The Leaders charged with driving forward Derbyshire Dales District Council’s agenda over the next four years have spelled out their priorities.
Council Leader Councillor Garry Purdy and Deputy Councillor Susan Hobson have listed climate change, the economy, affordable housing, tourism, jobs and the development of new business - especially larger scale business opportunities - among the new administration’s key objectives.
And they are working hard to see positive changes in all these areas – despite admitting they did not expect to be leading the Dales council following the local elections in May.
In an interview on the District Council’s YouTube channel, Councillor Purdy says: “I expected to be Planning chairman again and Sue may have expected to be chair of the Community & Environment Committee, but we lost our two leaders from the previous administration for different reasons. So we won the leadership unexpectedly but want to set our agenda out for the benefit of Derbyshire Dales residents.”
Both Councillor Purdy and Councillor Hobson are former police officers – in fact back in the 1970s Councillor Purdy was a beat bobby in the Masson ward he now represents as a councillor.
“Sue and I come from disciplined backgrounds where we were told to get the job done,” says Councillor Purdy, “That's where we are coming from - we are going to get the job done.
“I set out my stall immediately in my leader's announcement back in May that I wanted the council to be involved in certain aspects for the benefit of the community.
“Top of that list was climate change, which the council has already adopted. We have an excellent councillor in our ranks who has expertise in this field so we have set up a working group that's being set in policy on 25 July.
“We also want to tackle the fact that the Derbyshire Dales, as wonderful an area as it is, has one of the lowest wage economies in the country yet some of the highest priced properties. So there's a real dichotomy there.
“I want our authority to build on the good work that has been done to create better opportunities for larger businesses to come into the Derbyshire Dales - that's an area I think we really need to tap into.”
Both councillors represent tourism hotspots. Councillor Purdy’s Masson ward includes Matlock Bath, while Councillor Hobson represents the Chatsworth ward.
“We need to pick the brains of the experts in the tourism field, the likes of Chatsworth, the Heights of Abraham and Tissington,” Councillor Purdy continues, “so I intend to organise a seminar.”
On housing, Councillor Hobson says: “Building houses is always difficult because people live in this environment and they are happy with their environment, but there is a continuing need to build houses. The challenges are further complicated by the fact that part of the Derbyshire Dales is in the Peak District National Park, where we are not the planning authority.”
Meanwhile, Councillor Purdy gives a commitment to make local housing truly affordable, possibly through the reintroduction of council housing.
“I'm very keen having been chairman of the Planning Committee for some time that we address the affordable homes situation,” he says.
“The affordable home title is a misnomer. The people in our villages can't afford to stay in their villages so I want to work with our head of housing and develop what we call ‘real’ affordable homes - call them council houses - but make it that they really are affordable for the people of the Derbyshire Dales.”
Referring to the continuing financial challenges faced by all local government authorities, Councillor Hobson says: “We've had major cutbacks in recent years. We have the Government's Spending Review coming up and we are hoping there will be a bit more leeway for district councils, but at this stage we simple don’t know.
“It really is all about money and I think most residents are realistic. If you speak to them about potentially charging for green bins or closing toilets for example, they know what's going on. They just want to make sure we are giving them the best deal and that's what we intend to do.”
Councillors Purdy and Hobson recently attended the Local Government Association Conference with Chief Executive Paul Wilson, where two Government Minsters informed the gathering that the Spending Review for local authorities was on hold pending the election of a new Prime Minister.
“That's not helpful for any authority,” says Councillor Purdy. “Every member at that conference was screaming out for help. We have had cuts in authorities now since 2010 and I would argue if this was a business we would have gone bankrupt a long time ago. We take our hat off to the staff at Derbyshire Dales who have done a fantastic job over those years keeping this council liquid.”
Asked if he could see an end to austerity at a local government level, Councillor Purdy says: “Brexit worries me. We are given to believe that if it's a no-deal Brexit is going to cost £39-billion, so can we see an end to austerity? I don't think so.”
But he does see great potential in attracting new funding into the Derbyshire Dales through partnership working.
“Sue and I in our first week as Leaders had meetings with Cllr Barry Lewis, Leader of Derbyshire County Council. We have also set in train meetings with all the principal players in our area including the two Local Enterprise Partnerships. At the moment we have a foot in both camps of both the Sheffield City Region and D2N2 partnerships. These are vital for securing money and we have meetings set up with the chairs and chief executives of both those LEPs.
“Something else that's happening in the background is the development of a Midlands Engine along the same lines as the Northern Powerhouse, and this is important because not enough of the Government's cash is coming to this region right now. We want to be part of driving this project for the economic benefit of the people of the East Midlands.”
Councillor Hobson says networking with other local government leaders and local business leaders will continue, adding: “We are also committed to working collaboratively with other councillors - not just Conservative members - who want what's best for the Derbyshire Dales.”
Talking of the need to create a permanent site for the Travelling community in the Derbyshire Dales – a requirement set out in the adopted Local Plan – Councillor Hobson says: “This is a priority for the new council. It's gone on for far too long and it's in nobody's interest to let this continue.”
Councillor Purdy adds: “Travellers by their DNA travel, and occasionally descend upon different parts of the Derbyshire Dales. We have a duty of care to these people and so we desperately want to get a permanent site. We have already set up meetings with the County Council and have employed consultants, and I can assure everyone we are working towards a solution.”