Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Conservatives Secure A Better Deal For the City

Below is an article sent to the Daily Echo in response to Labour Council Group Leader, June Bridle's piece in tonight's paper.

Dear Sir


I write in response to Labour Council Leader, June Bridle's article on the subject of the City Council Budget.

Conservatives do not run Southampton City Council and haven't done for 23 years. However we have one third of the Coucillors which gives us some influence. In February we abstained on the Liberal Democrat Administration's budget. This allowed them to pass an amended budget on the Lib Dem Mayor's casting vote. We did this because we were able to persuade them to make significant changes to their own proposals. These included reducing their Council Tax increase, saving Cobbett Road Library from closure, preventing the scrapping of the weekly bin collection, preventing the introduction of night time car parking charges in the city centre and saving vital front line children's social services. These changes were funded by reducing unnecessary bureaucracy, such as reducing the amount of money the Council spends on printing glossy brochures.

We feel that through constructive opposition we got a better deal for Southampton.

Labour's budget was ill thought out and thin on substance. They proposed a massive hike in Council Tax.Their proposal to fund free swimming for young children was funded by the proposed closure of Oaklands Swimming Pool in Lordwood. Their proposals for very small sums of additional money for children's activities were funded by cuts of £333,000 to the budget that looks after vulnerable children, including those coming out of care or on the verge of going into care. This would have had dire consequences for the most vulnerable children in the city. We feel that in stopping Labour's planned closure of Oaklands and by preventing their planned cuts to social services that we did the right thing.

The Conservatives' budget had some radical policies for the city; including free bus travel across Hampshire for pensioners, lower home care charges for the elderly, more recycling measures and a ten per cent discount in Council Tax for pensioner households. We also proposed scrapping council tax for people that become Special cCnstables and hope that this would encourage people to sign up to help make the city safer. We support a tough line on criminal behaviour, zero tolerance on the sale of alcohol to children and where appropriate alcohol exclusion zones in the city.

Yours faithfully

Councillor Jeremy Moulton
Conservative Finance Spokesman - Southampton City Council

Update on Star and Garter Application

A planning application for 14, 2 bedroom flats on the Star and Garter pub site, was today heard by the Council's planning panel.

Councillors Ball, Parnell and I had objected to the application on the grounds that it isn't in keeping with the surrounding area and that there are insufficient car parking spaces.

However the application was passed by the panel.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Council Needs to Act Now To Promote Family Housing

On Wednesday (at the Housing Scrutiny Panel) the Council will be debating what can be done to promote more family housing in the city. There are some interesting papers on the Council Website. Click HERE.

Since 2000 over 80% of new properties built in Southampton have been flats.

We need to get the balance right between houses and flats in order to have sustainable communities.

A lot more also needs to be done to protect the character of attractive old buildings. Too many are being pulled down and replaced with ugly blocks of flats, with inadequate parking.

A few weeks ago I met with the head of planning and residents from Thornbury Avenue to discuss how the council could put in place more effective measures to protect against over development.

I am very keen to see development briefs drawn up for neighbourhoods. These could state what level of development should take place, and future planning applications would be judged against the criteria set out in these briefs.
UPDATE 27/02/07: This meeting has been postponed. Not fixed date as yet.

Council Pushes Ahead With Traveller Plans

At today's Council Cabinet meeting, the Lib Dems pushed ahead with their plans for a Traveller Transit Site at Monk's Brook in Swaythling.

Conservative Councillors spoke against the plans at the meeting.

Below is TV coverage from yesterday.

Coverage of the issue on BBC South:

Coverage on Meridian News:

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Community Hub For Freemantle

Earlier this month the Council approved over a £1m of funds to redevelop Freemantle Community Centre in Randoph Street. A revamped centre will for use by community groups and for adult social services provision.

I attended a meeting on Thursday to look at how we might go even further and develop the area into the community hub that local people are hoping for. Plans are now being drawn up for a lottery bid for extra money. If successful the sorts of things that might be included in the hub are; a cafe, a proper sports hall maybe with a sprung floor for martial arts and aerobics etc, landscaping of the area and measures to improve pedestrian safety.

The city council and local Councillors are working with the health centre and Shirley Pool and I am hopeful that this will come off and help transform the local area. No doubt I will post more on this over the coming months...

Lib Dems To Push Ahead With Traveller Site

In yesterday's Daily Echo, Lib Dem MP Sandra Gidley attempted rather weakly to put some distance between herself and her colleagues on Southampton City Council over the issue of a transit site for Gypsies in Monk's Brook.

A decision will be taken on Monday (26th) by the council's Lib Dem Cabinet and all indications are that regardless of the weasel words from the MP, they plan to force it through in the teeth of public opposition. You can read more HERE.

Papers for the Council meeting can be found HERE. It is a public meeting so anyone can attend.

Conservative Councillors remain opposed to putting a transit site in Monk's Brook.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Its Official - Conservative Councillors Deliver The Best Services

Today the Audit Commission published its report on Council performance.

Of those improving strongly -

42% are Tory,

33% Labour,

17% No Overall Control

0% are Lib Dem.

Update on Star and Garter Planning Application

I have objected to this and reproduce below my letter to planning officers:

07/00027/FUL - 50 Waterloo Road

I write further to our telephone conversation this afternoon and in reference to the above application.

I would like to object to this application on the following grounds:

1. The design of the building is not in keeping with the surrounding area. The area is typically of Victorian character (1860s). The original Parish church is in Waterloo Road. Despite a statement in the application to suggest that it is in keeping with the area, the design in my view is very modern and contemporary. The wooden walls I think are particularly out of keeping. The fact that some more modern buildings in area have been allowed planning permission should not act as a precedent for this development. The fact that the building is in a very visible location on the corner of Waterloo Road should be even more reason for the development to be in keeping.

2. The Application states that there are 12 car parking spaces. I understand that there are in fact only 4 being provided. I would like to see the maximum provided (which I understand is 7).

This application will be considered at a meeting of the Planning and Rights of Panel on 27th February. Click HERE for a link to the list of applications.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Labour 13 Points Adrift In Latest Poll

In the latest poll for the Guardian Newspaper, voters give David Cameron's Conservatives a 13 point lead over Labour when asked how they would vote if Gordon Brown were Prime Minister.

The poll puts the Conservatives on 42%, Labour on 29% and the Lib Dems on 17%.

Save Oaklands Swimming Pool

Last week Labour proposed the closure of Oaklands Swimming Pool. At the city council budget setting meeting they proposed to cut the budget for Oaklands pool by a crippling £160,000 (approximately 2/3rd of its annual budget). This would have forced the closure of the pool within a few months from now.

I am not entirely sure why Labour did this. In the budget debate Labour Councillors were unable to offer any satisfactory explanation.

Conservatives by contrast proposed that the pool stays open and that its opening hours remain unaffected.

I was astonished to read on Alan Whitehead's website that he is slamming the Conservatives over plans to reduce the opening times of the pool!

I can only conclude that his party on the city council do not talk to him or that he is simply trying to mislead people. The truth of the matter is all a matter of public record.

I am meeting the chairman of Eastleigh and Oaklands Swimming Club tomorrow to discuss how best we can secure the future of the pool.

It is not on that every year the pool is under threat from either closure or partial closure.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Flats on the Star and Garter Site

The Star and Garter in Freemantle

A planning application has been submitted for 14 two bedroom flats on the site of the Star and Garter Pub (50 Waterloo Road).

I have some concerns about the application. I have no objection to the site being used for flats however I am not sure the proposed building is in keeping with the surrounding area and also parking provision is limited.
I will be discussing the application with planning officers. I have put a copy of of the plans on the notice board in the Park Hotel in Shirley Road. Please get in touch with me if you want to discuss it.
Also you can click HERE for a link to all the planning papers online. The planning reference is 07/00027/FUL.

Conservatives Secure Key Changes To City Budget

Yesterday afternoon the City Council set its budget for the coming year.

I am really pleased that Conservative Councillors were able to successfully lobby for changes to improve the budget.

Some of the key concessions achieved by the Conservatives were:

1. Keeping the weekly bin collection.
2. Preventing the introduction of night time car parking charges.
3. Keeping Cobbett Road Library open.
4. Preventing planned cuts to vital children's social services.

We were also able to presuade the Council to reduce the council tax increase from 3.5% to 3.3%.

These things were funded by bureaucracy savings.

During the budget debate Labour Councillors were exposed over their U-Turn on providing free buses across Hampshire for pensioners and over their plans to close Oaklands swimming pool.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

£66k Lost On Temporary Icerink - Lib Dems Face Enquiry

The reason the council lost money is because a very poor deal was struck wih the company that ran it, leaving the council carrying all the risk. Only very feeble ,last minute attempts were made to secure sponsorship.

Next time I think the council should:
1) plan the event earlier,
2) get the balance of risk between the council and the operator correct,
3) engage with business and sponsors earlier,
4) consider a better location,
5) ensure that english speaking staff are on hand to help skaters,
6) start it on a day that isn't the day all the students go home,
7) consider having a canopy in case it rains,
8) have the rink visable to people as they walk past.

Hopefully lessons will be learned and I am told that an enquiry is to be launched into the handling of the affair by the Lib Dems.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Matt Dean Selected to Contest Shirley Ward

Shirley Conservatives have selected local publican Matt Dean to contest the Shirley Ward at the local elections in May.

I think this is excellent news! Matt is a very experienced local politician and will make a fine councillor. Matt owns the Park Hotel in Shirley Road (actually in Freemantle Ward) and has been a tremendous help to me over the years with my council work.

If elected Matt will take over from Councillor Richard Forbes. Richard has served as a councillor for the past 4 years and has been a very diligent and hardworking representative for the local community.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Labour's Priorities For Southampton Are All Wrong!

Labour's proposals for next year's City Council budget show that they have all the wrong priorities for Southampton.

Labour want to impose a Council Tax increase of 4.5% on local residents. This is almost the maximum that they could get away with as the Government caps increases of more that 5%. By contrast the Conservatives want to keep council tax increases below inflation and propose a 2.7% increase. In addition we have proposed a 10% reduction in Council Tax for pensioners. Households where people are 65 or over would pay on average £160 less a year in Council Tax under the Conservatives than they would under a Labour run city council.

Labour claim that they are protecting services yet they want to cut £333,000 out of the children's social services budget and close family centres which help look after abused and vulnerable children. Last year they conspired with the Liberal Democrats to cut the budget for elderly people receiving home care and increased the fees charged by the Council. Surely looking after the most vulnerable in society should be the highest priority for the Council yet Labour do not seem to see this as being remotely important. Conservatives will do all they can to resist cuts to these vital services.

Labour have promised free bus travel across Hampshire for Southampton pensioners but unlike the Conservatives they haven't shown how they would pay for it.

Labour are promising free swmiming for under 11s but to pay for it they want to close Oaklands swimming pool. So it is free swimming unless you live in Lordswood or Lordshill!

Labour want to give £100,000 to subsidise the activities of trades unions in the City. I can't think of anywhere else in the country where this sort of thing happens!

It is also interesting to note that the only political party calling for cuts to be made to Councillor allowances is the Conservative Party.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Labour Hypocrisy Over Buses in Southampton

The Labour party in Southampton have repeatedly promised that they would provide free bus travel across Hampshire for Southampton pensioners. Click HERE to read what they say.

At the moment bus travel is free for pensioners within the boundaries of the city and to some defined places outside the boundary, such as Totton.

Labour made a manifesto pledge in the 2006 elections to extend the scheme across all of Hampshire and were deeply critical of the Council for not doing this. Despite this they did not include proposals to fund the increased service in their 2006 budget proposals for the City Council. I have now just discovered that they haven't included the funding in their 2007 proposals either!

How on earth are people supposed to trust what they say!!!

Conservatives agree that it's unfair that pensioners in the rest of Hampshire can travel Hampshire wide for free whilst Southampton residents can't. That's why we support the proposal to extend free bus travel to Hampshire. That's also why we have allocated money in our budget proposals to pay for it.

MP Whitehead Finally falls off the Fence...and lands on the right side!

I was delighted to learn that Southampton Test Labour MP Alan Whitehead has finally decided to back the Conservative Campaign for the Council to buy the former Civil Service Sports Ground so that it can be used by local people, by neighbouring St Marks School and nearby Regents Park School.

Conservative Councillors have been pushing for this as it will be a huge boost for local children and the community as well as the best and most practical solution for saving the land from flats being built on it by its owners Bovis Homes.

In a survey of 300 local people conducted by Mr Whitehead over 80% supported the Conservative campaign.

My colleagues and I are now pushing hard for the negotiations to buy the land to start.

Whilst being really pleased that the MP has chosen to support the campaign I would like to take the opportunity to correct some inaccuracies being peddled by Mr Whitehead.

Alan says:

“The City Council must guarantee that other groups and clubs will be allowed to use the playing fields out of school time, in a similar way that people can currently use the pool at Oaklands and Millbrook’s playing fields."

In fact...

This guarantee has been repeatedly given by all parties on the City Council. Of course we want community access and want any new school to be a community school in its truest sense. There is search facility on this website so anyone in any doubt of the Conservative position on this need only look any of dozens of earlier postings stretching back over recent years.

Labour plan to close Oaklands swimming pool! In their budget proposals for the next year published last week they have identified the closure of the pool as means of savings £160,000.

Alan says:

“The proposal to buy the sports ground is a fantastic opportunity- something I and the Labour group have been calling for since 2004. At that time the Conservative Councillors voted against the purchase. I’m delighted they have changed their policy and are supporting our campaign to preserve a vital green space in Freemantle.”

In fact...

The Conservatives did vote against Labour budget proposals in 2004. This included a proposal to allocate a small sum of money to compulsorily purchase the land from its then owners the Civil Service Sports Association. The vote was over the issue of all Council expenditure for the year which amounted to about a quarter of a billion pounds. We had our own budget proposals which we put forward which we felt were much better. Despite supporting the Council buying the land we did not support the route of compulsory purchase. A compulsory purchase is like using a hammer to crack a nut. It is also like writing a blank cheque. It is a legal process where the land is independently valued by a land tribunal. Once you have entered into the process you must pay whatever the land is deemed to be worth. Given that the land was in danger of being built on and that this was cited as the reason for the purchase, the sum of money could have been huge. Also there is no backing out of you don't like the price. The Conservative Group have always argued that negotiation and discussion is a better way of achieving a positive outcome. In the end it turned out the the money allocated by Labour was woefully inadequate and a fraction of the value Bovis Homes paid the Civil Service Sports Association.

Alan Says:

"Autumn 2006: the revised Learning Futures proposals are published, this time including a proposal to buy the former Civil Service sports ground for use as playing fields for a joint Regents Park – St Mark’s campus. Money is again allocated by the city council to purchase the sports ground; this time the Conservatives vote with Labour for the purchase."

In fact...

Conservatives successfully gained agreement to add the idea of a new school on the St Marks site into the Consultation. this was not one of the Council's original proposals. Additional money was then put aside in the Autumn following a Conservative motion. This then gained Labour support.

In December 2006 Alan Whitehead decided to back the campaign for a new school. As recently as November he was still considering whether the proposal was worthy of his support.

Anyway regardless of who said what I think its great news for Freemantle!!!

Political Parties Produce Their Budget Proposals for the City Council

Last week all three political parties on Southampton City Council produced details of their spending plans for the City Council for the next three years.

The Administration (Lib Dem) budget is published in full on the Southampton City Council Website and will be presented at the Council Cabinet meeting tomorrow. Details can be found
HERE. Links to the main report and various appendices can be found under A4a
General Fund Revenue Budget 2007/08 - 2009/10

Conservative and Labour opposition budget proposals have also been released and will be published on the Council website ahead of the meeting of the full council on 14th February, when Councillors will agree a budget for the city. I will post links so soon as they are on the city council website.

A brief summary is as follows:

What you would pay under each of the parties

Labour = 4.5% increase in Council Tax
Lib Dem = 3.5% increase in Council Tax
Conservative = 2.7% increase in Council Tax

Note: The Government's Official Figure for the rate of inflation rate = 3%

HERE to see what the current Council Tax charges are:

Conservative Proposals

Conservative priorities for Southampton are: more money into roads and street lighting, social services, waste collection and recycling and fighting crime whilst keeping council tax as low as possible.

If the Conservatives were running the City Council we would use powers available to us to further reduce the burden of Council Tax on some groups.

10% reduction in Council Tax for Pensioners

Pensioners in particular struggle to meet high council tax bills on their fixed incomes. The inflation rate paid by pensioners on goods and services has been widely reported over recent months as being around 9%. In recognition of this we would introduce a 10% reduction in Council Tax for pensioner households (where everyone in the house is over 65). This would be a reduction of 10% on what is currently charged.

Scrap Council Tax for Special Constables

We would scrap Council Tax for households where there is a special constable living there. I.e. there would a be a 100% discount. This would we hope encourage more people to sign up to become specials in the city.

HERE for an explanation of what discounts currently exist and how they work.

Where the Conservatives would spend more:
- Introduce free Hampshire wide bus travel for Southampton residents (currently it is only free within the city boundaries and to a few select locations like Totton).
- Keep the weekly bin collection rather than going to once a fortnight.
- Reject Lib Dem plans to introduce night car parking charges in the city centre.
- Extra funding for introducing residents' parking schemes where they are wanted.
- Protect funding to children's centres which look after abused and vulnerable children.
- Reduce Charges for home care for elderly (reverse extra charges introduced by Labour and Lib Dems last year).
- Protect funding for advice centres which provide housing advice to people in danger of exploitation from unscrupulous landlords.
- Increase funding to residents associations.
- Fund a feasibility study into building a heritage centre at the Civic Centre.
- More recycling initiatives (such as commerical waste recycling, glass and textiles).

Where the Conservatives would spend less or save money:
- Reduce bureaucracy.
- Reduce Councillors allowances and fewer trips abroad for Councillors!
- Deletion of non front line vacant posts.
- Scrap City Council subsidy to trade unions.
- Reduce expenditure on printing (glossy booklets and the like).
- Have a recruitment freeze on some back office posts.
- Generate more money from the city council's £130m art collection.
- Generate more money from sponsorship.
- Delete Neighbourhood Partnerships.