Monday, February 28, 2011

Both Mandy and Andy don't turn up to Council Meetings

The Council Meeting on 23rd February 2011 is an important meeting on the District Council calendar. St Neots stay away Conservative Councillor Mandy Thomas didn't turn up for this meeting. The "going to work hard for Eaton Socon" District Councillor is once again missing from a meeting. The last meeting at Council or Committee that Mandy attended was on 15th July 2010. Mandy is elected until May 2012.

What of Andy Monk, the other stay away Councillor for Ramsey. Andy is the other member of the UKIP group on HDC. His seat is up for election in May 2011. As with Mandy he was also absent.

This is a bit more of a revelation. Because if Andy Monk stood down it would do a couple of things. Firstly the UKIP group on HDC wouldn't be a group any longer and the leader Peter Reeve wouldn't be a minor leader any longer!
As can be seen in the current Members' Allowances Scheme Peter Reeve gets an extra £723 for being leader of a minor party. The scheme changes in May 2011 to a minor leader being only able to receive this allowance if the group has 5 members. If Andy resigned now and UKIP won the election Peter Reeve would be £60.25 a month lighter until 3rd May when Andy Monk 6 months runs out.

With all this money being wasted (plus any council own computers etc) on stay away councillors and extra benefits for another, obviously both the Conservatives and UKIP are very comfortable with paying people to do virtually nothing. Especially from the Conservatives who are cutting the staff and services.

Both Mandy and Andy should resign now and let their seats be fought at the elections on 5th May 2011. In the case of Mandy this is doing a big disservice to the people Mandy is supposed to represent. A stay away Councillor isn't fighting for their ward and is just a burden on the council taxpayer.

Or is this what the New Homes Bonus will be used in St Neots for? Propping up this stay away councillor!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

CPALC and Ian Dewar fail to respond

I sent an email in reply to one from Ian Dewar, CEO, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Association of Local Councils. In the original he queried whether I was looking at the right website. I'm not too sure Ian was. The email said:
So far I have yet to receive a reply to this email. No wonder because St Neots Town Council continues to fail to put the last Annual Report on its website. Doing so would show the public that no annual report, as set out in the Mandatory Tests, was published on 30th June as required. The Town Council also fails to put other key information on its website. This council taxpayer funded trade body for local councils obviously doesn't like scrutiny of its decisions. I've asked questions and queried the nature of the decision by Steve Wilkinson and his Accreditation Committee over bunging of the Quality Status award to St Neots Town Council. The silence is deafening.

The National Association of Local Councils NALC) is also disinterested. Again this is the trade body for local councils. Not even an acknowledgement. The integrity of the Quality Status award is in question. On this basis if Dibley Parish Council (fictional parish council from the Vicar of Dibley) was a member it would also be a Quality Council.

As an aside, the longer CPALC goes without responding the longer these articles will reoccur.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

And whatever happened to the 40 pence a week idea?

Whatever happened to increasing council tax by 40 45 pence a week? Something else that got lost in the rush to nick the New Homes Bonus.
At the beginning of the Medium Term Plan the Conservative run HDC was ever hopeful they could get this through. Eric Pickles, knowing how Councils work, stopped this in its tracks by saying he would cap any Council Tax rise. Back then HDC went through the argument that the 40 pence  a week rise was for Band C as this was representative of the council tax base. I argued differently, that using the 40 pence at Band C was dishonest and it should have been 45 pence as this is how Council Tax was calculated.

So how was the Council Tax calculated in 2011/12 budget? Was it on Band C? Of course not. The 40 pence at Band C was meant to hoodwink the council taxpayers into thinking the rise would be less. HDC couldn't be honest and talk about 45 pence.
When HDC informs you of something read it very carefully.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Gurgling in the pool of despair

I sent an email to both Ian Bates (Leader of HDC) and David Monks (Chief Executive - £139,000 pay off) emails asking what the position is of HDC over taking half the money from the St Neots Swimming Pool Trust. 

Dear Sir,

In the recently published accounts of the St Neots Swimming Pool Trust no 270074 there is a statement that says Huntingdonshire District Council is entitled to half the money from a proceeds from the sale of the land owned in Huntingdon Street, St Neots. I would like to know the District Councils position on whether it intends to enforce this agreement and take half the proceeds?

I received this reply:

Dear Mr Gadenne,

I refer to your email below and understand that you sent a similar query to Mr Bates, the Leader of the Council. They have asked me to send a response on behalf of the Council.

There are no redevelopment proposals for the site currently before the Council and in such circumstances it is not possible to provide a definitive answer to what is, at the present time, a hypothetical  question. It would not be appropriate for the Council to purport to bind or pre-empt a decision of the Council in the future. If and when a request is received by the Council regarding the Agreement, it will be considered on its merits and the Council’s course of action will depend on the circumstances prevailing at the time.

I trust you understand why it is not possible to be more definitive at this time.

Yours sincerely,

Colin Meadowcroft
Monitoring Officer and
Head of Law Property and Governance
Huntingdonshire District Council
01480 388021

Reading the "Council speak" this seems to me HDC feels it is entitled to half the proceeds of the sale. I was actually asking what the position on whether it intends to take half the proceeds. This is the standard line for trying to put an issue down. I received a reply which effectively means the situation isn't resolved. HDC may or may not try to enforce this agreement.

Of course the Council does have a position on this. It is just blacked out.

Whilst not resolving this it does seem to leave a large question mark over the amount of money the Swimming Pool Trust may receive after HDC takes half.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

HDC Council speak - not plain english

I saw something in the Medium Term Plan. This was about the special reserve created by the Conservative administration. This eventually allocated £1.9 million for what? The MTP for 2010/11 said:
The report further went on to say:
This is all rather vague. In the MTP for 2011/12 the reason why this money was allocated is more precise:
So the fund was there to spend on staff redundancies such as the David Monks reported payoff of £139,000. Local Government looks after itself first. Council Taxpayers come second. In itself providing a fund for redundancies isn't a bad thing. Ensuring the money is there helps to make decisions. If the original intention was to use most of this money to payoff the Chief Executive and make other redundancies why not say that in the first place!

Time and again this Conservative run Council lets down the council taxpayers with all this double speak.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Independent Network is coming to St Neots

The Independent Network is coming to St Neots on 2nd March at the Corner House, Market Square, St Neots. Meeting starts at 6.30pm. If you want to find out more about standing as an Independent candidate at the local elections on 5th May 2011 - Go along and find out!

Eric Pickles says: People should be able to video Council Meetings

Eric Pickles, Communities Secretary at the DCLG has said:

"Councils should open up their public meetings to local news ‘bloggers’ and routinely allow online filming of public discussions as part of increasing their transparency."

What do our local councils say on this matter?

The standing orders of HDC say:

The standing orders of St Neots Town Council say:
Time to get into the 21st Century with this. Why can't an ordinary member of the public video or audio record what is going on at both Council and Committee meetings? The key to local democracy is the ability to report what is going on. It is called transparency. These are our Councils. We pay for them. In recent articles in the press HDC has mounted a campaign to get all those who haven't paid their Council Tax. This could eventually mean prison.

The rigmarole each Council has set up is wrong. The public should be able to record and video what is going on at open council or committee. It is called transparency. Something both councils shy away from. 

Grant Shapps kickstarts local housing revolution. HDC nicks the money!

I found more evidence that HDC should be asking those affected for our views on how the New Homes Bonus should be spent. In a DCLG press release the following is said:

Grant Shapps (Minister for Local Government) said:
"We need to get the country building again - but not through a Whitehall knows best arrogance. To kick start a housebuilding revolution development needs to be backed by local communities rather than opposed by them. That's why we are introducing powerful new incentives giving communities a reason to say yes to new homes. Rather than feeling the strain of new homes through extra pressure on local services local residents will feel the direct benefit as they get to choose how the money is spent."

Communities Minister Andrew Stunell said:
"I know many councils have already seen this potential and are forging ahead with bold plans. (Not Huntingdonshire District Council) But I urge all councils to now work with residents to agree how the bonus can benefit them."

Time and again the Government that provides this incentive tells Conservative controlled HDC this money is for residents affected by more housing. Unless HDC comes up with a package then St Neots must say NO to further development.

Whining in the press isn't going to stop the cinema!

I see that Jo Samuels and D. Sutton both of East Street have letters in the papers over the cinema project and the green space the Town Council want to turn into a car park. Great to get letters in but is that it. Whining in the press won't do much good. Cllr Chapman is criticised by Jo Samuels:
What residents need to do is take action. Lobby your Councillors, Cabinet and each Council. Stand for election. It only takes two signatures to stand for Town Council. Collect evidence to back up your objections to the eventual plans. Do nothing and the plans will go through.

Another avenue is to write and protest to Cineworld who will run this Rowley carbuncle.

I've been saying on this blog that a cinema couldn't fit into the area proposed. Turnstone Estates proposals show they have to put in a much larger building. If all the residents are going to do is write a few letters on to the papers this will go through. It is up to the residents to object with evidence to back up your objections.

The interesting part is Barry Chapman knew something was afoot back in August 2010. This was a Facebook entry:

Barry already knew Huntingdon Street entrance was going to be used. He should have worked out the vehicles would therefore be driving behind the fences of the houses backing onto the development when canvassing in May 2010.

Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats back this project. Both the Town Council and District Council have interests in this going ahead. Only the residents are left to speak up for themselves. So they had better get organised!

Mixed results for the Neighbourhood Forums

The on going Neighbourhood Forums are still not attracting the public. I've done a little exercise to see how the attendances are doing one year on from their general start. Neighbourhood Forums are important part

Huntingdon Area
13th January 2010 - 45
12th January 2011 - 26  -19

North West Hunts
20th January 2010 - 32
19th January 2011 - 30  -2

19th January 2010 - 36
18th January 2011 - No data as no minutes currently published.

St Ives
6th January 2010 - 38
5th January 2011 - 39  +1

St Neots
26th January 2010 - 45
25th January 2011 - 57 +12

The minutes of the St Neots meeting are here.

Yet again mixed results. St Neots has certainly increased because of the Wind Farm issue. Whether this increase will continue I'll have to wait and see. These are still poor numbers compared to the population of 169,000. When you take off all the officials and councillors attending this meeting this is still a paltry attendance.

Djanogly believes CAB has a dozen or more funding streams?

Our MP, Jonathan Djanogly, who is an under-secretary for state for Justice was answering questions to the Justice Committee in its inquiry into Access for Justice.

In his evidence our MP, Jonathan Djanogly, said:

At 11:34:15 "Most of CAB's money comes from local government.......although the average CAB will have about a dozen or more funding streams."
This is news to the Huntingdonshire CAB. In their 2009/10 Accounts they stated:
Djanogly wants organisations such as the CAB to run a mediation service whilst his Conservative colleagues at Huntingdonshire District Council are cutting their funding to the Citizens Advice Bureau. Well what do expect from our MP who lives at his main home in Westminster.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

New Homes Bonus - Money for Local Communities. Where is St Neots?

I was sent a message from a District Councillor which says:
Remember the New Homes Bonus (government's name) is not specifically for the town the home is built in (S106/SIL is and remains) - but for authorities delivering and managing growth!!

I disagree. From its inception the money should be used in consultation with the local communities it affects. In a Ministerial written statement to Parliament Rt. Hon. Grant Shapps MP says:

"The New Homes Bonus will be unring-fenced. This flexible funding will allow the benefits of housing growth to be returned to those communities affected by growth in a way which best meets local need. Local authorities will need to lead the debate with their communities to determine local spending priorities."

In the pdf file which has the final scheme, it says:
  • Transparent - it will be easy for councillors, the community and developers to calculate and to see the early benefits of growth.  
  • Flexible - local authorities will be able to decide how to spend the funding in line with local community wishes. The Government expects local councillors to work closely with their communities – and in particular the neighbourhoods most affected by housing growth – to understand their priorities for investment and to communicate how the money will be spent and the benefits it will bring. This may relate specifically to the new development or more widely to the local community. For example, they may wish to offer council tax discounts to local residents, support frontline services like bin collections, or improve local facilities like playgrounds and parks. This will enable local councillors to lead a more mature debate with local people about the benefits of growth, not just the costs. The Bonus will be paid through section 31 of the Local Government Act 2003 as an unringfenced grant.  
  • 6. We want the economic benefits of housing growth to be more visible to the local community. We have therefore designed the New Homes Bonus around the council tax revenues generated from housing development.  
  • Ministerial Foreword.The New Home Bonus will have localism at its heart. It will re-energise communities. It will encourage local politicians to lead a debate with communities about the benefits of new homes. Local authorities will be expected to work with local people to develop their housing plans in ways that meet their needs and concerns.
Time and gain the statements refer to local communities and how this money will be shown to be spent. This money is being nicked by the Conservative administration at HDC to prop up their Budget. They haven't got the balls to go to a referendum over a Council tax rise so they have just taken the bonus and ignored the wishes of the local communities. With roughly £36,000,000 of New Homes Bonus due, St Neots will see nothing tangible for all this extra money! This money is intended for the local communities to help with make developments more acceptable to local communities. The rest of St Neots must see the benefit of East of St Neots expansion and other developments. In the case of St Neots this will substantial amounts of money which will just go into the HDC black hole.

HDC is getting the New Homes Bonus. What is St Neots (and other areas) where the development is taking place getting out of it? Answer: Nothing!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Shady dealings on Open Space

On the Turnstone Estates plans for the proposed cinema all of this open space will be turned into a car park. Where is the consultation over this?

The last consultation I can find is in the Best Value report 2006/07 where 2 adults, not even identified from the area, decided policy on whether to keep the open space or not. Is this St Neots Town Council consulting with residents!  Has St Neots Town Council actually consulted residents over the removal of the whole Open Space. The Town Council even went as so far as to change the Key Objectives in its own Forward Plan. Version 3 says:
The word protect was changed to enhance in the new version 4 of the plan. It now says:
Because the Town Council was going to get rid of some of the site PROTECT was not the right word. This has now changed to enhance. How is making a green space a car park enhance it?

When were the public consulted over the current version of the Forward Plan?

I feel this is very apt:

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Bus subsidy - could the Town Council take up the slack?

The short answer is yes. The Town Council does have powers to make grants to bus services.

This sounds good but there is a need to look at the actual legislation. This says:
The Community Bus Service seems interesting until I find out the driver is unpaid and the bus can only be between 8 and 16 seats.

The only other way is to use Section 137 money which allows the Town Council to spend £6.15 an elector on virtually anything it likes. It currently spends about £30k this way. The Town Council says there are 29800 electors in St Neots. I don't know where they got that figure from. The figure is nearer 21500. This would mean the Town Council should be able to spend £130,000 on Section 137 projects. With £30,000 already committed this would mean a total of £100,000 could be spent on subsidising Bus Services. Sounds good, but this money would have to be raised from the Council Taxpayer. Not so good.

The Town Council could go down the road of subsidising bus services, if it really want to. The cost would have to paid through higher local taxes in St Neots. In the end it would be up to St Neots residents whether they wanted this to happen and would wantto pay the extra tax.

Friday, February 18, 2011

HDC still addicted to spending reserves

The budget report shows how Conservative run HDC is still addicted to spending reserves.
The shortfall met from reserves does one thing and that means the cuts are put off for another day. The saving grace is the New Homes Bonus which HDC is taking for itself. This still means a further £2 million of "savings still required" have to be made. This means with £6.6 million of savings already proposed the total will be £8.6 million cut.

By using these reserves to stop more cuts being made this is putting decisions off to another year. Possibly when the Council is merged.

Conservative run HDC also didn't get their forecasts right on the Local Government Settlement.
As can be seen from the above picture, even the Council got the Revenue Support Grant wrong. These cuts in taxpayer funding are even deeper than forecast with HDC looking to lose £4.2 million form what they thought in February 2010 to what they thing now. £12.9 million to £8.7 million.

The saving grace for HDC is the New Homes Grant Bonus. This new bonus for allowing new homes to be built in an area will be substantial.
The budget gives the figure of £940,000 in 2011/12 rising to £3.337 million by 2015/16. The budget report waffles on about this being a grant rather than a bonus. The report says:
Conservative controlled HDC is taking the money for themselves. This isn't what the money is for. As Grant Shapps said:
Nothing in this report about communities and councils working together. Just HDC gets this money! HDC grabbing this money is wrong. The Conservative run HDC is robbing St Neots of money intended for St Neots and all the other development areas in Huntingdonshire.

In an effort to get around not having a referendum on increasing Council Tax HDC has come up with ideas to tax us through Conservative Stealth Taxes. In part of the report entitles: "Town and Parish Councils" it says:
CCTV will only be kept going if Town Council taxpayers fund these.
Maintaining Parks services will mean either contributions from the Town Council taxpayer to fund these or HDC will abandon the service?
Mitigating increases in car park charges will mean contributions from the Town Council taxpayer. Why not give the car parks to the Town Councils to run?
Mitigating reduction grounds maintenance standards will mean the Town Council will have to pay more and the Town Council taxpayer will have higher bills to pay for this.
Taking over Community Grants will mean more money spent by the Town Council to support these grants. Again higher council tax but not on HDCs numbers.
Subsidising provision of Customer Service Centres. Again something HDC should provide being foisted onto the local council taxpayer.
Supporting Town Centre Partnerships is another Conservative stealth tax on the St Neots council taxpayer.

The effect of this is to raise the Council Tax at Town Council levels whilst HDC can shout about low Council Tax increases. Is this how the Conservatives work? The Conservatives don't have the balls to have a referendum over Council Tax. All these "opportunities" are designed to get the numbers down for HDC and is just another way of taxing the council taxpayer by stealth!

And nearly finally:
The Leisure Centres have been reported as "nearly making a profit" and costing "£0.8 million". The budget is where I look for how much each Leisure Centre is costing the Council Taxpayer. Nearly £2.9 million. How much has the much vaunted £2.9 million in spending on St Neots Leisure Centre cut the budget? Answer: £39,000. 

And finally....
HDC has been saved by the New Homes Bonus. This is intended for communities to have money to improve their areas. HDC has snatched this money and is robbing St Neots money intended for it. St Neots could do much with this short term money to help alleviate some social problems. If the New Homes Bonus is just going to be used by HDC to prop up their budget this will not be a bonus for St Neots who will be subsidising the Conservative run HDC. So what are our St Neots Conservative Councillors going to do about this? Vote the budget through!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

New Homes Bonus. What is in it for St Neots?

Part of the new funding arrangements for Huntingdonshire is the New Homes Bonus. This will equate to 27% of funding from Government and could end up being £3.4 million a year.
How the system works is still out for consultation. The scheme will mean that every new home built in the District will attract the equivalent of 6 years Council Tax. Looking likely that the District Council gets 80% and the County Council 20%. Parish and Town Councils get nothing.

On the DCLG website the following is said:

"In proposals published for consultation, the Minister has announced that the Government will match the council tax raised from new homes for the first six years through the New Homes Bonus. Councils and communities will work together to decide how to spend the extra funding - whether council tax discounts for local residents, boosting frontline services like rubbish collection or providing local facilities like swimming pools and leisure centres."

The interesting bit is: "Councils and communities will work together to decide how to spend the extra funding". Having seen all this what has HDC actually done. It has just put the money in its own budget. This New Homes Bonus scheme is there to allow communities to see something substantial for there commitment to have these new homes in their area. Huntingdonshire is a growth area. St Neots is a growth area. So what is St Neots getting out of this? Answer nothing.

Lets take an example. The new homes being developed behind Tesco. There are 220 new homes being built. Lets say the average Council Tax band for this development will be band C at £1,279. This would bring in an extra £281,380 a year in New Homes Bonus. On an 80/20 split this would bring in HDC £225,104 and CCC £56,276 a year for 6 years on top of the Council Tax they would also gain from the properties.

The total New Homes Bonus over 6 years would be:
HDC: £1,305,624
CCC: £337,656

Not insubstantial funds for just one small development. Again what is St Neots getting out of this money? So far nothing!

So far each Council is looking for the money as already spent. If St Neots wants more then we must ask both Councils and Councillors what are you going to spend the money on in St Neots? The New Homes Bonus is here for the local communities to help them accept development. If all this money goes into propping up already unsustainable budgets then all St Neots will be doing is accepting developments without any sight of this New Homes Bonus money. 

The danger with money only lasting for 6 years is Councils will become dependent on this flow of income. This would be wrong. The money has to be used on financially sustainable projects which will enhance St Neots. If HDC and CCC aren't held to account over how this New Homes Bonus is being spent in St Neots then this money will be frittered away on sustaining unsustainable spending by Councils.

HDC and CCC are supposed to be agreeing with communities how this money will be spent. Plans should already be in place to do this. 

With 5000 extra homes on the East of St Neots site this would bring in an extra £36,000,000 over the building period and six years beyond. That is something HDC currently wants for itself and St Neots to miss out on.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Last time CPALC gave SNTC Quality Town Status

This is what happened with the Quality Town Council. It was a "Shambles". Two damning external auditors reports. A Town Council in a mess. The Eatons Community Centre was stopped because the Town Council didn't really know how much money it had. Financial reports weren't brought to Town Council. meetings didn't take place. Everything was hushed under the carpet. Even when the two damning reports were published they are not on the Town Council website and electors were charged 60 pence for the privilege of reading each of these damning reports.

Try to question these reports and questions are batted away. The Town Council doesn't want to learn from its history. CPALC gave the Town Council Quality Status and with that badge it covered lots of wrong doings. CPALC has again bunged awarded the Town Council the Quality Status label. But who is CPALC?

The National Association of Local Councils (NALC) is the national trade body for 8500 Local Councils - Parish and Town Councils - many of which are small insignificant Councils which hardly worthy of mention. NALC claims the coverage is 35% of the population of England which means 65% get on without this level of Government. When the Conservatives started Compulsory Competitive Tendering, back in the 90's, only 41 Town and Parish Councils were caught in the net. St Neots Town Council is one of the largest. NALC is designed for small councils. And so are the County Associations which are NALC representatives in the shires. The County Associations are the local trade bodies. They are their to promote Town and Parish Councils in the County and offer advice to their members.

How does NALC and CPALC get its money to operate? The main source is from subscriptions from Town and Parish Councils. CPALC charges St Neots Town Council a subscription fee. This is raised from the local council taxpayer by way of the Council Tax. So CPALC is funded by council taxpayers. It relies on members continuing to be members.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Turnstone and the titchy cinema project

I went along to presentation of the cinema development being planned for Shady Walk/Cambridge Street Car Park/Old Household Waste site. I had a conversation with one of the representatives and it went like this:

The cinema is larger than the development brief.
You couldn't fit a 7 screen cinema in that building.

The capacity is 822. That averages 117 seats a screen.
Some will be smaller about 50 seats. The largest will be 180 seats.

The cinema is much closer than the development brief. This will effect residents amenity.
Yes it will and this is why we are having this presentation.

What about the theatre auditorium?
One screen will be able to be used as a theatre auditorium by local theatre groups. But is won't be like a normal theatre.

I see you've taken up all of Shady Walk as a Car Park.
The Town Council didn't mind so long as we find alternative space for new equipment nearby.

Why is the entrance is from Huntingdon Street?
Lidl won't give us permission to cross their land. 
We've done a traffic survey. Yes, there are problems during the rush hour but cinema is open for later shows so this won't effect the traffic flow. - I have to agree on that for the evenings.

Not all comments were one way.

Do you know that Mr Rowley is giving £1 million to this project?
Yes I do and only £1 million for all the land that he is selling for Love's Farm. Don't make me laugh!

It is Cineworld who are going to run this.
Yes I have been to Cineworld and my girlfriend and I don't like Cineworld so we go to Vue at Cambridge. If these are going to be such small screens we'll carry on doing that. But the operator isn't the issue here. It is the size. I see you developed Cambridge Leisure Park. I'd like to something like this in St Neots.
Yes, I've had lots of dealings with local residents, there, over issues and attended many residents meetings.
Now I'm back home I thought I would look up Cambridge Leisure Park and see how near the residents actually are!
I've outlined the complex in yellow. This is far from local residents. In St Neots case residents will back onto the development. Wrong development in the wrong location

I didn't see how they could fit a 7 screen into the larger building. They can't. Turnstone are making the best of a bad job given to them by HDC. It is the political elite of the Town who want this cinema here. This is bad for St Neots and bad for the residents. Yet our local politicians are blind to the fact. They plough on as though this is something St Neots must immediately have above everything else.

The obvious site is on the new development area to the East of the Town. 

Jonathan Djanogly couldn't resist to get in on the action.

Planning has nothing to do with local democracy

The one thing that amazes me is that people and Councillors think that Planning decisions have anything at all to do with "local democracy". The planning system is based on the premise that anyone can do what they like to their property so long as it is not prohibited or regulated by law. That is the basic right of every individual or legal body.

The decision by Councillors on HDC Development Management Panel is costing all council taxpayers for going against officer recommendations to approve a filling station in St Ives.

Cllr Jason Abelwhite says:
“It was the Co-operative and their insistence on a written appeal away from any potential bad publicity and subsequent inspector’s decision that overturned local democracy and public opinion,” he told the protesters at the weekend.
Overturned Local Democracy? Public opinion has no part in the Planning process. Planning isn't democratic. The reason why HDC will have to pay for the appeal is the objectors didn't do their homework. They needed to produce evidence to support their claims. And the District Councillors who produced this motion of refusal should have produced evidence to back up their decision to refuse. They didn't.

The political pantomime over planning is the community is led to believe that Councillors actually take decisions over planning matters. They don't. What they do is take a decision without evidence to back up their case and the Planning Inspector takes the right view.

Below is the minute of the Development Management Panel of 21st December 2009. Each reason for refusal needs to be evidenced. So if you are going to give a reason of refusal because of traffic congestion you need to show evidence that traffic congestion would occur. This wasn't done. If the Highways Authority had objected to this planning application this could be used. They didn't object.

(Councillor N J Dibben, St. Ives Town Council, Councillor Mrs D C Reynolds, Ward Councillor, Mrs Easan, objector and Mr J Murphy, on behalf of the  agent RPS Group, addressed the Panel on the application). that the application be refused for the following reasons:-

(i) in the opinion of the Local Planning Authority, the establishment of a petrol filling station on the site would be likely (so not definite) to have undesirable consequences to those residents living nearby (any evidence of this?). Whilst it is accepted that a proportion of the customers of the filling station will be visiting the centre in any case, the Local Planning Authority believes that this new business activity (any evidence of this?) would inevitably attract additional vehicles which, together with the possibility of additional on-street parking due to the reduction in off-street parking provision (any evidence for this?) as a result of the custom would be during evening hours and at weekends, those periods when local residents might otherwise expect commercial activity in the area to have decreased (is this an actual planning reason for refusal?) The Local Planning Authority considers that the occupiers of adjacent homes would, on occasion, find this extra activity disturbing and harmful to their residential amenity, contrary to policy H30 of the Huntingdonshire Local Plan, 1995 and policy B4 of the Huntingdonshire Interim Planning Policy Statement 2007; and 

(ii) it is also considered that the applicant has failed to demonstrate that the proposed development would not be detrimental to highway safety (any evidence of this? The Highways Authority had no objection) because of the likely increases in traffic and the reduction in off-street parking provision as a result of the proposal contrary to T1 of the Huntingdonshire Interim Planning Policy Statement, 2007. 

The reason why the Planning Inspector awarded costs against HDC and therefore the HDC Council Taxpayer is the reasons given in the decision to refuse weren't evidenced. This crucial.

Cllr Abelwhite and all the other District Councillors must know the planning process. Whilst the law has slightly changed, the Co-op had previous planning permission on the site for a petrol station. To blame the Planning Inspectorate for a making a decision within the law is wrong. Instead the District Councillors should explain the decision and the likely outcome. "Local democracy" has no place in Planning decisions. The Development Management Panel is a rubber stamp exercise for Planning Officers.

The Planning Officers were right. The District Councillors who voted to refuse were wrong. The Council Taxpayer has to pick up the bill for this flight of fancy by the District Councillors. Will those who refused this planning application be picking up the bill for this wrong decision? I doubt it!

Monday, February 14, 2011

I received an email from Ian Dewar of CPALC

As I said I would publish any reply from CPALC and NALC, if I got any. I received a reply from Ian Dewar. Nothing from the NALC.

7th February 2011
Thanks for your email.
I am not sure which website you looked at but I had no problem with the St Neots Town Council website and as such find it difficult to support your critique.
I have to assume you have been in dialogue with the Town Clerk to confirm you looked at the correct site as many are listed.

Ian Dewar

Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Association of Local Councils
33 Stephenson Road, St Ives, Cambs PE27 3WJ
Tel 01480 375629 view website at

Supporting Local Councils & Communities

I replied:
8th February 2011Hi
The site I'm looking at is Please inform me where the Annual Report is on the website. I was not the only one critical of the Town Council and its website. The External Auditor stated in the 2010 ISA 260 report that key financial information should be on their website including the Annual Accounts and the ISA 260 report. Check the website and find those documents. Neither appears.


No further reply from Ian Dewar. 

This from the CPALC website which still says St Neots Town Council is not a member!

Mandy misses another meeting

Will the Conservatives ever get rid of Mandy Thomas? Mandy was supposed to be at a meeting of the Economic Well-being OSP on 10th February 2011 and didn't turn up. Another month, another pay cheque (£366.67 gross) This isn't right. The Conservatives are holding onto this seat in Eaton Socon with someone who isn't coming to meetings and is elected to May 2012. Another £4,235 (new lesser rate from 18th may 2011) wasted on Mandy.

Is this good use of council taxpayer money? Mandy could stand down right now and a by-election could be fought on the same day as other elections on 5th may 2011. The Liberal Democrats would be stupid not to use Mandy's appalling attendance record. Andy Jennings, the Conservative candidate, must be frothing at the mouth at Mandy's non attendance and this gift to the Liberal Democrats.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Charities face funding crisis

The Hunts Post St Neots - 09/02/2011 digital edition

Whether we like it or not HDC is in a financial mess. Cuts are going to have to happen as reserves run out and the old way of high spending/low council tax changes to low spending/low council tax. While the charities are whining on about the cuts to their grants they don't come up with alternative to HDC budget cuts. They don't even plead for Council tax to be raised to fund their projects. The underlying problem is many of these groups are addicted to funding from HDC. Like any addict the withdrawal of supply will cause withdrawal symptoms.

The voluntary organisations have been pleading with HDC not to cuts to their sector. The HDC budget is stark and stark choices have to be made. The voluntary organisations need to look to their own resources to fundraise from the public to keep these ventures going.

Promoting local democracy the CPALC way

I thought I would look at this from my point of view. I don't know what the Town Council put into CPALC on this section.
I take the first line. "In order to thrive democracies need active, informed and engaged citizens". Hmmm...As a citizen I have to look at the record of St Neots Town Council and look at what it doesn't do. In order to be informed, the citizen needs information. This was demonstrated in the ISA 260 Report to the Town Council. It says:
The information is missing from the website. The approved accounts are missing. The ISA 260 Report is also missing. Other key information like payments came and went. Now I understand the Town Council isn't the District Council. But public information is key to participating in the Town Council strategies and priorities.

The reason this came as a shock was nothing was said beforehand.
There was nothing from the Town Council to say things were wrong. Meetings were cancelled and information not given. The Town Council has moved on from this. They are better with their information. Again this isn't a one way street. The Town Council itself has to proactive in publishing information even when that information shows mistakes and bad news for the Town Council.

From where I stand the Town Council can do more by publishing more. Involving the public in the affairs of the Town Council can only be a good thing. But this isn't what the Town Council wants. Rather than engaging with the public the Town Council looks to hide away on many issues. Keeping everything quiet and not saying much unless it is really good news. St Neots Town Council is one of the largest Town or Parish Councils in England. It should be doing more in engaging with residents on a number of issues that effects the Town. It simply doesn't. Now that could be down to the political leadership of the Council in not mapping out a strategy for the Town over the next 5 years. consultations costs money. But a simple form on the site or

By any measure the St Neots electorate is not active, engaged, involved or informed of what is going on in St Neots. What St Neots Town Council is the bare minimum. If CPALC feels St Neots Town Council has passed this test then we would be better off under Dibley Parish Council.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Anger over funds switch proposal

St Neots News and Crier - 10/02/2011 digital edition

What I don't understand about all this is so what. The funds for an Eynesbury Community Centre is only £60,000. The Town Council is looking to build this community centre on the other side of the railway with developer money. Hardly accessible for the residents of Eynesbury. Nor is it really a community hub for Eynesbury not being in Eynesbury at all.

Whilst the idea of spending the money on the community run Love's Farm centre could be seen as a good idea, making Town Council funds available for this project is whistling in the dark.

The plans, cost and funding needs to be looked into. I would be looking towards something like Jubilee Hall, a basic wooden community hall with no frills. The £340,000 from developers would allow this.

I can understand why Cllr van de Kerkhove wants the money to be allocated. This makes a statement of intention of providing a community centre for Eynesbury. If, as Cllr Chapman indicates, the money will be just sitting there, this will mean an argument can be had if the Love's Farm community association come looking for the Town Council for money.

Are the reasons behind all this political? The new Town Council East Ward, with one member, which covers Love's Farm could be the majority for the Conservatives if the Town Council election on 5th May 2011 are tight. There are scenarios where the Conservatives can only achieve a majority by winning the East Ward. The same could be said for the money being allocated to Eynesbury by the Liberal Democrats who need to win all 7 seats here.

And something else CPALC missed

Test 4 is about community engagement.
This is the mandatory part.
The Town Council does have a website. It does actually provide a list of Councillors and Officers and e-mail address.What it doesn't do, up until the Quality Town Status was bunged, "was provide access to your Annual Report". How Ian Dewar, Diane Bayliss and Steve Wilkinson and his Accreditation Committee missed this one is a bit beyond  me.

That is not all. There is a problem over the newsletter the Town Council part produces with SNTCI. In the 30th June 2010 publication of the Annual Report it says:
This was revised in the 30th September 2010 version of the Annual Report to:
The Town Council went from publishing to using Priorities.
At the 2010 Annual Town Meeting I asked the following question:
The Town Mayor replied that: "Priorities Magazine is not a Town Council Publication".

With Priorities not being a Town Council publication the test is failed in that part. The alternative is to contribute to a specific section on your local council at least 4 times a year. This it does by contributing to Priorities.

Lets take Priorities dated March 2010 as an example. On the back page there is a section on the Town Councillors with pictures, addresses and contact details. On the inside page there is a message from the Town Mayor babbling on. So there are two sections not a specific section. Also what the Town Mayor is up to is not Town Council news.
Where in all of March 2010 issue is the news about the Town Council? There were live issues which the Town Council could and should have informed residents about. The impending enlargement of St Neots Town Council area taking in the annexed areas of Eynesbury Hardwicke and St Neots Rural Parish Councils. The loss of Quality Town Council status. Or even a bit about the Council Tax reduction by St Neots Town Council. Not a word. Not a single word about any of these issues.

If this is the standard which is set by CPALC and Steve Wilkinson and his accreditation committee then any Parish or Town Council can pass this test. This communicates nothing. Yet CPALC seems to feel St Neots Town Council has passed this test. A newsletter should contain news from the Town Council. By any definition, however loose, this doesn't happen!