Reflections 2016: Martin Hill – Listening to the people

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The history books will remember 2016 for two events of truly global significance – the Brexit vote and the US election. Both should teach politicians one thing above all – to listen to the people.

That’s exactly what Lincolnshire County Council did in the autumn when it turned down the devolution deal on offer from the government.

The proposals would have been handed extra responsibilities and funding from Whitehall to Greater Lincolnshire, where they belong.

However, the deal would have come at too big a price, concentrating powers in the hands of a directly elected mayor few people actually wanted.

In consultation, 53% of residents in this area rejected the idea of this new layer of bureaucracy costing £1.2m a year.

That message was ringing in the ears of county councillors when they voted to turn down the deal – to my mind, that’s democracy at its best.

For the future, many of us remain firmly in favour of devolution in principle, but it has to be the right set of arrangements for local people. Watch this space!

Martin Hill with his Patterdale Terrier, Boris

Locally, 2016 was another superb year for the council’s heritage attractions, which continue to draw huge numbers of visitors.

At Lincoln Castle, 533,000 people flocked to see the iconic Poppies: Wave sculpture, originally part of an installation at HM Tower of London.

The Usher Gallery was also privileged to host the BP Portrait Award, which brought the very best of contemporary portrait painting right to our doorstep.

The exhibition attracted more than 8,000 visitors, giving a further boost to the already flourishing visitor economy.

And there’s more to come in 2017 as we celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Battle of Lincoln Fair with a major exhibition and other events.

This “forgotten” battle saw the defeat of an invading French army, changing the course of English history, and we’ll be doing it justice throughout the summer!

We’ll also be marking the 800th anniversary of the Charter of the Forest – a historic document on display at Lincoln Castle with Magna Carta.

On the roads, 2016 saw the completion of the £22m East West Link Road, which now provides a direct connection from Lincoln High Street to Pelham Bridge.

It enables traffic to bypass the city centre railway crossings, cutting congestion, improving air quality and reducing journey times.

The link road has also freed up land for economic development, providing a blank canvas for the local business community to grow.
Pedestrians, meanwhile, can make use of the new High Street footbridge completed by Network Rail.

Of course, all these projects – plus the major city centre redevelopment – inevitably cause disruption.

We do everything we can to keep that to a minimum, and have also introduced a permit scheme for utility companies and other contractors.

That gives us more control over how their works affect traffic, which is good for ordinary people going about their busy lives.

In 2017, the £99m Lincoln Eastern Bypass – from the A158 Wragby Road roundabout to the A15 at Bracebridge Heath – will finally start to take shape.

It will take three years to complete but eventually cut congestion on some city centre roads by up to 25% and add an estimated £600m to the local economy.

Work will also begin in 2017 on phase two of the £82m Grantham Southern Relief Road, which will involve linking the new route to the A1.

This will be followed by a third phase, joining the B1174 roundabout to the A52, with the project expected to be finished in 2021.

Staying with infrastructure, first-class broadband is no longer a luxury – it’s vital for any modern home or business.

With that in mind, the Onlincolnshire partnership, led by Lincolnshire councils and BT, has been continuing the roll-out of superfast broadband.

More than 90% of the county can now sign up with an internet service provider and enjoy faster speeds, and the next phase will take coverage to almost 97%.

In all these areas, it’s about getting things done, even when finances are really tight, as they’ll continue to be in the years ahead.

Above all, it’s about listening to ordinary people – the real lesson of this extraordinary year.

New Year’s resolutions

Personal

Looking ahead to 2017, my personal wish – as leader of the Conservative Group on the county council – is for a really strong showing in the May election!

Professional

More generally, I hope the government gives Lincolnshire enough funding to protect essential services – and that it pushes for a Brexit that honours the spirit of the popular vote. Happy New Year!