Thousands of pounds for investment in communities – [Cllr Katherine Bird]

The Coalition Government has published proposals to end the requirement for councils to offer a discount of between 10-50% on council tax if the home is not someone’s main residence.

In Test Valley it is estimated that last year, the council missed out on £55,000 because of discounts on second homes. These reforms will give councils thousands of pounds back to support services and investment in communities.

Additionally, the proposals go further to tackle the problem of long-term empty homes, which are a waste of housing. The reforms will give local authorities more freedom to tackle the problems of empty homes in their area.

Liberal Democrat Communities Minister, Andrew Stunell has announced that councils will be allowed councils to charge an Empty Homes Premium on council tax, of up to 50%, on any home left empty for two years or longer.

Commenting, Katherine Bird said:

“We have a real housing problem in our area, with young people unable to get on the property ladder because there aren’t enough houses available. Yet we have up to 285 second homes standing empty while their owners may live miles away.”

“Ending the mandatory discount will bring thousands of pounds back to our councils, something Liberal Democrats have long campaigned for. Councils will be able to use this money to support services and drive investment in our communities rather than helping those who can afford multiple homes.”

“Together with the reforms to tax long-term empty homes, these plans will help bring back scores of homes into use over the coming years, easing pressure on our housing stock.”

Smannell Broadband update

For the past three years I have been working with local residents and council officers to bring quality broadband to Smannell and Little London. This project is now close to completion. I attach below the update on prgress recently released by the chair of the broadband group to the parish magazine.

“I am pleased to be able to tell you that we are on the last lap of the project to get better broadband to our parish. Hampshire County Council has appointed a supplier to carry out the work and they will soon go ahead in the next couple of months to set up the connections

This exciting new system will use the fibre optic link that already exists to Smannell School. Another new cable to the green telephone boxes in Little London will then be laid via a trench across Woodhouse Farm. Individual households can then be connected to the system using their existing BT phone line, but with a much increased capacity. This will use the same technology as BT Infinity which can deliver speeds of up to 40Mbps. Other areas in the parish will be connected by superfast wireless broadband. As for all broadband service providers speeds to individual properties may vary, depending upon distance, but we are confident that all residents will be able to enjoy a greatly improved broadband service.

The costs to residents who wish to have this service will be published soon, but should be about £25 per month, with a one off installation fee of about £50 There is also a high quality business package available.

I’m sure that you have many questions to ask, but I will to let you know more very soon once the practicalities have been planned in detail.

So 2011 will definitely be “The Year of Smannell Broadband”!

Margaret Henstock

Smannell Broadband Group

Huge Increase in Rat Catching Charges

The fee for Test Valley’s rat-catching service has has been increased by 50%. At the same time the number of people in the Test Valley area able to access the free Council rat-catching service has been drastically cut.
The decision was taken at a secret session of the Council’s Conservative Cabinet.
 At present, Test Valley Borough Council, which employs three full-time pest control officers, offers a free of charge service for families with small children, residents who live adjacent to rodent invested open land not in their ownership, residents with a disability and residents in receipt of means tested benefits. The vast majority of call outs fall into one of these categories. The charge, which is currently £40 for the remaining residents, covers a maximum of three visits to each affected premises.
But Test Valley’s Cabinet, meeting on Wednesday 16th February 2011, went into the secret session to decide that the £40 charge for rats and mice control should to be raised to £60, an increase of 50%. The Cabinet also decreed that the service will only be free to those people who are on Council Tax or Housing Benefit.
“It is acknowledged that Test Valley has an effective pest control department and even at the new pricing levels is competitive with the private sector”, says Romsey Councillor, Mark Cooper. “But to extend charging to a much wider proportion of local residents who have become used to the free service and then to increase the charge from £40 to £60 is a huge imposition on people who are already paying a huge amount of Council Tax. It’s a double whammy for residents. Services at County level are being cut; service charges at Borough level are being increased hugely above the inflation rate”.
“Such a large rise will reduce the public’s willingness to call out the pest-controllers and that could then result in run away numbers of rats especially if there’s a warm summer”.
Fees for other pest control services increase by similar amounts. Flea treatment for a 4-bed property is to increase from £53 to £70 and bedbug treatment from £53 to £85.
“The fact that these fee extensions and increases were dealt with in secret session suggests that TVBC was trying to get the increases in under the radar. They hoped no one would notice”.

Letter to the Times

Yesterday I was more than willing to sign a letter submitted to the Times by Cllr Richard Kemp and many other Lib Dem council leaders and group leaders.  

I reproduce it in full below because unfortunately you need to subscribe to read it on the TImes website. You can also read it and comments about it on the following websites.

Our Letter to the Times | But what does Richard Kemp think?
Lib Dem council leaders attack Pickles over speed and scale of cuts
Ian Eiloart: That Lib Dem letter in full
I won’t add anything else I believe  Cllr Kemp’s letter sums it up.

 The letter:


Local government is playing its part in tackling the country’s deficit and advancing the Coalition’s key aims of Localism and the Big Society. But local – and central – government are being badly let down by the Communities & Local Government Secretary of State who appears unwilling to lead the change that’s so desperately needed.

Local government has made efficiency savings of 3% each year for the past eight years – in stark contrast to the run-away spending of central government admittedly under the previous administration. We’ve also been planning for further saving – much further – since the true state of the economy became apparent six months ago.

What has been delivered is a difficult cuts package across all government departments but clearly the most severe is to local government. These cuts will have an undoubted impact on all frontline council services – including care services to the vulnerable.

Rather than assist the country’s recovery by making savings to the public sector in a way that can protect local economies and the frontline the cuts are structured in such a way that they will do the opposite. The local government settlement will take a major hit in this coming financial year and further – smaller – cuts in subsequent years. This front-loading means councils do not have the lead-in time necessary to re-engineer services on a lower cost base and ease staff cuts without forced, expensive redundancies. Inexplicably, local government is also being denied the opportunity to spread the cost of reorganisation and downsizing over several years – at no cost to central government – which just makes even bigger in-year cuts inevitable.

The Secretary of State’s role should have been to facilitate necessary savings while at the same time promoting the advance of Localism and the Big Society. Unfortunately since the general election Eric Pickles has felt it better to shake a stick at councillors than work with us. 

Local and central government should be united in a shared purpose. Instead of constantly chastising and denigrating local authorities through the media, the government should be deploying all its efforts and those of its officials to helping councils minimise the impact on vulnerable communities and frontline services. 

We would be delighted to discuss with the Secretary of State positive ways forward in which we could take on the difficult challenges shared by all levels of government and would prefer to do this than continue with the gunboat diplomacy which is the current order of the day.


Developers should pay for litter bins

Local Lib Dem councillors are calling on Test Valley to charge developers who open fast food outlets for litter bins.

In a motion submitted to the next council meeting I and Cllr Celia Dowden from North Baddesley are proposing that any application for a fast food outlet should automatically be subject to a legal agreement calling on the applicant to pay for litter bins in the vicinity. 

One of the biggest causes of litter in our town centres is the thoughtless discarding of takeaway wrappers and food. At present the tax payers have to pay for litter picking and bins. At a time when money is tight and Test Valley have refused to pay for any more bins it’s only right that those who profit from these developments pay their fair share of the costs of dealing with litter in the area

The proposals call on Test Valley to ensure there are enough bins to cover current needs and require all future outlets to pay the cost of additional bins. The full text of the motion, which will be discussed on 25th February, is as follows

Council recognises the litter problems created by takeaway food outlets

Council therefore requests that

  •  Officers investigate current litter bin provision in the area of fast food outlets and ensure adequate bins are provided in these areas and
  • unless there are pressing logistical reasons not to so do, request officers to seek to implement a standard planning condition on planning applications for future outlets to ensure that litterbins will be provided in the vicinity of the development at the applicant’s expense.

No to litter bin for King Arthur’s Hall

I always thought the best way to discourage people from dropping litter was to supply bins for them to put it in. Not according to Test Valley Borough Council. They have recently refused a request for an additional bin outside King Arthur’s Hall.

 I raised this at last week’s council meeting when I asked the following question of the cabinet member responsible for environment.

The Council’s corporate plan includes six SCHEME priorities including -Protecting and enhancing the environment with “targeted improvements to create cleaner safer neighbourhoods, promoting pride in the local environment” and – Maximising capacity and impact by “increasing community engagement and understanding of customer and community needs”

An important way of creating cleaner and safer neighbourhoods would be to increase the number of litter bins especially in areas where local residents have requested them. I was surprised therefore to hear that a recent request for an additional litter bin outside King Arthurs Hall a COMMUNITY facility in Alamein ward was turned down because of costs and that the borough is cutting down on the number of litter bins due to the “high cost to install and refurbish them.” 

I am further led to understand that officers believe that litter in the area can be best dealt with by litter picking rather than with a bin. Can the portfolio holder advise me how such a decision meets with SCHEME priorities?

The response was unbelievable. Apparently it is cheaper for the council to pick up litter from the pavement than to empty a bin because “a special trip would need to be made to empty the bin.” When I pointed out that they already empty a bin outside the shops less than 100 yards away I got the same answer.

Test Valley has allcated a considerable sum of money for the refurbishment of the Atholl Court/King Arthur’s Hall  area. Rather pointless if they can’t deal with basic issues like providing  and emptying a simple litter bin!

community facilities in augusta park

Over the past month I have been contacted by several residents concerning the lack of community facilities in Augusta Park. Of particular concern is the failure of the developers to provide a suitable community centre. As I have previously reported the temporary building intended for this use has been rejected by Test Valley Borough Council as totally unsuitable. This building was supposed to open after the occupation of 100 homes. Now over 300 homes are occupied and the developers have failed to meet their legal obligation to provide a facility. Negotiations are continuing and  its hoped a centre will be opened early in the New Year. I am continuing to chase Test Valley’s officers to get this matter resolved.

In the meantime community events and facilites are being introduced. Four “walking for health” walks will take place in the New Year starting outside the yet to be opened community centre on the corner of Sunflower Way and Pasture Walk. The walks start at 10:00 am on Thursdays 6th and 20th January and 3rd and 17th February. Also in January a new parent and toddler group starts on Monday 10th from 1:30 to 2:30 at the Spring Meadow Childrens Centre in Smannell Road. Meetings will take place every Monday in term time. For more details of either of these contact Sharon Goodridge on 01264 368622 or [email protected].

taskforce success

For several months Raglan Housing’s Taskforce has been working to improve the Vespasian Road and Roman Way areas managed by the housing association. I was privileged to be invited to contribute at the start of this project and have been in regular contact with Raglan Housing officers since then.

The project is beginning to have a real improvement on the area and there is now an active residents association to represent local views and take the project forward. Details of local activities and services are available on a newly erected notice board on Vespasian Road. My congratulations to Matthew and everyone at Raglan for the work done.

Thank you also to the residents association committee for the warm welcome they gave me to their AGM last Thursday. I look forward to working with Alan and the rest of the committee over the coming year.

Partial victory for bus pass campaign

Hampshire County Council have now made a decision on the future of concssionary fares in the county. I can report they have conceded on some but not all of of the extra elements currently offered by Test Valley Borough Council. This as a result of the vast number of responses from residents of Test Valley and across the county calling for them to maintain the exisiting provisions. Funding is there to pay for these services and cuts to these services would be an attempt to divert that funding to other areas. Full details of the new provisions are available on the county’s website at

In brief the new county run system provides

  • Free bus travel for those over 60 from 9:30 to 23:00 Monday to Friday and all day at weekends
  • All day (including before 9:30) for those holding a disabled persons pass with the option of a companion pass for anyone needing one.
  • Disabled pass holders will be able to use their pass on approved car share and taxi share services and travel half price on dial a ride services.
  • Disabled residents can also opt for travel tokens instead of a bus pass.
  • Passes can also be used on Cango and some other services.

The county will not however be providing all day (before 9:30am) travel for the over 60s or rail cards as an alternative to a bus pass.

Existing passes remain valid and replacements will be issued by Test Valley until April 2011. From April Hampshire County Council will adminster the system and will be writing to those eligible to advise them of how to apply for the new passes.

New taxi ranks

Visitors to Andover town centre now have the benefit of two new taxi ranks, which have recently opened as part of the latest town centre enhancement work. They will provide much-needed additional taxi rank space.

The first rank, accommodating three taxis, will be in operation 24 hours a day in Waterloo Court. This is conveniently placed for customers coming from the Waitrose end of the Chantry Centre, the Guildhall or Tesco Metro.

The second rank, also for three taxis operating in the evenings only (8pm to 6am),  is on Bridge Street at the junction with the High Street. This is similar to the existing evening only rank at the junction of Bridge Street and Winchester Street.

I am pleased to see these have finally been opened as this is something I have been requesting for some years ever since the closure of the mini cab office in Waterloo Court. Given the poor level of bus services in the area adequate provision of facilities for taxis and mini cabs is essential.