Action needed on empty residential home

Ernest Kleinwort Court in Oakenfield closed in 2018 and has been left unused since, despite being a modern purpose-built residential facility built with charitable funds, I have raised concerns about the delay in reusing the site with the Disabilities Trust and have been told that proposals for the site will be brought forward shortly – I look forward with interest to see if promises that the site would continue to provide services for people with complex disabilities are met.

Action on Marle Place footpath

Pleased that after I raised the issue, that the District Council has clarified with the contractors to ensure the footpath through Marle Place is kept open as far as possible whilst the current work takes place, they have apologised to those inconvenienced when it was closed off over the weekend.  The route will need to be closed again this coming Wednesday morning until mid/late afternoon to allow for the final surfacing to be made. I understand the Council has reminded the contractors to ensure that clear closure signs are put in the appropriate places so people can divert before reaching the point of closure. The work is taking place to increase the width of the path and is part of the Place and Connectivity Programme to improve foot and cycle paths in the town.

Moss away?

Following concerns that I raised about the state of some of our smaller play areas I have been reassured by the District Council that work to improve some of our smaller play areas like Forge Way is underway, the extended closure due to the pandemic left it and some other play areas covered in moss and with minor repairs needed.  I understand the moss and toadstools has been treated and the hard areas will be swept this coming week .

Freeks Lane tidy up

Its good to see resident efforts to tidy up Freeks Lane, Liberal Democrat candidate Stuart Condie and myself took some time off from County Council election campaigning to clear up some plastic netting which was apparently left by contractors several years ago and become intertwined with vegetation, so we put some time into removing it this morning. Where possible we would prefer to hold the relevant authority to account but given the time that has passed this is not always possible.

All play areas are back open but did they have to close at all?

It’s excellent news to hear that all our playgrounds are reopening but why did Mid Sussex District Council interpret government guidelines so differently to their colleagues in Horsham?  Does cleaning playgrounds once a week really make them Covid secure? Did they need to be kept shut in the first place, and was £44,000 wasted on extra cleaning costs?  

Freedom of Information requests submitted to Mid Sussex District Council and Horsham District Council have revealed two starkly different approaches to ensuring children’s playgrounds were ‘covid secure’ when Government advice allowed them to be reopened following the end of the first lockdown in July 2020.

Horsham District Council reopened all fifty-two of its play areas last summer, spent no money on additional cleaning, and just £100 on signage.a Other councils have taken a similar approach.

Mid Sussex District Council decided upon a very different course of action. In the response to the Freedom of Information request they say, “We undertook an initial cleanse prior to opening each facility in July 2020, and since then have carried out a weekly cleanse of all play areas and outdoor gyms that have re-opened. In addition, we have purchased and installed permanent A3-sized signage at each entrance point, providing guidance on social distancing, hand hygiene and the safe use of the facilities.”b The cost of this up to the week commencing 25 January 2021 was £44,152. When asked how those costs were arrived at, Mid Sussex District Council responded, “The costs were obtained from the Council’s existing cleansing contractor, so were based on a commercial assessment of the operational requirements associated with a weekly deep clean.” b

However, Mid Sussex District Council only opened 57 of its 123 play areas last summer despite Liberal Democrats raising concerns about the impact of keeping so many closed, and stated on its website that it would be too expensive to open them all stating that it would cost more than £220,000 a year to clean them regularly to ensure that they are COVID safe.  A weekly cleaning regime was not required, as demonstrated by the approach of Horsham District Council and other local authorities. In addition there is no evidence that this is more effective in reducing coronavirus transmission than no cleaning regime given the number of people who would use the playgrounds between cleans.

Play Charity, Play England wrote to all local authorities in England in January 2021 asked that all playgrounds remain open “to reduce the catastrophic impact of COVID and lockdown on children’s physical and mental health and wellbeing”.c Their letter also highlighted the impact of playground closures on the most disadvantaged children – those with limited space at home, no access to a garden or disabled children – to which access to these playgrounds are “often a lifeline”. Mid Sussex District Council failed to carry out an equality impact assessment to understand the impact of their decision to close play areas on the children in our community.

Residents in Burgess Hill have been especially hard hit by Mid Sussex District Council’s decision to keep over half of its playgrounds closed. When the location of the closed playgrounds is plotted on to a mapd, it is clear that the playgrounds in Burgess Hill were much more likely to be kept shut with 79% shut in Burgess Hill, 50% shut Haywards Heath, 36% shut in East Grinstead and 19% shut in the outlying villages.

Could you become a local councillor?

In local government Liberal Democrats are working hard for local people, standing up for our communities and making sure everyone knows the difference the Lib Dems can make. As Lib Dem councillors we are proud to serve our communities and set high standards for ourselves. We are part of shaping the future of our communities, villages, towns and cities. We also are hugely important in supporting and upholding the principles of liberal democracy in action. Local government is undergoing huge changes and challenges. It is more important than ever that Lib Dems are there to remind everyone that local government is there for local people. Representing local people and campaigning with them is what we do best.

You may already be a campaigner, community activist, involved in your local church or mosque, or a local school governor. You might help to deliver leaflets or organising events. If so, you already have a great basis for taking up public office and becoming a Lib Dem councillor. But ultimately, if you really care about your area, and want work to make it the best place it can be, becoming a Lib Dem councillor could be for you.

In our area there are three tiers of local authority – county, district and town or parish.  Each has different responsibilities, West Sussex County Council is social care, highways (so pot holes), education, children and families, libraries, etc.  Download the free West Sussex app from your app store to report potholes and other problems.  If you browse the relevant council websites, review committee papers and minutes all available on line, scrutiny and planning meetings, details of planning applications are online at Mid Sussex Council – for major planning applications the design and access statement and submissions from interested parties. Mid Sussex District Council is responsible for planning, refuse collection, housing, leisure; and Burgess Hill Town Council supports our local community, the town centre, allotments and the burial ground.

The current 2021 elections are for the County Council so prospective candidates have already been selected.   An allowance is paid to councillors so this should be treated as a part time job, much of the work is flexible other than attendance at council meetings (although you have a statutory right for your employer to give you time off) but the responsibility is as much putting forward the views of your area, dealing with casework and representing the council.   Before you become a councillor you need to become a campaigner, there is much you can do as a concerned member of the public, sign up for the appropriate council newsletter, respond to consultation exercises, planning applications and report issues with specific potholes and other issues directly to the council as well as raising these with elected member. 

To become a councillor, you need to be elected, usually as a member of a political party, although possibly as an independent but as a councillor you should be part of a network so acting alone makes it significantly harder.  There will also be opportunities over the next two years to become a town councillor or district councillor.  Joining a political party will give you the opportunity to become involved in campaigning and to speak in more detail to local councillors.  Each party will have a support network for campaigners and councillors, for example https://www.aldc.org/ .

Becoming a local councillor:

https://www.gov.uk/government/get-involved/take-part/become-a-councillor
https://www.westsussex.gov.uk/about-the-council/county-councillors/become-a-county-councillor/

Central and South Mid Sussex County Local Committee –  a local committee of West Sussex County Council:

https://westsussex.moderngov.co.uk/ieListMeetings.aspx?CommitteeId=183

Mid Sussex District Council – details of meetings

http://midsussex.moderngov.co.uk/ieDocHome.aspx?Categories=

Burgess Hill Town Council

https://www.burgesshill.gov.uk/meetingsagendasminutes

Sussex Police Commissioner – time for change

Elections for the Sussex police and crime commissioner take place in May and Liberal Democrats candidate Jamie Bennett, a councillor on Arun District Council, is the Lib Dems’ candidate for the election.  Mr Bennett said, “I want to bring back community policing, get drugs off our streets by cutting County Lines and deliver a fairer deal for Sussex.

“Theresa May’s failed police and crime commissioner experiment has been a disaster for Sussex policing. We have seen the police force’s share of our council tax bills rocket, yet we have nothing to show for our money but rising crime, more drugs and fewer police on our streets.

“As a Lib Dem councillor in Arun, I have seen at first hand the impact of withdrawing community policing and increasing lawlessness on our streets. These have been exacerbated by Conservative cuts to youth services, mental health and road safety at West Sussex County Council.”

It is particularly important we have a change of commissioner when we have seen ongoing above inflation council tax increases to pay for the service culminating in this year’s 7.5% increase – local residents are being left to pick up the bill of the current commissioner’s excesses.

A sustainable economic growth strategy?

Tonight ’s scrutiny meeting focused on Mid Sussex District Council’s sustainability strategy or rather the sustainable economic strategy, as it wishes to merge economic strategy with its sustainability strategy.   It will be challenging to ensure that economic issues do not dominate – I still have my doubts about combining these targets given the different and sometimes conflicting aims – the details now need to be gone through by a working party. 

I was pleased to see the Council take on my suggestion of getting environmental issues explicitly considered when the council makes a formal decision, in terms of a section on any relevant report to outline environmental considerations.   However, the existing Council policy of carbon neutral by 2050 is somewhat unambitious, particularly as West Sussex County Council has committed to being carbon neutral by 2030, and my original attempt to get a similar commitment from the District Council in 2019 was not supported by the Conservative administration. 

The Coronavirus has had an impact across all council services including recycling and I highlighted the Council’s current performance on the percentage of domestic waste going to recycling, this has fallen back slightly to 42% when comparing with the target in its strategy of 50% by 2020 and a national average of 45%.  More time spent at home and charity shop closures have perhaps meant more rubbish being generated.  However, the Council has languished at near this rate for several years so further work needs to be done to promote reuse and recycling. 

That is not to deny that positives such as the small electrical waste collection on the same day as the refuse collection, and the possibility of an expansion to include textile recycling would be a good addition, as well as a separate food waste collection, which was timetabled for a pilot to begin last year, but delayed due to the pandemic.   However, there may also be painful decisions to reduce the frequency of refuse collections if the council is to find savings to finance the current gap in its income, although these have not been muted yet.