Liberal Democrats in South Glos have pushed to improve disabled access at Hanham library.
The Environment & Community Services committee considered a proposal to spend local “section 106” money on making the fire escape accessible to disabled people. The decision fell after bureaucrats said there might not be enough space.
Lib Dem Cllr John Davis said: “The Labour group originally proposed action, without knowing if it was possible – and the bureaucrats said they couldn’t approve something blind. We then suggested that they spend some of the money on investigating what could be done.”
Lib Dem Lead Member for ECS Claire Young said, “It seems obvious that if we have money that has to be spent in Hanham library, making it possible for disabled library users to escape a fire should be a priority.”
The proposal failed when all Tories, led by Hanham Counciller Heather Goddard, voted against it.
Claire Young has challenged Conservative-run South Gloucestershire Council to remove a tax on new farm buildings.
If a farmer is building a new building for agricultural purposes in South Gloucestershire, they must pay a 'Community Infrastructure Levy'. But the next door farmer in Stroud District would not have to pay this fee at all.
Liberal Democrat Cllr Claire Young, who represents rural Westerleigh ward in South Gloucestershire said: "Local farmers don't understand why they're having to pay extra taxes just because of where they live."
"The Community Infrastructure Levy is supposed to help pay for things the community needs when new development comes along. A farmer putting up a new barn or shed, purely for farm purposes, does not need the new infrastructure that new flats, houses or shops do."
Claire formally asked the leader of South Glos council if he would consider exempting farmers putting up agricultural buildings from the CIL, in a review required by law.
"I was glad the leader of council agreed to my request to consider it," said Claire. "Now, when the review starts, I'm going to need local farmers to make their voices heard to the council. They're not asking for any special treatment - they just want to be treated the same as they would be if they were right next door in Stroud. This isn't a massive change to the council, but it would make a big difference to small farmers in South Glos."
In a council debate on affordable housing, Cllr Maggie Tyrrell (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.”