Bin collections, paying council tax, planning permission – what you need to know about the new West Suffolk Council
- Credit: Archant
With the new West Suffolk Council just days away from hitting the ground running, Local Democracy Reporter Jason Noble finds out what the changes mean on a practical level for homes in the west of the county.
From April 1, St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath councils will cease to exist after more than four decades and the new West Suffolk Council will be formed.
While the new council won’t formally sit until May once the elections have been completed, day-to-day business will continue, and therefore raises the question of what, if anything, will change for homes in the west of the county.
Here then is a practical guide for what you need to know, with questions put to the new authority on everything from bin collections and paying council tax to contact numbers and planning applications.
Will the council still have a base each in Mildenhall and Bury St Edmunds?
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“Yes. All current offices, meeting rooms and customer access points will remain, including those in our other towns,” a West Suffolk Council spokesman said.
“Indeed we will be improving access to public services, education and leisure in Mildenhall with the hub and in Bury St Edmunds with the Western Way development.”
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Where will each committee be held? Will they alternate between Mildenhall and Bury? Is there a risk those who live nearer Bury may have to travel to Mildenhall for a planning committee for instance?
“It usually takes at least a few weeks to get a report to a meeting.
“Therefore it is possible to review the anticipated agenda for committee meetings and determine the most appropriate venue.
“So, for example, if the majority of applications on a development control meeting were sites close to Mildenhall, then we would look to hold it in Mildenhall.
“In addition it could open opportunities, that we don’t do at the moment, to also have committee meetings in other venues in the council area which have the appropriate facilities if it is suitable to do so. That potentially makes it easier for the public to attend meetings than it is now.
“Council meetings will take place in West Suffolk House until the end of 2020 because our current facilities in Mildenhall are not of sufficient size to accommodate the whole council.
“However the Mildenhall Hub will mean we can hold council meetings there from 2021 onwards.”
Will the new council be carrying out any additional responsibilities that Forest Heath or St Edmundsbury may not have done before?
“No, although the new council allows us to do more – for example, around our families and communities work which are a UK leader on as well as better encouraging investment and supporting businesses.
“The larger council also means we have a greater voice in lobbying and championing the area and we are already seeing that bear fruit in terms of transport improvements and government recognition.”
Will charges for things such as garden waste collection, planning application fees, or anything else be the same under the new council? Will any charges be different depending on where in the district you live?
“The charges for garden waste and planning have been the same across West Suffolk already and this will not change because of the creation of the new council.
“There have been some slight differences in policies for some areas and over the last year we have harmonised those where appropriate to do so.
“Some of our charges are ‘place specific’ – for example, we vary car park charges across the whole of West Suffolk anyway and therefore these have not been aligned.”
Will people have to travel further to a polling station to vote in elections and referendums?
“Due to the boundary review some wards have changed and so some people will be using different polling stations.
“Irrespective of this, polling stations need to change from time to time anyway.
“We have carried out polling district review which was agreed by the Shadow Council [members of both Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury who have been preparing the transfer from those councils to the new authority] in January 2019.
“During this review, we took the opportunity to look at whether there were opportunities to provide better facilities, such as reducing use of caravans and mobile buildings for polling stations.
“We will shortly be writing to all residents whose polling stations have changed to make them aware of the changes.”
Is the first point of contact for people still their local office in either Mildenhall or Bury? Will any contact numbers change?
“Most people contact us online. But people will still be able to go to their local office or call us.
“They will be able to contact us in the same way. Whichever number was used in either council area went to the same customer service team.”
Will staff at either council be redeployed, have to change where they work, or will there be any redundancies?
“We have been sharing services and staff for many years already and there have been no changes planned because of the creation of the new West Suffolk Council.”
Will there be any changes in the way people get in contact with council departments or councillors?
“No. Open democracy is important and we are looking at further improving the ways people can engage with the council and councillors.”
Will there be any changes to the way bins are collected, changes to collection days or more infrequent collections?
“No changes are planned as part of the creation of the new council. However, like any authority across the UK we are always looking to improve or meet the growth in housing.
“Inevitably that may mean some changes but this is not part of the new council creation.”
Will there be any changes to the process of paying council tax?
“People will now pay their council tax to West Suffolk Council rather than the previous councils.
“Anglia Revenues Partnership, which collects council tax, are writing to people as part of the billing process.”
Will the process of applying for planning permission change? Will there be changes to how planning approval is decided or issued?
“No, people will still talk to the same planning team and the councillors will still decide on planning applications.
“There will be one planning committee but as is now they will still go on site visits and use all the same guidance.”
Will homeless provision change?
“No. We are a leading pilot authority in the UK for tackling rough sleeping having introduced new initiatives from working with local charities to increasing the team and the way we work.”
Will the process of applying for an allotment change?
“We don’t have allotments, these are parish and town council functions.
“However, we continue our community chest and locality budgets which help local organisations and even gardening groups as they have a positive effect on mental health and wellbeing.”
Will there be any changes to the way play parks and open spaces are maintained?
“No. West Suffolk is known for its open areas, country parks, gardens and playgrounds – attracting thousands of visitors a year.”
Will fees or facilities change at the council’s leisure centres?
“No, these are run by Abbeycroft in partnership with us. In fact we are investing more in the leisure centres.”
How much in savings will the new council generate compared to running Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury?
“By sharing services the councils together have already been saving £4million annually.
“The new West Suffolk Council helps protect these savings and will bring additional savings and efficiencies totalling around £800,000.
“However, it also puts the area in a better position to face any future financial challenges which on their own each council would have found more harder to meet or faced with taking tough decisions like some authorities across the UK.
“It also means we can bring further investment and new businesses to the area which brings jobs and prosperity.”
Is the new council expected to generate more in the way of travel expenses for councillors and council officers travelling to meetings, and if so how much?
“Officers are already covering West Suffolk and many of the councillors are too.
“We are not expecting to generate more in terms of expenses.”