Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Open Space Strategy for Truro and other large towns

As the local member for Truro Trehaverne  I make no apology for considering the draft "Open Space" strategy  from a Truro point of view.   This strategy document is due for sign off by Cabinet tomorrow (today 30th July).

The bottom line is that I am very unhappy with it.

It seeks to count in Truro's open space land which is not in practice freely available as public open space, such as land owned by Truro School.  However, approving a strategy that relies on public access to private land is not practical and consequently not fit for purpose.

The Strategy also takes account of the playing fields at Richard  Lander School. We need to know that this will work in practice. My experience is that public use is almost non existent, apparently due to the fact that the school was funded by PFI.

When Penair became an academy the community lost the use of the Community Room next to the AstroTurf, which has become offices for PE staff. This argument is still going on.

Further, any strategy for getting contributions from developers for open space must take land except on small sites or in extremis a cash sum which will buy the necessary open space nearby. Cash contributions (calculated I think by reference to the average cost of land in Cornwall) as planning officers are recommending on a 70 -acre site for Asda and houses at Willow Green on the west side of Truro, is simply not acceptable.

I also note that the council thinks that Cornwall is cheap when compared to other authorities for the provision of open space facilities.  Really?

Developers put in planning application for open space in Carrine Road

This piece of land was allocated for open space and should remain as such. But a developer wants to put a house on it.
Last July Cornwall Council gave pre-application planning advice that they did NOT consider that the land was suitable for development and that it should remain as open space.

I am afraid that the developer has not given up. Recently some lovely trees were chopped down. I guess that this was done to try to indicate that it would be easy just to slot in another house here.

I have arranged for a tree preservation order to be placed on all the remaining trees. We should do all we can to hold onto this important patch of green.


An application for a house on this space has now come in. If you want to object you may do so by the on line Planning Register (reference PA14/06544)  on www.cornwall.gov.uk or Attention Laura Potts, Planning Officer c/o County Hall, Treyew Road, Truro TR1 3AY

Monday, 28 July 2014

Support for Chacewater Parish Council

Dear Councillors,

Your letter to parish and town councils and the response from the leader of Cornwall council raise some profound issues which I think will resonate with many people.

1. You are, of course, perfectly at liberty to take soundings from your fellow Parish Councils on your views and this is a sensible approach.  I see no reason for a divide and rule strategy so that you are only at liberty to speak to Cornwall Council directly or through your own Cornwall Councillor.

2. I think that Cornwall Council would be trusted more if it was more careful with the numbers it uses.  Trust between us all is very important, particularly to Cornwall Council, which is heavily reliant on your role as the real volunteers.   I am sure Cllr Pollard knows this, as he has been a town councillor for many years.

3.  A little bit of clarity

- the reduction from 22,000 to 12,000 is totally irrelevant because it largely relates to schools staff who are no longer employed by the Council because their schools have become academies. No efficiencies by the Council there.

  - 6,100 is also pretty irrelevant because many staff have been transferred to separate companies which are largely still owned or paid for by the Council.  For example, Cornwall Housing and Cormac are separate companies but they are still part of the Council.

 - I would say that, as of last year, the head count had reduced by about 1000 (as against a total number of employees excluding schools staff of about 10,000).  The Council should publish the real numbers.

 - If you compare the net cumulative budget of the seven predecessor councils in their final year with the budget for this year of Cornwall Council it has reduced from £549.945m to £505.005m.  So about 8 per cent in cash terms.  Of course, in the meantime there has been inflation and other pressures.  But not many people in Cornwall have been able to increase their expenditure by the rate of inflation through the recession.

 - It is surely right for the Council to tighten its belt when council tax is one of the largest bills for working families.

 - Cornwall Council often complains that it is unfairly funded by central Government. I think there are issues here that deserve closer examination but the Council uses figures for rural councils as a group compared to urban councils.  If you look at Cornwall's own funding we are almost in the middle when compared with all other unitary councils, urban or rural.

- I think Cornwall Council have reduced their spend on interim staff but some of that is undoubtedly due to the completion of large projects.  It is difficult to unpick this as some of these staff will have become permanent staff and others have just reached the end of the project they were working on (like the BT deal or the new accounts system).  On the other hand the spend on adult social care has ballooned by £7m due to poor management.

  - Bear in mind that Cornwall Council are building themselves new offices for £15m (allegedly to save money but with no published business plan) and preserving others so that Cormac can have a “professional HQ” .

- on planning, I have stood up for the west side of Truro.  I remain extremely concerned about the western approach to Truro and traffic in Highertown.  I do believe that members took their eye off the ball because of the promise of a stadium, which has not materialised and the former CEO was in the thick of that, as he made clear at the time.

- it is also clearly wrong to try and suggest that a planning application for 1500 dwellings and a supermarket should be counted as one application on a par with one application for a small extension to a domestic dwelling.  That is a gross distortion of statistics and does not represent a true and accurate picture.

 I hope that my own views do in some manner reflect and support your own.  You are saying no more than I have heard elsewhere throughout Cornwall  and you reflect a deep concern that the gap between Cornwall Council and town and parish councils is, in general, getting wider not narrower.
Fiona Ferguson
Cornwall Councillor Truro Trehaverne
Letter to Adam Paynter, Portfolio Holder for Partnerships (including the library service)

I understand that you will be recommending that the Cabinet retain one out of four of Cornwall's mobile library vans and that the number of stops being served will reduce from 665 to 172 (950 out of 2500 users will lose the stop in their village). I am sure that this will be extremely good news for those whose stops are saved, even if the service is to reduce from fortnightly to monthly or monthly to every second month.

This is all the more welcome against the backdrop of the Council's advertised requirement to save a further 30 or, indeed, 40 per cent from its total Library budget. How that saving is to be achieved has not yet been identified but I imagine you must have a viable plan.

You identify the cost of the driver and the van (excluding fuel, books and general overheads) as approximately £50,000, which includes about £25,000 for the van.  As many authorities are having to reduce or end their service and many of these vans are nearly 9? years old I am sure that it is a good plan to try to get a better deal on the van!

I think it would be worthwhile giving consideration to a volunteer driver too. This would make the service more affordable and it is hard to see that you will be able to save money on the remainder of the library service without the use of volunteers. It would also, perhaps, avoid an invidious process of deciding which drivers are to be retained for your new reduced service. Personally, I would find work as a volunteer driver rather more rewarding than endless meetings on how as a Council we are going to be ambitious, self confident etc etc

However, most importantly, I am concerned that if you do adopt this option you give members your assurance that cover will be provided for holidays and sickness. In particular, letting customers know by text message or e mail of days when the van will not show up seems to me to be wholly inadequate. This is particularly the case where the vast majority of users are over sixty and many a great deal older than that. Otherwise the service may die by another 172 cuts as customers lose confidence in waiting at the side of the road for a van which does not show up and the Council then take the opportunity to cut that stop because it is not used on average by at least 3 people (your new minimum usage criteria). That would look like an exercise in cynical tokenism.

Fiona Ferguson

Mobile library ... running on empty?

Having listened to the considerable concerns raised by the public, on Wednesday the Cabinet will consider a new option: scrap (only) three mobile library vans leaving the one remaining van to serve the whole of Cornwall plus a small budget for creating and running micro libraries in rural communities.

The sight of the van would be a rare occasion. The service would reduce to once a month or once every two months.

The number of mobile library stops would be slashed by two thirds.

The stops to be retained would be those most frequented , whether or not they are serving the most vulnerable, and 950 people would have the service cut to their village altogether.

But the worst aspect is that there will be no guaranteed cover for holidays and sickness. So you could be standing at the side of the road and the van might not turn up.

This looks like an exercise in tokenism. We were told that the Council had no money to continue to run these vans., although it always appears to have money for its pet projects. Amazingly each van costs £25,000 and the same for the driver (plus books, fuel and overhead). Surely, nine year old vans need not be so expensive?

Anyway, the Council has changed its mind and the portfolio holder believes that he can now guarantee the future of one van. In that case, to make the service remotely acceptable, it seems to me that holiday/sickness cover should be provided.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Library papers - removed

I have been asked by the council to remove my previous post about the future of the library service as they consider the paper to be "sensitive" and hence confidential.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Election result: Mabe

The Conservative Group are delighted to win back the Mabe, Perranaworthal  and St Gluvias Division from UKIP.
It was the narrowest of victories over Lib Dem candidate, John Ault by one vote.   Mr Ault, a lecturer in politics and a former County Councillor in SE Cornwall is apparently a writer of a treatise on getting elected.
The new Conservative councillor is a local businessman, Peter Williams who was formerly a tin miner at South Crofty and a volunteer lifeguard for many years.
Whilst  I am sure he will be an excellent local champion I  also look forward to working with Peter as he is keen to use his business experience for Cornwall Council.   It is important to invest to create jobs and protect services. It should not be 'all about cuts'.