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.

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 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.

 

Lib Dems Slam Proposed Parking Charge Increases

Calderdale Council’s Liberal Democrat group has slammed proposals to increase car parking charges throughout Calderdale.

The matter was discussed by the Council’s Economy and Environment Scrutiny Panel at a meeting on Thursday 8th September, and will be discussed again by the Council’s Cabinet on Monday 12th.

Councillor James Baker (Warley), the leader of the Council’s Liberal Democrat Group said: “Yet again the Council seems determined to upset local residents, shop-keepers and business owners by introducing hefty increases in parking charges.”

“Although increases are planned for towns across Calderdale, Hebden Bridge seems – again – to be being singled out for particularly harsh treatment. It is already the only town in Calderdale where charges are in place for seven days a week, but now there is a suggestion that on-street charges could be increased from 40p an hour to £1. It is too much. No wonder people think the Council is treating Hebden Bridge as a cash cow.”

“It is particularly annoying to be told by Labour councillors that increased charges have been known about for some years. When concerns were raised previously, we were told that it wasn’t just about putting up prices. I feel that we have been misled.”

“We have previously suggested that a free half-hour could be introduced to aid shoppers who just want to buy a newspaper or a snack, but nothing seems to have come of this. Calderdale Council needs to sort out its parking issues, but at the moment it doesn’t look as if it will”, said Cllr Baker.

Liberal Democrat councillors back call for Council’s Cabinet to do more to tackle Calderdale’s housing problems.

Construction worker laying bricks showing trowel and guideline.

Construction worker laying bricks showing trowel and guideline.

Liberal Democrat Group Leader, Cllr James Baker (Warley) said: “Our population is increasing and the way we live is changing and both are increasing the local demand for housing. However, figures just released show that during David Cameron’s premiership, house building was at its lowest level since 1923. Many people – especially young people – are struggling to get onto the housing ladder. We need more houses to rent and to buy and covering the whole range of types and prices.”

“Calderdale needs a strong construction industry to provide the houses and the jobs that local people need. Action needs to be taken now to equip our young people with the skills the industry needs, especially if we are to become less reliant on workers from across Europe.”

“Houses need to be of good quality and built in the right places. We must protect our green spaces and especially the Green Belt. We want to see an emphasis on building on previously-developed brownfield sites. As the Council has given planning permission for over 3,000 homes on sites that are currently not being developed, building these homes would be a major step forward and reduce the pressure to build on other, less appropriate sites”

“With interest rates at record lows, now is the time to be investing in housing to ensure a better future for Calderdale residents”.

We need cross-party working on Calderdale Council to guide us through Brexit

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This evening I have contacted both the Council leader, chief executive and leader of the Conservative group to propose the formation of a cross-party group to steer our Borough through the impact of the referendum result.

There are economic consequences and other implications to the Council in leaving the EU, many of which have not been thought out or explored. It is also now apparent that the leave campaign had no plan as to what would happen if they won. With the Prime Minister’s announcement that he is stepping down the country appears to have been left without effective government.

As Liberal Democrats our position on Europe has always been clear. We respect the result of the referendum but our beliefs have not changed.  We still believe our nation is better off in Europe. We will continue to campaign for a Britain in Europe.

This is a time of great uncertainty and worry for many people. We want to work constructively with other political parties locally in Calderdale to ensure our Borough is best prepared to weather any uncertainty, and take advantage of any opportunities that arise. That is why we are proposing a cross-party steering group to provide leadership and stability. It is the right thing to do to help the people of Calderdale in this time of uncertainty.

Councillor James Baker,

Leader of Calderdale Liberal Democrats

Liberal Democrat Group Statement on Calderdale Council’s Budget

Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Cllr Janet Battye (Calder) said: “The Council finds itself in a difficult position as the Conservative government has failed to provide enough funding for flood recovery and has also reduced the government grant the Council is getting. Although we appreciate the challenges the administration has in drawing up a budget in these difficult circumstances we couldn’t support either the Labour or Conservative budget proposals.

“Locally, the Conservative’s budget proposals to withhold staff sick pay for three days would penalise people who are genuinely ill and result in them coming in whilst sick and spreading diseases. They also proposed to remove negotiated pay scales for staff. The Council should be a decent employer with good management practices and these proposals are not in accordance with that.

“They claim that parking is a ‘basic right’ and we must keep parking charges low whilst proposing to increase charges elsewhere, such as the bulky waste collection fee. People have said that they are prepared to pay more for some things to protect local services: changes in charging needs to be better thought through than this.

“Labour proposed that everyone ought to pay more Council tax to cover the cost of the flooding. We don’t think it’s fair that people on a low income in Calderdale will have to pay more because people elsewhere in the Borough got flooded. The cost of the flooding should be borne by central government and fair taxation systems where the richest pay most, not local Council tax payers.

“If the Liberal Democrats were running Calderdale Council we would want a Council that gets things done and is greener in approach. We’re frustrated at how long it’s taking this Council get the Local Plan done, to complete the review of Council buildings, and to share services and costs between the Council and other organisations within Calderdale,. The Boxing Day floods showed the value of “community hubs” which local people started for themselves and we want to see the Council doing more of this.

“We’ve asked the Council to implement a host of energy efficiencies such as switching to LED Street lighting, and improving the energy efficiency of Council buildings.

“If measures such as these were implemented, then the Council could have more funding available for the services which matter to everyone, such as keeping the streets clean and free of dog fouling.”

How can shops and businesses be helped to recover from the Floods?

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That was the question that the Government Minister for Small Businesses asked when she visited Calderdale this week.

“The figures quoted of the damage done by the floods to local shops and businesses are just mind-blowing” says Cllr Janet Battye, Leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Calderdale Council and ward Councillor for Calder ward. “2,500 out of the 8,000 businesses across Calderdale have been affected, with financial losses already reaching £15m.

“The problems that we now face are of the time and cost for shops and businesses to get up and running again in the short-term, and longer-term problems of lack of insurance cover and lack of knowledge about how to make buildings flood-proof.

“The Minister said that businesses need advice and support from other businesses and the Council, but I told her that we have a real capacity issue in Calderdale. The Council’s Business Team consists of only four people. While businesspeople are willing to help each other, there comes a point when they need to concentrate on their own businesses. We can only expect volunteers to do so much.

“While the government talks of the apparently large sums of money that it’s giving to Councils, this does need to be used flexibly and may only be able to provide limited help. The bigger problem concerns there not being enough money available for flood protection work: we still have a £15m funding gap for the programme of work put together after the last floods!” said Cllr Battye.

Calderdale residents to get hit with a ‘flood tax’

The cabinet of Calderdale Council is proposing a 4% Council tax rise in this year’s budget. 2% of this tax rise forms the social care precept – sadly this extra money won’t actually be delivering any more services, but rather covering the increased cost of providing social care that has arisen from paying staff in the sector the living wage. However because the government is reducing the grant it provides to Calderdale Council if we don’t put on this extra 2% for social care costs we would have to cut more vital services that vulnerable people rely on. Therefore I think we are forced to do this to ensure we can continue to protect and look after the most vulnerable in our society.

The other 2% of the Council tax increase is being proposed to create a £3m flood relief fund. We clearly need money to help people recover from the floods. If we lose too many businesses then the Council will also lose the business rate income, so it makes sense to spend money to help support local businesses and people affected by the flooding. There is however a question around whether it is fair that local people are expected to shoulder this burden. Wouldn’t it be fairer if central government provided flood hit areas with additional funding, then the entire country could help shoulder the burden.

If the government was properly funding flood hit Councils then there would be no need for the Council to impose a ‘flood tax’ on local people. Council tax could instead be spent on doing up our dreadful pothole ridden roads, or prosecuting the litter louts who seem intent on turning parts of Calderdale into a rubbish dump.

If you want to have your say on the budget proposals there are a number of drop in sessions that you can attend, you can also find out more information on the Council’s website and reply to the consultation via email.

Wednesday 27th January between 6.30pm – 8.30pm @ Brighouse High School Sixth Form Centre Mulberry Suite, Parsonage Lane, Brighouse HD6 1FB
Thursday 28th January between 7m – 9pm @ Central Library, Halifax
Thursday 4th February between 6.30pm – 8.30pm @ Todmorden Town Hall
Tuesday 9th February between 6.30pm – 8.30pm @ Centre at 3Ways, Nursery Lane, Ovenden, Halifax, HX3 5SX
Consultation on the budget proposals will run for four weeks – ending on Monday the 15th February 2016 with final decisions being made at the Annual Budget Council meeting on Monday the 29th February 2016.

Freedom of Information must be expanded

Liberal Democrats have today called for all private contractors doing public work to also be subject to FOI requests and promised strong opposition to any attempts from the Conservatives to water down the FOI system.

The call comes amidst reports that ministers may extend FOI requests to charities.

Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said:

“Liberal Democrats have always been clear that the public deserve to know how their money is being spent and how decisions on their behalf are taken. In government we managed to extend FOI considerably but it must go further and extend FOI to all private contractors doing public work.

“However good the apparent plans are to extend FOI request to charities sound, the Conservatives look like they want to fundamentally water down the FOI system as a whole which makes such a change useless. We will strongly oppose any attempts to gut the FOI system which is an important tool for the public and journalists in holding those in power to account.”