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Address to Brightwalton Parish Council Assembly – July 2018 – Clive Hooker
Thank you for inviting me to address your Parish Assembly to report on the activities and achievements of West Berkshire Council.
The government continues to concentrate on reducing the country's debt. In order to help achieve this, Councils, the Fire Service and Police have had funding reductions. Whilst there is no doubt that there was quite a lot of room for economies, there is really little or no scope for further economies without impacting the services received.
So finance has again been a severe problem with the further reduction by the Government of the Revenue Support Grant to near zero and the cap on any increase in the Council Tax. Social services and in particular the needs of an increasing elderly population are straining resources.
Educational achievements are improving.
There have been extensions to schools and new schools planned to cope with the rising number of children.
The local plan is being rolled forward together with a transport plan to take them up to 2036.
The roads are in good shape although the recent snow and ice has caused some damage
In line with government policy the reduction in the Revenue Support Grant continued with a reduction from £34M in 2013/14 to £3.7M this year. Next year, 2018/19, it will effectively be zero. With the increasing pressure on social services caused by the increase in longevity of the population, the health services keeping us alive and the population increase, pressure on expenditure has increased. There has also been pressure from inflation and pay increases. However, new housing has increased the revenue from the Council Tax. Thus the reductions in expenditure and seeking new sources of income have continued. The changes have included staff reductions, reductions in grants to local charities and good causes, finding cheaper ways of providing services, sharing services with other councils (for example trading standards) and investing in property. The reduction in staff has led to some non-essential services being severely stretched – for example planning enforcement. A council can borrow money very cheaply, so in common with many other councils, West Berkshire is borrowing to buy commercial properties as a way of generating income. This should yield about £500K per year.
To balance the books the Council raised the Council Tax in 2017 – 18 by 4.99%.
3% of this was dedicated to social services. This year, 2018 - 19 it raised it by 5.99% again with 3% for social services. From time to time the government has come up with grants for special purposes, recently one for road maintenance.
The Council has joined a government scheme for the retention of the business rate. This in reality is the forthcoming increase in the business rate. 70% of this will go to the Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership to fund large infrastructure projects across the county and 30% will come to the Council and this is estimated to be £1.6M. This is most welcome and led to the increase of the grant to the Citizens Advice Bureau from £40K to £80K and that together with a grant from the Greenham Trust of £80k has preserved this vital service. CAB will therefore now receive a total of £160,000, which is a considerable increase from the £40,000 available following the budget review.
With the restrictions on funding the Council is concentrating on helping communities to help themselves by devolution. Much of this work has been with parish and town councils.
An example of this is the transfer of the Hungerford library building to the town council, where in addition to providing a library, it is used by the local community led by the Friends of Hungerford Library. In Thatcham the play areas are being transferred to the town council.
Incidentally all the libraries apart from Wash Common are open. In many cases the local communities have put in a lot of voluntary effort and grants from parish councils. A group has been set up to try and reopen the Wash Common Library which shows some sign of success.
The numbers of volunteers at libraries, Shaw House, Newbury Town Museum, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Program and other areas has risen from about 200 to over 500. As a by-product, many people get a lot of enjoyment and fulfilment from volunteering.
The Civil Contingencies Team now have a Vulnerable People Plan to help identify vulnerable people if there is a major incident.
Locally the ‘kitchen garden’ at Shaw House is being developed to allow and encourage local residents to enjoy healthy eating.
The Safeguarding of Children and Vulnerable Adults has been simplified with a single telephone number for help. There was an encouraging Ofsted inspection that there had been a lot of progress in working with partner organisations to improve the safeguarding of children. The priority is to ensure a quick and appropriate response.
A previous Care Quality Commission inspection had found the Willows Edge adult social care home as ‘inadequate’ a recent inspection now shows it to be ‘good’.
There has been a problem with recruiting and retaining social workers with 50% vacancies. This caused a lot of expense in employing agency staff. This has now improved to a 10% vacancy rate.
The Council’s priority is to improve educational attainment.
Currently, the schools judged by Ofsted to be at least ‘good’ has risen to 95%. The remaining four schools are improving. Some of the schools are Academies and therefore not under the Council’s control. Further capacity has been and will be needed to meet the growing population.
There has been a good improvement in attainment of learning of disadvantaged pupils and this is an area of priority for the Council.
£4.8M has been spent on school improvements. At Fir Tree Primary School additional places for Autistic children have been provided. At Speenhamland School there are 60 new places for reception children. A new primary school will be built at Highwood Copse and next year there is hope that the Theale primary school will be replaced. Also a new school is expected as part of the North Newbury development.
About £6M has been spent on the District’s roads with a further £6M next year. About 100 roads were resurfaced. The roads are in good condition although the recent snow caused quite a lot of damage that is taking time to repair.
A new road from the A339 into the London Road Estate had been built in preparation for the Estate’s redevelopment. Next year a link should be provided from the A339 into the expected Sandleford development. These were financed from the Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership.
17 more flood alleviation schemes have been completed with the remaining work being of a more minor nature.
95% of Berkshire now enjoys super-fast broadband with 99% still being the target.
WBC will charge an annual subscription (yet to be confirmed of £50 per household) for the collection of garden waste.
Residents will be able to opt in or out to receive the service.
Subscribers will continue to use the green bin and will receive a bin sticker to show that the service for the collection of garden waste has been paid for. The green bin can be put out with the recycling every fortnight.
Subscribers will also be able to put food waste in the green bin for recycling.
Non-subscribers will stop receiving a garden waste collection. However, household food waste may be put in the green bins for collection every fortnight.
Residents will be able to request additional bins as part of this subscription service and additional charges will apply.
There will be no service concessions.
It is estimated this proposal will create an income of up to £600,000 this year and £900,000 every year thereafter. This additional income will assist in paying for the rubbish and recycling collection service.
The Council believes in being a plan led according to the Council’s Development Plan Document. To this end, the plan takes us up to 2026 and defines where development should take place and what polices are required to control that development. Several developers have tried to claim in appeals with Her Majesty’s Inspectors that we do not have a 5 year land supply for housing but, in all but one case, the Council has won the appeal. There is a rule that 30% of dwellings on a brown field site and 40% on a greenfield site should be affordable. Regretfully government decided that if developers could claim that proving the affordable housing would make a development unviable they could omit it. There is now an industry exploiting this loop hole and therefore the provision of affordable housing is disappointing. The expected delivery was 1000 units by 2020 that now looks more like 685. As an aside, government edicts are littered with “unintended consequences” with viability being one, and the conversion of offices to housing without the need for permission another.
Disappointingly the Sandleford development still does not have planning permission following two refused planning applications due to disagreements between the two developers and the Council insisting that it should be done according to the local plan. A third planning application has recently been submitted, which will be considered by Officers shortly. Should the disagreement continue after the third application has been submitted, the Council will seriously consider a compulsory purchase of the site.
It was a pleasure to see a start being made on the Stirling Cables site. It is heavily contaminated and it will take some time to clear this prior to development.
Plans for the redevelopment of the site between Market Street and the railway station are in place and the first visible sign of this will be the move of the bus station to the Wharf later this year.
There is now a proposal for a very large development at Grazley on the West Berkshire Wokingham border. This straddles the two districts. If this goes ahead, it will take a lot of the development pressure in the future.
All the Berkshire councils are rolling forward their local plans and transport plans to 2036. The policies have just completed consultation. There has been a call for sites that has ended and the results are being analysed and will go out to consultation in a few months, after which a decision will be taken as to where development will take place. It is understood that the Christmas Tree Field and land north of Vodafone are being put forward.
During the past year my Council responsibilities have included:-
Chairman for the Western Area Planning Committee
Deputy Portfolio Holder for Planning
Member of the District Planning Committee
Member of the Planning Advisory Group
Member of the Development Industry Forum
Outside duties include:-
Trustee of the Saunders Wynn and Coventry Trust at Chaddleworth
I have attended most of the West Ilsley, East Ilsley, Beedon, Brightwalton, Chaddleworth, Leckhampstead Parish Council meetings and the Farnborough Parish assemblies.
District Councillor for Downlands Ward
This is written by the Parish Clerk with input from the village.
Click here to find out more about the planning process and to view all the current planning applications in Brightwalton.
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