The district council’s annual budget-setting process is nearly complete. I will be at meetings to discuss the budget papers tonight and on Thursday before the full council meets to debate and agree the final version on Tuesday 16 February.
Two years ago Liberal Democrat councillors unsuccessfully argued for a lower council tax rise than the Conservatives set. We would have argued for a freeze in the council tax last year if it hadn’t been for uncertainty about the money the council lost by investing in an Icelandic owned back (the final figure turned out to be £700,000).
This year the budget has been prepared on the assumption of a 2.5% increase in council tax, but I was pleased to see that tonight’s papers also show the implications of a smaller 1.5% increase. They demonstrate that a lower council tax rise is possible without putting the council’s medium term financial strategy at risk – exactly as the Lib Dems have argued previously. I hope the Conservatives on the committee tonight choose the lower increase, and I think they should look to go lower if possible given the financial pressure that many residents are under.
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The timetable for the Epping Parking Review has slipped again. I now understand that the Traffic Regulation Orders (official notices from the county council advertising the formal proposals) will probably be published in early February. As Janet and I reported in the most recent Epping Focus leaflet, the main way residents will know about this is from notices attached to lamposts.
Residents will be able to inspect the full proposals by looking at Essex County Council’s website or at Epping Library.
The links on the left of this page give outline details of what we expect to happen.
Eagle eyed pedestrians using Cottis Lane will have spotted a small notice outside Club 195. It advertises the fact that the club is applying for a new licence and that ‘Interested Parties’ can comment on the application by writing to the district council. (Click on the photo to read the full text.)
The district council revoked Club 195’s licence in October because of concerns about crime and disorder. The closure seems to have led to a reduction in late night noise, litter and disorder in the middle of Epping and has been generally welcomed by most (but not all) residents I have spoken to.
The new application is for:
the provision of regulated entertainment and late night refreshment at the premises on Monday to Saturday from 8 am until 2 am and an additional one hour on notable days.
I assume ‘notable days’ to mean special occasions such as New Years Eve. The previous licence allowed the club to open seven days a week from 11 am until 4 am. The main differences are therefore:
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I was able to make time on Friday afternoon to go for a good tramp around Epping and Coopersale’s frozen streets (and to drop off a final few Focus leaflets).
The effects of the snow are showing up in the form of at least one broken street sign and rapidly deteriorating road surfaces (it would have helped if those particular potholes had been repaired when they first appeared many weeks ago), which I have now reported.
I also did a circuit around Swaines Green and then later walked across the fields along the Essex Way to Coopersale. Wrapped up warmly and with the sun out it was a great feeling – which I appreciate is absolutely no consolation to anyone unable to venture out and therefore shivering at home.
The most impressive snowman I found lurked in Brickfield Road, complete with clementine nose and eyes of coal. More worrying were the two doors elsewhere that I knocked on to tell the inhabitants they had left their keys in their outside locks. Perhaps they had been rushing inside to get out of the cold.
Thankfully, despite predictions, there has been very little snowfall over Friday and Saturday, so the busy roads have been clear of snow. It’s a different story on the side streets.
Recycling and waste collection
The slight change in weather meant the refuse and recycling crews were able to make some collections on Friday but there are still roads that the 20 tonne trucks can’t safely manouvre down and some big piles of sacks awaiting collection as a result. Here’s hoping any snow we get today (Sunday) won’t settle.
The district council’s advice remains to put your rubbish out as normal and it will be collected eventually. Snow update information from the district council is here and should be updated on Monday.
It isn’t clear yet whether the county council will be able to do a full gritting run before the start of the new working week. Updates should appear on the county council’s website here.
A quick pointer to the district council’s snow update page, which is now being updated pretty regularly.
Waste and recycling collections
The bad news is that waste and recycling collections were suspended completely today because of accidents. (I dread to think how long it will now take to get back to normal. There are roads in Buckhurst Hill that haven’t received a wheelie bin collection since early December.)
However as a result our pavements are finally receiving some attention as waste collection staff have been made available to grit shopping centres and car parks. There’s been no specific mention of pavements leading to transport hubs or pavements near schools so I’ve followed this up.
At a Local Highways Panel meeting six weeks ago Essex County Council told us that it had record quantities of salt in store for this winter – far more than it actually expected to use. I was therefore concerned to learn that it is already cutting back on its gritting programme for the reasons set out here. That link also gives details of the roads that will still be treated.
In Epping the only road included is the High Road. This is really bad news for heavily used roads which are usually gritted like Lindsey Street, Station Road and Bower Hill, which could be treacherous by morning. The county council expects to be able to return to its usual gritting programme on Sunday evening.
The local media is covering the snow episode (I don’t think we can yet call it a crisis) assiduously. BBC Essex’s essential information page contains some useful links and should be authoritative about school closures. Plenty of news also at Everything Epping Forest and the Epping Forest Guardian.
Epping Forest District Council yesterday published this apology for delays to the waste collection service as a result of bad weather.
“The Council is very sorry for the difficulties which have arisen during the period 22 December 2009 through Christmas and the New Year period.”
Because of the combined effect of the revised Christmas collection calendar and the bad weather some people will go a month between recycling collections – which will not surprise anyone who has walked around local streets and seen the sacks piled high.
At Monday evening’s Cabinet meeting we were told that the other collections (food waste and residual waste) should now be more or less up to date. Unfortunately it looks likely that today’s snowfall could well cause further problems.
Of course the council’s priority at the moment must be to keep the refuse collection service running and collect as much of the missed rubbish as possible. Once this has happened we have been promised that a review will take place and any necessary lessons will be learnt.
Questions to answer include:
- What contingency plans existed?
- What is the division of responsibility between Epping Forest district council and its contractors, SITA?
- Was it possible to bring in any additional resources (equipment and/or people) especially when existing equipment failed?
- Why wasn’t it possible to provide up to date information on the website or telephone enquiry line between Christmas and the New Year?
No doubt there are plenty of others so feel free to suggest them to me. I’ve asked council officers to put this issue on the agenda of the next Scrutiny Committee so that councillors can take up residents’ concerns and contribute to the review.
I’ve created a new page dedicated to the Epping Parking Review. Essex County Council is due to publish its proposals for new parking restrictions in January. At the moment the page contains information about last summer’s consultation exercise. I will update the page with news of the county council’s response in due course.
At this time of year the rubbish collection dates shift around a bit to take account of the Bank Holidays. The revised collection dates are (normal collection date –> revised collection date):
- Friday 25 December –> Tuesday 29 December
- Monday 28 December –> Wednesday 30 December
- Tuesday 29 December –> Thursday 31 December
- Wednesday 30 December –> SATURDAY 2 January
- Thursday 31 December –> Monday 4 January
- Friday 1 January –> Tuesday 5 January
- Monday 4 January –> Wednesday 6 January
- Tuesday 5 January –> Thursday 7 January
- Wednesday 6 January –> Friday 8 January
- Thursday 7 January –> SATURDAY 9 January
- Friday 8 January –> Monday 11 January
- Monday 11 January –> Tuesday 12 January
- Tuesday 12 January –> Wednesday 13 January
- Wednesday 13 January –> Thursday 14 January
- Thursday 14 January –> Friday 15 January
- Friday 15 January –> SATURDAY 16 January
Back to normal on Monday 18 January.
Christmas trees can be left out for collection alongside the food and garden waste bin. (Cut it in half if it is more than three feet tall.)
There are usually also special arrangements after Christmas which permit the collection of side waste (i.e. rubbish left beside the wheelie bin). This allows for the volume of refuse generated by seasonal present-giving and consumption. No doubt the district council will publish details soon.
I enjoyed an unexpected night in last night because of the cancellation of the district council’s Cabinet meeting. The decision to abandon the meeting waas understandable given the state of Epping High Street at 5 pm and congestion on the local roads. I hope no-one turned up to watch the meeting from the public gallery and was disappointed that there was nothing to see. (The advantage of watching the meeting via webcast on the computer is there is no need to venture out in the cold!)
However the postponement means some important decisions have not been made, including some relating to the Gypsy and Traveller Development Plan Document, the council’s key objectives for 2010/11, and the potential move of some council services from the Langston Road Depot in Debden to Oakwood Hill. So I am pleased the cabinet will reconvene on 4 January to work its way through the 180-page agenda.
I was particularly pleased to see that the agenda included a recommendation to provide temporary cover for the council’s Town Centre Officer [PDF report here] post. This is a direct result of a motion put forward by the Liberal Democrat Group and proposed by my colleague Cllr Peter Spencer at November’s council meeting. I’m pleased to say the motion was supported by all parties. Our Town Centre Partnerships do their best to support traders and local businesses in the face of some tough economic conditions and they deserve the council’s support.
At the moment it looks as if tonight’s full council meeting will go ahead. The Gypsy and Traveller item will not be discussed (because the Cabinet needs to agree its recommendations first), but the Liberal Democrats have a motion on the agenda calling for action to respond to the poor Audit Commision report [PDF] published earlier in the month (which I referred to in passing here).