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Archive for Council Budget

Free Saturday Afternoon Car Parking Is Lost

Market Car Park 2 78009. crop

The vote to keep free car parking on Saturday afternoons was lost tonight 19-14. :( The Echo has a good blow-by-blow account of tonight’s meeting here.

In favour of keeping free car parking on Saturday afternoons:

Pat Aves (Tory) Chris Black (Lib Dem) Robin Dray (Tory) John Griffin (Tory) Angela Hale (Tory) Diane Hoy (Green) Michael Hoy (Green) Chris Lumley (Lib Dem) Christine Mason (Rochford Resident Party) John Mason (Rochford Resident Party) Toby Mountain (Independent Conservative) Cheryl Roe (Tory) Dave Sperring (Tory) Ian Ward (Tory)

Against keeping free car parking on Saturday afternoons:

Lesley Butcher, Phil Capon, Mike Carter, James Cottis, Terry Cutmore, Heather Glynn, Trevor Goodwin, Keith Gordon, Jim Grey, Brian Hazlewood, Keith Hudson, Gillian Lucas-Gill, David Merrick, Joan Mockford, Colin Seagers, Simon Smith, Mike Steptoe, Carole Weston, Barbara Wilkins. (All Tories)

There were no abstentions, though some councillors were absent.

Here’s a few quotes from councillors during the debate:

Toby Mountain, moving the motion to keep free Saturday afternoon parking:
80% of the council are Conservatives – we should be make decisions in an open and transparent way, based on proper information…. we should review this rush decision”

Dave Sperring seconded the motion. He pointed out that the reason why Websters Way Car park was busy on a Saturday morning wasn’t because of shoppers, but because of football being played on King Georges Field.

Ian Ward had been doing some research with Rayleigh shopkeepers to see how much they depended on Saturday afternoons:
“We have failed to think long enough and hard enough about this”

Cheryl Roe:
“This is suicidal for all of our towns”

Chris Black:
“However hard our local businesses try, however innovative “Shop At Mt Local Is”, however good the Italian Food Market will be, it won’t counteract the loss of business from getting free of free SAturday afternoon parking”

John Mason pointed once again that the £65,000 extra income that is supposed to come from this is the amount of money that the County Council DOESN’T pay us for cutting grass verges – we should be looking to the County for money.

Michael Hoy pointed out once again that the £65,000 could be covered by getting rid of the £75,000 “Innovations Fund” which seemed to be a slush fund for emergencies. He said this was:
“Madness”

Chris Lumley spoke without notes but very effectively. He is the chair of the Review Committee, which met 5 times this year to examine car parking charges, looking back at data since 2008. Officers had advised that that the £65,000 for Saturday afternoons was only a guesstimate, as we had had free parking then for 10 years. But looking at car park income in recent years, allowing for inflation, increasing the charges didn’t really produce much more income, people just stayed a shorter time. He added that :
“This will have a devastating effect”

The only person to speak against free Saturday afternoon car parking was the Tory Leader Terry Cutmore. He said:
“We have a thriving night-life”

None of the other 18 councillors who voted for this were willing to speak. Not even Hockley Tory councillor Brian Hazlewood, who had originally signed the motion to bring this back to council, but later changed his mind and voted instead with Cllr Cutmore.

Why The District Council Voted To Increase Council tax by 1.89 %

pound_coin

It’s estimated that in 5 years time the District Council will get £687,000 a year less in government grant than we get now.

So its not surprising that District Councillors voted last night to increase the District Council part of the council tax by 1.89 %. That’s equivalent to 7 1/2 pence per week for a band D property. We don’t have a figure yet for the overall council tax – the biggest part is set by the County Council, but there’s also parish councils, the Fire Service and Essex Police.

In a recorded vote, the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and the Rochford Residents Party voted in favour, and the Greens voted against. Green group leader Michael Hoy said this was because they couldn’t support earlier decisions made on the council budget.

Its worth writing here about the three main types of government grant and how they are changing.

The first is the traditional “Revenue Support Grant” from Central Government. Basically Whitehall has a complicated formula to work out how much grant each council gets. Very urban, with lots of inner-city problems? You get more grant. Very rural, so your dustcarts have to drive half a mile between each home? You get more grant. Have lots of commuters coming to work in your area and dropping litter in their lunch-hours You get more grant! Trouble is, Rochford District isn’t inner city and not rural enough either, and its residents commute to other places, so our grant has always been low. And now Revenue Support Grant is being greatly reduced. This year we get £2,282,000, but it’s estimated that in five years time we will get about 2 million pounds less.

On the plus side the government is letting councils keep some business rates. The calculations are very complicated, but it looks likely that this year we can keep £1,544,000 of business rates and that in five years time we will be allowed to keep about £600,000 more.

The third part of the picture is the “New Homes Bonus”.
Some people might think it is a positive incentive to provide new homes for people , others might think it is more like financial coercion, but anyway, the following explanation of the “New Homes Bonus” was included in a report to the council meeting on Jan 28th:

This Government incentive to encourage more homes was introduced in 2011/12. It is based on the increase in new houses and bringing empty homes back into use and the grant matches Council Tax for 6 years, with 80% being received by the district council, as the planning authority, and 20% going to the county. The growth in housing is measured from a statistical return which reports the Council Tax base as at September each year and the NHB is based on an average Council Tax rate.
There is also an additional reward of £350 for each new affordable home and Council provided Travellers’ pitch, which is measured in April each year, again split 80:20 to districts and county.

On the predicted housing figures for the years ahead, it’s estimated that we will get £440,000 this year from the New Homes Bonus and about £800,000 more in five years time. So like or hate it, the New Homes Bonus is going to be important for council finances. And in fact at last night’s meeting Tory leader Terry Cutmore said “:

“We will need to ensure that we achieve growth targets in new housing to make up for this loss”

However Chris Black replied on this point , saying that he would judge future planning applications on their planning merits, and that he hoped all councillors would continue to do so!

Now There Really Is a Chance To Keep Free Saturday Afternoon Parking

Straight after last week’s council meeting we wrote:

Still A Chance ?

The vote tonight to increase car parking charges AND end free parking on Saturday afternoons was quite close.
It might just be possible to persuade some councillors to switch sides and replace what was passed tonight by a compromise motion, that still increased the charges but kept free Saturday afternoons.

 

So we said a compromise motion might work, and now 9 Tory councillors have followed our lead and signed a motion to bring this back to Full Council!, So there will be another vote on free Saturday afternoon car parking at next Full Council. If their motion is supported by the 7 opposition councillors who voted against last time, that makes a total of 16 out of 39. It could be a very close vote, and a very interesting night…

This is their motion (click on it to enlarge)

motion to rescind

When the same councillors abstained last week, the public reaction was pretty contemptuous. Bringing a motion to council is a very different matter, and should attract more respect. We’ve received a couple of comments tonight regarding the abstentions that we haven’t published yet, and we’ll hold them back in light of this different situation.

Things remain uncertain:
- will the bigwigs in the Tory party concede that they have got this wrong, and agree to this compromise? They’d be wise to do so.
- or will any of the 9 Tories be persuaded by their party whip to back off? They’d look really foolish, though.
- how will the voting go on the night? If the Tory leadership don’t concede, they might still have the numbers to win the vote.

Still A Chance ?

The vote tonight to increase car parking charges AND end free parking on Saturday afternoons was quite close.
It might just be possible to persuade some councillors to switch sides and replace what was passed tonight by a compromise motion, that still increased the charges but kept free Saturday afternoons.

The key paragraph in the council constitution is this one:

16.1 Motion to Rescind a Previous Decision
A Motion or amendment to rescind a decision made at a meeting of Council within the past six months cannot be moved unless the Notice of Motion is signed by at least 8 Members.

Read It And Weep…. Car Parking Increases Go Through , But Only 14 Councillors Vote For It

Market Car Park 2 78009. crop

The increase in car park charges went through tonight. And the free parking on Saturday afternoons was ended as well. But the vote was closer than expected – you could weep with frustration. 14 voted for, 11 abstained, 7 voted against.

14 Councillors voted for (all Conservatives) :
Butcher (Hawkwell), Cottis (Rochford) Cutmore (Ashingdon and Canewdon) Glynn (Hawkwell) Gordon (Rochford) Grey (Rayleigh) Lucas-Gill,(Rochford) , McPherson (Hawkwell), Merrick (Rayleigh), Mockford (Rayleigh) , Seagers (Wakering) , Smith (Rayleigh) , Steptoe (Barling), Wilkins (Wakering)

11 Councillors abstained (10 Conservatives and 1 Lib Dem)
Aves (Rayleigh), Dray (Rayleigh), Griffin (Rayleigh), Hale (Hullbridge), Hazelwood (Hockley), Mrs Lumley (Rayleigh), Maddocks (Hockley), Mountain (Rayleigh) , Roe (Rayleigh), Sperring (Rayleigh) and Ward (Rayleigh)

7 voted against (3 Lib Dems, 2 Greens 2 Rochford Residents)
Black (Rayleigh and Rawreth), Mrs Hoy (Hullbridge), Mr Hoy (Hullbridge), Mr Lumley (Rayleigh), Mrs Mason (Hawkwell), Mr Mason (Hawkwell), Oatham (Rayleigh and Rawreth)

It was quite a sight to see 10 Tories defying their powerful party whip and abstaining. Pity that 8 of the abstainers didn’t actually vote against – then we w0uld have won.

Three things worth mentioning:
1) Cllr Dray abstained, though the minutes will probably show him voting for, that will be corrected later.
2) It was good to see some people watching in the public gallery.
3) By this evening, it was clear that the increases are no longer linked to flood prevention measures, it’s part of an attempt to increase council reserves from £750,000 to £2,690,000

IMPORTANT: Car Parking Charges To Be Increased To Allow Spending On Flood Prevention?

Down Hall  Road, Rayleigh

Down Hall Road, Rayleigh

Next Tuesday 28th we have a meeting of Full Council to deal with the council budget. You can find the documents here.

The most important item is probably to increase car parking charges – and end free parking on Saturday afternoons. The proposals are:

30 minutes parking – increase from 40p to 50p
1 hour parking – increase from 80p to £1.00
2 hours – increase from £1.40 to £1.70
3 hours – increase from £2.00 to £2.40
4 hours – increase from £2.40 to £2.90
5 hours – increase from £3.00 to £3.60
Daily – no change, still £5.00

“In order to encourage the turnover of parking and make available more spaces for visitors to the town centres , it is proposed to introduce Saturday afternoon charging”.

It is estimated that this would increase income from car parking by about £180,000 per year.

Now the aim behind those who want to increase the charges is to use the money for flood prevention. To quote from the report at length (page 3.28):

10.6 During the last 6 months, the District, like other parts of the country, has experienced severe flooding which has directly affected residents, with 34 properties still uninhabitable because of flood damage last August.
10.7 A meeting is being arranged with Essex County Council, the Environment Agency and Anglian Water to consider the arrangements for setting up a Rochford Flood Committee (RFC).
10.8 There is no intention to relieve Essex County Council of their responsibilities as the lead local flood authority (LLFA).
10.9 The RFC would, in conjunction with the county, work on the implementation of the Rochford elements of the South Essex Surface Water Management Plan. The RFC will play a key part in determining expenditure on flood alleviation schemes, both larger schemes requiring investment from multiple sources, including grants from relevant bodies, but also smaller schemes that may be funded directly from Rochford’s sewers and drainage budget or under the Capital Programme.
10.10 The sewers and drainage budget currently sits under Public Health. The budget was originally established to carry out drainage maintenance work to properties over a certain age where the system served more than one property. In recent years, Anglian Water have taken responsibility for household drainage up to the boundary of the property and the budget has recently been used for small drainage works on the Council’s property. Larger drainage works are done under the Capital Programme. Some of the underspend on the budget has been set aside in the Repairs and Maintenance Reserve with £18,000 available. For this reason, a new budget for 2013/14 was not required and was taken out when the Revised Estimates were presented to December’s Council. No budget is planned for 2014/15, as the £18,000 is still available, and provides an opportunity to implement several small, but essential, flood alleviation schemes as identified by the RFC.
10.11 If Members agree the principle of a Rochford Flood Committee, the working arrangements (i.e. a full committee, sub committee or working group/forum, or advisory group reporting into the Executive) and the terms of reference will be prepared and reported to Council on 25 February 2014, taking account of the principles outlined above.

Note : The County Council have a budget for flood prevention in the County, one main source of funding is  £598,800 per year by central government.

Now, we would very much like to hear your view on this before Tuesday, before we vote.
For example :
Are you not bothered about increasing car park charges and paying on Saturday afternoons – or are you horrified?
Do you think that increasing car parking charges to pay for flood prevention is a necessary evil – or should we insist on the County and developers paying for this?
Do you simply need more information, and think that the council should provide more details before coming to a decision?

Let us know!

Flood Questions

Full credit to Councillors John and Christine Mason for their work on flood prevention – as reported in the Echo here.

echo - flooding

Especially their questioning about the district council budget, and the apparent failure to use £10,000 in the council budget for sewers and ditch clearance.
It would be very good news if the council administration could have a rethink and reinstate this budget!

“I always thought, I want to go around sixty”

Paul Warren, who is about to retire as the District Council’s Cheif Executive, has given a lengthy interview to Rochford Life magazine. It’s worth a read.

Here’s an extract, about council tax and grass cutting:

RL:  I think what you are saying is that because you have managed it so well, people aren’t aware of the cutbacks.
Paul: Yes, if you look at the average property in Rochford, a Band-D property, and you look at the overall Council Tax bill, the District Council element of that is 12%-13% i.e. in a Band-D property only £205 of your bill comes to Rochford. When I do staff talks I say, if I was to give you £205 what would you go out and be able to buy? For £205 in effect, we collect your rubbish, we clean the streets,  we provide open spaces, we provide leisure centres, we process planning applications, we send out bills and handle housing benefits and Council Tax, we inspect food premises and we do a variety of other things. For £205 I think that’s a pretty good deal! I’m not sure people perceive it in that way.
The more I think about it the more I think I’d be in favour of a local taxation system because you could probably have more debate and exposure around what you are getting for your money, and you could always offer people a choice: do you want your verges cut fifteen times a year and if you do that will cost you £X and that equates to that on the Council Tax, or are you happy to get away with ten cuts which will cost you £Y. We went through a period, which was not actually of our own making but it lead to some interesting learning exercises for us, when our grounds maintenance contractor went into liquidation. I remember the day well when I got the phone call and my immediate thought at that stage – because they did our cemeteries – have we got any burials today because we could have some problems!  Suffice it to say we’ve been through a range of issues around developing a new grounds maintenance contract and getting the appropriate contractor in place.

RL: You mention verge cutting.  Is grass cutting a big issue?
Paul:  Well, we have gone through some interesting learning exercises around verge cutting because highway verges are a County Council function. This means they should be cutting them, but they pass it to us and they only give us enough money for one and a half cuts a year! This comes to about £30,000. Originally we were spending £200,000 on this so the members then have a debate, do we spend all this money on something that’s really not our responsibility but which looks nice, so we’ve been trying to work out what is the appropriate number of cuts for the money. When we’ve employed temporary contractors, or the weather hasn’t been good, or the cutting hasn’t been perfect, the number of complaints we’ve had has spiked through the roof. This comes back to public expectation which is high. So for members there is a dilemma, the cake is shrinking, and we have all these services, and so do you reduce services or reduce quality of some of them and so on?…

 

Empty Properties And The Council Tax

houses2

There were a few interesting items at last night’s Full District Council Meeting.

One of them was about the reductions in Council Tax that apply if properties are left empty.

The government has given councils the freedom to reduce these rebates – so that people concerned have to pay more. This means that councils get more money, and more homes are occupied (which to an extent reduces the need to build new homes). From next April there will be the following changes in Rochford District:

  • Second Homes will no longer get a 10% discount – the full amount will have to be paid instead
  • Vacant properties in need of urgent repair currently get a full 100% discount for the first 12 months – this will be reduced to 50% for 12 months.
  • Empty and unfurnished properties currently have a a full 100 % discount for up to 6 months. This is being reduced to a 100% discount for only one month. This discount will now only apply immediately following a period when the property was occupied for a minimum of 6 weeks. It will also be restricted to a maximum of two awards in any one financial year.
  • Properties that are empty and “substantially unfurnished” for two years or more will now get an extra 50% “premium charge” on top of the normal 100% council tax amount.

These changes could lead to the district council getting around £195,000 extra council tax per year. Though in reality it is likely to be lower than this because property owners may change their behaviour.

It would be interesting to know if Southend Borough Council are doing the same thing – because as Julian Ware Lane pointed out here there are certainly plenty of empty properties in Southend.

£2.1 Million !

Well done to Hawkwell councillors John and Christine Mason for unearthing some startling figures about the financial cost of the Core Strategy:

Rochford District Council has spent £2.1m plus over the past 7 years to April 2013 on the Core Strategy.
Within that £350,000 to Consultants.
£1 million came from Council Tax and £1.1 million from Government Grants making £2.1 million overall.

Full article here.

 

UPDATE:  just to clarify this a little ,  the costs of planning policy work do amount to £2.1 million over the last seven years -  but we are advised this  relates to the cost of preparing all local development framework documents including the Core Strategy, Supplementary Planning Documents, Statement of Community Involvement, Area Action Plans, Development Management DPD and so on.

Essex Tories Vote To Keep all Their Allowances; UKIP Abstain

From the Essex Lib Dems website:

Essex’s ruling Conservative councillors have voted down a Lib Dem plan to save council taxpayers £21,400.

At today’s meeting of Essex County Council, the Liberal Democrat Opposition Group proposed deleting the Special Allowance for the Deputy Leader of the Conservative Group.

Chelmsford Lib Dem Cllr. Stephen Robinson said:

This post is just not required. The Conservative Deputy Leader of the Council receives £40,000, eight Cabinet members receive £35,000 and the Deputy Cabinet members receive £13,000 each. The Conservative group must recognise that they lost one third of their Councillors at the election and don’t need this extra allowance.”

The Liberal Democrat proposal was supported by Labour, Independent and Green Councillors; UKIP abstained, and the Conservative majority voted it down.

Why The District Council has Financial Headaches

 

This little graph explains why Rochford District Council is always having to watch its finances. It shows the amount of government grant we have been getting, per head of population.

In the past three years the amount of grant we get has been reduced from £53 per person to £37 per person. That doesn’t sound like much , but with about 83,000 residents , we are about £1,300,000 worse off this year.

There are always swings and roundabouts, we may get some funds through other routes , but basically times are tough.  And you need to remember that the amount we got previously was still a lot lower than many other councils.

How is the council finding the money? One success was a new IT contract.  Another has been getting recycling credits. But some of  the savings have come from things like ending the council’s pest control service.

 

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Latest Comments

  • Christine Paine: I was staggered and am still spluttering with disbelief/rage to read in the Echo tonight that...
  • Jim Cripps: A good point Brian , in fact it is now obvious that most Towns & Villages in all the SE Essex...
  • Corey Vost: It is becoming increasingly obvious that ECC Highways have precious little intention of adopting this...
  • Christine Paine: Thanks Chris. I think noise depends to a great extent on wind direction. At least, with quite a few...
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  • Chris Black: Christine – I spoke to the licensing people yesterday. They visited the site the day before with...
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  • Brian Guyett: A welcome, overdue initiative but I agree with John Mason – we need to consider the whole...
  • Jim Cripps: PS: And can you explain how a party political leaflet “in touch” has the authority to cancel...
  • A.mattbhews: Please note this is not a flood prevention solution but is the replacement of a foul sewer . Despite...
  • Jim Cripps: Well done Chris/ John and sorely needed as they have already cancelled two promises ( RTSSC & new...
  • Jim Cripps: Two quotes for you :- Cllr K Hudson via Evening Echo ( Fri 11th April ) – “The process we...
  • Jim Cripps: That is exactly why it is later ( negative election impact ) , however all the voters need to do is ask...
  • Jim Cripps: Greenbelt – it is’nt the same show ( the Battlesbridge one is in June ), the one last weekend...
  • John Mason: As far as I can see “by 9 April” quoted in your Article allowed “the 5 day rule”...
  • Greenbelt: The ‘RaveR 17; type event last year which caused many complaints on this site was clearly audible...
  • Christine Paine: We could hear it over the television. I’ve got nothing against the showground as such,...
  • admin: I would think you can hear it over half of Rayleigh, with the windows closed….
  • admin: Not sure…
  • John Mason: So what happens next please?
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The Core Strategy

This is the official master document for planning policy in our district! To download it, click here click here. (2.5mb)

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If you want information on a particular planning application, you can find it on the District Council website here.

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