Councillors kept in the dark

Calderdale Council has has a poor communications culture. It is often the case that Councillors find out about what officers and the cabinet members of the Council are up to via the local media and press releases. The same is true with matters that affect the wards that Councillors represent. Whereas you might expect a Councillor is consulted with and informed what is going on, the truth is that cabinet members and officers of the Council do all they can to by-pass the elected representatives in an area.

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This is bad for democracy, already too many decisions on the Council are made by un-elected officers. People vote for Councillors thinking they will be able to make decisions, and would expect that Councillors are briefed on issues, and have an opportunity to get involved in decision making.

A perfect example of this is the recent opening of Elland Bridge. Where one of our local Councillors Marilyn Greenwood only found out about it by chance. Marilyn likes to keep residents up to date with the latest news and information, but how can she do this is the leadership of the Council’s priority is to tell the press before telling members of the Council?

A Liberal Democrat run Council would aim to put decision making back in the hands of Councillors, and members of the public.

 

 

475,000 HOMES WITH PLANNING PERMISSION STILL WAITING TO BE BUILT

New research published today reveals there are a record 475,647 homes in England which have been given planning permission but have yet to be built.

The study, commissioned by the Local Government Association and carried out by industry experts Glenigan, shows this bumper backlog has grown at a rapid pace over the past few years.

In 2012/13, the total of unimplemented planning permissions was 381,390 and in 2013/14 it was 443,265.

The LGA said that the figures underline the need for councils to be able to invest in building more homes and also for the skills shortage affecting the construction industry to be addressed.

Council leaders also want powers to charge developers full council tax for every unbuilt development from the point that the original planning permission expires.

The LGA, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, also said:

Developers are taking longer to complete work on site. It now takes 32 months, on average, from sites receiving planning permission to building work being completed – 12 months longer than in 2007/8.

The number of planning applications being granted planning permission in 2014/15 was 212,468 – this is up from 187,605 in 2007/08 and is higher than all previous years.
Councils still approve nine in every 10 applications. While the construction industry’s forecasted annual recruitment need is up 54 per cent from 2013, there are 10,000 fewer construction qualifications being awarded by colleges, apprenticeships and universities.There were 58 per cent fewer completed construction apprenticeships last year than in 2009.

Cllr Keith House, LGA Lib Dem Group Housing spokesman, said:

“These figures conclusively prove that the planning system is not a barrier to house building. In fact the opposite is true, councils are approving almost half a million more houses than are being built, and this gap is increasing.

“While private developers have a key role in solving our chronic housing shortage, they cannot build the 230,000 needed each year on their own. To tackle the new homes backlog and to get Britain building again, councils must have the power to invest in building new homes and to force developers to build homes more quickly.

Cllr James Baker, Warley ward Councillor said:

“The Conservative government has said we need to plan for extra houses here in Calderdale, and the Labour run Council is consulting on whether or not to build them on places like Roils Head Moor. The thing is there are already 100,000s sites across the country that already have planning permission, that are simply not being built on. Let’s build on these sites first!”

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.”

Decision on judicial review of refusal of planning permission on Valley Road in Hebden Bridge

This was published last week: the High Court Judge dismissed the application by the site owners to set aside the Planning Inspector’s decision to refuse the appeal against refusal of planning permission to build a Sainsbury’s supermarket and flats on this site.

So I hope that, at last, it may be possible to start to plan positively for the future use of this important empty site in the middle of the town, between the Council’s car park (which currently has the market on it two days/week), the Health Centre and the Post Office Telephone Exchange.

This decision should confirm that it really isn’t possible to use this site for purpose that generates a lot of heavy traffic. I was sitting in a nearby house recently watching a large lorry trying to manoeuvre around the corner of the road. It just isn’t right to put any more lorries onto that road.

The local Town and Parish Councils are working on the Neighbourhood Plan and Calderdale Council is finalising its site allocations for the Local Plan. I’m hoping that a worthwhile use that will benefit the community will be found for this site

Flooding recovery: next steps

So what I’m doing next: today I’m talking with UCVR/Business Forum about what needs to be done to help shops and businesses badly affected by the floods get back on their feet.

As the Coouncil reopens and staff come back to work, I’m going to make certain that my list of things to start to get done is put intoo action. I’m concerned about the impact of flooding in certain areas of my ward: I’ve already emailed the Council (largely Highways) about these. I’m asking that parking charges be suspended in areas affected by flooding and I want to make sure that happens. I’m checking that the markets will take place this week especially in Hebden Bridge (there was a market in Todmorden yestedya). Hebden Bridge has also not got any working cash dispensers and something needs to be done about that.

I’m going to continue to walk and drive around my ward: I’ve heard from a resident of Old Town and want to check whether there’s a landslide on Heights Road.

 

Flooding in the Calder Valley: Christmas 2015

Here we go again but there are some differences to 2012. It seems to be more localised and more serious. The centre of Hebden Bridge was devastated as were some other areas along the bottom of the valley. My son was trying to get home (with his family) on Boxing Day and took some mobile phone video footage of the volume and speed of water coming over the road and down the canal by the Golden Lion in the middle of Todmorden. On Sunday, I struggled to get along the valley road to go to a meeting about the flooding.

People have been brilliant. The community has come together but it’s still heartbreaking to see houses that were flooded in 2012, flooded again. This time we know how long it’s likely to take to get their houses habitable again.

And then there’s the shops and businesses, especially in Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd. The tide mark on the shops along Market St is at least twice as high as their floodboards in the doors. But they’ve cleaned out quickly and have started to put the buildings to rights. The question is what help they need to begin to trade again. From 2012, we’ve begun to get Business Forums going in each area and we need to build on this. I’d like to see some local capacity in this, some real help that doesn’t depend on busy business people having to do it all themselves. I hope that they’ll be open by Easter.

The Council (together with the Environment Agency, Yorkshire Water, Canal and Rivers Trust and Network Rail) now has to get down to the serious business of examining what happened and what’s needed to not only repair the damage but also give us more protection against future events like this. And taking climate change seriously has to be part of it, in my opinion.