After some three months on South Holland District Council, here are a few observations, mostly about the housing controversy, which will have a significant impact on the lives of everyone who lives here, not just those close to the new sites, as they will discover for example, when they can’t get a GP’s appointment easily, get held up by traffic or have a job parking near to schools.
Your district council has seven independent councillors and two Ukipers, the rest are all Conservatives. That’s what the majority voted for. About 10 key portfolio holders, naturally all Conservatives, effectively run the council. Some of the 10 have very large portfolios and considerable responsibilities. Presumably this is intended to save money
The policy of all councils is strongly driven by central Government, who most of you also voted for. They want a big building programme. It is more or less regulated by the system of appeals also run by Government appointed people. Appeals are expensive for authorities who reject applications and then loose. Ratepayers can end up with big legal bills. There are also large financial benefits for local authorities, District and County, when major housing developments are completed. Local councillors do protest about the huge increases in building but in the end, most vote for them.
We are sometimes told that infrastructure is considered but there is little evidence that’s true and individual councillors are not encouraged to talk directly to officers who make the recommendations, so it’s hard to judge. As far as health services are concerned, even if new facilities are built, I understand it’s very difficult to recruit qualified staff, who don’t want to come to Lincolnshire. This is mainly a matter for the national and local NHS to deal with.
We do need development in South Holland, including new homes but in my opinion, encouraging new businesses to start up or move here and infrastructure improvements should be a priority, not huge housing schemes. They can certainly come, gradually, at carefully selected locations, as public services improve. There needs to be a reasonable balance and I don’t think we’ve got one. As yet I have no idea how this can be achieved, though it should be possible.
To be fair, our council is attempting to cut costs and generate revenue by establishing profit making schemes, like our new house building company, that may assist, but not without risk, in countering cuts to local authority support grants from Westminster. Sharing admin services with other authorities also helps but there is still much work to be done.
The opposition at SHDC do not have an easy task and all the new councillors have a huge learning curve to overcome, especially as right now, the organisation seems to be evolving before our eyes. We will keep them open.