Crisis leads to council tax referendum call

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online
30 May, 2013 | By Mark Smulian

Herefordshire Council could become the first to hold a council tax increase referendum after an emergency meeting over a budget crisis.

This followed a review by incoming chief executive Alastair Neill, which found the budget set only in February contained errors and weaknesses.

It must now save an extra £8.4m this year and make 290 job cuts, against some 120 originally intended.

The council has saved some £21.1m over the last two years, and must save a further £32.2m over this year and the next two.

Mr Neill’s review found areas in the February budget “where the plans were not sufficiently resilient and [where] additional savings need to be made to ensure that the council delivers its plan within its budget”.

This included £1m of procurement savings which had “slipped and needed to be tackled” and £3.8m of learning disabilities grant which had in effect been counted twice.

Tony Johnson (Con), the council’s new leader, said: “We are facing a very challenging time over the next few years and as such we need to consider alternative approaches to delivering some of our services.

“Inevitably, non-mandatory services must bear the brunt of the cuts and although this will unfortunately involve job losses, it does not automatically mean the loss of services.”

The extraordinary council meeting agreed that the cabinet would consider holding a referendum to increase the 2014-15 council tax above whatever cap level is imposed.

Some 25% of Herefordshire’s income comes from council tax, which it had frozen from 2011-13. It increased it this year by 1.9%, equivalent to £1.5m.

Cllr Johnson said: “We must consider the possibility of raising council tax responsibly and proportionately across the county, as we begin to consider next year’s budget.”

Before doing so, he wanted to gauge whether residents “would be prepared to vote in favour of raising taxes to protect the county’s vital services”.

The coalition dropped Labour’s council tax cap, but substituted a system where tax could be raised above a nationally defined level only following a local referendum.

No council has yet held such a referendum, fearing both the cost and the likely outcome. In Herefordshire’s case a referendum would cost £100,000 to conduct.

In a joint statement with Unison, Herefordshire said it had agreed to reduce from three to two the number of days of unpaid leave to be taken during the Christmas period and to increase redundancy terms from the statutory minimum to 1.5 times that level.

Unison would prefer to keep in-house provision but will engage “fully in consideration of alternative business models that may be required in areas of service, where the council has to reduce or withdraw funding”.

The 13 NOC counties and unitaries: who will govern?

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online
28 May, 2013 | By Chris Game

Interesting comment regarding the current situation on LCC. Highlighted in bold below.

In May 2010 prime minister David Cameron and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg took just five days to form their national coalition. By contrast, starting in June 2010, the Belgians took 18 months to form theirs. English local government falls between the two.

Three weeks after the local elections, most of us still don’t know, for at least some of the nine counties and four unitaries conveniently lumped together as ‘NOC’ (No Overall Control), the answer to that basic question the elections were supposedly about: who will actually govern?

This column attempts to fill some of the gaps. It’s a kind of ‘runners and riders’ guide to the 13 county and unitary councils in which no single party has a majority of seats: how they got that way, and what will or might happen in the near future.

The county councils
First, the counties. Cambridgeshire was one of the previously staunchly Conservative counties that became hung largely through being UKIPped. This was actually a much patchier experience than some commentators suggested – with 7 of the 27 counties still having no UKIP councillors at all and only 4, all in the south and east, having more than 10.

In Cambridgeshire, the Conservatives’ new leader, Martin Curtis, favoured their carrying on as a minority administration, but the Independents ruled that out, while Labour and the Lib Dems refused to join UKIP in supporting an Independent-led non-Conservative rainbow coalition. Eventually, the Conservatives got half their cake: Curtis will head a minority administration for 12 months, but then UKIP’s preference, for ‘opening up’ council decision-making, kicks in and cabinets will be replaced by all-party committees.

In Cumbria, the elections reversed the standings of the Conservatives and Labour, the latter regaining their customary position as largest party, leaving the slightly strengthened Lib Dems as potential kingmakers. Under a new leader, Jonathan Stephenson, they opted for coalition with Labour, deputy leadership of the council, and four cabinet posts.

East Sussex is much smaller than Cambridgeshire, but the party arithmetic is broadly similar. Here, though, the other parties seemed readier to accept a Conservative minority administration, and, as in Cambridgeshire, although a Conservative-UKIP deal could have produced a majority, none was apparently seriously pursued.

Gloucestershire was hung from 1981 to 2005, with Lib Dems generally the largest group – before, in 2009, the Conservatives suddenly took 42 of the then 63 council seats. With the reduction of 10 seats and accompanying boundary changes, those observers predicting a return to NOC were proved right. The Conservatives, though, will continue as a minority administration, and the Lib Dems as the main opposition, miffed at a suspected Con-Lab deal over Scrutiny Management and other committee chairs.

Lancashire is Labour territory, and the party was hoping to regain majority control in one go. Sensing a lifeline, the Conservatives tried talking with anyone who might be interested in a presumably anti-Labour coalition. But the Independents don’t want an alliance with anyone and the Lib Dems seem undecided, which leaves a Labour minority administration looking the likeliest outcome.

Lincolnshire Conservatives are unused to coalition politics, but they reacted quickly to their heavy loss of seats by negotiating a Con/LD/Independent coalition. Splitting the Lincolnshire Independents in doing so was a bonus: three of them signed up with the coalition, one with a seat in the cabinet, and there are rumours that others could follow.

In equally traditionally Conservative Norfolk, life for the dominant party is more fraught. At a full council meeting, the Conservative leader, Bill Borrett, apparently thought he had an agreement that the Lib Dems would at least abstain in any vote, enabling him to head a minority administration. He hadn’t, and nor could he nail down a more explicit coalition agreement with the Lib Dems involving some key specified posts. For the present, then, the running of the authority is, as the phrase goes, in the hands of officers.

Before the Conservatives took control in 2005, Oxfordshire had been hung for 20 years. Labour’s comeback was limited, and, on a smaller council, the Conservatives came within one seat of retaining their overall majority – a position they’ve restored through a Conservative/Independent Alliance. No cabinet seats are involved, but three Independents will work with a Conservative minority administration in the kind of ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement that many thought was as far as Cameron and Clegg would dare to go back in 2010.

In Warwickshire Labour, though never the majority party, have regularly run the council as a minority and were hoping to regain this position. They didn’t, but they did do a deal with the Conservatives, the outcome being a Conservative minority administration, headed by the council’s first woman leader, Izzy Seccombe, with Labour holding the Scrutiny chairs, and the Lib Dems and Greens out in the cold, complaining of a stitch-up.

The unitaries
Now to the four hung unitaries. In Bristol Labour became again the largest single party and, reversing its position last November, agreed that two of its members should join mayor George Ferguson’s all-party cabinet, which will now comprise 2 Labour members, 2 Lib Dems, 1 Conservative, and 1 Green.

In Cornwall a much-discussed multi-party rainbow coalition has become in practice an Independent/Lib Dem coalition with the more or less positive support of Labour, UKIP and Mebyon Kernow (the party for Cornwall), the Conservatives having rejected as tokenism a scaled-back offer of two cabinet seats.

The Isle of Wight will be run again, for the first time since 1973-77, by what are nowadays known as the Island Independents, but this time as a minority administration.

Having dominated the former county council, Labour will run unitary Northumberland for the first time as a minority administration, with the support of the three independents – one of whom will be back as chairman of audit, the post she held as a Conservative councillor before resigning from the party following alleged victimisation by a senior colleague. And to think, there are some who say the local government world is boring.

Chris Game, Institute of Local Government, University of Birmingham

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Trafford biomass plant gets the green light on appeal

Copied from Planning Portal

The highlighted paragraph, is of particular relevance to the current PREL application at Sutton Bridge for a biomass power station on Wingland site.

Trafford biomass plant gets the green light on appeal

Peel Energy has won its recovered appeal over its proposed 20 megawatt biomass power station earmarked for a site south of the Manchester Ship Canal at Davyhulme in Trafford, Greater Manchester.

The scheme – the Barton Renewable Energy Plant – was opposed by Trafford Council, many local resents as well as environmental groups.

However, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has allowed the appeal, acting on the recommendations of the inspector who held a public inquiry last November.

The Secretary of State agreed with the inspector that there was “a pressing national need for the development of renewable energy capacity”.

The decision letter said the SoS had taken account of the particular concerns which have arisen over the project but added “he sees no reason to disagree with the inspector’s conclusion that these concerns are not supported by any substantial evidence of any actual harm to health”.

Pickles added: “It is clear that in considering planning applications for waste management facilities, waste planning authorities should concern themselves with implementing the strategy for the development plan and not with the control of processes which are a matter for the pollution control authorities.

“The Secretary of State has attributed some weight to the strength of local feeling against the proposal but he agrees with the Inspector that it remains a fact that an Environmental Permit has been issued and that he must proceed on the assumption that the relevant pollution control regime will be properly applied and enforced”.

The letter went on to conclude: “Like the inspector, the Secretary of State considers that the perception of harm on the part of a large section of the local population does not outweigh the presumption in favour of granting permission for development which accords with the development plan”.

Roger Milne – 23 May 2013

Letter to Local Government First magazine – Localism and planning

Dear sir,
 
I was both interested and concerned to see First, Issue 542, peppered with complaints regarding the relationship between the planning system and Localism, some even calling for the abolition of PINS because, apparently, they don’t get it.
 
The Localism Act has introduced much confusion for the public when it comes to influencing the planning process.  Comments made by members of the public on recent contentious planning applications in my own area, clearly indicate a belief that the Localism Act increases the public’s ability to prevent development from going ahead if enough of them shout loudly enough.
 
This mis-interpretation of the Localism Act’s intentions is, in turn, increasing pressure on councillors to be more outspoken and forceful when speaking at committee.  This pressure is increased further by the Localism Act’s guidance to councillors that advises that they can somehow express an opinion and even campaign on a planning issue, without being accused of pre-determination!  I wonder if any high powered planning barrister would be prepared to defend a decision made by a committee populated by such campaigning members?
 
Whilst I very much sympathise with the councillors who made these comments and understand their wish to represent fully their electorates’ views, I’m afraid it is they, not PINS who don’t get it.  
 
There is a clear need for the government to restate its intentions when it comes to how the Localism Act can be used to influence the planning system – through the process that makes the policy, not the one that determines individual applications. 

 

My best regards, 
 
Councillor Roger Gambba-Jones, 
Planning Committee Chairman, 
South Holland DC, Lincolnshire

Letter to local newspaper – PREL, Sutton Bridge

Dear sir,

With regards to the PREL planning application at Sutton Bridge. This application was not for an incinerator. An incinerator has only one purpose, to burn waste material. The Sutton Bridge installation will burn wood that has not been used for any other purpose. Wood is being burnt in order to produce electricity, not to dispose of it.

At the first meeting, I did not suggest that residents should have made clear that they did not want an incinerator, so no previous crystal ball gazing was required. My comments related to objections regarding increased traffic. I suggested that if residents had concerns about the Wingland site generating more traffic, these should have been raised when the site was allocated for employment use, some 10 years ago.

Some committee members suggested that they did not understand every aspect of the background information provided. I don’t feel that this undermined their ability to determine the application. Much of this information dealt with matters that were outside of the immediate planning issues and was therefore not vital to the reaching of a sound decision.

Some parties have suggested that SHDC will gain financially from this application. The district council does not own any land, or have any other financial interest in the Wingland site.

I’m mystified by the accusation that the deferment was a ruse. A discounted electricity supply, for residents, mentioned at public meetings, was referred to in lobbying letters and emails I received. Details were not provided to the committee at the first meeting. I felt it was therefore prudent to ensure that the details of this promise were clearly understood and even more importantly, the promise delivered.

Finally, the Environment Agency will be responsible for issuing the operating licence for this wood burning power station and air quality monitoring. Anybody with concerns regarding emissions from this process, should ensure that these concerns are submitted to the EA.

Councillor Roger Gambba-Jones
Chairman, Planning Committee
South Holland District Council

Attack!…. my response

09 May 2013
Re- The Proposed Incinerator development at Wingland/ Sutton Bridge

NOTES:
The constant reference to this application being for an incinerator, are disingenuous and clearly designed to be inflammatory, in the hope of whipping up the maximum support for the objectors’ statements.
An incinerator is designed for one purpose and one purpose only; to burn waste. The power station to be built at Sutton Bridge, will be burning unused wood, not waste wood. It is designed to generate electricity, not to dispose of waste, as in the case of an incinerator.

Mr Gambba – Jones,

I listened to the deliberations at the meeting held 17th April with dis-belief at your dismissive attitude to the objections of the proposed development; frankly it stank of nepotism, corruption, ignorance of facts and public opinions and, it seemed to be just a money making opportunity for certain individuals, plus the promoters and SHDC. But I came away hoping that you and your committee would see sense and ultimately reject the proposal. How wrong can one be?

For dismissive, substitute focussed and endeavouring to ensure that only relevant material planning considerations are discussed and used to determine the application, by the planning committee.
All the planning related facts were made available to committee members in the officer’s report. All other related documents, used by the officers to arrive at the recommendation, were available for committee members to read if they had any concerns regarding the information provided to them in the report.
Nepotism is about giving favourable treatment to a family member. I’m not aware of committee members with family connections to this development, as this would have been declared at the start of the meeting and the member would of left the chamber.
Corruption – any proof of that sir? Likewise, money making for individuals and SHDC?

As Chairman of SHDC’s planning committee, you are ultimately responsible for results and repercussions of the decisions of your committee, but it appears that you are being guided and/or manipulated by certain people and the promoters of the project, all of whom appear to have personal gain as their objective.

As chairman of the committee, my role is to keep good order, avoid time wasting through discussion of irrelevant matters and to ensure, as best I can, that the decision reached by the committee is sound and defendable should it go to appeal.
The committee is most certainly guided and in some respects manipulated, by the policies and guidance handed down to us by national government, the latest of this being the NPPF. Locally, SHDC has an adopted Local Plan, that is the basis (guide) for all our planning decisions.
All commercial developments are built for profit and some form of personal gain for those investing in the development.

How you can be so mis-guided by recently re-elected councillors who have lots to say about this project, but no conviction to vote either one way or the other, but just to leave all their options open for themselves defies belief, they are hypocrites in their own right and as such should be ignored.

Recently re-elected members? All members of the planning committee receive training in order to ensure that they understand the policies that must be used when determining planning applications. As such, the experience of the committee members is not nearly as important as their understanding of our planning policies and the national guidance.

At last nights meeting you again ignored the feelings and objections of the electorate (who ultimately pay your salary) and others, of how this development would affect the wellbeing of residents of Wingland, Sutton Bridge and beyond by bulldozing this approval through, all it seems for the price of land which I am led to believe SHDC currently owns.

Unfortunately, the planning process makes no allowance for the feelings or objections of objectors, unless these clearly relate to material planning issues. Likewise, we are not allowed to take the potential devaluing of property values into consideration when determining an application.
I and others on the committee are elected members and as such, do not receive a salary. SHDC has NO financial interest in the Wingland site and does not own any of the land allocated.

The big question is; how commercially viable is this project without government subsidies? It would appear that it is not commercially viable and as such will in time become a “white elephant” all at the expense of the tax payer and to the detriment of local residents. Probably leaving an enormous bill that SHDC will have to pick up.

In planning terms, this is no question at all. It is not for SHDC, or the planning dept, to judge the viability of any development.
There is no reason why SHDC, or the taxpayers, should suffer any financial losses should this power station project fail.

Sleep well Mr Gambba-Jones in the knowledge that your actions are making some members of your electorate very ill, they live in fear of health issues and devaluation of their properties and, that because of your decision making, you are probably at this time one of the most mistrusted and disliked people in South Lincolnshire. It is probably best that you resign your position.

It’s most unfortunate that residents if are making themselves ill worrying about issues that currently have no evidence to back them up. As stated previously, property values cannot be taken in to account when determining a planning application. I have no intention of considering my position. I am but one member of the committee. Just because I happen to be the chairman, doesn’t mean that I have any greater power, or influence, than any other member of the committee when it comes to the vote.

I don’t expect a reply because if I were you, I would not know where to begin!

As you will see from the above responses,I have no problem with knowing where to begin.

Jim Stalley – resident Sutton Bridge

Attack! Attack! Attack!

In the interests of transparency and because I doubt very much that the local newspaper will print such a personal attack on an individual, I thought readers might be interested to see what those of us who are no better than volunteer scout masters, sometimes have to contend with.

09 May 2013
Re- The Proposed Incinerator development at Wingland/ Sutton Bridge

Mr Gambba – Jones,

I listened to the deliberations at the meeting held 17th April with dis-belief at your dismissive attitude to the objections of the proposed development; frankly it stank of nepotism, corruption, ignorance of facts and public opinions and, it seemed to be just a money making opportunity for certain individuals, plus the promoters and SHDC. But I came away hoping that you and your committee would see sense and ultimately reject the proposal. How wrong can one be?

As Chairman of SHDC’s planning committee, you are ultimately responsible for results and repercussions of the decisions of your committee, but it appears that you are being guided and/or manipulated by certain people and the promoters of the project, all of whom appear to have personal gain as their objective.

How you can be so mis-guided by recently re-elected councillors who have lots to say about this project, but no conviction to vote either one way or the other, but just to leave all their options open for themselves defies belief, they are hypocrites in their own right and as such should be ignored.

At last nights meeting you again ignored the feelings and objections of the electorate (who ultimately pay your salary) and others, of how this development would affect the wellbeing of residents of Wingland, Sutton Bridge and beyond by bulldozing this approval through, all it seems for the price of land which I am led to believe SHDC currently owns.

The big question is; how commercially viable is this project without government subsidies? It would appear that it is not commercially viable and as such will in time become a “white elephant” all at the expense of the tax payer and to the detriment of local residents. Probably leaving an enormous bill that SHDC will have to pick up.

Sleep well Mr Gambba-Jones in the knowledge that your actions are making some members of your electorate very ill, they live in fear of health issues and devaluation of their properties and, that because of your decision making, you are probably at this time one of the most mistrusted and disliked people in South Lincolnshire. It is probably best that you resign your position.

I don’t expect a reply because if I were you, I would not know where to begin!

Jim Stalley – resident Sutton Bridge

c.c. Lincolnshire Free Press