Joint Local Plan for Babergh and Mid Suffolk
You will be well aware of the imminent examination of the JLP, which will now be held at the Ipswich Hotel on London Road, Copdock. It seems that many people and organisations wanted to speak, either in person or virtually and for some reason the football club was unable to meet those requirements. The examination begins on Monday 21st June; the bit of particular interest to us will be heard on 21st and 22nd July, so-called "Matter 4", which I have asked to speak to. I shall be speaking against the disproportionate development ear-marked for Capel, but given the likely approval of the numbers and sites, I hope to persuade the Inspectors that we have specific and essential needs in the village if we are to function as a community. It's not clear yet when I shall have my say, as I asked to attend online. My turn may well not come until the autumn.
There have been a number of meetings: with Martin Scott, who is trying to be helpful; with Jo Hobbs who will be the planning officer dealing with the application when it's submitted; and with Pete Keeble and Dr Victoria from the CCMP. The stumbling blocks with respect to the surgery we need in Capel seem to sit with the CCG and NHS England, who have both been somewhat negative and unhelpful.
Because Government now requires all Council and Committee meetings to be held in person, as opposed to virtually or hybrid, whilst still observing social distancing, Babergh, Mid Suffolk and County have had to hire the Atrium at Wherstead Park for their full Councils. The King Edmund's Chamber at Endeavour house simply wasn't big enough. The new Chairman is Adrian Osborne, a member for the Sudbury area.
The latest information I have about the delays to the cutting schedule are that there have been machine breakdowns and a shortfall in resources. The rain and then the hot weather have led to a spurt in the growth of grass, so a number of verges are looking untidy and will no doubt be left looking very messy when the cuts are eventually made. Public Realm hope to catch up on the cutting within the next couple of weeks.
Paper banks at the By-Pass Nurseries
Bolton Bros are no longer offering this service. You will have seen the overloaded bins. I have made our concerns known to Babergh, as we have made good use of these in Capel. There is talk of Babergh taking over some kind of paper collection provision, but to date, I have no real information about progress.
On-going Covid issues
The councils continue to respond to the pandemic, alongside public sector colleagues within the Suffolk Resilience Forum, giving support where there are local outbreaks as well as continuing to offer support to communities and businesses. Over the last month, there have been increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases of the variant of concern (B.1.617.2), which first originated in India. This rise of cases is in line with the rest of the country. Several of Suffolk's cases are in neighbouring Mid Suffolk, and have been linked to a known outbreak in the Needham Market area where a programme of PCR testing of residents is on-going.
A 'Back to Business' grant, designed to deliver an economic boost and support recovery from Covid is now available to businesses and not-for-profit organisations in Babergh. There is also further support available to help the recovery of local businesses reopening after lockdown but unable to access the Government's Restart Grant scheme.
Babergh communities benefit from £621,000 of council grants
Babergh approved community grants totalling £621,939 during the 2020/21 financial year - providing vital funding for organisations responding to Covid-19, sports and leisure facilities, and community venues across the district.
Case numbers continue to rise across both Babergh and Mid Suffolk (and across Ipswich, Suffolk and the East of England in general.) It remains vital to continue to follow the restrictions laid down by Government, particularly now when the potential for vaccinations is tantalisingly close. There are and have been, a number of infections in the village.
Babergh staff continue to work from home where possible, and have been offered reassurance to those now juggling work with childcare and home-schooling. Obviously, this could impact on the speed at which officers may respond to queries so your understanding would be appreciated.
To keep everyone as safe as possible, the Council is now only undertaking emergency repairs inside residents' homes or business premises. They continue to work with the rest of the public sector to assess further implications and ensure guidance and support is in place. Further detail about any necessary changes to services in response to lockdown is available on the website.
The roll out of vaccinations in our districts is extremely welcome with further primary care network (PCN) vaccination sites in Babergh recently announced. Where possible, I will continue to keep the Clerk and Chair informed about any developments. These sites will go live from the week beginning 11 January 2021. During January and February, people will be offered vaccinations according to the current priority schedule which includes elderly vulnerable people aged 80 or over and health and care staff. Other cohorts of people, as identified by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which determines the priority groups and schedule, will be contacted to receive their vaccination in due course. GP surgeries are working collaboratively together to ensure all our patients in these cohort are vaccinated. Locations in Babergh are:
Constable Country Medical Practice, East Bergholt
Hadleigh Health Centre, Hadleigh
Hardwicke House Surgery Cornard branch, Sudbury
Lavenham branch, Long Melford Surgery
Whilst we in Capel might prefer to have the site nearest our larger population, there are criteria to be met about safety, social distancing, and general facilities including the options for extensive parking, so we were never likely to be picked by the CCG.
Together with Suffolk Resilience Forum partners there is a new webpage providing further information on vaccinations for residents - including a full list of sites and Q&As: COVID-19 vaccinations in Suffolk .
Business grants: The Government has announced a new set of grants for businesses affected by the latest National lockdown. We are awaiting further guidance on the new grants schemes and will share this information once it becomes available.
Currently businesses can still apply for a number of existing support grants, including those launched during the national lockdown in November as well as Tier 3 and Tier 4 Restrictions. The full range of available grants can be found on Babergh's website. Businesses are to apply if they meet the criteria and haven't yet done so. In theory - any business which has received one of the existing grants, and is eligible for the new grant scheme should be automatically paid to avoid businesses having to re-apply. Some businesses are unsure, though, as to whether this applies to them.
Cabinet decisions this month
HYDROTREATED VEGETABLE OIL (HVO) DIESEL. Cabinet agreed to move to using HVO as a replacement for conventional diesel in the Council's vehicle fleet. This is a cleaner, less polluting fuel and results in a significant CO2 emission reduction. They will also proceed with the procurement of a supplier for the provision of HVO fuel and the supply and installation of a fuel tank at Chilton Depot, Sudbury. There will be a bid to the CIL fund to help pay for the tank.
NEXT YEAR'S BUDGET: It looks likely that the draft General Fund Budget for 2021/22 will include an increase to Babergh's element of the Council Tax of £5 per annum (10p per week) for a Band D property, which is equivalent to 2.96%. Council house rents will increase by the permitted margin of CPI + 1% equivalent to an average rent increase of £1.35 and there will be increases in Sheltered Housing Service charges of £0.69 per week to ensure recovery of the actual cost of service.
HADLEIGH AND SUDBURY: You may have seen the rumpus over proposals to levy new short term car parking charges in both market towns. Local opposition is huge, understandably, though some protests have been quite unacceptable. The issue arises because Babergh is facing future holes in the budget and the accountants claim that our "free" parking costs around £440K a year. This includes a subsidy of some £185K paid for out of council tax - including by people who never use the car parks. I understand and accept - reluctantly - the argument for introducing new charges: I recognise the cost implications; the need for churn; the basic premise of user-pays. However, I have three particular complaints which I put to all Cabinet members.
I am pleased that Cabinet members have thought better of making an early decision, and that Council as a whole will now have the chance to argue the case later in January, ahead of the Budget setting meeting in February. Overview and Scrutiny will now also be allowed to challenge the proposals and express a view.
For the first time, Babergh members were allocated £2000 per year to support projects in their wards. With Covid putting a stop to most activities, most members still have £2000 sitting in the pot. I'm pleased to say that I have now had requests from two organisations, but the form filling needs some further work. It's important, to meet the requirements of the grant, that a specific, future (i.e., not yet paid for) project is detailed and a specific amount requested. An application in one year, does not preclude further applications in future years. Please help to spread the word, so I can help some of the very worthy village organisations with their plans. Applications are not meant to be Covid-related, as there are separate pots to assist with those.
Babergh has good life satisfaction score
You may have seen a recent survey which has ranked Babergh as having the best life satisfaction in the County. The survey was done by the Office for National Statistics, rating life satisfaction from zero to 10/10. Babergh residents gave an average score of 8.24 - above the national average of 7.66 - putting the district in first place for life satisfaction ahead of other local authorities in Suffolk.
Housing and Land Supply
A new report shows that Babergh has a Land Supply of 6.74 years. This is good, however, Government recently published two consultation papers outlining major changes in planning. One sets out proposals for a completely new national planning system. The other suggests shorter-term amendments to the current system, which would take effect more quickly.
Included in the suggested short-term changes is the way local housing need is calculated. This could see a huge increase in our housing targets - rates which are felt to be undeliverable in our District, and unrealistic from the market perspective; they also take no account of the shortage of materials and labour. It would put towns and villages, and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, under pressure to deliver more homes.
Proposals also suggest increasing the small sites threshold, below which developers are not required to contribute to affordable housing, from ten to 40 or 50 homes. This could almost half the number of much-needed affordable homes. Another suggestion would exempt developers from Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), which goes some way to helping local infrastructure to keep pace with housing growth. Since the start of the year £5million of CIL funding has been allocated to local projects in Babergh and Mid Suffolk, including over £2.5million for school improvements.
Babergh Council has relayed its concerns to Government.
Babergh had one of the lowest infection rates in the country, but the financial impact of the virus remains, and we are now in a situation where infections are rising. The number of people claiming Universal Credit in Suffolk has increased by around 75% (approx. 24,000) since March, with a 238% increase in the amount of food handed out to single adults and families from Suffolk's foodbanks. There are also 104,000 people still furloughed from their jobs. The Suffolk Resilience Forum now has a phoneline to help residents access information or support relating to debt, benefits, housing or employment. Calls can be made free of charge to 0800 068 3131, from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday.
Creating safer places in Babergh and Mid Suffolk
Covid-19 continues to dominate much of the council's workload at present, even though the regular services such as planning, housing, waste collection and so forth continue as normally as possible. Now that lockdown is easing, it is vital to establish safety measures for businesses and local communities. Across Babergh and Mid Suffolk, smaller-scale interventions that support social distancing such as clear signage to remind pedestrians to maintain a 2m distance, introducing one-way flow for pedestrians and marking 2m distances for queuing are being identified and implemented by local towns and parishes. Any medium or larger scale interventions e.g. road closures, parking bay closures or traffic diversions, will need to be routed through the Council for review before being sent to Suffolk County Council for implementation.
There is guidance for towns and parishes which can be accessed, along with the template for requesting large scale interventions and a range of social distancing guidance for businesses, on Babergh's social distancing web pages.
There is also a dedicated email address for queries about social distancing measures from shortly Babergh will launch a hotline number, specifically for businesses and community groups, to get answers to questions related to creating safer places through social distancing. Queries about creating safer places can be sent to: email@example.com .
Grants to businesses and other organisations
There are a number of grants currently available or coming on stream, both from the Government's support packages during the Covid-19 crisis, and from Babergh's own new fund specifically aimed at small businesses in the District. This is to help sustain and create jobs, provide opportunities to grow and innovate as well as react to the changing business landscape. Small businesses from start-ups to those looking to expand, will be able to apply for a grant from one of four different funding streams. Details are on the website.
Joint Local Plan (JLP)
Work continues on this much-delayed replacement for Babergh's Core Strategy. Once Council approves the final draft, probably later this summer, it will be subject to external inspection, with likely adoption in 2021. There is consternation in Capel St Mary at the prospect of a huge expansion to the village, which finds itself as a key target for growth, being a both a core village and on the A12. There is an overall distribution strategy for new housing, allocating significant growth along the A12 and A14 corridors, and to the core villages. Whilst there is also a plan emerging for infrastructure provision, funding for vital improvements, including the Copdock interchange, is not yet identified.
Help for small businesses.
Almost £35m worth of business grant funding has been distributed in Babergh and Mid Suffolk since the Government launched the Small Business and Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grants in March. There are still around 1,300 businesses and organisations yet to claim. The grants are intended to support businesses with ongoing costs though the Covid-19 crisis, and so far, over 2,500 business have received either £10k or £25k. Approximately 1,300 businesses and organisations have yet to claim the grants that they are entitled to. Small businesses and shop owners, those in the hospitality industry and leisure sector, as well as organisations such as sports clubs, community buildings and village hall committees are urged to find out if they are eligible for the grant.
The council's Communities team has also contacted 90% of community groups and organisations to see where they can offer assistance and, to date, have received 54 applications for the Emerging Needs Grant.
Following the Government's decision to grant local authorities powers to meet and make decisions using digital technology to ensure public safety, Babergh has so far held two virtual meetings - Cabinet (4th May) and Planning (30th April.) Meetings are conducted via Skype and members of the public can watch the live stream of the meeting via the councils' YouTube channel .
Babergh's Cabinet had one substantive item of business which was to approve a fund of £150,000 for grants to small and start-up local businesses looking to expand. They will be able to apply for a grant from one of four different funding streams when the scheme is launched later in the year. The grants can be used in a variety of ways from improving environmental outcomes and sustainability, accessing professional advice and training, improving disabled access and business frontage or for the development of technology-based business solutions. The grant value will be up to £2.5k for each of the funds except the Enterprise and Innovation Fund which will have a maximum limit of £5k.
Homelessness and Covid-19
All Local Authorities were asked by government to ensure that anyone who was street homeless or currently living in dormitory style emergency housing should to be accommodated to minimise the risk of them contracting Covid-19. A Housing Task and Finish Group was created to source immediate accommodation for those who have certain underlying health conditions, have nowhere to safely self-isolate or are rough sleepers.
Writing this in early April, I am only too well aware that in no time at all, the world may be dramatically different yet again. It changes by the hour, as the Prime Minister's fortunes prove only too clearly. We are well-served in my ward of Capel St Mary, having a strong community, thoughtful neighbours, dozens of volunteers and people who have brilliantly and quickly organised information hubs via Facebook [both the Capel St Mary Covid-19 Mutual Aid and the Capel St Mary Noticeboard.] I have forwarded all these details to David Clarke, Communities officer at Babergh, who is best placed to receive any updates or identified needs. Other villages and parishes are also well organised, but where there are gaps, there's the broader help system.
Any vulnerable residents in the District who have a genuine need for assistance with the delivery of groceries, medicines and other supplies can also telephone freephone number 0800 876 6926, which is open from 09:00 to 17:00, seven days a week. When this was first launched, it really wasn't ready to go live, but now things have settled somewhat, it's functioning much better.
There is a huge amount going on out of sight. Babergh and Mid Suffolk councils (BMS) have reacted to the emergency by re-deploying many staff into different roles, and re-aligning priorities. For example - the focus in the Public Realm team is now on: health and safety, dealing with reports of anything dangerous such as damaged structures or trees; dog bins, the emptying of dog bins to prevent them overflowing and posing a risk to health; litter bins, the emptying of litter bins to prevent them overflowing and posing a risk to health; staff re-deployment to assist Serco - to help collect domestic waste. For the time all grass cutting and routine maintenance in our parks, open spaces and amenity areas is suspended, but so are the council's car parking charges if you need to get to Hadleigh or Sudbury. Parks are closed.
Crimes such as fly-tipping continue. You can't keep a good criminal down! A Babergh contractor recently found a caravan abandoned by a quiet rural road in Little Cornard, absolutely stuffed with old tyres. The sheer weight of them had snapped the axle and the criminals had fled. The council acted fast, anxious that they might return to set fire to the evidence, leading to environmental pollution and damage to the road surface.
All planning applications, correspondence and payments should now be submitted electronically. BMS will continue to validate applications and expect to consult and publicise as usual, though this is likely to be challenging at present. The need for virtual committee meetings is currently under discussion. Councillors need training to understand how this will work and information about future arrangements will have to be made available including to press and public. There are Government regulations in place now that allow remote/virtual decision-making meetings to take place. Protocols are being worked out as to how chairing such meetings and voting will happen. Cabinet briefings continue - these are restricted - but the political group leaders are meeting on a weekly basis, with updates being shared. The council's AGM has been postponed, which means that all members currently "in post" will remain until the next AGM can take place. Thankfully the budgets, etc, were set before the Covid-19 lockdown.
We are told that there WILL be a Planning meeting for each council before the end of April, and there must be opportunities for consultations and public speaking. This is one of the processes that needs to be sorted out. Licensing hearings will also need to be held in the next few weeks.
It's possible that a full Council and a Cabinet could be held sometime in May, assuming the IT can be worked out. In virtual meetings, every vote would have to be "recorded" - a laborious process but a requirement in the circumstances.
To date, the staff are holding up well, and are largely working from home. They can still be contacted, preferably by email, but also by phone.
Serco have a number of workers off sick or in isolation, hence the need to suspend temporarily the garden waste collections.
All of the council's building projects, including the Hadleigh pool have been suspended. There is no activity on any site on any project.
To help business, there is support with grants are available. Businesses should check with: https://www.midsuffolk.gov.uk/features/support-available-for-businesses-in-babergh-and-mid-suffolk/ . Please help to circulate this information to any and all of our local businesses.
The (Covid-19) Emerging Needs Grant allows groups and organisations to apply for up to £2,500 to cover increased costs incurred as a result of the Coronavirus (Covid-19), including: general running costs related to existing projects/activities, ongoing staff costs, volunteer expenses, utility bills, the purchasing of food and other consumables. Applications do not require sign off from District Councillors and there is no closing date as yet for receipt of forms. Information is on the council's website.
Budget and Council tax increase
Babergh's Budget for 2020/21 has been set at £10.2M. Funding sources include "earmarked reserves - £615K, New Homes Bonus - £683K, S31 Grant - £1,107K (covers a variety of specific needs and local government responsibilities,) Business Rates - £1,892K, Rural Services Delivery Grant - £227K, and, of course, Council Tax - £5,466K.
Council voted to increase Babergh's share of council tax by £5 a year, but once other precepts are added - County, Police and Parish, the overall increase in our bills will be higher. The new, total annual charge for a Band D property in Capel St Mary, for example, will rise to £1814.70. Babergh's portion of this is £186.86; for Police and Crime Commissioner it's £222.75, and County £1343.61. The parish precept makes up the balance.
District Councils are the collecting agencies for all of these local taxes. They also collect non-domestic (i.e. business) rates, but they do not set the level of these. The Valuation Office Agency determine "the rateable value" and the "multiplier" is set by Government. NDR apply to many properties that are not always for business use - e.g. beach huts, village halls, solar farms, doctors' surgeries, schools and hospitals. Agricultural land and buildings are exempt, as are churches, sewers, parks and bee keeping! Examples of local RV are: Partridges, Hadleigh RV £120,000; Tesco at Copdock Mill RV £2.5M; Stoke by Nayland Golf Club RV £418,500. The "multiplier" means that just under half of the RVs is actually payable.
National award for Council Planners
Planning officers for Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils have been recognised for technological advances as part of 21st century planning. The Development Management team, which looks after planning matters for both councils, won silver in the Best Use of Digital and Technology category at the annual iESE - Public Sector Transformation Awards 2020. The category recognises the innovative use of digital tools and technology in order to improve services for residents. Judges were impressed by how the team had streamlined the planning application process for residents across the districts, becoming one of the top performing authorities for timely planning decisions. The team has also introduced electronic case management and a mobile app in order to put vital information at the fingertips of officers and the public - with public searches of information leaping from 600,000 in 2017 to 1.3m in 2018
Next steps for Hadleigh's new pool
Work to build a new swimming pool at Hadleigh will enter its next phase this Spring. All existing facilities including the current pool have so far remained open and unaffected during most of the works. However, to enable final preparations ahead of its demolition later this year, the current pool will close on Friday 20 March. The new pool will be connected to the plant room and a link corridor between the buildings will be constructed. Hadleigh Pool and Leisure's other spaces and activities, including the gym, group exercise classes and the community and social rooms will remain open throughout the works.
Funding support for Citizens Advice approved
Babergh and Mid Suffolk District have approved funding support for Citizens Advice (CA) of more than £420k. In Babergh, there will be at least £160,500 for Sudbury and District Citizens Advice over a three-year period, some £53,500 per annum. Smaller levels of funding for the Suffolk West, Diss and Ipswich CAs will continue to be agreed annually.
This is to enable local councils to support communities by allowing parking where possible, and controlling it where necessary. Powers are being transferred to the districts from April this year. The aim is to support economic growth and reduce emissions to aid a healthy environment and also to improve road safety and security. In theory this should improve the quality of life for residents. The plan is not about introducing paid parking, nor parking arrangements for specific areas. However, there are suggestions that longer-term parking charges should be increased possibly by 50% - from £2 to £3.
The past year yielded a significant New Homes Bonus (NHB) sum for Babergh of £548K. Unfortunately, unlike previous years when NHB was paid for four years, this latest and largest will only be for the one year. 2022/2023 will be the last year of any NHB payment, which at present is a cause for concern for Babergh's finances. There will be some increases in charges next year including bulky waste collection - up to £42.50 for up to five items or 10 sacks of household waste or garden refuse; and brown bin renewals will be £52.50 for the year. Babergh's portion of council tax is likely to rise by £5 a year.