100 Days in…

It is 100 days since the Conservatives won the General Election, giving them 5 years of running the country without the shackles of the Lib Dems. The Prime Minister has written an article and I have seen a number of pieces by others, reviewing what has so far been achieved in a relatively short period of time. These are promising times and it is great to see the Conservatives tackling the issues that really matter; cutting benefits, reducing taxes, working to deliver a 7 day NHS and more more.

It is also 100 days since we regained control of Brentwood Council after the previous disastrous 12 months under the Lib Dem leadership.

Locally, our 100 days have been very busy and we have set about delivering on our pre-election pledges, whilst also clearing up the mess that we inherited and moving forward with some key plans for Brentwood. Here’s a summary of some of the main points:

1. We promise to deliver a revised budget – Just one month after the election, we did just that and we have set a budget that not only adds up and is balanced for this year, addressing the huge gap left by the Lib Dem-led Council but one which also invests where it really matters.

2. Local Development Plan – We have set out a clear timeframe for completion of the LDP, that will identify sites for building both developments for housing and employment over the next 15 years. This is the first time that has been done and clearly shows the commitment to get this done.

3. Hutton Community Centre – We have overturned the decision of the former Administration to commence detailed negotiations with a third party based in Chelmsford. We have always said that we believe the Centre should be in the hands of local people, run by them and for them. The formal process for tendering for the lease has been approved and will begin shortly, with a final decision expected in the autumn.

4. Old House – We have overturned the ridiculous plans for the Council to convert the building in to flats, which were going to cost hundreds of thousands of pounds and blow even the previous Administration’s own budget for the project! Instead, we have approved the sale of this building that is surplus to requirement for the Council and will be using the money to reinvest in other areas that need funding, such as additional parking facilities in Shenfield to tackle Crossrail parking.

5. Town Hall – We discovered the commissioning of a secret £10k report, which the Lib Dem Leader claims to have known nothing about (if that is the case, then you have to ask why he didn’t know, he was the Leader of the Council after all!) The contents make pretty stark reading and confirm that current plans simply don’t make sense and don’t add up, with an extra £3m needed to fund the refurb. We have therefore, committed to look at an alternative and will be exploring the idea of sharing the building with other public sector bodies; ECC, the Library service, the Police, NHS and Job Centre Plus. Talks have begun and we expect to know more in the Autumn on whether sharing the space is feasible.

6. Warley Training Centre – We have overturned the decision to retain some flats that would seriously have cost the taxpayer in terms of receipt for the site and instead, we are selling it in its entirety for development. This means an increased capital receipt, helping to reduce interest payments on borrowing costs. We have also secured an extra £100k for investment in to community facilities in the Borough.

7. Hallsford Bridge – It has been agreed to sell this land and offers are currently being reviewed. This will put to bed a year long wrangling under the previous Administration who kept deliberating on whether to build houses on the site or not, despite professional advice that it was not suitable.

8.Retention of weekly rubbish collections – we have made clear that these are here to stay.

9. Delivering the Brentwood Apprenticeship Scheme – this has been approved and funding has been made available. The final approval is due to come to committee in September for delivery of the project to start.

10. Protecting 30 minutes free parking – this has indeed been retained. We know how beneficial and popular this is, which is why we introduced the free period back in April 2014.

11. Addressing the issue of the displacement of parked cars from Shenfield to Hutton Poplars – We have succeeded where the previous Administration failed and have negotiated the use of the old Fire Authority site in Rayleigh Road for season ticket holders, whilst the works are taking place. This will ease the impact on local residents and is due to be introduced in October.

12. Introduction of the Street Inspector scheme – Interviews have been held and decisions have been made. The scheme will start in September.

The above is just a sample of some of the key items that we are delivering on. There is much more which is going on which will come forward in due course. I am proud of the way we have hit the ground running and are delivering from day one in office, for the benefit of Brentwood residents.

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Busy Times!

It has been a few months since I last updated my blog and things have been very busy!
A lot has happened since March, most notably that the Conservatives won not only the general election in May but also the local election, here in Brentwood too!

We now hold 23/37 seats on the Council, giving us a clear majority and firm mandate on which to deliver.

And deliver we are…some 5 weeks after the election, I brought forward a new revised budget, which not only balanced the books and thus addressed the over spending under the previous Lib Dem led Council, but also ensured that the money is allocated to the right places for us to deliver on our pre-election promises.

The newly created street inspector initiative has been formally approved and recruitment is currently underway. We have also kicked off the 2015/16 apprenticeship scheme which will involve us working closely with the private sector and also with mental health organisations.

The Council is currently involved in a number of big projects, namely; the Local Development Plan, which seeks to identify sites in the borough for building over the next 15 years. The Town Hall project, which looks to tackle the high costs for a building that is 2/3rds empty and the William Hunter Way Development, which needs to be part of a bigger Town Centre approach.

With so much happening, the next few months are set to be very busy and I will be using this blog to keep you posted on developments both across the Council but also within my ward of Hutton North .

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Notice to Hutton Poplars Residents

I received an email on Friday, from a member of the coalition running Brentwood Council, stating that from the 1st April 2015, season ticket holders for Friars Avenue and Hunter Avenue carparks in Shenfield will be allowed to park in Hutton Poplars Hall carpark.

As the councillor for the area, I would have expected to have been consulted on such a proposal before a decision was made, given the obvious impact it will have on local residents. However, unfortunately, this was presented to me as a “done deal.” My key concerns regarding the plans are:

1. The impact on surrounding roads if the carpark is full of season ticket holders. If there are no spaces for cars belonging to the hall users, inevitably they will be forced to park in the surrounding residential roads, causing disturbance and inconvenience.

2. Increased traffic. Additional vehicles will be coming in and out of the Poplars, especially at peak times when the area is already busy with residents and parents dropping children off at the nearby schools. This will put further pressure on the roads and can only extend the wait at the traffic lights.

3. Safety for children – A number of families walk their children to school and a greater number of vehicles in the area will only increase safety concerns.

Please drop me a line with any comments or thoughts that you may have on the plans and I will ensure they are shared with the relevant people. It’s a short sighted proposal and one, which needs a rethink.

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It’s been a while…

It has been a while since I posted a blog on here and it has been a busy few weeks, both personally and politically.

My biggest news is on the personal front. Towards the end of last year, I gave birth to my beautiful second son. Thank you for all of the lovely messages that we received, they are very much appreciated!

Politically, it has been a busy time as well. We have been working hard on our budget proposals, outlining where our priorities lie and how we would pay for things. I am proud that a Conservative led Council would balance the books as we have done previously and freeze council tax whilst also investing in Brentwood’s future, through apprenticeships and private income generation. We’ll even set aside funds to turn back on the lights for an extra hour until 1am, subject to ECC agreement.

This is in stark contrast to what the ruling Lab/Lib coalition pushed through last week. A huge black hole in their spending plans, plugged through raiding the reserves, no tough decisions taken to cut costs and Brentwood residents lumbered with an extra £1.1m of debt, rising to £3.6m the year after, it was a pretty sorry state of affairs.

It was a tough call for who won “comment of the night”; the Leader or Deputy Leader.

The Leader purported to have delivered a balanced budget, then went on to tell us he’d done it through borrowing…( we did try to explain) and the Deputy Leader criticised the Conservatives for balancing the books when we ran the Council. I guess it’s not surprising the budget was such a mess – a one year shambolic budget for a one year shambolic administration.

Outside of the budget, we have also been busy in the wards across Brentwood.

I have personally been involved in the fight to keep the Hutton Community Centre in the hands of local people, despite the arrogance of the coalition running Brentwood Council, who have seen fit to put it in the hands of a third party based in Chelmsford, ignoring the will of local people in the process. All is not lost just yet though – along with my Conservative colleagues, we have called in the decision and it is due to go before the scrutiny panel on Monday. Let’s hope they do the right thing by the residents…

Watch this space for more updates

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Halloween at Hutton Community Centre

I popped along to the Hutton Community Centre last night ( Halloween) to see how the children’s community event was going.

Along with fellow Hutton Conservative councillors, I used part of my £1,000 ward budget to help fund an event for the under 12s. The idea was to provide a reason for local people to come and see the Centre and all it has to offer, whilst at the same time helping to prevent some of the anti social behaviour that usually takes place at Halloween under the guise of “trick or treat.”

I was overwhelmed by just how successful the evening was. Over 200 people were there and judging by the squeals of delight, everyone was having a great time! The ghosts, ghouls and other fancy dress outfits were amazing and with the DJ, face painting and much more, the event was a resounding success.

Congratulations must go to those who run the Centre (Jackie and Stella) and key members of Long Ridings Residents’ Association who put on the event ( Maria and Graham)

As someone said to me last night, “This is a real community centre and what all the hard work has been about.” The lady was spot on and I look forward to seeing it go from strength to strength. We are already in talks about a Christmas event!

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Why I Back the Call In On Warley Training Centre

At the recent Asset and Enterprise Panel, an item was published on the agenda to sell Warley Training Centre for development. The proposal, one of a series led by the chairman, Cllr Russell Quirk was one which Conservatives were set to support, after all it had been our idea in the first place… However, at the last minute, after the reports had been published, the meeting started and without warning, Cllr Quirk decided to change the recommendation to not just sell the land but also to include the retention of an arbitrary 5 units by the Council. No business plan, no financial projection, just done on the hoof as part of another PR announcement designed to generate headlines.

Given that the site will now undoubtedly be worth less when sold, the decision would affect the approved budget for this year and as the panel does not have the power to make such a financial decision, Conservative councillors have “called in” the item for review by the Scrutiny Panel.

The attempt to call in the decision has clearly rattled the Chairman who has since engaged in email exchanges on the matter with my Conservative colleague, John Kerslake, with a clear desire for him to drop the matter.

He’s not and I back him and the other signatories to the call in, 100%.

1. It is clear that this was a mess up, with no-one in the new Lab / Lib coalition acknowledging the financial implications of the “on the hoof” proposal, nor recognising the panel’s remit and decision making powers. Full Council approval was not brought up nor mentioned as part of the on the night discussions. Why? Convenient assurances now that they “may” bring it to Full Council once negotiations have taken place simply don’t cut it.

2. Despite the idea of the retention of units being included in the report, there is no mention under sections 8.1 or 8.2 (financial or legal implications) that such a decision would have a financial impact outside of the budget and therefore, there could be a requirement to seek further approval. In fact, the finance section just says there will be a “capital receipt” from the sale, no mention that in such circumstances, that capital receipt would be less and is therefore not budgeted for ( and to a potential figure of anything up to £1m no less!!) Clearly it should have been in there and recognised as an issue / consideration along with an acknowledgement that approval of such a financial difference is outside of the panel’s powers, but it’s not. Interestingly, reports on other items ( eg: Halsford Bridge in the same agenda) do make reference to items having possible negative budgetary impacts, so why doesn’t this item?

3. Questions need to be asked as to how previous statements from the chairman regarding the retention of the 5 dwellings, now fit with the line that it’s just a decision “in principle” and that they are “negotiating only” (Backtracking again..) Not the first time he has spoken prematurely on matters.

4. Nowhere in the minutes does it talk about the decision being ” in principle” anyway so the use of this as a defence is baseless! The minutes are quite clear that this item has been resolved as approved. ( Please take a look for yourself – http://www.brentwood.gov.uk/minutesdocs/minutes/amdoc3030.pdf – see item 75)

In sum, this should serve as a warning to the dangers of making up policy on the hoof. If so sure that retention of units was the right thing for Brentwood, why not have that clearly as the recommendation in the papers and outline openly all of the financial implications, so everyone; Public, and Councillors alike can see all the facts?

The new Lab / Lib coalition promised more openness and transparency. For all of the rhetoric, it looks like someone forgot to tell the new Asset Chair…

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Neighbourhood Action Team in Hutton North

One of the most simple yet effective decisions that Conservatives took when we ran the Council was to introduce the Neighbourhood Action Teams.

The team of four rotate around the Borough on a weekly basis, carrying out work requested by local residents and Councillors. They provide extra resources to support the routine efforts of our depot staff, who do a fantastic job.

From Monday, they will be in Hutton North carrying out a long list of tasks, which I have put forward following requests from residents, along with those, which I have personally noted.

For reference, here’s the list:

1. Cut back overgrown vegetation on the footpath from Queenswood Avenue to the Hutton Industrial Estate.
2. Cut back overhanging branches and foliage between the woods and Halstead Way
3. Cleaning of various street name signs
4. Clearing and tidying of woodland area at Hawksmoor Green
5. Painting of play equipment at the flats in Hawksmoor Green
6. Removal of fly tipping in Hawksmoor Green
7. Spraying of weeds in the gutters and footpaths across the Long Ridings Estate

Rumour has it that plans are afoot to “redeploy” this team of workers onto other tasks, removing the opportunity for local Councillors to be able to directly access resources to tackle local matters. This cut in service would be a real shame as they have done some excellent work across Brentwood, supporting local communities. Let’s hope the Lab /Lib Administration see sense and keep them right where they are!

In other Hutton North news, I have also requested that the weeds be removed from the garage area around Whittington Road and that the land is generally tidied up. This will be done by another team and will be actioned shortly.

In addition, I’ve ordered some new road name signs to replace those existing ones, which have seen better days, along with a new rubbish bin outside Long Ridings Primary School. (LRPS)

Finally, I’m writing to Network Rail about the branches, which are overhanging from the side of the railway bank, opposite LRPS and which are starting to make it difficult to pass by on the pavements.

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Hutton Community Centre: Work Progressing Well

Plans to bring back to life the Hutton Community Centre are progressing well, with much of the building work now complete.

Last week, Chris Hossack and I paid a visit, spoke with the builders and saw first hand, how the project is taking shape.

The building is coming together really well. New rooms and spaces are being created, alongside the existing large and small halls. New toilet facilities are being installed and the old bar has been ripped out and is being replaced with facilities for a cafe. Its inclusion will really give the Centre a strong anchor for the community and will provide a much needed place to meet.

The £165,000 works are being funded by Brentwood Borough Council, following support by Conservative Councillors. Despite political opposition, local Conservatives have campaigned hard to see the Centre reopen and it’s great to see the project start to come together.

The potential for the HCC and the community is endless and it is great to see so many volunteers and members of the public working so hard to get the project off the ground.

The Centre is due to open in the Spring, once all the works have been completed and a number of different uses are already planned, making it a real focal point for the community, for young and old alike.

The project is a real example of what can be achieve by working together and by being determined. I’m looking forward to seeing it open and once again a real hub of the community.

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Cutting Council Tax and Increasing Services to Redidents

Cutting Council Tax and Investing in More Services.

I’m delighted that we have agreed a budget for 2014, which will protect and increase current services, whilst also delivering a Council Tax cut of 1.5%.

As a result, the Brentwood Council element of the Council Tax bill will be less than it was in 2009.

This council tax cut is accompanied by extra investment across our Borough, with total spend exceeding £44m.

The budget is the result of sound financial planning over the last few years. Despite significant cuts in funding from the government, we are demonstrating that it is possible to do more with less and provide value for money for residents, as we not only reduce Council Tax bills but also continue to invest in services that matter most to residents.

The key highlights of the budget were as follows:

- Council Tax cut of 1.5% leading to real term reduction of 16% in Council Tax rates since 2009
- Free parking across Brentwood for 30 mins in all Council owned carparks
- £1.5m investment for a park and stride /ride scheme for Shenfield
- £100k investment in public realm for the Shenfield and Brentwood Stations areas.
- Introduction of a new “Green Redeem” schemes, which will reward residents for recycling, whilst also supporting local businesses
- Provision of free food waste recycling bags
- £100k investment in children’s play areas
- £50k for some additional pre-emptive tree work
- Continuation of the popular Neighbourhood Action Teams, to focus on keeping our Borough looking tidy
- Maintenance of Ward Budgets to fund localised projects

The ability to fund a council tax cut, whilst also investing in services has been made possible by a series of measures, including better procurement, renegotiating contracts and carrying out an extensive internal transformation programme, designed to not only save money but also serve residents better. This approach has saved the Council hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Unlike Lib Dem proposals, NO SERVICES HAVE BEEN CUT to fund the Council Tax reduction or the extra investment in services.

In stark contrast, Lib Dem plans included introducing extra parking charges and not cutting the grass verges, which says quite a lot about their priorities and would leave our borough looking a right mess, front line jobs under threat and mayhem and expense for residents wanting to park their cars when they come home at night. You’ll be pleased to know, we did not support these proposals!

Despite taking up a considerable amount of council officer time over the budget, other opposition parties failed to submit any proposals at all, with one claiming they didn’t have the time…! So, the Council’s most important meeting of the year, as it sets residents’ council tax, decides on services for Brentwood and agrees big capital spend and they run out of time. Hardly putting Brentwood first, now is it..?

Fortunately, the Conservatives did put the effort in and I’m proud of what we’ve delivered: A real term cut of 16% in Council Tax, with the Brentwood element of the bill, lower than in 2009, extra investment in key services, money for big projects approved and no service cuts to fund it!

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William Hunter Way and the Lib Dem Danger

I announced last week that we would be bringing the negotiations with Stockland regarding the William Hunter Way development to a close, following their request to remove inflation (RPI) increases relating to the minimum ground rent from the agreement.

We want a cinema for the town. However, I always said that we would only sign the final agreement, if it was in Brentwood’s interests to do so and signing the Borough up to a 150 year lease with no inflationary increase for decades would clearly not be good for our Town.

The negotiations of the last few months have been frustrating, and Stockland have not shown the enthusiasm we need to be confident of seeing this project delivered. Doing the best for Brentwood, isn’t just about the end result, it is also about how we get there.

Much has previously been made by the opposition about us pulling out of the deal earlier, with the Lib Dems even going as far as bizarrely suggesting officers’ advice said that we should be discussing options with other developers and that if we did not, we would be subject to a “hefty legal bill.”

Strange statement to make considering that it was completely contrary to the advice that was given and which they saw, which clearly stated that we were tied in to a contract with Stockland and as such could NOT commence detailed discussions with other developers without risking that hefty legal bill.

I challenged the Lib Dem Leader and Deputy Leader to explain how they could reconcile a factual legal statement about the situation with their claims and the response I received said that the legal advice was an opinion only.

Indeed it is – an opinion which is based on professional view point,
experience and an understanding of contractual law; everything which neither the Lib Dem Leader, their Deputy Leader, nor I, have and the very reason, why we sensibly brought in advice for the multi-million pound project.

However, with no legal background between them, they have seemingly decided that they would have over-ruled this advice and left the Council exposed to costs and litigation of hundreds of thousands or possibly even millions of pounds.

“Doing the best for Brentwood” is what all parties will no doubt purport to do; but arrogantly riding rough-shod over advice that is there to protect the Council and taxpayers’ money, with no basis for doing so is not in Brentwood’s interests.

The Lib Dems have shown themselves to be dangerously inept at dealing with such important matters. Such scant regard for legal risks, contractual obligations and due process as they have demonstrated is very worrying indeed from the Official Opposition on the Council.

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