Speaker’s Corner: Difficult decisions to be made

Speaker's Corner columnists -  Peterborough Telegraph - peterboroughtoday.co.uk/opinion, @peterboroughtel on Twitter, Facebook.com/peterboroughtoday
Speaker's Corner columnists - Peterborough Telegraph - peterboroughtoday.co.uk/opinion, @peterboroughtel on Twitter, Facebook.com/peterboroughtoday
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This year the city council has been more open in its budget making process. The scale of the problem is huge…

£25 million savings are needed in the next financial year alone. Difficult decisions and choices have to be made. It is still very much a budget of and by the ruling Conservative cabinet and one which reflects their priorities but Opposition councillors have been kept informed at every stage of the budget process.

Lib Dems have tried to play a positive role in the process and we have put forward ideas for consideration by the cross party budget working group. We do need to look again seriously at senior officer pay and some of the “special responsibility” payments to some councillors. But we believe that there are significant savings which could be made in the council’s landscaping contract with Amey. If cuts have to be made…and they do … and if we want to protect some areas of spending such as children’s services and adult social care, then significant spending reductions will have to be made elsewhere.

But we also need to continue to pursue the council’s corporate policies and priorities. One of these is to seek to make Peterborough the Environment Capital of the UK. Some good work is being done. The Forest of Peterborough project is planting new trees across the city…. Eventually there is to be one new tree for every Peterborough resident. Peterborough Environment City Trust is working with local businesses to reduce their environmental impact.

Yet hidden away in the council budget proposals is something which could undermine a lot of that effort: a proposal to remove one fifth of the shrubs and bushes across Peterborough and either grass over or concrete over the affected areas. Council officers have admitted that this breaches several key council policies. We have policies on replacing some of the fast growing non native shrubs in the new town areas with slower growing native species. That would be good for wildlife and save money on management costs but ripping out a massive number of shrubs is sheer madness.

Shrubs and trees help tackle climate change by taking carbon from the area and storing it. They provide homes for a wide variety of insects, birds and other species. They take up water thus making our housing areas more resilient to surface water flooding. They capture pollutants from the air and make it cleaner for us to breathe. But above all there is masses of evidence that housing estates without trees and shrubs are look barren and uninviting and suffer from higher levels of crime and vandalism. Do we really want Peterborough’s green and pleasant land to become like run down estates in some of our big northern cities?

Amey and council officers have agreed to “review” this suggested saving. Research by Land Use consultants for the Woodland Trust shows clearly that planting more woods reduces council’s landscape management costs and replacement of these habitats with intensively mown grass increases them. So the suggested “saving” may not even be a saving at all.

We need to reduce our council budget but we need to do it where we can in ways which support rather than compromise our policies and objectives. An approach based on policy driven savings will be much more likely to command public support than one based on irrational and ill thought out knee jerk reactions to the situation.