West Berkshire Council Weeknotes #67
As you will remember from our last weeknote, we said goodbye to our Chief Executive of 16 years, Nick Carter, earlier this month. We're pleased to have recruited a new Chief Executive, Nigel Lynn, who will start with us in October. In the meantime, however, Sue Halliwell- our Executive Director of Place- will be Acting Chief Executive and will be co-authoring these fortnightly updates.
We're sure you all will have been affected, as we have, by the situation in Afghanistan and the coverage in the news of the plight of refugees, among them young children. Here in West Berkshire we have always taken our moral obligation to those in need very seriously, having taken in asylum seekers, including unaccompanied minors, in the past to help them through difficult times. Now will be no different. We also know, both from our experiences before and during the pandemic and from the many offers of help we have received as a result of the crisis in Afghanistan, that local residents and businesses will want to play their own part to help those who need us.
We have already made a public commitment to take part in the Afghan Locally Employed Staff (LES) Relocation Scheme at a recent Executive meeting. This scheme will protect the human rights of Afghan people who have supported the British Forces deployed in Afghanistan and are now at serious risk since we have withdrawn from the country. We are not able to provide full details of the support we will be offering as we are still liaising with Central Government but we will offer an update as soon as we can, which will also include details of how local people can best assist if they wish to.
Back in July we used our weeknote to discuss the review of our Local Plan, the long term document that all local authorities must have in place to plan for the necessary housing, land and infrastructure to meet the changing needs of the population. We have always prided ourselves on being a plan-led authority, and we have been working hard over the past few years to prepare a plan that would pass muster with a Planning Inspector in order to continue to protect the district against speculative development.
You may have seen that late last month the Government reviewed the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which we must follow when developing our Local Plan. The revisions made to the NPPF were extensive, made without warning and included a requirement to provide a 30 year vision document when proposing any large scale development, including for urban extensions such as the one we are proposing in North East Thatcham.
As we have reflected in the past, home ownership is too often out of reach, particularly for younger people who have grown up in the district and wish to buy a home of their own. We are also committed to carbon neutrality in the district by 2030, so recognise the need to deliver the housing local people need whilst mitigating the environmental impact of development. While it is frustrating that the changes to the NPPF mean we must pause work on our draft plan until we have clarified with Government what their implications are, we remain committed to delivering a Local Plan that meets the needs of all who live in our district. We will continue to work closely with our residents, town and parish councils and other stakeholders to do just this.
We have also had some good news this week, as 16 and 17 year olds have begun to be offered Covid vaccinations. The first pop up vaccination bus was out in West Berkshire over the weekend and take up was very high, with demand far outstripping supply. As we all know, getting vaccinated is our best chance of protecting ourselves and others from the virus and it has been great to see so many young people doing so. If you are a young person of this age or know someone who is, we would encourage you or them to get vaccinated when offered. We will continue to use our communications channels to let you know when and where vaccinations are being offered in West Berkshire, but do keep an eye on the NHS website in the first instance.
As young people prepare to return to school next week, we are going to be focussing over the next month on the support offered in West Berkshire across all educational stages. We'll be using our various social media channels to talk about the investment being made in our school buildings as well as the importance of safe, active travel and the emotional impact on young people as they make the transition from nursery to primary school, from primary school to secondary school or from secondary school to work or further education. We'll also be offering tips for parents whose children may be experiencing anxiety about the return to school, so do look out for details of these shortly.
We hope you all enjoy your last few days of the summer holidays and wish you and your families well for the new school year.