Ask The Leader - 2011

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New homes in Lower Willingdon

04 Apr 2011

Question

Hi,

When is the decision due the proposed plan for 540 homes in Lower Willingdon? How can I follow updates on this? 

Thanks  
Mr John Conway.

Answer

Dear Mr Conway,

Thank you for your question. I assume you are referring to the planning application at Honey Farm, Polegate. As you probably know this application is subject to appeal by the developer following the refusal of permission by Wealden. 

I have been trying to get a date for the result of that Planning Inquiry and was informed yesterday the Secretary of State's appeal decision is expected to be issued by 13 June 2011. The appeal decision will be posted on the Inspectorate's Planning Portal Appeal Page (external link).

Wealden District Council will also publish a press release when the decision is known. I trust this gives you the information you require but please contact me again if I can help further. 

Bob Standley.

Single site HQ

01 Jun 2011

Question

Sir 

The single site HQ proposal pre-dates the current financial crisis, the legacy of years of labour rule by financial illiterates. At a time when short term measures must prevail to contain the crisis it seems odd to continue with a project that is predicated on savings over a 25 year period. It is difficult to identify the true figures, costs or benefits, from data publicly available but from what I have read, the cost of the consolidation will be circa £7.2m plus overspend plus redundancy costs whilst the resulting annual saving is less than £400k. An, as of yet unquantified, capital receipt will be realised from the sale of the Pine Grove site in what is a currently depressed market. I would suggest that the Single Site HQ Risk Register is unduly optimistic, particularly in respect of probable cost and time overruns that are endemic in public sector procurement. What is the justification in continuing with this project which erodes localism at a time when central government is encouraging more community involvement? If the Prime Minister can pause and reconsider then so can Wealden DC. 

Yours truly, 
David Hutchinson 

Answer

Dear Mr Hutchinson 

Thank you for your email and interest in the move to a single site HQ. 

The single site project has been discussed at Wealden for many years, in fact I believe it has been discussed ever since the formation of the Council in 1974. The decision to move to a single site HQ, based in Hailsham, was taken in 2005 and the proposal then was for a new building more than likely on land at the rear of the current Hailsham site and the plan was to include other public services such as the Police, Hailsham Town Council etc. After the District Elections in 2007 , which is when I became more involved following my appointment as Portfolio for Finance, the project was reassessed. This was our pause to use your comparison with the current Health debate. Whilst that review looked at other sites throughout the District, the review rejected the construction of a new building. I could not justify the cost of a new build. The decision was made to refurbish the Hailsham building. 

As part of the financial review, the Council launched its Transformation Programme (TP) which was charged in reviewing all the operations of the Council to give a more streamlined and business-minded approach. This initial review took £1.5m out of the overheads and a further £2.1m is programmed. The Council is and will be employing fewer staff in the future. The case for operating from a single site became stronger not weaker and the financial case for refurbishing Hailsham instead of operating two partly-filled offices was clear. Construction work began in May this year and the site will be reoccupied in June next year. The cost saving is projected at £377k pa, including finance costs, and this saving is approx 3.5% in the District Council Tax precept. With Government's grant to WDC reduced by £2.1m each year this is a significant contribution to the budget reductions. The building will also be more energy efficient. 

The regeneration of Crowborough is also important to the Council. Whilst I agree that there is always risk of land prices changing, I believe the value put on the Pine Grove site is realistic. 

The Transformation Programme has involved some, but only a small number of redundancies, with staff turnover accounting for the majority of the reduction in staff numbers. For staff employed in recent years there has been a condition of service in the employment contract to take account of the HQ move. 

Your note also states you believe the move erodes localism. I can't agree on this point. If by this you mean that geographical position in Hailsham then I would emphasise our plan to keep a small physical presence at Crowborough for enquiries from the public. In addition much more of the Council's business is now done electronically. 

To conclude the Council has reviewed the single site HQ proposal on a number of occasions and each time the long term cost savings of a single site have been demonstrated. The proposal was approved by Council, across all political parties, and I have no reason to believe it will not be delivered on time and to budget. 

Regards 

Bob Standley 
Leader Wealden District Council 

Waste and recycling collections

01 Jul 2011

Question

Dear Mr Standley. 

I am contacting you as I believe you are able to respond, look in to questions raised ref Wealden District Council. We, as many other companies do, make a serious effort to sort our waste: general; waste, glass, cardboard and paper etc. Needless to say we then pay for the pleasure to have this waste removed and I have to tell you this is mostly a very hit and miss disorganised service with many many times the waste not being removed. 

Mind you this is a service we pay for none the less. This morning at approx 8.20am, the waste collectors came to collect our cardboard. It was only as the chap walked/scuttled away that we even saw him. We called to him why are you not taking/emptying the bin of cardboard. He did not answer but continued to scuttle away.  My staff called again, the likes of 'Hey, is the bin being emptied?' No doubt having been caught scuttling away he responded by saying he could not get to the bin, as a vehicle was in the way. We told him we would move it, it would take 20/30 seconds but he continued to walk away not seeking to help or cooperage. 

I had my staff there, I was there all he had to do was say the likes of 'Any chance of just moving the van?' It would have taken ten seconds. The reality is of course, that the situation just provided him with the perfect excuse, to scuttle away and not do anything. In short: get paid for not doing anything. The dream scenario really, get paid to do a job, but if you can get away with it, just make every opportunity so that you don't have to do it. The bottom line is, too be frank, we are sick and very tired of this kind of support from the waste removal people.

At the risk of making myself sound like a twit, it's about time these people realise 'We' are customers. 'We' represent profit.  'We' pay wages. 'We' help guarantee their jobs!!! It's only in the public sector that this type of behaviour is tolerated.  In the real world, the private sector, all of us having to perform well to earn our salaries we treat our customers as valued contacts. We treat our customers as customers and not as a damn nuisance. I hope you understand what I mean. It is a very hit and miss service with incidents like this morning doing nothing whatsoever to support the business community. This kind of service behaviour would never be tolerated in the private sector, all those employed having to pull their weight. I do wonder if these guys were paid by the number of bins they empty if ours would have been emptied this morning. 

This kind of behaviour, when many question the pensions, rates of pay and much more of public sector service workers, is perhaps not the right time to display this type of appalling behaviour to those who pay for the service. This could of behaviour certainly does nothing whatsoever to engender any support from the public towards lazy public sector service workers. Sometimes the work is just too much effort for these people, take the money but don't do the work. Great!!! Perhaps you would be kind enough to raise this with those concerned should the opportunity present itself. 

Do not hesitate to contact me should you wish to discuss the matter further. I look forward to hearing from you, and extend my thanks in anticipation of your help. 

Regards, 
Tony Brewin. 
Managing Director. Browning's Road. Heathfield.

Answer

Dear Tony,

Thank you for your email. I am keen that Wealden Council gives a high level of service to both domestic and business customers. The business community is valued by the Council and in recent years we have been changing the approach of the Council to be more commercially minded. I am sorry the level of service has fallen below the required standard. 

I will raise the matter with the Head of Waste Services and I will ask him to look into the details of your complaint and I will be in touch again in the next few days when I have more information. 

Regards,
Bob Standley 

Service charges and affordable homes

02 Jul 2011

Question

Dear Mr Standley, 

We wonder if you can advise us on the following, please. We are considering purchasing a new property at the Bluebells development at Polegate. During our initial enquiries we were advised that the service charge would be £80 pa. On going to reserve a plot we were then advised that the service charge is to be, at the outset, £215 pa. We were further advised that the reason for this increase is that Orbit Housing Association are not going to pay any service charges, private buyers on the development are to pay the service charges for the Affordable Homes. 

44 homes. 28 private purchase , 16 affordable. 

We wrote to the developers questioning this decision and quoting A Guide to the Management of Mixed Tenure Developments page 6, 4.1 where it says 'The best practice is quite clear. High density mixed-tenure schemes require high levels of service and management to prosper. It is not reasonable for a local authority (our emphasis) or housing association to expect private residents to subsidise estate services for the social housing ones: cheaper services and management will not work in the long run.'

The developer's explanation for the service charges at Polegate is 'Unfortunately, the obligation for us to only charge £1 to housing association properties forms part of our obligation under the Section 106 agreement entered into with the local authority. it is deemed that should the Housing Association have to pay for the total sum (ie. on an equal split) then the affordable housing element becomes unaffordable.' 

We have searched legislation and found that one of the conditions upon which planning permission might be granted is that developers have to demonstrate that the affordable housing will be affordable in the scheme s/he is proposing. The inference being, as we understand it, that the developer will not obtain planning permission unless this can be demonstrated. We have searched all the legislation we can find on s 106 agreements and cannot find any reference to 

a) an obligation to charge housing associations £1, or any other specified sum, in service charges 

b) an obligation for private buyers on the same scheme to pay the service charges of the housing association where it is deemed that the affordable housing would not otherwise be affordable. 

The legislation must be there somewhere, or this agreement could not have been made. We should be most grateful is you could advise us, please, in which government legislation obligations a) and b) can be found and under which sections of this legislation. We look forward to your reply. With many thanks. 

Yours sincerely, 
Tom and June Billing (Mr and Mrs).

Answer

Dear Mr and Mrs Billing

Thank you for your recent email. I have asked one of our legal officers to look into the matter and he has provided me with the following information. 

Where appropriate, the Council does require a developer to enter into an agreement to secure an element of affordable housing, but these conditions are of a general nature and do not go down the level of stipulating amounts to be paid in service charges. 

This is a matter between the developer and the Registered Social Landlord. I would suggest that you take the issue up with Orbit who should be able to give you the details. I trust this information is helpful but please contact me again if you think I can assist further. 

Regards 
Bob Standley 

Litter thrown from refuse collection vehicle

03 Jul 2011

Question

Dear Sir, 

Today at approximately 11.15am I was driving on the A27 north of Eastbourne. I was behind an empty cage sided small lorry with the Wealden logo on the cab doors and a notice on the back imploring me to keep our roads free from litter. To my astonishment a paper wrapper or similar was thrown out of the passenger side window. 

I noted the registration number of the lorry. I concede that Wealden is not responsible for cleaning the A27 but suggest that the notice should be removed from the rear of this vehicle since its operatives appear to be unaware of its relevance. 

Yours faithfully,
Peter Exley (Rother ratepayer)

Answer

Dear Mr Exley, 

Thank you for your enquiry. I share your astonishment at what you have reported and have been in touch with Wealden's Head of Waste and Commercial Services about the incident and understand he has responded directly to you as outlined below: 

"I refer to your email sent to our Ask the Leader facility regarding actions of one of our employees recently throwing litter from the cab of his vehicle on the A27 I would like to thank you for reporting this to us as we do take the attitude of our staff very seriously. By identifying the vehicle and the time of the incident we shall be able to identify the employee concerned and instruct them on the standards of behaviour this Council expects.

"It is particularly frustrating to receive such comments about staff whose job it is to keep the roads clear of litter as clearly these staff should be very aware of the unsightly and negative impact litter has on the environment. I do appreciate that you have taken the time to report this to us and I hope that you do not encounter any such behaviour from our staff in the future."

I sincerely hope you do not have any occasion to report such matters again. 

Regards 
Bob Standley 

Proposed development of holiday log cabins at Hook Farm

04 Jul 2011

Question

Dear Mr Standley, 

I am bemused by a response I have received from Wealden Planning and hope that you will intercede and give them a metaphorical 'kick in the pants'. 

Wealden Planning appear reluctant to inform members of the Vines Cross Community about the proposed development of holiday log cabins at Hook Farm. Access to and from the site is via a 600 yard long single carriage way track, that is also a frequently used footpath. In response to my request Wealden Planning has notified residents living at the top of the track where it joins Nettlesworth Lane which is narrow, busy and without pavements. Wealden did place a notice of the planning application at the top of the track to inform residents living on Nettlesworth Lane, passing pedestrians and walkers on the footpath.

 The notice was removed on the same day and, consequently, many of the intended audience remain unaware of the proposed development. I advised Wealden Planning and asked them to either replace the notice or send me a copy so I can post it on the telegraph pole at the top of the track. 

Wealden Planning refused both options stating that they " have fulfilled their statutory obligations". My discussions with Wealden Planning have been fruitless - they shelter behind the fact that they have "have fulfilled their statutory obligations" and do not acknowledge the purpose of their statutory obligation has been frustrated. Please will you intercede on my behalf by injecting some common sense into Wealden Planning. 

Yours sincerely, 
Ian Evans

Answer

Dear Mr Evans,

Thank you for your question and I have looked into the points raised. There is a duty on the planning authority to either notify neighbouring properties or place notices at locations near to application site. 

Wealden do both of these. In addition we consult with the Parish or Town Council who in turn publicise the applications through their planning committee agendas. In this application the planning officer visited the site and decided the applicant posting the notice on the single carriageway track at the entrance to the proposed development was not sufficient and had another notice posted at the top of the track although I note your comment this additional notice was removed. 

The Council has received a number or responses from properties not directly informed by the letter to neighbouring properties. I believe the responses received on the application signify the proposed development has been brought to the attention of the local community which is the intention of the statutory obligation. 

You will no doubt be aware that planning permission was refused and details of the refusal are on the Council's website. 

Regards 
Bob Standley.

Public bridleway between Sheppy Walk and Cuckmere Close

05 Jul 2011

Question

Dear Sir, 

I am sending you this email as leader of Wealden District Council as there does not appear to be an email address for the general office on your web site. I have been in touch with Christopher Wilkinson at East Sussex County Council with regard to the following:

Since the public meeting in October 2009 regarding the reopening of the public bridleway between Sheppy Walk and Cuckmere Close, and the subsequent removal of the barrier I would be grateful if you could advise when we will be receiving a dog mess bin and when the path will be made good? As far as I am aware Redrow laid the initial path otherwise it would have just been dirt, but since that time, over eighteen months later, there has been no sign of the council to clear the rubbish, the weeds (which are now about a foot high) and dog mess. A bin was requested initially, but has never materialised and the public that use the path are now continually walking over the grassed area to the right of the path, which is actually private land and which has worn away a section of it.

They do not seem to use the laid path at all. The best way to avoid this would be for the council to erect more bollards - would this be possible? As residents of a private road that has now become a public highway, we all pay council tax as well as an excessive amount to a private managing agent and would be grateful for some positive news that the path will be maintained to a better standard that it is at the moment. 

He has responded by advising that it is not ESCC that are responsible for the dog mess bin but Wealden District Council, hence the reason for the above copy email. 

Please advise that latest situation in respect of when you intend to provide 'The Close' with the requested bin and also if you are responsible for any of the other above requests? I await your response. 

Kathie Dent,
Resident of Cuckmere Close 

Answer

Dear Kathie,

Thank you for your enquiry re the bridleway between Sheppey Walk and Cuckmere Close. The majority of your comments regarding the path are the responsibility of East Sussex County Council's  Rights of Way Manager and I note you are in contact with ESCC. 

Dog Bin: Whilst Wealden are responsible for emptying the dog bins, the request for them to be provided comes from the Town or Parish Councils. I have spoken to one of the Town Councillors for your ward, Cllr Margaret Skinner, and she will make the necessary request to Hailsham Town Council. Further information on the process is available on the Dog Bins page of our website.

I trust the above is helpful,

Regards, 
Bob Standley. 

Cardiac Support Group leaflet display

06 Jul 2011

Question

Dear Mr. Standley, 

Because of lack of support in the area, I started a Cardiac Support Group, as I am sure you can appreciate our running costs are high (due to hall costs and speaker costs) so we do not have money to throw away. On the 6 April I went into the Hailsham office, I spoke with the lady at the reception, and I asked  "Would you mind taking these leaflets in, display them somewhere, so that employees, and indeed Wealden customers could see them, so they had information on a new and growing, Support Group". I was told "Yes, thank you very much". I then pointed out a flyer in the back of the Display which reads as. 'Desk/Receptionist, Would you be so kind as to contact me and I will either Replenish or remove the container. Thank you'. My email address and phone number are clearly printed on that flyer, and the 100 flyers placed within the holder. The holder was placed at the back, and to the left of the reception desk. 

I have come to replenish it, the offices are closed, I have spoken with Democratic Services, they can not find it. So where is it? I want it back, including its contents, and I do believe The Council are in breach of contract, as one of its employees/agents did agree to my terms.

Please advise me on where to send the invoice. It may only be a paltry sum, but it is money we can ill afford to see wasted. This Display should have been returned to me, so that I could place it elsewhere. 

I am sure you understand our situation, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Respectfully, 
Philip Ford,
Founder: Hailsham, Heathfield, Herstmonceux and District Cardiac Support Group.

Answer

Dear Mr Ford,

Thank you for bringing this to my attention. The Council encourages information on groups such as your Cardiac Group being available to the public. The lost display has not as yet been located but we are still trying to find where it might have been put. 

Our Hailsham offices have temporarily closed whilst they are refurbished after which the offices previously at Hailsham and Crowborough will be combined at Hailsham. This is part of Transformation Programme to save costs. There is a small temporary office at Prospects House in Hailsham. 

I understand your funds are limited and your frustration at the missing items. I am not sure the receptionist 'agreed to your terms' but let us hope the articles can be found and I will write again in a few days with any more information and trust the matter can be sorted.

Regards,
Bob Standley. 

Council move to Hailsham

02 Aug 2011

Question

Dear Sir

I have just read in the local press that The Council, having forsaken the residents of Crowborough by moving lock stock and barrel to Hailsham, are now proposing to sell off not only the "old" Council buildings to a developer, but are also proposing to sell the Bluebell Wood and part of the car park also.

This is going too far and I, along with other people in Crowborough will oppose such an action with the utmost vigour.

Yours Faithfully
Robert Pask

Answer

Dear Mr Pask

Thank you for your question sent last Friday. The headline and article in the Courier last Friday did not tell the correct story. 

Wealden District Council is not forsaking Crowborough and will be keeping a manned contact point for enquiries from the public. The Council's commitment to regenerating Crowborough is also shown by the leasing of land for the much needed community centre on Wealden owned land for a peppercorn rent of £1 per year. 

The consolidation of the two offices, Crowborough and Hailsham, was carefully considered. The saving in moving to a single HQ in Hailsham will save Wealden's taxpayers over £350k each year. 

The intention of the report going to Cabinet is to continue the debate on how best to regenerate the centre of Crowborough. The Courier article gave the impression that all the land would be developed. In fact we will be discussing with interested parties, including the Town Council, the best way forward. 

It seems sensible to me that in formulating future plans we should take account of all the publicly-owned land. This is what the report proposes. 

Regards 
Bob Standley 

Spending on single site headquarters

03 Aug 2011

Question

I would like to know how you can justify spending millions of £s on improving the offices in Hailsham when there are more important urgent schemes that need attention in the borough ie roads, pavements and sweeping the roads. Have you consulted the council tax payers and asked them what you are spending their tax on? 

Remember, it is tax payers' money that you are spending. 

Fred Hodgson

Answer

Dear Mr Hodgson,

Thank you for your question with regard the single site project at Hailsham. 

I have always taken the view that the money we have is taxpayers' money and should be spent carefully and for the benefit of the community. The move to a single site headquarters in Hailsham has been approved because it will both improve efficiency and save costs. The refurbishment will allow the Council to close the offices in Crowborough. 

The saving on having one office, instead of two, will give a saving of £377,000 each year which is the equivalent of over 3.5 per cent on Council Tax. That saving is having taken into account all finance costs. 

In addition to the savings on the move to a single site HQ, the Council is half way through a programme of cost saving measures which have already saved £1.5 million and a further £2.9 million when completed. I trust that you agree that the change to the offices is the right approach which will actually ensure there are more funds available for the services we deliver, although roads are a responsibility of the County Council. 

The decision to complete the HQ project has been the discussed in public on many occasions and all the information freely available in Council documents. A survey of 405 households in 2008 resulted in 80% agreeing that a move to a single site HQ was the correct decision. The project delivers excellent financial benefits to the residents of Wealden. 

Regards 
Bob Standley 

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