Agenda for next week’s @southkesteven full council.

Just the 274 pages this month (plus Local Plan appendix)

All 56 Councillors have been sent these documents, mostly through the post. The documents include the entire Local Plan which is quite a handy document to have on the shelf although it would be more useful as a separate distinct document.

The late Cllr Terl Bryant, back in November, did question the Leader on the volume of paper:

“Members’ Open Questions –

Question 3

Councillor Bryant referred to the inclusion of Cabinet reports and minutes in the Council agenda and the amount of paper that was used as a result. He highlighted that the information was already available, speculated about the number of people who read the full pack of documents and asked whether it was necessary.

The Leader stated that he was attempting to make sure that information was available to all Councillors, whether or not they chose to read it.”

May 2018 – Report to Market Deeping Town Council

Arguably the most important thing to mention this month is the residents’ survey which SKDC has launched to ask what local people think of the services it provides. Please click the link and fill it in.

Here’s some of what I’ve been up to since last month…

Shareholder Committee – 17th April 2018

This meeting concerned the Council controlled company ‘Gravitas Housing Ltd’. There was a very short published agenda which was expected to take place mostly ‘in camera’ due to the commercially sensitive nature of the debate. However, under ‘matters arising from the minutes’ I asked why the agenda had no mention of either the Shareholders’ Workshop which had been held behind closed doors in January, nor a revised business plan, nor any details of the potential for Gravitas to build new Council housing which was an idea proposed at a Cabinet meeting in January. I was pleased to hear some Conservative colleagues echo my concerns and Officers promised that these issues would be properly addressed at a future meeting.

Deepings Litter Pick – 22nd April 2018

The community litter pick had been postponed due to inclement weather. About 25 people turned out to tidy up the town and village with litter picking equipment supplied by District, Town and Parish Councils and doughnuts supplied by the Old Bakery in Deeping St James.

Environment overview and scrutiny committee – 24 April 2018

Finally this committee got round to discussing street lighting in public. After almost a year of meetings, it was decided to gradually replace the bulbs with LED equivalents. A Street Lighting Policy I had redrafted was agreed and recommended to the SKDC Cabinet for adoption. The policy includes a commitment to keeping the lights on during the hours of darkness which is a significant improvement on an early report by the committee Chair which offered four options, all of which recommended turning the lights off around midnight.

Representatives of the county council attended the meeting to give a presentation about the draft Lincolnshire waste and recycling strategy. Many questions were asked about the future of the green and silver bin system

At my request, the committee also discussed briefly the grounds maintenance contract which is due to end in February 2019. I suggested that new contract arrangements should be more flexible to enable partnership working with town and parish councils and also inform variations to allow pilot schemes for wildflower areas, fire diversity et cetera. It was agreed that the grounds maintenance contract arrangement should be discussed in more detail at a future meeting. The separate but related issue of biodiversity will also be added to the work plan for the scrutiny group.

Development Management Meeting – 1st May 2018

Planning applications including the following:

  • An application for a 30-place pre-school nursery on Swallow Hill in Thurlby was approved
  • A residential development of 11 bungalows on the outskirts of Grantham was refused, partly because there was no attempt to provide any social housing or to comply with the Council’s policy on social housing. The application was interesting because the site was defined as being in ‘open countryside’ even though it was sandwiched between a Volvo garage, a site approved for a large retail village, the A1 and Grantham itself.
  • Approval was granted for six dwellings on the edge of Castle Bytham.

Full Council – 24th May 2018

The annual meeting of SKDC Full Council is scheduled for May 24th. I have submitted a motion calling for a Community Governance Review in order to establish whether Grantham should have an independent Town Council.

Annual Town and Parish Meetings

I was pleased to attend the Annual Town Meeting of Market Deeping on May 1st and the Annual Parish Meeting of Deeping St James on May 8th. On Monday 14th May, I intend to attend the Annual Parish Meeting for West Deeping.

 

As ever, if you need any further information please get in touch.

 

Cllr Ashley Baxter
Independent District Councillor
for Market and West Deeping
07799 077090
a.baxter@southkesteven.gov.uk

 

 

 

Deeping St James Annual Parish Meeting

Under the terms of the Local Government Act, 1972, each Town and Parish Council across the country is obliged to hold an annual public meeting on a date between 1st March and 1st June. Deeping St James held its Annual Parish Meeting on 8th May 2018 at the Deepings School.

IMG_0562

Over 130 people attended the meeting including:

  • Many local residents
  • Nominees for the annual ‘Making a Difference’ awards
  • Children and parents from Deeping St James CP School
  • Most Parish Councillors, some District Councillors (including me) and the Conservative County Councillor (although he arrived late and only stayed for 30 minutes).
  • Representatives of local community organisations including the Lions, scouts etc
  • ‘Distinguished guests’ including: the Chair of SKDC; the Chair of LCC; the Mayor of Market Deeping; representatives of the Woodland Trust; and two Senior Officers from SKDC also attended.

The meeting began with a minute’s silence to remember a number of Deeping St James villagers who had died since the last APM.

Cllr Andrew Bowell then opened the meeting with a welcome and a short illustrated presentation about the Parish Council’s activities and achievements during the year. One of the highlights was the opening of a £135,000 state-of-the-art skate park at Woody Heights on Linchfield Road.

Then came the best bit of the evening. Anyone still suffering the illusion that this was a meeting about parking, litter and grass cutting was about to realise that they do things differently in Deeping St James. A musical interlude from the very talented school band of children and staff from Deeping St James Community Primary School rocked the house with three classic covers from their repertoire including “I love rock and roll” and Tina Turner’s “Rolling down the River”. These youngsters were a very hard act to follow…

…but they were followed by three varied and interesting presentations:

  • Kaye Brennan of the Woodland Trust explained the ‘Charter for Trees’ which had been signed by DSJ Parish Council in November last year
  • Pam Byrd of Deepings First gave a brief overview of the Deepings Neighbourhood Plan including the of the Deepings Green Walk project to enhance and consolidate the network of pedestrian and cycle routes across the Deepings.
  • Andrew Norman, recently appointed Head of Visitor Economy at SKDC, outlined his challenge and aspirations from promoting tourism across the District.

The rest of the meeting was devoted to the popular ‘Making A Difference Awards’. The MAD awards have been presented annually since 2009 and are designed to celebrate the friendly and genorous community that make up the village.

This year there were many nominations in five categories. Each nominee was presented with a certificate while the winner in each category was given a small trophy.

  • MAD Special Award to ‘Sossie’, a friendly dog who had led her owner, Clive the baker, to a collapsed person who required urgent medical attention.
  • MAD Young Person (under 19) – Harriett Spriggs who had completed a ‘coast-to-coast’ cycle ride in aid of the Root4Ryley charity.
  • MAD Citizen – Bob Parmenter and Betty Fenech who are long-time volunteers for Deepings Age Concern.
  • MAD Organisation – The Forget-me-not club which has run monthly for elderly people for many years.
  • MAD in the course of doing their job – This award went to Dave Blessett, who recently retired after decades as caretaker of the Deepings School.

Not satisfied with celebrating so many people and animals in the village, the next item on the agenda concerned trees in the village. Parish and District Cllr Judy Stevens announced the winner of ‘Deeping St James favourite tree’. Before the meeting started, attendees had the opportunity to choose between 10 trees nominated from around the village via Facebook. Cllr Stevens revealed that one of the 10 trees was, shock horror, not in Deeping St James but was actually across the river in Deeping Gate. This tree should have been disqualified if not immediately chopped down to the root! Fortunately for the tree, the generous adjudicators allowed it to remain in the competition which it lost. The winning tree was a willow which I am sure would have been weeping with joy and surprise when it heard the news (Just to be clear, the trees were not expected to attend the meeting).

All that remained was to draw the raffle and for Cllr Mike Ward, Deputy Chair of DSJ Parish Council, to propose a Vote of Thanks to all involved.

 

After the meeting, attendees were offered tea, coffee and cakes prepared by Margaret Flegg. There was also an opportunity to browse community stalls including the Deeping Lions, Deepings Age Concern and the Woodland Trust.

If you have never attended the Deeping St James Annual Parish Meeting, I really recommend you put it in your diary for 2019. It is a really positive celebration, of all that goes on in the village during the year.

Market Deeping Annual Town Meeting

Under the terms of the Local Government Act, 1972, each Town and Parish Council across the country is obliged to hold an annual public meeting on a date between 1st March and 1st June. Market Deeping held its Annual Town Meeting on 1st May at the Green School in the Town.IMG_0529

Almost 70 people attended the meeting including several Councillors, representatives of local organisations, some residents of the Town and a few interlopers from the neighbouring parish of Deeping St James.

Before the meeting, attendees were offered refreshments and an opportunity to browse stalls from the Royal British Legion, Deepings Youth Centre, Lincolnshire Credit Union and other local groups.

Mayor Pauline Redshaw opened the meeting with a welcome and a few words about her mayoral year which comes to an end next week. Cllr Redshaw expressed disappointment about criticism of the Council on social media and urged residents to approach the Town Clerk if they had a problem with Council services.

As a District Councillor I pick up a lot of relevant information and local issues from Facebook and Twitter as well as reading a wide range of opinions and ideas from constituents. So no offence to Cllr Redshaw, but this is the 21st century and, rather than decrying or ignoring social media, perhaps the Council could consider how to engage with it more effectively?

The introduction was followed by a mercifully brief report from the Chair of the Amenities and Open Spaces Sub-Committee. Cllr Broughton began by declaring that a written report had been circulated and he hoped we had all read it. Given that there were almost seventy people in the room and probably fewer than 30 copies of the agenda and reports, I was probably not the only person who had not read it. Notwithstanding the lack of paperwork, Cllr Broughton gave an update on recent issues including firstly the planting of a hedge and widening of the footpath opposite William Hildyard school. This was offered as an excellent example of partnership working as volunteers, including Councillors, had planted the new hedge and the County Council had laid the new footpath soon afterwards. Secondly Cllr Broughton reported that an ongoing case of ‘unauthorised parking’ (of travellers) on the old Baston End Road was being addressed by the appropriate officers of the District and County Council who were ensuring that due legal process was being followed

Next was the turn of the Chair of Planning and Highways Sub-Committee. Cllr David Shelton informed the meeting that the formal consultation on the Local Plan is imminent and encouraged residents to engage with the process which will include local exhibitions, online consultations etc. He also brought residents up-to-date with progress on the Deepings Neighbourhood Plan.

Cllr Roy Stephenson followed with his annual report from the Town Hall and Cemeteries Sub-Committee. On behalf of his committee, he boasted of the new chipper purchased to reduce the financial and environmental costs of green waste disposal. Most of the Council’s green waste is now recycled… as are many of Cllr Stephenson’s jokes! (and I’m sure he won’t mind me saying so). The other big news from this Sub-Committee is that the Town Hall door has been repainted and now opens without any need for brute force.

Reports from formal committees were followed by feedback from Cllr Virginia Moran about the ongoing SKDC consultation relating to a proposed Saturday market in the old market place. Over 300 responses have been received and nearly all of them favourable. With a fair wind the weekly market could start this September. Stall-holders at the Wednesday market will be invited, along with others, to sell goods at the Saturday market if and when it goes ahead.

Pam Byrd of the Deepings First Neighbourhood Planning Group gave a brief explanation  of the Deepings Green Walk project to enhance and consolidate the network of pedestrian and cycle routes across the Deepings.

Cllr Nick Neilson had been scheduled to address the meeting about the SKDC Members Ward Budget scheme but was unable to attend the meeting. Consequently, Cllr Ashley Baxter (that’s me, folks!) stepped in to outline how the scheme works i.e. each of the 56 SKDC Councillors has been allocated £1,000 to spend on community projects for the benefit of their ward. Cllr Baxter explained to the meeting that organisations interested in receiving funding through the scheme could approach any, or all, of their District Councillors. It is perfectly possible that, aside from the aforementioned £1,000, the ward Councillor might be able to signpost people to other available community funding pots, e.g. Tesco Bags of Help, SKDC Community fund etc.

Sgt Emma-Jayne Crisp gave a short presentation summarising the key priorities for policing in the Deepings. She said that although her team have to deal issues of Anti-Social Behaviour, burglary etc, we should remember that the Deepings is still a lovely place to live and work (Amen to that!).

With presentations and speeches completed, Cllr Redshaw opened the meeting to questions from the floor. The first question was about the attendance and activities of the Deepings Youth Club and was answered by Kate Jacobs who is a member of staff at DYC.

The second question was asked by Pam Steel on behalf of the Friends of Millfield. Mrs Steel summarised the current situation concerning the Millfield site including the ongoing Village Green application. She asked if the Council, as a corporate entity, would continue to support the protection of Millfield against development. Cllr Redshaw stated publicly that the Council intended to do so.

Another question concerned Footpath 4 which had been mentioned during Cllr Shelton’s speech. Footpath 4 is the link path between John Eve Field and Linchfield Road which has been built over by Tesco and Persimmon leaving only a narrow path with an adverse camber between hundreds of new houses and the local primary schools. Cllr Adam Brookes has done a lot of work on this issue and valiantly attempted to explain a relatively complex issue in a concise manner. The issue is explained in more detail on Cllr Brookes’ blog.

A few more questions from the floor completed the meeting. On the whole, it was an upbeat and informative meeting although it suffered some verbosity. There was plenty of opportunity to ask questions to Councillors and community organisations before and after the meeting. In some ways it was a shame that more people didn’t attend the meeting.

On the other hand, it is just as well more people didn’t attend as the Green School was barely sufficient for the number of people and the type of meeting. Last year the event was held at the Deepings Community Centre which has more chairs and better acoustics. Even the Coronation Hall might have been more appropriate; it would at least have comfortably seated all those who wished to attend. It also has better parking.

However my main criticism of the Market Deeping Town Meeting is the lack of any kind of visual aid. Where else, in this day and age, would you expect 70 people to listen in virtual silence to a series of speeches of up to 20 minutes in length with no powerpoint, video or any other prop?

At the end of the meeting I looked around the room and discovered that I was probably among the five youngest attendees (and I’m almost 50!). Occasionally people bemoan the fact that there aren’t more young people involved in community activities and politics. Sadly, people under 50 are not likely to engage with a system which proudly rejects social media, powerpoint and everything else the 21st century has to offer. Perhaps next year, the Annual Town Meeting should be replaced by a webinar?!

How many meetings does it take to change a lightbulb?

In April 2018, a leadership coup within the Conservative group led to a restructure of the SKDC Executive and committee system. The restructure increased the size of the Cabinet and increased the numbers of committees which, in turn, increased the cost of Members’ Special Allowances (e.g. for committee Chairs) by almost £50,000/year.

In an e-mail about car parking, one of the new Cabinet members informed me:

“There is a new administration in place.
An administration of doers rather than talkers”

Let me recount the journey the Council has taken, so far, towards making a decision about street lights and you can decide for yourself whether the Council has acheived an appropriate balance between ‘talking’ and ‘doing’.

The District Council is responsible for 3,593 streetlights which are independent of the County Council (plus a few more relating to Council housing). Many parish councils have more lights to add to the tally. You might wonder why we have three tiers of local government each managing similar services but the reasons why Lincolnshire’s Conservatives do not wish to abolish the County Council is a whole different story.

Meeting #1 – 23rd May 2017

The EnvOSC meeting was on 23rd May, and while considering their remit and work programme they agreed an action point:

“that street lighting should be an agenda item for the next meeting.”

Meeting #2 – 18th July 2017

The next meeting of ENVOSC received a report on Street Lighting from the relevant portfolio holder. The report included a 56-page appendix listing the location of each and every streetlight.

After some discussion, the Committee recommendation was as follows:

“That Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee consider the options available
at a future meeting and review further analysis on the options
in order to recommend a course of action to the cabinet.”

Meeting #3 – 26th September 2017

Despite the aforementioned decision, Street Lighting was not an agenda item for this meeting. However, I raised the issue as a matter arising from the minutes of the previous meeting. The committee was told:

“Tender specifications had been sent to three contractors and it was agreed that the tender specicification would be supplied to an interested Councillor (Ashley Baxter) by e-mail. Street lighting would be included on the Committee’s agenda for November 2017.”

After the meeting I had a telephone conversation with a confused officer who had not been invited to the meeting but had been given the task of sending me the tender specifications. This was difficult because no such specifications existed and consequently they hadn’t been sent to three contractors after all. There was a maintenance contract which was being reviewed but I agreed with the officer that this was not the same thing at all.

Meeting #4 – 5th December 2017

At the start of the meeting, the Chair of the meeting apologised that the ‘tender specifications for street lighting’ I had been promised were ‘unfortunately not available’.

We then proceeded to the next agenda item which concerned a report from the Chair on the subject of street lighting. The report proposed 5 options. The first four options involved turning off the lights between midnight and 5.30 each night. The fifth option was to do nothing at all.

I am pleased to say that I had done my homework before this meeting and circulated a spreadsheet of the options A-D with an additional proposal I called “Option X”. This option suggested replacing the lamps with energy efficient alternatives but keeping all the lights on during the hours of darkness.

You might think this would have been an ideal opportunity to read the report, discuss the options and make a decision. Unfortunately, the recommendation of the report was to hold a members’ workshop, behind closed doors, and report back to a public meeting at a later date.

The recommendation was:

That the Environment Overview & Scrutiny Committee considers the options
and propose a working group be convened to consider the options in more detail.

I voted against this recommendation because I could see no reason why a proper debate over street-lighting couldn’t have taken place immediately and in public.

Cllr Craft (SK Ind) agreed with me and, after voting against the proposal, declared the whole meeting a farce and walked out. This meeting was reported in the Grantham Journal.

After the meeting, I met with Officers in order to compare notes and ensure the figures I was proposing as Option X tallied with their figures they had used in their report (I am not counting this kind of informal meeting towards the total number of meetings)

A date of January 16th was agreed for the workshop but this was later postponed to the genuine illness of some of the would-be participants.

Meetings #6 – 25th January

During a Full Council meeting, Cllr Matthew Lee (Con) who is leader of the council, declared that he was not personally in favour of turning of SKDC street-lights overnight. This was a helpful comment because it sent a clear signal to his Conservative colleagues, and to Council officers, that a decision to turn off lights during the hours of darkness would not be warmly welcomed by cabinet. He was keen to point out that his comments reflected his own opinion and shouldn’t prejudice the decision of EnvOSC but thankfully they probably did just that.

Meetings #7 and #8 – 20th February 2018

The next public meeting EnvOSC was held at 10.30 and street lighting was not on the agenda although Cllr Craft reiterated his opinion that a workshop was unnecessary.

The public meeting was immediately followed by a members workshop. This was effectively a confidential meeting to discuss street-lighting options. However, I don’t think I betray any secrets if I recount that a) I personally argued that we should not consider any option which involved switching off the majority of streetslights during the hours of darkness; and b) the only meaningful decision of the confidential members workshop was to hold another confidential workshop!

Meeting #9 – 27th March 2018

Due to family commitments, I was unable to attend the second members workshop and I wouldn’t be allowed to report on the secret  meeting even if I had been there.

Meeting #10 – 24th April 2018

Finally, the Committee were able to to discuss a report explaining the street lighting issues resulting from the two previous secret workshops. This included a short appendix with a street lighting policy. The recommendation to Cabinet was to proceed with replacing existing lamps with LEDs as and when each light reaches the end of life.

Once again I had done my homework and rewritten the proposed street lighting policy to include a commitment to

“to ensure SKDC street lights provide illuination during the hours of darkness.”

I proposed that this revised draft of the policy (Street lighting policy amended) be recommended for adoption by the Council and I am pleased to say that, by a narrow majority, the Committee agreed with the recommendation.

Meetings #11 and beyond

The recommendations will now be handed over to the Cabinet who will consider the matter again, probably on 10th May 2018. Hopefully, they will respect the decision of the Overview & Scrutiny Group and adopt the Street Lighting Policy without significant amendment.

The policy includes a commitment that lighting is properly maintained, increasingly energy efficient and also that it should ‘provide illumination during the hours of darkness’. Five years ago, all this would have been taken for granted, but in Lincolnshire we have a Conservative County Council who have decided that lighting roads and footpaths at night is a luxury we cannot afford and consequently thousands of them are turned off around midnight each night.

After a year of meetings, South Kesteven appears is on the brink of deciding that street lights should provide illumination whenever it’s dark!

April 2018 – Report to Market Deeping Town Council

A relatively short report this month as there are 84 days between the last SKDC Full Council meeting and the next which is scheduled for May 24th.

Secret Street Lighting Workshop – 27th March 2018

Another meeting took place, behind closed doors, to consider various options for reducing energy used by street-lighting. I was unable to attend this meeting due to family commitments and I am not permitted to share details of what was discussed during the workshop. The recommendations will be presented to the Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee scheduled for Tuesday, 24th April where hopefully the issue will be resolved positively after almost a year of procrastination.

Development Management Meeting – 3rd April 2018

A six hour meeting discussing a variety of planning applications including the following:

  • Outline permission was granted for 145 homes in Deeping St James. This is significantly more than proposed for the same area in the earlier Site Allocations documents but, even with the higher number, it appears possible to achieve a lower density of housing than on the neighbouring Burchnall Close and Campion Drive area.
    It was encouraging to see residents from the Deepings travelling up to Grantham to express their opinions to the Development Committee in person. These people included representatives of the Neighbourhood Planning group, the Deeping St James Parish Council as well as Town Councillor, Adam Brookes. All spoke in favour of cycle ways and green walks on the site, as did I, and I was pleased that a condition was imposed to ensure a proper pedestrian and cycle way will be installed across the Northern and Eastern boundaries of the site.
  • A disabled access ramp for Stamford Methodist church was deferred as it was believed by some councillors that a more appropriate design could be achieved.
  • There was much discussion about a retrospective planning application and listed building consent for an extension to a 19th century dovecote in Old Somerby. The applicant was Conservative Councillor Peter Stephens who had previously made a similar application but for some reason it had been built 2m higher than originally planned, out of different materials and with a different configuration of doors and windows. This infringement had come to the notice of the council’s enforcement officers hence the retrospective application.
  • An eco-house in Castle Bytham was discussed for a second time because the original planning report had neglected to mention that the site was in a Conservation Area. I had asked about the Conservation Area during the meeting and I sent a follow-up e-mail after the meeting which exposed the error.

Combined Overview and Scrutiny Meeting – 9th April 2018

This meeting was convened for the purpose of discussing the Council’s new Corporate Strategy.
http://moderngov.southkesteven.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=649&MId=3586

Friends of Mill Field

Cllr Neilson and I attended a meeting with Cllr Mike King (Con), SKDC Portfolio holder for Planning, alongside members of the ‘Friends of Millfield’ campaign group. I found the meeting mildly encouraging in terms of the District Council’s ongoing neutral position, although it is clear that this site will probably remain contentious for many years to come. It seems clear that the County Council want to sell it for housing against the wishes of local people who regularly use the site for recreation purposes.

SK Today and Media Training

On receiving the recent copy of SK Today I was very disappointed that there was barely a mention of events or activities, past, present or planned, in the Deepings. I wrote an e-mail and a blogpost about the ongoing and lamentable under-reporting of the Deepings by the SKDC Communications Team. This led to a rather frosty meeting with the Conservative Portfolio Holder for Communications and Engagement along with a Senior Member of the Communications Team.  The message I gleaned from the meeting was that if we want SKDC to promote events in the Deepings then people, particularly Deepings councillors, need to prepare ‘oven-ready’ stories for wider distribution and publication in SK Today, Parish Update and the weekly SK staff bulletin ‘Evolve’. After the meeting I sent an article about the DSJ Parish Meeting and ‘Making A Difference’ awards which I am pleased to say has attracted coverage in ‘Evolve’. Consequently I am hopeful that we will see more coverage of the Deepings, as well as the other smaller towns in future SK publications.

South Kesteven On Tour

Following my motion to the Full Council in November encouraging the council to organise some of its committee meetings in the smaller towns, I am pleased to report that the next Cabinet meeting is scheduled to take place on Thursday 12th April at Bourne Corn Exchange. This will likely be followed by some other meetings when the Grantham offices undergo refurbishment later in the year.

The cabinet meeting will discuss a new resident engagement strategy which will set out how the Council hopes to engage with its housing tenants.

As ever, if you need any further information please get in touch.

 

Cllr Ashley Baxter
Independent District Councillor
for Market and West Deeping
07799 077090
a.baxter@southkesteven.gov.uk

Tory U-Turn on Members’ Ward Budgets

Conservatives at South Kesteven District Council have ‘seen the light’ regarding budgets for Ward Members to distribute to projects within their wards. The U-turn means that all councillors will have the opportunity to allocate up to £1,000 to local good causes during the 12-months leading up to the next District Council elections. Details of the scheme have been published by the Stamford Mercury.

Many of these Councillors are the very same Tories who voted, en bloc, against an almost identical scheme which was proposed by an Independent Councillor four years ago.

Here is an excerpt from the minutes of the SKDC Budget meeting of 3rd March, 2014.

Tory U-Turn Ward Fund

This time round the scheme has been recommended by the Communities Overview and Scrutiny Group which discussed the findings of a ‘Members Working Group’ on the issue. The ‘Working Group’ was a private meeting, not publicised beyond the committee and was attended by only one councillor who, coincidentally, was one of the Tories who had voted against the scheme four years earlier.

Personally, I opposed the decision to introduce the ward members’ budget on more than one occasion. I think it looks bad to introduce it in the year before an election and in times of austerity. There is also plenty of scope for confusion among the press and members of the public concerning who is being ‘generous’ as shown in an article relating to a similar scheme administered by South Holland District Council.

Youngsters at a Spalding special school are benefitting from new swimming equipment thanks to a generous donation from a councillor.”

However, now that the decision has been made I will certainly do my best to repatriate ‘my share’ to good causes in the Deepings.

Stamford electors choose ‘None of the Above’

Here is the text of a letter I sent to Stamford Mercury this week concerning the recent low turnout in the two Stamford by-elections in St John’s Ward (20.8%) and St George’s Ward (17.2%) …

“Dear Editor

Congratulations to Rachael Cooke and David Taylor on winning the Stamford by-elections last week. I genuinely hope they make a positive difference to the quality of representation at South Kesteven District Council.

Sadly, their mandate has already been undermined by most people in Stamford. Despite the recent hyperbole about taking back control and the importance of a centenary of women’s suffrage, fewer than twenty percent of eligible voters turned out last week and fewer than one in ten residents expressed a preference for either of the aforementioned candidates.

I can understand why people are disillusioned with the current archaic electoral system.  Due to absence of proportional representation, most people do not get the person or party we voted for at either local or national level. At last year’s Lincolnshire County elections the Conservatives gained 54 percent of the vote but collected over 80 per cent of the seats. This situation cannot be accurately described as representative democracy.

Another reason for public disengagement is the mostly unfair portrayal of politicians by the media as being self-interested, corrupt and disconnected. Anyone who witnesses the passion, patience and attention to detail displayed by Councillors at almost any meeting will understand local politics is not about fame or fortune.

Finally, people don’t vote because they don’t think it makes any difference. Recent high profile planning cases such as Kettering Road where inspectors have over-ruled the decisions of councillors do cause one to wonder but there are plenty of sensible planning decisions which are upheld on appeal and consequently do not attract attention in the press. Furthermore, even a lowly backbench Independent like me can influence decision making and occasionally put forward and win an argument for change.

Come on, Stamford! If you are unhappy with the hegemony of the Lincolnshire Tories then get involved. Turn up to the meetings, write to your Councillors, even stand for election if you like, but most importantly make sure you vote. Every Councillor does make a difference for better or for worse and voter apathy can cost lives.

Yours faithfully,

Cllr Ashley Baxter (Ind)
Market & West Deeping Ward”

SK Today – Response

The Communications Team at SK have sent a reply to my e-mail. They have requested I publish it here which I am more than happy to do.

The response spends a lot of time defending the stories about Grantham and argues that perhaps they are relevant to residents of the Deepings. If that’s the case, I would argue that the main reason they are relevant is that Deepings residents help to pay for Grantham activities in one way or another. That would be fine if the Deepings was not ignored… but it is!

I am not really concerned about the plethora of stories about Grantham but rather the dearth of stories about the rest of the District and particularly the Deepings. Two of the reasons for the lack of stories from the deep south are: a) there isn’t much SKDC activity in the Deepings; and b) even if there was, many officers aren’t aware of what’s happening as they rarely find reason to venture out of Grantham.

Last year, if I am not mistaken, the Council published only three press releases specifically about the Deepings. All of them concerned the Literary Festival which took place last April (There may have been others about the Local Plan consultation and the Big Clean project in the Deepings but those related to District-wide projects).

I have personally tried to counteract this problem by sending e-mails (with various shades of grumpiness), suggesting stories for inclusion. These include the duck race, the carnival, the leisure centre, Jubilee Park and the Deepings Raft Race. The latter is one of the biggest and best volunteer events in the region. After speaking to some of the raft race committee I asked South Kesteven if they could support the event. After long exchange of e-mails SKDC offered to supply some bin bags and litter-pickers..  but only if they could be collected from Grantham! That story perhaps deserves a little more context but the gist reinforces my repeated argument that, for many (not all) officers at Grantham, the Deepings is out-of-sight and out-of-mind.

I have also proposed, since 2015, that the Council occasionally hold some of its committee meetings elsewhere than Grantham. In response to a motion I submitted to Full Council on 23rd November last year, the following was agreed:

“This Council encourages its Committee Chairmen to consider the venue for holding committee meetings to ensure that at least one formal meeting (e.g. an OSC meeting) is held in each of the 3 smaller towns (Stamford, Bourne and Market Deeping) during each calendar year.”

Nearly six months on and, finally, the Council is planning for a scheduled meeting of the Cabinet to take place outside Grantham – at Bourne Corn Exchange to be precise on Thursday 12th April at 2pm. I hope someone takes a photograph!

 

SK Today – Spring 2018

Here is the text of an e-mail I have just sent to the South Kesteven’s Communications Team regarding the recent edition of SK Today

“Dear [name redacted],

Today I received a bundle of marketing leaflets dropped through my letterbox and I was busily taking them straight to my recycling bin (provided by SKDC) when I noticed the Spring edition of SK Today was buried among them. Obviously I dropped everything and sat down for a good read.

I suspect a vast number of people in Market Deeping and West Deeping will be delighted with the two-page spread about Wyndham Park (in Grantham) and the two-page spread about the Gravity Fields festival planned for later this year in Grantham. I do hope you will find space for an update on these two stories later in the year!

And then there’s news of Grantham’s Southern Relief Road; and Grantham’s new cinema operator; and Grantham’s struggling hospital; and everything that’s happening at the Meres Centre in Grantham.

I’m particularly interested in the Christchurch Grantham Arts Break Out event. It appears to be a community event with no link to the Council. I’m all for this sort of story in SK Today although slightly bewildered as I have been previously been told by Cllr Goral that “…we don’t use council resource to promote non council events in Grantham, Bourne or Stamford, we don’t promote non council events in The Deepings.”  Can you explain the link between the Council and the ‘Arts Break Out’ as the weblink provided for more information is very short on detail.

The two-page spread on the RAF would be more interesting if it mentioned either of the two war-time airfields in the Deepings. https://www.stamfordmercury.co.uk/news/remembering-when-frognall-buzzed-with-war-planes-1-6345786

A fascinating column about markets although no mention of Market Deeping’s existing market or the plans for a Saturday market in the town.

My personal highlight of this edition though, is at the bottom of page 7 where I have found what I think is the single solitary mention of Market Deeping. It’s good to know we’re not completely forgotten even if we have to share our sentence with Stamford, Grantham and Horbling!

Apologies if I sound narky but we have been having this conversation for well over a year now with precious little evidence of progress.

Kind regards,

Cllr Ashley Baxter

Market & West Deeping

SKDC”

***Update: The Communications team has replied and I have published their response here***