Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Setting the scene for Christmas

Last week I was very busy with preparation for the full County Council meeting on Friday.

Our Flood Report was also published last week, and it was really heartening to have so much interest from the press, which meant some radio and TV interviews. The press play such a key role in helping to deliver news stories which are of interest to the residents.

It is easy to forget that the media also play an important community role, which is why on Wednesday morning I was in the Chichester FM Studio to do an interview on our Age With Confidence initiative. Chichester FM has a short term licence to operate, and is being run out of a readymade studio in the Chichester Observer offices. It is a really good community station, providing local information and news stories, and I really do hope that it comes back again soon.

On Wednesday evening I attended the West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service Annual Carol Service, which is held in Chichester Cathedral. It is a special service for retired and active West Sussex Fire Officers and their families, and this year the new Bishop of Chichester also attended the service.

During the Carol Service the children present are invited to put a decoration on the tree which is always a touching moment. To me this service really does signal the start of Christmas.

Friday was full County Council and before the start I was able to enjoy more Christmas carols, firstly from singers from the West Sussex Music Service led by Julie Oldham, and then from The Oak Community Project in Rustington and The Pines Day Centre in Durrington, two of our services for adults with learning difficulties. The choirs sang with such joy and pleasure, it touched everyone's heart.

As I drove home on Friday evening the news was breaking about the horrific shooting in the school in Newtown, Connecticut. As the details have unfolded over the last few days, it is almost impossible to comprehend such action which so cruelly cut short so many young lives all filled with hope and promise for the future, and the amazing bravery of the teachers who tried to protect their charges and put them first, but all the while must have been absolutely terrified.

Like so many people, the families and community are very much in my thoughts and prayers.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

Best wishes,

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Thursday, 13 December 2012

Tackling the after effects of flooding

Part of my weekend is given over to preparing for the week ahead, mainly reading documents and writing my blog! This weekend I was reading through papers for this Friday’s meeting of the County Council, and the final draft of the flood report before it is published this week.

Your first thought may be if the floods happened in June, how come the report took six months? A not unreasonable question. The answer is that after the flooding, as the Local Lead Flood Authority, we have had to prepare the report working with all partners, including the Environment Agency, Southern Water, the Flood Forum, District Councils and Parish Councils in the worst affected areas - nine detailed in the report. And not only gathering information, but site visits, drain inspections and taking evidence.

During the floods on the 10 and 11 June, 800 homes were affected by flooding, some very badly and there are some cases, including in my division, where residents will not be in their homes for Christmas or are just moving back in now. For those who have been flooded it is a deeply traumatic event and takes a long time to recover.

The report is informative in detailing the extreme weather conditions where in parts of the coastal area there was two months’ worth of rain in just 12 to 24 hours. Bognor Regis and Chichester recorded 430% over average rainfall for June.

This, compounded by heavy rainfall from April onwards, meant the land was saturated and the water had nowhere to go, so most of the flooding was down to the surface water.

Each of the nine areas detailed in the report have their own unique set of circumstances and there are recommendations and actions for each area.
However, there is one common thread and that is the ditches. Many have become overgrown, some have been filled and others have been used for fly tipping. Ditches are there to take away excess water. With current dry spells over the last few years, in some cases they have become neglected. However it is good to hear that after the flooding, many riparian owners – people who own land or property next to a watercourse such as a river, stream, or culvert - are taking action to clear the ditches.

There is a recommendation for community action such as Local Flood Wardens which has been well received by many communities, and they would play an important role in checking ditches and drains.

Reading through the report, there is a lot of information. We know that there are things we should have done better on the day, such as warnings, incident updates and information flow, and work is already underway to ensure that we improve. Like all such extreme events, they test an organisation like it has never been tested before. The most important thing is that we learn and improve.

Over the years the weather patterns have changed, with longer droughts and heavy intense rainfall which can cause havoc. We as a County Council need to be fast to respond, quick to communicate and flexible to the demands. The Flood report is the start.

Best wishes,

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

A good deal and a very green one

One of the issues for our Health and Wellbeing Board is housing, as poor housing conditions can have a serious impact on someone's physical and mental wellbeing.

It is a well-accepted fact that overall the condition of the housing stock in the UK is poor and certainly not energy efficient, which can make keeping a house warm in the cold weather very expensive.

There are still too many cases of older people, usually living on their own, who will sit in their kitchen using a ring on the cooker to try and keep warm. Not only is this a very inefficient and expensive way of heating, but it is also dangerous.

Then there are young families living in damp housing which can lead to all sorts of respiratory problems, and also impact on how one feels and may be a trigger for depression, which at any age can be so debilitating.

The Green Deal Scheme, launched by the government two years ago, is particularly aimed at improving the housing stock by making it energy efficient and therefore saving money on heating bills.

For the last year the County Council has been working on introducing a West Sussex Green Deal, which has support from the District and Borough Councils. The Green Deal will help householders with inadequate heating and insulation to have warm, energy saving homes at no upfront cost.

It’s an innovative scheme that allows households, landlords and businesses to invest in energy saving measures for their properties. The scheme is based on a loan of up to 25 years during which the bill payer pays back the loan from the savings made on their energy bills.

I fully support this initiative and was pleased that at the end of last week we made the formal decision to proceed. It is a new and exciting direction for the County Council which will help our most vulnerable, but will also be a boost to the local economy at a time when it needs a helping hand.

A few weeks ago I heard from the Chichester Observer that I had been nominated in the Politics category of the Chichester Observer Woman of the Year Awards. This is a new awards scheme and well done to Colin Channon, editor for the Observer series, for a good idea to promote women.

So on Friday evening I put on my party frock and high heels and went to the Awards Dinner. It was packed with so many women from all types of business and there was such a buzz of enthusiasm and enjoyment, with everyone supporting each other. The broadcaster Fred Dineage presented the awards, and with everyone there were great stories of what had been achieved.

These included the teacher who was teaching children maths, the paediatric nurse and speech therapist helping children, and Theresa Bates from Frame of Mind who won in two categories!

I have to admit to being amazed when I won the Women in Politics Award and was absolutely delighted. It was a great idea, and a great evening.

Best wishes,