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Monthly Archives: March 2021

Red Lion Reopening Soon!

March 19, 2021

I grew up in Blewbury. The Red Lion has always been at the heart of the community, from packed Friday nights, Boxing Day walks, quizzes and more.

Like many residents, I am sad, in recent years, the pub has lost its way and have long wanted to bring it back to its former glory, as a down-to-earth local pub. Which is why I’m delighted to announce that we will be reopening the Red Lion in the next few weeks.

As much as we’d like to open the garden from 12 April, we won’t be ready to roll until May. With the appointment of Jack Butler as our experienced pub host, we look forward to welcoming drinkers as well as diners back into the fold. We’re also working on a few ideas for sourcing local produce served by locally recruited staff as well as involve local community groups. More ideas welcome!

Annabel Cochrane annabel@annavelo.com

Vale of White Horse District Council Update

March 18, 2021

Hello! We hope that you and your families are safe and well. After a long winter, and a whole year since the pandemic began, we hope we can all now look forward to brighter days ahead.

As the government’s cautious easing of lockdown restrictions has now begun, we continue to share the important message that whether people have had their vaccine or not, we all need to follow the latest guidance to stop the spread of infection. That means following the measures in place including handwashing, staying two metres apart and wearing a face-covering.

We will continue to keep you updated on council matters and the council’s response to COVID-19 through these newsletter articles, as well as on our dedicated councillor Facebook Page: Cllrs Hayleigh Gascoigne & Sarah Medley. Please do not hesitate to get in touch with any issues or concerns – our email addresses are hayleigh.gascoigne@whitehorsedc.gov.uk and sarah.medley@whitehorsedc.gov.uk.

COVID-19 Update

The Community Hub continues to be available to help people access support and essentials during the lockdown if they have nobody else to turn to and can be contacted on the usual details below.

To contact the Community Support Team:
call: 01235 422 600 Monday to Thursday 8.30-5pm and Fridays 8.30-4.30pm
email: communitysupport@southandvale.gov.uk

fill in an online form at: www.whitehorsedc.gov.uk/communityhub  

Remember, for the most up-to-date coronavirus information relating to district council support and any changes to services, please take a look at the dedicated Vale webpage for updates: www.whitehorsedc.gov.uk/covid19

  • The councils’ Housing Needs team are available to help people who are at risk of being made homeless or who are sleeping rough – for more details visit gov.uk/housing.
  • Support is also available to residents who are experiencing financial difficulties – to find out more please visit gov.uk/benefits.
  • If you are having difficulty paying your council tax please visit  gov.uk/counciltaxor call 0345 302 2315.
  • The deadline for Winter Support Grant applications has been extended by a couple of weeks to 16 April and we now have some additional funds from the government to support residents with supermarket vouchers and fuel vouchers or the direct payment of energy or water bills. Anyone needing help should contact our Community Hub.

Cases: the number of positive cases in Oxfordshire overall is continuing to decline – and the rates in the Vale have again gone down this week so across the board we appear to be heading in the right direction. The latest figures are updated on the county council’s interactive dashboard on a daily basis.

Vaccines: the vaccination programme in Oxfordshire is progressing at pace and is on track to meet its target of groups 1-9, which is everyone up to and including all those aged 50 and over, receiving their first vaccination by 15 April. Almost 220,000 people in Oxfordshire have now received a Covid-19 vaccination so far, which includes nearly 7,000 people who have received their second vaccine dose, which is now picking up pace too. A total of 41,148 people in the Vale have had the jab so far, from a total population of 133,732.

Testing:

  • The Beacon in Wantage is a COVID-19 testing site for anyone who needs to leave home to work or volunteer and cannot access workplace testing from their employer. This includes taxi drivers, independent retailers, and tradespeople such as plumbers and electricians. These free tests can be booked via the county council’s online booking system.
  • All businesses in England can now sign up for free lateral flow tests for their employees. The government is asking them to register their interest in this, by 31 March. The message to businesses is that regular testing of their employees could be the difference between a workplace being able to stay open and operational, or needing to close due to a coronavirus outbreak.  There’s more information for businesses on the government websitewhere they will be provided with all the information they need to plan and deliver their testing programme, along with promotional materials.

Business support during the pandemic: for details of the support grants available to businesses, please visit South and Vale’s Business Support website: svbs.co.uk.

Local News

Valley Park

We were very pleased with the outcome of Vale of White Horse District Council Planning Committee meeting on Tuesday 16th February – the committee agreed unanimously to DEFER the decision on the Valley Park planning application! This is great news, as it means there is now more time available for residents and councillors to really push for our own local vision of what Valley Park should be. Deferring the application was voted for on the basis that further clarity needs to be sought on the following key issues with the Valley Park proposal before a decision can be made:

B4493 Roundabout between Harwell and Didcot – committee asked council officers to look at this design again and consider alternative options to make this monstrous 5-arm roundabout safer and more accessible for cyclists. Thank you to the HarBUG – Harwell Bicycle Users Group and Sustainable Harwell for your excellent speeches on this issue, and special shout out to local resident Kate Stevenson Weal for your Facebook comment about an underpass on the roundabout – this sparked an entire debate the possibility of an underpass, bridge or another alternative solution to be explored in the design!

Healthcare Provision – the committee asked council officers to go back to the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group – OCCG once again to obtain a proper answer regarding the medical provision for Valley Park. This site would bring 10,000 new residents to the area and yet there is no provision in the plans for a GP surgery or any Primary Medical Care, primarily because the OCCG didn’t even respond to the consultation in the first place! Thank you to Patient Participation Group (PPG) chairman Stewart Lilly for speaking on behalf of all 3 Didcot Medical Centres – we’re certain that your eye-opening statistics about the pressure our local services are under was key in influencing this decision.

Biodiversity – massive well done to Sally Povolotsky for your fantastic speech raising the issues with biodiversity considerations on the site, including the protection of red kites. Thanks to you, the committee asked for the financial contributions from the developer relating to biodiversity off-setting (totalling £200,000) to be brought forward from a staged payment (after 1000th house is occupied) to a full amount paid upfront prior to commencement of the development. A brilliant win for protecting the natural environment before the first house is even built!

The link below contains our extensive written statement that we submitted to the committee in advance of the meeting – we used this to clearly lay out our objectives, with the council policies to back them up. Two different members of the committee commended us for the high quality of our statement!

https://sustainable-harwell.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Ward-Councillors-Statement-Planning-Committee-16.02.21-Valley-Park-P14-V2873-O.pdf

If you didn’t catch the meeting, you can catch up any time on the YouTube link below to see the speeches and debate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xZR4Ks-N3o

Updates since the planning committee meeting on 16th February:

  • The Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (OCCG) have now responded to the Valley Park planning application, asking the developer to provide just under £4million for healthcare provision, as well as allocating land for a GP surgery site, in the event that the one on Great Western Park does not get built. This is brilliant news, as previously there was no response and hence no money or land allocated for healthcare, which was extremely concerning, and one of the key reasons the planning committee voted to defer the decision on the planning application. The response from the OCCG needs to pass various planning tests so it is not yet set in stone, but we are very happy that this is a big step in the right direction.
  • There have been many rumours flying around about when Valley Park will be coming back to planning committee for further consideration. We would just like to clarify that it can only come back to committee once the planning officers are satisfied that the issues raised at the deferral decision have been addressed. We have been informed today that due to purdah, i.e. the time before an election period (in this case local elections on May 6th) in which councils are not permitted to make big decisions, the application for Valley Park will not come back to planning committee until May at the earliest.
  • Finally thank you to everyone who attended our residents’ feedback session on Valley Park last week. It was great to hear your views, it is clear that there are still a lot of concerns and questions around the roundabout design, the healthcare and biodiversity/sustainability. We plan to organise further feedback sessions in future to focus on these topics, so watch this space! In the meantime please feel free to email us your ideas and thoughts about the roundabout design, we can pass these on to the planning officers for consideration by the developer.
  • The news of the decision on Valley Park was featured in a recent edition of the Didcot Herald: https://www.heraldseries.co.uk/news/19111212.plans-4-000-homes-valley-park-near-didcot-delayed/?fbclid=IwAR2itsHerQwA3Ghqs8J1xdgNZGn1zMsK6nW0GPI6Zz6cnDVmPQ_8IwK9iVE

Council News

2021/2022 Budget at Full council 10th February

The most recent meeting of Full Council was on Wednesday 10th February – the agenda and link for viewing online can be found at http://democratic.whitehorsedc.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=108&MId=2722  

The key agenda item for discussion was the proposed budget for 2021/2022. The council set out budget plans which protect front line services, continue to support local residents and businesses through the pandemic and help stabilise the council’s finances for the medium term. The budget would result in an increase of less than 10p per week on Band D Council Tax. Annual council tax will be £141.69 for services provided by the district council, up from £136.69 this year. The Vale currently has the 15th lowest council tax in the country for a shire district and significantly lower than the national average of £194.22.

Since the pandemic began, the district council has re-allocated significant resources in order to provide vital support for residents and businesses across the district.  This has included: administering more than 3,300 Covid-19 grant payments to local businesses totalling £21 million. We provided the new Community Support Hub, supporting 5,208 vulnerable residents, including providing direct assistance for 785 people.  It is currently expected that this work will need to continue well into 2021. The council’s income also remains significantly affected by the Covid-19 restrictions.

Like many councils, the Vale still faces significant financial challenges which have been caused by years of reduced funding from government, and the lack of clarity about the future of local authority financing.  Along with the other Oxfordshire councils, the Vale has repeatedly called on the government to urgently provide additional funding to help ensure the future of vital public services.

To see the full press release on the budget proposals, please visit https://www.whitehorsedc.gov.uk/budget/councils-2021-22-budget-report-addresses-covid-19-challenges/

South and Vale residents are top recyclers in the country… again

We’re very pleased to reveal that in the latest government figures, our environmentally conscious residents in South Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse are the second and third best recyclers in England. South Oxfordshire recycle 64 per cent of its waste, with the Vale recycling 63.3 per cent. This puts the two districts way above the national recycling rate of 45.5 per cent and they are also two of only 11 local authorities in the country with a recycling rate above 60 per cent. Both districts have consistently been in the top ten in the past five years. As the figures cover the period from the beginning of April 2019 to the end of March 2020, they only include the very first week of the national lockdown last year. So the impact of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns on the collection of household waste in the districts will not be revealed until next year’s figures.

New waste calendars

Residents will shortly be receiving their new waste collection calendar for the coming year – it’ll be included in with the council tax bills hitting doormats this month. Residents who get their council tax bills electronically will get a link to an online version of the calendar in their email bill. The new calendar which runs from April 2021 – March 2022 is available here – www.whitehorsedc.gov.uk/waste-calendar

Call for people to help at the elections

We are looking for people to take on paid work at this year’s elections. On Thursday 6 May our residents will go to the polls to vote in the Police and Crime Commissioner and Oxfordshire County Council elections. Some areas will also have local by-elections and neighbourhood plan referendums. The various counts will then take place over the following days.  To help ensure the smooth running of this event, we need to recruit as many people as possible. There are lots of roles available, paying a flat rate or from £14 per hour, and plans are being put in place to ensure all staff can work in a Covid-19 safe environment. If you know anyone who may be interested in working at the elections, please encourage them to visit  whitehorsedc.gov.uk/electionjobs to find out more and to register their interest.  

Changes to Vale parking arrangements confirmed following public consultation

Following a public consultation, Vale of White Horse District Council’s Cabinet have approved several changes to parking arrangements to help reduce vehicle emissions. Last November almost 200 people commented on proposed changes to the parking arrangements.  At their meeting on Friday 5 February, the council’s Cabinet considered the consultation results, and approved that the following measures which will now be included in the district’s new parking policy:

Reducing vehicle emissions

In Abingdon, lorries will no longer be able to park in Rye Farm car park and specific spaces will be allocated for a coach and campervans in Hales Meadow car park.  This popular move to free up more spaces in Rye Farm for smaller vehicles, should encourage people visiting from the A415 to park here on edge of town rather than joining the traffic in the town centre, helping to reduce congestion and improve air quality.

Encouraging electric vehicle use

The Vale is currently working with Oxfordshire County Council with a view to introduce electric vehicle charging bays in some district council car parks.  If this happens then, under the new policy, parking enforcement officers will have new powers to fine motorists who park non-electric vehicles in electric charging bays, or who leave an electric vehicle parked in a charging bay when it’s not charging.

Tackling the car parks deficit

The Vale’s car parks, in Abingdon, Faringdon and Wantage, collectively cost more than £700,000 a year to run. Once the income from parking fees has been taken into account, there is an average shortfall of over £300,000 a year, which is currently subsidised by council tax.

To help address this deficit, Cabinet agreed that the price of resident permits, which provide significant discounts on daily parking rates, would need to go up by 10 per cent each year until 2023.  This decision was taken after carefully considering feedback from the public and taking the potential impact on individual residents and families into account.  Members rejected options to implement a price increase of up to 100 per cent, in favour of a 10 per cent increase per year over the next three years.

County Councillor’s Annual Report

March 16, 2021

As we head into the Spring, I am looking ahead to the end of lockdown and (hopefully), slowly and safely back to normality for us all, thanks to the highly successful vaccine rollout.

During this last year, the County Council was soon used to working by video call and meetings of all the committees, sub-committees and Full Council were back to their normal timetables in this new format.

You may not be aware, but I am standing down after serving as your County Council for the past four years so I thought I would give a quick recap on my time representing Hendreds and Harwell.

Full Council

At Full Council, I presented four motions over my time, all carried with unanimous cross-party support. (Many councillors present no motions during their term as elected members.)

  1. HGV Routing Agreements –My motion was to link a financial effect with those agreements, so that if they were flouted in the future, there would be a commercial imperative to ensure the developer or operator did not repeat the practice.
  2. HGV Developer Road Damage – My motion put more requirement on the developers to be responsible for the damage they cause, by demanding they undertake condition surveys before development starts and then return the damaged routes back the prior condition at their cost. This became a two-page spread across the front of the Oxford Mail.
  3. Steventon Reservoir – This reservoir (which will be the size of Heathrow and can be shown not to be needed) would be the largest and most intrusive construction project in the area, spread over ten years and highly disruptive to traffic in all local areas. It is being presented by Thames water as the main option in its draft plan, but the Council agreed to demand a second consultation with Thames Water. This was then further strengthened when I presented an amendment to the cabinet paper to demand a public enquiry, again accepted
  4. Adoption of New Housing Developments – There are several new developments across my division, with developers finishing their housing for sale, but in many cases, not finishing the elements fully so that the County can adopt the roads and lighting infrastructure. This motion called on the County Officers to use all their powers to push the developers to complete the works so that OCC can sign off the final adoption for the development. As overall planning permission actually sits with the District Council, I suggested that no more planning permissions are granted to any developers who take unreasonable time to complete outstanding snagging. District Councillors have yet to action this.

Support for Parishes

During the past 15 months, I have attended the majority of my eight Parishes’ meetings; reporting back from the County Council, but also hearing about local issues where I can bring additional pressure to bear on behalf of the residents. All the meetings from March 2020 have been by video call, which makes it easier when visiting two or three parishes on the same night.  However, members of the public who attended many of the public meetings, tended not to join the video calls and I did miss that contact and hearing the residents’ concerns face-to-face, although email communications increased.

One of the over-riding issues continues to be traffic volume and speed and I continued to push for 20 mph limits within all Hendreds and Harwell residential areas, and more traffic calming where necessary.

Councillor Community Fund

During the past three years, a Councillor priority fund of £15,000 per year has been made available for each Councillor to spend in their own Division on specific community projects. Across my parishes, this has been fully invested in over 20 community projects including Playground equipment; Village Hall repairs; Replacement of recreation ground equipment; new footpaths; car park; lights for pedestrian crossing; extra street lighting; primary schools – healthy eating programme; Covid 19 support; Arboreal safety management.

Committees and Role

As well as assisting at Parish Level and attending the Full Council of the County Council, I have used my previous business and local government experience on three committees; the Performance Scrutiny Committee, holding County Council departments to account for performance; Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (where we kept Pet-CT Scanners within the JR); and the Planning and Regulations committee looking at minerals and waste. (Residential waste is the responsibility of the Districts, not County.)

Additionally, among my sub-committees were the transport Cabinet Advisory Group and I chaired our County Locality Group, as well as being the Group Deputy Chairman (Backbenchers).  The most satisfying committee has been the Climate Action Cabinet Advisory Group, inputting into the Council, which has aimed to combat climate change, since before its official recognition.

The aim of the County is to achieve net-zero carbon on the OCC estate by 2030 and enable all Oxfordshire to achieve net-zero by 2050. The County supports over 85 community climate action groups, including many of my Parishes local sustainability organisations. OCC is pursuing over 80 projects, including; five Cycle Network routes; converting street lights to LED (initially over 30% completed); low traffic neighbourhoods; installing 240 Park and Charge EV charging points in Council owned car parks; delivering zero emissions zone in Oxford; Home to School transport decarbonisation plan; developing policy for zero-carbon new build schools; developing hydrogen strategy; sourcing zero-carbon grid electricity; programme to increase rooftop solar generation and improve energy efficiency in existing buildings.

I am proud to have been part of a pro-active Carbon Zero focussed Oxfordshire County Council.

Finally, I must thank all who have contributed to my work and to those valued residents and hard-working Parish Councillors whom it has been my honour to quietly serve.

Cllr Mike Fox-Davies, Oxfordshire County Councillor  mike.fox-davies@oxfordshire.gov.uk