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Local Government

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

Vale of White Horse District Council update

June 15, 2021

Hello! As lockdown restrictions continue to ease, it has been lovely to see residents out and about enjoying the warmer weather.

Great news that local markets and community events are starting up again – in the past month we have enjoyed visiting the Hive Market, seeing the renovations in the Harwellian club and litter picking on Great Western Park. We are delighted by the news that the new tennis courts on Great Western Park are finally open and available to hire through the Boundary Park Sports Association. June is Pride Month, so it is great to see the Boundary Park Pavilion flying the rainbow flag in support of the LGBT+ community.

Remember that Covid-19 still presents a real risk, particularly with the emergence of new variants, so please do keep following the hands – face – space guidance and exercising caution as lockdown restrictions ease. We will use these monthly updates to keep you updated on our activities, general council news and of course the COVID-19 roadmap. We also post regularly on our councillor Facebook Page: Cllrs Hayleigh Gascoigne & Sarah Medley – please do not hesitate to get in touch with any issues or concerns, either via Facebook message or email: hayleigh.gascoigne@whitehorsedc.gov.uk and sarah.medley@whitehorsedc.gov.uk.

COVID-19 Support

Community Support Hub

The last year has been tough for many residents across Oxfordshire due to the pandemic. Households have been hit financially by redundancies and furlough and have found themselves with a day to day struggle to afford food and manage the costs of fuel bills.

We urge any resident struggling financially to contact the councils’ Community Support Hub – details below. The support is there for all households: residents needing help do not have to be in receipt of any government benefits and can be given financial support through this funding more than once. Additionally, any residents struggling to get to their vaccination appointment can contact our community hub team who will work with them to find transport.

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

Residents can also contact

  • Citizens Advice – 0808 278 7907
  • Vale Community Impact – 01235 765348

Cases Data

The latest figures are updated on the county council’s interactive dashboard on a daily basis.

Business Support

A reminder that the Restart Grant is open for applications until 30 June and final payments will be made by 31 July. More info at svbs.co.uk/restart-grant. For more details about the grants available to businesses visit svbs.co.uk.

Safety measures for landowners

It’s important that landowners are up to date with the current Covid safety regulations for hiring out their land now that we’ve reached Step 3 of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown. This includes town and parish councils.

  • Landowners must help ensure that the hirers of their land are fully aware of their roles and responsibilities under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the current coronavirus regulations.
  • Landowners should refer to the latest version of the working safely sector guidance, which includes ‘visitor economy guidance’ for fairgrounds, events and shows.
  • Event holders and landowners should get in touch with our Licensing team as soon as possible about their planned activities to ensure they are managed in a Covid secure way.
  • Guidance on all types of events and information about the Safety Advisory Group can be found on our websites, along with lots of other useful links and guidance: Vale website / South website
  • Landowners can also get advice for any events held on their land by emailing events@southandvale.gov.uk

Local News

Local Elections May 2021

You can read all the elections results across South Oxfordshire and the Vale, including details of Neighbourhood Plan referendums (all of which were approved by voters), using the following link: whitehorsedc.gov.uk/may2021elections

Sports facility opens on Great Western Park

Boundary Park Sports Association has leased tennis courts and a multi-use games area on Great Western Park from Vale of White Horse district council. The sports association, which looks after Boundary Park opposite the new courts and games area, will be making the new and exciting facilities available to local sports groups and the wider community for various activities and games.

The floodlit fenced courts have various markings outlining four match sized tennis courts and two official netball courts to enable local sports clubs to hire and play their official matches as well as being bookable by residents for tennis.  The games area is marked for a wide range of sports activities including mini tennis, netball, basketball and five-a-side football for community groups and residents to use and hire.

The sports association has also been successful in applying for funds towards floodlights for their grassed pitches at Boundary Park.  Vale of White Horse district council was able to allocate £25,000 using funds from Section 106 contributions from new developments being built in the Harwell, Blewbury and Milton parishes. The new lights are already installed and are helping training sessions take place for the men’s, women’s and junior rugby teams now that national restrictions have eased for organised outdoor sports.  The park’s two training pitches will now be able to be used all year round and will allow the match pitch to be kept in better condition for official matches.

Cllr Hayleigh Gascoigne, Local ward member for Harwell Parish, said: “The new tennis courts and sports area are set to be a very popular facility on Great Western Park and will play a vital role in helping our residents lead active and healthy lifestyles. I can’t wait to see them in use!”

See link for the full press release: https://www.whitehorsedc.gov.uk/uncategorised/sports-facility-opens-on-great-western-park/

Cornerstone Arts Centre to open again to the public

South Oxfordshire District Council is delighted to announce that Cornerstone Arts Centre in Didcot will begin opening to the public again this month and is promising that a fantastic line-up will greet visitors when it’s fully reopened in September – a line-up that the public can help to influence.

The centre’s café bar Nourish will be the first part of the centre to reopen on 21 June with a brand-new menu of locally sourced baked goods and great coffee in a light, open and welcoming space for all the family to enjoy. The council aims to reopen the centre fully on 7 September. As always, audiences can expect first class service and a diverse arts scene on their doorstep in Didcot from September. In the coming months Cornerstone will release a line-up of shows, concerts and events in its theatre, along with plans for its gallery, and returning classes for all ages within the coming months.

In the meantime, the council is calling on everyone who has used the centre in the past, and those that haven’t, to help plan that exciting new programme for the September re-opening. It has launched a public survey inviting everyone for their thoughts on what kind of events they would like to see at the centre and how they would like to use the centre in the future: survey.southandvale.gov.uk/s/CornerstoneArtsCentreSurvey. See link for the full press release: https://www.southoxon.gov.uk/south-oxfordshire-district-council/cornerstone-arts-centre-to-open-again-to-the-public/

Council News

Council Meetings

The AGM of the Vale of White Horse District Council was held in person at 135 Milton Park on Tuesday 18th May. This was the first in-person meeting of Full Council since February 2020, due to the recent legislation change requiring councillors to be present in person in order to vote. However, the meeting is held in a new hybrid format where it is conducted and broadcast online, and members of the public can choose to attend remotely or in person. Councillors can also attend remotely but are not permitted to vote. At the AGM, Cllr Margaret Crick and Cllr Jerry Avery were re-elected as Chair and Vice-chair of the Council. The meeting agenda can be found here. The minutes of the previous meeting on 24th March can be found here.

Vale Scrutiny Committee met virtually on 27th May to review the Performance Management framework for the corporate plan. The papers can be reviewed here.

Members of the public and ward councillors are able to participate in meetings remotely, as well as in person and via written statement. If you wish to speak at any council meeting (full council, cabinet, committees etc), you just need to register in advance with Democratic Services. democratic.services@southandvale.gov.uk

Councils welcome call on climate action

South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse District Councils have welcomed a call from Oxford Friends of the Earth for all Oxfordshire councils to do everything they can to tackle the climate emergency, while highlighting the positive work that is already taking place. Oxford Friends of the Earth published a report entitled ‘In case of emergency…’ that looks at what the six Oxfordshire councils have done in the two years since they all declared a climate emergency.  The report is the first independent analysis of climate action by councils and shows that they have all set ambitious targets and carried out positive work, and that there appears to be genuine commitment to act, but it says more needs to be done if those targets are to be met.

In February 2019 both councils declared a climate emergency and since then have published have new Corporate Plans which put tackling the issue at the forefront of their councils’ work. The Vale launched its own Climate Emergency Advisory Committee, while South Oxfordshire also declared an Ecological Emergency and introduced a Climate and Ecological Emergencies Advisory Committee (CEEAC).

Both councils have set targets to become a carbon neutral council by 2025 for south and by 2030 for Vale, and a carbon neutral district by 2030 and 2045 respective. South Oxfordshire has also published updated Air Quality Guidance for Developers. There are some exciting new projects just around the corner too, both districts are working closely with Oxfordshire County Council on a park and charge scheme which aims to install electric vehicle chargers in the district.

New Community Lottery

The Vale of White Horse District Council’s new lottery, the White Horse Community Lottery will launch in June with a special virtual event. Organisations from the district’s voluntary and community sector will be invited by the council to attend the online event on Monday 14 June to find out how they can benefit from income raised through the Vale’s new community lottery. The lottery will have a weekly jackpot of £25,000 and will be available for residents to play online. The draw will take place every Saturday, with a jackpot going to anybody who matches a sequence of six numbers.  The other prizes are £2,000, £250, £25 or three free tickets.

Residents can get involved by buying tickets which will cost £1 per week with 50p going towards the player’s chosen local good cause. 10p of the remaining money goes into the central community fund, 20p to the prize fund, 17p towards the administration of the lottery, and 3p on VAT. Proceeds from the White Horse Lottery central community fund will be spent on providing vital support to a wide range of local organisations and community initiatives which have a beneficial impact on the local community.

The first draw for the White Horse Community Lottery will take place in September. Any community groups and charities operating in the Vale of White Horse wanting to register their interest and find out more are being asked to email communityenablement@southandvale.gov.uk.See link for the full press release: https://www.whitehorsedc.gov.uk/vale-of-white-horse-district-council/new-community-lottery-to-launch-in-the-vale-of-white-horse-next-month/

We’d like to say a big “thank you” to all the volunteers across southern Oxfordshire

During the 37th annual Volunteers’ Week, which takes place from the 1-7 June, the leaders of South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district councils have offered their thanks and gratitude to the thousands of volunteers across both districts ahead of volunteers’ week; highlighting the invaluable contribution volunteers make to community groups and voluntary organisations across South Oxfordshire and the Vale.

This time last year England had started to come out of its first lockdown. Voluntary organisations and community groups had stepped up to help in any way that they could with some people volunteering for the first time. The councils Community Hub team worked with hundreds of volunteers as part of their Covid-19 response co-ordinating emergency food deliveries, collections of prescriptions and providing calls and a voice to speak to for those in need. Many council staff also took on new voluntary roles as part of their Covid-19 response throughout the last year.  Whilst the pandemic has put a spotlight on the work of volunteers and their positive impact on our communities, the councils have worked alongside voluntary groups and organisations across the districts for many years. They are a vital resource to help connect council services to those who are vulnerable and in need.The councils are supporting Oxfordshire’s Covid-19 Heroes awards. The new High Sheriff for Oxfordshire, Imam Monawar Hussain, is inviting award nominations to honour those who have played an important role in the county’s local response to the pandemic. Residents can nominate people via an application form, and the judging will take place in June, with an awards ceremony in July. See link for the full press release: https://www.whitehorsedc.gov.uk/vale-of-white-horse-district-council/wed-like-to-say-a-big-thank-you-to-all-the-volunteers-across-southern-oxfordshire/

HGV drivers needed for bin crews

Like many parts of the UK, the districts are facing a shortage of HGV drivers for their bin crews due to several factors. This is currently affecting a number of rounds in the districts where residents’ waste collections have been disrupted, and so the councils’ waste contractor, Biffa, is on a proactive recruitment drive to prevent it becoming a wider problem. Biffa is currently managing the situation by providing staff the opportunity to work Saturdays and Sundays as overtime to catch up with missed collections, but this is not sustainable in the long term either financially or for the bin crews’ wellbeing. It also inconvenient for residents.See link for the full press release: https://www.whitehorsedc.gov.uk/waste-and-recycling/calling-all-hgv-drivers-we-need-you-to-drive-our-bin-lorries/