Stroud District Councillors’ Report
Summary of SDC Wotton Ward Councillors’ Council meetings and local business.
Following the loss of the Revenue Support Grant from Central Government for 2018-19, and a ‘negative’ grant in following years, some budgetary reductions and efficiency savings have needed to be implemented. The number of staff employed by SDC will decrease, in total, by up to 20% over a 4-year period. In the last year, SDC has implemented an 8% reduction in staff numbers, the majority relating to non-backfilling of vacant posts, whilst avoiding compulsory redundancies where possible. However, we continue to protect important local services, including Neighbourhood Wardens and grants to voluntary organisations.
The Government are beginning to realise the hurt the withdrawal of the RSG is causing across the country, including Tory run Councils, and a review of the ‘formula’ used to calculate the Grant is currently being undertaken. SDC Political Group Leaders have had a tutorial on the calculation and, despite best endeavors, along with the finance team, are basically still none the wiser!
Gloucestershire is one of 10 areas of the country that is to be given ‘pilot’ status for 100% business rate retention in 2018/19 which will provide some additional funding to help fill the gap left by the loss of Revenue Support Grant – but the future financial position for local government remains very difficult. Sajid Javid MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government continues his review of Business Rates and the best way of distributing income. The Group Leaders last week again wrote to Javid to emphasise that Councils (like SDC), who have a proven positive track record of their finances and prudency, should be trusted with retaining 100% of the Business Rate. We wait to hear more.
The Oatground (Wotton) dog fouling.
The Neighbourhood Warden and SDC’s Animal Welfare team have visited the area twice but no dog has yet ‘performed’ in their presence. Further patrols, including evening visits, will take place randomly over the following months.
Car parking charges.
Cllrs Butcher and Braun attended a first meeting of a member group about proposals to introduce car parking charges in Wotton, Dursley & Nailsworth. The aim of the proposals would be:
to better manage the very limited car parking space available, to improve turnover of car park by encouraging shorter stays.
to provide financial support for car park maintenance (which can no longer be subsidised from general council funds due to the challenging financial situation for the District) and
to provide a fairer approach across the District, since charging (at 40p for 1 hour and 60p for 2 hours from 8 am-5pm, free on Sundays) already applies in Painswick and other towns in the District.
A report from SDC contractors ARUP on parking occupancy rates is expected shortly. This will be included in a report from SDC officers setting out proposals for consultation – to be shared with Town Councils later in April/May. Final recommendations will be discussed at the Strategy & Resources Committee meeting on 12 July. If proposals are approved, there would be a further period of statutory consultation before they could be introduced.
Councillors have emphasized the importance of considering the impact on traders, potential loss of business rates, if charges resulted in loss of custom for high street shops, and consideration of need for car park improvements, particularly installation of bike racks and electric vehicle charging points. Once further details of proposals are available, there will be further opportunity for District as well as Town Councillors to comment.
Installation of new bins – Stinchcombe
Cllr Braun contacted the Public Spaces Team to request new bins in Stinchcombe, to deal with dog waste problem. SDC’s policy is that no new dog waste bins will be installed, since, due to a change in waste legislation, standard waste bins can now accept dog waste.
The Public Spaces Team are happy to consider requests for new general waste bins, in line with the new Bin Policy which sets out a scoring system. This aim to take a more strategic approach to where bins are located, so that any new bins are put in the most suitable location rather than ad hoc in response to requests. In some cases, bins can be re-sited in a more appropriate location, rather than adding in a new one. Issues to consider are:
Cost of the new bin: generally paid for by the Parish Council if funds are available. Usually costs £150-250 for a new bin depending on type of bin.
Location of the bin: need to confirm who owns the land where the bin would be sited. Is the location near local properties? If so need to consider impact on residents and make sure they’re informed.
Type of bin – options are floor mounted bin or post mounted bin. If there’s already a post it can reduce installation costs.
Installation costs – if a handyperson is available locally they could install the bin – or alternatively SDC could do the installation. The cost for installation will depend on the style of bin chosen.
The Neighbourhood Warden, Lisa Ellis (contact details), can also assist with managing dog fouling issues – for example putting up fine warning notice posters in problem areas as has recently happened in Wotton.
Bearlands Play Area and Road safety posters.
Children from The British School in Wotton have produced road safety and speed awareness posters, with the winning 10 designs being turned into metal signs that will be put up locally on Wortley Road, Bearlands and Pitman Place to encourage drivers to slow down in these areas where children are playing or crossing roads to get to school. This work is funded by SDC as part of the project on the Bearlands Play Area and to respond to concerns raised by residents through consultation about the speed of cars in these areas.
For the play area, the additional contractor required to build a retaining wall has now been appointed, with work likely to start in April / May. Assuming delivery goes to plan, the play area will open in June.
OK Path lighting, Wotton
Following a request from the Wotton Youth Forum at Wotton Youth Partnership and from KLBS students, Cllr Braun has been investigating options for the installation of street lighting along the OK path.
There are no service electricity cables along the route, so any new lighting would require a trench to be dug to lay a new cable – resulting in a high cost for the project. GCC specifications would require Skanska to install 10 lamp posts to cover the 280m route from the top of the OK path, on Haw Street, down to the junction and along the first part of Wotton Road towards the pedestrian crossing. GCC have requested a quote from Western Power Distribution to service the columns, so that a full quote for the work can be prepared.
If approved as a worthy project (once quotes have been received), GCC would be prepared to commit £5k towards the work to install the lighting – so any remaining costs (possibly £15k+) would need to be met by the local community.
If the community was able to provide this funding, and if work went ahead, GCC would adopt and maintain the lighting units once installed. GCC will not adopt solar powered lighting at this time because they do not consider it as advanced as the current mains fed lighting and the costs of replacement/maintenance are high. Further information to follow and to be reported to the Wotton Youth Partnership Group.
Housing Committee (Cllr Braun)
Non-Traditional Council Homes
Good progress with assessment of non-traditional council properties (such as those with concrete wall construction) since a full property survey has now been published. There are still lots of properties which have poor thermal efficiency and some structural issues, but it seems that all can be brought up to standard. Work will start on priority properties first.
Housing Committee supported a paper with proposals to engage more with tenants who aren’t part of established tenant groups, as well as to continue to support existing tenant groups where they’re recognized by SDC. The 3-yearly tenant survey, due again in 2018, will help to inform this ongoing work.
Housing capital programme.
SDC has an underspend of £1.5 m on the Housing Revenue Account, mostly due to repairs and maintenance. This can be attributed in part to the poor performance of the previous contractor Mears, in the south of the district. The new contractor Mi-space started on 12 March and is working very well so far, beginning to tackle the backlog of work left by Mears.
Dryleaze House/Dryleaze Court.
As part of the 2018-19 capital maintenance programme, Dryleaze House residents are due to get new windows and French doors during this financial year. Some windows are still single glazed!
There have been 3 offers to purchase the Dryleaze Court complex site. These are being reviewed by the SDC Asset team.
Housing Review Panel (Cllr Braun)
Presentation to HRP on Extra Care schemes by Jenny Cooper, GCC. The County Council are looking towards saving money by supporting more people in their own homes, rather than putting them into care homes and hospitals.
Provision for homeless people in the district. SDC is looking at converting one or two former council homes into a new local provision for homeless people in Stroud, which would be leased to a company to provide the service. This would help to reduce the cost of B&Bs and even more expensive Travelodge accommodation for homeless people from the District in Gloucester and further afield.
Meetings attended by Cllr Braun during March:
Stinchcombe Parish Council (8 March)
Housing Committee Performance Monitoring meeting (13 March)
Road Safety Poster Competition – review of entries at The British School (16 March)
Wotton Town Council meeting (19 March)
Bearlands Play Area update meeting with SDC officers (20 March)
Development Control Committee for Pennwood Lodge planning application (20 March)
Meeting with GCC road lighting engineer re: OK path options (23 March)
Housing Committee Meeting and housing finance briefing for members (27 March)
Environment Committee (Cllr Tucker) - 8th March
Application approved for a new care home for the elderly by Pennwood Lodge, situated in Wotton Parish but Kingswood Ward. This was a finely balanced vote by the Development Control Committee (5-4) which went against planning officer advice, on the grounds that the development would help towards meeting the Local Plan requirements for care home places and provide employment. It was noted that there is local support for the scheme and initial concerns about road safety have now been resolved with the GCC Highways. Cllrs Braun and Tucker attended the Committee meeting on 20th March and Cllr Braun spoke in favour of the application. Cllr Reeves, Kingswood Ward, somewhat disappointingly, voted against the application.
Market Town Centers Initiative Fund.
Letters to be sent to town councils for expressions of interest (£50 k per annum for next four years). Full details and criteria of funding will not be available until August. Funding will be on a 50/50 basis, but initial consultation with local Councils will happen in April/May.
Task & Finish Group. (9th March)
Multi service vehicle contract.
High level of support for recycling and food waste collection has required SDC to hire additional vehicles which the Council is now likely to purchase, as it is cheaper. The Task & Finish Group (Cllr Tucker attends) has reviewed officer’s proposals and provisionally agreed a 4-year budget for replacement/purchase programme.
The Council has taken 2 more companies to Court over fly tipping in our District. Both were successful and again resulted in large fines and costs. Please report any fly tipping directly to SDC and they will remove material as soon as practical. [A related case of incorrect handling of asbestos at a school in Cam has resulted in a large fine and the company being removed from GCC approved suppliers]
Environment Strategy Group (2018-2025) - (Cllr Tucker) - 5th March
The Group are currently reviewing the strategy that will protect our environment locally within the District beyond 2025. In the near-term, consideration of current plastic waste, quantity and disposal, is high on the agenda, with SDC taking the lead by eliminating the sale of plastic bottles at Ebley Mill as soon as possible. A wider approach will be discussed at Full Council later this month and is expected to have cross-party support. [Cllr Braun has been active and successful in requesting local shop-keeper to fill water bottles free of charge]
Investment and Development Panel - (Cllr Tucker) - 6th March
The result of the grant application to Heritage England for lottery money to help with Phase 1B of the Stroudwater Canal (Stonehouse to Saul Junction) is now expected end April/May. If successful, SDC will put in £3m over a 3-year period to support this work, which will hopefully result in increased tourism to the area.
Work into the viability of converting the existing Brimscombe Port back into a working marina and associated infrastructure continues. A report from consultants, Atkins, shows that the proposals are viable, but the costs are increasing, as elsewhere in the building industry. SDC, the land owners, continue to work with current businesses to find other suitable locations in the area. We are in the process of offering the highly successful Rush Skate Park some land behind Stratford Park Leisure Centre as a new location, as we see synergies between their and our leisure operations on this site.
Merrywalks Shopping Centre, Stroud.
SDC are supporting a bid by Dransfield Properties to buy Merrywalks Shopping Centre. Dransfield, who have successfully turned similar centers into thriving shopping malls, have had their (£10.4m) offer accepted and are currently in ‘due diligence’. Confirmation or otherwise as to their contract purchase is expected to be announced this week. Work is programmed to start as early as July. Assuming this bid is successful, SDC will loan Dransfield £3m over 4 years at commercial lending rates.
Strategy & Resourses Committee. (Cllr Tucker) - 22nd March
Stroud Subscription Rooms.
Following the decision not to accept any of the previous bids, the latest process is well underway. However, by the deadline, SDC only received 1 proposal, that did not institute a bid as such, but has potential to be
developed. The aim is to keep it in public ownership, whilst ensuring that the level of Council cost is significantly reduced, whilst promoting and enhancing the availability of the venue to the public for arts, music, community use and education.
The Sub Rooms Task & Finish Group.
The Group has reviewed the proposal from Stroud Town Council in detail and have met STC to discuss their proposals and a Q&A session between STC Councillors and SDC Councillors and officers. We have also met the Sub Rooms staff on site, to ensure their input is included in the consultation process. This was a very productive event. A potential way forward will be reported to the Strategy & Resources Committee on 12th April.
Meetings attended by Cllr Tucker during March:
Meeting with CEO (5th March)
North Nibley Parish Council meeting (5th March)
Investment & Development Panel. (6th March)
Task & Finish - Tourism (6th March)
Task & Finish - Refuse (9th March)
Task & Finish – Sub Rooms (12th March)
Meeting with Simon Mayer regarding Affordable housing (13th March)
Planning Review Panel (13th March)
Task & Finish – Sub Rooms (14th March)
Meeting with CEO (19th March)
Task & Finish – Sub Rooms (19th March)
Development Control Committee (20th March) – Pennwood Lodge.
Stroud Road Safety Liaison Group (20th March)
Sub Rooms pre-brief (22nd March)
Task & Finish - Tourism (27th March)
SDC Finance Training (27th March)
SDC Licensing Update (28th March)
Community Services Committee (Cllr Butcher) – 28th March
The Committee considered an amendment to the Licensing Act 2003, which gives new powers to Licensing Authorities to revoke or suspend personal licences where the licence holder has been convicted of a relevant offence, foreign offence or been required to pay an immigration authority.
Section 138 of the Policing and Crime Act 2017 has inserted a new section into the Licensing Act 2003 (section 132A). The new section had effect from 6 April 2017.
The new section 132A states that, where a Council has become aware that a licence holder has been convicted of any relevant offence, foreign offence or an immigration penalty it may suspend the personal licence for up to 6 months or revoke the personal licence altogether.
The Council must give the personal licence holder 28 days to make representation in support of their case. If the Council then decides not to revoke the licence, it must give the Police 14 days to make representation as to why the licence should be revoked.
Following a report to Strategy and Resources Committee in October 2016 discussions have taken place with Kingshill House Trust with a view to the Trust taking over the freehold interest from Stroud District Council. A capital budget provision of £50,000 in 2017/18 and £150,000 in 2018/19 has been made as part of a funding package to help assist the transfer. Discussions with the Trust are ongoing, and the expectations are that the freehold transfer will take place by the end of 2018/19.
A provision of £200,000 has been made in the capital programme to review and improve the outdoor swimming pool which is part of the Stratford Park Leisure Centre contract. Grant funding has been obtained to carry out a high-level feasibility study to assess options for transforming and sustaining the outdoor pool. The initial grant funding has come from the Heritage Lottery Fund £10,000 and Stroud Town Council £2,248 for the feasibility study.
Stroud District Council and the project team had appointed Tricolor to carry out an appraisal during the summer of 2017 which included a community consultation.
The public including young peoples’ consultations aimed to draw upon the views and aspirations of local people (Starting Blocks). The final feasibility study report was emailed to SDC late October 2017 with a shortlist of five options. Do nothing / close the pool / capital project / transfer to a project team / long term lease 30+ years
Meetings attended by Cllr Butcher during March:
Met with SDC Open Spaces to discuss the rolling repairs of play equipment in the district, there are several facilities missing items like swings or have closed off climbing frames.
Car Park charging - see Cllr Braun’s comments above.
Stroud Sub Room information evening.
Wotton Town Council meeting.
North Nibley Parish Council meeting.
Community Services & Licensing Committee.