30 September 2021
As some of you will know, one of the issues that I have been campaigning on both before and since I was elected is the scandal of the empty houses in Castletown owned by the County Council. They have been empty for about 15 years.
Recently a number of them were sold by auction but three in North Castle Street were withdrawn from sale. There were a number of fires at the rear of these properties and I wrote to the Chief Exec of the County Council asking for action to prevent this happening but also a statement as to when these houses would be sold. Fencing was erected at the rear of the houses and until recently there were no further fires. I was also offered a meeting with the Council officer responsible – along with the County Councillor.
We met and it emerged that the future of the houses was linked to the disposal of land at the rear of these houses which is the route of the old railway line between the West Coast line and Doxey Road. It became clear during the meeting that one possibility was that one or more of the houses might be demolished to make way for a road which would provide access to the site in order that houses might be built.
I pointed out that the Council had just installed a wildlife tunnel under the Doxey Road and if the land was ‘developed’ this would be pretty pointless. I suggested that they consider handing over the land either to the Wildlife Trust or the Residents Association to maintain as a wildlife area. He did agree to consider this and later the Residents Association authorised me to write on their behalf offering this, which I did. I am pleased to say that the Council have agreed to this and will be putting the empty houses up for sale.
We were meeting online but have now reverted to in-person meetings at the Rising Brook Church for full Council meetings. At most Council meetings, I have put forward either questions, items for discussion or motions as follows:
“This Council notes the successful test and trace action taken by this Council in dealing with an outbreak of Covid 19 in Stone earlier this year. It believes this illustrates how using the expertise and knowledge in local authorities is far more effective than handing contracts to national for-profit organisations with no such experience or knowledge which has led to the abysmal failure of the current test and trace arrangements.”
Motion was not passed despite it being Local Government Association policy (where the Conservatives are in a majority)
Councillor A N Pearce has submitted the following question in accordance with Paragraph 12.3(a) of the Council Procedure Rules:-
‘Councillor Price - At the last full Council in November 2020 you announced that the post being proposed to lead the Council’s programme to achieve carbon neutrality would be full time and permanent. Could you please advise:-
a) when the post will be established?
b) where it will sit within the council staffing structure?
c) At what level it will be remunerated? d) when the post is to be advertised?’
Shortly afterwards the post was advertised and has been filled.
Councillor Session Councillor A N Pearce has submitted the following question in accordance with Paragraph 12.3(b) of the Council Procedure Rules:- “The need for Stafford Borough Council to be pro-active in promoting the planting of more trees in the Borough, both at part of a carbon reduction strategy and a way of increasing biodiversity, has been raised in motions to Council on two previous occasions. Both motions were defeated. Assurances were given that the Council is developing a tree strategy but this has not materialised. It would seem that a tree strategy will be part of the revised Local Plan. However, this will only apply in relation to new development proposals. With regard to the Council’s own stock of trees, it is understood that a plan is being developed in relation to maintenance but that this does not extend to plans for new planting on Council owned land. Neither, it would seem, are there any proposals to promote tree planting with other land owners. I suggest that the time has come for a comprehensive tree promotion and protection plan to be developed by the Council”.
The response was that a tree strategy would be part of the revised local plan. However, this will only apply where there is new development.
Notice of Motion A Notice of Motion pursuant to Paragraph 12.3(a) of the Council Procedure Rules has been proposed by Councillor A N Pearce, seconded by Councillor A T A Godfrey as follows:- “Whilst carbon reduction is given equal priority within the Council’s Business Plan with other objectives, it is clear that the amount of resource allocated to it within the budget is very different. For example, Economic Growth and Strategic Projects has a budget of £406,980 this year whereas there does not appear to be a specific budget for carbon reduction. This is borne out in the proposed plan for carbon reduction where almost all actions are to be sourced from within existing resources. This Council resolves to redress this when drawing up the budget for the coming financial year.”
The motion was referred to the Cabinet without discussion, the constitution of the Council having been changed to ensure that when any motion involves expenditure by the Council, it is referred to the Cabinet.
I have been heartened by the number of public questions being put, especially on environmental issues.
I was a member of the Planning Committee until April but because one councillor changed the group he was in which gave them entitlement to an extra seat on Planning, I was offered Health and Community Well-being instead. I am also on the Licensing Committee but mostly matters are dealt with by a panel drawn from the committee so I have yet to attend a meeting of that committee. I did attend my first Health and Well-being scrutiny this week and raised issues around the lack of hospital maternity provision in Stafford, emptying of litter bins and asked for the issue of child poverty to be an item to be considered at a future meeting – which provoked much consternation as to whether this was within the remit of the committee. I await the response on that with interest.
It is worth mentioning that the Council has now advertised for members of a panel to help promote its zero carbon agenda and also that they have been working with CAT and Keele University on issues around carbon reduction though the plan they put forward recently was lacking in detail about how they do this. They have, however, had a firm of consultants draw up a carbon audit of the Council’s own activities.
I have recently called in a planning application to erect 5 electric car charging carports outside the Stafford Institute on Victoria Road. The firm who have applied to do this provide solar panels and their idea is that the power would come from solar panels on the roof of the carport. I have called it in because I understand the officers want to refuse so I will be supporting.
I have attended most of the Parish Council meetings and now have a good relationship with them. They are currently trying to get the County Council to renew the lease on the rugby pitch which the County took over from St Gobain. It seems likely that the County do not want to renew because they would like to sell it for development. The Parish Council is currently drawing up a Neighbourhood Plan which might help in protecting open spaces.
We have recommenced our monthly litter pick and Councillor walking surgery in parts of the ward. It takes place on the first weekend of the month. We give out the leaflets on the Friday morning and do the litter pick and check for anyone wanting to see me on the Saturday morning. We have also distributed regular newsletters.
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