Lower Brett April 2018
Babergh District Councillor’s Annual Report
There have been some major changes at Babergh over the past year, not least of which being my election as leader on 4th January. I hope that I can bring some stability and calm to the council so that we can concentrate on delivering services and working out how we are going to meet the very challenging financial situation we are facing. It is also essential that I ensure we have an ever improving working relationship with our colleagues at Mid Suffolk.
As with other local authorities, Babergh continues to face many financial challenges. However, both officers and councillors are working hard to meet these challenges and to ensure the sustainability and future of our services for our communities. At the same time we are continuing to make investments in new housing, regeneration and leisure facilities in the district.
The provision of affordable homes and homelessness has and continues to be a high priority, both nationally and locally. Following the successful completion of 27 new council houses and the purchase of another 23 homes using Right To Buy receipts, we have now committed to using our Housing Revenue Account and Right To Buy receipts to acquire a further 210 houses over the next three years. Of these we have already bought the first 27 off-plan and have advanced plans to build another 34 on four additional sites.
Innovative ways are being looked at to find solutions to provide housing for the more vulnerable people in our communities. The Homelessness prevention team is working well to prevent and reduce homelessness in the district and is well-prepared for implementing the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 from next month. Also, ways are being reviewed to reduce the number of turnaround days for void properties as well as reducing the number of privately-owned empty properties.
Economy & Tourism
Supporting and growing our local economy is another of Babergh’s top priorities.
Sudbury has always been one of the key focal points for our local economy, so last Summer we started to develop a vision for Sudbury with residents and key stakeholders and we will work with the Town Council to ensure a robust and deliverable vision is in place by the Summer. The Council plans to make major investment in Sudbury over the next few years, including the Belle Vue old swimming pool site and Hamilton Road. We are committed to supporting the Sudbury By-Pass project.
In partnership with South Suffolk Leisure, we have just announced a £3.4 million investment in the Kingfisher and Hadleigh leisure centres, which will provide state of the art modern facilities that meet the need of the community now and for the foreseeable future. In Hadleigh a new pool will be built alongside the current one so that there will be no gap in the provision of swimming in the town.
The Council also recently approved gifting Gainsborough Chambers to the Gainsborough’s House Society to enable their redevelopment project, “Reviving an Artist’s Birthplace – A National Centre for Gainsborough”, to progress to the next stage. It is envisaged that this will add £2.9M per year to the local economy as well as creating 60 temporary full-time equivalent jobs, 9 permanent FTE jobs and 20 indirect FTE jobs.
Last year we provided support for the Shotley Peninsula Tourism Action Group (SPTAG), a group of residents and businesses, with their Arthur Ransome season on the Shotley Peninsula last year – celebrating 80 years since the publication of ‘We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea’.
We have just approved planning applications for the first phase of development of the Enterprise Zone on the former Sproughton sugar beet factory site.
In November last year Babergh moved from the office in Hadleigh to Endeavour House in Ipswich. This will provide savings of £5.8M for Babergh and Mid Suffolk over a 10-year period, calculated based on a comparison of the capital and running costs of retaining our two existing buildings against those for Endeavour House and out two new Customer Access Points in Sudbury and Stowmarket. In addition to these cost savings, we are now in an excellent modern office building and we are in close proximity to colleagues in the county council and the clinical commissioning groups. It is a much better working environment for staff and councillors. Sudbury has a fit-for-purpose Advice Centre where access to advice can be obtained by self-service, from the Town Council staff or by a call to the call centre.
As core funding from Central Government decreases again this financial year and reduces to zero by 2019/20, we made the very difficult decision to increase our slice of the council tax by 3.25%, equivalent to £3.89 a year for a Band B property. To help protect our most vulnerable households, the council decided that residents most in need will only have to pay 5% of their council tax bill. This is a decrease from the 8.5% that was previously charged.
As well as making savings the Council is also working hard to generate new sources of income through our financial investments, which are expected soon to generate income in excess of £1M a year that will be used to help deliver public services.
Public consultation on the first stage of the emerging Joint Local Plan for Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils took place between 21st August and 10th November 2017. A large number of responses were received, and the Councils are currently preparing the next version of the Plan, which will contain preferred policies and site allocations. It is anticipated that public consultation on this document will take place in the summer.
The Five Year Housing Land Supply position continues to be of concern and the position as at the 1st April 2017 for 2017 to 2022 is 4.1 years for the Core Strategy based supply and 3.1 years for the SHMA based supply, which will be incorporated into the new Joint Local Plan. We are working to reassess this based on recently approved applications and other data.
The Local Government Boundary Commission for England was due to publish its final recommendations for the Babergh and Mid Suffolk boundary reviews on 6 February. However, we were advised by the Boundary Commission that, following responses received, it had delayed publication of its final recommendations as they were still examining the electorate data and forecasts that underpin all the recommendations, and were considering the suggested amendments to the recommendations arising from the consultation. Officers worked with the Boundary Commission to verify the electorate forecasts and provide additional clarity around expected growth areas. The Boundary Commission has now released updated recommendations and is now inviting further comment. There have been changes to most of the new proposed wards and in my opinion the new recommendations are much better than the previous ones. Consultation closes on 30th April. The final recommendations are expected to be published on 7th August; however, we are working with the Commission to obtain these final recommendations at the earliest possible date.
You will by now have heard that, following a series of events initiated by the leader of SCC, MSDC and BDC have reached a decision to put on hold our potential merger, pending a review of local government structure across the county.
To conclude, as I stated at the beginning, we are facing some really big challenges and it is critical that all your Councillors work together with officers and each other to ensure the best and the right outcomes for our communities.
And finally, some good news. Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils have taken the silver award in both the Working Together and Council of the Year categories of the 2018 Public Sector Transformation Awards. The awards, run by iESE (the Improvement and Efficiency Social Enterprise), celebrate the best in local public services. Although we were only entered originally for Working Together, the judges were so impressed with our submission that they entered us into the overall Council of the Year Award as well. The awards were made at a dinner held at Church House in London on 6th March.
Babergh District Councillor