District Council overpromised on gigabit fibre but its potential remains

Hopes of the early adoption of a gigabit capable Full Fibre digital network have been dashed, as it seems it will still be some time before the service will be commercialised for small businesses and domestic residents.  The announcement in 2020 that the District Council would “deliver gigabit speed broadband to more than 6,400 homes in Mid Sussex” has yet to materialise despite the Council announcing last May that the “network in Burgess Hill is now ready to use and will soon bring dramatically improved broadband connections to homes and businesses within the town”.

Although the bare bones of the network have been successfully delivered, and ‘dark fibre’ connections will be made available to provide broadband, network services and digital services, wider use is dependent upon operators assessing a business case to make the required investment to provide a service for small businesses and domestic consumers.

The Council now says the completion of the fibre link between Brighton and Burgess Hill, and for its Rural project, will be tested and completed in Spring 2022, and that connections will be available “based on suitable demand in each area from Autumn 2022.”  Businesses and domestic consumers can register an interest at https://cni.coop/ and this is particularly important as the level of interest will be used to assess potential demand.

We are lucky in Burgess Hill to already have fibre broadband delivered by Virgin Media, however the new network has the potential to bring faster, cheaper broadband connections, not just in Burgess Hill but Haywards Heath and some surrounding rural areas.  The Council needs to be careful not to over promise on the benefits to end users, as the ultimate service delivery is dependent upon its commercial partners, but I look forward to the expected benefits of this project being finally realised.

Housing developers still behind the curve on domestic energy generation

Visiting the Thakeham housing development at Woodgate in Pease Pottage highlights good “place making” with well-designed buildings focused on a village green, a new primary school and community facilities.  However, although the developer can provide ready fitted kitchens and furnishings as part of the package, it seems it is not currently willing to provide any solar panels or heat pumps, even as paid for extras.  To be fair, Thakeham did highlight their plans for new homes to be carbon neutral in lifetime operation by 2025, but it seems terribly short sighted at a time when energy prices are skyrocketing that home buyers cannot currently purchase new houses with these fitted even as optional extras.  

SID is back!

The Town Council’s Speed Indicator Display (SID) is back in action after getting new batteries. Complaints about speeding traffic on Sussex Way were raised with me at the Town Council’s Councillor Surgery, and it has now been temporarily installed to monitor traffic speeds on Sussex Way and deter speeding. This is a problem for pedestrians trying to cross Sussex Way between Howard Avenue and Saxby Road and I have asked Liberal Democrat County Councillor Stuart Condie to look into improved road safety measures. The SID is available for use across Burgess Hill – contact the Town Council if you have any suggestions on where to place it in future.

SID is currently in Sussex Way

Boris Johnson the tip of the iceberg, not the main problem

Our MP Mims Davies acts more like a backbencher rather than a minister at the heart of Boris Johnson’s government, however she cannot escape the fact that she presents as fully supporting a Prime Minister whose least misdemeanor is lying about partying at Number 10 whilst the country was in lock-down.  Boris Johnston led us into a Brexit that has proved to be an utter disaster, the country is now facing a cost of living catastrophe as inflation soars, and April’s national insurance increase will hit working people the hardest whilst letting the rich off the hook.  These are not isolated incidents but a series of policies promoted and agreed by a Conservative Party which has lost touch with ordinary people, that is the real problem.

Similarly on the District Council, the Conservative Party last month put forward proposals to massively increase local housing sites, giving Councillors a week to consider the proposals, and only withdrew them after it was clear opposition spearheaded by the Liberal Democrats was picking up support even from their own Conservative members.  As it was the Conservatives tried to close down scrutiny of the proposals, the meeting called to review them ended without any discussion of the plans, and it was only after Liberal Democrats proposed a working party to review them was passed by the committee with the help of renegade Conservative Councillors, that any proper scrutiny was agreed.

Proposals for the new housing sites

Rather than defending their policies, as the last Mid Sussex Council meeting highlighted, the Conservatives spent more time attacking the Liberal Democrats than defending their own policies.  At every meeting it seems Conservatives point out with glee that the Liberal Democrat policy is to build more houses than their own party.  However they miss the point, unlike the Conservatives, these targets would not be forced onto local authorities, which as their own leader acknowledged, gives developers too much power to pick and choose sites when there are already a million planning approvals which have not been used.   Too often the Government sides with developers, and no wonder when they have provided a fifth of the funding for the Conservative Party.

Maple Drive Fly tipping

I have asked the District Council to remove the fly tipped planks, which were left on the footpath between 183 and 185 Maple Drive. Fly tipping can be a single bin-bag of rubbish to large quantities of waste, but is illegal and costs us all money to remove as council tax payers. If you see someone fly tipping on public land, the Council will investigate and issue fixed penalty notices to offenders, email wastematters@midsussex.gov.uk with details and photographic evidence.

A few weeks ago I highlighted this fly tipped rubble below, which was dumped in the Cyprus Road car park, an all too often occurrence, if you see something suspicious don’t approach the culprits, but do try to get photographic evidence of anyone involved.

Waitng for gigabit capable Full Fibre broadband

At Wednesday’s Council meeting I raised the issue of when local small businesses and domestic customers might get access to the much-trumpeted gigabit capable Full Fibre digital network.  The District Council has successfully obtained millions in funding from the Government to install the infrastructure to provide full fibre broadband, and for Burgess Hill this was completed last May, but it seems the commercial roll out which originally promised for last summer has been delayed. High speed broadband will bring significant benefits for local businesses as well as consumers and I have asked the Council to confirm when the service will be available.

Holocaust Memorial Day

Attended today’s Holocaust Memorial Day event at Haywards Heath organised by Amnesty International so that we all come together to remember, to learn about the Holocaust, Nazi Persecution and the genocides that followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, in the hope that there may be One Day in the future with no genocide. Good to see members of all faiths and political outlook attending, organised by the Haywards Heath branch of Amnesty International and included representatives from Oathall Community College, Great Walstead School, Mid Sussex Islamic Centre and Masjid, St Wilfrid’s Church in Haywards Heath, Mid Sussex District Council, Burgess Hill Town Council and other members of the community. Poignant to hear the readings and consider how important it is that we learn from history particularly given events around the world that too often show a lack of respect for human life and human rights.

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.