Town Council Meeting ~ 3rd December.

By Alan Winter. 

The Council approved the minutes of the previous meeting of 22nd October. That had been called especially to consider aspects of the proposed CBC changes to Council Tax, and how this might affect people on benefits. The Town Council  passed a resolution supporting the protection from the changes for current pensioners and future pensioners who might claim support; supported the withdrawal of discounts from those with second homes, empty or repossessed properties. The Council did not support "the proposed reductions in council tax benefit which impact on those on Income Support or Income Based Jobseekers Allowance, receiving Employment and Support Allowance or have low earnings or income are not supported. These households have restricted budgets and any reduction is likely to have a major detrimental impact. Central Bedfordshire Council are urged to 1. consider alternative ways of recovering all the reduction in funding from Central Government; 2. utilize all available sources to publicize the changes as outlined previously to members; 3. actively engage all affected residents." 

The Council received reports from the Policy and Resources Committee (P&R). Among the items recently agreed was to maintain its relationship with The Way. The Way has already been working with the Town Council with existing and voluntary groups to develop their role and scope, and wishes to see this work continue. This will help to provide an effective link between the community, HRTC and Central Bedfordshire Council. A new 3 year contract was agreed, to run to March 2016, and would include a contract to provide Easter and Summer playschemes. In July P&R had resolved to set up a fleet service partnership agreement with Luton Borough Council. A resolution had also been passed to become a partner in the "Bedfordshire Police Partnership Trust" which ensures that the free Bobby Scheme service, which is a charity, continues to receive funding.

The Town Council considered a large report on a CBC consultation document on Leisure Strategy. A comprehensive response had been drafted by the HRTC officers. This was discussed, and the officers recommendation was accepted. This included some criticism of general population forecasts, criticism of local levels of transport ownership. It supports measures to increase capacities at existing facilities, encourages the adoption of growth agenda for HR and Leighton Buzzard as a basis for providing modern up to date facilities. A number of other points mentioned cover improvements that would benefit HR, notably, "The Town Council support the immediate refurbishment of the existing pool then the medium / long term development of a new leisure centre with pool as part of the growth agenda."

The Town Council considered reports from the Planning and Licensing Committee (P&L). Of note, the committee objected on 15th October to 2012/03259 Change of use from commercial to three 1 bedroom dwellings and two studio flats at 74-76 High Street, Houghton Regis. "Comments: Object. Over-development of the site. Inappropriate parking arrangement. Traffic issues - further increase in traffic onto a busy High Street. In the light of current trends to rejuvenate high streets as retail and commercial centres, object to the loss of a potential retail outlet. Query whether or not this is a listed building." A further objection was made to an application for a dwelling in Roman Gardens, "Object. Inappropriate development in that area, as it would completely alter the street scene. No indication of the actual design of the proposed building. Suggest some investigation into the deeds of the properties in that area, as it is believed there is a clause in all deeds that prevents the open area land, including gardens, from being built on." A Proposed Weight Restriction on 7.5 tonne HGV on Poynters Road was considered. The Committee resolved "to support the proposals, but suggest that consideration should be given to extending the restriction to include Park Road North" otherwise lorries would use this route as an alternative to the A505.

A proposal to enter into a joint arrangement with Central Bedfordshire Council to house a joint changing room and nursery at Tithe Farm was considered. During discussion it became apparent that the overall cost of the project had not previously been known to town councillors and a request for comparative costs was made. Nevertheless, the Council agreed a minimum expenditure on a feasibility study. Tithe Farm recreation ground is owned by CBC and is under the management of HRTC under a long term lease which expires in 2061. The pavilion is owned and managed by HRTC and is used for sports changing facilities and storage. The existing changing facilities are said to be of poor design leading to vandalism and maintenance issues. Current changing rooms and storage areas are said to be just adequate. Initial estimates for a joint building were put at £600,000 including £50,000 for the car park.

Central Bedfordshire Councillors attended the HRTC meeting to give verbal reports of their activities. Cllr Susan Goodchild said the numbers of children being taken into care was on the rise. CBC were looking at best practice Councils, such as Wandsworth. They were looking at improvements for outcomes for care leavers, helping them to find work. The government were to set up junior ISAs. 
Cllr Goodchild spoke about education. Central Beds was 17th in the table for pupils attending good or outstanding schools. By comparison, Bedford was 11th, Hertfordshire was 53rd, Luton 114th. It was important to do well at Key Stage 2, and Cllr Goodchild said a lot of thanks was due to the heads and parents. In Adult Care and Social Housing, work was in progress on Health and welll being; there was a working group on discharge from hospitals; short stay unit in Houghton Regis was being well used. There was concern around Adults with Learning Difficulties. They had been happier in Dunstable but since a recent move had felt more isolated; Aldwyck were going to set up a coffee shop for them. Crime in Sandringham estate was mentioned, and when quizzed, Cllr Goodchild said she was aware of 4 current separate anti-social behaviour issues, and urged anyone who became aware of issues there to "be a good neighbour" and let officers and the ASB team at CBC know about them. The Baptist Church was holding daily sessions with Adults with Learning Difficulties from 10 until 12.

Cllr Rita Egan mentioned that due to difficulties at CBC, commenting on budget proposals for next year were not yet possible. Cllr Egan, who is disabled, thanked the town for the Houghton Regis Helpers, who she would recommend to anyone, for helping her out while her kitchen was rebuilt. Cllr Egan was due to meet with the new PCC, Olly Martin, this Friday, to discuss policing issues in the town.

Cllr Peter Williams said he had had a lot of reaction to the proposed Parkside Drive link extension. He was due to meet with an officer from Amey, Bedfordshire Highways contractors, Jill Cross on 16 December [Date since changed to 7th]. Cllr Williams spoke about confusion of ownership of part of the car park opposite Hillborough shops.

Cllr David Jones spoke about Youth Services. Houghton Regis Lower school are due to know if their bid to become a primary school is successful on December 17th. Houghton Regis Academy were going through consultation to change form ages 9-13 to 11-18. The D. of E. would decide that outcome. Cllr Jones expressed concern about the Council Tax scheme for next year; it would be uncertain how much HRTC would get out of the request for precept  that it puts in. A task force was looking into housing issues.