Here is my report back for Sept 2016. I hope you find this newsletter and my website useful. (Click here for previous reports). There are quite a few subjects covered so here is the index (just click on a title to go straight to the item)
I’ve now been a Councillor for just over a year and 4 months and apart from my updates and articles on my website this is my fifth newsletter by way of a Report Back.
In my last report I reported on the litter problem and although it will never be solved the Council did take action. I also mentioned the problems of library opening hours being reduced, – sadly that is exactly what’s going to happen. ESCC have ignored pleas from my Lib Dem colleagues to keep libraries open and to allow them to be multi-functional.
Artwave continues until 4 September and I’m very pleased there are a number of venues in my ward. Click here to see them. Coming up we have Heritage Open Days and again we have venues in my ward. Click here to find out more about these and others in Lewes etc.
Early in the summer I attended a presentation at the police headquarters in Lewes giving information on changes to community policing. I have reported back to the parish Councils on this. Click this link to see my report: Sussex Policing Presentation – 6 July 2016.
New Chief Exec at the Council – At the Lewes District Council I’m pleased to report that the new Chief Executive, Robert Cottrill, came on a tour with me of all 7 villages and hamlets in my ward right from Falmer through to Piddinghoe. He took a keen interest in all of the issues we face. He has a refreshing attitude towards provision of services to the community. As part of local Council economies we are sharing services with Eastbourne Borough Council including the position of chief executive. The idea is to make economies (estimated to be over £2 million) so that services are not cut. I believe the process is working well and both authorities can learn from each other such that the job can be done better than we are doing at the moment. I was very impressed with the visit I had to Eastbourne Council to see how their departments operate. I hope we can introduce some of their innovations for Lewes District.
Rail dispute – The dispute rumbles on and at the time of writing we sadly have to look forward to a two-day strike on the 7th & 8th September by the RMT union over driver only operated trains. Our area also continues to suffer from the reduced train service between Lewes and Newhaven/Seaford with the replacement bus service trundling through our area. Also I understand there may be a strike affecting ticket offices. The TSSA union has been balloting its members over ticket office closures and job losses. See my latest post on the dispute: click here
For my part I have supported the Mayor of London’s proposal that for the time being the Govia (GTR) management in the southern rail region should be replaced by the Transport for London (TfL) management team. I proposed this at the Lewes District Council meeting on 21 July and it was supported by the Conservative -controlled Council and as a result a joint letter was sent to the Secretary of State for transport from Lewes, Eastbourne and Wealden Councils calling for the government to support the Mayor’s proposal. Sadly the government has chosen to sidestep this appeal and are standing firm with Govia/GTR.
I have written extensively about the background to this dispute and the failing Govia services since they took over in March 2015 (long before this dispute started). Click here to see my article. Also click here to see my recent update.
Planning – this aspect of my Council work continues to take up much of my time. I have already written about the issues surrounding the proposed Lawful Development Certificate application relating to about 1000 acres of land on the Downs. Since my last report to you the application has been changed from just ‘shooting’ to ‘commercial shooting.’ Legislation relating to lawful development is, in my opinion, very much out of date. In summary the decision on whether to grant an application or not lies in the hands of the officers of the District Council and not the elected members. We await the decision of the officers!
Planning complaints – I think I receive most complaints about planning either verbally or by way of concerns raised over the way in which something is dealt with. It would be most helpful if people who have a complaint not only let me know about it but also formally write into the Council. Click here for more info
You can also complain to the Local Government Ombudsman: click here
Local plans – as I have reported before we are awaiting further public consultations on the National Park Local Plan. It looks as though things are further delayed into 2017. On a brighter note I can report that the Lewes District Council have had their local plan approved.
EU – Well, the decision is made, the people voted. I have great concerns as to the misinformation which was promoted by the ‘Out Campaign’ including constant references to £350 million for the NHS which now Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage the others have quietly denied, forgotten or buried. I’m sure Mr Putin is rubbing his hands with glee over our withdrawal. It’s early days yet. The government haven’t commenced the Article 50 process, and will take years to see what the full effect will be. One thing that is emerging at this early stage is the uncertainty over what would have been EU funding and grants. It seems these are stalling and there is no detailed advice from the government as to whether they will guarantee to replace funding like-for-like. Click here to see my analysis of the situation.
footpaths. During the years of the coalition government and especially whilst Norman Baker was a transport Minister we saw a number of footway/cycleways improved or introduced along with improved cycle provision at stations and access for disabled people. Also a programme for electronic bus stops displays had been started. It is unlikely that, outside the big cities, any more improvements will be made of this kind as the new government has directed reduced funding overall but leaving a focus on cities.
One final hangover from the coalition government period was a commitment to a cycling and walking strategy. Earlier this year I attended one of the workshops set up by the Department for Transport. Following this, the government has invited LEPs and county councils to bid for the very much reduced funding which is now available. There was a capital spending deadline in July which I think the local Coast to Capital LEP and County Council missed. There is a second deadline for other funds where bids are required to be submitted by 9 September. I have been pressing the County Council to submit an application which will help improve the situation along the C7 road through our villages. I was looking for money to be spent on footways and safety areas. Unfortunately, I have received no firm commitment that this will happen and I’m not sure even if they will meet the deadline for anywhere in East Sussex. If you link this with the fact that EU funding is drying up the future situation doesn’t look good.
C7 Road – in my Spring newsletter I reported back on my efforts to bring forward a concerted plan amongst the parishes in Ouse Valley (POLO) over safety, traffic calming and improved pedestrian and cycling provision. A number of workshops/meetings have been held and as a result POLO decided to engage a professional, subject to the availability of financing, to produce a report. POLO have been successful in gaining a grant for part of the cost. Hopefully in September they will be able to source the remaining money to enable the consultant to proceed with the report. In the meantime my fellow Councillor Carla Butler and I have produced two videos of the road from start to finish. Click here to see them. Separately to this I will be submitting my own views of what should be implemented on the C7.
Rodmell school – As many will know, the governors, campaigners, Carla Butler and I had a success this summer. Rodmell school is to stay open but the situation will be reviewed by ESCC after Easter next year. My recent report provides an update on the situation. – Click here.
Bus services – I’ve reported on the bus service situation in the Ouse Valley in previous newsletters. The 123 service run by Compass Travel seems to be running on a fairly stable basis but please let me know if you experience any problems. The Sunday 132 service provided by CTLA runs up the valley from Newhaven in the morning and down in the afternoon. If we can get more people using the buses I think there is a chance that the frequency of the services could be increased. I’m a keen supporter of the community bus service CTLA and would like to thank Judith Bradbury and Rodmell village for organising a talk during a coffee morning by the Managing Director of CTLA, Derek Barnett. Derek explained the various services offered by his organisation.
Falmer bus stop – Highways England spent £1.4 million on improving the pedestrian bridge at Falmer and providing a disabled slope to the bus stop but when the security screening came down we found they had done nothing to improve the minuscule bus layby and so the residents of Falmer have no nearby bus stop to get them into Brighton as the bus company are refusing to use the layby. Now officials from Highways England are trying to dodge the subject. The MD of the bus company has promised to resolve the problem. I have put forward a proposal which has not yet been accepted by the bus company or Highways England. Finally we have got the Brighton & Hove bus company and Highways England to agree to a joint site meeting. Hopefully there will meeting with be next week. I will report back.
Parliamentary Boundary changes – You may have heard in the press recently that the number of MPs is likely to be cut reducing the number of MPs in England by about 32. You might say – how does this affect us in Lewes? My first thought is – is it needed? Is it just tinkering around and, as some say, giving the Conservatives an advantage over Labour and Liberal? Apart from that there is the issue of constituency boundaries. If the commission’s plans the same as they were a few years ago when the government tried to push through changes, Lewes will be joined with ‘East Brighton.’ I think this is crazy as the MP would have to represent a major urban part of Brighton as well as the Lewes area. I hope residents in this area will give their views when the boundary commission publish their proposals on 13 September 2016 for new constituencies in England. There will be a 12-week consultation period following that date. Click here fro more info
Kingston school – as many of you will know ESCC gave itself permission to expand the school earlier this year. I don’t think anyone objected to the provision of better facilities but the expansion to the school brings with it additional traffic for the village of Kingston. Pleas by County Councillor Carla Butler and myself were ignored by the chairman of the planning committee at the ESCC. Promises by the officers to include money to reduce the congestion were not carried through in the final report. Very disappointing. Click here to see my update.
A27 – from the end of this year into next Highways England and the Department of Transport will be focusing on East Sussex and the proposals for ‘improvements’ between Lewes and Polegate. I have a number of concerns about their draft proposals but I’m also concerned with the fact that no changes are proposed to the roundabouts at Ashcombe and Beddingham. This means that the traffic will still stack up along the A27 towards Brighton and people will continue to be tempted to cut through Kingston.
Broadband – As those in Rodmell know the village, thanks to the hard work of people like Justin Le Patourel and the campaigning by our previous MP Norman Baker, won its campaign to be included in improved Internet broadband provision (though not yet implemented by BT). Unfortunately, the story is not over with Southease still being left out. Villagers there are now campaigning with the help of Justin. I find it astounding that the County Council and BT can ignore pleas from the village. BT has spent £6 billion of capital in expanding its sports services. The Financial Times reports that the salary package for the Openreach CEO amounts to £2.39m! A few percent donation from his salary would solve the problem in Southease!
Liberal Democrat Conference – I will be attending this year’s conference which is being held in Brighton from September 17 to the 20th. I will report back on my website after the conference. It looks like this year we will have a record number of attendees – even higher than last year which was a record. Since the Brexit vote membership of the Liberal Democrats has increased by over 15,000.
Conservatives took over the government last year they cancelled a number of policies supporting green/renewable energy. As a result, the number of jobs in the renewable energy industry reduced by over 20,000. They refocused onto oil and gas power stations. Despite this we must redouble our efforts to persuade the government to get back to the progress we were making in introducing renewable energy. Why you might ask is this important? Shrinking ice caps and pollution in the upper atmosphere are just two examples but fundamentally if we don’t do something about climate change the situation will become catastrophic for future generations. To put it more bluntly there won’t be a world for Mr Putin and Mr Assad to fight over!
It’s even more important that we focus on climate change issues following the Brexit vote. I recommend joining the Liberal Democrat campaign on green issues: click here
Linked to my reports – in addition to sending the occasional newsletter I often update my website https://sussexcampaign.com/ with current news and information. Also on the website you will see list of all my updates previous newsletters: https://sussexcampaign.com/all-posts/
Lewes District Councillor – [Kingston Ward: Falmer – St Ann Without – Kingston – Swanborough – Iford – Northease – Rodmell – Southease – Piddinghoe]
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