I'm proposing an amendment at the Full Council meeting, at which the year's budget and Corporate Plan will be debated and voted on. The amendment includes 12 separate changes and new measures, from exploring ways to boost local businesses, to informing residents when local trees are to be felled.
Last year I pushed through a similar amendment. Some of those measures have already taken shape, such as expanding the size of St Albans' Farmers Market, and investing in solar panels for Council-owned buildings.
As the Council's ruling group remains a minority, I have the opportunity again this year to make a significant contribution to the Council's programme for the coming months. I have consulted widely on what measures I could realistically include, especially in the current climate of cuts. Some of my proposals cost nothing, some of them are cheap, and some actually make money for the Council.
Our Green/Independent group amendment includes exploring ways to create a new Youth Centre, and for the Council to use more local businesses as suppliers. It also calls for a cycling action plan, more use of social media to improve customer service, and for residents to be informed when there's an application to fell a local tree.
We're also looking for more investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency, where such investment would pay back over time. We want help for schools to set up their own solar power investment projects, and a new Council group to address the challenge of climate change. We also propose a new community planting scheme, where local groups can apply for trees or shrubs to be planted in their local area.
Here are the details:
Changes to the Corporate Plan
(i) One change of wording as follows:
Under 'Planning for the future' Change 'Opposing the over-expansion of Luton Airport...' to 'Opposing the expansion of Luton Airport...'
(ii) One additional 'five year' project as follows:
Under 'Delivering for young people and families' Section: 'How we will deliver this over the next five years' Add: 'Working towards creating a Youth Centre in an area of St Albans identified as having a high concentration of young people.'
(iii) Six additional priority projects as follows:
Under 'Attracting and developing business and the visitor economy' Add: 'Explore ways to give more opportunities to local business in Council procurement, if necessary using the Sustainable Communities Act to ask for a change in the law. To report to Cabinet by November 2013.'
Under 'Enabling and delivering transport improvements' Add: 'Work with St Albans Cycle Campaign and other groups to review and update the council's cycling strategy and create an action plan to implement it.'
Under 'Keeping the District cleaner, greener, healthier and safer' Add: 'Work with the district's schools and their PTAs to set up solar power projects, to produce savings and electricity for the schools.'
Under 'Keeping the District cleaner, greener, healthier and safer' Add: 'Examine the business case for recruiting an energy efficiency manager, at least partly self-financing, working across Council departments and properties to manage projects and address issues such as billing and meters.'
Under 'Keeping the District cleaner, greener, healthier and safer' Add: 'Take action to address the challenge of climate change and to meet our carbon reduction targets within the Council and across the district, initially by setting up a task and finish group to identify and pursue suitable projects.'
Under 'Ensuring value for money and excellent customer service' Add: 'Develop Council's use of social media, to broaden access to our services, reduce our response times, and reduce our costs of letter-writing and phone calls.'
Changes to the budget
Energy/water efficiency Further insulation and other measures to reduce energy and water consumption in Council property, beyond the 2012 budget measures. Spend up to £50,000 to be paid back in 3 years or less.
Renewable energy Further investment in renewable electricity and renewable heat (biomass, solar thermal, air source, anaerobic digestion). Spend up to £500,000 to be paid back in 10 years or less.
Tree-felling information Revenue budget to inform residents in the immediate vicinity of a neighbour who applies to fell a tree, to give them a chance to object. Inform the neighbours who are most affected. Up to £3,000 from existing budgets or reserves.
Community planting A budget that community groups such as Residents Associations can apply for, to provide trees/shrubs/flowerbeds in their local area. Limited fund for a trial year. Up to £20,000 from existing budgets or reserves.