On Thursday 8th March at 7pm I attended the monthly Parish Assembly meeting. This is a monthly meeting of representatives from all the Milton Keynes Parish Councils and is held in the main Council Chamber. The agenda for the meeting covered a number of substantive issues:-
- changes to s.106 with the new “community infrastructure levy” which must be implemented by 6th April 2014
- a statement of the arrangements or consultation on planning issues
- the changing structure of the code of conduct for councillors (including parish councillors)
- a discussion of progress with neighbourhood development plans
- a consultation about the new MK Council housing strategy
- a brief discussion about the new social behaviour strategy
- duties under the Equalities Act and parish Councils
This is not usually a thrilling meeting to attend, but each time I do attend I learn very useful information.
On s.106 agreements; I learned that the new CIL is not thought to benefit MK, because MK has its own “development tarrif” which has served it well. Developers like it because they know what they have to pay and there is certainty and the Council like it because it seems to provide sufficient funds to build the schools, play areas and other social infrastructure needed in a new development. It was interesting that part o the CIL has to be delegated to parishes – however these agreements only arise where there are 10 developments or more at a time. This is probably unlikely in Loughton Parish, although if an area develops piecemeal there is no less need for additional infrastructure.
The planning consultation statement was simply to set out the usual procedure for such consultations. A recent example is the consultation on wind farm policies.
On the code of conduct; this was useful to bring me up to speed. The changes in this area happen regularly. We currently have a statutory code but by 1st July 2012 all parishes have to adopt or amend their code of conduct. A parish may comply by adopting a code that is adopted by its principal authority. I learned there is a disagreement between councils as to whether a code should be highly detailed or confined solely to a statement of intent to comply with the 7 Nolan principles. The standards board for england has been abolished and instead there will be a standards committee appointed by MK Council who will consider and decide complaints against councillors of breach of standards. We will have to decide whether to adopt our our code or that of MK Council (probably the latter I imagine).
The discussion of neighbourhood plans was nothing new to me although it was interesting to hear the new regulations have now been published a couple of days ago and what is going on in the Wolverton area – a front runner.
The MK Housing strategy discussion set out some of the problems MK Council faces but didn’t (sufficiently in my view) set out what the Council’s current approach would be. There is a consultation on this soon which ends 27th April. It may be there will be a reduction in the 25% of development that currently has to be affordable – and this will be politically contraversial. There is a need for new homes – 1,750 a year – but less than this is being built. 14,000 Council homes are in need of significant investment (£465m over 30 years) There are also issues with affordability of houses and rents. The average house price is £150k – so if average wages are less than £30k you need a big deposit even if you are a working couple. Central government has set local housing benefit allowances but these are below market rents so raises the issue of where and how people on benefits will find somewhere to live long term. When the meat of this strategy is published, it will be worth a read, I think.
The discussion about tackling anti social behaviour explained the new approach to this. ASBOs are no longer the solution. Instead there is the SaferMK partnership. They become involved if there are complaints from 5 local households re ASB and these are investigated and then found to be justified. Then SaferMK swing into action. I’m not sure this is quite as effective as ASBOs but we shall see.
Finally on Equalities duties I learned the parish has a duty to adopt an Equality policy to ensure we provide equality of access through good practices – to actively promote fair treatment and opportunity regardless of a persons race, age, disability, religion, gender and sexual orientation. Helpfully, we were given a precedent. I am anticipating a few grumbles about “political correctness gone mad” with this, but it is not very complex so should not prove any difficulty.
The meeting ended about 9.30pm so was 2.5 hours in length. Hopefully you can see what we as Parish Councillors get up to in our spare time!