Don’t demolish our College

“Don’t demolish Todmorden Community College and give the local community a chance to run it” says local Liberal Democrat Town Councillor Janet Battye. “That’s the simple message that local people are trying to give to Calderdale Council. And nearly 1,000 people have already signed the petition.

“If Calderdale Council decide that they don’t need the building any more, the next thing they should do is to give the opportunity to local people to see if they need it and can run it themselves.

“At this week’s Development Board meeting, it seems that Calderdale Council’s Labour Cabinet is now listening to the views of local people and that it’s likely that, with the probability of the building registered as a “community asset” under the Localism Act, this will “pause” the sale of the building to Aldi for 6 months and give us that time to work the plans up.”

New Parish Council a Step Nearer

A new parish council – the first in Calderdale since local government reorganisation in 1974 – has moved a step nearer to being created.

Members of Calderdale Council’s Governance and Business Committee this week (23rd January) agreed to the creation of the Stainland and District Parish Council, though a final vote will be taken at a meeting of Calderdale Council in February.

Cllr Paul Bellenger (Liberal Democrat, Greetland and Stainland) told us: “I hope the proposal to create a new parish council covering Stainland, Sowood and Holywell Green is accepted so that elections can be held and the council gets up and running as soon as possible.”

“Parish Councils up and down the country have proved their worth over many years. They can provide local services and be the voice of local communities at very little cost to the residents. That’s why I, along with a number of other local people, started this process some time ago. It has been quite a long process and has included consultation with local people, and I hope that the final hurdle is crossed in February.”

The leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Cllr James Baker, who attended the meeting of the Governance and Business Committee told us: “I was very pleased to support the creation of a new parish council. Liberal Democrats are very keen to see councils operating as close as they can to the people who elect them. I would urge people in Stainland and District to think seriously about standing for the council so that they can make a difference to their communities.”

Liberal Democrats Slam Slump in Recycling Rates

Local Liberal Democrat councillors have reacted angrily to the news that Calderdale has seen the biggest decrease in household recycling in any council in England.

Calderdale Council’s household recycling rate dropped from 60.4% in 2014-15 to 46.3% in 2015-16.

Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Cllr James Baker (Warley) told us: “Calderdale had been one of the best performers in the country when it comes to recycling. The Labour administration was keen to publicise this, but don’t appear to be quite as keen to publicise this unacceptable drop in performance. It is just a few months since the Council decided that it wanted to be the ‘Best Borough in the North’ but it seems that in some areas the Council is moving in the wrong direction.”

“A Liberal Democrat Council would be striving to make Calderdale greener with increased recycling, solar energy generation and refitting all Council buildings to become energy efficient”, said Cllr Baker.

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 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.

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 Call for More Council Action on Dangerous Driving

Calderdale Council’s Liberal Democrat group is calling on the Council to take more effective action to stop dangerous driving. The issue will now be debated at next week’s Council meeting.

Councillor James Baker (Warley), leader of Council’s Liberal Democrat Group says: “Traffic accidents cause tremendous personal grief and immense expenditure by the public sector. We believe that the Council can and should do more – on its own and by working with others – to tackle this problem.”

“This is a very important, and growing, issue for communities across Calderdale. It affects a wide range of people: pedestrians trying to cross roads; parents worrying about their children playing outside; aggressive driving and tailgating is making the lives of motorists a misery, and high insurance rates are hitting our purses.”

“Figures from the Department for Transport suggest that over £2m could be saved for each fatal accident that is prevented. Much of this falls on the Police and the NHS and it could be better spent on other things.”

“We believe that local councils are well placed to take more effective action on dangerous driving, especially on speeding, which has been shown to lead to more, and more severe, accidents. As well as taking action itself, the Council should also ensure that it is working with others – particularly the police – to clamp down on dangerous drivers,” said James.

The motion submitted by James for discussion at the Council Meeting to be held on 29 September 2016 reads:

Tackling Dangerous Driving

This Council notes that:
a) Traffic accidents cause immense personal grief and trauma to those involved and to witnesses;
b) The Department for Transport estimate that the financial cost of accidents can be enormous: over £2million for a fatal accident; around £25,000 for even a ‘slight’ accident;
c) Nationally, the cost of all reported road accidents is estimated to be over £16billion. Some argue that the true cost may be twice this amount;
d) Much of this cost falls on the public sector, especially on the Police and the NHS, and
e) Driving at high speed increases the number and the severity of accidents, and is a matter of real concern to many Calderdale residents.

This Council believes that reducing incidences of dangerous driving (including speeding) is a matter in which it should play, along with its partners and local communities, a significant role.

Council therefore resolves to:
a) Reaffirm that tackling the issue of dangerous driving is important to this Council;
b) Support, wherever possible, requests by local communities for the provision of speed cameras;
c) Use its position as a multi-functional local authority to ensure that Public Health, Highways and Education departments (and others) are working together effectively and consistently to reduce dangerous driving;
d) Request that the Leader (or relevant Cabinet member) explore with other interested partners the possibility of the proceeds of traffic offence fines and vehicle seizures being retained locally solely to fund increased activity aimed at reducing dangerous driving, and
e) Request Cabinet to consider a report on these matters, including the extent and effectiveness of inter-departmental and inter-agency working, before the end of this municipal year.

Additionally, this Council calls on the West Yorkshire Police, and the Crime and Police Commissioner, to ensure the provision in Calderdale of a permanent police unit charged with reducing dangerous driving, and that all Calderdale’s neighbourhood policing teams equipped with, and trained in the use of, mobile ‘speed guns’.

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.

Don’t airbrush LGBT history from Shibden Hall

Calderdale Liberal Democrats are accusing the Council of not doing enough to tell the LGBT history that lies behind Anne Lister and Shibden Hall.

Shibden Hall is a landmark historic building in Calderdale and a wonderful place to visit. The hall was home to Anne Lister whose personal diaries detailing her lesbian relationships are recognised as part of the UNESCO memory of the word programme. The diaries have also been the subject of a BBC film by James Kent entitled the ‘Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister’.

A recent visitor to Shibden Hall, Mr Manley-Green, complained that the film wasn’t available to buy and that they had even run out of books on Anne Lister. Mr Manley-Green said “I’m not keen on being told ‘we have to be careful what we say to school groups’. I can’t think how different my life would have been if I’d have been told the story on my school trip some 50 years ago!”

Councillor James Baker (Warley), the leader of Calderdale Liberal Democrats, said “It appears the Council are trying to airbrush out the LGBT history from this site. There is little mention of Anne’s diaries on the Council’s webpage about Shibden Hall, there is a promotional video of the hall that does mention the diaries but it airbrushes out any reference to their importance as a piece of LGBT history.”

“This is a great opportunity for the Council to show Calderdale as a beacon of tolerance and a leader of putting history into a modern context. There are undoubtedly many commercial opportunities available to promote this destination as the home of the ‘first modern lesbian’”, said Cllr Baker.

Orginal picture by Rictor Norton & David Allen (CC BY 2.0) adapted to add rainbow flag. https://flic.kr/p/a4oKRT

Orginal picture by Rictor Norton & David Allen (CC BY 2.0) adapted to add rainbow flag. https://flic.kr/p/a4oKRT