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Liberal Democrats Welcome Changes to Parking Charge Plans

Liberal Democrat councillors have welcomed proposed changes to Calderdale Council’s plans to increase car parking charges.

Liberal Democrat group leader, Cllr James Baker (Warley) told us: “The original plans for parking charges caused uproar when they were first announced in September. Liberal Democrat councillors pressed the Labour Cabinet to think again and it now looks as if they have come up with a scheme that will have more widespread support”.

“If a paper to be discussed by the Council’s Cabinet is approved next week, some increases in charges will be smaller than previously proposed and a free parking period will be allowed where new parking charges are introduced.”

“I’m also pleased that the Council is to agree to review these charges every two years, rather than waiting much longer and then proposing a large increase that upsets everyone”, said Cllr Baker.

The Cabinet will be discussing the issue of parking charges at its meeting on Monday 12th December.

Liberal Democrats Slam Council’s Refusal to Debate

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Liberal Democrat councillors have slammed the decision to end the Council meeting before debating a number of important issues put forward by councillors.

Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Cllr James Baker (Warley) told us: “It’s a disgrace that councillors voted to end the meeting before important issues for Calderdale residents could be debated.”

“If some people wanted to get off early, they could have just left, leaving those of us who are concerned about these things got on with our jobs as councillors.”

“We had put forward motions on cuts to local pharmacies and doing more to support small schools. These should have been discussed, as should the Labour motions on buses and pensions, and the Conservative motion on the EU referendum. We could have discussed at least one of these in the time it took to decide to end the meeting.”

“The plan is that these issues will appear on the agenda for the next Council meeting, but that isn’t until the middle of February. By that time the Council may have missed the opportunity to influence events, and other pressing issues may well have come up and need to be debated.”

Cllr Baker concluded: “Some councillors were clearly uncomfortable with closing down debates in this way, but they still voted for it. The Liberal Democrat group did not.”

Conservatives Fail to Deal With NHS Blackhole

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The autumn statement shows a Brexit blackhole at the centre of government finance. Parliament has heard that hundreds of billions will be taken out of the economy just when we need it most.

Liberal Democrats across our area and the country have been pushing the government to put their money where their mouth – with an immediate £4 billion cash injection to stop the impending winter NHS funding crisis.

Commenting on the Autumn Statement, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said:

“Figures forecast a rise in unemployment and a fall in living standards.

“We are seeing a drop in tax receipts of £8.2 billion over the next two years alone. That’s enough to fund over 330,000 nurses. In response the Chancellor offered nothing but reheated headlines and recycled announcements.

“He and his Government are not competent to deal with the challenges ahead. They are going to hit people in the pocket through their hapless handling of Brexit, and Labour can offer no opposition, having backed them on Brexit.

“Yet, the Liberal Democrats have consistently campaigned for more funding for the NHS as we are on the edge of another winter crisis and our health service is at breaking point but yet the government has turned a deaf ear to these calls.

“Sadly now patients will pay the price. There is also nothing for public sector workers, our doctors, teachers and armed forces, who deserve a proper pay rise.”

Councillor James Baker leader of Calderdale Liberal Democrats said:

“Before the referendum we were promised £350 million a week for the NHS.”

“I know the Conservatives have never really backed the NHS, but I did think they might be good enough to at least live up to their word. ”

 

Last chance to save the old Ferney Lee Grammar school building ?

The planning application to demolish the old Ferney Lee Grammar school and build a new school, is coming to Calderdale Council’s Planning Committee on Tuesday next week (December 6th).

“It is disheartening, to say the least, that Calderdale Council is not listening to the feelings of local people about the importance of this old building” says Liberal Democrat Todmorden Town Councillor Janet Battye.

“What is even worse, from the report to the Planning Committee, the Council seems not to have taken any advice from any experts in old buildings, not even its own Conservation Officers.

“It seems to me, and a lot of other local people, that it’s just not good enough to say that the old school has to be knocked down to build the new one. It doesn’t. It’s a large site so there are choices as to how to use it. This important building shouldn’t just be demolished for a car park or a playground.

“This is the place where our two Nobel Prizewinners had their formative, early science education and inspiration. I think that it’s a fine, Edwardian building. I have long said that if the Council doesn’t want to retain it for its own use, it should put it on the market so that other people, who might appreciate, have the opportunity to conserve it and bring it back into use.

“Local people are saying that it’s a “done deal” and, to my mind, the Council do seem to be intent on demolishing it. I hope that they will at least pause, take more advice, and think about it again before they take this final step. I thought that the era of needlessly demolishing old buildings had long passed”.

Call for fair consultation on the future of Cragg Vale Primary school

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Local Liberal Democrats are supporting residents and parents in their call for the consultation on the future of Cragg Vale Primary school to be fair, and to consider the consequences of it.

“Calderdale’s Labour Cabinet is proposing to move Cragg Vale Primary school onto the Calder Hill School site, saying that the current building isn’t safe even with the large government grant which the Council applied for to fix it” says Cllr Ashley Evans, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson.

“But retaining the school on the current site isn’t one of the options that they’re offering people. This seems to be unfair. It would be better if they asked people to rank the options including keeping the school where it is, and then they would get a true reflecting of people’s views.

Local Liberal Democrat Councillor on Hebden Royd Town Council, Catherine Crossland added: “We’ve been talking with local residents in Cragg Vale: some people thought that the school was safe after the attempt by Calderdale Council to close it last year and the majority value the school as a community facility and want to see it stay in Cragg Vale. Calderdale Council must listen to that !”

Threat to Small Schools?

Below is the text of a letter from Ashley Evans, sent to local newspapers and published in the Hebden Bridge Times/Todmorden News on 27 October 2016.

I am mindful of the proposal to close and transfer Cragg Vale School on the basis that its current building is too expensive to repair and maintain. This is despite over £1m being allocated for this purpose some time ago! Views on a number of options have already been gathered, but not on spending the targeted funds on the existing school in its existing location. Clearly there would be benefits to pupils and parents if this option were adopted.

However, I have a broader concern.

There is a danger that this is the ‘thin end of a wedge’ to progressively wipe out Calderdale’s small, rural, village primary schools, implying that they are no longer economically viable and are unable to deliver a ‘good education’ to youngsters. The need to ‘bus’ children or for their parents to transport them is often excluded from economic calculations.

As to quality of education, there is much evidence to show that children in small schools perform better – irrespective of social group – with good behaviour and positive attitudes to life and learning. They avoid the heavy costs of later educational disaffection and failure while their more enduring school performance enhances their career prospects and boosts future tax revenues.

So, instead of looking at pupil unit costs in isolation, councils should evaluate the benefits of smaller schools in wider economic and social terms. Furthermore, what is often forgotten is that the single most important ingredient in the success of the school is the effectiveness of the Head.

Thinking more creatively, there are also effective economies which can be made without throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Small schools can work together in varying degrees and ways, from informal joint working and sharing of expertise, through employing specialist staff, to more formal federations with a shared governing body and Executive Head.

We urgently need a more sophisticated analysis of the economics of school size. Small schools bring significant benefits including sustaining rural communities. The Cabinet and the Authority should see small schools as assets, not liabilities. They offer a family-friendly, community-based model for education that is too precious to lose.

Cllr Ashley Evans
Liberal Democrat, Warley Ward

Liberal Democrats Frustrated by Further Local Plan Delays

Local Liberal Democrat councillors have expressed their frustration at further delays in producing a local plan for Calderdale that will form the basis for deciding planning applications for years to come.

Cllr Ashley Evans (Liberal Democrat, Warley), a member of the Council’s Local Plan Working Party says: “This work seems to be taking forever. Deadlines come and go, new deadlines are set but then these pass without a plan being produced. Now we are told it will be next March – at the earliest – before a plan will be agreed and members of the public asked for their views.”

“I accept that this will be an important document and that it needs to be right, but progress is painfully slow. The publication date always seems to be some months in the future and we never get there. The last timetable involved publishing a plan in September, but clearly it’s going to be at least another five months before it sees the light of day.”

“It seems to me that the scale of this project has been underestimated – and therefore under-resourced – right from the beginning. I am also not convinced that enough time has been built in for public consultation.”

“The Council’s Cabinet needs to get a grip on this process and provide the resources and the political will needed to ensure that a high-quality plan is produced on time. This must not be allowed to be delayed again” said Cllr Evans.

Council has no plans to stop using glyphosate weedkiller linked to cancer

Calderdale Liberal Democrats have questioned the Council over whether it plans to stop using the weedkiller that the World Health Organisation has declared is ‘probably carcinogenic’ . You can read the question asked by Liberal Democrat Councillor Marilyn Greenwood and the reply she received at the last Council meeting below.

QUESTION FROM COUNCILLOR Mrs Greenwood

TO:     COUNCILLOR Press

As a number of British local authorities and, indeed, whole countries have banned the use of glyphosate as a weed killer because of concerns about its detrimental effects on health of those who use it and on others, would the portfolio-holder give details of any plans this Council has to stop using glyphosates and switch to safer alternatives?

Answer

  • Glyphosate is licensed for use in the UK and so the real issue is with the licensing system/national government, rather than users at a local level.
  • We use it in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions/industry guidelines, our operatives are fully trained and the Council’s Health and Safety Manager is content with the arrangements in place.
  • In spring 2016, Council spraying operatives completed an extensive training review, covering the use of all pesticides and focussing specifically on glyphosate.
  • We have listened to concerns and our aim is to reduce the amount used by 10% year on year, until 2021.  We have already achieved a 10% reduction this year which was made possible by spot spraying as opposed to blanket spraying, using low volume nozzles and reducing spray bands.
  • We are also actively researching alternative products but we have not yet found anything which is as cost-effective (this is not just about price – we would never put cost above the health of our communities, and particularly children – but is about whether it does what it’s meant to do, i.e. kills weeds effectively).
  • We are in regular contact with other Councils, contractors who use alternative treatments, the Health & Safety Executive and the Chemicals Regulations Directorate (who confirmed on 29 June 2016 that the use of glyphosate within the EU has been extended for a further 18 months, until 31 December 2017).
  • Of course we understand why people are concerned and we welcome dialogue about how we can continue to manage Calderdale’s public realm and green spaces  in a safe and effective manner.
  • This is one of the reasons why the Communities Scrutiny Panel has undertaken a detailed review of the use of pesticides and has already reported their findings to Cabinet. The issue will be further considered by Scrutiny as part of a review of Safer, Cleaner, Greener in November.

Liberal Democrat Questions to Council 29/09/16

COUNCIL MEETING ON: 29 September 2016

Making use of vacant land

QUESTION FROM COUNCILLOR Evans –

TO:   COUNCILLOR B. Collins

 You will be aware of my interest in land use and housing development to meet our commitment to increased provision whilst wishing to minimise the impact on our precious green spaces.

In this context I note with interest that Birmingham City Council intend to use compulsory purchase powers to acquire vacant land from owners who refuse to develop it. In addition, owners who land-bank vacant sites will be first encouraged to develop them and those who refuse will be treated similarly. It is also intended that empty homes may be targeted in this way.

How much vacant land and how many empty properties are there in Calderdale that could, or should, contribute to the additional provision needed and have you any plans to adopt an approach similar to Birmingham’s?

Response

Vacant land is not specifically defined in the question; however, there is currently planning permission to build 875 dwellings on previously developed land, and 1800 properties are currently vacant for more than 6 months in Calderdale. Within the sites currently being considered through the Local Plan process, there is capacity to build 1,735 dwellings on 59.03ha of previously developed land (This figure excludes sites that have been filtered due to their unsuitability (due to flooding or ecology for example).

Assumptions are made in the calculations of housing supply about the implementation of these planning permissions; bringing empty properties back into use; and for “windfall” development on small sites (those under 0.25ha), many of which will be brownfield sites.  These are all taken into account in the process of determining how much land needs to be allocated for development in order to meet our full objectively assessed needs.

In determining the final allocations previously developed land will be prioritised in accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework, subject to an overall view being taken on the site’s sustainability and deliverability.

Compulsory Purchase is a last resort and must be underpinned by a compelling case in the public interest. In view of this, and a lack of evidence that house builders are banking significant amounts of deliverable previously developed land in Calderdale, it is not considered that there is a compelling case to follow Birmingham’s lead on CPOs at the current time.

 

Greetland Junction Station Viability 

QUESTION FROM COUNCILLOR Mrs Greenwood

TO:   COUNCILLOR B. Collins

 Bearing in mind that the site of the former Greetland Junction rail passenger station already possesses easy access from Stainland Road; is on a flat site with ample space for park and ride facilities; is on the main Halifax-Elland bus route, with buses every few minutes, and that, in the relatively near future the site will be even better served by the proposed new link road with the A629 and roundabout in close proximity, and could provide easier access to the (possibly reconfigured) Calderdale Royal Hospital from the Brighouse area and/or the Calder Valley townships, will the portfolio-holder press for a feasibility study to be carried out into the construction of a passenger rail station on this site to encourage less road use and improve air quality by the reduction of traffic fumes?

Response

WYCA undertook a New Station study in 2014 which looked at over 60 potential new stations in WY including Greetland. They looked at commercial viability, constructibility and deliverability. The stations were then scored. Greetland station was not considered commercially viable when compared to other locations in WY – which were prioritised.

The New Station study is available by contacting [email protected]

Enforcement of car dealing businesses from private residence

QUESTION FROM COUNCILLOR Baker

TO:   COUNCILLOR Sutherland

 I am increasingly receiving complaints from residents that second hand car dealing and repair businesses are being run from private residential addresses in Halifax. This activity causes problems to neighbours in terms of disturbance and parking spaces being used up. Every time I have reported this issue the investigations seem to take forever and no action ever seems to arise from it. Can you tell me what the Council is doing to tackle this issue?

Response

Planning legislation is complex and establishing whether a breach of planning control has occurred is not always straightforward. Establishing whether or not an activity/operation constitutes a material change of use in planning terms can be difficult. Uses can come and go/increase in frequency;  it is necessary to ascertain whether this is a business or hobby activity.  The type of information required is the frequency the activity happens, dates and time etc. The site needs to be monitored for a period of time to establish whether how the alleged business is running and operating and its impact on the amenity of the area.

Repairing cars  from home would not necessarily require planning permission if it is low scale. The key test is whether the overall character of the house has materially changed as a result of the activity. Some of the key considerations are outlined below:

  1. a) Is the home still used mainly as a private residence?
  2. b) Does the activity result in a marked rise in traffic movements, or do visitors or customers need to attend the house in connection with activity?
  3. c) Do employees to come to the property?
  4. d) Does the business generate any noise or smells?
  5. e) Is there activity during antisocial hours?
  6. f) Does the activity affect the external appearance of the property?
  7. g) What activities are usually acceptable in a residential property?
  8. h) Are there any advertisements at the property?

The Council must be sure of its grounds before considering formal enforcement action. There must be clear evidence that a breach of planning control has occurred, that the development would not be acceptable in planning policy terms and further more that it is causing demonstrable harm. It must also be in the public interest to take action. If all of these steps are not satisfied then there would be a risk to the Council of having costs awarded against it in the service of an Enforcement Notice.

Financial reporting within Coucnil

QUESTION FROM COUNCILLOR Bellenger

TO:   COUNCILLOR T. Swift

 The Leader may be aware that concerns were raised at the Use of Resources Scrutiny Panel meeting on the 24 August 2016 regarding the sometimes large differences between the third quarter revenue monitoring report forecasts and the actual outturn figures achieved only three months later.

There also appear to be discrepancies between financial reports submitted by the same directorate to different Scrutiny Panels.

Bearing these points in mind, would the Leader accept that there is a need for improvements in both the financial monitoring processes of this Council, and in the way these are reported to members?

If so, would the Leader outline what actions he intends to take on these matters?

Reply from Councillor Tim Swift

The overall outturn position for the Council last year on service controlled revenue expenditure was an underspend of £474k compared with a forecast overspend of £920k in the final monitoring report to Cabinet that year. The final monitor is carried out as at the end of November to meet the committee reporting timetable and to allow sufficient time for corrective management action should it be needed.  This can lead to changes by the time we get to the   outturn position, especially in demand-led budgets such as in Children’s Social Care or budgets which are heavily dependent upon winter demand (like building energy costs and Winter Maintenance last year).

Although this represents a movement of nearly £1.4m between the two reports it is actually less than 1% of the overall gross expenditure of the Council. It was also pleasing to see that directorates managed within their agreed budget plans despite a number of budget pressures and challenging savings targets.

This is not to say that improvements cannot be made in the monitoring processes and I will ask the Head of Finance to examine these differences and review whether any changes should be made to those processes.

I am informed that some changes were made to the monitoring reports to the Scrutiny Panels last year as a result of discussion with Members of the Panels and in order to improve transparency and consistency. The intention was that the reports to different Scrutiny Panels would include the same core information but continue to allow individual Panels some discretion about additional information which they believe might help their Scrutiny role. For example, the reports to the Children & Young People’s Scrutiny Panel include regular information about the number and cost of different types of placements for Looked After Children.

The Head of Finance is however planning to undertake further development sessions with Scrutiny Members later this year and I will ask him to ensure that these sessions include discussion with Members about how the presentation of financial information might be improved.

 

Council Snippets What’s been happening on Calderdale Council

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More Council Cuts to Come

As things stand, Calderdale Council will have to reduce its spending by over £13m over the next three years. This is on top of the £93m that will have been made by next year.

Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Cllr James Baker said: “The scale of the cuts is now too large. The Council has done a good job in becoming more efficient but there is only so much that can be done without damaging services. It is now a crunch time in local government.”

Departmental Merger Moves Forward

The Council has agreed to merge the posts of Director of Children’s Services and Director of Adults, Health and Social Care. Other changes to the two existing directorates will be decided later. Deputy Leader of the Council’s Liberal Democrat Group, Cllr Ashley Evans said: “I don’t think that the how and why of this move have been fully considered. Both of these directorates are large and complicated. Putting then together will result in an even bigger, more complicated directorate. Children’s Services have only just come out of ‘special measures’ and there is a danger that the Council will take its eye off the ball of improvement. I know that many councils have already merged these two departments, but many haven’t and some of those that had have now split them again. I am not convinced that the case has been made.”

Taking Action on Dangerous Driving

After a few small changes were made to James Baker’s motion on dangerous driving to include points made by the Labour and Conservative groups, everyone present supported it. Cllr Baker said: “The issue of dangerous driving is a major concern to many councillors, and it’s not just about speeding but includes tailgating, driving without insurance and driving while using a mobile phone. I think the standard of driving is deteriorating. There is an economic case and a moral case for tackling this issue.”

At the end of the debate Cllr Baker added: “It’s good to see local democracy in action with this issue being discussed at a number of Ward Forums, but with a quango making decisions on the use of speed cameras, decision-making is moving away from local people. The Council now needs to turn its words into actions and Conservative councillors could raise the matter of police cuts at their Party Conference next week.”

Improving Social Care

Liberal Democrat councillors supported a Labour motion on Social Care. Cllr James Baker said: “We agree that better joined-up working between social care providers and the NHS is needed. Social care doesn’t come cheap, though, and we may have to put our hands in our pockets and pay for it. As a society, we need to look at this issue and it may be that extra taxation is needed.”

 

20mph Zones

Liberal Democrat councillors opposed a Conservative motion to halt the introduction of 20mph zones until their effectiveness has been demonstrated. Cllr James Baker said: “The Conservatives know that this matter is to be discussed at the Economy and Environment Scrutiny Panel meeting in November. This motion is premature as all the evidence they want can be reviewed in detail at that meeting.”

Cllr Paul Bellenger said: “20mph limits do work, but it’s about education, not just physical changes to roads. Drivers need to be made aware of the dangers of driving over the speed limit.”

Grammar Schools

Liberal Democrat councillors supported a Labour motion asking the Government not to proceed with its reported policy of allowing the creation of more grammar schools. Cllr James Baker said: “We seem to have a policy based on nostalgia, but we need a forward-looking education policy. The evidence shows that grammar schools don’t help the majority of pupils who don’t go there. There are many more pressing problems in education, such as teachers leaving the profession because of the bureaucracy involved and box-ticking education.” 

Valley of Sanctuary

Liberal Democrat councillors supported the Labour motion that would “make Calderdale a formal part of the City of Sanctuary movement committed to building a culture of hospitality and welcome, especially for refugees and asylum seekers seeking sanctuary from war and persecution”. It being rather late by the time this was discussed, hardly anyone spoke on the matter. The motion was supported by Labour, Liberal Democrat and Independent councillors, with the Conservatives abstaining from voting. 

Small Victory

Ashley Evans again beat his Labour opponent from May, this time to become a member of the Warley Trust. His margin of victory was, though, considerably smaller this time.

Compulsory Purchase Powers

Cllr Ashley Evans asked if Calderdale Council intended to follow Birmingham City Council’s example of making more use of compulsory purchase powers on land owners who refuse to develop their land, thus reducing the need to develop on green field sites. The answer, though in considerably more words was basically “no, it’s not needed here”.

Glyphosate Weed Killer

Cllr Marilyn Greenwood asked if the Council had any plans to stop using glyphosate weed killers and switch to safer alternatives because of concerns about the effect on human health of glyphosate. The answer is that the Council aims to reduce its glyphosate usage by 10% each year until 2021. It has managed this this year, but has not yet found a suitable alternative. 

Greetland Station

Cllr Marilyn Greenwood asked whether the portfolio-holder for Regeneration and Economic Development would press for a feasibility study into building a passenger rail station at Greetland. The answer is that this was looked at in 2014 and was not thought to be commercially viable.

Marilyn’s argument is that things have changed: there are now plans for major alterations to the nearby road network and (possibly) to the hospital, which is relatively close by.

Planning Enforcement

James Baker asked about taking enforcement action against people using residential premises for car sales and repairs. The official answer was, roughly, that this is a very complicated area. However, later in the meeting the portfolio-holder distanced himself from this answer (prepared by officers) saying that it was a typical response that set out why the problem was not being fixed, rather than saying what was going to be done to fix it.

Monitoring Council Spending

Paul Bellenger asked a question about the sometimes large variation in council spending between the projections resulting from monitoring carried out in November and the actual spending at the end of March. He wanted to know if monitoring processes, and the way these are reported to councillors, needed to be improved. The answer, again taking up rather more words, was that both are being looked at.