Network Rail has no interest in our traffic issues

Recently the local press published a letter suggesting that South Holland District Council could somehow have required the rail companies to do something other than what they eventually did with the line through Spalding.

I did send the newspaper a response, as the writer did raise a number of valid questions that needed answering.  To date, this has not been published.

Dear sir,

Further to Mr Delve’s letter re traffic grid lock in Spalding being caused by increased use of the rail line. He refers to a rail loop proposal and asks why the council didn’t require Network Rail to build this, rather than carry out the upgrade work that allowed for the increased rail traffic.

If only it were that easy. The ‘rail loop’ he refers to, was in fact a protected corridor identified by the district council in an early plan. Its inclusion was more in hope than anticipation, that the rail company would see the logic in bypassing a town centre with four level crossings and no bridges, at some point in the future.

As the local planning authority, South Holland would never have been under any illusion that it could compel Network Rail to do anything other than the Railways Act allows it to; upgrade the existing line, whatever the impact. Even our encouragement for the development of a Rail Freight Interchange, failed to prompt the company into becoming more engaged.

Since the original upgrade proposals became known to South Holland DC, the council has made every effort to reduce the impact. First in meetings with Railtrack, when proposals included the potential for level crossing closures of up to 40 minutes in the hour. We also looked at the potential for a road bridge on Winsover Road. Then with Network Rail, a company that regrettably, has been somewhat less forthcoming.

We are now working in partnership with Lincolnshire County Council and local developers, to progress the delivery of the Spalding Western Relief Road. This road is one of only four strategic road projects in the county council’s local transport plan.

Working with LCC we successful bid for £12m from central Government, to support major housing delivery projects, a crucial element of Spalding Western Relief Road scheme.

Cllr Roger Gambba-Jones
Cabinet member for Place
South Holland District Council


Ministers’ ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude to councils must end

Copied from LG online

All too often the government’s attitude to local government can be categorised as “out of sight, out of mind”. The shadow of Brexit’s cloak of doom obscures most things right now.

However, local government made a high-profile sortie to the front of the collective ministerial consciousness earlier this week – when Sajid Javid and Theresa May lambasted the sector for its apparent failure to ensure homes get built.

While some councils do block too many new homes, scores of headlines relating to “nimby councils” were not a fair reflection of where culpability lies for failure to address the housing crisis. “Land-banking developers” and “ineffective ministers” surely merit far harsher headlines.

In her showpiece housing speech, the prime minister legitimately espoused the benefits of homeownership among the (relatively) young. However, she has become increasingly blind to the plight of more vulnerable younger people. Many have basic unmet needs as a result of austerity.

Warning more top-tier councils could follow Northamptonshire
LGC analysis shows an astonishing 63% of area reviews of special educational needs and disabilities provision undertaken in the past year have uncovered weaknesses. It is not that councils do not regard these services as important, but they simply lack the proper resources to offer the service levels they desire. SEND services, like a myriad of other areas of council provision, are deteriorating due to funding cuts – but the government continues to look the other way.

Ministers need to be a willing to accept responsibility for the tough stuff as they are willing to dole out the blame.

Evidence of the scale of local government’s financial crisis comes today as the National Audit Office reports on the sector’s financial health. The spending watchdog reveals that more than a fifth of top-tier councils are running through their reserves at such a rate that they are set to follow Northamptonshire CC in issuing a section 114 notice within the next five years. Authorities are in an impossible situation, buffeted by rising demand for services on one side and reduced funding on the other.

Councils’ plight is growing ever greater, as is the government’s inability to appreciate the scale of the challenge. In response to the NAO review, a government spokesman trotted out all the usual lines about the recent finance settlement striking “a balance between relieving growing pressure on local government and ensuring hard-pressed taxpayers do not face excessive bills” and how councils are getting “a real-terms increase in resources over the next two years”. The NAO’s research suggests a far more negative picture.

We need more straight-talking honesty from our ministers. They need to be as willing to accept the responsibility for the tough stuff – the devastating impact on services of austerity – as they are willing to dole out the blame.

In something of a breath of fresh air, Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government minister Heather Wheeler this week said she would resign if rough sleeping worsens. If her ministerial colleagues are so certain they’re getting the balance right on council funding, they should make similar commitments to resign in the event of a spate of Northamptonshires.

National Planning Policy Framework revisions due any day now – here we go again?

Legal landscape: Let’s hope the revised NPPF can provide much-needed clarity
By Ian Graves

A revised National Planning Policy Framework could bring clarity to planning, says Ian Graves, but he fears government will avoid difficult decisions about green belt and neighbourhood planning.

Six years since the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which saw 1,300 pages of planning regulations condensed into just 65, the government has confirmed its intention to publish a consultation draft of the revised framework this spring. The review will be welcomed by planners, developers and local authorities.

A lot has changed since 2012 and it’s time for national planning policy to catch up. The proposals in last year’s white paper Fixing Our Broken Housing Market, the written ministerial statements on small sites and housing land supply, and the growth of neighbourhood planning all need to be integrated into the framework.

The revised NPPF will no doubt also be a key tool in the government’s efforts to fulfil its pledge to deliver a million new homes by 2022. This is the chance for the government to have its say on contentious issues surrounding the interpretation of the current NPPF. Is the presumption in favour of sustainable development really intended to be a ‘golden thread’ running through the whole of the framework, or just paragraph 14? What are “relevant policies for the supply of housing”?

Interpretation has thus far been left to the courts, but it is now time for the government to let us know its views and intentions. The hope is that doing so will bring much-needed clarity – although, of course, some may say that a revised document will merely bring another round of arguments about what those new policies really mean.

“Many of the most sustainable locations for new homes to be built are in fact within green belt land”

A major change is likely to be the introduction of a standard methodology for the calculation of objectively assessed housing need, following the government’s consultation late last year.

The adoption of a standard method will introduce a new level of predictability, transparency and certainty to the process, which many will see as desirable. Certainly, the current system whereby individual local authorities can choose how to estimate housing need isn’t working.

However, many commentators have suggested that the method proposed by the government will lead to large regional disparities in objectively assessed need, with big increases in the South East and reductions in some parts of the North.

It also doesn’t appear that local authorities will be obliged to plan for the full figure arising from the new methodology, with the indication being that some sort of cap on any increase in housing numbers over that in the current plan is likely.

One issue that seems unlikely to be addressed is the contradiction in policy between the focus on increasing the numbers of houses being built and the supposed ‘strong focus’ on maintaining protection for the green belt. There seems little acknowledgement from ministers that a more sensible policy on the green belt is necessary if the housing crisis is to be tackled.

Many of the local authorities experiencing the greatest demand for housing also find themselves constrained by large areas of green belt. Many of the most sustainable locations for homes to be built are in fact within green belt.

The answer should lie in a sensible reappraisal of the function and purpose of the green belt, together with a limited release of suitable land for development. Sadly, politics seems to have trumped economics on this issue.

Similarly, the contradiction between the expansion neighbourhood planning and the imperative to increase housing numbers is also set to deepen. Although the government claims that neighbourhood development plans boost housing supply, many in the development industry are sceptical.

Those with direct experience often find that the effect is to stymie rather than encourage the building of homes. Continuing to increase the importance of neighbourhood plans is likely to exacerbate that effect.

We can only hope that the government chooses to take the bull by the horns and address some of these long-standing issues. An update to national policy is sorely needed. The development industry will be watching and waiting with interest.

Ian Graves is a legal director in the planning team at law firm Shakespeare Martineau

At last, somebody puts in print my own thoughts exactly

Copied from Sunday Telegraph 31 Dec 2017

Let those filling up drunk tanks pick up the tab by Daniel Hannan

Shakespeare, and most likely Falstaff – played above by Sir Antony Sher – would recognise modern-day attitudes to public drinking CREDIT: ROBBIE JACK/CORBIS
The announcement that “drunk tanks” may be rolled out across the UK has prompted amused headlines around the world. I’m afraid we have something of a global reputation when it comes to alcohol abuse. “This heavy-headed revel east and west makes us traduced and tax’d of other nations,” as the poet says. “They clepe us drunkards”.
In our own day, as in Shakespeare’s, we display an unusual attitude to inebriation. In most countries, being drunk in public is disgraceful. The notion that young Brits boast about how hammered they got the night before is met with incredulity in much of Europe.
But here’s the thing. Contrary to the impression you’d get from this week’s headlines – or, indeed, any headlines over the past decade – boozing is becoming less of a problem in the UK. Take any measure you like – binge drinking, overall consumption, alcohol-related crimes. All are in decline.
Why? Partly because, in November 2005, we ended the rule that forced pubs to stop serving at 11pm. It was controversial at the time. The tabloids prophesied societal collapse. The Daily Mail warned against “unbridled hedonism, with all the ghastly consequences that will follow.” The Sun foresaw a “swarm of drunken youngsters.” The Royal College of Physicians predicted “more excess and binge drinking, especially among young people.”
In the event, the opposite happened. Binge drinking among 16 to 24-year- olds sank from 29 to 18 per cent. Overall alcohol sales declined by 17 per cent. Alcohol-related hospital admissions fell sharply. It turned out that forcing drinkers to beat the bell, racing to get a final pint in at last orders, was not a sensible way to discourage consumption. Giving people more responsibility, on the other hand, encouraged them to behave more responsibly.
I suspect the creation of innumerable virtual universes over the past decade has also played its part. Although parents complain about how much time their children spend on screens, that is time that previous generations often spent on more directly harmful addictions. The rise of online gaming and social media has probably also played a part in the reduction of teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases – two other developments that bear little relation to popular worries.
The increased use of police facilities or dedicated buses as places where drunks can dry out should be seen for what it is. Not as a response to some new epidemic of crapulous misbehaviour, but as a sensible way of ensuring that A & E facilities are there for the genuinely ill and injured. Being drunk, after all, is not a disease, but a consequence of choices. It is quite wrong to load the cost onto the taxpayer. The people filling the drunk tanks should be presented with the bill for their stay after they sober up.
The Englishman may, as Shakespeare put it, drink with facility the Dane dead drunk, and sweat not to overthrow the Almain. The least he can do is pick up his tab.

Thanks for next to nothing Sajid

Copied from the MJ on line




Lifting the council tax cap is just passing the buck
By Heather Jameson | 18 December 2017
Heather Jameson
The Scottish Budget does not bode well for local government – on both sides of the border.

Finance secretary Derek MacKay’s decision to use his tax raising powers to pay for public services may herald a welcome shift towards ending austerity. However, the Scottish local government finance settlement also included the presumption that councils would do the same.

Without a double whammy of income tax rises, and council tax increases, taxpayers north of the border are set to feel the pinch.

And so we wait for the English settlement – delayed, we have been assured, due to communities secretary fighting for a good deal for the sector.

It seems unlikely there will be anything extra for adult social care as we wait for the green paper – although there may be measures to ease the rising pressures on children’s services. We can also expect an extension of transition grants. In the absence of a plan for fair funding and full business rate retention, a fiscal fudge may be the only option.

But the coffers are empty – there is no cash handout on the horizon. Last time round the gap was plugged with the adult social care precept. This time round, we could see the government lift the cap on council tax rises.

Is it a win for local government? Freeing councils from central government interference has got to be a good thing. Democratically elected councillors have every right to choose their own levels of taxation.

However, failing to fund local government and letting councils take the flack for raising taxes is passing the political buck. This is not giving councils the choice to raise taxes – it is forcing their hand.

Finance settlement offers no lifeline to the struggling sector
By Heather Jameson | 19 December 2017
Heather Jameson
Watching the local government finance settlement after last month’s budget, it is fair to say the Government can be commended for its consistency. It has consistently failed to address the financial crisis facing local government.

There are some positives. Easing the council tax referendum threshold gives local government a modicum more control over its own destiny. A three percent increase puts council tax broadly in line with inflation – assuming you ignore the social care precept, which taxpayers will not.

And the extension of business rate pilots will be welcomed in the lucky areas bestowed with the gift. A pledge to shift to 75% business rate retention is also a good move – and as far as Sajid Javid could go without legislation.

Promises to review the funding system and maintain New Homes Bonus are also likely to play well with the sector.

There is an extra £13m for struggling Northamptonshire, Mr Javid told Parliament – mentioned with the aside that he would listen to any reorganisation proposals put forward. Does this mean if you truly fail, government will come in and pick up the pieces?

However, council tax measures will raise around £250m – at different levels across the country – compared with the £2bn needed. Adult social care is in crisis, with a green paper planned for the summer – and a solution even further away.

Children’s services are increasingly becoming a concern and the settlement failed to find a solution there. Councils remain on a precipice, and the draft settlement provides very little in terms of a safety net.

Two years ago, MP’s threatened to vote against the settlement – could we see the same thing happen again? With some of the main protagonists handed business rate deals, Sajid Javid may have done enough to keep the sector quiet – but not enough to send a lifeline to the sector.

Call for action as fly-tipping hits eight-year high

No doubt this story in the Times will generate the standard response of criticism of councils.

This is normally along the lines of, we don’t collect the stuff often enough, we don’t collect the right stuff – or we charge for taking stuff away and of course, the tip isn’t open often enough.

As with every Council service, all this costs money to do and has to be paid for by every taxpayer, even if they don’t use that service.

People never seem to go straight to criticising the criminals, who actually do the tipping and blighting of the countryside, or streets.

Councils are calling for a more effective legal system to streamline prosecutions for fly-tipping, which latest figures show has reached an eight-year high.

There were more than a million fly-tipping cases over the past financial year but the number of prosecutions has halved since 2012. Cllr Martin Tett, the LGA’s Environment spokesman, said: “When they take offenders to court, councils need a faster and more effective legal system which means fly-tippers are given hard-hitting fines for more serious offences.

Clearing up fly-tipping is costing councils more than £57 million a year, money that could be spent on services like caring for the elderly, protecting children or tackling homelessness.

The Government has allowed us to apply fixed-penalty notices for small-scale fly-tipping and this is a big step in the right direction.” Cllr Tett also called for manufacturers to take more responsibility for taking back old products when they sell new ones.

Council tax bills could rise

The comments from readers make very interesting reading. They offer significant insight into the levels of ignorance that exist, because of the complex systems of local government and taxation we have created in this country.

The Times suggests that council tax could rise under plans to head off deep cuts to frontline services and ease the social care crisis. Theresa May is reportedly resisting calls from councils to scrap rules that require them to hold a vote for the largest increases. However she could allow them more flexibility to increase bills when the Local Government Finance Settlement is announced next week. Lord Porter, LGA Chairman, urged Mrs May to lift all restrictions on council tax rises. He said: “The money local government has to provide vital day-to-day services is running out fast. There is huge uncertainty about how local services are going to be funded beyond 2020.” Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, who was criticised for failing to provide extra cash for social care in last month’s budget, is said to be sympathetic.