Smannell Parish Council meeting

This evening I attended, as an observer, the bimonthly meeting of Smannell Parish Council. The agenda and program of activities shows what can be achieved by a local community when given control of their own affairs. Among items discussed were the Little London Playing Fields and the council’s palns to refurbish and upgrade them with developer (section 106) funding, actions to improve local roads and an ambitious Smannell Healthy Living Plan.

All of this can be undertaken by any parish or town council and I look forward to the day when residents of Andover (through their town council) can have the same freedom to control their neighbourhoods as do the residents of the parishes around the town.

Also on the agenda was the co-option of Stephen West of Little London on to the council.  My congratulations to him  on his appointment and to the council for proceding with his co-option despite unecessary objections and calls for a postponement of the decision  from a sole member of the public.

Residents condemn green waste charges

Garden Waste bag

Local residents complained angrily this evening at the Andover Forum about charges for green waste collection in the borough. The current bag system was introduced after Test Valley decided the previously used wheely bins were not suitable for green waste.

When the bags were introduced the new system was intended to be self funding and assurances were given to the public that no costs would fall on non-participating residents. However the new system proved to be more expensive than expected and the annual cost for 2006/2007 was £3.99 for every household in the borough. The issue has been debated at the council’s scrutiny committee when I argued strongly that those residents using the green waste scheme should pay the full cost of the scheme. The majority group disagreed but did agree to increase charges by £1 per bag for the following year. It is expected that the scheme will cost £2.75 per household over the coming (2008/2009) year.

Defenders of the scheme argue that it makes a significant contribution of 5% to our overall recycling rate. While I accept that our recycling has improved I would prefer the council to spend money on real recycling and reducing the amount of waste sent to land fill rather than paying residents to collect grass cuttings to artificially massage recycling rates.

I and my Lib Dem colleagues will be raising the matter again next year when budgets are set and pushing strongly for a self financing scheme and a real increase of recycling of household waste.

Enham Village Design Statement

Yesterday saw the draft publication of the long awaited village design statement (VDS) for Enham Alamein. This has been the result of over two years work by the dedicated team working on the project.

The idea was first mooted when neighbouring Smannell parish started their VDS. At the time Enham had neither a parish council or residents association but residents expressed an interest in developing their own VDS. I and fellow Lib Dem councillor Josie Msonthi petitioned the Test Valley’s executive for funding and support for the village to work on a VDS arguing that it would help develop community spirit and awareness. After several consultative meetings the VDS team was born and the project carried forward by the newly formed Enham Residents Association.

I remember the initial discussions and the debates as to whether the project would work. I attended early meetings and was impressed by the enthusiasm for the project within the village. The fact that the project has worked and has produced a document the whole parish can be proud of is a tribute to the hard work of the VDS team.

The draft has been published for public consultation. Full details can be found on the building and planning pages of the council’s website on Comments should be returned by 4:30 on Friday 11 July 2008.

Hampshire Tory Budget Panic

Hampshire Conservatives over-charged council tax payers this year so they could bribe the voters with a lower increase next year – County election year. They denied it at the time, but now the truth is out. They have also announced some modest improvements to services to try to distract people from the major service cuts they are making. After increasing the council tax by 4.5% this year, when it was not  necessary to do so, they have now announced that the increase in election year will be 3.0%.

Liberal Democrat Group Leader on the County Council, Cllr Adrian Collett, said: “People are currently feeling the pain of the massive £43.38 Hampshire council tax hike this year – the last thing they needed when fuel prices are shooting up and the economy is struggling. This is having a particularly harsh impact on people on fixed  incomes, such as pensioners, who can do little about it but pay up and cut back on other things such as heating and food. Yet the Tories  think they can con people by having a lower increase during election year. People are not stupid and will see through this Con-trick.”

 “The truth is that council tax didn’t need to go up so much this year, but the Tories wanted to get the money into the bank. In fact Hampshire has over £120 million of council tax payers money stashed away, much of which is only there due to over-charging now so that  future increases can be lower. How very cynical! The modest improvements to services are dressed up to sound good but while of course they are welcome, they don’t make up for the major cuts.”

“£1 million extra for pot holes sounds good, but until this year the County Council had been putting £3 million extra per year into highway  maintenance, so this really means that the cut is only £2 million  instead of £3 million. £400,000 for carpets and double glazing in residential homes is also  welcome as far as it goes, but Hampshire should be properly refurbishing all its care homes to bring them up to proper modern  standards. Instead of that seven homes have been closed down due to  lack of money to refurbish them, while the Conservatives allocate 100  times this £400,000 (over £40 million) on modernising their Winchester ivory tower. Comfortable offices in Winchester are more important to them than modernising our care homes.”

“Is there any proposal here to reopen any of the closed care homes? No! Or to reinstate the £1 million cut in the Casualty Reduction Programme? No! Or to prevent this summer’s major round of bus service cuts (the fourth major round of bus cuts)? No. Any improvements to much-needed services are to be welcomed, but this is just a pre-election Con-trick!” he concluded.

Story supplied by Cllr Adrian Collett – Liberal Democrat Group Leader on Hampshire County Council

MP condemns parking charges

Chantry centre carpark

Romsey MP Sandra Gidley has condemned Test Valley’s recent increase in parking charges as “cynical and counter productive.”

“With petrol prices hitting 117p a litre across Hampshire” she says “visitors will be harder to attract to towns like Romsey and Andover. The Conservative controlled council’s move to introduce large increase in car parking charges in a post election year is both cynical and ill timed.”

 The higher charges are an extra tax on those who make essential journeys into town and could well drive shoppers away to larger towns.

Mrs Gidley added “We are at the start of a make-or-break opportunity for many businesses struggling to stay afloat. It seems perverse that the council is undermining their own efforts to help businesses at this crucial time by slapping large increases on parking charges.”

The increased charges were introduced to fill the large hole in council revenues left by the poor returns from rents on the borough’s run down industrial estates.

Local Labour party spokesmen have yet to comment on the increase in parking charges or on the government’s failure to manage fuel prices.

Another Supermarket for Andover


Today saw the opening of Sainsbury’s new supermarket on the Enham arch roundabout. The new shop is a vast improvement on the derelict Do-It-All site we have seen for the last few months. I was particularly impressed with the amount of time spent by contractors landscaping the surrounding area.

I welcome the vastly increased choice we now have for food shopping in Andover. With Sainsbury following ASDA in expanding in the town, Tesco, who have dominated the town’s food market for too long, will see some serious competion and local shoppers have some real choice.

The expansion in food retail however does raise other issues.

  • While we now have a range of food shops to choose from we are still desparately short of other shops. In particular we need a major department store. I have raised this at council meetings and will continue to push for a full range of retail facilities in the town.
  • The new supermarkets bring welcome new jobs to the town. But, too many local jobs are in retail and distribution. For the town to flourish we must widen the range of employment opportunities. Andover Lib Dems intend to make this a top priority over the next few years.
  • Despite being raised on a number of occasions by both me and Cllr Rod Bailey we are no nearer a solution to the traffic congestion on Enham Arch roundabout. This is bound to get worse now Sainsbury’s is open. Tory council leader, Ian Carr, told us over a year ago  thast he was personally dealing with the problem. Come on Ian – tell us when you intend to resolve it.

Amazing Alamein

A new environment group has recently established it self in the Alamein Ward and what a difference it has made already!! Set up by local residents, the group will be tackling various environmental projects throughout the ward, ranging from planting flowerbeds, assisting with conservation at Anton Lakes, encouraging recycling, a source of information for the community and much more more.

One project has been completed to date; using plants donated to the group by Blakes Nursery on Saturday 19 April at Atholl Court, King Arthurs Way. Local residents were asked to choose a plant, which was then planted by member of the environment group. A once dull and neglected bed flowerbed has now been transformed bringing much colour to the area. Chris Lawton, Church Army Family Worker, commented “it really does brighten up the area and I’ve received many positive comments about it.” Chris provides outreach sessions at the Askalot Community Shop.

If you would like to get involved, the next meeting is being held on May18 at 6pm at King Arthur’s Hall, or for more information please call John Cockaday on 01264 334562.

 Story supplied by Marianne Piggin, Community Support Officer, Test Valley Borough Council

Tories reject scrutiny of changes to constitution

At last Wednesday’s council meeting final approval was given to Cllr Carr’s proposals to establish a single party executive in Test Valley (see blog of March 16th). The Liberal Democrat posirtion was that we would accept the changes provided there was adequate scrutiny of this change and future executive decisions. To this end Cllr Rod Bailey and I tabled an ammendment to the Tory proposals – “In amending the constitution this council acknowledges that the close scrutiny of the Council’s decision making processes is in the public interest and is essential in a healthy democracy. Council therefore instructs the Overview and Scrutiny committee, at its next meeting, to consider the impact of these proposals on the scrutiny and other committees of the council and report back, with recommendations, as appropriate.”

In an hour long debate successive LibDem councillors argued ther case for a more open, democratic and cross party approach to decsion making. The Tories missed the point and stuck to the party line that they could change the executive so they would and that consultation with the opposition and the public was unecessary.

In summarising the ammendment I argued ” the proposals have been ill-researched and are inappropriate unless we undertake extra research and consider the knock on effects for other committees. This is why I believe it essential that we add this amendment so that scrutiny can consider the effects and come back urgently with it’s response to them. The next Scrutiny meeting is the ideal time as the agenda at present is light and the major item is consideration of a report from the audit panel that a separate audit committee be established. It would seem appropriate therefore if scrutiny considered this matter at the same time as both proposals impinge directly on the current working of scrutiny and on its future effectiveness. Finally I would remind members that these proposals approved or otherwise are the ideas of the leader only and not of the council or the public as a whole and as a member of scrutiny and leader of the opposition group I intend to ensure democratic accountability is maintained. As for the future I will happily consider members of the conservative group in my executive in 2011. That is, of course assuming there are any conservatives still on the council at that time.”

Borough to decide on town council bid

As expected the government has devolved the final decision on whether an area can have a town or parish council to borough councils. Quoted in the Andover Advertiser, Stephen Lugg, Director of the Hampshire Associaiton of Local Councils condemned the move as “disastrous”. Mr Lugg argued that the county council should make the decision because the borough council is using evidence from ten years ago, based on a small selection of people that they selected, to say that Andover does not want a town council.

 Borough council leader Ian Carr continues to argue that borough councillors are in a better position to know about the “real feeling” of the town and also makes the unsubstatiated claim that a town council would cost more.

My own experience is that the voters of Andover are quite capable of making up their own minds as to whether they want a town council and do not need borough councillors from outside the town to make that decision for them. The case that town and parish councils are more expensive is not proven. In fact parishes adjacent to Andover have a lower council tax precept that the Andover levy which Cllr Carr charges Andoverians for the services he thinks a town council would supply.

I share Mr Lugg’s concern that the case for a town council may not get a fair hearing from the borough but would like to re-assure him that Test Valley’s Liberal Democrats are fimly commited to establishing a town council for Andover and look forward to the completion of the town council petition which will prove beyond doubt that the people of Andover want the same democratic rights as every other ciitzen of Test Valley.

Excavations at Smannell Road

Many local residents have contacted me regarding the appearance of a wire fence across Smannell Road play area and trenches dug in the field. The single wire fence was thought to be dangerous and no notification had been given to residents about the works.

The work is being carried out by Southern Water laying new sewers for the East Anton housing development. Test Valley were not advised or consulted about the works.

I visited the site this morning and have arranged for reflective tapes to be strung along the wires so they can be seen after dark. I will also be requesting neighbourhood warden patrols to monitor the site.

Because of this work the proposed funfair on the site this coming weekend has been cancelled. I am liaising with Test Valley and will be consulting with residents about alternative dates.