Leader’s Report to Full Council – Wednesday 12 February 2020
Work on the budget has dominated my cabinet’s time over the past few weeks, and I am proud of how much they and senior officers have achieved in such uncertain times.
Despite the extremely tight financial situation we inherited, we have this evening agreed a budget that enables us to start work on a brand-new Local Plan and invests over £100,000 of initiatives to tackle the climate emergency.
But at Cabinet on 3rd February there were also several non-budget decisions made.
We agreed to consult on a Statement of Community Involvement to help us ensure residents businesses and developer’s voices are included in the development of new local plan.
We agreed improved governance arrangements for the Didcot Garden Town Advisory Board. After feedback from Parish Councils within the Didcot Garden Town boundary, we now have a Parish Council rep on the Board and all Board meetings will be open to the public. Look out for details of community engagement events to help us decide which projects to seek funding for and take forward.
We approved £2.9million for an extra care housing scheme on Great Western Park which will be paid for from the Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Deal money, but we also discussed the frustratingly slow progress on increasing affordable housing delivery across Oxfordshire as part of the Growth Deal. The terms of the deal for drawing down funding for affordable homes means that Vale are having to ‘top-up’ the money from government to make any delivery of additional affordable homes possible.
Last week I represented you all at the District Councils Network Conference. Apart from the lack of funding for lower tier authorities, the most contentious topic discussed was what ministers are describing as “Devolution” – but may more accurately described as Local Government Reorganisation driven by a desire for Mayoral Authorities and increased growth. This top-down approach did not go down well with delegates from all political parties and we wait to see what government has in store for district councils in the next few weeks.
There was much interest from fellow delegates about the holding direction on South Oxfordshire District Council. Their concern about the erosion of local democratic accountability and disregard for residents’ views were also shared by many members of Oxfordshire County Council at their full council meeting yesterday.
We wait to see what the county’s decision to take on the South Local Plan, if asked by the Secretary of State, means practically – both for our officers, notably those within our planning service, and the impact could be wider – for our council and local democracy in general.