Dear resident, The biggest issue in my ‘postbag’ is understandably potholes. You may have seen the front page of a national paper this week leading on it and the features on most television channels. We had the good news last week that the government has announced some extra money to help towards fixing potholes and repairing roads after wet, then freezing weather caused extensive damage across the country.
The council has already added a further £5 million to our existing £100 million commitment to fix the county’s roads and it's very welcome that the government is adding a further £2.3 million to this pot in Buckinghamshire. I hope this all demonstrates just how important this is to us. Fixing and maintaining our 2,100 mile network is a massive and very expensive task after a winter like this and our teams will be working hard to make the repairs and improvements we need. We need the roads to be dry for permanent repairs and most work at the moment is on making roads safe with temporary repairs. Overall, the £105 million we’re investing plus this extra government funding will really help but I do have to be very frank that repairing every pothole that is reported will be very challenging. The damage has been accelerated by the extensive extra HGV traffic from the HS2 and East West Rail projects and, as I said in my last update, we are also working hard to recoup costs from both so Buckinghamshire residents don’t foot the bill for even quicker disintegration of the roads on the routes they use. Please keep reporting any defects via FixMyStreet and our teams will get onto them. You can also check for planned roadworks in your area via the council’s website. Roadworks I often receive complaints about roadworks, particularly when these involve traffic lights. This can be very frustrating, with at times the appearance that no work is taking place. The majority of road works are by utility companies such as gas, electricity, water or cable companies, not by Buckinghamshire Council. These companies have a legal right to dig up the roads and pavements when they need to repair or install new equipment. Ultimately, they provide the services we all need.
The council actually has very limited powers to stop these works. However, we do act to reschedule works where we see too many permit applications in a locality so as to reduce inconvenience for residents and road users. We also inspect roadworks sites, particularly if any issues are raised and will take action if the works being carried out are not as permitted. You can see what is happening in your area and who is responsible via the council’s website. Ongoing support for residents We had further good news from central government recently that our Household Support Fund money is being extended until the end of March 2024. This is vital funding that our Helping Hand service uses to support residents who need it most. We’ve previously used this money to provide food vouchers for eligible nursery and school children, and to provide targeted financial support to pensioners and other cohorts of people who need support. We are working up a full plan for how this next tranche of money can be put to best use to help us provide ongoing support for our residents where it’s needed most and I hope to update you further on this in the coming weeks. Please don’t forget the dedicated section of our website with information and advice if you are facing extra cost of living pressures. Opportunity Bucks This is a really important programme the council is rolling out that I’ve written about before and did want to remind you of this work that is ongoing. Opportunity Bucks is our local response to Levelling Up and aims to put into place strategies to make sure all people, regardless of where they live in Buckinghamshire, and regardless of their circumstances, have equal access to the opportunity to thrive and enjoy a healthy and good quality of life. We have identified ten wards in Buckinghamshire where outcomes are not as high as in other areas and we are targeting many programmes of work in these particular areas, from education and skills to improving the public realm. Some of these projects are major, some are smaller, but they all make a difference. A great example is recent interview and CV writing workshops that the council put on at The Mandeville School in Aylesbury. The school is within one of the ten Opportunity Bucks wards and the day involved council staff going into the school to meet Year 11 students to deliver two different workshops. The first focussed on CV writing and the second held ‘mock interviews’ – all to allow the students to practice and gain confidence in these skills and to help them prepare for further education and career opportunities. Affordable housing We recognise that rents and house prices in Buckinghamshire are high and it’s a key priority for this council to make it easier for people to live in a good quality home at an affordable price. This is a long term high priority strand of work that feeds into many strategies, from our Local Plan to our developing regeneration framework, to protecting our green space and developing ‘brown before green’ sites where possible. We have some new schemes coming forward that will deliver new lower-cost homes in the county, working with developers and housing providers to meet local housing need. An old storage facility on Bellfield Road in High Wycombe is being developed to provide 68 one, two and three bedroom homes, all to be made available for affordable rent. A further two sites close to the town, at Clay Lane and at Glynswood are also being developed to provide more affordable housing. The homes being built in the coming year will include affordable rental homes and low-cost homes to buy, allowing people to get onto the first rung of the housing ladder. Together these two sites will bring 43 new affordable homes to the area. Buckinghamshire Libraries – the future’s bright! My wife was a librarian, so our libraries are close to my heart. Our library service has evolved in recent years and while traditional book borrowing remains at the centre of our libraries across Buckinghamshire, these cherished places are changing to become hubs for the community. Many host various classes, events and workshops and indeed have acted as Welcoming Spaces (warm and friendly places) during this winter. They also provide digital access for residents to use for free and many also now operate as Council Access Points. Buckinghamshire has a total of 29 libraries and after a wide consultation with residents, we have agreed a new vision and strategy for them, which takes in their important role in local communities. The strategy outlines the intention to:
attract even more people to reading
grow the libraries’ cultural offer
promote health and well-being through the Healthy Libraries programme and
make libraries even more environmentally friendly, such as installing a ‘Living Wall’ at Aylesbury Library (a wall made of plants and greenery)
You can read the full strategy here, which demonstrates our ongoing commitment to our network of libraries. If you haven’t recently visited your library then I really recommend paying a visit; these are wonderful places at the heart of our communities that offer a big range of services and I look forward to seeing them continue to grow and flourish. King’s Coronation weekend – time to get planning Lastly, I wanted to let you know we’ve put some useful guidance on our website to help you plan local events to mark this historic occasion, and I’m pleased to say we are waiving the usual road closure fee if the application is because of a street party. Please note that any applications need to be in by Friday 7 April. I do hope as many communities as possible will organise local celebrations; it will be wonderful to have people come together again on a happy occasion after all the lost time of the pandemic! A fantastic programme of national celebration and participation is planned across the whole weekend (Sat 6 May – Mon 8 May). You also have just a couple of days left to apply for National Lottery Funding to support your event – funding of up to £10,000 is still available for events and activities through the 'National Lottery Awards for All' programme and community groups are encouraged to apply. The applications should be made by Friday 24 March. You can view the funding criteria and terms and conditions via this link – good luck! Launched to mark the Coronation, the Big Help Out campaign aims to give everyone the chance to try volunteering and make a difference in their community. The campaign starts on Monday 8 Mayas part of the weekend of celebrations, but you can volunteer at any time during the summer and beyond. If you are 16 years or over, simply register with the Buckinghamshire Volunteer Matching Service and the team will look for a local role that matches your preferences. Find out more and how to register by visiting the Volunteer Matching Service. Yours, Martin Tett Leader of Buckinghamshire Council