Congratulations to Cllr Ian Carr and his wife Beryl, who yesterday became the Mayor and Mayoress of Test Valley Borough Council at our Annual Council Meeting.
My grateful thanks go to the retiring Mayor and Mayoress, Carl Borg-Neal and his mother, Maria Neal - who have done a fantastic job over the last 12 months.
As well as investing the new Mayor, the meeting provided me with an opportunity to give the Annual Leader's speech:
"Thank you, Mr Mayor.
Firstly, may I congratulate you on your election. I know you will make a first-class Mayor of Test Valley.
Mr Mayor, I pledged in my speech last year to build on your outstanding legacy and continue to improve the quality of life for the people of Test Valley. I will outline in a moment how we have done that this year – and our plans for the coming year.
But let me tell you now that after a year in this job – with its significant challenges, long hours and never-ending to-do lists, I have even more respect for the job you did over 18 years!
But despite the hard work, it is a real privilege to lead this magnificent Borough – and have the ability to change people's lives for the better.
As I said in my speech last year one of my top priorities is to improve and rejuvenate our town centres – working with Romsey Future and Andover Vision in doing so.
In Romsey – the improvements to Bell Street have just been completed, similar to Church Street the year before - and working with our County Council colleagues our focus now turns to the Market Place. We are also embarking on a major master planning exercise focusing on improvement works to the south of the Town Centre.
Here in Andover - we are focussing on 3 major projects. The Cultural Quarter on the site of the former Magistrates Court, where it's our aspiration to help provide a brand new theatre and college for the town. A redevelopment of the Chantry Centre to make it fit for the 21st Century and the creation of an urban park at Town Mills, so people can enjoy the river when they visit the town.
The Council are also wholly supportive of the aims of the Andover Business Improvement District – and will shortly be funding a BID ballot on behalf of the business-led steering group.
However, we recognise that the retail market is constantly changing – and that town centres are now becoming more of a place for leisure. We need to respond to that in the short term – which is why we froze parking charges again last year and will do so again this year – and continue to offer our Independent Retailer Grants. As well as undertaking the projects I just mentioned. But we also need to respond in the long term, which is why I have asked my Planning Portfolio Holder, Cllr Adams-King to review our town centre use classes in the next Local Plan.
Just like retail we are also facing significant challenges when it comes to the housing market. Despite this we continue to smash our affordable homes target, delivering 217 new affordable homes last year.
Cllr Bundy and the team have done a significant amount of work to ensure we were ready for the Homelessness Reduction Act, which came into force last month. I see this Act not just as something we in the Council have to fulfil by law but an opportunity to go even further, which is why we are investing over £100k this year to ensure people don't become homeless in the first place and those that are, do not have to return to the streets. At our recent Cabinet meeting, we authorised a new Homelessness Fund which ensures that no individual who presents themselves as homeless will have to leave the council offices and sleep rough, without first being made an offer of accommodation.
Mr Mayor, I also set out in my speech last year that I wanted to give our residents more opportunities to recycle. We have a great record in Test Valley with just under 94% of our waste either recycled or turned into electricity but I want to do more – especially in relation to pots, tubs and trays.
I have been pushing this at the Hampshire & IOW leaders meetings and my Environmental Portfolio Holder, Cllr Stallard has been making the case at Project Integra – the Hampshire Wide Waste Partnership. A business case is currently being put together for an investment in a Super Materials Recycling Facility – a SMRF for short – don't you just love local Government acronyms. And we will be contributing to the forthcoming waste conference to try and ensure this happens.
Turning to Leisure, Mr Mayor. The major challenge this year has been to bed in the new contract. With improvements made to Knightwood Leisure Centre and Romsey Rapids and with the Andover Leisure Centre still on schedule for a Spring 2019 opening - it is going well.
We are also focused on enabling our residents to gain greater access to the countryside. Our work with Hampshire Wildlife Trust at Fishlake Meadows is progressing well and we have aspirations too in Andover by improving access to the countryside on the Eastern side of the town by using developer contributions.
Alongside this, we continue to invest in our open spaces, playgrounds and skate parks focusing on quality of life.
Finally, in order for us to continue to run effective and efficient services, we have to pay for them. And just like every other public sector organisation - bar the NHS - we know we have to continue to deliver our services whilst receiving substantially less money from central Government. Our Central Government Revenue Support Grant has reduced from £3.1m just 4 years ago to £56k this year and in 2019/20 we will receive nothing.
But our successful Project Enterprise investments in commercial property and housing – spearheaded by Cllr Giddings - have helped generate some replacement income – and I am committed to continuing this. In fact, we received £1.3m of additional income last year than if we had kept our money in the bank and are due to receive £1.7m this year.
This innovative thinking means there is less pressure on our frontline services – and means that we can continue to invest in our communities.
Mr Mayor, I would like to thank you and all of our colleagues in all parties and in none for all their hard work this year. I would also like to thank all of our officers who do an outstanding job, day in day out.
Let's redouble our efforts and continue to deliver for the people of Test Valley."
Click Here to Contact Phil
If you have any ideas, issues or concerns please feel free to contact me.
Address: Cllr Phil North, C/O TVBC, Beech Hurst, Weyhill Road, Andover, Hampshire, SP10 3AJ.
Call: 077324 23023