Shropshire Council return 1/2 of DHPs grant unspent branded a disgrace

Liberal Democrat County Councillor for Wem, Chris Mellings, labelled Shropshire Council’s poor use of Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) a disgrace.

Chris said: “Every year the Government awards Shropshire Council a grant for Discretionary Housing Payments to help people with short-term housing costs. Every year Shropshire Council sends Grant money back to the Government unspent. Every year for the last four years the proportion returned has gone up! All at a time when more people are feeling the financial pressure of austerity. This is a disgrace.”

The Conservative government has been good at increasing the level of DHPs grant. The failure of the Conservative-run council to deliver the grant money to the maximum number of people who could benefit is appalling.

Last year Shropshire Council received £531,974 yet Shropshire Council sent back £234,855  or 55.6%  of the grant to the Government unspent. In 2013/14 the amount returned to the government was £60,847 of which 21.9% was returned unspent.  

At the full council meeting in December 2013, Chris asked how much of the DHP grant wasn’t being spent and later chaired a task and finish group on the use of DHPs. “We argued in 2013 that more should be done to improve take-up by people in or seeking rented accommodation in council, social and private rental sectors. If you are struggling with your housing costs, then applying for some short-term relief through Discretionary Housing Payments may be of help.” Chris concluded: “These payments are designed to help stop people building up arrears and people becoming homeless. If you need help ask.”


Shropshire Council returned 5x more unspent DHP Grant to the Government in 2017/18 than it did in 2013/14


The proportion of unused Government DHP Grant returned each year has more than doubled in four years to 55.9%.

Shropshire Liberal Democrats are the largest opposition group on Shropshire Council. They would work harder to reverse the trend and make sure more of the allocated grant money reaches the people who need it the most.

Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs)

DHPs are additional payments for people currently receiving Housing Benefit or universal credit who require further financial assistance with their housing costs. Housing costs are not defined in the regulations. This gives Shropshire Council broad discretion to interpret the term. Payments can be made to Council, Social or Private tenants. DHP is paid for a time-limited period and is intended primarily as ‘transitional’ assistance. For example:

  • Alleviate hardship and help prevent homelessness;
  • Support vulnerable people in the community;
  • Help people through a family crisis or difficult life events.

In general, housing costs means rental liability; however, housing costs can be interpreted more widely to include:

  • rent in advance;
  • deposits;
  • and other lump sum costs associated with a housing need (such as removal costs).

Alternatively, the award can be used to assist with the cost of taking up a tenancy.

Where to find out more about and apply for Discretionary Housing Payments:

Shropshire Council’s DHP webpage
Shropshire Council’s DHP Policy

Many people struggle with housing costs when things are tight. Applying for some short-term help through Discretionary Housing Payments may offer some help
Many people struggle with housing costs when things are tight. Applying for some short-term help through Discretionary Housing Payments may offer some help

Advertiser Open Letter: Where are you Mr Paterson?

Dear Mr Paterson,

Possibly Leaving the European Union & Oswestry

I understand from the media you are visiting the United States and trying to promote the UK leaving the European Union.

Why are you not in the United Kingdom representing your constituents in North Shropshire?

The Government has both a Foreign Secretary and yet another Brexit Secretary, both employed to represent us on matters outside of the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile locally:

The National Health Service in both Shrewsbury and Telford are in crisis.

In Oswestry the local NHS dentist has only one dentist left.

Many of the local roads in North Shropshire are falling to bits.

Several street lamps do not work throughout the area.

There are an increasing number of people living/sleeping rough in the town of Oswestry.

Local Bus services being cut back.

You were elected to represent the people of your area in North Shropshire and not your own personal interests, why are you not here in the United Kingdom?

You should be in the area explaining to local people of your constancy the massive changes and impact that leaving the European Union will have on their lives.

Who is paying for your trip to the United States?

At the moment explanation of the United Kingdoms possible exit of the European Union is being done in Oswestry and elsewhere by volunteers from the “Peoples Vote Campaign”.  Who have regular street stalls in Oswestry and the local area.

These events are staggeringly popular, as people just do not know what is going on and look to these events for information.

But where are you?

It seems anywhere but in the local area or your constituency!

When will you be spending more time in the local area?

Clive Geary

LED street lights on the way for West Felton

David Walker in West Felton

Last Tuesday West Felton Parish Council agreed to upgrade their remaining street lights to LED street lights.

I am grateful that colleagues supported my proposition to carry out the upgrades. I only wish Shropshire Council were so enlightened. Instead, their light upgrades will take 36 years.

The upgrades will be paid for from the CIL neighbourhood fund. CIL (Community Infrastructure Levy) is money provided by housing developers to support/provide infrastructure in a community to support those houses.

West Felton LED street light with an old Sodium light behind
West Felton LED street light with an old Sodium light behind

Getting the lights upgraded has been a no-brainer for me because:

  1. The money comes from a developer (and we already have the money in the bank) so there is no spending impact on the Council Tax.
  2. Also by carrying out the upgrades, we cut the maintenance bill because the lights last a lot longer. This reduces the impact of the lights on the Council Tax.
  3. The existing sodium lights are being phased out next year
  4. Finally, the upgrades cut our energy bills by 75% (based on our existing lights that have already been upgraded to LED).

It has been a long process – probably longer than it should have been. (See my previous posts) I suggested the upgrades in the summer of 2017. Members rightly wanted to see figures. I calculated estimates for the upgrade a year ago. Then the sum for the upgrade was added to the budget in the new year. A lengthy process to obtain quotes followed… frustrated by no response or delayed quotes. Having obtained sufficient quotes we have now resolved to make the upgrades.

The upgrades will consist of replacing the sodium luminaries to LED luminaries. We still have some concrete columns that have been sleeved. These will be upgraded to new longer life columns.

We also agreed to support the residents of Queens Head by exploring the options of expanding our lights there. I have suggested 3. The options for connecting the electricity supply are now being costed. Hopefully, this won’t be an obstacle but we can also cover those light from CIL money.

More details on the LED street lights upgrade will appear on here and on West Felton Parish Council’s website and the parish magazine soon.

The Court closure confirmed with £600,000 price tag

David Walker in West Felton

For a little while rumours circulated that The Court nursing home had closed. The nursing home in West Felton has now been put up for sale for £600,000 confirming The Court closure. This is sad news for the village and the wider community. Sad for the staff and the residents. It is never good when part of the fabric of a community closes. With towns and villages expanding, the population growing and ageing, you would expect facilities like these to be in higher demand. This only makes the sense of loss is more acute.

The Court closure could spell the end for heartwarming moments like these

Residents and staff at The Court enjoying the Carnival parade in 2017. The Court closure could spell the end for heartwarming moments like these
Happier times with residents and staff at The Court enjoying the Carnival parade in 2017

Cllr David Walker waiting for the carnival parade in 2018. The Court closure could spell the end for heartwarming moments like these
Cllr David Walker waiting for the carnival parade outside The Court earlier in 2018. “Seeing the residents enjoy the carnival has been very touching. The Court closure could spell the end for heartwarming moments like these”

What the future holds for The Court remains to be seen. There is potential for it to continue as a care home, supported living accommodation, a bed and breakfast or for residential conversion. Any change of use would present different challenges for a purchaser. However, in the current climate where Social Services are facing huge financial pressures, the viability of that option remains uncertain. Potentially it could be purchased for conversion to a residential use.

Social Care funding crisis

Sadly, the funding crisis in Social Care continues unabated. The Conservatives have left them chronically under-funded, while need continues to grow and patient care suffers. Social care is facing a funding black hole of £2 billion this year alone and more than a million older people are missing out on the care that they need.

People are routinely left stranded in hospital after they finish their treatment because the follow-up care and support they need is not available. Nearly two-thirds of NHS Trusts ended the last financial year in deficit.

Yet Labour and Conservative politicians refuse to be honest with the public about the scale of the crisis or the tough decisions which are needed to protect these vital services.

Liberal Democrats recognise that Britain’s health and social care services are our most treasured national institutions. Any party seeking to lead the country should be prepared to take bold action to safeguard them. This isn’t about doing the easiest thing, it is about doing what is right and what is essential.

Secure the future of our NHS, focusing on social care and mental health with an extra £6bn per year, funded through a penny in the pound on income tax.

Read more about how the Liberal Democrats demand better for the NHS & Social Care

Care Home evictions due to closures were up by 40%

I don’t know the circumstances of The Court closure so it is hard to comment on that but certainly, the trend of closures due to the funding issues is a concern. I hope the residents of The Court and their families haven’t been impacted by this closure in this way. If it was without warning then my heart goes out to them for the disruption caused.

Last June The Telegraph reported a Forty per cent rise in care home residents being evicted because of closures quoting The association of Directors of adult social services in England (ADASS):

“Care home evictions as a result of closures have risen by almost 40 per cent in a year amid a growing crisis in social care, a new report warns

The audit by ADASS reveals that at least two-thirds of councils, and thousands of elderly residents, have experienced recent closures.

It follows warnings that such moves can threaten the health of the frail, with higher death rates found among those forced to undergo unplanned changes in accommodation.

The figures show 58 councils have seen residential and nursing homes go out of business within a six-month period, forcing the vulnerable into new accommodation.

In total, 2,492 people had to be re-housed after their provider closed down, the figures show – a 39 per cent rise from 1,793 the previous year. “

Earlier this year The association of directors of adult social services in England (ADASS) reported that:

“The overall picture is of a sector struggling to meet need and maintain quality in the context of rising costs, increasingly complex care needs, a fragile provider market and pressures from an NHS which itself is in critical need of more funding…

“…The evidence shows that investing in adult social care gets results.”

If The Court closure is due to the general financial climate, the residents, their families and the staff will have felt the immediate impact. Ultimately we will all have lost out. Very sad for news everybody.

West Felton risks losing £325,000 CIL Local Funds to Oswestry

David Walker in West Felton

At our Last Parish Council meeting, during the report from our Shropshire Councillor, Steve Charmley, announced that there was £12m unspent in the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) ‘Local Fund’ pot and that they wanted to move this into the ‘Strategic’ pot because they didn’t have enough money to do the things they wanted to do. CIL wasn’t on the agenda itself so there wasn’t any discussion about the implications of this.

The implications for West Felton parish are very serious indeed and need to be strongly resisted. West Felton stands to lose over £325,000 from the parish’s Local Fund pot if this plan is implemented. That amounts to £550 per household. West Felton Parish Council has earned CIL money by virtue of having the new houses in the village. But more on that in a minute.

Firstly, some background to CIL

In my previous post, I highlighted that Shropshire Council’s cabinet has decided that West Felton is to have 130 more houses (45% more compared to 2011) during the plan period of 2016 to 2036. Some of those already have permission but have yet to be built. The last time parishioners were asked what housing they wanted for the 2013/14 Parish Plan 89% said they wanted to remain as ‘Open Countryside’. With the minority of the remaining 11% wanting the Parish to become a ‘Community Hub’. Shropshire Council has opted for ‘High’ housing growth and now that West Felton is a ‘Community Hub’ we will have to have our share of that growth. Until such time as I see evidence that the Parish has changed its view from 4 years ago, I will oppose any such growth. The Parish Council and Shropshire Council will be undertaking a new housing needs survey in the New Year.

David Walker, a Civil Engineering Sureyor, at one of the many unplanned housing sites.
David Walker, a Civil Engineering Surveyor, by the new houses being built on Ralf’s Drive, West Felton.

One of the upsides for local communities that have new houses is Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). CIL is a planning charge, introduced by the Planning Act 2008 which came into force in 2010. CIL is a tool for local authorities in England and Wales to help deliver infrastructure to support the development of their area. It is designed to help communities buy into having development when they can see the benefits of CIL for their community. Its aim is also to make the planning system “fairer, faster and more certain and transparent” for developers as they can predict the level of CIL before applying for planning permission. The old S106 system was determined after a site was applied for, making it difficult for developers to know how much it was going to be. CIL is calculated on the square meterage of a new house (£80 per square metre) built in West Felton. The extra houses in the Local Plan update for 2016-2036 will mean the amounts currently in the CIL pots will increase in value.

According to the Planning Act 2008 and Shirehall’s Place Plan Resource Pack there are 3 flavours of CIL:

Neighbourhood Fund

The Neighbourhood Fund is within the control of West Felton Parish Council and currently stands at about £67,000*. Defined as a ‘meaningful proportion’ of the levy. It can be spent on infrastructure projects.

Local Fund

The Local Fund is distributed by Shropshire Council in accordance with the code of practice (page 14). It currently just over £325,000. After the Neighbourhood fund is taken out, 90% of Shropshire Council’s portion is the Local Fund. “The Local Fund is for infrastructure priorities in the settlements within which the development has taken place within”.

Strategic Fund

The Strategic Fund is also distributed by Shropshire Council in accordance with the code of practice. After the Neighbourhood fund is taken out, 10% of Shropshire Council’s portion is the Strategic Fund. “Some infrastructure is vital to the delivery of Shropshire’s development strategy. This infrastructure has a strategic rather than a local focus, benefitting Shropshire as a whole. It is important that some monies (up to 10%) are used to meet these strategic requirements.”

The upshot… It isn’t fair on West Felton.

Transferring £325,000 of West Felton parish’s ‘Local Fund’ out of the parish and into Oswestry isn’t fair on any level. To understand just how unjust it is and how disproportionately West Felton would be hit by losing the CIL Local pot of money have a look at these charts:

CIL Local Fund: Top 20 parish areas in cash terms
CIL Local Fund: Top 20 parish areas in cash terms

Of the 165 parish areas in Shropshire West Felton (coloured in red) is the 43rd largest. Yet we have the 8th largest pot of CIL money. If we hadn’t have had the houses we didn’t want we would have been way down the list. There are 60 parish areas with zero Local Fund because they haven’t had any houses. To further put that into context look at the company we are keeping at the top. We have a bigger pot than Bridgnorth Town Council!! Above us are 4 town councils which you might expect, as well as 3 other parish councils – Baschurch, Hadnal and Oswestry Rural. 4 parish councils with a combined population in the 2011 census of 7,695 people have a Local Fund worth £1.4 million or a 10th of the whole CIL Local Fund for Shropshire. It is easy to see where houses have landed disproportionately. Shifnal was also punished by Shropshire Council’s policy failure.

CIL Local Fund: Top 20 parish areas per capita
CIL Local Fund: Top 20 parish areas per capita

Let’s put the pots into scale relative to population size, after all, Shrewsbury is a lot bigger than West Felton. Here is the distribution of the Local fund pots based on the number of people in each parish. Again West Felton is coloured red. West Felton now has the 7th largest pot of CIL Local per person – £220.37 per person or £560.40 per household. There were 580 households in 2011. Of the parish areas above us (Hadnal, Montford Bridge, Norton in Hales, Sutton upon Tern, Shifnal and Baschurch) only 1 is a town council. This list clearly shows where houses have been disproportionately allowed by the poor policy vacuum.

This is why the move by Shirehall should be opposed in the strongest terms.

It isn’t fair on small parishes that have had new housing.

On a superficial level, it might seem sensible if the 90% / 10% split is adjusted. However, it takes no account of where the need for infrastructure is now needed thanks to bad planning on the part of Shropshire Council. Retrospectively trying to claw money back because the houses were built in the wrong places is the wrong move. It is Shropshire Council’s fault. Penalising villages twice over by taking the Local fund money away is totally unjust.

West Felton has had houses outside of the adopted planning policy framework. This has placed an unplanned for and an unfair burned on the infrastructure of the village.

West Felton Parish Council has earned CIL money by virtue of having the new houses in the Village that it didn’t want. Moving the pot is a slap in the face for the residents of West Felton. It adds insult to injury. We will have had the pain of the new houses without the infrastructure gain.

I sent a question to Shirehall for Shropshire Council’s cabinet to consider, as I couldn’t get there in person. I asked the cabinet:

“Many areas are concerned about the proposed changes to the Local CIL pot and the implication for moving the attributed money from parishes to the Place Plan Centre. This is fine where the place plan centre is the natural hub for the surrounding parishes for things like economic development infrastructure. However, for infrastructure associated with other areas of infrastructure need at a strategic and local level don’t neatly fall into place plan areas.
“Take West Felton Parish Council which is 43rd in terms of the parish/town population. Yet the Local pot is the 7th largest per capita. The parish also has the 8th largest local pot in cash terms at over £325,000. If the local pot is used for infrastructure of say an educational nature then for West Felton the Secondary school catchment is to the Corbet school in Baschurch. Baschurch has also has had new housing development and their local pot stands at nearly £653,000. A combined £977,872.26. West Felton has its own employment site at Rednal which needs investment or we could need improved access for HGVs to ABP in Hordley and West Felton.
“Arguably the place plan areas are too big and don’t tie up to the Local Joint Committee areas.
“Will the cabinet alter their proposed policy to give the local pot to local joint committee areas rather than place plan areas or will they consider altering the ratio of allocation from 90/10 to 70/30 in favour of local places that have had the development.
“West Felton like other areas has felt the pain of unwanted houses through the council’s policy vacuum and lack of planning control. We have felt the pain so we should feel the gain.”

Many parishes are angry with Shropshire Council’ handling of CIL

St Martin’s Parish Council have written to the Shropshire Association of Local Councils (SALC) to express a similar desire for the Local Joint Committees to have the Local Fund. CIL has been discussed by the Town & Parish forum on more than one occasion. Len Sambrook, Chairman of Childs Ercall Parish Council, circulated a list to SALC member councils at the end of October

At short notice, I attended the SALC AGM last Friday (9th Nov) in Telford to support the following motion from Childs Ercall Parish council and Woore Parish Council:

“That Shropshire Council be formally requested by SALC to take no steps towards any amendment to the present arrangements in relation to the distribution of the Community Infrastructure Levy Local Fund without formal consultation with Shropshire’s Parish and Town Councils”

Speaking to the motion Len Sambrook told the meeting that many councils had submitted expressions of interest in the CIL Local fund only to be turned down by Shropshire Council because ‘the money was going to CIL strategic instead or simply delaying the applications.’

On Tuesday at West Felton’s next parish council meeting, I will ask the members to support sending a similar letter to SALC and Shirehall. I am livid with what Shirehall are up to. I will also ask them to set up a small task and finish group to progress CIL with some urgency.


Definitions:

Open Countryside is defined as the area outside of any settlement with a defined settlement boundary. Where only development that is essential for the purposes of agriculture, forestry, outdoor recreation, public infrastructure, essential works undertaken by public service authorities or statutory undertakers, or for other uses appropriate to a rural area will be permitted.

Community Cluster is a group of settlements without a development boundary which shares facilities and is likely to have at least a partial reliance upon other settlements to meet certain day-to-day needs.

Community Hub is generally considered to offer

sufficient services and facilities to meet the day-to-day needs of their resident

communities. They have a development boundary.

Place Plan Centre a settlement that serves the settlement’s resident communities, provide major employment and services to hubs and their surrounding rural hinterlands

West Felton 45% & Whittington 25% more houses since 2011

David Walker in West Felton

Across the Country and the Shropshire in particular, people are crying out for more affordable homes, to buy and rent. In Shropshire, the average house price is £220,352 with the average wage standing at £24,481. The average house is now 11 times the average wage. Putting most house beyond the reach of many ordinary hard-working people, particularly first time buyers. People who are battling every day with the rising cost of living whilst trying to save for a 20% deposit. They are pushed into private rental properties, which in turn inflates rents. This is exacerbated by an undersupply of housing and further compounded by those houses being purchased by speculators and investors. Similarly, those approaching retirement who want to downsize also face a lack of supply, again inflating prices.

Conservatives nationally and locally continue the same broad policies which have failed to deliver enough housing in the right places. Policies where supply is lead by developers who have a vested interest in limiting supply to keep prices high. Policies which continually fail to deliver enough houses to rent, part-rent or to buy for all income ranges. Without robust policies, we won’t build enough of the right homes in the right places and stop housing being built in the wrong places. Just building more houses is not the correct solution. We have to build more as a country and make sure they genuinely fit the needs of people and communities and not just the needs of a select few. Read more about housing supply in England and about the Liberal Democrats answers to the national problem.

On Tuesday this week Shropshire Council’s Cabinet met to consider, amongst other things:

  • Meeting Housing Need in Shropshire

    Shropshire Council building council houses. Something I have long supported for a long time (see: Right to Buy not sustainable shock… not) and the Liberal Democrats have been calling for nationally. I would support Shropshire Council Building new Council Houses.
  • Consultation on Preferred Sites for the Shropshire Local Plan Review

    Where to build houses for the new plan period 2016 to 2036
  • Community Infrastructure Levy [CIL] Regulation 123 List

    The list of infrastructure projects to be paid for by CIL

As a Civil Engineering Surveyor, who works for a Planning Consultancy and who is a Trustee of an Almshouse Charity delivering low-cost homes to people on low incomes, I know the proposed policy changes still fall far too short of what is needed. I.e., providing enough genuinely affordable homes for people, that allow people to stay in the communities that they were born in and to sustain local services. Letting developers build 4 & 5-bed executive homes everywhere is not sustainable nor what people need.

Despite being told everywhere that the plans are ‘modest’ Shropshire Council have opted for the ‘High’ housing growth option of 28,750 dwellings. CPRE Shropshire has said that the actual housing need for Shropshire is 18,000 houses The cabinet has approved growth higher than even the Government have suggested of 25,400 dwellings. You can also read the Shropshire Star’s report on the Conservative Council’s plans. Once again it leaves me with the impression that the growth plans are all about competing with Telford and using housing growth to fix their own budget problems rather than what is actually needed.

Why is this significant for West Felton?

For West Felton, in particular, the preferred sites report was very significant. West Felton has been slated to have 130 new houses over the plan period. West Felton parish had 600 households in 2011 whilst West Felton village itself had 290 households in 2011. The new housing represents a 19% increase for the parish and a whopping 45% increase for the main part of the village.

Also back in 2011, the then Parish Council Chairman was in the Shropshire star in a Call for no more homes in West Felton village. Saying: “We want to be regarded as a rural village where no new building takes place. We feel we have had more than our fair share. The infrastructure couldn’t cope with much more.

David Walker by another unplanned site in West Felton in 2017
West Felton has been burdened with houses they didn’t ask for. CIL is designed to ease that burden by paying for infrastructure to support housing development

As I have previously pointed out (See: Local Plan partial review) West Felton has had new housing development inflicted upon it, that the parish decided they didn’t want. In the Parish Plan 2013-14 (See Parish Plan summary here) after a comprehensive and extensive survey of residents, it was adopted that the parish should be ‘Open Countryside‘ a position supported by 89% of residents in the survey. Of the remainder ‘a considerable majority’ supported the Parish becoming a ‘Community Cluster‘ rather than becoming a ‘Community Hub‘. (See definitions below.)

Fast forward 7 years and the same person who called for ‘no more homes’ in the Shropshire Star was the main proponent of the parish becoming a ‘Community Hub‘ which has lead to the latest site for 60 houses being added to the village plan. How times have changed.

West Felton’s status has now changed from being ‘Open Countryside‘ to become a ‘Community Hub‘ – far removed from what the parish decided only 4 years ago! Until such time that I see evidence that the parish supports the move and the expansion of the village I remain opposed to it.

At the Parish Council in December last year, after a panel had worked on the response for a month, the council submitted a response to Shirhall’s consultation on the preferred scale and of distribution of settlement. The response was to endorse Shirehall’s approach. An approach that included West Felton becoming a Community Hub – the least popular option in the survey 5 years ago! A few councillors, myself included, expressed our concern that this would set a dangerous precedent and would lead to more houses being built in the parish.

Nearly a year later, at the Parish Council’s September meeting, the council adopted their preferred site for the Shropshire Council to adopt into the plan. As I remained opposed to the Parish becoming a Community Hub I voted against this and asked for my vote to be recorded in the minutes.

proposed housing site in West Felton for the period up to 2036
Proposed housing site in West Felton for the period up to 2036

Please fill in my Housing Survey for West Felton and let me know what you think of the housing proposal and what housing you feel West Felton needs

Why is this significant for Whittington?

Surveying Station Rd/Holyhead Rd junction visibility splay to help residents object to recent planning application
Surveying the Station Rd/Holyhead Rd junction visibility splay to help residents in Whittington object to a recent planning application

Whittington parish has been slated to have 360 new houses over the plan period. Whittington itself with 200 houses and 160 houses in Park Hall. Whittington parish had 1,071 households in 2011 whilst Whittington village itself had 642 households in 2011. The new housing represents a 34% increase for the parish and a more modest 25% increase for the village itself.

Like West Felton, the houses that will be built in Whittington parish won’t be of the right mix. There won’t be enough affordable home for local people to stay where they were born. If younger people are forced out of for price reasons then the population continues to age and all services become unsustainable for everybody.

Shropshire Council is supporting the vision of Oswestry Civic Society 2050 campaign and has opted to create a new Garden Village in Park Hall.

Oswestry Civic Society Oswestry 2050 map published via Oswestry Advertiser on 5th April 2018
Oswestry Civic Society Oswestry 2050 map published via Oswestry Advertiser on 5th April 2018

Is this going to lead to urban sprawl and the villages of Park Hall, Gobowen, Middleton, Whittington being subsumed into Oswestry? I believe there must now be quite a high risk that this will happen in the longer-term. Is that desirable? The jury is still out but I will be surveying residents on the plans soon.

Please participate in the consultations

On Tuesday this week, Shropshire Council’s Cabinet resolved to adopt the proposals and put them out for consultation. I will be doing a housing survey of my own soon. West Felton Parish Council and Shropshire Council will be conducting a housing needs survey in the New Year. I will post more details about that nearer the time but I would again urge everybody to participate. Please have your say.

The preferred sites for consultation document – including West Felton

The Consultation will run from Thursday 29 November 2018 until Thursday 31 January 2019. https://shropshire.gov.uk/get-involved/local-plan-review-preferred-sites-consultation/


Definitions:

Community Infrastructure Levy(CIL) is a planning charge, introduced by the Planning Act 2008 came into force in 2010. CIL is a tool for local authorities in England and Wales to help deliver infrastructure to support the development of their area. It is designed to help communities buy into having development when they can see the benefits of CIL for their community. Its aim is to make the planning system “fairer, faster and more certain and transparent.” There are some very concerning noises coming from Shirehall that may break this link between development and the community having the houses.

Open Countryside is defined as the area outside of any settlement with a defined settlement boundary. Where only development that is essential for the purposes of agriculture, forestry, outdoor recreation, public infrastructure, essential works undertaken by public service authorities or statutory undertakers, or for other uses appropriate to a rural area will be permitted.

Community Cluster is a group of settlements without a development boundary which shares facilities and is likely to have at least a partial reliance upon other settlements to meet certain day-to-day needs.

Community Hub is generally considered to offer

sufficient services and facilities to meet the day-to-day needs of their resident

communities. They have a development boundary.

Place Plan Centre a settlement that serves the settlement’s resident communities, provide major employment and services to hubs and their surrounding rural hinterlands

Thumbs up for Queens Head resurfacing

David Walker in West Felton

Yesterday, after a busy week, I popped out to see the finished Queens Head resurfacing work, completed last week. Compared to the previous contractors rubbish temporary repairs Keir has done an excellent job.

The junction surface was plained away, relayed and properly jointed providing a smoothing running surface. Fair does to Keir and Shropshire council they have done a good job. This repair should last a lot longer. So it gets a thumbs up from me.

It remains to be seen how the Governments extra money for potholes in this year’s budget offsets two years of £5m cuts to Shropshire Councils highways budget. It isn’t enough and doesn’t touch the side of what is required to fix the pothole problems in Shropshire.

Queens Head roadworks & closure in October

David Walker in West Felton

In some welcome news, there are going to be some more substantial roadworks at the Queens Head / Rednal Mile junction in October. Welcome because this junction has been shocking for ages and was particularly dangerous earlier in the year. I have been pressing for a more permanent fix than the usual patching and surface dressing for months.


Full details of the closure can be seen here: https://roadworks.org/?tm=107994753

The roadworks will involve some disruption as the road will be closed for a day. The remainder will be done under traffic lights.

Road closure with diversion

18th – 19th of October 2018

Traffic lights

20th – 23rd of October 2018

This troublesome junction has been a problem for ages, with many fudged repairs and a growing pothole as a result. The pothole covers most of the junction still, as much of the original road surface layers are still missing. The most recent repair of the deepest part of the pothole was the best by far. However, the junction needs plaining – where the top layers are removed and relaid.

plaining of the A5 during the construction of Nescliffe services
Plaining off the A5 during the construction of Nescliffe services when I was setting out the slip roads.

Hopefully, these repairs will put this problem junction to bed for some considerable time to come. However, with the poor record of the previous contractor and with the ongoing £5m/year cuts to roads I will be holding my breath for now.

Queens Head roadworks

Road Closure: Main Street, Queens Head (from the public house to south east of the junction for Queens Head junction to Heath House junction) and 100m approx on Queens Head junction to Heath House junction (from the junction of Main Street).

Start Date: 15th October 2018

End Date: 23rd October 2018

Purpose: Carriageway resurfacing under a road closure from 18/10/18-19/10/18 and 3 way traffic lights from 20/10/18-23/10/18

If anybody has any queries about this closure they can call Customer Services on 0345 6789006, or contact the Street Works Team on streetworks@shropshire.gov.uk.

See also my previous post and video:

Growing traffic & pothole problems vs £5m cuts in roads T

The word is that the £5m cuts will now for 3 consecutive years and not the 2 that I previously reported.

Oswestry Maternity Unit closed for the foreseeable future

David Walker in West Felton

SaTH announced on the 19th of June that the Oswestry Maternity Unit along with the Bridgnorth and Ludlow units were going to remain closed for the foreseeable future. Previously SaTH were seeking people’s views on the temporary suspensions, and whether rotating 4 week suspensions of inpatient services is a ‘Good’ solution to the staff shortages problem. Now they will remain closed until the conclusion of consultations about their future, possibly indefinitely.

Residents, parents and politicians of all colours continue to express outrage at the ongoing Maternity Unit saga. After prolonged closures due to staff shortages at Telford – where expectant and recovering mothers were expected to use Telford or Wrexham units instead – we are now into a new set of extended closures. Many us have said that these closures are designed to run the service down to the point that they can justify permanent closures. This is a tactic that has been used before with Schools, Police, Fire and Ambulance stations to close facilities by stealth.

Repeated suspensions aren’t good for parent’s peace of mind at critical times of pre and post-natal care. Neither are temporary closures on an extended basis. Parents rightly expect to plan ahead and this mess can’t continue. Rural MLUs like Oswestry Maternity Unit should be open 24/7.

It would seem quite obvious that if you put parents off using a service by creating uncertainty, then they will stop using it. Using those reduced numbers to justify a closure is dishonest and disingenuous.

Campaigners have hit out at misleading figures that have been used to justify the closures.

I volunteered as a Marshall for the march from The Bailey Head to Oswestry Maternity Unit last year.
I volunteered as a Marshall for the march from The Bailey Head to Oswestry Maternity Unit last year.

SaTH press release

Temporary suspension of services at Bridgnorth, Oswestry and Ludlow MLUs to continue

19 June 2018

Inpatient services, including births, at Bridgnorth, Oswestry and Ludlow Midwife Led Units (MLUs) are to remain temporarily suspended in order to safely staff the units where most of our mothers are giving birth, as a period of focused engagement with service users begins.

The current suspension of births at the three MLUs will continue until the outcome of a period of engagement is known. This is to ensure the safe care of mums using Shropshire’s maternity services.

The suspension of inpatient services (births and postnatal care) will continue from 8am tomorrow (Wednesday 20 June). All three units will remain open between 8am and 8pm for antenatal and postnatal services.

Women booked to give birth at Bridgnorth, Oswestry and Ludlow MLUs who go into labour during this time will be offered a birth at either Shrewsbury or Wrekin MLU or the Consultant Led Unit at the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford; or they may choose the option of a home birth. If any women due to give birth at Bridgnorth, Oswestry or Ludlow MLU require support during this time they will be able to access a Midwife. All women potentially affected by the suspensions are being contacted.

Sarah Jamieson, Head of Midwifery at The Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust (SaTH), which runs the MLUs, said: “The circumstances which led to our decision to suspend some services from the 20 May remain unchanged. Unfortunately the issues which have been affecting our maternity service continue. With over 98% of our women giving birth away from our rural MLUs, we are having to deploy our midwives where our mothers are choosing, or are being assessed as needing, to be and ensure that our Consultant Led Unit and our larger Midwife Led Units are safely staffed.

“We are planning a period of focused engagement with our service users, during which time we will be seeking their views and feeding these back to the Trust Board. The time period for the engagement and details regarding how to get involved will be released shortly.

“I must again reiterate that decisions over staffing are made purely on the basis of safety. The safety of women and babies using our maternity services has been, and always will be, our number one priority.

“I would like to apologise for any inconvenience that this may cause.”

Right to Buy not sustainable shock… not

David Walker in West Felton

A new Study by the LGA (Local Government Association) has warned that Right to Buy is at risk of being unsustainable. For many, this won’t be a shock at all, and I would argue this policy hasn’t been sustainable from day 1. This flawed policy has largely been responsible for the current crisis in the supply of affordable housing to buy and social housing to rent.

Let’s be honest Right to Buy has never been sustainable. Nothing wrong with letting tenants buy their homes but they should have let councils build replacement stock from day 1. #socialhousingcrisishttps://t.co/isKI0Cgx96

— David Walker 🔶🐤 #FBPE 🇬🇧🇪🇺 #stopbrexit #ABTV (@piginthepoke) June 11, 2018

First some history…

In the post-war years, Councils undertook a massive house building program to address the then housing crisis. The large-scale Council House building program after the war was a success.

Larger scale Council House building program after the war was a success. Conservative & Labour Governments after the 1980 successively undermined that success
Above is a picture of my Great Grandfather Arthur Harrison, who was Mayor of Bridgnorth in 1945-46, receiving the ceremonial key to the first council house on Syndey Cottage Drive – which my father still possesses.

The Conservative Flagship policy of Mrs Thatcher that allowed Council Tenants to buy their own homes at a heavily discounted rates was flawed from the start… Not just because of the excessive scale of the discount, but more significantly, the fact that they stopped Councils replacing the houses they lost to Right to Buy. Instead, Councils amassed huge capital receipts when they should have been using to build new council housing.

Large Scale Voluntary Transfer of Council Stock to new Social Landlords became the new norm, again with a large discount, in the hope that Social Landlords would fill the void. The Labour Government accelerated Right to Buy and encouraged Large Scale Voluntary Transfers whilst raiding the Capital receipts of well run Council Housing Departments. How much of those capital receipts went into building new housing?

Social Housing Crisis

At its peak in the 70s about 400k social houses were being built by Councils and by private enterprise – roughly 50/50 or 200k each. Fast forward to 1995 and the Council house supply of new houses had all but disappeared with private enterprise building about 150k houses a year right through to 2010.

  • Social Landlords haven’t been able to pick up the slack.
  • Private Developers interest is in maintaining a lack of supply, rising prices and profits, not what society needs.
  • Councils haven’t been able to build new houses.
  • The planning system has systematically failed to deliver enough houses in the right places, of the right size or of the right type.
  • The build rate has plummeted.

The result has been a shrinkage in the supply of housing, particularly affordable housing to buy or rent which has driven up rents and house prices. First-time buyers have largely been priced out of the market and forced into renting or relying on the Bank of Mom and Dad.

All too often, those houses that are being built are the wrong sort and in the wrong places.

There are some excellent graphics that illustrate the problem in Social Housing in this Guardian Article: How did the crisis in UK social housing happen?

More on the LGA report: https://news.sky.com/story/flagship-tory-right-to-buy-council-house-scheme-under-threat-11401333

The Solution

To fix this problem there is no need to scrap Right to Buy and the social mobility that scheme can help to provide, but it does need serious reform.

Instead, factor in:

  • Allow councils, with Government support, to borrow money and build new Council Housing where it is needed, or as part of the often muted new garden cities.
  • Allow these houses to be sold to tenants in Rent to Buy schemes and plough the receipts back into building more houses.
  • Fix the problems in the planning system, whilst still protecting the natural and built environment.
  • Use more environmentally sound construction methods.

That will better contribute to a balanced and more sustainable housing policy.

The last 20 years have shown us that the private sector alone can not possibly be relied upon to solve the social housing crisis or the lack of affordable housing to buy.