Greater Lincolnshire

Top 10 Lincolnshire local democracy stories of 2019

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Council chiefs receiving big payouts, councillors misbehaving and residents taking matters into their own hands over controversial decisions, are just a few of the local democracy stories that made the headlines in 2019.

Some of the tales made an impact in communities, while others were outrageous and scandalous.

With that in mind, here’s a rundown of the top 10 local democracy stories from this past year.


Kexit fallout

It started in November 2018 when rumours began to circulate that Keith Ireland, only recently appointed chief executive of Lincolnshire County Council, had left the authority.

Former Lincolnshire County Council Chief Executive Keith Ireland.

And it was true, Mr Ireland lasted just four months as CEO. But the saga didn’t end there.

Fast forward to June 2019 and the scale of the fallout was revealed. Mr Ireland did not leave the council empty handed, he was paid £292,000.

He received a total package of £292,263 which included his agreed salary, £975 in outplacement services, £8,901 holiday pay and £14,637 in employer’s pension contribution and his compensation payment.

To add to the drama, Mr Ireland was awarded an OBE in the 2019 New Year’s Honours list for his services to local government.

All in four months work.


People power: Spalding Western Relief Road

Catherine and Frank Roberts outside their forever home on Bourne Road. Photo: Daniel Jaines

Nothing says power to the people like overturning a county council decision to demolish your home.

That’s what Catherine and Frank Roberts of Bourne Road, Spalding, did this year when their £300,000 Tudor home was threatened to be flattened to make way for the Spalding Western Relief Road.

The authority had lined up plans to spend £40 million on the central route, which would have taken out nine homes on the street.

But, Catherine and Frank were not to be deterred and took the fight to the council.

After what they described as “the summer from hell,” councillors relented and offered to change the route to avoid the homes.

It’s a victory for all the families on Bourne Road, but the decision has still to be signed off by the council’s executive in the New Year.


Councillors on the naughty list

Former North East Lincolnshire Council Labour leader Ray Oxby on his way into the court. Photo: Daniel Jaines

Several councillors across Lincolnshire woke up to a lump of proverbial coal on Christmas morning.

Some came under fire for selling golliwog dolls, others have landed themselves appearing before council disciplinary hearings.

Others sparked outrage after weighing in on a debate over travellers sites and repeated inflammatory comments found on social media.

And some, such as Councillor Ray Oxby, were hit with a driving ban after being convicted of drink driving.

One councillor was forced to make a public apology. Councillor Robert Patterson was disciplined by West Lindsey council after tweeting that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn should be “swinging from the gallows like Saddam Hussein”.


Fake plastic trees

Louth Town Council met for a third time to discuss the tree. Photo: Daniel Jaines

Perhaps the last place anyone expected a row to break out over a Christmas tree was in Louth, but it happened.

The town council had planned to spend £7,500 on a tree for the town centre ahead of the festive period.

But the decision came under fire from local councillors after it was revealed the tree was coming from China and raised concerns over the environmental impact.

As a result, the previous decision to approve the spend was brought back before the town council.

The issue caused widespread debate and uproar in the town, with councillors lamenting that the decision “made the council look stupid”.

At the council meeting, the debate got heated, councillors shouted across the room at each other and others walked out after the final vote was tied.

In the end, it was resolved that a local tree would be donated for the town centre.

A sensible resolution to an unexpected row.


A U-turn on Toll Bar Roundabout

Toll Bar campaigners Anne and Peter Herring, Michael O’bee, David Cowell and campaign lead Roger Breed pictured in September 2018. Photo: Daniel Jaines

The problem of what to do with Toll Bar roundabout seems to be a never ending story.

After years of debate, petitions and rows over removing the roundabout for traffic lights, the saga continued into 2019.

In May, the Conservatives took control of North East Lincolnshire Council at the local elections and newly appointed leader, Philip Jackson, put an immediate halt to the plan.

This was met with celebration from campaigners who had fought the previous Labour group’s plan to tear up the roundabout.

Following the decision, a review was carried out on the future of the plan.

But, finally, in December senior councillors scrapped the plan entirely.


Lincolnshire health service under pressure

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Reporter

This year, we revealed some of the plans that health bosses have for the future of hospital services across the region.

While the concrete proposals which are to be included in the STP, South Kesteven councillors leaked some of the suggested proposals earlier this year.

Grantham A&E, which has its own long running saga, would be downgraded and some services would be centralised at Lincoln County Hospital.

Officials have stressed that nothing has been decided and engagement is ongoing, but the news raised concern from campaigners.

Meanwhile, the pressure on Lincolnshire’s hospitals continued throughout 2019.

Lincoln A&E saw increased demand, so much so that Unison warned that the trust is “on its knees” and urged the government to act.

The hospital also remains in special measures after a CQC visit this year. The next decade is going to be a vital one to turn around the trust’s fortunes.

All that remains in the hands of new chief executive, Andrew Morgan, should he remain beyond his interim basis.


Lincolnshire-by-the-sea

Flooding in Wainfleet in June. Photo: Chris Dower

Climate change dominated a lot of the news agenda in 2019 with Extinction Rebellion warning of “point of no return” over extreme weather events.

It’s fair to say that Lincolnshire bore the brunt of a lot of extreme and unprecedented rainfall, leaving home owners evacuated from their homes.

In the town of Wainfleet, hundreds of families were forced from their homes after the River Steeping burst its banks.

The local authority wasted little time in calling an independent investigation into the devastation which saw RAF helicopters drafted in to help with the clean up.

County councillor Colin Davie said it was clear that the council needed to look again at how it defends homes from flooding.

He said that the extreme rainfall would become frequent – just like campaigners warned.


Democracy in action

The Lincoln Debate which was hosted by The Lincolnite and BBC Radio Lincolnshire during the General Election 2019 campaign. Picture: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite.

It was a year of votes in 2019.

People headed to the polls three times in eight months to cast their ballots in the European elections, local elections and a general election.

The results of both the local and national election saw the Conservatives sweep up across Lincolnshire.

Lincoln, a key marginal, saw Labour’s Karen Lee lose to former MP Karl McCartney.

In North East Lincolnshire, the Tories took control of the council for the first time in its history and Grimsby returned a Conservative MP for the first time in 74 years.

Scunthorpe also returned a Conservative member of parliament, unseating the Labour Party and completing a clean sweep across the region.

As for local authorities, the City of Lincoln Council is the only authority which Labour controls in the county.

The weeks following local polling day also saw fresh faces fronting councils in Lincolnshire.

West Lindsey, North East Lincolnshire, Boston and South Kesteven all elected new leaders.


The Usher Gallery saga

Campaigners outside Lincoln’s Usher Gallery. Picture: Steve Smailes.

Earlier this year, Lincolnshire County Council tabled proposals to shake up how heritage services would be run in the county.

Among the many plans was the Usher Gallery in Lincoln, which county council officials wanted to convert the gallery for other uses.

It caused outrage among campaigners and city council officials, who lease the building to the authority.

Councillor Ric Metcalfe, leader of the city council, described the proposal as a “betrayal of the county’s rich heritage”.

Meanwhile, campaigners lodged a petition and demonstrated outside county council meetings as the proposal was rubber stamped.


Here’s to you, Mrs Thatcher

The proposed statue of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Grantham.

The market town of Grantham made national headlines in 2019 as a plan to build a statue of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher were proposed.

While some welcomed the idea of erecting a monument to Mrs Thatcher in her hometown, others were not for the turning.

Fears were raised that the statue, which was to be built outside Grantham Museum, would become a “likely target for politically motivated vandals”.

As a result, the plan included a measure to place the statue on a high plinth.

Councillors ultimately gave the go-ahead to the plan, but, as of yet, there has not been an installation date confirmed.


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