Last Thursday we had Full Council. I very busy meeting that took over 5 hours. Some very important subjects including the Local Development Plan (LDP) and the Budget/Council Tax.
The chamber was full with around 55 of the 59 Councillors present for the first few subjects. By the end of the meeting we down to just 25. The public gallery was also very fulll, probably another 50 people, of which most where there to here the debate on the Local Development Plan.
The full agenda and documents can be found at the following links:
Local Development Plan
There was a lot of opposition to the Local Development Plan, wholly in relation to the Housing Allocations.
As the member representing Deganwy I have to do what is best for my ward and that is why I voted in favour of the LDP being submitted to the Planning Inspectorate.
Deganwy ward has not had any further land allocated, except for all those pieces of land already with planning permission.
Without any plan in place we risk of the chance of developers developing on any land. Without an LDP in place we are basing decisions on out of date plans, which are being continually overturned under appeal by the Planning Inspectorate. The Welsh Government what us to build many more homes, and the Plan is needed to restrict this potential free for all. The LDP is more than just Housing and looks at protecting employment land (which is in short supply).
No Plan = No Control.
One of the reasons I became a Councillor was because of the LDP, and the impact it was having in the village for business who wanted to diversify into services such a Cafe. Forget Me Not had to go through a long process including appeal to eventually get permission to be come a cafe, as the old plans (agreed prior to the A55 being built) "protected" Deganwy as a retail area. When the planning inspectorate agreed with the appeal to allow the cafe and in essence break the retail protection it was to late for Forget Me Not that had already stopped trading, but it has helped with the viability of other business in the village, including Niki Ips.
The resolution of the Council was to agree to the LDP in principle, but that additional discussion about the specific sites will take place. This seemed on the face of it a sensible compromise, but it does run the risk that the Planning Inspectorate say we have not fulfilled our statutory duties to agree an LDP, and may decide to take control of the process.
The debate on the individual sites will not take place until after the election.In practice all I can see happening at this meeting is that each site will be discussed individually and when it comes to the vote, each local member will be out voted by everyone else. Everyone else will be wanting to protect there own wards, and by voting in favour of other sites, it will reduce the chance of land being allocated in their own wards.We will end up at the same position we were in on Thursday.
Council Tax and Budget
Most of the debate on this has already taken place in other meetings, including previous Council meetings, Principal Scrutiny and Cabinet. As well as separate workshops to discuss Revenue and Capital Business Cases.
As has been reported the County Council element of the Council Tax is being increased by 4%, around £34 for a Band D property. 70% of the homes in Conwy are Band D or below.I voted for this resolution. Most but not all of the Conservatives voted against, which I can understand and there objection was primarily placed at the door of the Welsh Government for reducing our funding and also not passing on the additional funding provided by the UK Government that could have been used to freeze Council Tax. But no alternatives were submitted and hence only leaving the resolution on the table.
A question was asked what would have happened had we all voted against the 4%, well apparently we would have had to stay until a balanced budget was agreed. We are statutory obliged to set a balanced budget. With no alternatives and certainly no evidenced ideas then we only had one option.
The full reports can be read on the link above, and I can't add any more to the arguments in the report. But some of the issues that affected this year, were a cut in our funding from Welsh Government of nearly £700K. That the the WG insisted on the Social Services and Education budgets being protected, meaning we only had a small part of the authority to find the savings. As everyone else, including all the residents, the council is affected by inflation.Conwy is already operating below what the Welsh Government believes should be the "Standard Spending Assessment", and this is why it has the the 3rd lowest council tax in Wales and the lowest in North Wales. Hence we are already spending less than most others and hence the options for savings are reduced without having a substantive impact on the Services.Our highways budget for example is far from adequate and you just have to see that states of our roads to see this. Practically all the budget is used to just to continually patch the network, with the occasional resurfacing.
It would have been irresponsible, as has happened in the past, to reduced the Council Tax in a run up to the election. Although this would have benefited residents this year, it would have caused a massive problem next year for the new administration and probably bring the authority back in to potential trouble with the auditors.
None of the Councillors wanted this increase, but they have all been part of the process to find the millions of savings required to limit the increase to 4%. I'm not proud of the fact that we have increased Council Tax, but I am proud of the fact that over the last 4 years I have helped maintain Conwy as the lowest Council Tax in North Wales, 3rd lowest in Wales and 5th lowest in England & Wales.
If there is one area I think further savings can be made is in the amount of bureaucracy and reporting required by the Welsh Government. So much time and effort is taken by managers doing this that it deflects money from the front line. This can be only solved by increasing pressure back onto the Welsh Government and through the National Assembly. The problem of rocking the boat is that the WG will punish us, by with holding grants, or not being as proactive in our schemes. The relationship is very one sided.
Well this was the penultimate Council meeting of this term, and the last budget setting meeting. Whether I am involved in next years work will be the decision of the residents of the Deganwy Ward in May.
By the way it does look like the next term for Councillors will be 5 years. See another report in the link above to see why. So extra reasons to think about who you want to represent you in May.
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