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Taxi Licensing Problems

August 16, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Presented by Councillor Christine Mason

Anniversary10-273

John and I have received representations from Taxi proprietors in the area regarding difficulties created by new conditions imposed by Rochford District Council.

Apparently the main problem is the requirement for one in three Badges to be issued to a ‘wheelchair accessible taxi’. These vehicles are by their very nature more expensive to both purchase and maintain.

Whilst the intention of the Disability Acts and Equality Acts are to assist people with mobility issues it would appear that the Council’s new decision on Licensing has actually created a problem rather than resolving it.

According to the information I have been given (along with other Councillors) only 7% of their customers have any mobility issues and less than 0.5% request wheelchair accessible vehicles so the need for 33% of vehicles to accommodate this need would appear to be overkill.

Surely it is better for a firm providing transport to have a range of vehicles that could cater for differing needs.

Personal feedback I have received on ‘wheelchair accessible vehicles’ is that they are invariably very high and certainly some elderly infirm passengers say they prefer a low saloon car. Also modern wheelchairs can fit into a wide range of vehicles. I observed one being used from a soft top sports car outside my house only last week (don’t ask me for the type of car, not my area of expertise!)

I do hope that this can be resolved by the Portfolio Holder at Rochford urgently so that our taxi drivers are able to continue to both provide a service to the community as well as earning a reasonable wage.

We would hate to see cars taken of the circuits because of inflexible rules.

If any resident wishes their views to be taken into account please contact us and we will pass these views on.

Questions at the RDC Central Area Committee (9 Nov 2010)

November 10, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Pat James, a resident of Hawkwell sent in a question about the latest consultation on the Core Strategy.

Apart from asking about how residents would be informed about this important communication the question went on to ask;

Please explain what changes have been made and how these will effect Hawkwell, Hockley, Hullbridge and the very nearby parts of Ashingdon which comprise of the Central Area?

The Officer dealing with questions said that the answer was in writing in front of everyone so he would not read it out.  Pat realising that the last part of her question (above) had not been answered and despite putting her hand up the Chairman failed to acknowledge her request to speak.  John Mason stepped in and asked the Chairman to explain why this part of the question had not been answered.

Shaun Scrutton said that he had not answered it because the questioner could read about the changes at the places in the answer. He did not propose to read everything out.

John advised the Chairman that it was not good enough and with the Portfolio Holder Councillor Hudson sitting almost next to him, he felt that an answer in summary of the effect on the Central Area should be given.

Mr. Scrutton who went on to say that he could only read out Policy H2 and H3.

John still felt that this was unhelpful and uninformative and asked the Chairman to ask Pat if she was satisfied with that as an answer.

Pat said No and all Shaun Scrutton did was to ramble through a list of locations, numbers and dates.

At that point Pat and John both gave up.

This is what Pat James said afterwards;

“It is a shame that so few members of the public attend but I believe the public are becoming more and more dissatisfied by Officers and Councillors failing to be open or at times appear interested in the public’s opinion resulting in their questions not fully answered or worse ignored when raised.  It is becoming increasingly clear to me that there is a secrecy surrounding the issue of houses in Hawkwell and elsewhere that Officers do not wish to be  questioned on by the public and will only give replies and answers to questions that they wish the public to know about.  Thus avoiding many important questions raised by concerned members of the public who will be directly affected by an increase of housing and loss of green belt.”

A question on the Core Strategy from Councillor Myra Weir was ruled out of order and was disqualified by the Chair because she was not a member of the public.  Councillor Hazlewood also raised question and was refused by the Chairman.

Mr Alan James then interjected by saying that if Councillor Weir could not ask the question then he would and asked if it would be answered.  The quote of the week is that “infrastructure  in the Central Area is reasonable”.

The impression given was that the matter was in consultation and that no questions would be answered and that the debate could be held with the public at the Public Examination Hearings in January before a Planning Inspector.

There were only 14 people other than District Councillors and Officers present and one of these was the Press!!

The Pickles Effect – And Castle Point throws out a Planning Application

June 3, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Originally reported here at the Echo (520 homes and business park rejected on Thundersley Plotlands)

and Commented upon by Simon (assumed to be Simon Hart Vice Chairman of Hands off our Greenbelt Action Group)

I would like to say a THANK YOU to every one involved Publicly as I have done via email already.

To Barry Braizier who has fought for this land for many many years with the support of the local and wider area residents.
To the Councillors of Castle Point for Listening to the residents of the Borough it was fantastic to see unity in the Council Chamber over a topic that is so important to everyone with constructive objections to the Barratt’s application. This action of unity sets out the Councils Stance on development to all Developers setting out to submit plans to Castle Point.

Thanks also to Rebecca Harris (MP ) for actively perusing the Conservative Party before the election and the Coalition after the election and for Eric Pickles for issuing a formal letter of intent for the abolishment of Spatial strategies, which will remove the threat of enforced development on protected greenbelt land like Canvey and Daws Heath.

 The Kiln Road site needs to be allocated a new status that is outlined in the new Local Government Bill a site of local and wildlife interest. Thanks to Bob Spink for his support, and the Echo for keeping the story alive in the local press.

In regard to housing in Castle Point do not forget that the Council located nearly 4000 sites for homes that were not on Green Belt , that still a huge amount of homes for the infrastructure to support .

A big thank you goes to everyone who wrote in and objected or turned up to the meeting .

Once again every one WELL DONE, Castle Point has made a massive leap forward.

What other Councils have done;

Taunton Deane Borough Council: reduced its housing target from 18,000 to 14,000 a year
Cotswold District Council: cut its housing target from 345 to 300 homes a year
West Oxfordshire District Council: stopped work on preparing its core strategy
South Oxfordshire District Council: stopped preparing core strategy
Telford & Wrekin Council: ripping up its housing targets
Castle Point Borough Council AGAIN !!: planning inspector scrapped hearing on housing numbers
Bristol City Council: planning inspector holding a slimmed down session on housing targets
Dacorum Borough Council: taking advice from the Planning Inspectorate
South Northamptonshire Council: delaying decisions on large scale housing developments pending further guidance

Decision Making at Rochford District Council – Change or No Change?

June 1, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The Rochford Independent has run a series of articles over the last week which have focused on the new policies for local government that will be introduced by the New Lib/Con Coalition Government.

In many of these what we are wishing to do at the Rochford Independent Web site is firstly inform and then to put the issues, risks and impacts to Rochford District that we see on record and open to public scrutiny.  In certain instances we will be a campaigning voice with a point of view that we think will be supported by many residents.

In this case the Coalition Government is offering an optional basis for change to Rochford District Council.

We will allow councils to return to the committee system, should they wish to.

If you wish to see change then you will have to nudge this so please write to me at mailadmin@rochfordessex.net

But the article needs to set out some facts. Sources are quoted.

The Labour Government through the Local Government Act 2000 imposed changes on local authorities that were designed to streamline and modernise their political structures. The act was intended to end the old committee system of local government which, it was argued, was slow and ineffective although, others may counter, democratic and accountable.

Rochford District Council chose the option of a leader elected by the council, with a cabinet of between 2 and 10 councillors either selected by the leader or the full council.

But it could have chosen a modified committee system.

Since then the costs of administrating the council have increased hugely mainly because much greater monetary allowances for the leader and cabinet members have been established although it must be said that there were far more modest monetary increases to the basic allowance.

 In 2004 the total sum for allowances was £111,000 and in 2008 it had risen to £233,000.

If you want to see the data it is here(http://news.bbc.co.uk/nol/shared/spl/hi/uk/09/english_council_allowances/data/allowances.xls) courtesy of the BBC.

It is hard to escape, with hindsight of course, the notion that the Labour Government years promoted the “more for me” culture in the public sector which should have run against all Opposition Party principles but then again we have also seen, and continue to see, the product of that culture in the MP’s and Lords Expenses scandals some of which are being heard in the Criminal Courts.

If you wish to see lower cost, greater transparency and greater democracy in RDC then you will wish to push for change.

In April 2009 the BBC’s expose journalist Donal MacIntyre on his Radio 5 Show reported as follows (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8017582.stm);

 Rochford District Council in Essex had the biggest rise in its allowances bill – of 110 per cent over the four years. Although it is still well below the level of many other councils.

The leader of the council Terry Cutmore was paid almost £10,000 in allowances three years ago. By March 2009, his allowance had gone up to £25,500.

“The reason it’s so high is we have actually gone to the average of Essex councils,” Councillor Cutmore said.

“That’s done through a remuneration panel which is totally independent and the rise has gone through because we were paid so lowly to start with.”

Heather Wakefield, from Unison, said: “I think it’s rank hypocrisy for councillors to have awarded themselves these increases when our members are being offered a pay rise of 0.5%.”

But Ms Wakefield said Councillor Cutmore’s allowance needs to be compared with council employees’ pay.

“A quarter of a million council workers earn less than the amount the leader of Rochford is awarding himself,” she said.

Allowances are voted on by councillors themselves. Initially a recommendation is made to the council by an independent panel made up of people who do not sit on the council.

But the councils can choose to ignore the recommendations. Richard Kemp said that often they will take a lower amount.

“Very few councils actually make a big difference to the recommendations of the independent panel,” he said.

Only the Cabinet Members can speak at or even address the Executive or Cabinet Committee at Rochford District Council.  But other Members of the Council and the Public can listen instead.

When this was first established myself,the Lib Dems in Opposition objected to this publicly but it is believed that many other Conservative Group Members did as well but behind the scenes.

There was no chance of change until now.  Will the disaffected Conservative Members speak up for change?

Because of the Cabinet approach decisions are being made by the Portfolio Holders only in discussion with Officers and other Cabinet Members at best.

Or is it that such consultations and discussions within the Conservative Political Group are being held behind closed doors?  This is not a transparent and democratic approach in my view.

I know that decisions can be called in the The Review Committee but initial open discussion with all Members is by far the best course and better value for money.

With the UK being run by a Coalition Government it is hard to avoid the conclusion that consensus political decision making should also return to local government.

The choice of change is there if the residents of Rochford District want it but you will need to ask or even demand it.

Council Officers Recommend Refusal of 330 houses in Hawkwell

November 29, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Rochford District Council Officers are recommending that The Development Control Committee refuse a Planning Application from David Wilson Homes for 330 new houses in Hawkwell on the site known as the Christmas Tree Farm, Rectory Road and Thorpe Road.

The Hawkwell Action Group has advised residents by leaflet this weekend that Mr. John Dagg QC will also be speaking on behalf of residents who have campaigned over several years against a proposal from either the Council in the form of its Core Strategy or this specific planning application.

The decision will be made by Councillors at the Civic Suite in Rayleigh commencing at 19.30 hours.  For residents unable to get into the Council Chamber the debate will be broadcast outside in the front of the building.

Here is the Recommendation for Refusal. (The full 60 page Report is here.)

RECOMMENDATION

It is proposed that this committee RESOLVES to REFUSE the application
for the following reasons:

1 The proposed development of up to 330 residential dwellings and associated
infrastructure would not accord with the adopted development plan – the
Rochford District Replacement Local Plan (2006)- and would also not accord
with the emerging Core Strategy submission which is currently at an advanced
stage with submission to the government scheduled to occur before the end of
2009. There are no material planning considerations which indicate that this
proposal should be determined favourably and not in accordance with the
adopted development plan.

2 The Rochford District Replacement Local Plan (2006) shows the site to be
within the Metropolitan Green Belt .Within the Green Belt as defined in
Planning Policy Guidance Note 2: Green Belts, planning permission will not be
given for inappropriate development, except in very special circumstances. The
proposal by way of the excessive number of dwellings over and above that
advocated in the emerging Rochford Core Strategy would result in
inappropriate development leading to the unnecessary urbanisation and over
development of the site to the detriment of the open character and appearance
of the location.

3 Notwithstanding the indicative nature of the submitted layout, it is considered
the development would result in an overall form of development
uncharacteristic and poorly related to the surrounding development pattern.
The lack of integration by design and lack of sensitivity to the semi rural
character of the site locality would fail to become part of the greater area of
which it would adjoin to the detriment of the visual appearance and local
distinctiveness of the area.

4 The proposal by way of the introduction of three storey built form in prominent
positions in the locality would provide a sharp contrast to the notable single
storey character of the Rectory Road and Thorpe Road areas, that would, if
allowed, prove over dominant and ill-fitting alongside established dwellings
failing to respect local distinctiveness to the detriment of the character and
appearance of the site locality.

5 As far as can be determined from the submitted plans the proposal includes
the upgrade to adoptable standards of a section of Thorpe Road. This would
encourage the inappropriate use of Thorpe Road by vehicles wishing to bypass
the B1013/Rectory Road junction. The movement of vehicles associated with
this use would lead to conflict and interference with the passage of vehicles to
the detriment of that principle function and introduce a further point of possible
conflict, being detrimental to road safety.

6 It has not been demonstrated that there are no reasonably available alternative
sites in areas with lower probability of flooding that would be appropriate for the
type of development proposed and therefore the application in relation to that
part of the site within Flood Zones 2 and 3 fails the sequential test as required
by paragraph D5 to PPS25.

7 The Flood Risk Assessment is considered inadequate in that it has indicated
that the surface water system shall be split into two systems. It has been
demonstrated that surface water shall be attenuated on site for the 1 in 30 year
storm event with an oversized pipe system which may be adopted; and the 1 in
100 year storm event contained within the private systems on site. This would
be acceptable in the outline stage of planning however confirmation should be
offered by the Authority as to who shall adopt the 1 in 30 year storm event
system. If this information is not obtained then confirmation relating to the
responsibility of future maintenance should be included.

8 The surface water drainage system being split into two areas has been stated
as having a run off rate for one area of 58 l /s while the other has 53 l/s rate. It
is indicated in paragraph 6.14 within the Flood Risk Assessment that the flow
shall be matching the 1 in 100 year rate. The Flood Risk Assessment is
inadequate in that the site should in fact mimic present rates. This means these
rates should be no higher than the current 1 in 1 year rate during 1 in 1 year
storm event and the development would if allowed result in surface water
flooding.

As a Ward Councillor for Hawkwell West I will be speaking at the Development Control Committee on Thursday evening, 3 December.
 
As you know I have by the Code of Conduct still to remain impartial until I have received the benefit of the Presentation by Officers on 3 December and listened to the Public Speakers registered with the Council.  I understand that Mr. John Dagg QC will be speaking on behalf of residents and that most likely he will be addressing the concerns of objectors.
 
I know that it must be very frustrating for everyone to see an elected Ward Member still not being able to comment especially when The Council has published an Officer recommendation for Refusal.

So What Do Councillors do when they cannot comment?

Firstly they listen to both objectors and supporters.
 
And  I hope that everyone can appreciate that I have read the whole application very carefully over many hours and asked many questions and received answers and advice direct from Shaun Scrutton who I have exchanged emails with and engaged in detailed and lengthy telephone conversations. I have also undertaken my own detailed review of the planning application against Government Planning Policy Statement 3, Housing,
PPS3.

I can assure everyone that I have prepared very fully in order to participate in the debate and the vote to determine the decision. But as the HAG leaflet says that you read to me the position is that despite the recommendation the decision is determined by a majority vote of Members present and able to vote.
 
You also may not know that I have a personal interest in ecology by virtue of my first degree and election as a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London.  In my private capacity as a Fellow I have had a conversation with another Fellow who is an expert in Bats. Because Shaun Scrutton advised me that I could not pass the thoughts from this initiative to the Applicant via the Council, because only the EWT and Natural England have the status of Official Consultee to determine or negotiate ecological actions, I engaged directly with the Applicant’s Consultants in my private capacity. As well as the Bats I also raised concerns about the deer present on the development site.
 
You might like to see, the reply and proposals made by the Applicant in response to my initiative. It is
here.

I have also spent time during my enforced interregnum answering many questions from The Hawkwell Action Group and residents about planning procedures which I hope has been helpful.

More or Less New Houses in Hawkwell?

March 2, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

From the Echo;

“Councillors are preparing to tour the Rochford District to find sites for new homes. Last week, Councillors decided they would look at about 30 to 40 locations for settlements of more than 50 homes.  They will then draw up their plan, called a core strategy, which guides development in the district. Keith Hudson (Con, Hockley Central), Councillor responsible for planning, said a possible 100 magic prismhomes, which could be built in Hockley town centre, would be included in the 350-home total required for both Hockley and Hawkwell.  Last autumn, the district council revealed its provisional plans for where the housing would go as part of its preferred options for the core strategy.  The two most contentious areas were Hawkwell and Rawreth, where residents campaigned against their housing allocations.  The District Council earmarked 330 homes for Hawkwell and 1,050 houses for Rawreth.  During the consultation, Rayleigh Town Council and Hawkwell and Rawreth parish councils all listed their objections to the plan in strong terms.”

The Hawkwell Action Group has written to Councillors to make sure that they consider all sites and take into account all the objections including a 17 page dissertation from District Council Ward Member for Hawkwell West, John Mason.

“This email is being sent on behalf of the Hawkwell Action Group by myself, Carol Dutton and our Chairman, Jamie Popplewell.

“I would like to request that before you visit any sites within South Hawkwell (which is in effect Hawkwell West) you would take the time to read all submissions made and in particular those made by Hawkwell Parish Council and Ward Member for Hawkwell West, Councillor Jonh Mason.  Councillor Mason’s document I have attached to my email for your convenience, it is fairly lengthy but as it covers most of the local issues it is well worth the read.”

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