February 2016 update

It has been a busy start to the year for the District Council with a number of very important commitments and decisions to be considered.

 

First on the agenda was the latest public examination of our Core Strategy in the early part of January. Planning Inspector, Peter Drew, spent two weeks reviewing the work that the Council had undertaken last year following his interim conclusions in the spring 2015.

 

We now await his final conclusions on the draft Core Strategy before seeking to formally adopt it late in the summer this year.

 

One of the key new settlement sites, Gaydon Lighthorne Heath, is currently undergoing a further public consultation of its Supplementary Planning Document, which takes form of a Framework Masterplan to guide developers and the local planning authority in respect of environmental, social, design and economic objectives as they seek to create a new community at the GLH site.

 

The updated formal draft SPD looks at:

  • the GLH site and its context
  • site constraints and opportunities
  • vision and principles
  • an illustrative masterplan with key design and sustainability principles; and
  • delivery

 

We do not expect this consultation to delay the adoption of the Core Strategy and await the inspector’s comments in the coming weeks. Until then the elements of the Core Strategy that were adopted last summer continue to hold weight in the planning process. The Council can also now demonstrate a five year housing land supply that will help protect many villages and LSVs against big developments coming forward.

 

The next major decision taken this year was in relation to the West Midlands Combined Authority. You will remember that this item came to full Council in September and October last year where we were asked if we would join the WMCA as a non-constituent member. The vote at that time was 15 – 14 against joining.

 

Since then a constitution document (The WMCA Deal Document) has been published which sets out exactly how the WMCA will be formed and what each of its members (constituent or otherwise) responsibilities and commitments are.

 

This proved very useful in the decision making process as we now fully understand what is being proposed as part of the devolution process and how it will impact us.

 

On 25th January a motion of notice was presented to Council to review its position and approach the WMCA seeking non-constituent membership. The subsequent vote resulted in a 22 – 11 majority in favour of joining the WMCA.

 

This decision means that the District Council will be able to play an active part in the devolution process.

 

The WMCA does not represent another layer of Government and each member of the Combined Authority will retain its independence and continue to provide services like planning, refuse and recycling.

 

It does mean that there will now be better collaboration between Councils on strategic issues such as investment, skills, housing and economic development, which I fully support.

 

Full information on the WMCA, including the constitution documents, can be found at http://www.westmidlandscombinedauthority.org.uk.

 

Finally the council have published a draft budget for the coming year, which is subject to approval at full council later this month.

 

In November last year the Government announced plans to reduce the level of its Revenue Support Grant from £1.9m to zero by 2019/20. That is a huge chunk of our budget and whilst we expect business rates to increase, other sources of revenue such as the new homes bonus are expected to decrease.

 

It is likely therefore that the District Council element of your Council tax bill will go up this year for the first time in five years.

 

The budget will also likely include a proposal to undertake a fundamental review of all of the activities of the Council. This will be a considered programme that will question what services the Council can maintain in the future and how these services will be delivered.

 

Given the scale of the reductions in funding it is important the Council acts now, to ensure the long term financial position is maintained. The initial target of budget reductions will be £250,000 in 2017/18, increasing to £1m by 2020.