An update from Martin Tett, Leader of Buckinghamshire Council image

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24 May 2024
Dear resident,
I hope you are all keeping well. The weather continues to be a mixture of sunshine and showers but hopefully we have some better weather ahead.
I’m sure the national news this week cannot have escaped your notice with the announcement from the Prime Minister that there is to be a General Election on Thursday 4 July. Please do look out for further information in the coming days and weeks about the deadlines for registering to vote, postal voting and voter ID.
On to more local matters, and I’m conscious it’s been some time since my last update to you. I do therefore want to update you on some of the important items of local news and activity from the council in the last few weeks, and some information about what we’ve got coming up.
Extra funding for additional drain and ditch clearing
I feel like I’ve spent most of these updates talking about the weather in recent months, and this is no exception! While it’s a relief to finally be well into spring, we are still dealing with the impacts of one of the wettest periods in history. Even this week showed us once again that groundwater levels remain very high and that it only takes a heavy downpour to once again fill drains and gullies.
Locally we have had some more flood alerts. I know it’s been an immensely difficult winter for some residents who’ve experienced the impacts of all this rain and flooding. We want to do everything we can to become more resilient to the impacts of prolonged wet weather, and I would advise starting by familiarising yourself with the wealth of information about flooding and flood prevention that’s on the council’s website. (
The council is what is called a Local Lead Flood Authority. In practice, a lot of the responsibility lies with water companies and the Environment Agency but of course the council has a role in bringing these parties together, gathering local information, ensuring our own networks are fit for purpose and above all else, acting on behalf of our residents to have these organisations find long-term solutions. This is why we have pledged a further £500,000 towards extra drain and ditch clearing – on top of the existing commitment to cleanse every gully in Buckinghamshire, every year. This additional funding will be spent on extra cleansing for more than 2,000 high priority ditches and drains, creating new ditching in some problem areas and repairing damaged drainage systems so the water can flow away more easily.
I want to make a special mention too of the severe impact that the heavy rainfall has had on the Chalfont St Peter area. I recently attended a packed meeting of concerned residents. This is in a location vulnerable to groundwater flooding but we have seen this winter the sewage system again compromised and residents having to experience the terrible situation of sewage flooding in homes and gardens. We have put pressure upon Thames Water, who own the sewage infrastructure, to firstly resolve this situation and to work on resilience and prevention. As an immediate priority we have pushed Thames Water to reopen the High Street and this was finally done this week. We thank residents for their patience.
Road network
I was out and about over the weekend in my car and on my bicycle. It was good to see at last substantial road repairs. These have been very difficult due to the intermittent rain disrupting road works. We continue to work tirelessly to repair the damage caused by the wet winter to the whole of the road network. Again, the rain opened up multiple defects across the whole county and we know it’s an uphill battle to get back on top of it. It is genuinely hard for councils across the country to keep up with the deterioration of their road networks and we are no exception. We fixed 30,000 potholes last year and I think we will do more this year.
We know what a key priority this is for our residents, which is why, as I’ve previously outlined, we’ve added an extra £5 million to the existing £105 million, meaning a total £110 million investment in the highways network over a four year period. Like last year, our aim is to capitalise on the spring and summer months and make big strides forward on our overall roads and repairs programme. This work also sees specific repairs and improvements to key pieces of infrastructure.
Let me just add that I am not complacent, and I know that we still have a lot to do on our roads with the limited financial resources available.
Marlow Bridge
We’re surveying Marlow Bridge at the moment to finalise the programme of works for this historic structure. And I’m delighted that we are reopening Berry Hill footbridge in Taplow in the coming weeks, after major works has left it closed for a very long time. This has been a complex project requiring a substantial section of the bridge being completely replaced and we are all very pleased this large-scale project is complete and that the bridge will be fully reopen to the public very soon.
Extra funding for weed spraying
I know how important it is to our residents that the county and our villages and market towns are well presented. We’ve taken a really tough stance on fly-tipping and littering and are ramping up even further our action on that, being early adopters of new powers available to us on enforcement against litter louts. I hope to say more about that in my next Newsletter.
Last year we made what frankly was, in retrospect, a mistake in removing the budget for weed spraying. This was on cost and safety grounds. I’m therefore really pleased that we have been able to re-instate a weed spraying round this year. The wet and mild weather has caused the weeds to grow extremely quickly this spring.
Roadside verges
In recent years we have reduced the number of cuts to roadside verges. Again, this is for both financial but also environmental reasons. We have tried to improve the biodiversity of our roadsides. However, I am also very conscious of the balance we need to strike between protecting the natural environment but also keeping verges at junctions cut so they don’t jeopardise visibility. The mixture of rain and sun has caused a lot of verges to grow very rapidly and some sight lines at junctions risk being obscured. If this occurs in your area please alert the council using Fix My Street (
) or contact your locally elected Buckinghamshire Councillor. (
Reflections on the last year in Buckinghamshire
We recently held the council’s Annual General Meeting, where we appointed our new Chairman, Cllr Mimi Harker OBE and new Vice Chairman, Cllr Sarfaraz Kahn Raji. The AGM is also a time where we take stock of where the council is now, what we’ve delivered over the last year, and what the immediate priorities are moving forward.
It has not been an easy year. I know many residents have relied on the ongoing support provided through our Helping Hand service and that many households have continued to feel the effects of rise in bills and other costs that we’ve seen in the last couple of years. As a council, balancing our own budgets has been exceptionally challenging given that increased demand of four critical services; social care for children and adults, temporary accommodation for the homeless, and transport for children with special needs to get to school is devouring our budget and now accounts for 71% of our overall spend.
These are not easy parameters to work within and we are having to find further savings on top of the £75 million we’ve already saved through becoming a unitary council in Buckinghamshire.
That said, we remain prudently run and as a result are able to invest in community facilities in a way that sadly, some other local authorities are unable to do.
The council’s activity over the last twelve months reflects its four over-arching priorities as agreed in our Corporate Plan; (
) Strengthening our Communities, Protecting the Vulnerable, Improving our Environment and Increasing Prosperity.
I addressed the AGM on our Annual Report (
), which you can view at this link if you would like to see the detail, pulling out many of the main achievements we’ve delivered in the last year under these four themes which all of our work sits under.
Some key highlights from the last 12 months include:
The major extra investment in our road network as detailed above.Nearly £1 million invested in significant upgrades to seven parks and play spaces.Introducing higher fines and new zero tolerance policies for fly-tipping, with the same tougher approach coming in for littering.Administering £2.4 million of Household Support Fund through our Helping Hand programme, supporting residents experiencing financial hardship and handing out nearly 90,000 digital food vouchers for families to use during the school holidays.Progressing a number of projects under our flagship ‘Opportunity Bucks’ programme, our local approach to ‘Levelling Up’, which has included a series of Community Action Days and jobs and skills fairs.Our Adult Social Care team managing more than 40,000 contacts and completed nearly 4,000 reviews for social care clients.Our familiy support service supporting nearly 4,500 familes.
Children in our schools continuing to achieve above average exam results.
You can read more in the full Annual Report (
), available on our website.
Future growth in our town centres and beyond
Importantly, we are also working hard to create a firm foundation for future growth here in Buckinghamshire. This is shown through the adoption of our Regenerating Bucks strategy last year. A key focus of this work is how we will regenerate our three largest town centres and I’m delighted that we’ve recently progressed exciting plans for Aylesbury that will deliver economic growth and create a more attractive town centre space.
We have progressed long-standing plans to turn the Old County Offices site into 46 brand new homes in the heart of the town, through a developer who will bring the scheme forward. We have also agreed proposals to regenerate the former Gala Bingo site on the High Street which has lain empty for a number of years. We have spent a lot of time exploring potential uses for this building including bringing it back into use. I know there is great affection for it and I myself, as a historian, had been very keen that we explored every possible option to retain the building. However, the reality is that this simply is not viable.
No business case has ever come forward and the building has sadly almost nothing left of its original cinema interior character. The costs of restoring it would be very high and more than the council can afford. Instead, the site offers a real opportunity to drive forward some very positive growth and change. We have therefore agreed exciting plans to create a new public space that will open up the High Street, creating a link to the thriving Exchange development. In essence, it will be a new ‘quarter’ for Aylesbury and the intention will be to have some retail and an outdoor space that can be used for music and other events, bringing people together in the same way that the Gala Bingo and old cinema did before it. Crucially, these plans will create new employment opportunities and will support our local independent businesses to flourish and grow. I will keep you updated as these plans progress.
I’m sorry that this Newsletter is so long. There has been much to update you on so I hope this has been useful and informative. I will leave you with a final thought about ‘the future’ – on far more personal level. As a council, we are trying hard to encourage as many people as possible to consider whether they could foster a child in need. We have seen a significant drop in the number of foster carers in Buckinghamshire in recent years yet fostering remains by far the best solution for a child in need. We have therefore worked hard to put together a really attractive package of ‘perks’ for foster carers in the hope of encouraging more to come forward. This includes a full council tax refund, free parking in council car parks, free access to leisure centres and more.
If you, or someone you know, might be interested in finding out more about fostering, please direct them to the special section of our website. (
This will be my last Newsletter for a while due to restrictions during the election period. Please all keep well and safe.
Martin Tett
Leader of Buckinghamshire Council
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