SWFCTA CANDIDATES NARROWLY MISS RETURN TO CITY COUNCIL
With a much more open contest this time round our 4 candidates missed out by a whisker to the main party candidates. Jackie Birch was only 7 votes away from 3rd spot in the Chetwood and Collingwood ward and Keith Bentley only 9 away from holding onto his seat in Elmwood and Woodville. Our progress in the south of the town is probably the only positive to take out of a disappointing result overall.
However, we are committed to seeing our new City councillors do their best for South Woodham Ferrers by showing up at meetings, speaking up for the town wherever they can and keeping their pre-election pledges. We will be keeping an eye on things ourselves and speaking as residents where issues that affect the town are being discussed. Although we no longer have any City Council members we will continue to be a voice supporting our residents where issues relating to services, planning and facilities arise.
The results in each ward were as follows:
Chetwood and Collingwood Ward
- Jackie Birch, South Woodham Ferrers Council Taxpayers Association: 527 votes
- Jonathan Jeffrey Gatenby, Labour Party: 218 votes
- Ashley Michael John, The Conservative Party Candidate: 534 votes (elected)
- Bob Massey, The Conservative Party Candidate: 708 votes (elected)
- Amanda Powling, Liberal Democrats: 205 votes
- Ian Frederick Powling, Liberal Democrats:170 votes
- Mary Josephine Regnier-Wilson, Liberal Democrats: 159 votes
- Malcolm Sismey, The Conservative Party Candidate: 656 votes (elected)
- Scott Wilson, South Woodham Ferrers Council Taxpayers Association: 495 votes
Elmwood and Woodville Ward
- Keith Bentley, South Woodham Ferrers Council Taxpayers Association: 518 votes
- Dee Davey, Liberal Democrats: 435 votes
- Donna Kim Eley, Liberal Democrats: 618 votes (elected)
- Murrough Francis Henry O'Brien, The Conservative Party Candidate: 527 votes (elected)
- Ian Clifford Roberts, South Woodham Ferrers Council Taxpayers Association: 463 votes
- Terry Sherlock, Liberal Democrats: 582 votes (elected)
- Anthony Weaver, Labour Party: 179 votes
- Scott Wilson, The Conservative Party Candidate: 396 votes
We believe we offer the best representation for the town as we aren't tied to national party interests and speak solely on things local people care about. We need more of you to stand with us in this. If you want to find out more about us please get in touch. Contact details are on our Membership page.
Cllrs. Bentley and Roberts attended this meeting. Cllr. Bentley asked questions about the lack of progress in extending the car park at Saltcoats Park while the toddlers sand play area had been removed last year. He repeated his request that the toddlers area be reinstated at Compass Gardens near the recently refurbished one since the Town had effectively lost play space due to the closure. This is something we had called for when the upgraded play area at Compass Gardens was originally mooted.
The much-welcomed news that Phoebe's Pantry was returning to SWF next month was a real surprise to local City councillors as we had not been notified that this was going out for tender. Cllr. Bentley asked why such an important local addition had not been communicated. It turned out that no councillors had been made aware of the tender. We are hoping that in future the procurement procedures will be tweaked to provide ward councillors with the information they need without revealing sensitive business information.
Cllr. Roberts asked about the validity of SWF Neighbourhood Plan which is due for renewal this year. However, under the new Levelling-up Bill this is to be extended to 5 years to put it in line with Local Plan reviews. But what happens in the transition period? We have been assured that our Neighbourhood Plan remains valid since Chelmsford City Council has its 5-year housing requirement in place.
The minutes for this meeting can be found at: Cabinet Minutes. The recording is available at: Cabinet Recording.
GOVERNANCE COMMITTEE 8th March 2023
Cllr. Bentley attended this meeting. The first item dealt with was interviews for 2 Independent Person positions. There were 6 very strong candidates and it was difficult to pick just 2 from the list. The chosen candidates will now go forward to the next Council meeting for appointment. The Committee is losing 2 Parish Council Representatives as only one has asked to be considered for reappointment. Cllr. Jackson was re-appointed subject to re-election to his Parish Council and the other 2 positions will be re-advertised once the elections have taken place.
The main items on the agenda were the Standards Complaints Procedure Review and a Review of the Social Media Protocol for Councillors. With a few minor amendments the changes were accepted. There was a discussion between Cllr. Bentley and the Monitoring Officer about the need for the 2nd and 3rd reasons for not referring a complaint for an investigation. Cllr. Bentley thought that there was a degree of subjective judgement involved when considering what the complainant's motivation was and this must not nullify the complaint, which should be looked at purely on whether the councillor was acting as a member and whether there has been a breach. The Monitoring Officer felt it was useful to keep them in place just in case, but they were very rarely used in Chelmsford.
The Minutes of the meeting can be seen at: Governance Committee Minutes.
POLICY BOARD 28th February 2023
There are two items on the Agenda which are of special interest to residents of South Woodham Ferrers. First, feedback from the Issues and Options Consultation for the Local Plan review. The clear problem we identified with the options was that all bar one included building a further 500 houses north of the current masterplan boundary in addition to the 1200 already agreed. We were vocal opponents of this when it was brought before council prior to going out for consultation.
Second the Council's proposed response to the Government's consultation on the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill: Reforms to National Planning Policy. This is an interesting document with a number of changes which could put the brakes on any further move to develop on our Green Necklace as it proposes greater power to the Neighbourhood Plan and removes the need for CCC to provide a 20% buffer. For further reading the consultation document can be found at: Government Bill.
Cllrs. Roberts and Bentley attended this meeting, and the minutes can be found at: Minutes.
FULL COUNCIL (BUDGET) 22nd February 2023
Cllrs. Keith Bentley and Ian Roberts attended the meeting where the main item on the agenda was the Council's Budget for 2023/4. Up for discussion were 2 amendments.
The minutes can be found at: Council Minutes. There is also a link to the live broadcast of the meeting should residents wish to watch it.
Street cleaning service
The first amendment was proposed by Councillor Bentley and seconded by Councillor Roberts. It was a modest request for an increase in the street cleaning team by one operative (£38,000 from unearmarked reserves) and a leased EV van (£35,000 from the capital asset programme) in order to carry out more street cleaning around the district. We put forward a similar amendment last year, but it was rejected and the LibDems did not take up the proposal during the year. As it turned out there had already been an extra allocation of £22,000 to street cleaning, so our request for £38,000 was immediately reduced to £16,000. Even then, and in spite of a long list of arguments for increasing the service given by Councillor Bentley, the amendment was rejected by the LibDem administration. We were fully supported by the Conservatives and other Independent Councillors but it was not enough to get it through. We got the impression that the LibDems had little interest in keeping the streets around the district clean and that it was well down their list of priorities for the year ahead. Looking at their budget they are spending a heck of a lot more than £16,000 on a number of other priority services. We have not completely lost hope since we will be given the chance to resurrect this amendment once again in the mid-year financial review.
On a more optimistic note, we asked if the street cleaning contract in South Woodham Ferrers Town Centre could be reviewed for quality and efficiency with a view to bringing it back in-house. The contract still has another 2 years to run, but we have been dismayed at the poor standard of work. Last year's Remembrance Day event was blighted by litter and most weeks the quality of service is similarly disappointing. Cllr. Davidson did give assurances that they would commit to carry out the review.
Highways Rangers funding
The second amendment was brought by the Conservatives and concerned the funding for the Highways Rangers (a sum of about £90,000 for Chelmsford district) which Essex County Council (ECC) had decided to stop funding. The Conservatives proposed that funding for this service could be found by freezing councillor allowances with the rest coming via a more optimistic income forecast from the new theatre. The LibDems voted against this amendment, too, on the grounds that the Highways Rangers were carrying out a role for ECC who are the responsible authority and so should be paid for by ECC. It was mentioned that 3 Conservatives, also members of ECC, voted against the LibDem amendment to the ECC budget which called for a continuation of the Highways Rangers, financed by ECC. Our councillors voted for the amendment on the basis that if we lose the Highways Rangers our district will be losing another important service for the sake of a comparatively small amount of money.
The budget for 2023/4
The budget itself was voted through and we felt no need to oppose it, but we were concerned at the LibDem's unnecessary inflexibility over the amendments, which would have had very little or no impact on the Council's finances going forward.