New District Plan proposals referred back

Tonight’s scrutiny meeting on the District Council was meant to kickstart the process of updating the District Plan which determines new housing and other planning policies yet turned into farce when the Conservative leader referred back his own council’s proposals.  The Chairman got totally confused on the voting and the meeting was closed without any substantive debate (cue this Conservative councillor’s head in hands)!  Bemused Liberal Democrat councillors were pleased to get their own proposal on ensuring the Council used this delay constructively by conducting proper scrutiny of the proposals. 

The real issue is how much new housing is needed and is it what local people need, too many expensive “executive houses” and not enough affordable starter homes for single people and couples.  The government too often dictates what is required without taking account of local needs and favouring the housing developers who coincidentally or not make large donations to the Conservative Party.

Liberal Democrats had earlier proposed their own amendment to temporarily put the plan on hold so were happy to support this having already highlighted the huge number of new houses required in the plan, over and above those currently approved (including an additional 1,400 houses west of Jane Murray Way).   An additional Liberal Democrat amendment asking for a working party to ensure proper scrutiny of the proposals was also agreed as it important that any delay is used constructively to review the proposals. 

Mid Sussex budget scrutiny

Tonight’s Mid Sussex scrutiny meeting considered the Council’s Corporate Strategy and Budget for 2022/23, giving all the uncertainties around the effect of Covid, the Council has rightly delayed taking significant action to remedy an emerging deficit (funded from reserves) projected to increase from 545k this year to 1,757k next year, particularly due to government funding changes.  Another key issue is the cost of subsidising the leisure centres whilst they recover from the effects of the pandemic.  

I raised specific issues around the need to consider demands on social housing, the relative lack of the urgency dealing with fly tipping, and need to give more priority to those who contact the Council by email or using e-forms.  I also raised the lack of any measures of economic health for the towns of Mid Sussex as this should be a priority for the Council.

I was pleased to get a commitment from CEO Kathryn Hall to include a sustainability appraisal in the Council’s assessment of capital projects after I highlighted the issue. Liberal Democrat Group Leader Councillor Alison Bennett and other opposition councillors highlighted the need for the Conservative council to take more account of sustainability issues.

The best of local Christmas lights?

Christmas lights in the ward raising funds for charity: the Christmas Wishes toy appeal on Maple Drive (take a tag off the Christmas tree to buy a present for a child in need) and the usual excellent display in St Peters Road raising funds for Friends of Woodlands Meed. Also possibly the best of other local displays such as Chestnut Close and Dumbrills Close.

Litter pickup

Litter picking today with a bag of rubbish collected from the bottom end of the footpath from Wivelsfield Station and some larger items reported to the District Council for collection – responding to a Fix My Street complaint. Managed to also collect some dumped brambles on Maple Drive. New litter picker put to use was broken in ten minutes (!) so in future will borrow one from the Town Council which can provide resources for community litter picks.

Liberal Democrats winning again

Last night’s Liberal Democrat parliamentary win in North Shropshire highlights a growing disgust with Boris Johnson and the current Conservative government, too often they have been found breaking their own rules, whether on Covid restrictions, or sleaze.  Only this week 99 Conservative MP’s voted against their own health advisors recommendations on tightening Covid restrictions in the face of the current Omicron wave, whilst at the same time putting forward proposals to weaken human rights legislation. 

The Conservative Party is dominated by Brexit headbangers who are isolating us from Europe, the planned rise in national insurance contributions means ordinary workers will pay more, whilst the Conservative’s business chums are let off the hook.  The government is dragging its heels on meaningful action to meet its climate change pledges and has failed to provide the resources that social care desperately needs.  On so many fronts this government is lacking, the byelection victory in North Shropshire on top of recent local success and a previous win in Chesham and Amersham shows Liberal Democrats offer a real alternative to Conservative omnishambles.

Burgess Hill’s Helppoint is relaunched on its 25th anniversary

Burgess Hill Town Council’s Helppoint has been given a makeover to provide better facilities and an enhanced shop window for local small businesses by offering an affordable platform to sell and promote their products.  The Helppoint continues to provide help and information for residents and and surgeries, including for Council Tax and Housing Benefit, Jobcentre Plus and local councillors – see the website or phone 01444 247726 for more details.

Burgess Hill Town Council’s new look Help Point was officially unveiled on 13 November 2021 celebrating its 25th Anniversary of being open to the public.  Burgess Hill Town Council’s Mayor Anne Eves initiated the proceedings with a speech detailing the history of the Help Point; its working partnerships with Sussex Police and Job Centre Plus, alongside the addition of a public terminal computer and said that “this marks an exciting era for the Help Point.”

Leader of the Council, Robert Eggleston said “The Burgess Hill Help Point has been a great asset for the town for twenty-five years but we recognised that there was a changing pattern of usage and so we decided to broaden its scope by bringing in more technology to support resident’s needs and provide more help remotely. We also wanted to create a shop front for our many excellent local craft and artisan businesses to help them grow and prosper, as well as supporting the wider town centre economy.” 

Mid Sussex MP votes to abolish independent sleaze oversight

Our MP, Mims Davies backed a brazen move to abolish the independent system for combating sleaze in parliament last Wednesday, in order to protect a Conservative MP who was found to have repeatedly breached lobbying rules.  She claims it is because the current system does not work and lacks natural justice.   Yet she voted to let off an MP who had received over £100,000 in fees to lobby for Randox Laboratories and replace independent oversight with a committee of Conservative MP’s.  This was not even a considered policy change but a move to let a fellow Conservative MP off after he had been found guilty of repeatedly, lobbying officials and ministers on behalf of paying clients, something that is expressly forbidden, and is effectively corrupt practice.

The MP in question, Owen Paterson, was paid to lobby for a company that was awarded two Covid testing contracts last year worth nearly £480m without the normal competition and that failed to deliver on a contract that resulted in the recall of 750,000 unsafe testing kits.  The Government has yet to set out how they will claw back taxpayers’ money that was wasted on this.

As Liberal Democrat chief whip, Wendy Chamberlain, said: “This looks like a clear attempt to weaken independent scrutiny ahead of investigations into other damaging Tory sleaze scandals, from dodgy Covid contracts to the refurbishment of Boris Johnson’s flat. The Conservatives are trying to make parliament’s watchdog toothless so it can no longer properly hold them to account.”

After the vote Government ministers lined up to effectively threaten the standards commissioner with the sack for having the temerity to do her job, our local MP should be defending those who uphold the standards of public life not voting to change the rules to favour Conservative colleagues.  It is no coincidence that Boris Johnson has had multiple run-ins with the standards commissioner, with his failure to properly record paid for holidays, “donations” for redecoration, and other potential breaches of parliamentary standards.  This is just as much about protecting Boris Johnson and it seems Mims Davies is quite willing to put protecting her party before protecting democracy.

Council Asset Management Policy causes local community group to close

At yesterday’s District Council meeting I raised the plight of Sheddingdean Community Association which is being wound up due to the understandable reluctance of the charity to take on a full repairing lease from the Council to extend its lease of Sheddingdean Community Centre.  I hope a lesson has been learnt in its premature action which has meant the loss of a valuable local community group and left the Council managing the hall itself.  Hall users will need to contact the Council directly from 18th November to hire the hall, its current services, most notably the Windmills Opportunity Playgroup, are unaffected. I highlighted this last night when the Council agreed a Community Management and Asset Transfer Policy urging that full discretion be given to provide fairer leases to community groups.

I urged the Council to take a more proactive role in dealing with the extended gap between the Martlets Hall demolition site, and any development taking place, and Liberal Democrats highlighted the concern of Burgess Hill residents in the lack of action when it is the Council as freeholder ultimately responsible for New River Retail developing the site.

I also highlighted the complacency of the Conservative Council in trumpeting the “low” level of fly-tipping in Mid Sussex, despite the reported figures going up by 50% in the first six months of this year and the failure to investigate evidence provided to it, with officers finally being trained this month to issue fixed penalty notices seven years after the policy was agreed by the Council!

Homes England lacking ambition on meeting net zero

With international climate talks on the horizon and gas prices skyrocketing, it is important that new homes are built to proper standards of energy conservation that anticipate the move to net zero carbon over the next few decades.   This also means building in domestic energy generation such as solar panels and heat pumps.  It is therefore concerning, that whilst the involvement of Homes England has generally been positive in ensuring new infrastructure to support the new houses in the Northern Arc, there is a big negative in not requiring developers to build houses that incorporate proper levels of energy conservation and microgeneration.

Why is a government agency still building houses schemes without any onsite renewable energy generation or insisting on low carbon homes, for example by using heat pumps?   These could be built into new homes at a fraction of the cost of reengineering existing housing, yet Homes England is ignoring calls from councillors of all parties to step up its game.  Government announcements today of the phasing out of gas boilers by 2035 means new homes are being built with heating systems which will be redundant in a few years, and developers should be forced to ensure proper standards for energy conservation.

Mid Sussex District Council could also support this process, council’s do have some ability for force developers to take action, for example some local authorities require all new housing developments and new developments for other uses of 100sqm floorspace or more to generate 30 per cent of their operational energy requirements through decentralised, district heating and, renewable and low-carbon energy sources.