View from the Council Chamber 2
Josh Fenton-Glynn, one of Hebden Bridge's 3 Calderdale councillors gives a personal report of last night's council meeting
Thursday, 1 February 2018
Yesterday, we had a four and a half hour meeting of Calderdale Council and thought I'd give everyone an update.
We started off with a look at some work by the council cabinet. The first issue was a procedural question on the timetable of the local plan, which we eventually agreed after an hour’s debate.
Without discussion with other parties beforehand, the Conservative group had added a surprise amendment calling for the reconvening of the local plan working group and calling for more cross party working. This was a strange decision from them, given that the Conservative group leader has never attended the previous cross party working group, while the leaders of Labour, the Lib Dems and the independent groups have.
Furthermore, yesterday was the deadline set by the Tory Secretary of State for the local plan timetable to be agreed to be in place, and had we not done so, we risk the plan being written by a Whitehall civil servant. The purpose of this amendment seems to have been to waste time and prevent progress on a serious issue, otherwise it would have been put in advance of time. It had clearly been written before, but they chose not to mention it to the whips meeting, which is usually how you gain cross party support for these things.
It is disingenuous for the Conservatives to be talking about more cross party working, given that they have stated that they will vote against the government mandated local plan whatever the outcome. Not conducive to more long term working together. One suspects that the main purpose of the amendment was PR to put in a future leaflet. The silliness of the move was pointed out by those who'd actually been involved in the earlier cross party discussions from Lib Dems, Labour and independents.
European Flood Alleviation funding
Following that, we looked at a more important procedural motion to ensure we progress the application for European Flood Alleviation funding, which was passed uncontroversially.
The first motion then presented by the Conservative group was one which looked at the failures of the winter gritting service. As my inbox will attest, this was a controversial change in policy in 2017 - made in the context of central government cuts to Calderdale's budget of over 50%, which is around £60 million each year. This wasn't an easy decision, but the council got it wrong and following the decision being challenged by the public, councillors and the committee I sit on, quite rightly changed their view and reversed the decision.
Due to the recent extremely cold weather, the council has now spread almost double its usual tonnage of grit this year, 13,655 tons as opposed to 7,712 tons. The Conservative motion was largely electioneering but an amended version was passed with the inclusion of new clauses calling for an increase in funding for gritting. Oddly, the Conservatives then voted against the amended motion and increased funding for gritting.
Reducing plastic waste
The next motion was calling for Calderdale Council to take a lead in reducing plastic waste by raising awareness, working together on new initiatives such as promoting the use of reusable cups and reducing the use of plastic bottles in local authority meetings. This was supported from all sides of the council. Speaking in favour of the motion, I recalled the plastic bag ban in Hebden Bridge back in 2007, when despite initial reluctance from some quarters, people eventually took to it. I think it's a great example of Calderdale leading the way - and the country eventually followed. (Hebden Bridge goes plastic bag free HebWeb, Sept 2007)
Questions to cabinet members
We finally moved on to questions to cabinet members. One of the more surreal moments was one of Brighouse’s Conservative councillors suggesting building houses on the green belt for 50 years and then agreeing to knock them down again. I'm not sure if this will feature heavily in the Conservative group’s yet to be published alternative local plan.
Calder High's Sixth Form
At this point we also discussed the consultation on the closure of Calder High's 6th form. Currently Calder High’s lower school is cross subsidising the sixth form by a quarter of a million pounds a year and it's not sustainable. In response to my question on the problem, Councillor Swift made clear that the issues with both Calder and Todmorden High schools originated with a new government funding formula. I hope that there will be continued dialogue between the council and secondary heads in the upper valley to try to find a solution, and I will keep you all informed on progress.