A new era for St Albans District Council: the Liberal Democrat plan

Following his election to become St Albans and District Council’s new Leader, Chris White has announced the Liberal Democrats’ plans for the local area.

The Liberal Democrats will overhaul aspects of council services to deliver a better experience for residents, visitors and local businesses, and work to improve the environment for all and restore pride in the district. Councillor White this week set out the new administration’s top priorities:

The Environment

“I am delighted that the district’s residents have put their trust in the Liberal Democrats,” Chris said.

“We now have the opportunity to take urgent action on the issues that matter, starting with a declaration of a climate emergency and the development of a comprehensive plan to reduce emissions. The Liberal Democratswill work to reduce climate-changing emissions emitted by the council itself. We will also work with businesses to reduce their own carbon footprints, while empowering residents to do the same.

“We want to do politics differently, working with the community and sourcing new and better ideas from residents and businesses wherever we can. That’s why we will establish an environmental forum to ensure this council continuously improves its own environmental performance. 

“This council needs to be planting trees and safeguarding biodiversity wherever possible, as well as adapting the district to extreme weather impacts, such as increased frequency of flooding and drought. We will launch a campaign to drastically reduce, and hopefully eliminate, single-use plastic in our many cafes and restaurants, and explore stricter environmental standards on developments and council properties.”

In addition to working to make it easier for residents and visitors to walk, cycle and to use public transport, the group will lead development of a sustainable and sensible approach to resolving local parking and congestion problems.

Housing

Another priority area is housing.

“We believe that every resident should be able to live in a home suitable to their needs and which is well maintained,” said Chris. “The Liberal Democrats want to make necessary improvements to many of the functions of the council’s housing department, including turning the council into a significant social housing developer in its own right.

“We will revisit this council’s strategy towards the growing homelessness and rough sleeper crisis. We want to provide people who present to the council as homeless and in priority need with high-quality temporary accommodation, not an expensive and inappropriate hotel room where they can’t even cook themselves a meal.” 

Also on the new administration’s list of priorities are improvements to the efficiency and reliability of the local planning process to help enable delivery of the vital housing and commercial developments that the District needs, together with the necessary infrastructure, and updating planning enforcement policies and processes to ensure these are fit for purpose. The new administration aims to agree the Local Plan as soon as possible, so that we can quickly move to refresh the assumptions on which it is based, especially in relation to the city centre.

Business

The group pledges to do all it can to support local businesses against the growing impacts of Brexit, and work to ensure the district’s resilience in the current climate of uncertainty. 

“By working closely with the Business Improvement District (BID) in St Albans to forge a neighbourhood plan for the central areas, and learning from the previous administration’s experiences of undertaking large events such as the Christmas market, we aim to return commercial vibrancy to the high street. We will fight to protect the district’s pubs and retail from developers and crippling business rates, and will review the district’s tourism strategy and funding. We aim to have the new museum breaking even by the end of 2020/2021, and will devise a plan for enhanced or replacement community facilities, such as in Sopwell.” 

Notes to editors

The Liberal Democrats won 12 of the 20 available seats in the local elections on 2 May and the group now has 25 District Councillors, more than any other party. 

Chris White was elected to become Leader with support from all of the Liberal Democrat group, the support of the one Green Councillor, Simon Grover, and Independent Councillor Tony Swendell (Redbourn Ward). Labour abstained and the Conservatives voted for their own candidate.

Chris White announced the new Council Cabinet on 22 May, naming the following councillors as Portfolio Holders: 

·      Cllr Chris White – Leader, Climate and Environment 

·      Cllr Anthony Rowlands – Deputy Leader, Community, Leisure and Sport

·      Cllr Robert Donald – Property, Commercial and Development 

·      Cllr Jamie Day – Planning

·      Cllr Mandy McNeil – Business, Culture and Tourism

·      Cllr Jacqui Taylor – Housing, Inclusion and Protection

·      Cllr Karen Young – Resources

About Chris

Chris White has been Liberal Democrat councillor for Clarence Ward since 2008 and is currently Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group.

Chris White qualified as a chartered accountant in 1984. 

He was elected a county councillor in Hertfordshire in 1993 and group leader in 1994. He sat on Hertfordshire Police Authority from 1995 to 2002. 

From 1995 to 1999 he jointly led Hertfordshire County Council, in coalition with Labour.

Chris became chair of the Regeneration Board of the Local Government Association in 2004 and chair of the LGA’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board in 2006, stepping down in 2012. He was a member of the Board of the Audit Commission from 2005 to 2011. He also represents the Liberal Democrat Group at the LGA on Refugees and on Brexit.

St Albans Liberal Democrats attack Tory council’s ‘litany of failures’

Following last week’s Full Council meeting, St Albans Liberal Democrats have attacked the Conservative run council for a series of recent failures and poor financial management.  This follows a disastrous report on the levels of financial risk the council has exposed itself too, persistent ducking of questions about how the council went about organising the Meraki festival, and the news that the new museum is expected to make a loss, not a profit in its first year.

In January the council’s Audit Committee heard how the Council has no Risk Management Policy and how the council’s procedures do not meet best practice. The Liberal Democrat Council Group tabled a motion at last week’s Full Council meeting designed to address the issues highlighted by the Audit report, but this was irresponsibly voted down by the Conservatives.

This is after a confidential report, mistakenly published on the Council’s website earlier this month, revealed that the new Museum and Gallery is expected to make a £108,000 loss in its first year. The report showed that despite projecting that the exciting new project would make money, the Conservative administration have yet again failed to properly consider risk and budgets.

Local people are left questioning the ability of the Conservative administration to budget properly, following the revelations at the Audit Committee, and after the Tories had claimed that the new museum was expected to make money, not lose it.

Chris White, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, said: “It’s astonishing that the Conservatives have only taken action on financial risk when pushed by us. This is the latest in a litany of failures that the current administration has presided over, and it’s the residents of our district that suffer as a consequence.

“St Albans deserves a better and more responsible council than this. We need a council that we can trust to spend wisely, not make stupid mistakes, and be honest with residents. The Liberal Democrats are ready to step up and succeed where the Tories have failed. “

Councillor Jacqui Taylor said: “The news about the Museum was the latest in a line of gaffes from the Conservative council, who have risked the reputation of our great city by failing to properly manage initiatives like Meraki Festival and Pub in the Park. When we ask questions of the administration, they just try and duck taking responsibility. We deserve to know the truth.”

“People’s Vote is only route out of this Brexit mess” and comment on food and medicines stockpiling 

Daisy Cooper, St Albans Liberal Democrats Parliamentary Candidate said:

Since the vote to leave the EU, Brexit has brought nothing but bad news. EU health workers have been leaving the NHS at an alarming rate, businesses are investing elsewhere and now we find out that the Conservative government’s deal would tie us to EU rules but without any influence to shape them or make deals with the rest of the world. Even more alarming are the Government’s plans to stockpile medicines and food in the event of a no-deal Brexit. As the deal gets ripped to shreds from MPs in every party including her own, it’s clear that the Prime Minister must now put her deal to a People’s Vote with the option to remain in the EU.

Responding to news of medicines and food stockpiling, Daisy said:

I recently asked the Government to publish the list of medicines to be stockpiled in the event of a no-deal Brexit so patients can plan their care, but the Government is refusing to publish it. It is almost incomprehensible that, despite being one of the richest country’s in the world, the Government is proposing to embark on a route that could lead to shortages in medicines and food. I have never known a more incompetent or reckless Government and yet some Conservative MPs insist on pursuing this path to a ‘blindfold Brexit’. Liberal Democrats demand better. The public should be asked to judge Theresa May’s deal in a People’s Vote so we can compare her deal with the deal we already enjoy.

Tom Brake MP, Liberal Democrats Brexit Spokesperson spoke to St Albans Lib Dem activists on Thursday 15 November, on the same day that the government suffered seven cabinet resignations and rumours of a leadership challenge. Speaking to a packed room at Ayos restaurant he said: 

For two years, the Liberal Democrats have been the only party who have consistently fought to give the people the final say on the Brexit deal and now it’s in touching distance. The Conservatives have instead spent that time peddling a false choice between no-deal or bad-deal, but even the Prime Minister now admits that there is a third option: no Brexit at all. The Conservative government is in melt-down as Conservative MPs realise that every form of Brexit will leave the country worse off. After seven Cabinet-level resignations in one day, it’s clear that the Prime Minister cannot keep her cabinet together let alone the country. The tide of public opinion on Brexit has turned and the only democratic route is to put the deal to a People’s Vote and ask the public whether they want her deal or want to remain in the EU.

County Councillor Chris White comments:

This is not about some vague concept of sovereignty. The Hertfordshire Local Economic Partnership estimates that more than 5,000 jobs in St Albans district could be adversely affected by changes in international trade arrangements – which is precisely what  Brexit could mean, deal or no deal.

NOTES ON STOCKPILING 

Daisy is particularly concerned about the Government’s plans to stockpile medicines and food in the event of a no-deal Brexit – an option pursued by a number of hard-Brexit Conservative MPs, known as the “European Research Group”: 

Medicines stockpiling 

Daisy has asked the Government to publish the list of all medicines listed for stockpiling in the event of a no-deal Brexit, so that patients can plan their medical needs. The Government has admitted that it does hold that information but has so far refused to publish it. Daisy is appealing that decision.

FOI question and correspondence is here: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/drugs_listed_for_no_deal_brexit_2?nocache=incoming-1239180#incoming-1239180 

Food stockpiling 

The maker of Mr Kipling, Premier Foods Plc which is headquartered in St Albans has announced it has started stockpiling in the run up to Brexit. Reported in the BBC here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-46191729

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Conservatives high risk library strategy to be funded by tax cuts

At Thursday’s meeting of the County Council’s Education, Localism and Libraries Panel, Liberal Democrats voted against the Conservative Group’s proposals to set up an independent charitable organisation to run its Library Service. This new service should be viable only because it will not have to pay £1/2 million business rates, which would otherwise have in part provided income to all the District Councils in the County.

Using a competitive tendering process, any organisation will be able to bid to run the service as a Public Service Mutual organisation, which unlike the present Library Service will obtain charitable status. The risk is that while one bid will be spun off the existing service, the others will come from outside organisations. This could result in an organisation like Carillion which recently collapsed being trusted to run the service. Even if the provider remains solvent, and in spite of assurances to the contrary, there is a real risk that smaller or unprofitable libraries might be closed or services cut.

“It was a strange meeting” commented County Councillor Mark Watkin, Liberal Democrat and Opposition Spokesman for Libraries, “we had one paper spelling out an excellent vision for what the library service could grow into, which was fine. Then the next paper explained that this would be delivered by an unknown third party whose funding depends on saving Business Rates being able to raise charges substantially. There is deep uncertainty about the Government’s plans for business rates. If these were to be changed, the whole economic model on which this scheme is built might look very different. Raising charges may well disadvantage the most needy in society who could benefit most from what libraries offer. Not surprisingly, and reflecting the 41% of voters who, in the recent consultation, rejected this very high risk approach, Liberal Democrats opposed it.”

Links to paper:

https://democracy.hertfordshire.gov.uk/documents/g1233/Public%20reports%20pack%20Thursday%2018-Oct2018%2010.00%20Education%20Libraries%20and%20Localism%20Cabinet%20Panel.pdf?T=10

 

 

Meetings to update on plans for developing hospital sites

Note from the local NHS bodies

A series of meetings are taking place during October and November to provide an update on plans for developing hospital sites in west Hertfordshire.

The meetings, led by West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust and Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group, are taking place in each locality. The details of the meetings are below:

St Albans & Harpenden

7-9pm

Wednesday, 24 October

Trinity Church Hall,  1 Beaconsfield Road, St Albans AL1 3RD

The meetings will highlight work that is taking place to progress our plans following meetings with national regulators, NHS England and NHS Improvement. There will be information on how we might organise future services, how we will involve local people and others in refreshing our plans and as well as an update on timescales.

There will also be an opportunity to put questions to executive officers and health professionals from the Trust and the CCG.

To help us cater for everyone who wants to attend, please email communications.hvccg@nhs.net to book onto this event.  Please state when booking if you have any particular accessibility needs.

Massive disruption in city centre in October

Note from county council

I am writing to notify you of the upcoming Major Utility works along the A1057 Hatfield Road, St Albans between the junctions of A1081 St Peters Street and Upper Marlborough Road.  Collaborative working has been arranged between Affinity Water and Fulcrum to connect their new services with the purpose of avoiding further disruption at a later date.

In order to create a safe working environment for the workforce and members of public alike, the works will be completed under a partial road closure.  A temporary one way restriction will be enforced in each direction (Eastbound/Westbound) consecutively in order to minimise disruption whilst maintaining traffic flows.

All Eastbound traffic will be diverted via: A1081 St Peters Street – B691 Victoria Street and Upper Lattimore Road and vice versa for Westbound traffic.

The works are due to commence from Monday 8th October  and programmed to take approximately 10 days to complete, weather permitting.

Some degree of disruption and delay can be expected as a result of these works and whilst we will make every effort to minimise these, please allow extra time for any journeys you have planned in the area whilst these works are in progress.