GP SURGERY: Council leader answers our readers’ questions

SHDC offices'Names: Gary Porter
SHDC offices'Names: Gary Porter
Have your say

Coun Gary Porter wants greater interaction with South Holland residents in his latest term as leader of the district council. Here he answers directly and honestly questions submitted by Lincolnshire Free Press and Spalding Guardian readers....

Peter Rex, Spalding

GP: We used to run it but the county council has taken over as the lead authority and we have been involved to a lesser extent each year. On the economic benefit you would need to talk to the county council who carried out a piece of work to justify why they carry on doing it.

I am open to persuasion. It is part of the culture of South Holland, it is still the one thing Spalding is well known for wherever you go in the country. You’re right that it is becoming less and less relevant to South Holland in the 21st century which is why we are trying to get it to modernise for want of a better word. If there was a significant groundswell that said “In these current times it ought to be on the chopping block” I would be happy to listen to that.

Why are businesses being stifled generally on issues such as high business rates and why is the taxi trade governed by draconian people in the council and, we the taxi trade, are not allowed any representative to advise the panel first hand that make up all our rules and regulations?

Judy Brookes, Smart Cabs

GP: Business rates are set by national government not local government. They are collected by South Holland and sent to central government and the numbers we get back are only something like 20p in the pound. I would like to set those rates locally and I am lobbying for that. I think we could reduce the rate to attract new businesses in. The best we are going to get is the ability to reduce the rates and keep more of it locally. I have been lobbying for that nationally, it’s on my wish list when I meet with Eric Pickles.

I don’t determine what happens with buses or trains but the argument is I should determine what happens with taxis for customer safety reasons. I am not aware that we are any stricter with what we require than our neighbours. I am sure that that if someone would like Malcolm Chandler to go and talk to the taxi drivers he would be more than happy to do it.

Given that SHDC is a small authority in the grand scheme of things, why did you deem it necessary to appoint two deputy leaders in the last four year period? Quite apart from anything else the position of deputy leader attracts an additional allowance of £10,626 each.

How can you justify this expense in the current economic climate?

Gerry Hutchinson, Holbeach

GP: The deputy leader was a cabinet member anyway so the only difference in cost is the increase between being a cabinet member and a deputy.

The reason for two is that more and more of our work, in terms of getting money, is done outside of South Holland.

If I go I speak as leader and if Nick (Worth) goes he speaks as the leader. There are so many meetings that between the two of us we couldn’t cover all of those meetings and when someone goes as a cabinet member they never carry that weight.

The difference in cost is about £2,000 – out of a budget of £90million £4,000 won’t make too much difference and they are bringing in much more than that in return.

Members have had a freeze in their allowances this year and I know Paul (Przyszlak) didn’t take his before. I haven’t taken one for about three years.

I earn about £24,000 from my ward member’s and leader’s bit put together.

People will always moan about what councillors get, I can understand that because it’s tax payers’ money but the top three officers earn more than the whole member core put together.

Members mostly represent very good value for money.

When the Boundary Commission came in last time I put a recommendation to take it down to 26. We will be asking for a voluntary review and I still think 26 is right, with single member wards. That gives us enough to run the council with a cabinet, licensing, scrutiny and planning.

Recently there have been several community campaigns highlighted in the local press and the current government has stated that they would like local communities to have more of a say in local matters. With this in mind, will the council embrace this directive on more powers for the comment? Rodney Sadd, Carrington Road, Spalding

GP: Community groups should be able to take on local facilities – providing there is a guarantee that they cannot rack up a debt on them. There has got to be a limit on what they can do with an asset but definitely if community halls etc are run by community groups then they are going to be more suitable to what communities need.

With neighbourhood planning people should be able to shape what their environment has, as long as it still ticks the boxes for the district and nationally.

Plans have got to be evidence and needs-based. If Whaplode Drove needed 50 houses because there were lots of young adults that needed somewhere to buy and a survey showed the need then you couldn’t just say no. But, actually, why would you?

Neighbourhood planning isn’t going to be about negative planning - it’s about what is suitable for an area. It’s designed not to allow people to cluster around a no campaign.

The whole point for giving members individual budgets this term is so that the small things can be done. If putting in district money can lever in extra then that can happen. I used the example of dog bins but it can be bigger than that.

In view of his pledge to “get more involved with residents and find out what they want from the council” can Coun Porter assure us that in future more attention will be given to local residents’ concerns about developments in their own area in order to avoid fiascos like with Nestwood Homes?

Joan Woolard, Fleet Hargate

GP: That is still subject to a massive row with the ombudsman so I really want to stay away from Nestwood. However, I am not convinced that anything would have been different – we had some complaints and we reacted to them. It certainly didn’t happen because the community was ignored.

Do I think people should get more involved with plannings process? Yes, they should. They should get involved with the neighbourhood plan. If you wait for a plan and the applicants conform to the neighbourhood plan then the answer has got to be yes. It is too late to object. People have got to get involved in the planning process before that.

Will the council undertake to finally resolve the problem of the illegal traveller sites in South Holland by making a concerted effort to find alternative sites in this council term?

Jayne Neville, Gosberton Clough

GP: The plan of action is: conclude the sale and purchase of Holbeach, move the gypsies from their current site to that site as agreed, develop the planning permission we have got at Sutton Bridge, then develop the third site.

The plan of action is still the same. Until we conclude Holbeach I am not authorising the spending of any money on Sutton Bridge. Until we start spending on Sutton Bridge it would be foolish to spend money on the site to replace Gosberton.

We haven’t stopped looking. We are in negotiations about acquiring a site voluntarily rather than through a compulsory purchase.

Believe me I do share people’s frustrations. It has been eight years now and I don’t think there are too many people who want this to be resolved more than I do.

I would like to resolve this as quickly as possible but I am not going to go against my pledge to resolve it without a financial detriment.

Why is it that SHDC appear unable to organise a regular road sweeping programme for the council’s residential zone? I hold a letter which requires residents to telephone SHDC parks and grounds to request road sweeping. I visited the receptionist at SHDC in early April to make such a request and no action to date.

John Gills, Amsterdam Gardens, Spalding

GP: Road sweeping is one of those things that’s on an as-and-when basis. It is a pointless exercise to say people will get their road swept on a certain date because if the mess happens to come the day after we would look pretty stupid.

If they want to complain about their service I would expect their ward member to look into it.

Why has the council not implemented a staff green travel plan? It is hypocritical to secure such plans when granting planning permissions for new developments when not having its own.

David Hurdle, Patriot Close, Spalding

GP: The simple answer is that I don’t know but, now it has been raised, I will forward it on to Coun Roger Gambba-Jones to look at, he’s stepped up to the plate on carbon reduction.