Reflections: Martin Hill – Big successes, big challenges

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I believe 2015 will go down as the year when Lincoln really started to fulfil its enormous potential.

Who can forget the huge excitement in April as Lincoln Castle threw open its doors following a £22m refurbishment?

Over the following few months, more than 200,000 visitors – including HRH The Princess Royal – flocked to the attraction. They were drawn by fabulous events to mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, the document that changed history.

As Lincolnite readers know, we’re privileged to host one of only four surviving copies, showcased in a special vault alongside the Charter of the Forest. Visitors can also enjoy stunning views from the Medieval Wall Walk, explore the refurbished Victorian Prison, and take time out in the new café and shop.

With so much to offer, Lincoln Castle was the well-deserved winner of the Best UK Tourism Award from the British Guild of Travel Writers.

For Lincolnshire County Council and its partners, the Lincoln Castle Revealed project was a massive success – but by no means the only one.

We’ve also pushed ahead rapidly with the “onlincolnshire” initiative – alongside BT – rolling out superfast broadband across the county. Coverage is set to reach 90% of the county by the end of April, with further improvements beyond that also being planned.

On the roads too, the county council is busy creating better connections, following the major improvements in the Canwick Road area at the start of 2015.

Work is progressing well on the £22m East West Link, which will provide a vital new cross-city route from High Street to Pelham Bridge.

A much-needed footbridge is also being built by Network Rail over the High Street level crossing.

Elsewhere, we’re awaiting a decision as I write this on legal orders for the £96m Lincoln Eastern Bypass – the next step in the creation of a city ring road.

For the next generation, we’re working to ensure enough school places in a proposed 6,000-home development south of Lincoln.

Together with the local NHS, we’ve also secured £1.4m extra funding to improve children’s and young people’s mental health services.

For older residents, we’re determined to help as many of you as possible carry on living independently at home.

With that in mind, we’ve improved our arrangements with local care providers, helping them meet growing demand and recruit and retain dedicated staff.

Then there’s the library service, which will be run from April by a charitable social enterprise – Greenwich Leisure Limited – chosen following a competitive procurement.

The new arrangements will save even more money and improve performance, as well as supporting new community hubs being developed with local groups.

So far, so good, then – but what of the major challenges in 2016?

As you may have heard, we’ve put an ambitious bid to the Government, along with all the other councils from the Humber to the Wash, for more devolution.

The aim is get important powers over things like transport and housing transferred from London to local organisations, ensuring much more local decision-making.

Last – but by no means least – is the huge financial challenge facing Lincolnshire County Council as it seeks to balance the books for 2016/17 and beyond.

It’s no secret that funding from the Government – our main source of income – is being greatly reduced, while areas like adult social care are costing a lot more.

For the 12 months from April, we expect to have a massive £65m shortfall in our budget, despite the £129m of annual savings we’ve already made since 2011. That’s going to be extremely difficult, and many non-essential services will have to be reduced or even stopped altogether.

Before any decisions are made, we want to know what residents think, through the budget survey now available online.

It’s also in the Winter 2016 edition of County News, which goes out across Lincolnshire from Tuesday, December 29.

However you complete the survey, please let us have your responses by Friday, January 15 – thank you in anticipation.

Before then, a very happy Christmas and New Year to all Lincolnite readers.

My New Year’s Resolution

For the council to start work on the Lincoln Eastern Bypass!

A former farmer, Martin was elected to Lincolnshire County Council in 1993, representing Folkingham Rural.

He became council leader in 2005 and was later awarded an OBE for services to Lincolnshire.

Martin lives in a former pub at Kirby Underwood with wife Janice and their irrepressible Patterdale Terrier, Boris.

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