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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.

frack

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.

ambulance rushing

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.

PaulHospital

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.

PaulSchoolMeals

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.”

In the bag

From Monday 5 October plastic bags have to be paid for in larger shops throughout England.

PH plastic bags

From that day, England falls into line with Wales and Scotland in charging 5p a bag.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton & Northleach) welcomes the move:

“Wales has seen a 90% drop in plastic bag usage since the charge was introduced which is having a major positive impact on the environment – plastic bags can hang around for up to 100 years and are often seen drifting around streets and the countryside.

“The Lib Dems in the last Coalition Government introduced this green initiative.  People can stock up on bags now to make sure they don’t then have to pay from next week – reusing bags will be the way forward.

“But there is nowhere now to recycle plastic bags in the Cotswolds – there used to be facilities at Tescos and some other stores.

“Would CDC be able to provide recycling of plastic bags? That way we could have a ‘double whammy’ of much lower usage and the bags that do get used could also be recycled!”

Air Balloon solution stalling

Last year the Department of Transport approved funding to Highways England for fixing the A417 ‘Missing Link’, as part of a £15 billion countrywide road improvement scheme, but it has now been confirmed that a solution will not be delivered before 2021.

wgrp1530h13 air balloon[2]

Liberal Democrat Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Bouton-On-the-Water and Northleach) raised the issue this week with a Senior County Council Officer and the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) in his capacity as Chairman of the Gloucestershire Economic Growth Scrutiny Committee.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson said: “Many of us have spent years lobbying for a solution to the triple problems at the A417 – air pollution, gridlock and accidents. The outgoing Coalition Government committed to a sum of £250 million to be allocated to solving the Missing Link last December.

“Now, the new Government appears to be moving the goalposts. Not only do we now have no absolute commitment to spending money on a solution but the date for actual works is moving back beyond 2021.

A report from the LEP presented to the county’s council leaders this week stated that ‘..Highways England say any delivery of A417 solution is not in current funding programme to 2021’.

Cllr Hodgkinson, who represents part of the area covered by the A417 added: “Fixing the A417 does not feature on Highways England’s current funding programme up to 2021 and I’ve also seen no guarantees that it’ll feature on any programme after 2021 either.

“This isn’t on. We want a clear and definite commitment and total clarity about when works will start.”

Cllr Nigel Robbins (LD: Cirencester Beeches) who represents another part of the A417 said: “How many more fatalities are going to happen on this stretch of road before something is finally delivered? Fixing the A417 is vital in cutting accidents and reducing congestion and pollution levels.

“More than 6,600 people pledged their support in January 2014 when it seemed we had finally turned a corner in delivering a solution.

 “Residents of Gloucestershire deserve certainty and the timetable for delivering a solution to fixing the A417 missing link is slipping. I’m calling for more to be done to get it back on track.”

“We’ll continue to campaign to get the missing link fixed.”

Seven Springs to be first for ultrafast internet

Fed up with slow internet speeds and constant buffering?

Paul with pupils from Andoversford School at the the launch of the faster broadband project.

Paul with pupils from Andoversford School at the the launch of the faster broadband project.

Following on from the first rollout of faster broadband to some Cotswold towns and villages including Andoversford, the County Council has now announced a second phase.

Just over six and a half thousand properties in the rural Cotswolds will be hooked up to the faster service by autumn 2017. The new supplier, Gigaclear, has a record of connecting rural homes in other counties and have announced that the new roll has already started this autumn.

Places to benefit first include Seven Springs, Coberley and Colesbourne, followed later by Withington, Chedworth and Cold Aston.

The “Fastershire’ website shows all homes included in the new roll out – take a look to see if you’re included under ‘Phase Two’. If you’re not and think you should be please contact Fastershire directly or Councillor Paul Hodgkinson.

Paul has welcomed the news: “For those homes getting this good news it is very welcome – many of us are fed up with painfully slow connections and this can’t come a minute too soon. It’s great that our area will be the first in the Cotswolds to get the better service. This is now an essential service in the 21st century. I was in Greece recently where even in the remotest areas there was a 4G phone signal and fast broadband – if they can do it with severe financial problems so can we as the fourth biggest economy in the World!

“I will continue to fight for every house to get access to a better service.”

Paul added: “Now the battle to get a decent phone signal everywhere is about to get more intense. There are too many ‘not spots’ which need addressing.”

 

“Get the road signs cleared!”

A call has been made to sort out our area’s road signs.

C8G2TM Road sign obscured by shrubs, UK

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson has asked why road signs are unreadable and overgrown and has called for them to be cleared across the Cotswolds.

He met with Gloucestershire Highways and the Amey road contractors this week:

“We drove up and down one of the roads in my county council division (the A435 between Cirencester and Cheltenham) and I pointed out the signs which were either totally invisible or partly obscured.

“I’ve had a commitment that there will be major cut backs of vegetation in the next 7 weeks.

“I’ve noticed many signs across Gloucestershire are unreadable or only visible when you are on top of them – which can be too late if you are looking for something.

“The A429 on the approach to Northleach from Bourton is particularly bad – big signs are almost totally covered by overhanging branches. Clearing them is a no brainer to me as money’s been spent on the signs in the first place and it helps people who don’t know the area to navigate safely. At this time of year there are a lot of tourists driving round our area.

Cllr Hodgkinson feels it’s also about a clear and professional approach:

“There’s also something here about civic pride in having a clean and having a well maintained road network.”

Review of A429 called for

Following last week’s two deaths along the A429 in the Cotswolds, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton and Northleach) is calling for the County Council to urgently set up a task group to get to grips with issues along the road.

accident

He has called today for the Council’s Environment Scrutiny Committee to look at the issue at its September meeting:

“The issue for us locally is that the Cotswolds continues to have the worst accident record in Gloucestershire. There were still 10 deaths in the district last year – that is 10 too many with the impact that has on families and friends of those who lost their lives. Now we have ben blighted by a further 2 on the Fosse Way. I get repeated concerns from residents about the state of the road and its dangers. It’s now time to act.

“Working with other councillors in the Cotswolds I am calling for the Council to set up a working group to come up with some recommendations to deal with safety and also to work out how to ease the increasing gridlock which Stow, Moreton and Bourton all now face regularly.

“This road wasn’t built for a massive increase in traffic – the whole thing needs looking at.”

Cllr Hodgkinson has submitted a ‘councillor call for action’ which requires the Council to now consider what action it should take.

You can hear Paul’s interview with Radio Gloucestershire about this issue here:

https://audioboom.com/boos/3480054-paul-hodgkinson-calls-for-action-over-the-a429