Cotswold school helps community get physical

The Cotswold School, located in Bourton-on-the-Water, has unveiled new sports equipment which was part funded by Gloucestershire County Council’s ‘Active Together’ scheme.

Paul with staff and students from the school

‘Active Together’ is a grant scheme designed to increase sport and physical activity opportunities for people in the county. Each electoral division in the county has £40,000 available.

County Councillor Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton-on-the-Water and Northleach) provided the School with cash from his ‘Active Together’ funds towards their new gym. Money was also provided by the neighbouring county councillor.

Cotswold School, which was recently voted by the Times newspaper as the best comprehensive school in the country, made the application to the county council to further support its role as sports facility provider in the community.

The money helped to replace ageing gymnastics equipment, used by the school as well as local clubs, and to buy moveable dugouts for the school’s outdoor sports pitches. New sports equipment for the netball team, and an outdoor table tennis table were also included in the investment.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, said; “I’m delighted to be able to support the fantastic work that Cotswold School does in the local community.

“This additional funding will mean they can continue to provide high quality facilities for their pupils and local sports clubs, whilst promoting a healthy lifestyle in the county.”

Government decision to allow fracking in AONB branded ‘outrageous’

Fracking came one step closer to the Cotswolds after MPs voted to enable it to happen in areas of outstanding natural beauty and national parks.

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The controversial method of extracting gas will be allowed under the most beautiful parts of the country after the measures were cleared by a vote in Parliament.

From now on fracking can take place three-quarters of a mile below national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and world heritage sites in England.

Local Conservative MPs Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswolds), Neil Carmichael (Stroud) and Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) all voted to relax the rules in the House of Commons.

Reacting to the news, County Councillor Paul Hodgkinson (LD, Bourton and Northleach) said he was horrified at the move:

“The Cotswolds has a huge area of AONB within in and it’s a special place. Yet now, we have the very real prospect of fracking taking place underneath us. The vote in Parliament gives the green light to this yet no one locally has been consulted.

“It is outrageous that the Cotswolds MP has supported a relaxation of the rules on fracking. We should be doing all we can to protect the unique nature of the area we live in, not jeopardise it.

“So many questions of safety are still being asked about fracking. Only last week the Government signed up to a landmark climate change deal and is now abandoning those pledges to create a market for another fossil fuel.

“Our AONB is now at risk and those who voted for this should hang their heads in shame.”

“This is a massive risk to our landscape, heritage and tourism industry. Investing in green energy is the way forward.”

Unanimous council call to improve ambulance response times 

Paul’s call for urgent improvements to ambulance response times was debated and supported unanimously at Gloucestershire County Council earlier this month.

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The issue was first brought by Cllr Hodgkinson to the Council in May 2014 where unanimous cross-party support was given for a motion calling for urgent improvements to ambulance response times in the Cotswolds, Stroud, Tewkesbury and the Forest of Dean.

Eighteen months on and the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) is still failing to meet its 75% target in responding to the most urgent calls within 8 minutes.

Paul says more must be done: “We know that paramedics do a brilliant job and that the ambulance service has been trying to improve performance, but more action must be taken.

“The latest ambulance performance report published this autumn shows simply dreadful figures for our area. We cannot ignore the fact that the response times have in fact got worse.

“For example, in September of this year the 8 minute target for Red1 incidents (immediately life-threatening conditions) was achieved in only 38.46% of cases in the Cotswolds. Last September 2014, the same target was achieved in 53.3% of cases in our area. So the gap actually widened.

“Finally, the County Council’s Health and Care Committee have now also been given full council backing to explore the option of creating a county-wide ambulance service rather than a regional one. This is an interesting suggestion and one which really needs looking at.”

Call to end ambulance service crisis in Gloucestershire

A Liberal Democrat motion submitted to the county council next week will look once again at worrying ambulance response times across many parts of Gloucestershire.

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This follows the latest figures showing the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust’s (SWASFT) continuing failure to meet their 75% target in responding to the most urgent calls within 8 minutes.

The issue was first brought by Cllr Paul Hodgkinson at a council meeting in May 2014 where unanimous cross-party support was given for a motion calling for urgent improvements to ambulance response times in the Cotswolds, Stroud, Tewkesbury and the Forest of Dean.

In spite of the fact that the issue of ambulance performance is being monitored by the Council’s Health and Care Scrutiny Committee (HOSC) improvements have yet to be made.

Paul Hodgkinson (LD, Bourton-on-the-Water and Northleach) who will for a second time be leading the debate said that:

“Our calls for improving ambulance response times made in the council chamber over eighteen months ago appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

“The latest ambulance performance report published last month show simply dreadful figures. I’m extremely concerned about the latest 8 minute response rates which show the target being missed spectacularly in areas like the Cotswolds – in fact the response times have actually got worse from the previous year. In September of this year the 8 minute target for Red1 incidents (immediately life-threatening conditions) was achieved in only 38.46% of cases in the Cotswolds and in the same month this year 47.83% of cases in Stroud. Last September, the 8 minute target for Red1 incidents (immediately life-threatening conditions) was achieved in 53.3% of cases in the Cotswolds and 69.2% in Stroud.

“I’ve said before and will say it again that overall we commend the work of the ambulance service and the many lives that are saved, but a crisis point has now been reached where what we are seeing is SWASFT’s failure to improve.

“I want to see the figures improving significantly. As well as calling for urgent improvements, I will also request that the Council’s Health and Care Scrutiny Committee explores the creation of a county-wide ambulance service rather than a regional one.

“People living in rural areas have for far too long been living with a second rate service in terms of ambulance response times compared to those living in the urban areas of both Cheltenham and Gloucester.”

Cllr Joe Harris (LD, Cirencester Park) who will be supporting the motion also said that:

“I’ve seen first hand the excellent work that our paramedics do across the area in difficult circumstances. The continuing poor performance on response times is really concerning and highlights a bigger problem, it’s a problem that senior decision makers need to get a grip of.

“We continue to see targets being missed in the most life threatening cases and also on ‘green priority’ calls, an example of this could be the elderly lady who has fallen in the street and is having to wait hours for an ambulance in great pain. It isn’t good enough.

“In SWAST’s case bigger certainly hasn’t meant better and their performance in many parts of the County highlights this. I believe that a return to a County Ambulance service will mean better outcomes for Gloucestershire residents through local decision making and scrutiny. I hope the Council votes to take the first step in doing this next week.”

Task group set up to save lives on A429

At last week’s County Council Environment & Community Scrutiny Committee unanimous cross-party support was given to the setting up of a task group to investigate safety and congestion on the A429.

Paul A429

Cllr. Paul Hodgkinson (LD: Bourton-on-the Water and Northleach) requested a ‘call for action’ back in the Summer and now the Council’s Environment Scrutiny Committee will look at road safety issues along the A429.

Cllr. Hodgkinson said that “The Cotswolds continues to have the worst accident record in Gloucestershire, every life lost on our roads can be avoided and we should act to prevent further injury and loss of life on this stretch of road. I’m therefore delighted that the Environment & Community Scrutiny Committee has today supported for my calls to set up a working group.

“Once formed, this group can work together to come up with recommendations that deal with safety and also to work out how to ease the increasing gridlock which Stow, Moreton and Bourton all face regularly.

“As I’ve said before this road wasn’t built for a massive increase in traffic – the whole thing needs looking at and hopefully through this task group solutions can be found.”

3,000 could lose free school meals under Government plans

Thousands of children in the Cotswolds could lose their right to a free school meal under the Conservative Government’s plans to review the scheme.

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Universal free school meals offer every infant child a healthy meal at lunchtime, which saves families more than £400 per child per year.

Evidence shows where children have been given a free school dinner, their results improved compared to youngsters who didn’t get one.

These academic improvements were most marked among children from the poorest backgrounds.

There are currently 2,957 children who receive free school meals in the Cotswold district who would lose them if the Government follow through with plans reported in the media recently.

County Councillor Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton and Northleach) said: “If this goes ahead, the Government will show it is willing to take an axe to the education budget at the expense of children’s learning.

“By scrapping this policy they would take food off the plates of thousands children across the Cotswolds who now benefit from a free healthy meal at lunchtime. I’ve seen first hand how primary schools like Bourton and North Cerney have made changes to their buildings to accommodate the extra meals. When I served pupils their lunch at North Cerney I was very impressed by the standard of food and the children seemed to love it.

“The Liberal Democrats fought tooth and nail to get this through in Coalition because we want every child to have the best possible start in life and be able to concentrate in class, and all the evidence shows that a healthy meal helps with that.

“Instead of investing in our children, the Government is turning up at the school gate and taking their lunch away. I ask them to think again.”

Businesses asked for views on noisy road

An action group from along the A419/A417 is asking local businesses for their views on the noisy road.

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The issue of noise from the dual carriageway has been a running sore for residents since it was first built in 1998. Various attempts to reduce the sound have been made over the years without success so far. The action group, calling themselves A419NAG, was formed in 2012 and is made up of local residents and councillors who live in the Cotswolds and North Wiltshire. It surveyed 500 residents last year and the findings showed that the road is having a real impact on people’s lives and health.

The research findings were published in a report called ’The Social Consequences of Road Noise’ and found that from 500 respondents 97% said they could hear the noise from the concrete section of the dual carriageway. 88% said it was disruptive to their everyday lives.  Many reported loss of sleep and headaches, others stress and anxiety.

Now, the group is taking its campaign one step further by seeking feedback from businesses near to the busy highway.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (GCC, Bourton & Northleach) is chairing the group and says the aim of the new survey is to find out whether the road noise is impacting on the local economy:

“Last year’s report made uncomfortable reading for the authorities. Highways England have taken it seriously and met with us but have said that it is the economic impact which could help push the Government to act.

“So now we want to find out how the road noise affects businesses located close to the concrete section of the A417/A419. We’ve set up a pilot online survey and have approached some firms along the stretch of the road to see if the noise is also an issue for them, their staff and customers.

“Once we’ve got the results of the pilot we will roll out the survey out to a wider area along the dual carriageway and will publish the findings in a report later this year.

“Our aim as always is to show that there is an issue here with this road which needs addressing. It must be solved before the improvements to the Air Balloon roundabout come on stream as those much-needed changes will inevitably lead to more traffic along the whole stretch of the road further south.”

 

The survey can be accessed at: www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/A419NAGBusinessSurvey/.  It will be available to complete online until July 31st 2015.

Road noise levels double – shock findings

An action group from along the A419/A417 have published startling new figures which show a dramatic increase in noise levels.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (left) with members of A419NAG

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (left) with members of A419NAG

The issue of noise from the dual carriageway has been rumbling on for residents since it was first built in 1998. Various attempts to reduce the sound have been made over the years without success so far. An action group, calling themselves A419NAG, was formed in 2012 and has been lobbying on behalf of residents all along the infamous road.

Now, the group is taking its campaign one step further by publishing noise readings taken at two locations along the highway.

Measurements were taken at Latton in Wiltshire and Cerney Wick in the Cotswold district. They show that the noise has doubled since the road was built 17 years ago.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (CDC, Churn Valley) is chairing the group and believes the new figures give firm evidence that action should be taken at last:

“Our readings show that noise levels have doubled since the road was built in the late 1990’s. For residents living anywhere near the dual carriageway it’s not a surprise but it’s still shocking nonetheless. This pollution is more than an irritant – excess noise has been proven to impact on your health and well-being.”

“Now, as we are making public these figures for the first time they make uncomfortable reading for the authorities.”

Ray Brassington, a member of the group, took the readings using equipment supplied by Cotswold District Council. He was retracing his steps as he did the same thing in 1998 when the road was first built: “I was employed by CDC in 1998 as an Environmental Health Officer and undertook an extensive noise survey along the length of the A419/417 and one of the monitoring locations was in Cerney Wick. The readings then were taken at the exact same location as now and over a same 15 minute period.

“What I’ve found is that the noise level has doubled in that time.”

The World Health Organisation states that to protect the majority of people from being seriously annoyed during the daytime and evening the outdoor noise level should not exceed 55dB. At night time sound levels 1m from the facade of house should not exceed 45 dB so that people can sleep with windows open. The WHO has also stated that prolonged exposure to noise above 55dB can trigger raised blood pressure and even heart attacks.

Ray added: “The noise levels at this location have increased by 9 dB over the 16 years the road has been in operation and are now almost twice as loud. I also took readings at Latton in Wiltshire and these were also almost twice as loud as stipulated by the World Health Organisation.

Now the group is contacting DEFRA to arrange a meeting in order to present its findings.

Cllr Hodgkinson is certain this new information will help residents: “This is about righting a wrong – since the completion of the dual carriageway, people living along this section of the road have told us they suffer excessive noise pollution. Now we know for sure that this is a real problem backed up by data. We now call on the authorities to take the action they should have taken years ago.”

“We will let the findings speak for themselves and drown out the sound of the traffic.”

Schools serve up a success at lunchtime

Schools in the Cotswolds have been praised for dishing up a new initiative to the area’s infants.

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Since September all 5-7 year olds have been eligible for a free meal at lunchtime for the first time.

Now, as part of National School Meals Week, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate for the Cotswolds) has thanked schools in the area for making the scheme a success:

“As the second half of the autumn term kicks off, it’s clear that primary schools up and down the Cotswolds have worked hard to make this work.

“All the evidence shows that a hot, healthy meal at lunch time greatly improves the health, behaviour and results of schoolchildren, providing them with their best start in life, enabling every child to fulfil their potential. “I was impressed by the quality of the lunch when I visited Bourton primary school recently – a roast dinner and fruit was the best lunch I’d had in ages!”

Jenny Forde is a governor at North Cerney School and says that she’s been impressed with how smoothly and competently the schools have responded: “It’s great it is to see so many families taking up the free school meal and lovely to see the children all sitting down to eat the same meal much like a family.”

Laura Watts is on the governing team at Sherborne School: “I’m really impressed with how coolly and calmly the local head teachers have gone about providing hot school meals to the very youngest pupils. Ask busy people to get stuff done and they do it, with very little fuss.”

Cllr Hodgkinson, who is also County Councillor for Bourton and Northleach, served up lunches at North Cerney School this week: “The quality of the food was fantastic and I’m glad to have done my bit for School Meals Week and to thank everyone in the school for getting this initiative off the ground.”

Call for hospital’s future to be secured

A call has been made to safeguard the future of Cirencester Hospital.

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Cllr Paul Hodgkinson – Prospective MP for the Cotswolds – made the call following a statement issued by the Clinical Commissioning Group in Gloucestershire which launched a review into whether the hospital could be used more.

Mary Hutton, Accountable Officer at the county’s NHS Clinical Commissioning Group, said:

“A Cirencester Hospital project group, with representatives from the Clinical Commissioning Group, Gloucestershire Care Services NHS Trust and the South Cotswolds GP Executive Group, has been set up.

“The review aims to fully understand the health needs of people living in the South Cotswolds and how more patients could, where appropriate, be treated at Cirencester Hospital rather than at the main hospitals in Cheltenham, Gloucester and Swindon. The review will take some months to complete.

Cllr Hodgkinson is looking for a positive outcome to the review: “Following on from the disappointment over the reduction in A&E services in Cheltenham, people will be wary of the word ‘review’. However, if this latest move leads to people in the Cotswolds being able to make more use of Cirencester Hospital this has to be a good thing.

“Cirencester Hospital is a gem – it provides a really good service for minor injuries and illnesses. Given the journey times to Cheltenham or Gloucester for residents, an expanded service in Cirencester would make sense.

“I want the Hospital to have a secure future as people value it. It could also take some pressure off Cheltenham.”