Last night’s Council meeting had a packed agenda which included a few strange talking points, and intriguing admissions from the Labour Group – not to mention their motion which argued in favour of making electoral fraud easier. The Conservative Group was determined to stand up for residents and hold this failing administration accountable most notably over the complete absence of leisure facilities in Halifax Town Centre, and a whole host of other issues.
CORPORATE PLAN – The Conservative Group was never going to vote for Labour’s “Vision 2024” which has left Halifax with no leisure facilities, where increasing amounts of revenue intended for services is instead used to repay reckless borrowing, and a terrible Local Plan with no satisfactory plans for infrastructure and which will bulldoze a huge area of Green Belt in Eastern Calderdale. As described by Cllr Leigh (Leader of the Conservative Group) “this is not a plan, this is a recipe for disaster”.
AIR QUALITY STRATEGY – This item really demonstrates the hypocrisy of the Labour Administration which denied an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) in West Vale, approved an incinerator in a valley bottom, and plans to add thousands of cars to our roads without any infrastructure in its “strategic housing plan”. The Conservative Group agrees we need an air quality strategy, but we need an Administration which leads by example.
MEDIUM-TERM FINANCIAL STRATEGY – This is a document written by the Head of Finance which forecasts the Council’s financial position in the medium term. Cllr Leigh advised that the Council should consider a third quarter report to allow the Council to prepare for any further economic shocks prior to the setting of the Council’s budget in February – but this was dismissed by the Labour Group which prefers last minute decision making, such as shelving its proposed Leisure Centre at North Bridge without any consultation with Opposition Party Groups.
ENVIRONMENTAL STRATEGY – Again, a report built on rhetoric and aspirations, with little substance. The report say the strategy would deliver a “borough-wide” plan to achieve net-zero, seemingly forgetting the communities in Eastern Calderdale such as Brighouse, Greetland, Rastrick and Shelf, which will see their Green Belt and countryside destroyed and the area gridlocked with additional vehicles.
EXEMPT ITEMS – Residents will be familiar with to this Council withholding information and making decisions behind closed doors. Unfortunately, we are not permitted to disclose information on most of these items. However, it is known that the Council plans to demolish the Threeways Centre. We have our concerns about the future of the site, and the extremely poor consultation and engagement with local residents.
FAMILY HUBS – Good news for Calderdale. Our borough will be benefitting from the Family Hub programme to support vulnerable children and families as part of the Conservative Government’s £302 million investment in the Start for Life programme. The Hub will offer localised early help and intervention, from early years support to counselling or parenting classes.
QUESTIONS TO CABINET
We are used to our lines of questioning being treated with contempt by the Cabinet, but last night was the worst yet. It was also confirmed that information has been withheld from the Council in ‘confidential’ reports only for the eyes of the Labour Cabinet. A damning admission of the lack of transparency within this Council.
Cllr Leigh (Ryburn) pointed out the failure of the Council to finance the new Halifax Leisure Centre and the erratic handling of the project, where one day the project was ‘still on track’ and weeks later it was shelved. He continued to make the point that on numerous occasions information has been withheld from the Council and that the figures were shrouded in mystery. Labour admitted that information has been kept confidential from Opposition Party Groups in response.
Cllr Whittaker (Rastrick) asked a question about the chaos caused in her ward at Delph Hill from the building development work on 250 houses, and that the Council has failed to provide adequate enforcement against the company which has caused numerous disruptions to the community. She also voiced her extreme concerns about the misery wrecked on Rastrick if the Local Plan is approved. In response, the Labour Cabinet rolled their eyes at the concerns of Rastrick residents.
Cllr Issott (Ryburn) asked a question on the incinerator approved by the Labour Cabinet. In a press release from March 2021 the Council stated it would establish a community liaison group which had never materialised and won’t be set up until such a time when a permit is formally authorised. In October, the Labour Cabinet had to apologise to residents after they delayed informing residents for four months that there had been an appeal by the applicants. This is just another example of the contempt shown by this Administration towards local communities.
Cllr Kirton (Hipperholme and Lightcliffe) asked the Cabinet to consider renovating the park on Bradford Road in Bailiffe Bridge which is badly in need of an upgrade, and mentioned the lack of funding which makes its way to the area under this Council. Cllr Kirton was told that the Council would look into it.
Cllr Monteith (Brighouse) had been informed by residents about a reduction in opening hours at Brighouse Leisure Centre and asked the Council to reverse any reduction in hours at the site. The Labour Administration have already closed two leisure facilities in Halifax, and there should be more than enough money in the pot to keep Brighouse open.
Cllr Blagbrough (Brighouse) asked about the neglect of Brighouse Civic Hall, and its potential to the high street.
Cllr Thornber (Ryburn) asked about the state of the Planning Department, and why numerous applications were not being progressed despite the massive amount of extra funding which had been allocated to Planning in February.
Cllr Caffrey (Northowram and Shelf) asked how much taxpayers money had been wasted on a unusable cycle lane in King Cross with a streetlight and bollard in the middle of it.
Cllr Pillai (Rastrick) asked about the exodus of senior officers from the Council getting off the sinking ship due to a lack of leadership.
Absence of Leisure Facilities in Halifax (Conservative Motion) :
Labour voted down our proposal to STOP the demolition of Halifax Swimming Pool and hold an URGENT review of leisure facilities in Calderdale in order to deliver leisure services sooner.
Cllr Robinson (Hipperholme and Lightcliffe) asked about the £12.2m Levelling Up Funding from the Conservative Government which was intended for ‘shovel ready’ projects and whether the delay and dithering of this Adminsitration would lead to the Government funding being lost.
Cllr Issott (Ryburn) accused the Labour Council of playing politics on the future of leisure facilities and were choosing not to take urgent action on the issue.
Cllr Ford (Elland) stated that the administration was being “economic with the truth” and that it is utterly wrong not to share such crucial information. He reminds the Labour Cabinet of the complete absence of leisure facilities in Calderdale on their watch and tells Labour that they have “robbed” residents of the facilities they rightly deserve.
The Labour Cabinet amended the motion and blamed everybody but themselves for the disaster and would not apologise for the lack of leisure facilities in Halifax. Labour also admitted that information relating to the leisure centre was ‘confidential’. They continued to misrepresent statements made by Conservative councillors and action on leisure facilities has again been kicked into the long grass.
It is absurd that information can be concealed from Opposition Party Groups, who are left unable to scrutinise the failings of this Administration without access to such crucial information. No member of the Cabinet has taken full responsibility for their mismanagement of the scheme - therefore, we will continue to call for a member of the Cabinet to resign over the absence of leisure facilities in Halifax.
Scrapping Voter ID (Labour Motion):
A bizarre debate in which Labour claimed requiring ID to vote was ‘racist’, ‘ageist’ and ‘classist’ despite Government research proving 98% of British citizens have a valid form of ID to vote, and that ID is required for many basic functions from collecting a parcel to buying a bottle of wine (if you’re lucky enough to be asked).
Cllr Whittaker (Rastrick) criticised the claims from Labour and exposed their hypocrisy on the issue. Labour introduced voter ID for Northern Ireland in 2003, asks for a copy of photographic ID to attend Labour conference, and Constituency Labour Parties have asked voting members to bring photographic ID.
The Conservative Group pointed out that the Elections Act 2022 does much more than just tackle fraud in polling stations, but takes action on postal vote fraud, increases penalties for intimidation and undue influence, and more assistance for the disabled.
This went over the heads of the Labour Group, which simply wanted to turn a blind eye to election fraud because it believed it would somehow lose out electorally under the proposals. It was very disappointing to hear Labour bringing party politics into such an important issue.
Action on Damp Properties (Liberal Democrat Motion):
The Conservative Group supported a motion submitted by the Liberal Democrats to take urgent action on damp properties owned by housing associations and private landlords. We are proud of the robust action taken by the Government on this issue and the introduction of new powers under the Social Housing Regulation Bill to help tenants and the provision of new powers to the Housing Ombudsman.