20 May 2012

My district councillor report for Parish AGM meetings

Photo from Antennae newsletter* (Stroud Festival of Nature 2011)
Last Thursday I missed both Parish meetings as it was also the District Council's AGM (see here) - well I produced a report for both Parishes which is copied below. I also wrote a much shorter version to be read out at the Whiteshill and Ruscombe Parish as there are presentations from all local groups. 

For those wanting a summary of the last year it is a useful place to start!

By Philip Booth, Stroud District councilor for Randwick, Whiteshill and Ruscombe 17th May 2012.

Apologies that I can’t be at this meeting; the District Council AGM is also this evening. Here are some of the key issues in my role as a District councilor from last year:

Council Housing: Last year over £10 million of rent collected by the council was given back to the government to redistribute to other authorities, but
Stroud has now bought itself out of this national system. This means borrowing £92million over 30 years, which although huge is significantly less than what we would have been paying to the Government. It also allows for an extra £23 million in the next five years to improve affordable housing opportunities and hopefully improve existing properties to tackle fuel poverty.

Indeed last year I chaired a Scrutiny inquiry into the standards of our Council housing and have been delighted this led to significant changes in policy and more money invested in energy efficiency measures and renewables. A new Stroud Housing Standard, a key recommendation of the report, is now being developed with tenants.

Council Tax: There has been no increase in the District Council’s part of the Council Tax, but many Parish and Town Council’s have had to increase their portion as they have been encouraged to assume greater responsibilities.

Locally for example this Parish and Randwick are exploring possibilities to encourage traffic calming. I have been involved in the working groups with the Parishes in this for over 6 years, but now there is a real chance to look at 20 mph zones – these make neighbourhoods more pleasant, encourage more people to walk and most importantly cut casualties. I applaud that this Parish is leading the way in this to make our communities safer.

Ruscombe Valley fields and Callowell Farm.  Most will be aware of the threat to development of these sites. I continue to oppose development on them and can see over the next year the battle to protect them will get fiercer as the District makes decisions about where the housing should go.

Water and canal issues:
-       as Stroud’s representative on the Wessex Water Customer Liaison Panel I have for example sought more funds to Citizen Advice Bureau's to increase their excellent and innovative work with Wessex to help tackle debt problems.
-       The Ruscombe Brook Action Group continues to meet and are delighted that after years of campaigning, Severn Trent started work on relining sewers in the valley and will tackle the Randwick tributary this year. Initially in 2006 Severn Trent said there was no problem; it has taken over 4 years for them to acknowledge the problems and act.
-       I’ve also been an active member of the Stroud Valleys Water Forum (a forum of all water and flood action groups in the area), which has raised many local issues re sewage and flooding with authorities, MPs and others. In particular the focus has been on seeking improvements to the Slad Valley.
-       the canal has seen huge progress but the economic downturn has had an impact on land value. This has led to real concerns about the finances. The economics of the project will be very challenging over the next year – although perhaps made easier by news that most of the money lost in Iceland has now been returned to Stroud District Council. It is unclear yet whether some of this might be needed to support the canal project.

Basketball hoop goes up after years
Community projects: I’ve been involved in organizing a host of community projects including the Randwick Woodfuel project with the National Trust plus various Transition Stroud projects including Eco-Renovation Open Homes, Stroud’s Edible Open Gardens, Stroud Potato Day and the latest project, Stroud Community TV – already over a 1000 visitors to the website in the launch month and over 350 films uploaded – it is basically a place to upload films that record and celebrate what is going on in the Stroud Valleys.

Last year also saw the opening of the Whiteshill and Ruscombe Allotments; this took our working party a number of years to develop but has been a triumph of the community working together – sadly to date, despite growing popularity re food growing, we’ve not got an agreed site in Randwick yet.

County issues: I’ve continued to vigorously oppose a large incinerator at Javelin Park. A motion I supported to stop it going ahead was supported unanimously at the District Council. I also opposed the deep cuts to our libraries. The judge at the Judicial Review last year said of Gloucestershire County Council that "the decisions under challenge were not just unlawful but bad government" and ruled that there had been a breach of equality duties that was "substantive, not merely a technical or procedural defect". While some services were saved, a significant chunk of the cuts are still going ahead.

Other news includes:
-       I’ve also called for better scrutiny of the changes to the NHS and supported the legal actions to try and stop the NHS being opened up to the private sector.
-       the £750,000 modernisation programme and new contractor for Stratford Park Leisure Centre,
-       the improvements to recycling coming in the next months - although sadly no food waste collection until 2016.
-       And my blog, 'Ruscombe Green', was voted 10th in a national poll of councillor blogs and 7th in the UK Green blogs poll. Last year I made over 500 blog posts during the year! 

Lastly we are now in interesting times at the District Council. The Council now has 21 Conservative, 16 Labour, 6 Liberal Democrat, 5 Green and 3 Independent councillors. The independent councillors do not form a group and one is known as Conservative No Group. The election results mean no one party has a majority on the Council and discussions are taking place as to what the political administration will look like: decisions will be made this evening.

*From newsletter: Philip Booth, who has organised a project in Randwick Woods where in return for conservation work with the National Trust, volunteers take home a boot load full of wood, said: "It has been great to see the significant impact thinning trees and other work has had in restoring butterfly and moth populations in Randwick. Many people got involved with the project because of the wood, but we are all learning more and gaining a real interest in the wildlife around us. It was great to be able to talk to some serious butterfly/moth enthusiasts at the Festival of Nature! Many of us have missed out on connecting with our local environment - but there is a wonderful growing awareness about the importance of restoring habitats. It is great we have such an active local branch of Butterfly Conservation."

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