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Leader’s statement – 14 December 2023                                                             

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

As we all know, it is coming to that time of the year again. A time where we look back and reflect on the last twelve months, but also an opportunity to anticipate the year ahead of us, and what we hope to achieve in 2024.

I think I have stood here before to explain how proud I am of you all – our council, our officers, our members, our committees, and our cabinet. They all have their roles to play and each one of you shares in our commitment to our residents, taking your place on committees, standing up for your communities and contributing to the policies that will help shape the future of our district for generations to come.

In that vein I would like to focus your attention on the work of just one of my cabinet members this evening, Cllr Foulsham, and of course, Cllr Hallett who held the portfolio before him, who have done more over the last few years to influence the shape of things to come, with their work on the Joint Local Plan.

I think that many may not realise quite how innovative this plan is – I was speaking to officers the other day and was saying all those phrases that could be used to describe it – ground-breaking, trailblazing, pioneering. We are pushing the envelope here and I am incredibly proud to be part of this.

This is nothing like anything we have seen before, and so different from our current local plan – it is difficult to even compare the two, because the principles which sit behind them are so different. Our administration under Cllr Smith recognised the need for modal shift and put our priorities at the heart of our most important policies – the need for sustainable communities, reducing our impact on the climate, and enhancing our environment through key policy points.

Today with the news focussed on the agreement at the COP28 Summit, it is fitting that we consider the environmental policies in a more local setting. In order to reach our district emission targets, we are setting strict limits for developments in the Vale and the Joint Local Plan is calling for so much more than what is expected according to national standards.

We are also factoring in important policies that will help us address nature recovery and reduce our impact on our rural and natural environments. Our new policy will commit us to going far beyond the 10% Biodiversity Net Gain requirements set by national policy and could be as far as a 25% Net Gain. This is incredible, and as we approach the date that we go live on the consultation for this plan, we are confident that our residents will see that we are fulfilling our pledge to them when they voted us in in May, that not only will we provide the homes people need, but also that we put our focus on climate and nature recovery.

So, I thank Cllr Foulsham, not only for his work getting this Joint Local Plan ready for consultation, but also for his work on the emerging corporate plan that will set the agenda and our programme of work for the next four years. This in itself is incredibly exciting and gives such scope for us to make a significant contribution to the future of our district.

We as an administration can set out how we wish to support our communities, manage our budgets, provide healthy and affordable homes, and how we can care for our climate and the environment. Our residents have shown us that they want us to focus on these priorities and we will do this, now and in the future.

We are still in the early stages of this process, and have so many ideas that we have not really even begun to explore them all, but we will, and, hand in hand with the Joint Local Plan, through consultation and discussion we expect it to be the innovative document that we want for our council, and one, with the help of our great team of officers working with us on our policies, that we will be proud to put our names to.

So I am looking forward to the coming months. We will launch the consultation on the Joint Local Plan in January, and will work with residents, parishes, and communities, confident that it will be welcomed as a new and innovative approach.

After that we will turn our attention to the corporate plan to make sure that our programme of work is ambitious, setting targets for ourselves and making sure we meet the needs of our residents, protecting our future, and enhancing our environment. It will be an exciting time and I am looking forward to it.

For now though I won’t keep you any longer, but with the prospect of a very busy year ahead of us, I would like to wish you all a happy, safe and restful festive break and look forward to welcoming you back in the New Year to get down to business.

Merry Christmas everyone.