14 Jul 2015

My year at St Albans Council - annual report

Here's a summary of what I've been up to in the last 12 months in my role as District Councillor for St Peter's ward in St Albans - the only Green councillor on the Council

Full Council meetings

In July 2014, I supported Labour’s motion for Council to examine the idea of the Council and its contractors paying the Living Wage. This issue has rumbled on, continually delayed by the Tories. Just last week the Tories again set up yet another sub committee to look at the issue, following on from George Osborne’s announcement about a National Living Wage in the Budget.

I supported a motion in favour of a local levy on supermarkets to help local retailers, but this was not successful.

In the December budget debate I got an amendment passed that agreed up to £200kfor solar car parks (solar panels on car shelters, spread across council-owned car parks), plus £5,500 for an online budget simulator to encourage the public to get involved in how their money is spent. The Council has done some work so far on the solar car parks, and I’ve continued to talk to council officers about it, but nothing concrete has happened yet. If it does happen it will be possibly the first Council scheme of its kind in the country. In the meantime, some of the money I secured for renewable energy in previous budgets has been spent on features at the new Batchwood Sports Centre, including solar panels, wind-driven air conditioning and low-energy technology.

In February I got a motion passed at Full Council to explore whether St Albans Council could get involved with the government’s Syrian Vulnerable Persons RelocationScheme. Several unitary and metropolitan councils have used this scheme to get government money to help house a few Syrian refugee families. If this happened in St Albans we’d be the first district council to do it. I’ve since had two meetings with council officers to take this forward. The last one was quite encouraging, and we are doing what we can to make this happen.

Local Services Scrutiny Committee

I spent another year on this committee, which can examine any aspect it chooses of the Council’s public services and local matters of interest. I’ve also sat on a number of working groups set up by this committee. Issues I’ve been involved with include:
-       helping set up a Bus Users Group
-       the Christmas Market and reform of the High Street Markets
-       how the Council distributes grants to local charities and voluntary groups
-       progress of the Green Ring cycle and walking path
-       the continuing failures of First Capital Connect and Govia
-       the new museum project, including taking a tour of the old town hall
-       changes to doorstep recycling
-       developing a Youth Council event for Local Democracy Week

City Neighbourhoods Committee

I’ve continued on this committee too, which is a relatively new body that acts like a parish council for the main part of St Albans that is not covered by parish councils. We’ve looked at parochial issues like:
-       St Albans Football Club’s licence
-       Coach parking at schools
-       the ramp into Clarence Park
-       St Albans Carnival
-       Allotments
-       And of course, public toilets

The committee has also introduced locality budgets for each ward in the centre of St Albans. For this first year this is £5,000 that the three ward councillors in each ward can decide to spend on whatever they like. In St Peters ward, we’ve allocated money for a planter in Albert Street, a bus shelter in Normandy Road and some cycle parking hoops – the kind that are fixed to lampposts.

Outside of committees

In my ward, I’ve:
-       called in various planning applications to committee, and leafleted groups of neighbours about some of them
-       helped residents with a noise complaint
-       had a meeting with the chair of Look! St Albans
-       been to Residents Association meetings
-       responded to parking consultations
-       spoken at the Rotary Club
-       got some illegal advertising taken down in London Road
-       got some yellow lines painted in Lattimore Road to stop dangerous parking
-       helped a family fleeing domestic violence to get temporary housing
-       helped a local company install the district’s first electric taxi charging station in Adelaide Street
-       helped residents in Sopwell Lane clear an overgrown green space so they can put it to some use for the community

St Claire’s

The biggest local issue for me this year has been St Claire’s. This former nursing home in Church Crescent is owned by Hightown Housing Association. Hightown agreed with the Council to create plans to turn it into a 16-room facility in which the Council could house temporarily homeless single people. There was initially very little consultation, and a lot of local people got very upset about the idea. For me this has meant nine months of many many emails, meetings with Hightown, residents and Council officers – trying to get answers on what is being proposed, whether it’s what tenants want and need, and whether the deal with Hightown gives the Council good value for money.

One of the Council’s most important duties is to help people who need somewhere to live. But there’s a right way and a wrong way of doing that, and St Claire’s has been a fine example of how to get it wrong.

There have also been problems with the ‘guardians’ who are occupying the property while it’s empty. Hightown has just submitted a second planning application, and I’ve written a note about this to inform residents, that we have distributed to streets in the area.

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