Leader’s Statement – 12 July
As I look around, it becomes evident that I am still trying to come to terms with the new look of our council and I am delighted to see a strong and active administration raring to get struck into the policy decisions that will come over the course of the next four years, and that by working together with all members we will have the chance to make a real difference to our residents and to our district.
We have hit the ground running and have already we have made progress in the development of our Joint Local Plan, consulting with members to make sure we all have a say in the policies that will shape the communities of the future.
We have a vision of providing the homes people need, that are sustainable, with the infrastructure that we need for happy, healthy and productive communities – the ones that we would like to live in, and those that our children deserve to live in in years to come. There will be another opportunity for local residents and businesses to give their thoughts in the coming months.
Looking forward, we are already putting steps in place to work towards a new corporate plan, setting ourselves new goals and aspirations, and making sure we deliver positive outcomes for our residents. .
I am sure much of what we worked on during the last administration will carry on, including the themes that we agreed were most important to us – we consulted with residents back then on what they thought we should be focussing on, we took that on board, providing a framework for what we work on, and just importantly how we chose to work – in open and transparent manner making sure we are accountable to the residents in the Vale. Once again, there will be an opportunity for residents to give us their views in due course.
One of the most important themes from our last corporate plan was the environment and, because of this, we have put climate at the heart of everything we do. As leader, I have taken the responsibility for climate action and the environment, and I will do my utmost to push positive change working with our Climate Action Team and reaching out to communities with the Climate Action Fund which we have recently expanded – I will be looking forward to seeing all the applications come in over the next few weeks.
I am working with Cllr Gascoigne, Chair of Climate Emergency Advisory Committee, to make sure we are coming up with best solutions for district, influencing our own. I have also appointed one of our Green colleagues, Cllr Foxhall as our new Nature Recovery champion and she is looking forward to work highlighting those areas of best practice to share within the district and to encourage residents, parish councils and local organisations to get involved with nature recovery.
Everyday we see the effects of climate change in the news. Even on a local level we see how the environment around us is changing, and we must come to terms with this change. However, we must take into account the needs of our local communities and listen to them.
Recently, an increasing number of residents have been getting in touch with members and officers with concerns about the proposals for the Botley West Solar Farm. Given its scale, the applicant is likely to submit its proposal as a ‘Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project’, which means it will be considered and determined by a government appointed Planning Inspector on behalf of the Secretary of State.
I think most of us here agree that solar power has a significant role to play in helping the district and country to become carbon-neutral, our own climate action team has just produced an excellent set of guidelines on best practice for solar farms throughout the county, but it is my firm view that it must be done in a way that is sensitive to the local landscape and communities, and that’s why I’m personally disappointed that the decision on this solar farm is out of our hands and will be made an Inspector reporting to Whitehall.
I understand a significant majority of respondents to the developer’s public engagement on the farm have said they strongly oppose the proposals. We will be providing a response to the government’s consultation on the Planning Application, and we recommend that our residents with opinions on the proposals do the same – there are more details on our website at whitehorsedc.gov.uk/botleywest.
Another proposal which has caused much concern recently is the reservoir. If it were to go ahead it would have significant negative impacts on our district. Building the South East Strategic Reservoir Option (SESRO) would cause permanent and irreversible harm to an enormous area of the Vale countryside and potentially result in a significant increase in carbon emissions preventing us from achieving our climate targets.
In this case we believe there are many better and more innovative solutions than a reservoir which would cost less and be far less destructive for the environment, and I have urged water companies, regulators and government in the past to reject this reservoir and come up with a new and sustainable plan for water management in the South East – it may sound simple but by focussing efforts on fixing leaks and improving water efficiency water companies would reduce the need for any such scheme in the future.
It is interesting that today when Thames Water faced questions in parliament, we are debating a motion that expresses our intentions to put Thames Water to greater levels of scrutiny, highlighting the failings we have seen locally in infrastructure and planning.
I am delighted that I have been able to work so closely with the one of our Green colleagues, Cllr Foxhall, on this motion, working in a truly collaborative fashion in a motion forwarded by Cllrs Batstone and Cooke, on behalf of all our residents. I hope this relationship can continue, setting new standards for climate action in local authorities – there are very few councils if any that could claim a membership that is so concerned with the environment.