Fight to keep popular newsagent

Residents in Bourton on the Water have expressed anger at moves to oust the village’s remaining newsagent shop.

Newsagent protest

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson is campaigning to save the ‘community hub’ in the iconic tourist centre, encouraging residents to file objections to an application by the shop’s landlord.

The Cotswold District Council planning website has received 100 responses from local people who oppose the proposed conversion of the store into a fast food take away.

Cllr Hodgkinson, who represents Bourton and Northleach on the County Council, said: “The thought of losing the one remaining newsagent is really bad news.

“I’m very angry about this as Bourton has expanded hugely in recent years with more houses being built at the moment.

“We have 4,000 people in the village and there’s just one newsagent left to serve the community.”

Cllr Hodgkinson doesn’t feel Bourton needs another food outlet as there are already 35 in the village.

He added that neighbours meet each other on their daily visits to the newsagents and also buy a range of other goods:

“It has become a social hub and one which people do use and value. Let’s hope common sense prevails and that the newsagent can stay.”

A protest outside the newsagents attracted 50 local people who watched as Cllr Paul Hodgkinson and other councillors handed a letter of objection to the landlord at his home in the centre of Bourton.

End of ‘Coxit’ welcomed

Today it was announced that the so-called ‘COXIT’ has been abandoned due to a lack of public support and difficulties in merging two councils from different counties.

cotswold sign

Back in February the Leader of Cotswold District Council announced his intention to create a new ‘unitary’ council comprising the Cotswolds and West Oxfordshire. This would have meant the break up of Gloucestershire and the exit of the Cotswold district from Gloucestershire County Council’s area of responsibility.

Commenting on today’s announcement, Liberal Democrat County Council Group Leader Cllr. Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton and Northleach) said: “I’m very pleased that this mad idea for the Cotswolds to exit Gloucestershire County Council has been shelved. It had little support from residents and it has sadly wasted a lot of time and energy which should have been focused on delivering vital services.

“Now, it’s important for everyone in the county to work together to fix the things which people want – better quality roads, better ambulance response times and keeping the local economy moving.

“The Leader of CDC has compromised relationships with other councils and spent taxpayers money on consultants when no-one had voted for this idea and there was no mandate for it. His position is untenable and he should resign to make way for someone who can repair the damaged relations within Gloucestershire.”

Cllr. Iain Dobie (Lib Dem Deputy Leader) also said: “I welcome this return to common sense. As Chair of the Gloucestershire health scrutiny committee I had concerns that the break-up of Gloucestershire would have risked a poorer service to the Cotswolds from new health and social care providers. I trust that now we can get back to work on the best possible devolution deal for the whole of our county.”

To Coxit or not to Coxit, that is the question

Something strange happened on 25 February. That was the day when I heard that the Leader of Cotswold District Council (CDC) announced to the world that he had an idea. The problem is that the idea is mad.

Welcome to Glos

I’m talking about ‘Coxit’ – the proposal that the Cotswolds exits Gloucestershire County Council. The suggestion is that it is subsumed into Oxfordshire with a new ‘unitary’ council being created. This council would be called ‘West Oxfordshire (Cotswold)’ – nice to see that we are an afterthought in brackets – and would mean the break up of Gloucestershire local government as we know it. Why? Because this new council would replace the County Council in the Cotswolds with a single council. Hence the term ‘Coxit’ which one witty journalist has dubbed it.

Now, I’m all for making savings and keeping things simpler. I’m often asked what the different councils do and it’s confusing for a lot of people. In fact, I’m also up for exploring unitary councils and whether they could work within our county.

The problem is that this daft proposal – which even the CDC Leader’s own colleagues on the County Council knew nothing about – flies in the face of county and regional boundaries. It’s an idea which has been cooked up behind closed doors with no discussion with anyone. It defies logic.

These proposals would undermine the delivery of important public services currently delivered by Gloucestershire County Council. What’s also disturbing is that other public services such as the NHS, the Police, the Fire Service and the Local Enterprise Partnership have boundaries which mirror the county council.

These organisations have already voiced their serious concerns over the splitting up of our county’s services due to the issue of any new Cotswold authority not only crossing different counties but different regions too.

It’s all very odd – the Conservative manifesto for the local CDC elections last May didn’t mention any of this, so there’s no mandate to put this on the table. People I’ve spoken to out and about in the area are bemused by it. Why haven’t we had a say in this, they cry! Well they do have a point don’t they?

So, I’m with them – I believe that the removal of the Cotswold District from the Gloucestershire administrative area would harm the economy of the county.

Gloucestershire is a unique area of England with a cohesive set of communities interlinked with a common set of interests. To break up this county would damage the public services that support us all.

Here’s what I say to CDC – please do not waste any more time and taxpayers money on expensive consultants looking into something which no one has asked for, voted for or been consulted on.

Getting on with delivering good services should be all we’re about in local government. Listen to the people.

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!”

Bin the litter!

A call is being made to keep the Cotswolds cleaner.

Paul Hodgkinson collecting bag fulls of rubbish with local resident Christine Watson

Paul Hodgkinson collecting bag fulls of rubbish with local resident Christine Watson

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate for the Cotswolds) is calling for Cotswold District Council to be more proactive in clearing the area of unsightly rubbish.

At present, the Council picks up litter in some areas regularly but many rural roads face long waits between visits by waste collectors.

Cllr Hodgkinson (CDC, Churn Valley) believes the time is right for the Council to keep the Cotswolds cleaner:

“At this time of year the verges are clear of leaves and you can see the litter strewn everywhere. Fast food cartons, coffee cups and plastic bags make our unique area look like a tip. What message does this send out to visitors and residents who want to enjoy the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty?

“Because the Council’s litter collections are so infrequent people are taking the matter into their own hands and doing litter picks themselves. I’ve been out with local residents and we brought back bags laden down with wine and vodka bottles thrown out of car windows. It was pretty shocking to see what the verges are full of.

“I know many people take huge pride in the Cotswolds and want to see it kept clean and tidy. I’m saddened by the amount of litter along the verges of our country roads and lanes and it’s time to take some action.”

Now, Cllr Hodgkinson is proposing a motion to Cotswold District Council which calls for a more proactive approach to litter picking to be taken so that A and B roads in the Cotswolds receive more regular, programmed clear ups than is currently the case. The motion will be heard at the Council’s meeting on 24 February.

The call is being backed Cllr Joe Harris (Cirencester Park): “It’s not just the rural roads which are a problem. Crisp packets and sweet wrappers thrown down are also spoiling our towns. I organised two litter picks recently around Cirencester with students from the Royal Agricultural University who did their bit to make the area cleaner.

“It’s not asking for much to get the Council to act on this issue and I hope the Conservatives will see sense and join with us in literally clearing up the mess. “

All ears for better phone coverage

Mobile phone operators in the Cotswolds are being urged to provide a better service.

PaulJulietPhone

Liberal Democrat Councillors were backed unanimously today in applying pressure to get a fairer deal when it comes to a decent phone signal.

Parliamentary Candidate, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Churn Valley), who proposed a motion to the Council Meeting, said: “This is part of a campaign to address the large number of ‘not spots’ in the Cotswolds. So many villages have little or no mobile coverage – and even the towns have black holes too.”

He claimed the Cotswolds is one a small number of areas in England that have poor or non-existent mobile coverage, especially in rural parts of the district.

“If you live in an isolated village or travel on quiet roads you want some reassurance that you can contact someone easily. Better mobile coverage not only adds to personal security but also is an essential pre requisite for running a business from home. There are many small businesses based in our villages and they require easy communication,” he said.

Currently, the mobile phone service across the area varies depending on your phone operator. The Government has pledged extra cash to boost coverage across the country but Cllr Hodgkinson feels that so far this has had little impact on the Cotswolds:

“As I travel around the district there are only two areas I can get a 3G or 4G signal – around Tetbury and Cirencester. In lots of other places people would be happy with 1G let alone anything else!”

“It’s time we had a fair and decent service right across the area – after all we all pay for our phones so we expect to be able to use them.”

Cllr Juliet Layton (Water Park) seconded the motion and backs the call for a 21st century phone service:

“Without good and reliable coverage a mobile phone, however ‘smart’ it may be, is simply a weight in a pocket.

“Functional public phone boxes are in decline and rural areas with no mobile coverage are left vulnerable when emergency, business and social calls are impossible or cut off through weak signal.”

Now, the Council’s CEO has committed to write to mobile phone operators, OFCOM and BT calling for better coverage in the Cotswolds and a detailed plan of how it will be improved, with timescales.

 

Wanted: Local Plan

Fields across the Cotswolds are at risk from unplanned development thanks to the Cotswolds Tories.

That’s the latest news, as the Conservative-run Cotswold District Council (CDC) falls behind around 70% of districts which have a draft ‘Local Plan’ in place – the blueprint which dictates where development should go.

Now, in breaking news, the Council has also been criticised by planning inspectors for failing to have enough housing in the pipeline to satisfy demand (called a ‘5 year housing supply’).

Planning bosses in Bristol overturned a decision not to allow new housing in Fairford by waving through another large development there despite opposition locally. Their main reason was CDC’s lack of a proper housing supply.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, Prospective MP for the Cotswolds, is leading the fight to protect our countryside:

“When you consider that our area is unique and special, it beggars belief that the current MP and those who run our local Council have allowed this situation to happen.

Paul Hodgkinson (right) is fighting to protect our countryside

Paul Hodgkinson (right) is fighting to protect our countryside

“They knew years ago that a new Local Plan was needed but have put developers in the driving seat by leaving the Cotswolds exposed.

“Instead of allowing – where practical – small-scale developments to be built in villages across the district which have asked for them, the Tories have left the gate wide open.

“Now, our unique communities like Bourton, Stow, Tetbury and Moreton, as well as Cirencester, are faced with lots of extra houses but with no real improvement in services.”

“Whilst thousands of holiday homes have been built in our area by CDC, the housing crisis gets worse. The Cotswolds has the biggest gap between wages and house prices outside London, so something has to change.

“The emphasis now should be on affordable homes in the right places and where they are needed.

“That will help people live near to their families and friends instead of being forced to move away.”

Call for boost to recycling in the Cotswolds

Cotswold District Council is being urged to up its game on recycling.

Paul with councillors and campaigners outside Council offices

Paul with councillors and campaigners outside Council offices

Liberal Democrat Councillors are applying pressure to the administration at CDC to fall in line with many other councils across the country by introducing doorstep collections of Tetrapaks.

Parliamentary Candidate, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Churn Valley), who proposed a motion to the Council Meeting on 23 September, said: “This is part of our campaign to convince the Council that people want this service and it is the best possible outcome for the environment.”

He claimed CDC is one a falling number of councils in England that fails to recycle juice and drink cartons on the doorstep. Neighbouring councils who have such a service include nearby Tewkesbury and West Oxfordshire. At present, many cartons end up in landfill.

“When we campaigned successfully for plastics recycling it was a big step forward. Now, we want to help empty people’s black bins even more by helping them get rid of cartons in a greener way,” he said.

“Unfortunately, people can’t recycle Tetrapaks on the kerbside and the number of banks for disposing of them has fallen. Added to that is the fact that many think they can throw these cartons into the blue cardboard bags. In fact, if people do this, they contaminate all the cardboard and none of it can be used for recycling.”

“I asked the question on Facebook whether people wanted to recycle cartons and the resounding answer was yes! I hope the Council will now listen to them and get recycling rates back up again.”

 

Shock figures reveal Cotswolds homes crisis

A new set of figures shows the mountain people face when buying a house in the Cotswolds.

Houses like this are out of the reach of many younger people in the Cotswolds.

Houses like this are out of the reach of many younger people in the Cotswolds.

The National Housing Federation’s latest report on housing in the South West shows the Cotswolds as the most expensive place to live in the region.

The average house in the Cotswolds will set you back an eye £336,935 whilst the average salary in the area is just £18,762 a year.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for the Cotswolds, says the figures are alarming:

“The Cotswolds is often seen as a playground for the rich and famous, but the reality is very different. With wages well below the national average and the average house price twice that of nearby Gloucester the affordability gap is getting bigger and bigger. We have to find a way to build small scale affordable developments in line with what local villages and towns want.

“The problem is made so much worse by Tory-run Cotswold District Council’s dreadful lack of an up to date Local Plan as developers are simply ploughing ahead in a totally unplanned way.

“To add insult to injury, the Council’s administration has permitted thousands of holiday homes over the last decade. I’m astonished that Conservative bosses can be so out of touch with the reality of the situation for so many people living in our area.”

“Instead of concreting over the Water Park with thousands of holiday homes, the Council leaders should be sorting out small scale developments of affordable homes in villages and towns which need them.

“For those aged under 40 in particular the Cotswolds is fast becoming off limits for housing – that is an intolerable situation.”

Council makes £10 million profit from parking charges

The campaign against Cotswold District Council’s high parking charges gained fresh impetus this week from new figures showing that the Council has made millions from motorists in the last few years.

Pounds

In answer to a question to Cabinet Member Barry Gibbs about parking income and expenditure, shocked opposition councillors heard that the authority had made a profit of almost £10 million from charges since 2006.

The total income from the district’s car parks came to £14,634,000 in the period 2006-2013 whilst parking costs came to £5,245,000.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, Leader of the Council’s Liberal Democrat Group (Churn Valley) said he was staggered by the new figures:

“These numbers are eye watering and people will be rightly angry that they are being hit hard hit by these charges whilst the Council’s administration refuses to cut them substantially.”

He warned that, if the charges continued, the impact on the economy of local market towns would be dire:

“Council parking charges can either encourage or choke off economic development,” he said. “If councils want people to visit their towns and villages, stay a while to shop and perhaps eat at local restaurants, then they should cut charges.

“If they want their towns to compete with out-of-town shopping locations which have ample free parking, then they should provide the ability for people to park cheaply in town centres for short business and shopping visits.”

“I want places like Cirencester, Stow and Tetbury to maintain their role as centres for the surrounding rural areas, from which travel by car is the only convenient means of transport. That means the Council should recognise this and stop milking the motorist.”

Previously, petitions against the charges – presented to CDC in 2011 – have topped 2,000 signatures.

Cllr Joe Harris (Cirencester Park), who challenged the Council’s Conservative administration to stop using parking charges as a cash cow, accused them of riding roughshod over local opinion:

“People have told us on the street that increased parking charges have influenced where they shop, with some people deserting the towns in favour of places with cheaper or free parking.

“We demand an end to these excessive profits from car parking in the Cotswolds.”