In a council debate on affordable housing, Cllr Maggie Tyrell (Thornbury South & Alveston) said: “We’re not against development in Thornbury, but we are against poorly planned development. I know of a young person with every advantage, who went looking for an affordable home, and was told to ‘try Weston Super Mare’. It is completely ridiculous. Developers are putting up large, 5 bedroom homes, then the town is importing families to fill them. We’re not addressing the need for smaller homes for younger people, and smaller families - people who have grown up in the area and want to continue living there.”
The debate referred to government programmes like ‘Starter Homes’ and ‘Affordable Housing’, which can reduce the costs slightly – for people with incomes up to an astronomical £80k a year.
Nearby Councillor Claire Young (Westerleigh, Lib Dem lead on Environment & Community Services committee) said: “To buy a three bedroom ‘Starter Home’ at 80% of market value, people in a South Glos market town like Thornbury would need to earn around £39k a year - £10k more than the median income. Even our so-called ‘affordable’ schemes are only accessible to the well-off. Councils should be able to adopt policies that are appropriate for their local area. There are huge discrepancies around the national housing market and we have some of the highest prices outside of London.”
Conservatives in South Gloucestershire have forced decisions back behind closed doors, with committees of councillors scrapped in favour of a centralised ‘Leader and cabinet'.
Councils in Britain were forced to adopt cabinets after Tony Blair came to power, but when the Liberal Democrats were in Government councils were given a choice. In 2012, South Gloucestershire was one of the first in the country to return to open, democratic decisions made by committees sitting in public.
Cllr Ruth Davis said: “I’ve been an Executive Member and a Leader of Council. I know what the different systems are like. With executives, you have a single person taking decisions after talking to an officer. With committees, you have over a dozen people deciding, in public, sometimes changing the recommendations. South Gloucestershire is diverse, with many different communities that need different solutions. The extra viewpoints and experience that committee members gave us helped South Gloucestershire Council serve our residents well.”
Cllr Claire Young said: “I am heartily opposed to this concentration of power, which will mean decisions being taken by a few Tories behind closed doors, away from the public view. This is an even greater concentration of power than we had five years ago. Where we used to have a number of scrutiny committees looking at different areas of policy, now we will have a single scrutiny commission trying to cover everything.”
South Glos Lib Dems are thrilled to learn that £1m for Extra Care housing is coming to the area.
The news was announced at the Health Overview and Scrutiny committee last night (8th March), due to a successful bid by Sirona to the Homes and Communities agency. This means the long awaited development at the Thornbury hospital site could at last be coming.
Liberal Democrat Maggie Tyrrell (Thornbury South) said: “This is very exciting news. We’ve been fighting long and hard for Extra Care housing on the site of the hospital. When it’s built, the hospital will serve a much wider area, but it’s excellent news for Thornbury that the Extra Care housing is taking a step forward.
“Sirona told us that their bid for the Thornbury and Frenchay sites had been given £1m to develop the projects. There’s no sure thing yet, and they still need more money, but this is a good base for Sirona to take the next step forward. We don’t expect the care facilities to go up immediately, but after years of campaigning, we’re delighted that there’s a firm signal something’s going to happen.”
Cllr Claire Young said: “Extra Care housing is vital to give people support so they can continue to live independent lives as they age. I was very happy to learn about the successful grant application– this is something local residents and campaigners have wanted for a long time.”
Last night, South Gloucestershire councillors condemned the Home Secretary’s decision to accept only 350 unaccompanied refugee children from the Syrian crisis.
Cllr Claire Young (Liberal Democrat, Westerleigh) proposed a motion reaffirming the Council’s long-standing commitment to supporting refugees, and criticising the US decision to ban entry to all nationals from 7 Muslim majority countries.
Although the Conservatives used their majority to weaken the motion, and talk about all countries – including dictatorships the UK should never admire – the motion was agreed to. Words condemning the Government first proposed by Liberal Democrat Maggie Tyrrell were then added, on a named vote.
Claire Young said: “The importance of this motion is show that we stand with our residents, whatever their nationality, ethnicity, or religion. It is to show that we are a welcoming, inclusive council, prepared to stand up for the values of an open, tolerant society. The values that people have long associated with both the UK and the US, but which in the past year have seemed to be under siege. South Gloucestershire residents with dual nationality could be directly affected by this, and it’s important that we stand up for them.”
An early vote on a Liberal Democrat proposal to condemn the Government’s weak action on child refugees was defeated by Conservative votes, but the issue came up again later in the debate.
Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Ruth Davis added: “Because of the government action on this, there are over 2,650 children in France, in appalling circumstances. We could have brought them over to proper foster families, where they would have been safe. That is what we’re talking about, 2,650 children who now have no hope again. I want to be able to sleep at night!”
The ‘Dubs amendment’ is Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016, which instructed the Government to set a number of unaccompanied child refugees to be brought to safety in Britain. Last week, the Government set that at only 350 – 200 of whom were already in Britain.
Councillors first took a hand vote on whether or not to condemn the Home Secretary’s decision, and then took a “named vote”, with every Councillor being asked in turn. With every Liberal Democrat and Labour Councillor supporting, four Tories joined them – and the vote passed, 32-31.
Afterwards, Claire Young said: “I am delighted that we have decided to condemn this Home Secretary’s decision. The whole point of the Dubs amendment was to make a difference – not to be a gesture. Families in South Gloucestershire are ready to welcome child refugees, and we are leaving them in squalor, in camps. Britain can do better than that.
The Liberal Democrats on South Gloucestershire proposed responsible, funded alterations to the South Gloucestershire budget, which were shot down by Tory and Labour votes.
Liberal Democrat Cllr Claire Young (Westerleigh) said: “No one should be in any doubt about the serious financial situation facing this and every other council in the country. The Conservative Government continues to squeeze local government, and Conservative councillors are left fiddling around the edges – or texting their Westminster colleagues in desperation.
“The Conservative obsession with the garden waste charge and their unaffordable promise is blinding them to other needs. They could have used the flexibility they had to make lives easier for residents. We proposed a modest one-off fund to cover the start-up costs of ten community libraries. Another decision was to close the OSS in Thornbury. We opposed this at the time and we stand by that. Transport continues to be a high priority for our local residents. Yate, Chipping Sodbury and the surrounding villages have seen the erosion of the bus services providing a vital link not just to Southmead but also to Parkway Station, UWE, further education colleges and the Mall. We have been pressing not just for the restoration of the last 82 bus of the day that was cut in January, but also a later service, to suit people who work at the Mall or attend college in the evening. Only by running a reliable service at times that people actually want to catch the bus is there any hope of creating a commercially viable service.
“We would ask the ECS committee – which needlessly froze the green bin charge, giving up £240k annually – to accept a budget reduction of just £91k. This £91k would then be spent on Reinstating the Thornbury One Stop Shop, Reinstating the late 82 bus service, and on rural community library start-up costs. We would expect the committee to fund this by altering the green bin charge.”
Cllr Clare Fardell (Thornbury North) said: “Not a single word about green bins has been said to me this year. There was a fuss at the time, but now there is no problem. Not one single complaint from my residents, and they talk to me a lot. But ever so many have made comments about the One Stop Shop. That really hits people. For example, older people who aren’t hard up might have no idea how to use a computer to find answers. They are full of praise for the Thornbury One Stop Shop staff who help them with their problem, and to use council services. To say the green bin charge is sacred when we are losing everything else is utterly ridiculous.”