Surrey Wildlife Trust budget plan must be released

Greens called for Surrey County Council and Surrey Wildlife Trust to release the budget plan and vision for Surrey today.

This followed meetings at County Hall where concerned residents sought reassurances over the future of the Trust, its resources and the implications of Surrey County Council withdrawing its funding.

County Councillor Jonathan Essex said:

“Councillors and residents need to see the full budget plan for Surrey Wildlife Trust, so we can assess the impact that the County Council’s withdrawal of funding will have.

“We need to see the plan to judge whether Surrey Wildlife Trust has the resources to invest in the long-term future of the countryside, and how we can improve the management of our natural resources with less money. Involving the public is vital if the County Council is serious about working with all partners to preserve Surrey’s countryside and enhance it”.

Green campaigner Rob Jarrett said,

“I played on the North Downs as a child and we have to do all we can to protect our countryside for future generations.

“I am particularly concerned about the reduction in the number of rangers from 16 to 10 and the loss of capacity and experience that will follow.”

 

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Surrey Greens call for waste disposal charges to be dropped

Green county councillor Jonathan Essex has repeated his call for Surrey County Council to scrap its unpopular charges for disposal of waste at Community Recycling Centres.

This follows a meeting at County Hall where a petition signed by more than 7,000 people calling for the charges to be scrapped was discussed with the Cabinet Member for Environment and Highways.

The Chief Executive of Keep Britain Tidy had previously commented on the charges: “It’s got to be easy for people to do the right thing otherwise we will see an increase in fly-tipping”.

Cllr Essex said today:

“These fees are counter productive and risk costing the County Council more in the long run if people are dissuaded from maximising how much they reuse and recycle.

“The introduction of these charges has led to fewer people visiting the Community Recycling Centres as they are unwilling to pay the fees and thus the County Council is failing to meet its £1.5m income target, which will lead to further budget cuts elsewhere.

“This is a total false economy, which is why I am calling for the County Council to save money on waste disposal by making it easier for residents to recycle more instead”.

Notes:

Waste disposal to landfill and incineration costs Surrey County Council an average of ‎£110 per tonne.

The income from recycling (and reuse) is far higher when materials are carefully sorted, such as into separate paper, glass, plastics, food, wood and metal waste streams.

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Statement on Surrey Conservatives’ ‘gentleman’s deal’ with the Government

David Hodge, leader of Surrey County Council, told Conservative colleagues that he had reached a “gentleman’s agreement” with senior cabinet ministers that persuaded him to cancel a threatened 15% council tax rise.

According to media reports, in a secret recording of a Conservative group meeting on 7 February, Hodge revealed there had been a “series of conversations” with the communities secretary, Sajid Javid, and a meeting with the chancellor, Philip Hammond.

He apparently said he had struck a deal with the government before scrapping the proposed 15% council tax hike.

The prime minister has repeatedly denied giving a special deal. But on the recording, Councillor Hodge said he had written government assurances and recordings of talks.

Cllr Jonathan Essex said, “The situation here in Surrey shows this Government is failing to apply the Nolan principles, from the Chancellor down.

“If we are all in this together, then the contents of this sweetheart deal should be reflected in a better deal for ALL Councils in today’s Budget speech. The government has cut too deep into Council budgets and it is affecting Councils’ ability to provide frontline services up and down the UK.

“Integrity, transparency, fairness and openness should sit at the heart of government. This revelation exposes shady deals at the heart of the way the May government does business.”

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Green councillor calls for more affordable housing

On 9 February, Councillor Steve McKenna moved a Motion calling on Reigate & Banstead Borough Council to agree that publicly-owned sites should deliver higher levels of affordable housing than is required for the Borough as a whole.

The Motion also asked the Council’s new Property Company to invest in affordable housing.

See the Motion on the Council Agenda

As is the Council’s usual way, the Motion was referred to the Executive with no debate.

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Greens slam Surrey Conservatives’ budget cuts and secrecy

Commenting on the Conservative budget that was passed by Surrey County Council today, Cllr Jonathan Essex, Green County Councillor for Redhill East, said:

“Today’s budget debate was a sham, with the Conservatives choosing to suddenly drop their proposal for an unaffordable and unfair council tax rise of 15%. But no new money was announced, so perhaps they are just crossing their fingers and hoping that their Conservative colleagues in government will recommit to properly funding councils in the next few weeks. In the mean time, Conservatives have given themselves permission to make up to £123 million of cuts to council services.

“Tory councillors have failed to share their plans for £93 million secret cuts. Failing to share any details as to which services will be affected is an appalling dereliction of their duty to act on behalf of the residents who elected us. Plus this budget still has a £30 million black hole – still completely undefined, which needs to be filled.

“The Conservative Government needs to come forward with additional money to properly fund vital council services across the country, which will also mean that Surrey’s finances are sustainable in the long-term. We can then shift from an agenda of austerity and secret council cuts to local government being freed to focus instead on improving quality of life for all of our residents.”

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Surrey County Council plans 15% council tax hike

Surrey County Council wants to raise its Council Tax by 15% in the next financial year. The proposal will be tabled at the annual budget-setting meeting on 7 February.

Any Council Tax increase of more than 2% must be put to residents to vote. So if this is agreed, a referendum will take place on 4 May, alongside the local elections.

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Tackling homelessness locally – our response

Reigate and Banstead Borough Council recently consulted on its proposed new Homelessness Strategy.

The Council’s review highlights two underlying problems that are making homelessness worse in Reigate and Banstead:

  • increased termination of private rented tenancies, and
  • rising rent prices and a persistent lack of affordable homes.

We responded, welcoming the measures set out in their proposed strategy, including the reduced use of bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodation.

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The Autumn Statement: my response

I had hopes for the Autumn Statement. The Local Government Association and Surrey County Council had talked up the massive funding gap to local councils and social care, which is making 4% a year council tax rise the new normal. And the UK government had, just a week ago ratified the Paris Climate Change Agreement. I heard the words ‘fiscal reset’ and ‘new chancellor’ and hoped this might indicate a change of direction in response to the concerns raised by Councils.

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Let’s buy the Belfry: a chance to change Redhill for the better

Redhill’s Belfry Shopping Centre is up for sale. I wrote to the Council Leader, Cllr Vic Broad, proposing that the Council should buy it. I’d be interested to hear residents’ views on this – please get in touch and let me know what you think.

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Surrey County Council unanimously supports Green Motion on restoration of mining sites

Surrey County Councillors voted unanimously to support a motion calling for high standards of restoration of mineral sites across the county.

The motion was tabled by Green County Councillor Jonathan Essex, who represents Redhill East.

In introducing the motion, Cllr Essex said,

“Surrey has lots of quarries, active and historic.

“National planning policy requires quarrying to be considered as a temporary activity, and sites to be restored afterwards to what they were before.

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