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Local Government

Vale of White Horse District Council Update

October 21, 2020

Hello! We hope that everyone is still staying safe and well now that the weather is distinctly autumnal and darker evenings are closing in.

Obviously with COVID-19 still prevalent, Halloween festivities will be somewhat different this year, so we have been really pleased to see the plans afoot for the “Big Blewbury Pumpkin Trail” as a contact-free alternative to trick-or-treating. We’ve no doubt that there will be a fantastic effort from the village to go all out with carving pumpkins and decorating their houses for all to enjoy.

This month we have quite a lot of updates, from environmental news to information from various recent council meetings. We kindly ask residents that if you have not yet responded to your yellow letter from the Vale, please do so as soon as possible – by law the council needs to issue these letters every year to ensure that the electoral register is up to date.

As always, we will 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 Community Support Hub

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.

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

NHS Test and Trace App

Protect your loved ones with the official NHS COVID-19 contact tracing app for England and Wales. It’s the fastest way of knowing when you’re at risk from coronavirus (COVID-19). The quicker you know, the quicker you can alert your loved ones, and your community. The more of us that use it, the better we can control coronavirus. It has a venue ‘check-in’ feature – where you scan a QR code on display at any places you visit like pubs and restaurants. This provides you with a digital diary and can send you alerts if you have visited a venue where you may have come into contact with coronavirus.  Users must be over 16 to have the app and own a smartphone that has Bluetooth. The app will be used alongside traditional contact tracing, in case your phone is not compatible. Here’s a video explaining more – you can also head over to the NHS website for more info.

Climate Emergency Advisory Committee

The Climate Emergency Advisory Committee met on 7th September and discussed the opportunity to enter into negotiations with the Low Carbon Hub and other Oxfordshire Councils, on a potential Power Purchase Agreement, in order to make recommendations to Cabinet. A Power Purchase Agreement, or PPA, could be an element, along with a broad portfolio of projects, to help achieve the council’s carbon neutral target.

The first priority, from our climate emergency one-year work programme, is that we will aim to reduce energy use from our operations, and to install renewable technologies on site. These actions alone are unlikely to bring our carbon emissions to zero, so further options need to be considered. A PPA is a mechanism for matching zero carbon electricity generation at a new renewable energy asset with the council’s energy use. It then allows us to declare zero carbon emissions for the contracted energy. If a new renewable energy asset is in South Oxfordshire, this also has additional local benefits, so entering into discussions with other Oxfordshire Councils and other external parties to identify the opportunities available is beneficial. The committee agreed with the recommendation that PPA should be explored, with added wording to include parish councils and town councils. Read the full minutes of the CEAC here.

Air Quality Campaign

To mark Clean Air Day (Thursday 8 October), South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district councils have launched a new campaign to encourage people to use less polluting means of transport, such as walking and cycling, for local journeys. Since March many of us have changed where we work and how far we travel. This has resulted in fewer miles driven, especially at peak times. With less congestion at peak times there has been less air pollution….  considerably less air pollution according the analysis carried out by South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district councils’ Air Quality team.

The government’s requests that to help control the pandemic people should work at home, if possible, has reduced the number of people commuting to offices across our districts. For example, according to a recent survey of the councils’ staff, those who responded have saved an average of 110 miles per person per week (by no longer commuting to the office in Milton Park and other council sites). The councils’ Air Quality team hope that this change in habit for the daily commute might translate into people looking at alternative, pollution free travel methods (i.e.walking or cycling) for local journeys.

Oxfordshire Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy 2020-2025

Brief overview of the strategy:

  • Minimum standards shared across Oxfordshire for EV charging infrastructure
  • A common approach to managing EV charging in local authority car parks
  • Agreed targets for the provision of EV charging across Oxfordshire
  • A common framework of options for residents without off-street parking

Our next milestone in the development of the strategy will be for the draft EV infrastructure strategy to be presented to the Climate Emergency Advisory Committee in December.

For more information contact our representative on the county’s working group: Cllr Catherine Webber, who is now the Vale’s cabinet member for Climate Emergency and Environment. Residents can provide their views on electric vehicles in the County Council’s consultation, which closes on 23rd October: https://consultations.oxfordshire.gov.uk/consult.ti/Park_and_Charge/consultationHome

Planners’ Fast Tracking of UK’s Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre Supercharges Delivery

The Vale of White Horse District Council has granted planning permission for the highly specialist facility that will house the UK’s Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC).

VMIC, a not for profit organisation based at Harwell Campus, will provide the country’s first bespoke strategic vaccine development and manufacturing capability. In an unusual move, the district council allowed construction of the facility to begin whilst simultaneously processing the planning application because of the critical nature of the facility and the role it will play in manufacturing vaccines for COVID-19 and beyond.

Under normal circumstances, planning approval and construction for a new development of this scale would take years, with construction beginning only when planning permission had been granted. Due to COVID-19, and VMIC’s national and international significance, Vale of White Horse District Council took a different approach and fast-tracked the application process, meaning that much of the planning work taking place behind the scenes was carried out simultaneously to construction work.

Collaboration was key to securing the fast-tracked planning permission. Council officers significantly increased the number of meetings they would typically hold for this size of project with all the major stakeholders including VMIC, Harwell Campus Management (project managers), Carter Jonas (the planning consultant), Glencar Construction (main construction company) and the agency funding VMIC, UK Research and Innovation.  Greater contact with statutory consultees, the local parish council and the ward councillor ensured consultation processes were adhered to and queries were responded to swiftly.

For the full press release see the Vale website.

Didcot Gateway – the home of the new South and Vale district council offices

Didcot will be the home of the new offices for South Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse District Councils in a move that will help to secure a more sustainable future for the councils, both economically and environmentally.

The district councils will move into a new building that’s proposed for the Didcot Gateway site opposite Didcot Parkway Station. The site is close to the centre of the town that sits on the border between the districts.

The councils need new headquarters following a five-year story that began in January 2015 when their shared headquarters in Crowmarsh Gifford were destroyed in an arson attack. After spending a few years in temporary offices at Milton Park, South Oxfordshire District Council revealed early designs for new headquarters at Crowmarsh in February this year. Shortly after unveiling these plans, the country went into lockdown as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw nearly all of the councils’ staff move to working at home full time.

Like many organisations around the world, the move to home working demonstrated to the councils that they could work successfully with most of their staff working in a more flexible and remote manner. However, the councils have learned over the past six months that there is still a need to have some office space for certain activities and for staff who are unable to work from home for practical, personal or well-being reasons. The councils have therefore reviewed their office requirements and concluded they need smaller offices than they previously had planned for.

As the plans are very much in the initial stages of development, it’s too early to give a firm date for the new offices, but the councils are working towards a date in Spring 2023.

Determining the future of the Crowmarsh Gifford site together with the local community remains a priority.

For the full press release see the Vale website.

Full council

Full Council met on 7th October, virtually over Microsoft Teams and the full agenda can be seen here.

One of the main topics for discussion were the Council’s finances and the interim budget, due to the situation with COVID, which has placed a lot of pressure on the Local Authority.
A motion about the publication by Government of the White Paper, ‘Planning for the Future’, was debated and discussed, and the council resolved to:

  • Take part in the consultation in the planning proposals, and to make representations against the proposals in the areas outlined in this motion.
  • Write to both of its Members of Parliament explaining the position of Council on these proposals, urging them to support the intentions of this motion by objecting, where necessary to those proposals, and for any reply from them to be placed on the council’s website.
  • Highlight its concerns over these proposals with the public and local residents.

Corporate plan

The Vale’s new Corporate Plan will go to cabinet, and a special meeting of council on 22nd October.

Record numbers of residents and people working in the Vale of White Horse recently responded to the survey about the district council’s forthcoming new Corporate Plan. Residents provided a wide range of useful feedback and after going through the responses, the Cabinet has considered some changes to their themes including:

  • Putting more emphasis on action to tackle on the Climate Emergency, given the high level of support for this theme.
  • embedding a culture of continuous improvement and review of services to ensure that we continue to provide value for money
  • creating a high-quality district-wide cycling/pedestrian network and publicising existing cycle and pedestrian routes through our communications channels.

Coronavirus Update from Oxfordshire County Council

March 30, 2020

Before I start this report I must applaud the work done by the volunteer groups working in the parishes, towns and cities throughout the County and beyond, who have sprung into action during this emergency to ensure the elderly and vulnerable are not alone and are receiving assistance when needed.

I recently attended the start up meeting of the Harwell Parish Helpers and was very impressed by their enthusiasm and dedication. All our volunteers are much deserving of our praise and appreciation and if you feel you can give even a small amount of support to your local volunteer group, please do.

These are unprecedented times; we all need to take care and follow the latest Government advice. Staff at the County Council are working flat out as we cannot simply close down or ask everybody to work from home, we are there to support and protect Oxfordshire’s residents particularly the vulnerable. We are prioritising our work and where possible staff are working from home. There are some areas that will see an increase in demand at a time when some of our staff will become ill with the virus. There will be some changes as we have to prioritise our work to key areas.

The main area of work in Social Care both adult and children’s has to continue on a 24/7 basis protecting around 7,000 residents. We expect the number of people requiring care to increase as informal carers become ill and are unable to continue care. This work is vital as it’s important we keep as many people as possible out of hospital.

We are working closely with the NHS to provide care and facilities for those patients that do not require acute care to be cared for away from hospitals or at home freeing up beds for those that most need them. This includes the group that we need to shield from the virus who are thought to be most at risk across the county.

The Government are shielding the extremely vulnerable approx. 1.5 million across the country full details can be found on the website: Extremely vulnerable.

Currently those people identified by the NHS as extremely vulnerable will be contacted by the NHS by letter, email, text or all 3 to say that they need to isolate themselves at home for the next 12 weeks. They will be asked if they have any help to collect prescriptions and food, this may be supplied by one of the brilliant local groups that have been set up. If they don’t have any help then they will be told to contact the council who will arrange a contact which again may come from one of the local groups. As you will see from the document these are certain groups within the population but there may be others that need help such as those in self-isolation which is where all the volunteers will help. If somebody thinks they should be on the list and haven’t been contacted by Sunday 29th March, then they should contact their GP or hospital clinician.

To assist in the logistics across the country there are Local Resilience Forums, we are in the Thames Valley Based around the Police authority area. These are where the blue light services link in with the NHS and local authorities to consider the high-level strategy. These then delegate down to the County to work with WODC and other Districts to coordinate the local hubs. The Government have seconded military planners to assist in the hubs which is where all the local community groups come into the local networks. This is about all working together to ensure that we do not duplicate provision or even worse miss a vulnerable resident

The organic growth of the community networks or hubs that we are seeing being set up is fantastic. These groups are providing some excellent services to local residents who are self-isolating or do not have relatives locally. It’s important that they are community led but we need to avoid duplication, so the County Council and Districts are working with Oxfordshire Volunteers to list them all and provide support where needed.

If you are approached by people wishing to volunteer, they can register at: https://oxonvolunteers.org/vk/volunteers/index.htm

Unfortunately, there are some cases of people taking advantage of the vulnerable residents so Trading Standards are working with the Police monitoring the situation and will take action should there be a need. Should you be aware of anything please do not hesitate to contact me.

This is a very fast-moving situation so please use the OCC, NHS and Government websites for the latest information.

I would like to say a big thank you to all the residents who continue to work to help us get through this difficult time. I will send any updates as they become available.

Above all please take care, stay safe and follow the advice.

TOGETHER WE WILL BEAT THIS!

County Councillor Mike Fox-Davies
Hendreds and Harwell Division
mike.fox-davies@oxfordshire.gov.uk