|Our thanks to those of you that attended our public meeting at the end of February when a full house heard: our Chairman’s annual review (which if you want to read it can be found at www.wcresidents.co.uk and click on “latest updates”); from Richard Renaut about Christchurch Hospital; and from Andrew Martin the DCC Officer responsible for our roads.
As far as the hospital is concerned we have arranged for the Managing Director Tony Spotswood to address a public meeting and field your questions. This will take place on Wednesday 9th April at 7.45pm in the Hall on the Hall Marlow Drive. Please try to come along.
From Andrew Martin we heard how desperately underfunded our road system is. In an excellent presentation he gave us real insight into the very difficult situations he faces – all made worse by the terrible winter weather.
The county’s road network has suffered extensive damage since Christmas, which is likely to cost millions of pounds to put right. Work on many construction schemes has been suspended to free up resources for Dorset’s weather-ravaged roads. County council crews are being redeployed to help tackle problems caused by the torrential downpours and strong winds.
More people will be available to repair pothole, clear out ditches and gullies, move fallen trees and ensure drainage systems are working properly. DCC has spent more than £700,000 on tackling weather-related highways problems since Christmas Eve. The long-term cost of repairs to the network is likely to be around £7 million, and DCC will be pressing for its share of any emergency funds made available by the Government.
Those Trees Destroyed in Druitt Gardens
As promised last month, the investigative report was duly published. If you want to read the whole document, go to www.wcresidents.co.uk and click on “latest updates”. The report is long but well written and readable with patience. We have edited some important highlights for you here.
The Druitt Gardens site has been the subject of several planning applications over the years and we have to go back to one in 2007 for the start of this saga. It was widely assumed within CBC and by developers that this 2007 planning permission granted the right to fell the trees.
However in 2014, to be absolutely sure of the position, CBC Legal officers were asked to ascertain if that was the case. This examination highlighted a lack of clarity around the 2007 approval. Counsel’s independent legal opinion was obtained and that confirmed that there was no permission within the 2007 approval to fell the trees.
Attention then turned to a 2013 planning permission. A Legal assessment of that showed that it too was seriously flawed in relation to the impact on trees and that as a direct result CBC was not now entitled to insist on any protection for the trees in Druitt Gardens.
CBC considered whether the problems associated with the 2013 planning decision should be rectified by applying to the Secretary of State to revoke it or by asking the High Court to modify it or by CBC seeking to quash the decision by making an application for judicial review.
Further legal advice was sought from Counsel who advised that if CBC tried to revoke or modify the permission there would be significant financial costs for CBC in the form of compensation to the developer and in external legal costs. CBC decided not to pursue any of the paths outlined above as they considered this to be the best, least cost option for us taxpayers.
The first concern in this sorry tale relates to the lack of clarity in the 2007 planning permission and the mistaken assumption that this offered explicit freedom for the felling of the trees in Druitt Gardens. It is clear that there was a lack of understanding and an incorrect assumption was created which affected subsequent actions by all parties. That was just sloppy work.
The second issue relates to the fact that the 2007 approval was not properly checked by officers when any of the subsequent applications were submitted. Given that Druitt Gardens is a sensitive site this was more poor work. Greater diligence in checking records would most certainly have identified the incorrect assumption far quicker than has subsequently been the case.
Thirdly, the 2013 application should have been accompanied by an Impact Assessment related to the trees. Instead there was misplaced reliance on the assumption made about the 2007 application. This was just more sloppy work.
The report goes on to make a case for better training of Councillors that sit on the Planning Committee. Now we would be the first to agree that there are Councillors who could benefit from all manner of rigorous training. However, we would like to suggest that some old fashioned managerial control administered to the posterior of the Planning Department might not go amiss.
In 2012-13 there were 66 applications determined by CBC Planning Committee of which 22 were decided contrary to CBC officer recommendations. This is a relatively high number and one has to ask quite why this happens as often as it does. Of the 8 appeals which resulted from these decisions 7 resulted in the decision to refuse being overturned. The cost to you and me of defending these appeals was around £40,000. We now know that this all took place in an environment in which the blind were leading the blind and frankly - that simply isn’t good enough.
Meeting With Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner
We had our second meeting with Martyn Underhill a year after we first met him. We asked him to outline progress to date and to let us know how he intended to spend his additional tax revenue. You can read the full interview at www.wcresidents.co.uk and click on “latest updates”.
We asked what specific targets he had for 2014-15, particularly bearing in mind his planned increase of 1.95% in the Council Tax allocation for Dorset Police. He highlighted five key initiatives:
Martyn gave an undertaking that he would not seek to increase the Council Tax allocation in 2015-16 (very sensible in our view given that it’s election year!)
- Body Cams: it is planned to issue every officer with a body cam to film and record key events. This will both assist officers by, for example, moderating the behaviour of members of the public they approach whilst also making the officers themselves more accountable.
- Tackle cyber-crime: this will involve both cyber-enabled crime (old tricks in a modern guise) and cyber-dependent crime (specially invented for the 21st century). The first phase will be an awareness programme that will involve writing to every household in Dorset. Very few people realise that cyber-crime represents the largest criminal threat to residents of Dorset.
- Increase the number of police vehicles by 7: this is particularly relevant to rural areas which in this context could include outer areas of Christchurch
- Recruit 16 new officers: the past freeze on police recruitment has skewed the age distribution of Dorset Police and it is essential that new young blood is introduced
- Introduce a PIN for regular users of the 101 system: this will enable regular users of 101 (foster carers for example) to by-pass the repetitive giving of standing information such as name and address and to move more easily onto the important part of the call
Police detain about 15,000 people a year under the Mental Health Act. In 2012-13 in Dorset 157 persons suffering a mental health crisis entered Police Custody Suites. This included five people under 18 years old. Martyn believes that every one of those 157 cases represents a failure of the system, a failure of society to provide suitable safe health based care for people who are desperately ill. Martyn (who chairs the national mental health working group) has launched the first ever Mental Health Concordat which will outline how police, paramedics, doctors, nurses and social workers should join forces to help patients in a mental health crisis.
Police are hunting burglars who forced their way into a home in Hillside Drive to steal jewellery, silver and cash. The raiders broke into the rear of the property between February 23 and March 3. The Police are appealing for information, particularly from people who have been offered items for an unusually low price or in strange circumstances. Witnesses and anyone with information should call Dorset Police in confidence on 101, quoting incident number 3:187 or the free and anonymous Crime-stoppers line on 0800 555 111 where mobile phone tariffs may apply.
The unprecedented rainfall brought new problems, some of which made national news. This included residents of Conifer Close initially being incorrectly charged for sandbags. We asked Councillor Margaret Phipps to give us the official situation and you can read her full response at www.wcresidents.co.uk and click on “environment” and then our new web page devoted to flooding. If the flooding has affected you there is important information on that page.
In summary Margaret told us:
If the Council receives a request for emergency assistance where a property is at risk of imminent flooding, they aim to deliver filled sandbags free of charge. Sandbags required to defend habitable property will take precedence over garages and outhouses. Over 1,000 sandbags were delivered free of charge by the Council on 14th and 15th February.
Visit www.dorsetforyou.com/flooding/christchurch for Christchurch Borough Council’s flood prevention details and sandbags policy.
For the last two years the Council has organised ‘Flood Fairs’ in the Civic Offices, where residents can assess if their properties are in flood zones and discuss the latest products and innovations available to prevent water entering their homes. Nearly 300 residents attended the last Fair, and they were encouraged to take preventative measures to protect their properties. We will be holding a “Flood Drop-In Session” on 20th March 2014, 2.30pm to 7.30pm in the Christchurch Council Chamber, when officers will be on hand to provide advice and guidance on flooding issues and the financial support schemes being offered by the Government. There will also be information boards giving general flood information.
The recent storms have wreaked havoc along parts of the Christchurch coast line, with sea defences being undermined and in some places washed away. Also thousands of tonnes of beach material has been washed out to see and needs to be replaced. The Council is currently spending over £100,000 to carry out emergency repairs to groynes, so that the situation does not worsen. The overall cost of damage around the Borough will be much more, and likely to run into £millions. The Council is making every effort to obtain funds from DEFRA and the Department of Communities and Local Government, under Government schemes.
We have reminded Margaret about Hengistbury Head and will also be watching to see what happens to those beach huts we told you about in a previous Newsletter – the ones Councillors gave permission for that will be built on the sea side of the sea defences!.
We have a statement from DCC:
'DCC is arranging for an additional classroom to be provided on the Christchurch Infant School site to accommodate a further class of children for the 'school within a school' which is already operating on this site. This has been agreed with the school and the classroom will be on site and ready for use in September 2014.
In the meantime work is still ongoing to provide a permanent solution to the need for additional places in the Christchurch area which the 'school within a school' will move to and we are still aiming to have this in place ready for September 2015.
This is a sensitive time in the process and we are unable to give out any further information at this time other than to reassure everyone that the project continues to progress with the required urgency and that we are eager to share information as soon as it is possible.'
Our thanks go to Councillor Phipps for wrestling with DCC to obtain that statement.
Forthcoming Events at the Hall on the Hill
There’s a quiz night on Saturday 5th April. For full details use the following link: http://www.hallonthehill.org.uk/Pages/forthcomingevents.php
And a reminder that we have arranged for the Managing Director of the Hospital Trust Tony Spotswood to address a public meeting and field your questions. This will take place on Wednesday 9th April at 7.45pm
Our subscription for 2014 will remain at £1 per household
Since last year some collectors have decided to retire. We need to replace them. Please get in touch if you would be willing to help us.