Welcome to my blog

Des Brailey

Hello and welcome to my blog, where I hope to keep you informed of what is going on in North Devon, in my capacity as Council Leader.

I will aim to give you information on council news, projects and plans, as well as updates from other related organisations and partners.

If you have any questions or queries, please feel free to leave a comment on my blog or send me an email.

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November 2016 Update – Theatres, Devolution, Barnstaple Town and Waste Collection

It’s been a busy time here at North Devon Council recently, with lots happening and plans being made to further improve our services over coming months.

The new chapel at North Devon Crematorium has been open for a few months now and we are very pleased with this facility. I know that it is sad to lose a loved one however, we do hope to ease the burden by offering better surroundings for family and friends to say farewell.

At Barnstaple’s Pannier Market, we are trying to help our market traders by requesting that the doors to the market are closed at night. This would help traders to be able to set up quicker in the morning and cut out the anti-social behaviour that takes place in the Pannier Market during the evenings. This results in a lot of damage, often running into hundreds of pounds. To mitigate this and save the tax payer money we want to close the market in the evenings and we can then concentrate on making refurbishments.

We continue to finalise our sale of the two theatres; the Queens Theatre in Barnstaple and the Landmark in Ilfracombe. Once completed the Theatres Trust will take responsibility for the two theatres and they will have a very long lease. This will enable them to move forward and hopefully attract money that councils are not permitted to attract because of regulations which prevent local authorities from receiving certain outside funding.

Devolution – we are among 17 local authorities across Devon and Somerset who are asking the government for more powers locally. It is good that one year on we are still talking to each other and working hard together. Whether more powers will be devolved is questionable currently because with the change of minister following the summer reshuffle at central government. Nevertheless we are now speaking mostly as one voice and that will be a powerful voice for our region.

In April 2017 we will begin charging for green waste collections. I understand that whenever one looks to charge or increase charges the council inevitably comes under pressure from some quarters. Originally, Prime Minister Blair’s government gave some funding and a load of green bins to our council, along with many other councils. These were rolled out and the green bin collection began in around 2002. This is not a statutory requirement, in other words the council does not have to carry out this service. By law, black bin waste has to be collected, but not green waste. Our government grant has been reduced by nearly £4million and this means we can no longer afford to collect green waste without making a charge. Therefore, it is with sadness that we must out of necessity introduce a charge next year. Of course, households do not have to use the service, it will be optional and to use the facility it will cost £36 for a full year.

The refugee situation is shortly to come to the council’s Executive for debate and then to our full council, for no doubt further debate. There are always two sides to any story and it will be interesting to see how this moves forward.

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February Update, Devolution Document

The devolution draft document has now been passed to district councillors and all parishes. It will go to the Full Council to take a view on it. I note there are a few political animals who perhaps do not understand the process we are engaging with. Previously, the council was asked to participate prior to 2015. However, the then leader decided not to go forward. This would be disastrous today, because the cliché “if you’re not in it, you can’t win it” is now very true.

When we started the process it was possible to have a firm veto. This has now changed, the minister has said if a council does not want to participate, this is not to hold up the process and other councils must move forward without the council that has decided to withdraw. Clearly, this would be a foolhardy position to take. Therefore, I have been engaged in the meetings to assist formulating a plan.

While the initial document will not drill down to individual town and village requirements, this will come later. What the document is doing is setting out a plan for the Heart of the South West, which includes most of Somerset and all of Devon, for our growth plans for the years ahead. These high level ambitions set out that we will grow the economy by £4bn, create 163,000 new jobs, build 179,000 new homes, increase skills and wage levels, support health and wellbeing, between now and 2031.

To obtain a stronger voice, we have formed an alliance with Exmoor National Park and Torridge District Council and formulated a plan for our area. Working out more detailed priorities for northern Devon will come later. However, we have been able to get a road and rail programme into the document. We now have to see if the minister will allocate funding, so that we (as a body) can then obtain extra money for our area here in northern Devon.

There is a long way to go and we are in our infancy, with many hurdles to jump before we can get benefit here. Of course the sceptics will always want to knock any attempt to help our area and look at negatives that are not necessarily there but are politically expedient in their eyes. However, I am very optimistic about the outcome and will work hard to achieve what is best for North Devon.

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Christmas Greetings from Sunny Brynsworthy!

May I take this opportunity to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Devolution has played a part in our lives at North Devon District as I previously highlighted in the my piece on 4th December. Our resent settlement from Central Government has resulted in a reduction of £750,000 which amounts to a 15% cut to our budget. As we were aware that the cuts could be anything from 10% to 15%, we have reviewed informally how we would deal with this.

With a cut of this kind, one can hardly expect a council to absorb this year on year without taking measures to reduce the impact. Therefore, we will need to consider how we supply services, especially non-mandatory ones, as well as discretionary grants.

No decisions have yet been made on any of this, with the challenges to first be considered by the Executive and then full Council. However, our priority will be to maintain our front line service and continue to offer the best possible service for North Devon. I will write more on this in the New Year.

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Christmas Roundup

Yet another month slips by as we move into the magical time that is Christmas. During the last 3 weeks things have moved on apace. One of the concerns for our council is that of the Housing Bill which is currently going through Parliament. The problems centre on affordable housing. Fortunately, I have had tremendous support form our MP Peter Heaton-Jones, I have passed a series of questions through him for the Housing Minister Brandon Lewis MP. Following Full Council we agreed to send a formal letter with our concerns to the Minister with Torridge and ourselves cosignatories. Clarity is needed around the issue of starter homes and affordable homes. In addition the starter homes costs, we need to know that these are truly affordable for first time buyers. Both Torridge and North Devon are short of brown field sites, these are sites that have previously been built on and our now considered appropriate to reuse as building land. Therefore we need some help here from the government to ensure that our two rural areas and other rural that don’t have brown field sites can be assisted. I will write more about this when we have more clarity from the Minister.

Devolution, I have been working with other council leaders across the Heart of The Southwest of Devon and Somerset to produce a set of proposals to present to Government for our Government to consider devolving more power to the local areas. The submission should be presented to the Government in late January. The Government will then review our request and advise how powers may be devolved provided they accept the contents of the submission.  Naturally there will be more information when the bid has been considered by Government.

May I take this opportunity to wish readers a very Happy Christmas and the very best of fortune in 2016.

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Update 9 November 2015

November started with a very useful meeting with the Leader and Deputy Leader of Mid Devon District Council to discuss joint working on Building Control, Payroll and our Information Technology systems.

On Friday 6 November, I was fortunate to be able to take part in the young people’s Remembrance Day commemoration. It was good to see so many schools turn out, especially as the weather was not that kind. However, the children were wonderful and performed the wreath laying ceremonies with aplomb.

Sunday 8 November saw the annual Barnstaple Town Council’s memorial ceremony and parade. This was a very fitting tribute to help us all remember those who have fallen in past wars in the 20th and 21st centuries. The Royal Marines as always were splendidly turned out, as were all the Cadets, Cubs, Guides and Beavers and Brownies. I was so pleased to witness so many people coming together to commemorate this occasion – there were indeed hundreds of people in attendance and it is fitting to say thank you to all who made an effort right across North Devon.

Des Brailey - Armistice Day

 

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A look back over the last few weeks

The summer is well and truly behind us now and autumn has set in, although as I write, we are enjoying an Indian summer.

September started with a very worthwhile meeting with the Federation of Small Businesses. Our small businesses are exceptionally important to North Devon, as we have hundreds of businesses that help our economy and add value to our area. Our council will help wherever it is practical to do so.

At the very end of August we met with the District Leaders of Devon and Somerset and we agreed to work together to form the Heart of the South West. This was followed by an agreement and a letter to the Minister of Local Government, Gregg Clarke MP, to give notice that we would like to form a combined authority. The objective of this is to obtain more influence for our area to help with the regeneration and economy for the South West. We are now awaiting the response from the minister.

As a council we are reviewing our priorities so that we can set the scene for the future here in North Devon. There are a lot of issues with little funding available. However, we intend to do our best with the resources we have.

Our local fair in Barnstaple has come and gone, as has the carnival once again. It was good to be able to have the fair here and to continue with hundreds of years of tradition.

I was privileged to be asked to a farewell gathering at Chivenor to say goodbye and thanks to A Flight 22 Squadron who operate the yellow Sea King helicopter. It is sad to see them go. I wish every success to both serving members of the Royal Air Force and their civilian counterparts.

We have a new Town Centre Manager for Barnstaple who is exceptionally enthusiastic and will, I am sure, do a first-class job. She is busy now trying to arrange Christmas with the local traders. This is no easy task because there is very little funding. However, my colleagues and I wish Hannah well in the new post.

During the last month I have also had meetings with South Molton Town Council and with Ilfracombe Regeneration Board, both with some positive outcomes and more of that at a later date.

While I have been at several meetings over the period, I have also singled out the meeting with North Devon Theatres Trust, which runs the theatres on our behalf. We meet bi-monthly to discuss any issues, with most focusing on the buildings, which require a considerable amount of maintenance.

I also meet with the Pannier Market traders, looking at ways to help improve the market. One will no doubt understand that this is a very important market and an historic building that we need to ensure is preserved in the appropriate way. Once again, the building is old and needs a lot of TLC, so I will continue to look at this.

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Roundup – 7 September 2015

As many will now be aware, the Oliver Buildings have currently been listed. This will be met with mixed views I am sure. My take on this is that for the developer to have a really good design structure on Anchorwood Bank, the Oliver Buildings may just look out of place. We’ll see.

I have had discussion with Devon County Council about the road layout on Seven Brethren, I have noticed that traffic backs up trying to get into and out of Lidl and into and out of Halfords if there are right turns involved. My suggestion has been to have a one-way system in place. However, this will stimulate debate and there are other views like having another exit from the Lidl car park onto the leisure centre side of the area. Not sure what you think?

The new road layout at the Stones has caused some confusion. If one is coming down the hill from Sticklepath you need to be aware of the changes – and if you are going left, stay in the inside lane. If you are heading for the town, you will need the centre lane and to Seven Brethren it’s the outer lane. It is the middle and outer lanes that have caused some difficulty. Please be careful.

The recent flooding on the Stones side of the Taw Bridge caused chaos a couple of weeks ago. I have been assured that the drains will be cleaned out prior to the heavy winter period. We will monitor this in the time ahead.

Finally, the council is being consulted on plans for the future of community hospitals across northern Devon. The council has serious concerns about the proposals and how the consultation is being carried out. We will be monitoring the situation closely to ensure the community is not adversely affected by the outcome.

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