Neil Hargreaves: How is £millions wasted ‘Fiscally prudent & good value?”

I spoke last night at the UDC full council meeting. Bringing my financial experience to the table, I explored the wasted millions at UDC, and laid the criticism at the foot of councillors and not the paid staff who have to enact policy.

Here is my statement:

Our council leader must be a Monty Python fan. Despite the Inspector declaring the Local Plan to be definitely deceased, Cllr Rolfe is insisting it is not dead, it is just resting. But unlike the dead parrot sketch this is not funny. Not for the people of Elsenham and Henham suffering the cost and worry of planning blight, and no joke for residents paying out hundreds of thousands of pounds to fight planning applications which this council failed to protect them from.

 

So how much has this rejected plan cost the council? We have asked for a full analysis, but from the details already available it looks like over 8 years it may have cost up to £4 million.

 

Here’s an example. In 2009 UDC commissioned a consultant for £52,000 to investigate the district’s sewage systems. They reported that most of our sewerage network is in a dire condition. Other words are available. Five years later where are the remedial plans for this? Nowhere – what is the point of paying experts and then ignoring what they say? But there is a little ray of sunshine. The consultants say just one area near here has a good system. Guess where! Yes, Great Chesterford! You couldn’t make it up.

 

With these wasted millions we could have had free car parking for everyone for seven years. Good for business. Or we could have had a council tax holiday for a year. Be nice.

 

And there’s yet more financial mess. The council is holding £19 million of reserves. Even taking the most prudent view of what is needed, that is about £4 million too much. Some of the reserves are duplicates, some reserves have descriptions so vague you could use them for anything, and some reserves just look unnecessary.

 

So this council has squandered £4million on the Local Plan, and squirreled away another £4million on top. £8 million of taxpayers cash.

 

Now Cllr Redfern was recently telling the Saffron Walden Reporter about the length of the housing list. We could have had another 70 council houses!

 

Finally, in that popular periodical Uttlesford Life, Cllr Rolfe told us that ‘Fiscal prudence and good value will always remain core objectives…. your money should be used in accordance with your wishes’

 

Please therefore will Cllrs Barker and Rolfe explain how wasting £4million is ‘fiscally prudent and good value’? And when totally rejected, how can they claim to have spent this money ‘in accordance with residents wishes’?

 

Thank you
Neil Hargreaves

6 thoughts on “Neil Hargreaves: How is £millions wasted ‘Fiscally prudent & good value?”

  1. Neil Gregory

    Sorry, I am slightly baffled here.

    What exactly is the relevance and the point you are trying to make with regards to the Sewerage?

    “The consultants say just one area near here has a good system. Guess where! Yes, Great Chesterford! You couldn’t make it up.”

    Leaving aside the essential point that sewerage is a water authority matter and not a UDC matter. Why on earth should the state of sewers in Great Chesterford be of any relevance to the local plan situation? I do genuinely see the points R4U are trying to make as an organisation and applaud the degree of local engagement they have facilitated, but incoherent, grandstanding pieces like this from Mr Hargreaves undermine your case and certainly switches me off as a voter.

    For the avoidance of doubt, I should declare an interest as Chairman of Great Chesterford Parish Council.

    Reply
    • Neil Hargreaves

      Neil,

      Thank you for your comments. In a 3 minute slot it is not always possible to explain an arguement. With many councillors not wishing to hear criticism I felt it useful to use Chesterford as a proxy/short form that they would understand to highlight an example of UDC paying for good advice and then appearing to ignore it when considering relative sustainability and supporting evidence in site selection.

      Given longer I would have contrasted Newport with Chesterford. Bit of sewerage background: Newport was reported by Hyder at the beginning of 2010 and again in 2012 to have a sewerage system not fit for purpose on all three main criteria: No capacity at the sewage works, not enough dry weather flow in the Cam to dilute the outflow, and a combined foul and storm pipe system (and AW have also said there is no storm tank). When it rains polluted water goes into the Cam, and when it rains very hard sewage runs out of the manhole covers and in one quite new estate it backs up into houses. In 2012 sewage flowed out of the front gates of the sewage works and it smells much of the time.

      And yet there have been many more connections since 2010 and a large Plan site now has permission. Another one is being consulted in January on a location specifically identified by Hyder as not viable because a new sewer should be built right through Newport. However apart from minor works there is no plan from AW to do anything, or requirement from UDC on the permissions or in the Plan.

      Obviously it is good that Chesterford has a decent system, which is what we should all have!

      So when you see how bad things are up the road perhaps you can understand the picking out of this particular issue as one example (and for which we have the exact cost). It is not about Great Chesterford per se, its about UDC not using an evidence led process. Something which was also made clear by the Inspector.

      Unfortunately I don’t think Santa is bringing us a new sewage works.

      Best regards

      Neil

      Reply
      • Joanna Francis

        I am constantly surprised that when sewage works that are at capacity, the statutory consultation response comes back without any work being required. I think personally you are overstating the position of the capacity at Chesterford from what I have read in various documents but I’ll let that go. We also have problems, every time there is a ‘blip’ in the electricity supply, the pumping station goes offline! There is then 3 hours for them to come and manually switch it back on before the sewage starts coming out like fountains in various locations. Luckily the back flow valve at the Community Centre does its job and as a result the grass grows very well is some areas of the Rec rather than the Community Centre filling up. The sewage lake we had a couple of years ago was particularly vile and I was glad I had my wellies on when inspecting! There is a tiny elderly lady at the bottom of Stanley Road whose garden fills with sewage if there is a blockage further along the main sewer route, it will be interesting to see what happens with 50 new houses connected to that sewer.

        As far as I am aware, sewage capacity is not considered a major problem with regards to approval of new developments as it is something that can be fixed by ‘spending money’, as long as the statutory body actually agrees work is required. Fixes just cost more if the development isn’t close to a sewage works.

        Reply
  2. Joanna Francis

    Neil, please could you clarify the process relating to upgrades in sewerage capacity? It is a while since I read the capacity document but my understanding is that many areas were ‘at capacity’ and I don’t remember the exact wording for Chesterford but was I believe the pros for building in the vicinity of Chesterford related to the proximity to the sewage works and therefore the ‘relateively’ cheap cost of improvements? Not sure if you are expecting UDC or the sewage company to have written an upgrade plan for remedial works? Again, my understanding is that if a developer submits an application, the sewage company is notified as a statutory consultee. If work is required for the new development, their response inidicates this with a costing of the work required and this money is sought from the developer via the Sec 106 agreement? Please could you clarify the processes involved?

    Thank you.

    Joanna

    Reply
  3. Neil Hargreaves

    Joanna,

    Your description of the process at an application level is correct. But the utility company has costs which it cannot recover on a s106. The company must stand the entire cost of sewage works upgrades and can only recover a percentage of the cost of any new/upgraded main sewers and pumps to connect a development. There is a formula factoring future income, which is deducted from what the company may charge.

    In the interest of brevity I said ‘a plan’ was needed. In reality I think it is two, required in our case from Anglian Water. When UDC got the report in early 2010 that the current situation (effectively at 2009) was poor in most locations it might be expected that UDC would request AW to fix the present defects, and particularly in respect of the continuing housing permissions, of all sizes, being granted. Secondly on the much larger scale of the Plan for a whole district involving thousands of houses there is course a need for the operator to commit to whatever may be needed at the Plan level, rather than individual applications. UDC received a follow up report in 2012 to link with the formulation of the now rejected plan, which repeated the warnings. As far as we know the opportunity was not taken to get commitment from AW to remedy the 2009 position, and ensure capacity for the next few years, nor did they appear to get an AW plan to support the UDC Plan.

    I think the phrase ‘at capacity’ is a euphemism. Do have a look at my response to Neil Gregory. For Newport AW now deny the accuracy of the consultant’s reports and say there is no problem and have no intention to even review, never mind do anything, until 2016. They have not answered a request to know the design capacity of the works, unchanged since built in the 1970’s, and now requiring frequent tankering

    And I’m sorry to hear about your experiences, in your second post – my info was from the Hyder reports. I have also cleaned sewage off my wellies, but cleaning the dog was worse! So that’s the rather unpleasant situation we are in. To sum up I believe it is UDC’s job to ask the utility company to provide the sewerage plan (s)

    I hope this answers your questions

    Best regards

    Neil

    Reply

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