By Leader of North Lincolnshire Council

A year ago, we had a clear vision of what was to come, stretching out, plain to see in front of us.

With a landslide election victory returning a Conservative Prime Minister, a huge 78-seat majority in Parliament, a new MP representing the people of Scunthorpe in Holly Mumby-Croft and a clear mandate to get Brexit done, 2020 began full of optimism and confidence.

As a council, we were getting into the stride of investment and development, further refining the fantastic place that North Lincolnshire is to create even more opportunity, more sustainable, well-paid jobs and ultimately a better future for everyone in our many beautiful towns and villages.

A £5 million community investment programme to re-shape the contact points for residents in the heart of each community was happening, our bold plans to be rightly recognised as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) were in place and investment in roads and digital infrastructure – with key partners – was ready to go.

We were also in the final stage of pulling together proposals to take advantage of upwards of £50 million of Government cash for Scunthorpe.

Then Covid-19 happened.

When the pandemic first took hold, we were presented with challenges we had never had to face before.

It, at first, appeared huge, and while we are, even now, by no means out to the other side, on reflection we knew it would be the strength of our communities which would see us through.

We always knew they were strong and that they would stand together, though never did we imagine the response would be quite what it was. From Scunthorpe to Brigg, Barton, the Isle of Axholme and everywhere in between, people, families and communities stood up.

Thousands of good deeds were done every day as people made small acts of kindness the norm. From picking up prescriptions, collecting fresh produce or sometimes just chatting on the phone, these things, just one thing in many cases, made the world of difference to the many people who needed a helping hand throughout the year.

The response saw a whole host of examples across North Lincolnshire; volunteers and community groups, local businesses, religious groups, schools, elected members and council staff all contributed enormously to the groundswell of community spirit and neighbourliness that has seen us through the year.

As a council, with many new responsibilities thrust upon us, not least the public health response to the pandemic and ensuring the most vulnerable were prioritised, we administered some £40 million in Government grants to support local businesses and worked tirelessly with health partners to protect the NHS. Throughout, we forged even stronger ties with the resilient and flourishing communities that make up our county.

Meanwhile, all the other plans and projects continued. We’re seeing the completion of a new motorway junction on the M181 – the first investment of its kind since the late 1970s. We’re pushing on for AONB status. We’ve submitted the bids which will see Scunthorpe thrive, we’ve welcomed a number of new entrants to the broadband network, we’ve started planting towards at target of 170,000 trees, we’ve reshaped the cycle routes across the area and launched a new demand-driven bus service.

We’ve invested the unprecedented levels of Government cash to ensure that when we do come through the other side of this pandemic – and we will – that the increased ambition of the people of North Lincolnshire can be realised.

2020 will be remembered as the year of Covid-19, a year which changed a great many things and, sadly, as a year of loss, particularly for those of us who lost loved ones to this virus.

It should too be remembered for being the year that North Lincolnshire stood together as a community.

Our 2020 vision might have been knocked out of focus, but we’ve got it back now, and we are, with the community as one, better placed than ever before to protect the most vulnerable, enable our communities to flourish and grow the local economy.

Councillor Rob Waltham is the leader of North Lincolnshire Council

By Leader of North Lincolnshire Council

In 2019, we have continued to invest in our communities, helping residents keep safe and well, and enabling them to lead prosperous and connected lives.

We’ve maintained our commitment to the popular Imagination Library scheme, which gifts free books to children every month from birth until their fifth birthday first brought to us by local MP Andrew Percy. It is now the most successful such scheme in the world.

Children in North Lincolnshire have been receiving our area’s best standard of education ever in 2019. Nine out of ten schools are rated Good or Outstanding by OfSTED, which has led in part to North Lincolnshire being named the best place in the UK to raise children by Country Living magazine. We were also awarded the status of one of the top ten most productive councils in the country.

Elsewhere in education, September saw the opening of the first part of the University Campus North Lincolnshire following a significant Government cash investment. After transforming the former Civic Centre, the opening of UCNL was a milestone moment for our area, increasing the amount of higher education provision, and sending a strong message to the business sector that we have the higher-level skills needed to support growth.

Record numbers of businesses have enquired about investing and building their industries in North Lincolnshire in 2019. In February, work started on a new access road at Normanby Enterprise Park. The Government-funded £1m project will open up 60 acres of land for development, and could create up to 1,700 more jobs in our area.

In March, the regeneration of Scunthorpe town centre took a huge step forward with the opening of St John’s Market. The new indoor market, spread over two floors, has increased footfall in that area of the town centre, with residents supporting our independent traders.

Our free car parking initiative continues to support our town centres, encouraging residents and visitors to spend more time relaxing, shopping, and meeting with friends and relatives in Scunthorpe, Ashby, Brigg and elsewhere.

In 2020, we will look to develop the Scunthorpe Town Centre Masterplan which will set out the next steps for regeneration in the town. We’re able to access up to £49m of Government funding to help bring vacant units back into use and revitalise the town centre, and we expect to see further private-sector investment too. I have already received really strong representation on this from the new MP for Scunthorpe, Holly Mumby-Croft, she is keen to work with the council to help drive this investment forward.

To the west of Scunthorpe, work will progress on the detrunking of the M181 and the construction of a northern roundabout. This project will significantly ease the pressure on Berkeley Circle, and open up prime development land.

In May, our ruling Conservative group secured a mandate for the next four years, increasing our majority and adding to our number of councillors. I’m pleased that we won the confidence of the electorate once again, and they’ve shown their support for our priorities at the ballot box.

Looking ahead, we will continue to cut our impact on the environment in 2020, and encourage residents and businesses to be more sustainable through more environmentally friendly policies. We’re also working with local community groups and other organisations to plant thousands more trees.

We will also continue to connect more with our communities through the launch of the Residents’ Panel. The consultative body will launch early in the New Year and be made up of thousands of residents who will be called upon to share their views on council plans, policies and projects.

We’ll continue to build on the successes of this year as we move into 2020; helping North Lincolnshire be the best place to live and work.

Councillor Rob Waltham is the leader of North Lincolnshire Council