Sunday, 30 November 2014

Your Million Pound Town Council

Hedge End Town Council is responsible for spending considerable sums of public money. For the last few years its annual budget has been approaching a million pounds.

The Finance and Administration Committee will discuss the draft budget for 2015-16 on Tuesday 2 December.  The bottom line expenditure figure before us will be £967,887, which is apparently achievable with the same precept (the amount the council needs to fund via your council tax) as this year.

The meeting is open to the public, as are all Town Council committee meetings. This will be the first time the committee discusses the budget and no decision on it will be made at this meeting, but there are five items for resolution:

To approve the Council's expenditure for the last three months
To approve new tenants for the temporary building at the Drummond Centre
To approve the purchase of some grounds maintenance equipment
To allow access to overhead telecommunications line at Dowd's Farm Park
To agree continued part funding of PCSOs (see "Where have all the PCSOs gone?")

Hedge End Councillor Calls for English Devolution

Cllr Keith House was one of 122 council leaders calling this week for more powers to be transferred from Westminster to local authorities. Representatives of independent councillors and three of the five main English political parties wrote to The Observer. Their letter called for an end to Coalition Cuts in order to protect services such as libraries, leisure centres and road maintenance. They went on to insist a fair distribution of tax and spending could only come with the transfer of powers away from central government.

(Picture credit: Hedge End Town Council)


Thursday, 27 November 2014

Will Hedge End employer pay living wage?

At November's Town Council, representatives of TKMaxx and HomeSense presented their proposals for a shared shop at the old Wickes site at the Tollbar Way / Botley Road junction.

The plans were interesting visually and the artist's impressions were certainly more attractive than the empty building as it is at the moment. The company will need to submit a new planning application because the current permission limits the type of goods that can be sold there.

A lot was made at the presentation of the benefits to the local economy with the estimate of 46 full time equivalent jobs at the new shops. This gave me the chance to ask if the organisation was a living wage employer. (The living wage is calculated according to the cost of living, and is voluntary on the part of employers. In 2014 it is £7.85, higher than the statutory minimum wage of £6.50.)

The consultants present at the meeting did not know the answer, but offered to find out for me. Just one week later a reply has come via the Town Clerk. Here is the answer to the simple question "Are TKMaxx and Homesense living wage employers?":

Please find below a response from TJX Europe (owners of TKMaxx and HomeSense) on the query raised at the meeting by Cllr Day:
At TJX Europe we know what an important part our people play in our success. We’re always looking for ways to recognise their contributions and reward their achievements. We review salaries on an annual basis, ensuring we remain competitive in the industry. We also operate assorted performance bonus schemes, dependent on the achievement of company targets.

I guess that's a "no" then.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Congratulations Keith

Hedge End councillor Keith House has been (I think re-) elected to the Lib Dems National Federal Executive Committee.

Although for some reason the party did not want him on their International Relations Committee.

(Picture credit Hedge End Town Council)

Monday, 24 November 2014

Lib Dems' £6 million plans for Hedge End

At November's local area committee meeting, Hedge End, West End and Botley councillors agreed their priority areas for the three parishes. So what do they plan to spend your money on in Hedge End?

Top of the list are community facilities associated with new developments at Woodhouse Lane and Foord Road. These are likely to depend on financial contributions from the developers involved.

Third is an uncosted proposal to provide new facilities for a scout group when the recycling centre at Shamblehurst Lane is replaced by housing.  As I reported last November this was an embarrassing omission from the local plan.

Fourth is £700,000 to expand Hedge End library "in line with local housing and population growth".

Fifth is £685,000 for refurbishment and improements at the Wildern Leisure Centre and Berry Theatre.

At number six we have £35,000 for The Box youth services, including a new mini bus.

At number seven £250,000 for the Norman Rodaway pavilion and playing field, including nearly £100,000 for floodlights for Hedge End Rangers.

But item eight seems to require the football team to relocate to Woodhouse Lane in order to upgrade facilities to FA standards. I'm not sure why even the Lib Dems would spend a quarter of a million pounds at Norman Rodaway and then make Hedge End Rangers move to a new ground.

The Drummond Centre, Village Hall and Hedge End Youth  & Community Association (HEYCA) each have more than £100,000 earmarked for car parking, lighting and other improvements.

Item 12 is another uncosted one to improve access to facilities in line with the Disability Discrimination Act.

Item 13 is £85,000 for a future upgrade of the Locke Road play area.

"Enhancements" to the tune of £45,000 are proposed at the skateboard park at Woodhouse Lane.

Turnpike Way recreation ground and the surrounding green spaces have £190,000 allocated.

Greta Park has £250,000 for "improvements" including (much needed) drainage.

Woodhouse Lane recreation ground has £58,000 for lighting in the car park and other improvements.

Up to £40,000 will be spent on a green corridor in Grange Park.

£250,000 is allocated for community safety initiatives (street lights, safer paths, road crossing points, cctv etc.)

There is an uncosted item for ongoing "desirable" improvements at the Albert Road cemetery.

£880,000 for "major environmental improvements" for Hedge End centre.

Various sums are allocated for future play area renewals at Aspen Close, Westward Road, Beattie Rise, St John's Recreation Ground and Nelson Gardens.

£49,000 has been planned for public art, including new heritage signs similar to the one shown above.

In total the Lib Dems' wish list comes in at a staggering £6.2 million - and that is just the costed items. With their own party at Westminster collaborating with the Tories to throttle local government spending, it's not clear where the Lib Dems plan to get the money for all these projects.

Full details are in the report to the 10 November local area committee meeting (here).

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Rochester and Strood - a local comparison

The last time the Hedge Town Council Wildern ward was up for election, even the unsuccessful Lib Dem candidate got more votes than the Lib Dems did in the entire Rochester and Strood constituency at the recent parliamentary by election.

On Thursday the Lib Dem candidate had 349 votes. Here is a reminder of the Wildern result from 2011:

Hedge End (Wildern)

(Three seats)
Name of Candidate Party Votes
DAY, Keith Philip Independent 434 Elected
FRASER, George Balneaves Liberal Democrat 377
HOUSE, Keith Liberal Democrat 602 Elected
WATSON, June Veronica Liberal Democrat 512 Elected
  % Poll 40.48

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Another £360,000 for the Rose Bowl

Local Lib Dem councillors voted on Monday to transfer another huge chunk of public money to the Rose Bowl project. And on Wednesday Nick "no more broken promises" Clegg arrives at the Rose Bowl for a photo opportunity. Coincidence? Perhaps.

I know the cricket ground is currently called the Ageas Bowl, but sponsorship is temporary, tradition is permanent. So I will continue to call it the Rose Bowl to be consistent with this post from 2012.

It was 10:30pm before the last agenda item of the HEWEB Local Area Committee was considered. There was only one other member of the public left. We had shown more stamina than two Lib Dem councillors who had walked out before the end of the meeting. But I was determined the proposal to donate £360,000 to the Poseidon boxing club which is based at the Rose Bowl should not go through on the nod at the end of a busy evening.

I thought £360,000 was a lot of money in today's economic environment. The councillors agreed.

The £360,000 was originally earmarked for countryside and biodiversity purposes. I thought if it was not going to be used for the original project at Moorgreen nature reserve, then it should be assigned to other countryside projects. The councillors disagreed on the grounds that a boxing club is "recreational" so in line with the original developer's contribution agreement. This despite Cllr Tennant complaining earlier in the meeting that there was no money to address drainage problems at Itchen Valley Country Park.

However Cllr House did agree to one concession which was not in the agenda proposal. When Eastleigh Borough Council eventually sells the Rose Bowl, the £360,000 will be returned to the local area committee and won't disappear into the corporate coffers. Which is fine as long as there is somebody around at that time in the future who remembers the agreement made in 2014.

I also thought it was misleading to promote boxing as a healthy pursuit when there is a lot of controversy about the risks to participants. The agenda also claimed almost half Poseidon's membership were aged 14-25, but the club's own web site shows they want to attract children as young as seven.

From a personal point of view, I don't want to ban adults from boxing, but the arguments of those that do want a ban are strong enough to convince me it is wrong to use public money to encourage them. I am even more convinced that it is wrong to use £360,000 of public money to encourage boys and girls as young as seven to embark on a pastime which could lead to their death or a life changing brain injury.

However most of the Lib Dems disagreed. Four considered they knew better than the British Medical Association and British Safety Council and voted to hand the money over. Two voted against and there was one abstention.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Children with autism not welcome here say Lib Dems

NIMBY local Lib Dems turned down a planning application to convert a Hedge End house to support children with complex needs arising from autism, life trauma and mental health problems.

The planning professional's report stated there would be no more traffic than would be expected from a "normal busy domestic family" and the house had "sizeable frontage which can easily accommodate any parking requirements without the need to park on the street". Yet Hedge End, West End and Botley councillors refused permission, saying the young people's support workers driving to the house would cause traffic and parking problems.

Warned that most of the proposed changes to the building did not need planning consent and that the proposed change of use was not a material consideration, Lib Dems nevertheless made clear what they thought at Monday's HEWEB local area committee.

One councillor said it was not appropriate in a quiet residential street. (What sort of street do they want children to live in?)

Another said the applicant should not be converting a normal house, but should move into a purpose-built building. (Why shouldn't children live in a normal house?)

The same councillor criticised the applicant for drawing attention to the children's needs by seeking consent in a public arena. (But five Lib Dem councillors insisted the application was debated in public.)

Another councillor referred to the inconvenience that would be caused to neighbours, and referred to  a previous application that had been refused for a pigeon loft as a precedent. (Rather an insensitive comparison.)

The same councillor considered the possibility that the applicant would appeal the decision and summed up with the Clint Eastwood quote: "Go ahead punk, make my day". The councillor was clearly playing to the gallery but it seems Lib Dems are brave against small social care organisations but cave in to the blandishments of big property developers.