This is quite a historic and welcome occasion - the first meeting in person of Councillors for over a year. I have certainly missed the interaction of debate and discussion between members which cannot be replicated in a virtual environment. I would like to thank our officers for making this possible - the establishment of a safe and secure meeting place was no easy task, but as with the elections, and the challenging circumstances that we have experienced over the past year or so, they have found and implemented a way forward and we are very grateful for the work that they have done.
My next thank you is to the residents of Mole Valley for their massive support on 6th May and the very positive response and huge encouragement that we have received since the election. There has been real support for the policies and initiatives that we have instigated over the past two years and a genuine understanding of the unprecedented problems that we have faced and the tough decisions that we have had to take.
Although, hopefully, we are moving into a more normal world, the Pandemic is far from over, and will continue to impact both on our ability to progress the initiatives that we would like to undertake and on our finances. The Council has, however, proved to be remarkably pro-active and resilient during the dark days that we have experienced and I have every confidence that we will move forward in the improving circumstances that we hope to see in the coming months.
In February, Council approved its 2021-2022 Budget and the accompanying Annual Plan and that has set our agenda for the coming year.
As I mentioned earlier, we intend to continue to develop our Climate Change policies as a priority - that is helped by our success in achieving significant grants for decarbonising public buildings and installing charging points in our car parks. We have set aside resources for further developments in our Annual Plan and will continue to seek funding from all possible sources to further our objectives.
2021 will see progress on our Local Plan work incorporating the application of the new criteria that we have been developing since the consultation on the Draft Plan confirmed our view about the importance of the Green Belt and the significance of ensuring that infrastructure complements development. We will be bringing forward a final version of the plan for Council approval in the summer followed by the Regulation 19 consultation and presentation to the inspector.
We will, of course, be working hard to support our communities in the recovery programme with special references to businesses and ensuring that our town centres offer diverse and thriving facilities to encourage residents and visitors to return. Central to that programme is the continuation of our Transform Leatherhead and Opportunity Dorking initiatives together with providing whatever help is possible to our smaller town and village centres.
In very difficult circumstances we have ensured that our finances remain sound and that is the key priority. We will carefully monitor our spending to ensure that it is in line with budget predictions, and engage in serious scenario planning for the range of outcomes that might face us beyond this year. That planning is, of course, seriously hampered by Government's decision not to provide any information about Council funding beyond the current year. Until that is clarified whatever planning we do can only be speculative.
There are a myriad of other issues facing us in the coming months - ensuring that our services continue to run effectively and efficiently, deciding on the future operation of our sports centres after the current contracts end in 2023, reviewing our car parking arrangements to create a fair and equitable system across the district, promoting Mole Valley as a tourist destination and engaging in the boundary review - to name but a few.
We have serious concerns about what government might have in store for us with the future finding arrangements as the primary concern. However proposed changes in planning could have a dramatic effect on our ability to protect our residents from unwelcome development and policies that effect our ability to provide affordable homes are not welcome.
I have outlined just some of our priorities for the coming year - there are others which I don't have the time to refer to tonight but which Cabinet members will be working diligently to effect.
We recognise that all of these are serious challenges but they are challenges that we are determined to meet and every one of us in this administration will do our best to deliver the services and improvements that our residents deserve.
Stephen Cooksey, Leader of Mole Valley District Council
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