In view of the failure of our Conservative MP for Stevenage to engage with councillors on any of the key issues facing the town since the last meeting he attended in October 2010 (just after his election), and thanks to a successful bid in a charity auction, some kind friends have organised for Sharon Taylor to have tea with the MP in the House of Commons today.
Sharon has 20 questions for our MP on diverse subjects like town centre regeneration, the local plan, housing and academisation of local schools. She hopes these will be answered and she is also asking again that our MP engages with the development of the town, particularly the town centre regeneration. This will enable the £1 billion project the council and its partners are already working on to move forward with his support as well as that already expressed by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
Sharon Taylor commented ‘It is quite extraordinary to have to go to these lengths in order to discuss the key issues facing Stevenage with the MP who is supposed to be representing us. However, we will once again be asking him, as we have done so many times over the last few years, to participate in developing a positive future for the town instead of the constant road blocks and obstructions he has chosen to use in the past.
I have 20 questions for our MP, many of which are questions about his approach which have been posed to me on the doorsteps by Stevenage people who are baffled by his negative stance. They cover issues like our Local Plan, Town Centre Regeneration, Housing, Car Parking, council funding and the forced academisation of Barclay School. I hope at least he will do them the courtesy of answering their questions and then decide to work with all the many partners who see the opportunities available in Stevenage and are well on the way to ensuring our town meets its full potential.’
1. Why did you hold our Local Plan up for 497 days, costing Stevenage Council Tax payers thousands of pounds, leaving the town vulnerable to unwanted development and potential delays to much needed regeneration?
2. Although all the issues you raised on the Local Plan had been dealt with by the Planning Inspector during the Public Enquiry, you subsequently raised issues about the train station. In January 2018, SBC officers committed to address these through an area action plan for the railway station area and yet you continued to block our plan for a further 13 months, why was this?
Town Centre Regeneration
3. Why have you not attended the Stevenage First Board meetings since the early meeting in 2014 with Lord Heseltine? It was decided at that early meeting to progress the technical work that would be needed, including master-planning, in advance of any future changes to governance so that the technical work would not hold up progress of the regeneration. Do you recognise the success of the Stevenage First Board in bringing in over £500 million investment to Stevenage.
4. What have you done to progress your preferred option that the Town Centre Regeneration be delivered through an Urban Development Corporation. A freedom of information request suggests that you have never promoted or communicated this option.
5. The Stevenage First Board is a cross-party, cross sector group, led by business and chaired by an independent development expert. What were your objections to that Board?
6. Why have you objected to the implementation of your own Government’s policy of bringing public sector uses together into one building in Stevenage Town Centre? Bringing together health, library, voluntary sector, council services and potentially a drop-in police facility in a new sustainable and efficient building will make sense to the public and save public funds and yet you continue to criticise and be obstructive to this proposal.
7. You must have seen the countless reports (including the Grimsey Review) that talk about the evolution of Town Centres which is happening as a result of changes to the retail environment. Our Town Centre regeneration recognises these changes and will bring increased residential, leisure and flexible workspace into the centre of Stevenage alongside great public spaces to ensure we can sustain existing retail and attract new retailers. Why then do you continue to talk about retail-led development which you must know is unsustainable on its own?
8. You have continued to mislead Stevenage people by telling them that parking could be free in the town centre and elsewhere. You must know that back in the 1980s when the then Tory government handed all the property in the Town Centre over to investment and pension companies, their concession was to concede the car parking income as it would be the only revenue available to the council to maintain the public spaces in the town which were to be its responsibility?
Local Government Funding
9. Your recent leaflet commenting on the Council’s reserves was dishonest, claiming that we have £58 million available to spend on services when it has been explained in great detail at our Council, Executive Committee, Scrutiny Committee and Audit Committee as well as in personal explanations sought by Conservative councillors that this is not the case. Over £39 million of that funding is set aside for the repayment of housing self-financing debt, we are required by auditors to keep a minimum level of balances and we also hold a regeneration reserve for commitments made as part of our town centre, housing and neighbourhood regeneration plans.
10. You also say the Council has not been transparent about its level of reserves, what do you feel should have been done, other than the steps set out in Question 9 and which were unanimously voted on at full Council, including by Conservative councillors?
11. Are you aware of the serious impact of your Government’s cuts to local government funding? In Stevenage we have lost over £5 million of funding a year and from 2019/20 receive no government funding at all. Together with increasing costs we have had to meet, our savings have had to meet a deficit in funding of almost £11 million. We have a further savings target of over £2 million to meet by 2023.
12. Why do you continue to object to housing developments in Stevenage when you must be aware that we have had to include demanding government targets in our Local Plan in order to deal with a Housing Crisis?
13. Your case work must tell you of the number of families who either have no housing or are inadequately housed, you continue to forward these cases to the council for answers and yet you make public statements objecting to housebuilding wherever it is proposed. What would your answer be to meet the housing crisis in Stevenage?
14. We have seen significant increases in homelessness and street sleeping in Stevenage, tackling this can require complex interventions across health, mental health, housing and other agencies. The massive reductions in government funding across the public sector means less funding is available to tackle these issues, what are you doing to address this?
DWP and Universal Credit
15. Every week our Stevenage Food Banks hear stories of people (including families with children) really struggling as a result of delays and flaws in the Universal Credit system. What are you doing to address this and either halt or speed up significant reform of this system that has caused so much hardship.
16. You were pictured recently at the ‘Feed Up, Warm Up’ initiative started in St Georges Church. Do you take any responsibility for your Government’s part in creating the hardship and homelessness that has led to the need for such initiatives.
Academisation of our Local Schools
17. Why would you not listen to the overwhelming voices of staff, parents, students and governors during the recent campaign against the forced academisation of Barclay School.
18. How would you reassure Barclay parents that a Headteacher who only has primary school experience is able to lead a secondary school?
19. Why was this academisation necessary in view of the significant progress made by Mark Allchorn and the leadership team he had brought to Barclay?
20. Will you now commit yourself to working with all the many individuals, organisations and businesses that are working so hard to make Stevenage a better place and promote its interests. If you have ideas that there are better ways to do things, why not get involved and share those?