Referendum – What Referendum?
In our last newsletter, we promised to contact you on 5th May with a “Referendum Special” to coincide with referendum papers from CBC arriving on your doormat.
So, here is the newsletter but where are the referendum papers? Well, CBC Councillors have voted to defer the referendum on council reorganisation in Dorset until after the general election.
Councillors believe that possible changes to ministers and government policies on local government could come about because of the general election. Councillors therefore felt the best option moving forward was to delay the referendum until after June.
The RETAIN YOUR INDEPENDENCE Leaflet
You may have received a colourful leaflet bearing the logos of CBC and Bournemouth Borough Council (BBC) and headlined in yellow “Retain Your Independence”. From reading the leaflet you could be forgiven for believing that CBC and BBC are both demeaning the consultancy Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) and suggesting you vote against council reorganization.
Despite its appearance, this is not an official document produced jointly by the two councils. The leaflet is the brainchild of an individual based in Ringwood. Various aspects of the leaflet must be questioned regarding the accuracy of the information portrayed and you should treat every word in it with considerable scepticism.
If the referendum proceeds we will provide a full analysis of this very misleading leaflet. In the meantime, we have written to the Chief Returning Officer to draw his attention to the leaflet and to PWC to advise them of the attack on their reputation.
While We Wait
You will recall that the plans that have been submitted to the Secretary of State are supported by amongst others Dorset Council, Bournemouth Council, Poole Council, the Local Enterprise Partnership, the airport, the health authorities, the universities, business representative across Dorset and 65% of Dorset’s residents.
The subset of parochial CBC Councillors who form a majority on our council and who are thus able to isolate Christchurch have yet to formulate an alternative plan.
Across Dorset every council, including Christchurch, is facing a projected funding deficit. For the last two years 2014-15 and 2015-16, Dorset Council (which spends 70% of your Council Tax) has spent more money than it has taken in and has thus had to transfer money out of savings into current account to pay its bills.
This year, in a report produced by the Chief Finance Officer dated 13th March 2017 (the last month for which published figures are available on Dorset-For-You) the forecast of overspend predicted by Dorset County Council’s Directors and Heads of Service in 2016-17 was £6.6 million.
As usual, the primary areas that account for this situation are Adult and Community Services (£4.4 million overspend) and Children’s services (£6.9 million overspend). That is what 70% of your Council Tax helps to fund. Thanks to savings elsewhere that total overspend in these two critical areas of £11.3 million has been reduced to £6.6 million overall.
Of some concern is the fact that in the same report the Chief Finance Officer advised that the first forecast for financial year 2017-18 was not on track in certain areas and that better progress should have been made prior to commencement of the 2017-18 budget.
A Council is no different to you and me. It can’t go on indefinitely transferring money out of savings to balance the books. Dorset Council is no different to Bournemouth Council or Poole Council. They are all having to cope with similar situations.
Local Government Minister Marcus Jones has said: “What Dorset councils are doing is exactly what local councils should be doing. They are planning how they can deliver better services to the towns, villages and people of Dorset, how they can provide stronger, more efficient and more effective leadership, and how they can generate significant savings to support front-line services”.
So here is our challenge to that subset of CBC Councillors. Use this interregnum to produce your alternative plan for Dorset and publish it for all to see. Tell us what alternative structures you propose. Analyse the costs of running Dorset and demonstrate how you would save enough money to keep Dorset Council and thus Christchurch Council solvent. Explain where you will find the investment needed to bring service delivery into the 21st century. Tell us who else endorses your plan.
Remember, if you want to refresh your memory of past events our website holds a wealth of information including old newsletters.
Strategic Planning in Dorset
One of the reasons given by the subset of CBC Councillors for not cooperating with the proposed council reorganization is that they believe they can provide better strategic planning.
Strategic planning in Dorset occurs not locally but at a regional level through the Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) (which strongly supports the proposed Christchurch-Bournemouth-Poole council as part of the solution to Dorset’s problems)
Dorset LEP has just submitted its county-wide response to the Government’s new Industrial Strategy.
The response pulls together contributions from public and private sector organisations from across the county including businesses, local authorities and the county’s universities. It has been endorsed by the Dorset Chamber of Commerce and the Leaders’ Growth Board, representing the local authorities in Dorset.
It provides evidence in response to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s ‘Building our Industrial Strategy’ green paper. Published in January 2017, the paper sets out a vision to improve living standards and economic growth by increasing productivity and driving growth across the whole country.
With a population of 746,000, Dorset has the UK’s fastest growing digital economy and potential to grow further in key sectors such as engineering, maritime, financial services, agricultural technology, care and tourism. Many of Dorset’s biggest businesses are global players and their products and services make an important contribution to the UK economy.
Dorset has a major strength in digital operations where it is building a national and international reputation that the Industrial Strategy can accelerate. Dorset is a perfect test bed for new digital solutions, requiring only modest investment
The Dorset LEP has set out its strategic economic objectives in ‘A Strategic Economic Vision for Dorset’ which has been endorsed by all nine Dorset councils and is focussed on delivering, among other things:
• A high productivity economy
• Provision of housing to facilitate growth
• A growing business population
• A world class workforce
• Accessibility to markets with better public transport and full access to ultrafast broadband
• Delivering growth across Dorset
It is not clear to us quite how our local worthies can come anywhere near providing an equivalent professional service for us.
General Election Thursday 8th June
You can register to vote online by midnight on 22nd May. If you don’t know whether you are registered to vote, you can contact your local council. If you were already registered to vote for the Dorset County Council elections on 4th May, you don’t need to register again. You can register for a postal vote by 5pm on 23rd May and 5pm on 31st May for a proxy vote.
NHS Clinical Services Review for Dorset
Thank you to all of you who responded to the NHS Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group's public consultation on proposals for specific roles for hospitals in Poole and Bournemouth, as well as community services and the redistribution of beds in the county.
The Clinical Commissioning Group (also known as the CCG) received around 18,000 responses to the consultation, which is a fantastic result and will provide them with an invaluable insight into the public's views on the proposals. In addition, over 1,000 people took part in telephone surveys and focus groups and around 1,800 people attended 16 drop-in events, with hundreds more taking the opportunity to speak to the CCG team at 25 pop-up events across the county. The team also answered over 560 queries and concerns from members of the public and organisations.
Over the coming months, the views and information gathered during the public consultation will be analysed with a report expected to be published later in the summer. This report will be part of the final business case, which will be presented to the CCG’s Governing Body in the autumn. The information in the report will be fully and thoroughly deliberated by the CCG's Governing Body before it makes its decisions, which will then be widely publicised.
Trees on St Catherine’s Hill SSSI - Management Plan Update
It is 13 years since we organized the opposition to the felling of 20,000 trees on St Catherine’s Hill. If you aren’t aware of what went on and would like to know more go to our website and click on Environment/St Catherine’s Hill. The more important documents from 2004 and later are there.
Out of our success was born a Management Committee on which we represented you and which has produced a Management Plan for the SSSI. Ultimately the aim of the management plan is to provide a diverse range of habitats and maximise the benefits of the site for as wide a range of species as possible whilst maintaining it as a pleasant place for us to enjoy. For this to happen, some of the woodland must become mixed wooded-heathland and some must become heathland.
In addition, many of the Maritime Pines are all a similar age and will thus all die at around the same time. Priority has thus been given to the felling of these pines, many of which are in poor health with around 10 mature trees dying each year.
The timber created by felling has been primarily extracted from the site as either logs or woodchip, as opposed to burning. Whilst better for residents, this increased cost and had short term logistical impacts because of on-site stockpiling of materials, vehicle movements and localised track rutting. The cost of works has been almost entirely met through grant funding from Natural England.
Vegetation recovery (e.g. germination of heather seedlings) is evident in the areas cleared by previous felling. This has been supplemented in some areas by the spreading of heather seed and the moving of heather plants from adjacent open areas.
Although cattle grazing of the site remains an aspiration within the lifetime of the plan and has been discussed at length by the Steering Group, there are no current plans to take this forward in the short term.
Hydrology on the Hill
This is a constant worry to those living on or near to the Hill and was a key factor in arriving at the agreed management plan.
Monthly monitoring of dip-wells and rainfall data from Bournemouth Airport has been ongoing since December 2012. This shows that 2012-2014 was a particularly wet period with both 2012 and 2014 falling within the top 5 wettest years since records began in 1953.
There are 10 dip-wells on site, two on top of the hill are 5m deep and the remainder are 2m deep. Of these, five have so far remained dry and five have held varying amounts of water at some point during the year. Two of the five have held water throughout the period.
The Hill appears to hold groundwater a bit like a sponge and releases it gradually through the springs that residents know well. In low to normal rainfall periods, as the water drains away over many months, the springs start to dry out. The most recent dip-well records (March 2017) are the driest on record with some ditches returning to a dry state for the first time in 4 or 5 years.
Not surprisingly there seems to be a strong correlation between rainfall and site dryness although the free draining nature of the site means that large volumes of continuous rain are necessary to make a noticeable difference. It is worth restating that the hydrology of the site is complex and not well understood.
Heavy showers and persistent rain do still cause short term surface water issues and sand being washed away from site entrances. Works to clear or improve drainage ditches to resolve localised issues have been carried out at three main locations along the western boundaries of the site. Residents have also made contributions towards costs in one of these locations. Deliberate blocking of the new drainage in one location is an ongoing issue.
Fire Damage on the Hill
The devastating fires on 31 May 2015 had an immediate adverse impact. The site vegetation is now gradually recovering in most areas but we expect it will take 10 years to return the site to a similar condition visually and even longer for wildlife to fully return.
Works to improve fire service response and access have been planned and partially implemented. This includes removing obstructions and flammable vegetation along Dudmoor Lane to give sufficient width and height and increase opportunities for vehicle passing and turning. The feasibility of an additional fire hydrant at the north end of the site and improving east-west access across the site for fire vehicles are being investigated.
Our thanks to CBC Officer Robin Harley for his report on the progress being made in managing St Catherine’s Hill. This is an edited extract – you can read the full version complete with plans and charts on the website
Other Christchurch Residents Associations
WCRA is not the only Residents Association in Christchurch. Whilst we are the largest we have sister organizations in for example Stanpit and Mudeford (SAMRA) and Winkton.
For many years, these organizations have formed a loose alliance to share ideas and problems and to lobby CBC, DCC, and so on. Since 2004 our Chairman Jim Biggin has been Secretary of the alliance which since 2011 has been known as ACRA. Since 2016 he has also acted as ACRA Chairman.
Unfortunately, through ill health he was obliged to stand down as both Chairman and Secretary of ACRA in March 2017 and Sue Bungey of Christchurch Citizens was appointed to replace him.
It was something of a shock when we subsequently realised that ACRA had taken to writing letters to various parties without first showing drafts to its members and gaining their approval and backing. We contacted the new Chairman and asked her to stop such practices and to revert to the proper way of conducting ACRA business. She refused.
We were therefore obliged to send her the following e-mail:
Breach of ACRA Constitution
WCRA has discussed your actions whilst acting as ACRA Chairman, particularly the sending of letters under the ACRA name without first showing drafts to all ACRA members, which is a clear breach of paragraph 11 of the ACRA Constitution:
Management by Consensus: all subjects considered by the Members must achieve consensus as to any action to be taken
And your reply when asked for an explanation:
“I am afraid I do not have the time or inclination to send drafts to everyone asking for their individual comments and will not be doing so in the future”.
The WCRA committee are unable to accept this behaviour and attitude and do not believe this represents the values that WCRA would wish to be associated with.
This new method of working means that any recipient of an ACRA letter must first ask exactly which organisations ACRA are representing at any given time. What they can't assume is that the whole membership supports or even knows about what is being done in its name.
WCRA has given you an opportunity to change your stance and to revert to obtaining full consensus by sending draft copies of letters to members and obtaining their consent before any future letter is sent. You have decided not to accept that offer.
WCRA is therefore withdrawing its support for ACRA with immediate effect. As of now you may not suggest or indicate to anybody that we are members of ACRA or that we in any way support its aims and objectives. We will inform CBC so that they can update their records.
We have continued to represent you and because of our size and coverage of West Christchurch (in addition to this newsletter that goes to all parts of Christchurch) we have been listened to. We will let you know of any developments.
Trim those hedges
Hedges and trees that obstruct the pavement can be a danger for anybody pushing a pram, using a mobility buggy or visually impaired.
It’s our responsibility to ensure that our hedges and trees do not interfere with the safe use of public footways and roadways, or obscure street lights and road signs. It only takes a single overhanging branch to inflict significant injury to a person’s eye or an intrusive hedge to force a pram off the pavement and possibly into the path of passing vehicle.
Stop Press – County Council Election Result
Dorset is run by 46 Councillors of which 5 are provided by Christchurch. The Conservatives have retained overall control with 32 Councillors (a gain of 5); the Liberal Democrats have 11 Councillors (a loss of 1); other parties have 3 Councillors. Turnout was 33%.
The shock result was the loss of his seat by Council Leader Robert Gould. A new leader will be appointed by the Conservatives next week