We now have a Conservative / Lib Dem coalition in parliament – which is something I never ever expected six months ago. Since May people keep asking me – are we in coalition on the District Council now too?
The answer is, of course, no. The Conservatives have a huge majority on the District Council; they don’t need Lib Dem support, and there’s been no suggestion of a local coalition. In fact our two parties seem to be differing more and more in issues that affect Rayleigh.
There is one big area where we have similar thoughts, and that’s recycling. We originally worked on the details of the ‘3 bin’ system with the Conservatives, and we are delighted with the outcome. Recycling rates are very high. And that’s good for the environment, good for council income, and good for council tax payers. The council is doing a very good job on this, so credit where it’s due …
But on other issues there’s a big difference between the Lib Dem councillors and the Tory leadership – for example on car parking. Earlier this year a cross-party committee of councillors, led by Lib Dem June Lumley with some Tory backbenchers, came up with some car parking ideas. Unfortunately most of the proposals were then vetoed by the Tory leadership, and we were so angry about this we forced a vote in the council chamber.
The motion was that a 30 minute parking time band with a 40p charge be reintroduced (to encourage people making quick visits to our town centres, and supported by Rayleigh Chamber of Trade) and that there be no parking charges after 6.00 pm (to encourage early evening shopping and restaurant use). This is how the voting went (taken from the official council minutes):
For (7) Cllrs C I Black ; Mrs J Dillnutt; M Hoy; C J Lumley; Mrs J R Lumley; J R F Mason; R A Oatham (5 Lib Dems, I Green 1 Rochford Resident)
Against (20) Cllrs Mrs P Aves; Mrs L A Butcher; P A Capon; J P Cottis; T G Cutmore; K A Gibbs; Mrs H L A Glynn; J E Grey; K H Hudson; T Livings; Mrs G A Lucas-Gill: Mrs J E McPherson; D Merrick; A C Priest; C G Seagers: D G Stansby; M J Steptoe; J Thomass; Mrs M J Webster; P F A Webster (All Conservative)
Abstentions (1) Cllr M Maddocks (Conservative)
Absent (11): Cllrs Mrs T J Capon, M R Carter, Mrs L M Cox, T E Goodwin, K J Gordon, A J Humphries, Mrs J A Mockford, P Robinson, S P Smith, Mrs C A Weston and Mrs B J Wilkins. (all Conservative)
There are 3 things to note from this. First of all, we obviously lost the vote, which is a great pity. Secondly, none of the Tory backbenchers who originally supported these proposals were willing to vote with us in the council chamber and defy their party whip. (But credit to Cllr Maddocks for at least abstaining) And thirdly – look at how many Conservatives didn’t even come to the meeting!
Another parking issue is residents’ parking schemes. The Lib Dem group would like schemes in roads where most residents ask for one. My colleague Chris Lumley has been researching this, because of the problems that people have in places like Creswick Avenue. Some other councils offer parking permits to residents for £20 per year or less. We would like to do something similar – but the leadership on the District Council are dead against it.
The other big subject at the moment is our Green Belt. One of the good things the government coalition has done is to scrap the housing targets that had been imposed under Labour. So instead of having to build 2785 homes in the Green Belt in the next 15 years, the District Council is allowed to set its own target.
However the Conservatives who run our District Council are sticking with the Labour figures. Their only concession is to allow building a bit more slowly – over 21 years instead of 15. This means that green field sites around Rayleigh, Rawreth and Hullbridge that we think are unsuitable are still likely to get developed.
We do need some more homes – especially for young adults in our area – but in the right places.
I am genuinely shocked that the same councillors, who were keen to blame Labour before the election, are still supporting the same figures now. This has caused some pretty bitter disagreements in the council chamber…..
I’ll finish by quoting something from the minutes of a recent Rayleigh Chamber of Trade meeting. One of the Conservative Town Councillors said “within the District Council there are people who are not on Rayleigh’s side.” He’s right!