Lib Dems demand action over bins fiasco in Gloucester

Gloucester Liberal Democrats are demanding the Conservative-run city council takes action over persistent poor performance by waste collection contractors Amey.

Lib Dem councillors have tabled a motion for debate at a meeting of the city council on July 12, which calls on the Conservative cabinet to sort out the recent problems that have hit Amey.

Around 2,000 tonnes of recycled waste – collected from outside residents’ homes – has disappeared amid allegations from a whistleblower that some has been sent to landfill.

The Lib Dems have previously described both Amey and the Conservative cabinet as “utterly useless” in their management of the waste collection service.

Councillor Richard Cook, the cabinet member for the environment, recently told the scrutiny committee that just over 2,000 tonnes of recyclable waste had gone missing with a market value of £246,000.

The controversy comes just months after a string of cancelled collections over the Christmas and New Year break.

Households saw recycling build up for days over the end-of-year period when civic chiefs and Amey decided the icy road conditions with snow were too risky for crews.

Lib Dem group leader Councillor Jeremy Hilton, who represents Kingsholm & Wotton, is moving the motion.

“The council has a multi-million pound streetcare contract with Amey PLC,” he said.

“It is unbelievable that 2,000 tonnes of household waste has just disappeared. The contractor Amey and the cabinet who oversee the contract need to sort out this problem.

“We are demanding that the cabinet member ups his game. He should be meeting Amey once a month rather than quarterly.”

Lib Dem deputy group leader Councillor Declan Wilson, who will second the motion, added:

“The loss of £246,000, which is the value of the lost 2,000 tonnes of recyclable waste, will have a negative impact on the council’s balance sheet.

“There is so much we could do to improve council services with a quarter of a million pounds. The Tory cabinet must do better.”

Ends…

Motion for debate

“This council records its dissatisfaction with the household waste collection services operated by the council’s contractor Amey PLC.

This council notes that 2,000 tonnes of recyclable waste is unaccounted for with a market value of £246,000 and that there are stories of recyclable household waste being inappropriately sent to landfill.

This council also raises concerns about the quality of the client side management of the streetcare contract overseen by the cabinet.

This council, therefore, calls upon the cabinet member for the environment to up his game and increase the frequency of meetings he holds with Amey PLC from current quarterly meetings to monthly meetings until the matter of poor performance by Amey PLC is resolved.”

Proposed by Jeremy Hilton
Seconded by Declan Wilson

 

Empty offices leave public services £700,000 short in lost business rates

Isabel Brazil & Jeremy Hilton chat with 69 London Road in background

Gloucester City Council has been unable to collect nearly £700,000 in business rates because two office blocks in Gloucester have been laid empty for years.

The HM Revenue & Customs reduced the rateable value on 67 and 69 London Road to zero meaning the owners, Pall Mall Estates, do not have to pay business rates on either property.

It is understood that HMRC reduced the valuation to zero on the August 29, 2011.

Before the reduction the rateable value of both properties stood at £269,500 and meant that business rates were worth £118,732 per year to Gloucester City Council.

The properties were subject to a debate at the city council in May led by Liberal Democrat councillors Jeremy Hilton and Isabel Brazil, who represent Kingsholm Ward.

Their motion was passed unanimously calling for the buildings to be acquired for residential redevelopment, with a Compulsory Purchase Order being used if a reasonable purchase terms could not be agreed.

Councillor Hilton said: “The owners stripped out the services within the buildings a few years ago. This probably helped them secure a zero rating on their business rates.

“The loss of £700,000 in business rates since 2011 is scandalous. I understand the owners have had offers from potential buyers but turned them down.

“If they had to pay business rates on the office blocks they may have sold them by now.

“Private householders aren’t allowed to hang on to empty properties for year after year and not pay any council tax.

“Why should wealthy corporations get away with not paying their fair share of taxes? The system is corrupt.

Councillor Isabel Brazil said: “The buildings are run down and can no longer be easily let.

“The owners shouldn’t be allowed to sit on a property asset for year after year and not pay tax on them.

“The £700,000 lost in business rates could of been spent on supporting public services.”

Vanishing council to lock front doors once a month

Liberal Democrat leader, Cllr. Jeremy Hilton has responded to the decision of the Conservative controlled Gloucester City Council to close its customer advice reception and contact centre to the public on the last Wednesday of every month. The first closure will be on the 30th of May.

Cllr. Hilton has described the decision made by Cllr. David Norman as another example of the ‘vanishing council’.

Cllr.Jeremy Hilton (Lib Dem – Kingsholm & Wotton) said:

“Under Conservative control the city council continues to contract and services to the community diminish. It has certainly become a ‘vanishing council’.

“Last year the cabinet cut the hours the reception was open every day. It now closes at 3pm rather than 5pm as it once did. In future the doors will be closed once a month for a whole day.

“Residents arriving at the council on the last Wednesday of the month will be shocked and annoyed to see the doors locked to the council offices. If they phone the contact centre they will find their call will be unanswered. They will be frustrated they cannot speak to a person face to face to help solve their enquiry.

“Due to staff cuts imposed by the Tories, the council’s customer service team is overstretched and no longer has the resilience to cope with the demands placed on it.

“A good council would keeps its customer reception and contact centre open every working day. It should be able to organise staff training without locking the front doors.

“This vanishing council is letting the people of Gloucester down. It’s customer advice reception and contact centre should be open every day Monday to Friday.”

Any new court should be in Gloucester city centre, say Lib Dem’s

Jeremy Hilton outside the Crown Court building in Gloucester

There are calls for a new civil justice centre to be built in Gloucester city centre rather than in Quedgeley.

Liberal Democrat group leader Councillor Jeremy Hilton said that if a new crown, county and magistrates court complex was to be built in the city then it should be in a central location, rather than at the Waterwells business park.

There is now only one magistrates court operating in Gloucestershire, which is in Cheltenham, after Gloucester and Stroud’s shut in 2015 as part of a nationwide closure programme.

Councillor Hilton spoke out after it emerged that Conservative MPs Richard Graham and Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown have met recently with Chief Constable Rod Hansen and Police and Crime Commissioner Martin Surl to discuss lobbying the Government for a new crown and magistrates court next to Gloucestershire Police HQ.

“There is no doubt that Gloucester needs a new court complex. Gloucester’s magistrates court was rather dilapidated for several years before it finally closed,” Councillor Hilton, who represents Kingsholm Ward, said.

“Gloucester’s crown court is a lovely 19th century building and a proper old courtroom but it is also in poor condition and needs updating.

“If is justice is to be served then it needs to be accessible to everyone from across Gloucestershire.

“With the new court located in the city centre it would be close to the bus and rail stations and also have good parking facilities.”

Councillor Hilton added: “A potential site for the new court building could be as part of the Kings Quarter development.

“A new court in Gloucester could also mean that high-profile and more serious cases are dealt with in the city rather than people having to travel to Bristol.”

Lib Dem councillors want to use compulsory purchase powers to acquire 67/69 London Road

Jeremy Hilton with the run down buildings on London Road in the background

Liberal Democrat councillors for Kingsholm & Wotton, Jeremy Hilton & Isabel Brazil have issued a challenge to the Tory run city council to acquire 67/69 London Road for a housing development.

The two former office buildings on London Road have remained empty for many years and they are deteriorating and becoming eyesores within an important conservation area.

The annual meeting of the city council (21st May) will debate a motion proposed by Jeremy Hilton & seconded by Isabel Brazil calling on the council to acquire the dilapidated buildings for housing.

Cllr Hilton said: “Local residents are fed up with these empty buildings being an eyesore on London Road. Our motion hopefully, will get things moving.”

Cllr. Isabel Brazil agreed: “The buildings are run down and can no longer be easily let. The draft city plan suggests at least 30 residential units could be provided on the site. The council should now buy the properties for a housing project.”

The motion from the Kingsholm & Wotton councillors calls for compulsory purchase powers to be used if reasonable terms cannot be agreed.

Jeremy Hilton concluded: “The owners have failed look after the properties, we cannot allow them to continue to remain empty for year after year.

“The council must now buy them for a new housing project, using some of the £80m it set aside for such developments. If a negotiated purchase fails the council must use compulsory purchase powers to acquire the site.”

Ends….

Text of motion lodged with city council (dated 1st May 2018 11:12 am)

“This council notes that both 67 and 69 London Road, former offices, have been empty for a number of years and that these buildings are continuing to deteriorate.

They have become an eyesore on London Road, which is a conservation area and also one of the main routes into the city centre.

This council also notes that the combined site is listed in the draft city plan as being suitable for residential development.

This council, therefore, asks the leader to use city council resources to acquire 67 and 69 London Road for a residential regeneration project.

This council also agrees that the city council should use compulsory purchase powers to acquire the site if reasonable purchase terms cannot be agreed by negotiation with the current landowner.”

Proposed by Jeremy Hilton

Seconded by Isabel Brazil

Air Pollution report published

Tackling air pollution in Gloucestershire from vehicle emissions is set to be an important priority for Gloucestershire County Council. Today the report of the air pollution task group, chaired by Cllr. Jeremy Hilton (Lib Dem Kingsholm & Wotton), is published.

According to Public Health England, poor air quality is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK, and the Royal College of Physicians has estimated that poor air quality is responsible for 40,000 premature deaths in the UK annually.

Exposure to air pollution can affect health by contributing to the development of cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, and respiratory diseases, and can limit an individual’s quality of life.

Cllr. Jeremy Hilton said: “Public bodies in Gloucestershire need to do much more to reduce vehicle air pollution. We have a number of poor air quality hot spots in the county. Nitrogen Dioxides and particulate matter from vehicle emissions is a hazard to everyone’s health in the county. We have to take action to reduce these pollutants.

“I shall be taking the report of the air pollution task group to the Environment & Community Scrutiny Committee next week, where I hope it is approved, before it is sent on to the county cabinet on the 6th of June.”

The report has a dozen recommendations that include the establishment of a Gloucestershire Air Quality Partnership to oversee future work. This will be helped by better air quality monitoring with a focus on particulate matter. Changes to planning policies are suggested. Highway interventions are recommended to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution.

The task group wishes to encourage the greater use of electric vehicles and also to set stronger targets to increase journeys by bicycle, on foot and public transport. It wants to see the use low emissions buses etc.

Cllr Hilton concluded: “This report is just a start. I would like to that everyone who came along to the workshop we held in January and to the members of the air pollution task group that helped draft the report.”

Business rates windfall to support cultural and community projects – Lib Dem’s

Liberal Democrats on the city council will propose amendments to the council budget on Thursday (22nd Feb) concentrating on cultural and community activities.

They will use a third of the unallocated £800,000 expected windfall from the 100% business rates retention pilot to fund five key projects.

In total the Lib Dems will suggest additional spending of £270,000. This will not require a further increase in the council tax above the 3% rise set by the Tory cabinet.

Among the proposals from the Lib Dems is to hold a Gloucester Narrow Boat Festival at the Docks, spending £10,000 installing drinking water fountains in public areas and doubling the amount of money city councillors allocate to community projects in their wards.

The Lib Dems also plan to tackle the backlog of cataloguing artefacts held by the museum service and start a fund to invest in new public art for Gloucester.

Councillor Jeremy Hilton, Lib Dem group leader, said:

“We are concentrating our amendments on community and cultural projects. We plan to wisely use part of the expected windfall from the business rates retention pilot to deal with the 16,000 historic artefacts that have not received basic cataloguing by the museums service. We will also allocate £100,000 for new public art. Something about the Siege of Gloucester or Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians would be top of my list. Liberal Democrat plans would not increase the council tax further.

Councillor Declan Wilson, Lib Dem deputy group leader and finance spokesman, added:

“The Lib Dem proposals will see a real investment in Gloucester’s arts and heritage. A new narrow boat festival at the Docks is in our plans as is the installation of drinking water fountains in public spaces. We also plan to boost grants for community activities around the city over the next two years by £40,000. We hope that both Tory and Labour councillors will support us.”

800 homes empty in Gloucester

Jeremy Hilton campaigning to resolve the empty homes problem

Nearly 800 homes in Gloucester are empty, research by the Liberal Democrats has revealed. The figures, uncovered through Freedom of Information requests, show that there are 791 homes across the city that have been empty for six months or more.

Of these, 299 had been empty for two years or more, 95 for five years or more, and 37 have stood empty for at least 10 years in Gloucester.

Across the country more than 11,000 homes have been lying empty for longer than a decade, the Lib Dem figures show.

Conservative-controlled Gloucester City Council has failed to make use of Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMO) in the last five years – powers used by local authorities to take over properties that have been empty for at least six months.

This is despite the fact that some people in Gloucester have spent Christmas without a permanent home – living in temporary accommodation.

Nationally only 19 of the 247 councils in England and Wales that responded had used an EDMO in the past five years. Of these only six had used one in the past year.

Councillor Jeremy Hilton, the Liberal Democrat group leader on Gloucester City Council, said: “At a time when the homelessness crisis is worsening and more and more people are sleeping out in the cold on our streets, it is a scandal that so many homes locally are sitting empty.

“These homes could be turned into affordable places to live for those that need it in Gloucester.

“The Government needs to urgently review the current system which is clearly not working and Gloucester City Council needs to be given the powers and resources to bring empty homes back into use.

“It is shameful that Gloucester City Council has failed to use existing powers to end this scandal. People have spent Christmas without a permanent home because of Conservative inaction and ineptitude.”

Councillor David Brown, the Liberal Democrat housing spokesman on Gloucester City Council, added: “These desperately needed reforms must form part of a wider package to tackle the housing crisis, including building more homes on unused public sector land and clamping down on land-banking.”

Time to sack Amey and bring the streetcare service back in-house says Hilton

Jeremy Hilton with a food caddy full of food waste remaining uncollected by Amey

The Liberal Democrat leader on Gloucester City Council, Jeremy Hilton (Kingsholm & Wotton) has today called for an early end of the council’s streetcare contract with Amey PLC. The fifteen year contract is due to end on 31st March 2022 and is valued at £5.7m per year. Amey are contracted to provide street cleaning, grounds maintenance, recycling and refuse collection services.

The call by Jeremy Hilton to end the contract early, comes as councillors email inboxes have been flooded with complaints from residents about missed bin collections over the Christmas period. This follows on from a similar problem with bins not being collected last year due to insufficient drivers being employed by Amey. The quality of the street cleaning and grounds maintenance services is also problematic.

The streetcare service will be discussed at the Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Monday 8th January and Jeremy Hilton will call for an ending of the contract earlier rather later and for all options to be considered, including bringing the service back in-house with a direct labour organisation.

Previously, Richard Cook the cabinet member in charge has described the contract as the worst he has ever seen.

Jeremy Hilton said: “It is time that the administration took action and cancelled the contract because of poor performance. The sooner we reorganise the streetcare services the better. I favour serious consideration to bringing the service back in-house with council employing and managing staff directly rather than through a third party. We have had a number of failures on the refuse collection service in the last twelve months, grounds maintenance is inadequate and street cleaning in Gloucester is just not good enough.”

We must save art panels from the former BHS store

Jeremy Hilton with the art panels in the background

The future of the three concrete art panels on the front of the former BHS shop in Eastgate Street is under question. A planning application by Reef Estates to remodel the shop front has been deposited with the city council. It will include the removal and relocation of the three concrete art panels currently on the front wall of the store.

Liberal Democrat councillor, Jeremy Hilton has written to the council asking for the art panels to be safely removed and relocated.

Art panel depicting goods on sale

Cllr. Hilton said:

“It is most important that the three concrete art panels are preserved. The city council and Reef Estates must agree on how the panels are to be removed and relocated before planning permission is granted. We don’t want a bodge job being done.

“The three concrete art panels are about 45 years old and depict the goods on sale in the shops at the time. This is good public art and very much of its time. They must be retained and displayed in the city centre.

“The applicants have suggested relocating the art panels to Clarence Street, which I believe is acceptable. However, the art panels should be displayed and illuminated to show them off in the best way possible. I would also like to see an interpretation board nearby explaining how they were made including the details of the original artists.”

Similar art panels have appeared on other BHS stores around the country in towns such as Stockport and Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.

Artists Joyce Pallot & Henry Collins

Jeremy Hilton added:

“I believe Gloucester panels are the work of Joyce Pallot (1912-2004) and Henry Collins (1910-1994) – two artist/designers, who along with John Nash, established the Colchester Art Society, during the 1930s.

“They never worked on the site itself, but used a regular contractor Hutton’s Builders Ltd of Colchester, who cast the panels. Their work must be preserved.”