National recognition for broadband coverage in Chedworth

The Connected Britain awards have recognised the work undertaken in the Gloucestershire village of Chedworth by Gigaclear, under the Fastershire project, in the Community Improvement award.

The awards that took place in London recently aim to promote the innovation and achievement of those companies who are at the forefront of Britain’s digital transformation.

Gloucestershire County Council’s Fastershire Broadband Project, in partnership with Herefordshire Council, is funding the delivery of faster broadband to homes and businesses across the two counties.

Gigaclear were awarded the Fastershire delivery contract for the Cotswolds in 2015 and have provided ultrafast broadband to premises across the Cotswolds, of which Chedworth was one of the villages enabled. Gigaclear specialise in transforming digital communications in rural communities by installing a new pure fibre broadband network offering speeds from 50 through 1000Mbps.

County councillor, Paul Hodgkinson, said, “Broadband access is vital for a rural community like Chedworth and the parish council, residents and I have long petitioned for improved broadband speeds.

“We’re delighted that Chedworth is not only accessing faster broadband but is now amongst some of the best connected communities in the country.”

To find out if your property can already access faster broadband or where your property sits in the Fastershire rollout, visit www.fastershire.com and use the address checker.

 

‘Cut your speed’ say Bourton residents

Residents in Bourton are hoping a new road feature will help slow down speeding drivers.

A speed gate now greets motorists as they enter the village along the Rissington Road following ongoing concerns for residents who live along that stretch of highway.

There have been regular speed checks by the ‘Community Speedwatch’ team which show a large but persistent number of drivers exceeding the 30mph limit.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson first discussed these issues with residents a year ago at an on site meeting and agreed to fund a set of gates at the end of the village. These are a feature of some other villages in the Cotswolds and the aim is to alert drivers to the fact they’re entering a village environment and a lower speed limit.

The gates have been funded by Paul with the small pot of money he gets each year to fund highways projects:

“This is really good news. Since we all met last year, a really good Speedwatch team has been set up in the village and a 20mph zone has been installed in the central village area. Of course, these individual measures help promote road safety but I know a lot of villagers feel strongly about this and want to feel safer as they cross the roads, walk on pavements with children and cycle.”

Thumbs up to Missing Link consultation

A 6 week consultation has started into 2 options to solve the A417 Missing Link at the Air Balloon.

Paul Hodgkinson (centre) with local councillors Iain Dobie and Nigel Robbins.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, Leader of the County Council Liberal Democrats (Bourton & Northleach), represents part of the A417 and attended the launch of the Missing Link options consultation at the Star College last week:

“After years of campaigning it was a sweet moment to see real options on the table at last to fix the gridlock, pollution and accident record at the Air Balloon.

“The Liberal Democrats in Gloucestershire are totally committed to solving this decades old issue and to get us all moving again at the blackspot. It impacts on all parts of our county. Both of the options being presented are do-able and I’m now going to speak to residents and parish councils about their views. It’s important to note that the consultation states that construction will not start until mid 2021 – we will do our bit to ensure the Government doesn’t let this slip.”

You can look at the detailed options and give feedback on the proposals before 29 March 2018 here: https://highwaysengland.citizenspace.com/he/a417-missing-link/

Call for transparency over A417 consultation

Liberal Democrats in Gloucestershire are calling for clarity on how local communities will be involved in the development of vital plans to solve the A417 ‘Missing Link’.

The Air Balloon roundabout has huge amounts of traffic and is a notorious blackspot for accidents and pollution

A comprehensive consultation area, involvement of hard to reach groups and briefings for local councils are among the demands being made by councillors Paul Hodgkinson, Steve Jordan and Max Wilkinson.

Gloucestershire County Council has briefed that the consultation for Highways England’s project will take place in the first two months of this year.

The Liberal Democrats are calling for:

  • a consultation zone to reflect the national significance of the project – including all of Cheltenham and all nearby  villages in the Cotswolds and Tewkesbury districts
  • a comprehensive programme of consultation events so local people can have their say
  • a thorough strategy for ensuring hard to reach groups can take part, including marginalised communities and time-poor working people
  • briefings for all impacted local councils, including Cheltenham Borough Council and Cotswold District Council
  • involvement for parish councils, including offers of community benefits

So far, the county council has closely guarded the details of the A417 proposals and the accompanying consultation has been delayed.

It is thought people will find out more within the next two months, including potential routes.

However, aside from the county council cabinet members, local councils have so far been kept in the dark.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, Leader of Gloucestershire County Council Lib Democrats, represents part of the A417 and says there needs to be as wide a consultation as possible: “We’ve waited so long for this road to be built so it’s important that everyone knows what is going on and has a chance to comment on the proposals.”

Cllr Steve Jordan, Leader of Cheltenham Borough Council, added: “As a Council we have supported plans to resolve the ‘Missing Link’ from the start. It is important that there is an open and comprehensive consultation to make sure the details are right.”

Max Wilkinson, Cheltenham Liberal Democrats parliamentary candidate, said: “This is a vital project for the future of Cheltenham and the wider county, so we’re calling for Highways England and the county council to ensure local people are fully involved.”

“That means a proper schedule of events and publicity to inform everyone about the proposals – including the time-poor working people who use the road to commute to work.”

 

Call for action over shocking levels of deprivation

New figures show big differences across Gloucestershire when it comes to hardship and access to services. 

Rural Negative Word Cloud

At the latest County Council Overview and Scrutiny Committee, councillors were presented with alarming figures showing how the county fares compared to other parts of England. And it made for uncomfortable reading as council bosses prepare their budgets for next year.

The figures come from an ‘Index of Multiple Deprivation’ and show levels of ‘deprivation’ for each part of Gloucestershire.

Areas are ranked from least deprived to most deprived, based on different measures including income, employment, education skills and training, health deprivation and disability, crime and disorder and barriers to housing and services.

The picture shows Gloucester and the Forest of Dean as ranked higher for deprivation compared to Cheltenham, Tewkesbury, the Cotswolds and Stroud.

But parts of the county usually seen as wealthier also show surprising results says Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (LD, Bourton and Northleach):

“There are pockets of people in the Cotswolds who face barriers to housing and services. I wasn’t expecting to see rural areas feature so highly in the deprivation league table.

“The Cotswolds is often seen as a playground for the rich and famous, but behind this veneer there are shocking levels of isolation and below average wages. Places like Chedworth now have few buses, sky high house prices and bad mobile phone coverage. For the more vulnerable this is a real issue which is not often talked about.

“Gloucestershire is made up of six unique districts; I’m appalled by these new figures. The Conservatives who have run the Council for 11 years have a responsibility to step up to the plate, take real action to address this situation and make sure there’s a level playing field for accessing services in our county. I want to see them come up with a plan to tackle these inequalities.”

At next month’s Council meeting, Cllr Hodgkinson will be asking the Leader of the County Council how the administration plans to address these new figures.

Are you listening, O2?

A Cotswold village has today made a bank holiday protest after weeks of non existent phone coverage.

O2

Led by County Councillor Paul Hodgkinson (LD, Bourton & Northleach) residents and businesses today made their voices heard in Bourton on the Water.

With throngs of tourists looking on, Cllr Hodgkinson joined villagers in the iconic Cotswold location when they asked, ‘Are you listening, O2?’

Holding banners and phones a crowd of young and old – plus a worker and pony from the village’s equestrian centre – told the mobile company they were at their wits end.

For weeks, Bourton and nearby Cotswold villages have been seething at the lack of phone signal from phone operator O2. It comes on the back of intermittent coverage since the beginning of the year. Despite frequent complaints from residents nothing has changed.

Now, the local councillor and villagers have had enough.

Cllr Hodgkinson has raised the issue every day with O2 but is getting frustrated:

“The sun rises each morning and once again there’s no phone signal. So I message O2 daily asking for an update but they say the same thing – ‘we’ll get back to you when we have some news’. Well, this is totally unacceptable for all the customers paying for a service. It’s not only hitting residents but also the many local businesses who are now at the height of the tourist season.”

“Let’s not forget that O2 customers are paying the wages of O2 staff and helping them make a profit. We need action.”

Local mum Anouska Jones said she’d been with O2 ‘right from the start’ and always thought they were ‘fantastic’ until this year:

“It’s just got worse and worse. The past 3 weeks we’ve had no signal at all. I can’t keep in touch with my child’s school. I’ve been paying my bill for the last 15 years and it’s just an absolute nightmare.”

Poppy Fountain from Bourton Vale Equestrian Centre says it’s not only affecting businesses but for her is now an issue of safety:

“Our bosses at the Centre can’t get hold of us when we are out with ponies and horses and we can’t speak to them. If a horse’s shoe comes off the Centre would come out to sort the issue out, now they can’t.”

Broadcaster Sean Maffett has lived in Bourton for many years and is furious with the situation:

“O2 has utterly failed to provide anything resembling an acceptable service in this area for a considerable time. And it needs to do something about it – not in 48 hours or five days but NOW! It’s their responsibility to make sure the mast is working nearby.”

Cllr Hodgkinson has now written formally to the Ombudsman Services for Communications and says he’s expecting a quick resolution to the issue:

“There’s a compelling message from us all – we want urgent action. We are looking to O2 to get its act together and fast.”

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.

Call for Air Balloon solution to get some speed up

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson has been pressing for a solution to the notorious A417 Air Balloon for the last few years. The traffic blackspot sits within his county council division.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson called for urgent action over the Air Balloon rounadabout

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson has called for urgent action over the Air Balloon roundabout

Prior to the General Election, the outgoing Government confirmed that £250 million would be made available for a solution to the triple issues at the location – accidents, gridlock and pollution. At the time, there were suggestions that spades could even be in the ground by next year.

Recently, the mood music from the Government has changed and the local MP acknowledged in the press that the timings had slipped.

Highways England are managing the project. Now, Paul has spoken to their project manager about this to get a real timescale for the project:

“Residents regularly ask me what is happening and it has been very difficult to get decent information.

“Now, the Highways England project manager has told me:

‘In terms of the Major Project at this location, we are currently at the very early stages of this scheme and still identifying and defining options. It was announced in the Roads Investment Strategy as a scheme for delivery in the Roads Period 2 which runs from April 2020 to March 2025. As you likely know, there is a long options and development process to deliver schemes of this nature which will also require a Development Consent Order. As yet, we are still considering the options and timescales for this scheme but our application for DCO is unlikely to be any earlier than Spring 2019 and may not be until 2020.’

What this means is that Highways England will look at all the options for the solution at the Air Balloon, will consult with the public and councils and only after that will present their findings to the Transport Minister to seek approval for work to actually happen.

Paul says he finds this very worrying:

“This work to fix the problems won’t start until 2020 earliest and could be anytime up to 2025. I’m sure Cotswolds residents don’t want to sit in traffic for another 9 years, nor do residents there want to put up with the high levels of air pollution. The impact on the local and regional economy is big – so my message is let’s get on with this as quickly as possible and let’s get a firm commitment from the Government that they will push this up the agenda.”

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.”