In this bulletin:
CLLR BRIDGET SMITH: Fix the water crisis or development may stop
MUST-READS: Our round-up of media and policy highlights for district councils
60 SECONDS WITH… Ian Fytche, Chief Executive, North Kesteven District Council
NOTICEBOARD: Essential diary dates and opportunities for you and your council
DCN EXECUTIVE BOARD UPDATE: What our leaders discussed on 11 January
PLEASE SHARE THIS NEWSLETTER WIDELY ACROSS YOUR COUNCIL
Fix the water crisis or development may stop
District councils cannot solve all the environmental problems that inhibit green growth
Cllr Bridget Smith, Vice Chair, District Councils’ Network; Leader, South Cambridgeshire District Council
Many councils are facing a serious water crisis similar to that in Cambridgeshire. Over abstraction from our rivers and the chalk aquifer which feeds our chalk streams, together with the impact of climate change, continues to reduce water levels. This results in greater concentrations of pollutants and environmental damage that will be difficult to reverse.
If a solution to the lack of a sufficient water supply for new homes and businesses is not found, funded, and delivered, there are undoubtedly areas that will have no choice but to press the stop button on potential for growth. Energy supplies and strategic transport links are further examples of where the failure of Government and the private sector to deliver the infrastructure needed to support delivery of local plans is causing huge concern. And of course, most of this is outside of district council control.
The consequence of slowed growth due to infrastructure deficits will be an increased shortage of homes for people working in places like South Cambridgeshire, which will in turn both increase commuting into the area and drive-up house prices and rents still further. A lack of premises for the sort of businesses that benefit the local and national economy will start to drive jobs away and we know for certain in Cambridgeshire that they won’t go elsewhere in the UK – they will go abroad.
We know that more homes and work premises are needed throughout the country, but this cannot be at any cost – especially cost to our already denuded environment. Growth done well can deliver many gains in terms of more protected open places, enhanced waterways, improved biodiversity, many more trees and so much more.
But we as district councils cannot solve all of these problems. Yes, we can plan for vibrant communities with homes near to jobs and yes, we can create opportunities for tree planting at scale, but we are not in control of the water and energy supplies and can only recommend to the Government’s planning inspector that new homes use significantly less water.
Currently legislation says there is a ‘right to connect’ to the water supply even if that water supply is insufficient. That can’t be right.
So, the bottom line is that the Government and the water and energy companies must solve the problems of long-term future supply and of strategic zero carbon transport links. If not, we cannot condone development at any cost and we shall be forced to consider pressing the ‘stop’ button.
MUST-READS: Our round-up of the media and policy highlights for district councils
- DCN/Capita cost-of-living roundtable. This focused on district council innovation in supporting the vulnerable through this difficult winter: Supporting our communities through the cost-of-living crisis
- DCN/Penna summary of Staff Development Programme event. Find out what happened in December when up-and-coming officers gathered to develop their leadership potential: Tomorrow’s district council leaders
- Institute for Government: Subnational government in England: an international comparison
- The Guardian: Councils freeze levelling up projects as soaring costs exceed grants
- Patrick Melia, SOLACE local government finance spokesman, Solace: A review of funding is essential
- Ian Miller, Chief Executive Wyre Forest District Council, and Tracy Bingham, strategic director and chief finance officer, Oadby & Wigston Borough Council: No settlement surprises for districts this year
- Commons Public Accounts Committee: Grassroots participation in sport and physical activity
- Chris Skidmore MP report for Government: Independent review of net zero
- Paul Shevlin, Chief Executive, Craven District Council: We need to make homes greener
- House of Lords Built Environment Committee: Inquiry findings into short-term lettings in England
- Cllr Sam Chapman-Allen, Chairman, DCN: The planning system needs more resources to thrive
60 seconds with… Ian Fytche
Ian is Chief Executive of North Kesteven District Council and a Vice-Chair of the DCN’s Chief Executives Group
First job as an adult
My first job after university was in construction, working for a precast concrete company in the project management and quantity surveying team. The company engaged in everything from railway engineering and road building to shopping centres and sports stadia. I visited construction sites in all weathers, the length and breadth of the country.
What’s given you the most satisfaction in your career?
I led the Sport England team for the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester…not the team of athletes(!) but the team investing in the facilities, the infrastructure, the regeneration, economic and community development associated with the Games. It was a fantastic eight-year journey from initial concept through to delivery of the event.
What’s the most exciting thing your organisation is doing?
Climate action. We are advancing a Local Plan compatible with our ambition to achieve net zero by 2030. We are building homes to Passivhaus standard – both social housing and homes built through our housing company. Our corporate planning processes embrace a ‘green thread’ which is designed to connect everything we do and every pound we spend to climate action. During 2023 we will be taking forward the decarbonisation of our leisure estate and investigating options for waste management.
What single thing – not money or devolution – could most improve local government?
The financial and legal independence of local government and full compliance with the Council of Europe Charter of Local Self Government.
What is your biggest local government annoyance?
Failure to accelerate opportunities for partnership and collective action across the public sector, centred on making a difference for people and communities.
What keeps you up at night?
Very little, except listening to the Ashes when England are touring Australia.
Tell us something surprising about yourself
I have walked down the tunnel onto the Wembley pitch with Bobby Charlton and Geoff Hurst. It was 1999 and we were advancing plans to redevelop Wembley Stadium, featuring a press event on the pitch. There were delays on the day. Together with two colleagues, I spent the morning drinking coffee with Sir Geoff and Sir Bobby, who consequently invited us to join them walking out onto the pitch and kicking a ball around.
NOTICEBOARD: Events, opportunities and information to help you
Brownfield land release fund
Up to £180m in grant funding is available to English councils over the next three years to transform brownfield land for housing. Applications to round two of the fund overseen by the One Public Estate Programme – a joint initiative by the Cabinet Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities – close on 31 March. For more details, click here.
Councillor abuse research project
The LGA is running a research project asking how councils and other agencies can support councillors facing abuse and intimidation by the public. To register your interest in attending a workshop please fill in a form, which can be accessed here.
New procurement toolkit
Local Partnerships is producing a toolkit to enable councils to map their own procurement process. The freely available guide has been commissioned by DLUHC and follows a mapping project on Sandwell Council’s processes. To receive the toolkit when it becomes available in mid-February, please sign up to the mailing list on the Local Partnerships homepage.
Local finance model updated
The local government finance model produced by the Institute for Fiscal Studies in partnership with DCN and Cipfa has been updated to reflect the provisional local government finance settlement. To see the updates, click here.
New comms group
DCN is bringing together district council communications officers to share insights and to discuss how to give our member authorities’ work a higher profile. Comms officers should contact firstname.lastname@example.org to participate.
Culture peer challenge programme
The LGA is launching a programme of culture peer challenges, under which experienced officers and members from different authorities spend time on a council to provide challenge and share learning. To express interest, click here.
DCN EXEC BOARD UPDATE What the DCN member board discussed on 11 January
The DCN Board discussed:
- New research on local residents’ perceptions of their local council (report to be launched at DCN Annual Conference)
- The £500m Local Authority Housing Fund and longer-term solutions for housing refugees and asylum seekers
- Planning reform and the consultation on reforms to the National Planning Policy Framework
- Implementation of waste consistency reforms and the Environment Act 2021