Cllr Joanna Wright speaks at B&NES Full Council, July 2022

On the 21st July 2022, B&NES Full council was held and Green Cllr, Joanna Wright spoke on many of the item agendas raised at this meeting.

This included a speech on the Constitution Refresh, in which Joanna has been instrumental in getting the Lib Dem’s to do a u-turn on the rules they had planned to introduce that would have required all speeches to be submitted in full days before the actual meeting. Joanna raised questions on the B&NES Treasury Management Outline Report wanting to know about the best outcomes from the Council’s investments. Cllr Joanna Wright queried the real intentions of the Lib Dem administration for bringing forward the Climate and Ecology Bill Motion, when it is clear that this council is presently failing to show leadership on the climate emergency. Joanna spoke about why Bristol Airport is big enough on the Bristol Airport Motion and finally on the Council Tax Surcharge Motion brought forward by the Conservative group, Joanna queried why the Council should subsidise property developers at a time when so many people can not afford a home or their rent.

To read Cllr Joanna Wright’s speeches see below or watch the meeting in full on the B&NES YoutTube Channel https://www.youtube.com/bathnescouncil

For full details of the agenda items and papers please https://democracy.bathnes.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=272&MId=5494

It is really clear that having a Green Councillor in the Council chambers is important as this is the voice that a Green brings to the room which is based on integrity and concern for the planet at a local and national level.

IF YOU WANT GREEN VOTE GREEN

Cllr Joanna Wright’s speech on the Constitution Refresh

The process to refresh this constitution did not involve the Green Party.  At no point was I, the sole Green Party councillor, included in the conversations or the work of the Constitution Working Group. This working group, which I believe has met regularly to decide how the council operates, is made up of the Liberal Democrats, Conservatives, Labour and the Independents. I am the only councillor not invited to take part, and this is discrimination. It states in the B&NES Equality Policy Commitment that:

“Bath and North East Somerset Council is committed to equality of opportunity for the whole community and believes that the diversity of the community is a major strength which contributes to the social and economic prosperity of the area.  The Council commits to working within the Equality Act 2010 to ensure that no resident of, or visitor to the area, job applicant, employee or other person associated with the Council is treated inequitably or in an unlawful or unjustifiably discriminatory manner.”

I would argue that by not including the only Green to the Constitution Working Group, the Council under its own policy has acted in a discriminatory way. I also point out that many residents in B&NES have voted Green and they have been discriminated against.

Over the many months that this group met, I was not consulted or spoken to of the decisions it was taking. It was not until the 13th June 2022 that the Monitoring Officer sent through the draft constitution for me to see and only from that point were my emails responded to.

Over several months I have been working with aggrieved residents with regard to the changes this Lib Dem group wanted to make to the constitution on the way speeches and statements were to be delivered at meetings across the Council.  An open letter was sent to Will Godfrey, calling on the Council to recognise the impact that these changes would have on residents. Over 400 residents signed this letter, and because of their action, this Lib Dem administration has done a u-turn.  A small victory for the freedom of speech for everyone in B&NES.

However, the constitution refresh has also changed how many questions a councillor can now ask at Cabinet or Full Council from unlimited to three.  This seems to be a deliberate attempt to stop smaller parties holding the larger parties to account since there are presently 35 Liberal Democrats, so they could easily ask three questions each, giving a grand total of 105 questions for the ruling party.  However, one sole councillor from an opposition party can only ask three questions – not enough to keep the administration accountable or be able to properly represent constituents. 

The Liberal Democrats manifesto at the last local elections expressed the concern they had about the lack of transparency and openness of the council. Many will argue that too many questions wastes precious Officers time, but questions are how opposition councillors keep the administration accountable and transparent.  Indeed, the refreshed constitution (4.4.12) states:

“Councillors are able to hold the local authority and fellow Councillors to account and are able to constructively challenge and express concern about decisions.”

This is the role of a councillor, and asking questions of Cabinet and the Council is a key way to do this, changing the rules from unlimited to three questions works in favour of the controlling party and little more.

To guard against power worship and subservience, questions are a form of scrutiny and this is the job of an elected councillor. It would seem that those who now have power are more concerned with keeping it, then being questioned on their actions.

The Green Party will therefore be voting against this Constitution Refresh.

Cllr Joanna Wright’s speech on the Treasuring Management Outline Report

Thank you to Officers for this in depth financial report, however there are some issues that do cause me some worry.

Firstly, in 3.19 and 3.20, which discusses The Lender Option Borrow Option (LOBO) loan, there is LOBO borrowing of £10 million.  The Liberal Democrat administration say that they were going to pay off this LOBO loan but the bank increased the interest rates, so now it would appear that the Council has changed its mind.  This does seem rather strange, especially as some LOBOs have some dubious terms for borrowing.  This clause does worry the Green Party and we would like to know why this decision has been made and what are the terms of borrowing for this LOBO?

Secondly, there are some issues with regard to the Council’s liquidity, otherwise known as the ability to access cash when bills need to be paid. Early on in this report it states how the Council generates £235K from investments from £10 million that is invested.

It would appear that the Council has a great deal of liquidity that is presently not invested.  If the council did, for instance, put £25 million into investments they could be generating a healthy return for taxpayers of approximately £1 million. While £25 million might sound like a rather high figure, this report suggests that the Council does appear to have £40 million in liquidity. I would suggest that these figures show the Council could at least invest another £10 million and receive a further  investment figure of £235K.

Please can you explain why the Council has decided to have so much money in the liquidity pot, especially as the liquidity risk as set out on p510 is considered low?

Thirdly, in regard to the report stating money saved, please can you explain how much is against the spend of the Council’s budget in light of the inflation issues that all sections of society are facing?

Cllr Joanna Wrights speech on the Climate and Ecology Bill

It appears that the best this Liberal Democrat administration can do on the climate and ecological emergency that we are all threatened with is to repeatedly come up with motions to write to the Government.

 While this allows them to put out PR about how hard they are working to deliver a sustainable future, whilst failing to use their local powers to make significant change to aid the journey to net zero. Only recently (June 2022) in the Strategic Evidence Base for B&NES, this council has made no emissions cuts over and above those created by central government actions and none since the declared climate emergency. It seems that, factoring in the pandemic and empty council offices and reduced services, the council’s own emissions have, in real terms increased over the past two years.

The great power that this Council has, is that it is the Highway Authority. the council has the capacity to make quick and systematic changes to the public highway without needing the permission of central government. For example, it could have delivered 20mph zones across all urban areas, allowing many public highways users to feel safer cycling. It also could have delivered the North Road bus gate that would have given a strategic and safe cycling route to thousands who need access between key employment centres such as the University of Bath, schools and Wessex Water. These simple and effective measures would have enabled thousands to have safe cycling routes and make journeys that are carbon free.

It is clear that under the current leadership the Council have purposely pursued a transport agenda that has failed to deliver the leadership needed to reduce surface carbon emissions.  Over a year ago Cllr Guy told me ‘to dump the active travel schemes”. These schemes were centrally Government funded, so this leadership’s decisions have in turn resulted in this authority failing to receive substantial funding to pay for the necessary infrastructure needed to reduce carbon emissions.

The administration then submitted a sub-standard cycle resurfacing scheme through an existing path in Rainbow Woods that did not meet any of the government’s cycle funding criteria. 

The present Liveable Neighbourhood programme has consistently failed to put in place a simple strategic route map that would give all residents a clear view of the main routes across and around the city.  Instead of delivering visionary leadership with a flagship policy and a real journey to net zero,  B&NES has instead created piece-meal road closures with poorly delivered consultations. 

It seems very odd that we are being asked to support the Climate and Ecology Bill by this administration when it has consistently failed to deliver on many of the actions that it could have taken in the last three years.

For information I put forward an amendment yesterday to this motion and was told by the Monitoring Officer that the following points were not allowed, they were:

4. use its Highway Authority powers to deliver 20mph zones across all urban areas in B&NES

5. Deliver cycle infrastructure bids to Active Travel England to a standard that will mean bids are awarded funding

6. Deliver a bus gate on North Road

7. Deliver a strategic main route map of Bath for the Liveable Neighbourhood programme

8. Plant at least another 85,000 trees by 2023 – at least half in urban areas. Ensure there are plans to keep newly planted trees watered when they are vulnerable to dry/hot spells

9. Produce a workable plan to get solar panels on residents roofs, and insist that solar panels are installed on all new builds where they would receive enough sunlight to be viable

10. Resolve to insert these new requirements in an updated Local Plan and ensure that new developments comply

*************

Cllr Joanna Wright’s speech on the Cross-Party Motion from the Liberal Democrat, Conservative and Labour Groups and Cllr Joanna Wright on Bristol Airport Expansion

Thank you Chair

Bristol Airport is big enough and it is quite clear that the recent ruling by the High Court which effectively stated that the Government’s climate strategy is “illegal and inadequate” shows we are surrounded by rhetoric not matched by action.

The impact that the expansion of Bristol Airport would have on aviation carbon outputs is significant, but more importantly the expansion will blight the lives of all residents in the local area.

We are calling on the Government to overturn the planning inspectorate’s decision to allow these extra millions of passengers every year, if Bristol Airport is expanded. 

The Government’s own climate committee have said that there should be no net expansions of the UKs airports.  It is really incomprehensible that this decision has been made at a cost to local people’s health and well-being, the green belt and the effect to global emissions, which is literally causing us to be on fire. 

Everyone is being asked to find ways to address their own carbon outputs, yet Bristol Airport appears to think that it is special and this is wrong.

I repeat Bristol Airport is big enough.

Cllr Joanna Wright’s speech on the Council Tax Surcharge Motion

The Conservative motion doesn’t make sense. If someone buys a house that’s been left empty and has accumulated 300% Council tax on it then they should offer a lower price. If they know it’s going to take 2 years to do up and they need to pay 300% then they offer an even lower price. In this way ‘the market’ takes care of it. The Conservative motion presently would amount to the Council subsidising property developers rather than allowing market forces to work to stop owners letting property fall into disuse.

Many people in this country are unable to rent a property to make a home, let alone buy a house to make a home, because so many properties are empty, or have been made into luxury accommodation, HMOs or Air B&Bs.  The Conservative motion does nothing to address this. As Bath and surrounding North East Somerset is clearly a hot spot for property investment it does seem rather unfair that their motion will further make those wealthy from the buying and selling of property even wealthier whilst so many residents can ill afford their rent or ever dream of affording to buy a property to call home.

This Council should be resolving to tackle the housing crisis, by introducing Compulsory Purchase Orders for all empty properties as soon as the law allows, eg as soon as they have been empty for five years, and bring these to completion as quickly as legislation permits.”

The default recipient of residential property acquired via CPOs will be the councils, with the property allocated as social housing operated by the council – ie council housing

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