Annual report from our District Councillor, Lizzy Bowen
A GREAT PLACE TO LIVE
South Northants District continues to be ranked as one of the best places to live in the country. The Halifax survey rated SNC area as 16th in the country (having changed the methodology from previous years).
Unemployment is one of the lowest in the country, although SNC runs a job club to help anyone get back into work.
The waste and recycling record is one of which we remain proud having achieved 59.9% recycling rate. This put SNC in 11th position in the country.
SNC FINANCIAL HIGHLIGHTS
Funding continues to be reduced from central government, we are getting less money from grant but with growing housing numbers, growing business rates we continue to balance the books.
The government gave SNC a four-year financial settlement so we have a little more certainty, but there are still many levers that government can pull to control expenditure.
SNC continue to be one of the best at collecting council tax with 99.1% of all tax collected. Only about a dozen councils consistently collect above 99% with the national average being 98%
NEW HOMES BONUS
New Homes Bonus continues to be paid by SNC into separate parish ring fenced funds. SNC is one of the few Councils that pass this money back to directly benefit the areas of housing growth.
Changes made by the government mean that in 2017/18 new homes bonus will be paid for 5 years not 6 as in 2016/17. It will reduce further in 2018/19 to 4 years. There is a new “deadweight” factor, that means in effect the first 155 houses built in the SNC area will not qualify for new homes bonus.
For 2017/18 the current allocation process will continue dividing the available pot by the number of houses per parish. This will be reviewed during the year. The money accrued to date is safe and is still available for the parish to use. The rate of growth will slow in future years and should be flagged early.
2017 will see another £703,192 been added to the allocations to parishes. In previous years, £2.2 million has been allocated, bringing the total to £2.9 million. So far £1.35 million has been spent, leaving £1.54 million awaiting a bid from the parishes.
Some of the more notable awards in the past year include:-
- Greens Norton Community Centre – £40,000
- South Northants Volunteer Bureaux – £150,000
- Grange Park PC for CCTV – £22,000
- St James Lake Brackley – £42,000
- Towcester Studio Band – £45,000
- Towcester Youth Coffee House – £200,000
- Northamptonshire Youth Services – £20,000
- Citizens Advice – £120,000
In addition to the parishes; the voluntary sector has also benefited from funding, allowing SNC to continue, and increase, the levels of support within the district.
The SNC part of the Council Tax bill was raised by £5 a year for a Band D property. The total now is £180.37 per year. Just in terms of your bin collections it is 87 pence per bin per week to have it emptied. (Based on Blue, Black, Green, Food)
Sue Smith reached her 60th birthday in February and decided to take life at a slower pace. She was the first Joint Chief with Cherwell and has served SNC and CDC well since 2011.
Her replacement Joint Chief Yvonne Rees will commence employment in May
The Local Plan Part 2A is now being discussed. The draft of this is public and available. SNC request feedback on this draft before a formal consultation will begin in the summer. In particular there are maps showing the village confines which in large part have not changed much but they do take into account any changes where for example a development has been allowed on appeal. There is a general desire to have clearer confine lines that can be followed on the ground.
The next steps for the plan are:-
- Summer 2017 – formal consultation
- Autumn 2017 – analysis of the comments made and changes (if any) made to the draft
- Early 2018 – Public Examination with the Planning Inspector
- Publication of the Plan with the Inspector Comments
- Autumn 2018 – Adoption of the Final Part 2 Plan.
There is a new Central Government White Paper that proposes changes to the planning system and the way that numbers of houses are assessed, until we know the details of these it is impossible to say if SNC plans are adequate or need revision. We continue to keep a watching brief.
One of the main areas of contention at planning appeals is the issue of the 5 year land supply. Developers often argue that this development should or should not be included in the formula. The White paper suggests there will be a standard method of assessment that all can follow. This should bring welcome clarity and mean there is some comparability between local authorities.
SNC has a land supply sufficient for 8.2 years. The land supply is based on assessing the number of houses we plan to build per the Core Strategy document, versus the number of planning permissions granted. We must have a minimum of 5 years’ supply with a buffer for under delivery. At 8 years we are well outside the bounds of argument.
However, within the Joint Core Strategy there is an area identified and known as the Northampton Related Development Area (NRDA) this has all of the Northampton Borough area and some parts of South Northants and Daventry districts. The land supply within the NRDA is well below the 5 year minimum required. Recently an appeal in Daventry area was won by a developer who successfully argued that, although not in the NRDA, it was sufficiently close to help.
The Local Plan Part 2a will also include two provisional sites on the edge of Northampton for 1000 and 1400 houses. These are reserve sites which have been identified as a defence mechanism to protect the district from unwanted development. We intend to bring these forward only if the land supply in the NRDA requires it. Should anyone try to run the same argument in South Northants the District can argue that we are attempting to help with this allocation.
From 1 April 2016 SNC introduced the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) of which 15% of any proceeds goes to the Parish Councils, rising to 25% if they have a Neighbourhood Plan.
There are elections planned to Northamptonshire County Council this year only.
This year we had a ground cutting and are moving along with the new Brackley Leisure Centre. We aim to have a new 6 lane pool, with learner pool and other improvements to the gym areas completed by the end of the year.
Towcester Centre for Leisure had an equipment refresh in Oct when the new contract began. There are no major building works planned for Towcester although additional car parking is being put in place.
The new leisure contract is now in place and delivering substantial returns, SNC moved from a position where it was costing every year to run these facilities, to a position where there will be a return to the council each year from the new operator, Parkwood Leisure.
Brackley Town Expansion
The developments of Radstone Fields continue to deliver housing rapidly. SNC had the biggest increase in new homes in the past year than at any time since the building of Grange Park at the turn of the century.
Local Plan Part 2A gives many ideas to further expand and improve Brackley with for example a proposal for a sports hub to the North of the town.
TOWCESTER TOWN EXPANSION
Outline planning permission for Persimmon Homes and Bloor Homes has been in place since 2014. The design code to cover the design of the houses has been agreed in the past twelve months and the detailed planning permissions for the first approx. 500 been granted.
Work started on the new round about to give access to the land, opposite the racecourse entrance in March 2017. This will take a few months to build and have some overnight closures on the A5.
Ultimately this housing development will bring a relief Road to Towcester. We have been working closely with government to get the relief road delivered early. The present agreement states it must be in end to end, by the occupation of the 1017th house. We want to get this nearer to 2020 with the help of central government. Ian McCord, Leader SNC, has met with the Roads Minister, along with Andrea Leadsom, MP, to keep making the case.
Two critical roundabouts on the A43 have been improved to help traffic flow and support the expansion of Towcester. The Tove Roundabout (at Tesco / VW) has been open in its new form since April 16 and the Abthorpe Roundabout (McDonalds) is due to have the road works completed by the end of March 17.
Moat Lane continues to be developed with work starting on the corner site along Northampton Road for retail shops and apartments above. The work that has been done is of an exceptionally high standard and is a real enhancement to the town.
HORTON HOSPITAL CONSULTATION
SNC have been working with Cherwell, Stratford upon Avon and Banbury Town Councils to challenge in a very robust form the proposals to reduce the services at the Horton Hospital. We have written to the NHS to tell them that the split consultation is, in our view, unacceptable and we need them to have a single holistic consultation. This issues affects about a third of the area of SNC and we will continue to put the case that our residents need better treatment than this.
SUPPORTING LOCAL BUSINESS
We are determined to have a council that is open for business. To get the message out SNC hosted an evening at Towcester Racecourse to meet with local business and help them network (which I attended). We plan to hold another one this year as it was such a great success
To help business growth we have allocated large areas of land for employment use in Silverstone and Junction 16 M1. The Silverstone land was subject to another outline planning permission to reflect the change in the market place and the desires of the new owners MEPC.
MEPC have delivered several new units on the site and opened a metallurgy lab for companies to measure and test components and parts to exacting standards allowing machinery to be rented by the hour that would not be viable to buy for smaller companies.
To support business SNC have introduced a series of grants for Towcester Town Centre funded from planning S106 money. This fund has £140,000 to match fund up to 50% the cost of shop front changes in Towcester. We are hoping to do something similar in Brackley when funds are available.
Both our market towns have a new policy to help bring long term empty properties back into use. SNC will give rates relief on properties that have been empty for more than 6 months in the centre of Brackley or Towcester.
In the past year the new car park on Northampton Road, Tove Long Stay has been opened and in July 16 it was fully opened giving 160 additional spaces to the town. This car park is free of charge without waiting time restrictions.
The short stay car park has been restricted to a maximum 3 hour waiting limit and the car parking in front of the Town Hall re painted with a few less spaces but now have spaces that are the correct size to enable the 2 hour limit to be enforced.
These changes have had a great positive effect on the car parking in Towcester.
The second part of the district wide car parking strategy was completed and considered by council. This states that there is a need to find additional parking especially in Brackley and Towcester to cope with the growth of the towns. Brackley needs approx. 50 spaces in the next 5 years, Towcester 120 in the next decade, although the extra capacity at Northampton Rd provided 110 of those.
SUPPORTING MAJOR PROJECTS in the DISTRICT
SNC have arranged a £3m loan facility for the Silverstone Heritage Centre which is being funded by £9m from the Heritage Lottery Fund. This will provide an excellent tourist attraction for the area and is due to open in 2019.
Work has commenced on the refurbishment of the Grade 2* listed Brackley Town Hall which has been funded by £2.3m from Heritage Lottery Fund and £500k from both Brackley Town Council and SNC. This will ensure the iconic building in the centre of one of our historic market towns is assured and will kick start the regeneration of the Town Centre.
ACTION ON FLY TIPPING
In the past year SNC has introduced a new policy to allow for fixed penalty notices for fly tippers to be issued. SNC does prosecute when it can find the evidence but there are costs and risks of going to court. Several people have faced a mix of fines and costs totally several thousand pounds.
TAXI LICENSING NEW POLICY
Primarily driven by a desire to increase standards and improve customer safety. We are one of the first authorities in the area to introduce compulsory Safeguarding Training. We know from other places that taxi drivers can be a great source of intelligence and training them in what to spot may help prevent abuse.
SMOKE DETECTORS for Private Landlords
In the past year SNC introduced a new policy to enable it to give large fixed penalty fines to any landlord who does not fit smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in their property. They face a first warning, then a hefty fine if not rectified within 7 days.