In her Christmas message her majesty the Queen spoke of the fiftieth anniversary of a time when we flung ourselves and our machines, on wings of fire and steel, into the vastness of space, to land on the moon. In my lifetime no one has set foot upon the moon.
In 2019 my colleagues decided that they wanted new leadership for our Conservative group, following mixed results in the local elections. As the largest group on the council we remained the administration. However, with a reduced majority I have been reaching out to other groups on the council to build consensus. This has meant giving the Liberal Democrats, the council’s opposition, an increased responsibility for scrutiny of our policy committees. This has the potential to work well. Together progress is being made on our shared priorities; working for everyone across the district.
I became leader in May and hit the ground running. I have been rebuilding relationships across Greater Lincolnshire to ensure that West Lindsey is part of the conversation and getting our agenda included in the strategies and plans that affect people’s lives. We have concluded the review of our chief officer structure and appointed a new chief executive, replacing the triumvirate model of three executive directors, which was not the best structure for us going forward.
One of the first official events I attended in my new role was the turf cutting ceremony in Market Rasen for the new Leisure Centre. Works have been ongoing for most of the last six months of 2019. I very much look forward to the opening of this wonderful new centre in 2020. I remain committed to a review on the viability of a pool that I expect will be undertaken once the facility has had chance to get up and running.
We had some real successes during 2019. Securing a £100,000 grant for the Mayflower 400 celebrations and, more recently, securing £1.9m funding for heritage-led regeneration of the centre of Gainsborough from the National Lottery.
By working with various stakeholders, including Northern Rail, we now have regular hourly services at Gainsborough Central station, after a 26-year absence and the Lea Road station has a new northbound platform, that opened recently.
When I became the leader, I spoke of challenges we faced – climate change, an ever-growing population, the scarcity of resources, the blight of poverty on people’s lives. I am proud that a motion, jointly put forward by myself and the leader of the opposition, was agreed unanimously by councillors to create a strategy on sustainability and climate change. The review of the Central Lincolnshire Local Plan next year will help us manage a growing population whilst the result of the general election should mean that we will get a multi-year financial settlement.
Before becoming the leader, I had been the Chairman of the Governance and Audit Committee, so it will come as no surprise, that I was delighted that during the summer we got the very best possible outcome from our external auditors. A double unqualified opinion on both the statement of accounts and on if the council’s provides value for money (the jargon for spending public money wisely), for the sixth year in a row! This is a tremendous achievement and only a small number of local authorities could boast such a record.
In our South West ward in Gainsborough we have some of the greatest deprivation in the country. Tackling this is paramount. Without our own council housing stock (it was all sold off back in the 1990s to a housing association) we must come up with creative methods to improve the lives of people. The introduction of selective licensing is helping to improve the private-rented homes that people live in. Slowly, but deliberately we are making progress.
Another significant project that has taken form during 2019 is the new Lea Fields Crematorium. This will open in early January 2020, on time and on budget. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to tour the site and see the works. There is going to be a ‘behind the scenes’ open day on Saturday, 11th January between 10am and 4pm for the public. It can be difficult to talk about death and dying, and our open day will hopefully help people understand how crematoriums work and provide a space to ask about anything they would like to know.
The recent flooding across all parts of the district – from the Trent in the west, to the Barlings Eau in the south-east, the flooding at Sturton-by-Stow and the problems at Holton-le-Moor – has been tough on people. I understand the frustration that local people have felt at the response of the public services that are supposed to be on our side in times of crisis. It hasn’t always felt like that.
During the general election campaign, Sir Edward Leigh, put forward the idea of a Greater Lincolnshire Rivers Authority, like that which they have in Somerset. It is certainly an idea that I hope to look at in 2020 and see if the other parts of the wider county would support as a way of making decisions more local and more responsive to our local needs.
I began by talking about Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and landing on the moon back in 1969. In the next few years NASA are planning the permanent return of mankind to the moon in preparation for the exploration of Mars. Our children will live in a world where there is a permanent human presence in space. We will look up at the moon and they will be looking down on us. What such change will mean for us we don’t know. What we do know is that change is a constant.
In the next few years I plan for West Lindsey to be ready face the changes and challenges of the next decade. I will work hard, with my colleagues, for all the peoples of the district to give everyone a brighter future.