Here are the Liberal Democrats’ plans for Cheltenham in more detail
We will take good care of your money
The past few years the Tory Government has put the biggest squeeze on local council finances in the history of local government. To cope with this situation, the Liberal Democrat leadership of Cheltenham Borough Council has adopted a new approach to finance, based on planning ahead, encouraging economic development to increase business rates income, and making more effective use of council resources. In this way we have achieved a balanced budget and maintained front-line council services.
In the years ahead, the pressure on council finances will continue, and so will the need to find new and imaginative ways to balance the books and protect our services.
- Under Liberal Democrat leadership, the Council is becoming smarter about how and where investments are made. We recently put £3 million into the Local Authorities Property Fund, which generated a dividend of 4.6 %, more than 3 times than the return from the bank. We are also looking to invest £2m into the new CCLA Diversified Income Fund, which invests in equity shares and bonds with around a 3% return.
- Boosting our local economy will also boost our finances, particularly our income from business rates. Our new Commercial Strategy puts a strong emphasis on business enterprise and business growth.
- We are also working to make better use of our property assets. For example, we are reviewing the Depot site in Swindon Road and looking to generate income from it, possibly by introducing facilities for battery storage. Another example is Naunton Park Pavilion, which currently produces no rental income, but where we are now planning a café which will give the community a new asset and generate an income of around £3,000 a year.
- We are increasing charges on long-term empty properties. We have now introduced an extra council tax charge of 50% on any property that has been empty for more than 2 years, which is helping to bring empty properties back into use as well as generating income for the Council.
We will make council services more accessible and accountable to local people
- Liberal Democrats believe it is important that council services should not only be efficient, but should also be easily accessible to local people. We are continuing to develop a “one stop” approach to accessing Council services either face to face or through the internet, so that residents are not sent from one department to another to get what they need. We are also looking at the possibility of extending opening hours.
- We plan to make the council itself more accountable. We will introduce webcasting and video-recording of council meetings (for example, on YouTube and Facebook). We will invest in technology where needed to provide the public with information about the Council and create a more open decision- making process.
- We also plan to ensure that the Council is held properly accountable to the electorate. We will continue to ensure that the Council’s administration is properly scrutinised and challenged by an Overview & Scrutiny Committee chaired to a councillor from an opposition party. We want to keep the current process of half the Council seats being up for election every 2 years and not reduce it to every 4 years.
We will plan for the future
- Liberal Democrats want to put in place planning policies that will enable Cheltenham to be both prosperous and green. We have carried out a full consultation on the new Cheltenham Local Plan, which combined with the Joint Core Strategy includes proposals to build over 9000 homes and allocate 75 hectares of employment land for Cheltenham. Importantly it also provides 87 Local Green Space allocations. The Plan helps to protect green open spaces and aims to make them to more useful to local communities.
We will help our local economy to flourish
- Liberal Democrats will continue to support our local economy in every way we can. We supported the creation of the Business Improvement District (BID) after a successful referendum among local businesses. The BID has already worked with the Council to improve the Christmas lights and is funding the Cheltenham Ambassadors to make the town centre more welcoming to visitors. We have set up the Tourism Partnership, which has launched Marketing Cheltenham to attract visitors to the town.
- Liberal Democrats are actively encouraging new development in the town to increase business and create new jobs. Phase 2 of the Brewery development has now been completed. The new John Lewis store is due to open Sept 2018. We are progressing the Cyber Park with a number of Government departments, for which we have been given a £22 million transport infrastructure grant and smaller grants for community development. The Cyber Park project will be important internationally and support the local economy in future but also maximise the value of having GCHQ in Cheltenham.
- We have been successful in getting £3 million from the Government’s Housing Infrastructure fund which will help us to progress the Portland Street development with the site’s owners. Meanwhile we will continue to work with owners of North Place to develop the site.
We will work to improve our roads, transport and car parks
Since the County Council took away Cheltenham’s Highways Agency in 2007, responsibility for roads (including road and pavement maintenance) has rested with the Tory administration at Shire Hall. Liberal Democrats are continuing to press, not just for big improvements in road maintenance, but for more decisions about roads to be made locally here in Cheltenham. We are also continuing to demand that the £1.6 million that the County Council rakes in from on-street parking charges (i.e. meters and permits) should be invested here in Cheltenham.
In the meantime we are doing all we can to improve our roads, car parks and transport.
- We are working to improve traffic management and reduce air pollution. The Cheltenham Transport Plan phases 1, 2 and 3 have been completed successfully. The initial impact suggests a 6% reduction in traffic and air pollution. Phase 4 which will reconnect the High Street by taking traffic out of Boots Corner is due to be implemented in 2018. If successful it gives the chance for an exciting new public space in that area.
- We will invest in improving our car parks. We will continue to use income from parking to update and modernise facilities. Currently £400,000 has been set aside for car park improvements. Following a review of parking by independent consultants, we have introduced a simplified charging system for car parks. We also propose to install electric charging points in car parks.
- We will work to improve the town centre. We have succeeded in getting a £600,000 grant from the EU for environmental enhancements in the High Street. We are also working with the County Council and developers to resurface and improve the High Street in a number of phases. Work on the section between Rodney Road and Cambray Place will start in May 2018.
- We are working to improve our local rail station. We have secured funding for the first phase of improvements (more car parking, improved cycle access, new lifts to platforms). We need to make sure this happens and lobby to get funding for improved ticket office and passenger facilities.
- We are pressing for better local bus services. This is particularly important for young people in the evenings.
- We will seek to promote walking and cycling in the town. We are seeking to make sure walking and cycling improvements are properly considered in every new development scheme.
We will work to make Cheltenham a safer place to be
- Public safety is a key priority for the Liberal Democrats in Cheltenham. We are currently carrying out a town centre safety review. We have agreed a £260,000 investment in closed circuit TV. We have worked with the police on Project Solace to reduce anti-social behaviour. We have consulted on proposals for the taxi service to improve safety and end disability discrimination. We are proud that the Purple Flag award for the safety of the night-time economy awarded to Cheltenham again for 2018.
- We want our roads to be safe for vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists. We recently completed public consultation on “20’s Plenty” to curb excessive traffic speeds, especially in residential roads. We are now discussing with the County Council the best way to support the wishes of local communities.
We will work to provide good quality homes for all
Everyone should have the right to a decent home, but Cheltenham currently doesn’t have all the homes that local people need. As a result we risk losing many of our young people, as they move away to find housing their can afford.
- Liberal Democrats are taking action to provide more housing for local people. These include both houses for sale and houses to rent. The new Local Plan allocates land for 1300 new homes and when combined with the new strategic sites in the Joint Core Strategy provide over 9000 new homes by 2031 to meet Cheltenham’s need.
- At the same time, the Council itself has built over 150 new council homes over the past few years, including 10 purpose built homes for armed forces veterans.
- Affordable, secure, quality homes are in high demand so we are proposing a step change in delivery.
- Homes for affordable rent and shared ownership.
- Leasing and open market purchase.
- Acquiring long term empty homes
- Buying back homes lost through right to buy
- Investing in and developing smaller sites that would not otherwise trigger an affordable housing requirement if delivered by a private landowner
- Private rented accommodation has its limitations and we are proposing direct investment in homes for market rent. Longer term security for young professionals and families is much sort after. Providing homes for market rent in the private sector is a new and key priority.
- Through all these different means of delivery we are proposing significant investment of around £100 million providing an estimated 500 additional homes.
- We are working hard to bring empty homes back into occupation and raise standards in the private rented sector. So far this year alone (2017/18 half year results) 39 vacant properties have been brought back into use and 104 dwellings containing 461 households have been made safe following inspections. Work has been done by the Council in partnership with the Fire Authority to identify properties with ACM cladding following the Grenfell Tower
- We are working to reduce homelessness. We have jointly commissioned the county wide homelessness outreach programme to support homeless people and help them find long-term solutions to their problems. We have also supported a co-ordinated Gloucestershire bid for £990,000 of public funding to reduce rough sleeping. Against the national trend there has been a 19% drop in rough sleeping in Cheltenham this year.
- We are working to maintain and improve our council housing stock. Despite a loss of £6.7 million in income over four years as a result of changes to the Government’s rents policy, the Council and Cheltenham Borough Homes together are continuing their programme of maintenance and improvements to council homes, including works to improve the energy efficiency of houses and flats.
We will keep our town green and clean for everyone to enjoy
- Under Liberal Democrat leadership, many improvements are taking place in our parks and gardens. The new state-of-the-art Pittville Play Area has been built and is being well used by local children. After public consultation, we are moving towards a more sustainable planting regime in our parks, which will help protect the environment including supporting bees and other insect life and help adapt to climate change. At the same time we will retain the traditional bedding plants in some iconic gardens.
- We will continue to improve our play areas. We are developing a 5-year, comprehensive plan to maintain and enhance our play facilities right across the town. Among other things, Liberal Democrat support has ensured a BMX Track at Burrows Field and Multi Use Games Area at Salisbury Road.
- We will continue to work in partnership with local friends groups. Friends groups, made up of public-spirited volunteers, play a very important role in supporting local parks. We will look at ways to provide a funding ‘pot’ to help them buy equipment and materials.
- We are improving facilities for disabled people. The first disability-friendly Changing Places public toilet is due to be built in Pittville Park and a second one is already planned, closer to the town centre. We are also working with businesses to find ways to provide better facilities for disabled people town-wide.
- We will continue to invest in allotments to meet local need. They are an important part of creating a green environment and promoting healthy eating and exercise.
- We will look at ways to improve the standard of street cleaning. We will be reviewing the service and especially exploring the potential for a targeted clear-up of leaves in the autumn. We will also review the provision of bins in parks and public places.
We will continue to increase the amount of household waste that can be recycled
- Every single recycling initiative in Cheltenham has taken place when the Liberal Democrats have been in control. As a result we have achieved a huge increase in the proportion of household waste being recycled. Last year we rolled out the latest of these improvements – the kerbside collection of mixed plastics and cardboard.
- We will work to achieve further improvements in recycling rates in the future. We are currently looking at ‘bring sites’ for recyclables, reviewing where these are and what is collected depending on local need.
We will build on Cheltenham’s strengths as a vibrant cultural centre
The range of cultural experiences and other entertainments that are available in Cheltenham doesn’t just enrich the lives of local people. It also does a great deal to support the local economy and provide jobs. That is why the Liberal Democrats will continue to support and invest in Cheltenham’s cultural life.
- We will invest in cultural and entertainment facilities in partnership with the Cheltenham This includes the planned major investment to upgrade and modernise our iconic Town Hall. We will be using funding allocated by the Council to attract in funding from other sources, such as charitable trusts.
- We will seek to raise Cheltenham’s profile nationally and internationally as a cultural centre. Working with other organisations concerned with culture in the town, we will seek to establish a Culture Board, which will enable greater joint working and create more opportunity to raise the profile of Cheltenham’s cultural offer.
- We will promote healthy lifestyles for people in Cheltenham. This needs to take into account both physical and mental health and is particularly important for older people. Following on from the very successful Year of Mental Health, we will work with partners to tackle isolation, loneliness and the vulnerability of older people.
- We will continue to support public art. We have recently revamped the ways we use the funding which is set aside for public art as part of local development schemes.
- We will support and encourage education in gender equality. Following an initiative by Pittville School pupils, we will work with schools and other partners to ensure that Cheltenham’s girls and boys understand how important gender equality is. We will also join with partners to celebrate and acknowledge the anniversary of the centenary of women's suffrage,
- We will ensure that the town marks the centenary of the end of World War I. We are planning a major programme of town-wide and community-based events, culminating in a commemoration during Armistice weekend.
We will strengthen local communities
- For Liberal Democrats, local democracy isn’t only about what happens in the council offices. The Liberal Democrat led Council has consulted the public about the idea of creating a new parish council in Pittville and also on changes to the boundaries of some existing local parish councils. Where these had public support they have been put in place for this year’s elections.
- We believe in empowering communities to shape their own future. We have set up new Forums requested by local communities to help shape Neighbourhood Plans. We have also continued to fund Community Pride grants to support initiatives by local groups to improve their own areas.