September is the month most of us associate with that feeling of going back to school, freedom, warm days and long light evenings over….. That is certainly what it feels like in local government. August was a busy month as far as I was concerned, but at least there are fewer formal District and County Council meetings. But now the pressure is back on……
The budget setting process for 2017-18 has started. At Sturminster Newton Town Council we are embarking on a Business Plan, in order to prioritise our expenditure and explain ourselves, we hope, more clearly to the electorate. The big problem is how do you fund the things you need to do for the sake of the town but cannot justify raising Council Tax to do it. We are well into worrying about the Christmas lights and how these are to be funded for the next three years. Local businesses are being very generous as is Liz Whittingham who has been working hard to run the monthly Craft Markets at The Exchange, any profit from which goes towards the Christmas lights. We will not have strings of lights across the street in Stur. this year as it would cost around £800 just to get the fixings stress tested and replaced if necessary, because otherwise we would not be insured. That has to be done every three years….so no strings of lights across the road. We will have our big Christmas tree and the traders will have their trees and lights so all should be well. The Christmas Lights switch on will be on the afternoon of the 2nd December with a children’s lantern parade, High School Choir and Father Christmas’s grotto.
Another important but not essential expenditure was the painting of the railings coming into Stur across the Town Bridge. Thanks to the efforts of generous donors, Community Payback, and our Grounds Manager plus three councillors the task has been three-quarters completed. The most difficult section is the last quarter, which is the dirtiest, most vulnerable as far as traffic is concerned. and has just had a tree fall on it. We had hoped to finish it in time for the Cheese Festival but that did not happen. Maybe we can finish it in time for Christmas.
The Cheese Festival in Stur. was a success in spite of the inclement weather. Although numbers attending was down the retailers appear to have been satisfied by the amount of trade as those who did come bought goods. Any surplus will go to The Cheese Festival Changing Young Lives Fund. The fund aims to provide substantial financial support to young adults to enable them to undertake activities which they would otherwise be unable to and from which they will gain experiences which will be of radical benefit in their future lives.
At the point of writing this report we still do not know if the government is minded to allow the County and District Councils of Dorset to merge as one Unitary Authority. The uncertainty makes financial planning very difficult. All councils know they will have reducing amounts of money coming from central government over the next two years, until revenue support grant ceases in 2020. There after they are reliant on Council Tax, Business Rate and any revenue they can earn. Council Tax rises have been capped at 1.9% and Business Rates do not bring us in a great deal locally, however hard done by the businesses feel. The money goes to central government and is redistributed across council’s according to need. I have been attending Dorset Councils Partnership meetings looking at how we may operate more commercially to earn income. In Weymouth the Council already has a considerable portfolio of hotels. West Dorset has seaside car parks which bring in considerable sums. North Dorset District Council has very few assets and certainly none which are going to make much of a contribution to our income – only the car parks and we are not allowed to make a profit on those beyond the cost of running them. We did look at the possibility of putting a crematorium on the Nordon Office side but that was ruled out as not being a good business case.
Sturminster Newton has now lodged its Neighbourhood Plan with the District Council who will send it to a planning Inspector for examination. The hope is that this will give the town some control over developer applications. The District has a Local Plan, which sits above the Neighbourhood Plan but this has now been undermined because the District is reckoned no longer to have a five year land supply for housebuilding. Although a number of planning applications have been approved, developers have not built as yet and it is therefore reckoned that if permissions are not built on within a period of time, three years, the land does not count in the land supply (totally illogical it seems to me as the land is still there to be built on). The reality of this is that the Countryside policy of the Local Plan, which did not permit housebuilding in the smaller villages except in certain limited circumstances, no longer applies. Our villages are therefore much more vulnerable to development although a Neighbourhood Plan, once approved, does give some control.
Surgeries in October:
Saturday 7th October 9.30 a.m. – Glanvilles Wootton Village Hall; 10.30 a.m. Pulham Village Hall; 11.30 The Exchange, Sturminster Newton.
Saturday 14th October 10.30 Hilton Chuch Coffee Morning; 11.15 p.m. Okeford Fitzpaine Mud Pie Cafe
Saturday, 21st October 9.30 a.m. Hazelbury Bryan Village Hall;
Preferred e.mail address – email@example.com
Phone 01258 472583
Post – Elvlyn Cottage, Glue Hill, Sturminster Newton, Dorset, DT10 2DJ
Twitter @paulinebatstone Facebook Page Councillor Pauline Batstone