similar project, or changing the way it is used, but cancelling it entirely regardless of the cost to local people in March and Wisbech.  We have a huge disparity of wealth in this County.  I’m not arguing Fenland should get a load more than its fair share – only that dramatic and terrible cuts like this could surely come from the wealthy South, or even Cambridge – god forbid.

So at this point you are probably wondering what my beef with UKIP is, right?  Let me tell you.  At this meeting of the Economy & Environment Committee, with an item on the Agenda which would cut £178,000 from the poorest and most vulnerable people in Fenland, most specifically in Wisbech, you would expect our local County Councillors to be fighting our corner, wouldn’t you?  Or, even if they weren’t brave enough to fight our corner, you’d expect them to at least turn up wouldn’t you?

The UKIP Member for Wisbech on that Committee was Cllr Alan Lay.  He did not turn up.  Okay, let’s be generous.  Maybe something dramatic happened, or he had a vital and inescapable other obligation to attend to?  In which case, given that we are talking about £178,000 of funding looking to be cut from our local services, he would surely have arranged for a substitute to take his place?  So is there another Wisbech UKIP Councillor who is an official substitute and so could have attended on his behalf.  Yes, there is!  Cllr Gordon Gillick.  Did he show up?  No.  No substitute came in place of Cllr. Alan Lay at all.

At this point, with nobody to argue Wisbech’s corner, you would expect the agenda item to be nodded through and for our town to be stripped of its funding once again because of the poor representation we are saddled with.  Luckily for us, although Wisbech had no local UKIP Councillor to defend us, we did have Conservatives on the Committee.  It was pointed out how utterly bonkers it was to cut money from this area and how the Members of the Committee should look to other areas of the County to make their cuts before dropping the axe on our Town.  I am told that a sufficiently impassioned argument was made that the Committee did a shame-faced about turn and accepted another proposal.

The final proposal, accepted by the committee, was:

To ask officers to review the proposed cut in 2016-17 of £178k for additional support for Fenland Learning Centre in order to protect this expenditure and identify savings in other areas

If you think this sounds like we’re not quite out of the woods yet, you’re right.  It’s a good suggestion that points in the right direction, but next time we might not have friends there.  Without anybody standing up for Wisbech in Shire Hall, we will get trodden on again and again and again.  Yet the people elected and paid to represent us at County Council can’t be bothered, apparently.  What a sorry state of affairs.

Christmas Lights, LHI Bids & Other Stuff

Christmas Lights

This morning I had a meeting with some of the local press to discuss the consultation for the Christmas Lights.  Other sections of the media are also being informed in order that we can spread the consultation as widely as possible.  We believe that we’ve got a plan which has come in under budget and will be tasteful and impressive if installed.  I’ll go into a bit more detail about the whole plan next week on here, but I don’t want to steal the thunder from elsewhere until then.  Suffice to say – I’m excited about it.  I hope the people of Wisbech approve and say “Yes.”  If so, there’s a good chance we can still do it for this Christmas!  It’s not written in stone, but there’s a good chance!

LHI Bid

This afternoon I accompanied Independent Councillor Rob McLaren to Hereward Hall in March to present the application for a new safety crossing in Walsoken that is being supported by Wisbech Town Council.  Rob and I may have had our disagreements in the past – primarily because of the Dark Queen of Propaganda and her works – but he was totally on the ball today and I think we made a good team.  Whether the LHI Committee approve our bid or not we won’t know until next year, but we both hope it’ll get the go ahead.

Other Stuff

I managed to get back to the gym today after a few weeks of being too busy/distracted/lazy.  I expect I’ll ache in the morning, but you know what they say – no pain, no gain.

I enjoyed David Cameron’s strong speech about the extra money the EU are asking for.  1.6 Billion or whatever it is.  I’m really glad he told them to sling their hook and I very much hope he is able to stick to his guns.

Noticed the Wisbech Standard’s grudging report about my by-election win.  It must have really pained them to print it :)  You can see that by the phrasing.  Notice I won “on my third attempt” but no mention of the UKIP guy failing on his second attempt, or the fact that he polled the lowest the previous time he tried.  The Liberal Democrat lady’s letter “criticised the Conservatives” – no mention of the fact that it actually criticised everybody.  Also, lots of talk about what I “predicted” – except that none of those were predictions.  Wisbech Standard continue to ignore my Media Policy – clearly printed on my website – and abuse my blog posts for their own ends.  I suppose its all I can expect from them, really.

Tomorrow is my first surgery.  I’ve not had much time to advertise it, so I’m not expecting a spectacular turnout.  But you have to start somewhere!  My first Medwowrth newsletter will be going out next week. I hope to put out a Peckover newsletter a week or two later.

FDC Press Release On CIL

FENLAND DISTRICT COUNCIL PRESS RELEASE
October 24, 2014

New infrastructure levy ‘wrong for Fenland’

The Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) is not the most appropriate or efficient way of funding infrastructure to support new development in Fenland.

Instead, Fenland District Council should continue to use Section 106 agreements as the most flexible and productive way of securing developers’ contributions. But it should review that approach in three years’ time.

That is the main recommendation from independent experts who have conducted a detailed analysis of the levy for the council.

The CIL is a charge that local authorities can choose to impose on new developments in their area. It says that for each square metre of new floorspace a developer will pay a fixed, non-negotiable charge to the council. In turn, the council will pool all such contributions across the district and spend that money on infrastructure in the ways it deems most appropriate.

Briefing papers outlining the main findings of the experts’ report have been sent to all FDC members, the Fenland Developer Forum and town and parish councils.

Full details, together with a series of recommendations, will go to the council’s Cabinet on November 20 to determine the best way forward.

Several key factors make the introduction of a CIL unsuitable for Fenland at the moment, the experts say. They include:

• The viability of development is challenging at present in that the costs associated with new developments often outweigh any reasonable profit a developer might expect to make. This means only a relatively low CIL could be charged
• The levy is fixed, ruling out any ability to be flexible in negotiating contributions with developers
• Large-scale developments are increasingly being excluded from CIL charging because big sites already have large on-site infrastructure provision and costs covered by Section 106. It is seen as unfair for such schemes to pay a CIL charge because they would in effect be paying twice for infrastructure.
• There are lots of exemptions – for example, anything less than 100 square metres (except new homes), charities, affordable housing, self-build (which could be 20-35 per cent in Fenland) and conversions

If the Cabinet decides not to introduce a CIL, the council will need to refresh and refine its approach to Section 106 agreements.

A new Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) for Section 106 will be necessary to set out new ways of working and requirements for developers’ contributions.

Councillor Fred Yeulett, FDC’s Cabinet member responsible for planning policy and growth, said: “Fenland remains open for business and committed to growth. Despite the challenges, development remains viable here and developers can afford to deliver infrastructure. We will ensure it is provided at the right time and in the right place.

“Evidence suggests that CIL isn’t the best way forward for us at this stage. Having carefully considered all the options for securing developer contributions and infrastructure, of which CIL is only one, it seems the most effective solution for the time being is to focus on Section 106 agreements. However, that might change, so we will keep CIL under review.

“We are not alone in not progressing a CIL; most councils do not have one in place. Generally speaking, wealthy areas with high property values are introducing a CIL whereas less wealthy areas are not. That is because the evidence suggests introducing a charge would either make development unviable or bring in such small receipts that it is not worth incurring the considerable administration costs of collecting it.”

CIL Seminar & Other Stuff

CIL Seminar

I attended a Member’s Seminar today at Fenland District Council, which covered details of the new Community Infrastructure Levy, or CIL for short, which can replace the old Section 106 funds.  If this sounds bureaucratic and wordy, that’s because it is!  Both are ways that developers who build on land in an area can be asked to put some of their profits towards infrastructure for the local area.  Both handle the matter differently to one another.

I won’t go into the details here – they aren’t exciting unless you are a developer, a Councillor, or a Planning Buff.  Suffice to say the gist of the meeting seemed to be Officers telling Councillors why they didn’t much want to “opt in” to the new CIL method.  Their arguments seemed fairly sound – more bureaucratic, expensive to implement, unlikely to raise much more money.  But I still think it needs some consideration, as there are also areas which are quite interesting.  Namely that a quarter of the funds go directly to Town & Parish Councils.  District Councils don’t seem to get a lot (which probably explains some of the reluctance.)

I don’t personally have a view on where the money might be best spent.  There are great Parish and Town Councils, and ones that are not so great.  Same with District Councils.  But if the new CIL is genuinely so expensive to implement and run, somebody needs to tell Parliament.  New systems should be simpler and easier, in my view.

I will be reading a little more about CIL versus Section 106 before I make my mind up.  Not that I don’t trust the word of Officers, but Councillors aren’t elected to just take things on blind faith.

Other Stuff

  • I heard a rumour that was simultaneously juicy and worrying, which relates directly to local UKIP representation at County Council.  I want to check the details before I write about it, but if it turns out to be accurate then it’s a big deal and people need to know.  More on that soon, if it resolves into anything tangible.
  • Got caught up in the debate about Estover – the large patch of park and open lands in March that has controversially been faced with potential building applications.  It rather seems to me that a few people are using the issue as a vehicle to pursue their own political ambitions and, in some cases, vendettas.  Which is a perfect way to muddy the water and damage a potentially important campaign.
  • Over in Wisbech I have washed my hands of trying to work with a certain Independent Councillor on the issue of local Taxi Drivers.  In my opinion, the man is just too opportunistic and untrustworthy.  We’d come up with a pretty solid plan to resolve some of the issues, but he didn’t bother coming back to me and the only thing I heard from him was a bunch of nonsense about Christmas Lights.  He has announced that he has been talking to Council Officers and has “sorted the problems out and things are moving forwards.”  When pressed for details about when he had done this “sorting out”, with whom and what the details and timescale were – there came no reply.  So your guess, dear reader, is as good as mine.
  • We (those Members of the Wisbech Town Council working on the Christmas Lights Project) hope to have the Christmas Lights Question put to the public next week, with a voting deadline of the following week.  The question will hopefully be a simple one.  We would like to do X, X and X, and it will cost £X which will be paid for from the Town Council’s reserves and then followed by fundraising to try and recoup some or all of the funds over the next couple of years.  People will be able to say “Yes” to that, or “No.”  If they say “No” it won’t mean we will never upgrade the Christmas Lights, only that we’ll have to do it more slowly and raise the money in a different way.  Or ask again some other time.  If they say “yes” then we’ll *try* and do it this year.  If we don’t have time – which is quite possible given the date – then we’ll look to put the new lights in place for next year.  Either way, in the end, the choice is down to those people of Wisbech who bother to respond to the question put to them.  What they say, the majority of them, is what we’ll do.

Arrival

Arrival

I had my first visit to Fenland Hall as a District Councillor today.  I was there for 9AM to meet with Council Leader John Clark for a nice chat, an update on issues and events, and a discussion about what I might be invited to do for the Council.  During the conversation we were joined with Cabinet Member Fred Yeulett.  It was a really pleasant chat, I was made to feel very welcome and they answered all my (too many) questions candidly.

It appears I may be spending some time on the Overview & Scrutiny Committee at some point, which is fine by me.  I’ve done a great deal of O&S work in the past, as well as Chairing a County O&S Committee and participating in several Member Led Reviews based out of Overview & Scrutiny, so it sounds like a great use of my time and skills (such as they are.)

After my meeting I was introduced to Member Services – the very nice and super efficient Officers who handle business relating to Councillors.  I signed my name in the special book, indicating my acceptable to serve as a Councillor, filled in a bunch of other forms, and got my Keycard for getting in and out of the building.

My first “real meetings” begin tomorrow.  Looking forward to it!

Why Worry?

Why Worry?

I was asked why Dave Patrick’s comment in the Wisbech Standard annoyed me so much, when I’ve had significantly worse things said about me and just laughed them off.

To understand that you’d have to know me. I don’t mind a bit of banter, even if it’s got that snide and unpleasant flavour to it that some people use when they want “banter” to annoy rather than amuse.

I don’t mind if somebody says I’m a “bit of a dick.” I probably am, sometimes. I don’t mind if somebody calls me “fat.” I COULD stand to lose a few pounds. I don’t mind if somebody says my idea is a stupid idea – though it’s up to them to prove it with evidence and debate in a fair way, while I should be given the proper right of counter-argument and response.

There are two things which really DO get my goat though. When people attack my family and friends, on the first hand. But more pertinent to Dave Patrick’s comments, when people attack my professionalism and reputation.

Last year, in the run-up to an election, I was unable to make a meeting because I had to look after my Son. I gave the proper apologies in the proper way, the evening before. Dave Patrick went straight to the Wisbech Standard and told them that i’d done it “so that I could take part in a political campaign” and suggested that I had not given proper apologies. As usual, the newspaper ran the story the minute he told it to them, in the usual direct way they have with stories put about but his group. On the doorstep, this issue was raised with me a number of times, so clearly people had read it and believed it. I lost the election by eleven votes.

This year, again in the run-up to an election, Dave Patrick says that the reason I did not hold a consultation on the Christmas Lights Upgrade is because I “didn’t get around to it” again suggesting laziness or incompetence or disinterest. This is part of a line that their group is putting around and is just another complete load of old guff. The consultations was ALWAYS going to be *after* the plans were prepared and once the quote was in. Because HOW can you have a consultation if you don’t know what you are consulting on? I am firmly of the belief that they know all this, but that they simply don’t want to lights to happen for political reasons.

Now I have a great many failings and I would never deny it. But I am NOT lazy and I am NOT incompetent. When I say I will do something, then I keep trying to do it until its done, or I am defeated. I am sure that most people know this – because I can be a pain in the arse when I’m trying to get something done. I do more work on behalf of this town and community in a month than some people have done in their entire political career. Unless you count trying to promote their business interests as “work for the community” anyway.