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A statement from Cllr Bethia Thomas, Leader of the Vale of White Horse District Council

It’s been another busy year for us all and I am aware that everyone at the council has been doing their utmost to manage the challenges we face in delivering all that we can for the residents of our district.

Looking back, it is clear we have achieved a great deal. The cost-of-living crisis has set many families back in the last few years and our Community Hub has done a fantastic job to help residents with cost-of-living concerns. Speaking with people at local events I have been able to spread the word of what we are able to offer, and our grants team have also been on hand to give advice on our services and available grants including two schemes to help support district’s food banks and community larders.

We continued our heartfelt response effort for Ukrainians seeking safe shelter in the Vale under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. We also stepped up to help families who supported the UK’s military operations in Afghanistan, who put themselves at risk and were forced to flee their home country. We’ve repurposed currently unused Ministry of Defence housing as temporary accommodation to provide a stable home, while we work with the families to establish themselves independently and move on to longer term homes.

In addition to our continued help for refugees, our housing team has been working harder than ever to support residents at risk of homelessness, making every effort to help people move people into long term accommodation. Our efforts on prevention continue to make a big difference and although there will always be lots to do, in 2022/23 our housing team prevented over 250 households in the district who were at risk of becoming homeless, from becoming homeless.  We’ve provided extra layers of support including a rapid response service for anyone experiencing rough sleeping. We’ve supported new affordable and extra care home provision and improved a grants process to encourage developers to build the affordable homes we want to see here in the Vale that are robust and accessible.

We’ve also continued our help and support for our local organisations and charities, through our own White Horse Community Lottery which provides organisations with vital funding to support our communities. So far this year, players have purchased over 46,770 tickets, generating an estimated £30,000 for local good causes across our district. 

We continue to make good progress in meeting the ambitious goals we set out in our Corporate Plans, in particular, measures to reduce our carbon emissions. These range from securing funding to decarbonise our leisure centres to working with partners to add EV car clubs in the ‘park and charge’ bays in council-run car parks and introducing more electric vehicle charging points. We are also working with our partners to help to improve cycling and walking pathways to encourage residents to change the way they commute to work or travel to their local town centre. 

We’ve created great opportunities for local communities to complete climate friendly projects – to date nearly £150,000 has been awarded to 42 community climate action projects in the Vale of White Horse. Buying water butts for Watchfield residents, restoring neglected woodland in Hinksey and insulating Littleworth Village Hall are just a few of the projects offered financial support by our Climate Action Fund.

We have championed nature recovery projects, building on previous successes; the ‘Let it Bee’ initiative, supported a relaxed approach to mowing throughout the growing season at nine sites in the district to encourage biodiversity. These sites have seen an increase in the abundance of wildflowers and plants including bee orchids, cornflowers, poppies, common knapweed, yarrow, red clover, yellow rattle and ox eye daisies.  As these have come into bloom, they have provided important shelter and food for pollinators including bees and butterflies.

And it is not just these projects that we are proud of, but all those things we do everyday to keep us ticking over. With all our residents’ great efforts, we’re still one of the top districts in the country for recycling our waste, our parks and gardens are maintained by our teams and new accessible playing equipment, allowing for all abilities, are popping up across the Vale. Our leisure centres are open and ready for those who want to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and our Active Communities Teams help with that too, putting on programmes for all ages and abilities.

And we are not just looking backward, but forward with new initiatives currently in development. Early next year we will be publishing our new draft policies for our Joint Local Plan to 2041 for consultation. Our innovative new planning policies will aim to help our district reach its full potential and address challenges we face – and you’ll soon be able to have your say. We’ll also begin our journey to shaping a new corporate plan for the council to take us up to 2028 – and again, we will be asking everyone to tell us what matters most to them to help us shape this vision.

I’d like to end by thanking all our local volunteers, community groups and charities that have been working tirelessly to help vulnerable individuals and families. I also couldn’t go without thanking my Cabinet, all councillors and everyone at the council in helping us to deliver our high-quality support and services throughout the year. 

As we head into our holiday break, if you (or anyone you know) need help or want to find out the details of our services over the Christmas period, including emergency support information, please head to our website.

I’d like to wish you all the joys the forthcoming festivities will bring in whichever way you choose to celebrate them.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! 

Cllr Bethia Thomas