Garff, Abbeylands, Groudle and Howstrake
There is understandable anger among Onchan residents who suddenly find themselves lumped in with Garff.
Let me come clean – I was amongst those who made a submission to the Boundary Review Committee that the previous constituencies of one, two or three Members was patently unfair and I was pleased when the proposal for 12 two-seat constituencies was approved.
However, the new East constituency was renamed Garff without acknowledging the fact that a good chunk of Onchan was to be included with the old sheading comprising Lonan, Laxey and Maughold. There is confusion as well as anger about this but it is a simple bit of housekeeping to amend the name in the future. I urge you not to protest by spoiling your ballot paper as several people have threatened. I ask you please to give one of your two votes to me, and I will table a motion to change the name to one more reflective of the new constituency.
Local authority and rates reform
Anger for arbitrarily moving part of Onchan into Garff is matched by discontent over a perceived imbalance in local authority rates.
Local authority reform has been too long discussed with no action. The high number of boards around the Island incurs significant cost for no benefit. The Garff Initiative should set an example that other local authorities can follow to join together for the benefit of their communities and reduce costs.
Alongside local authority reform should come an all-Island rate that is fair to all coupled with devolved powers from central government with appropriate funding to enable commissioners to look after their own communities. In the longer term I would like to see local authorities have responsibility for roads, hedges, drainage, glens, footpaths and parks – in fact all their local area. Currently the poor state of Laxey Glen and the delay in replacing the bridges in the Dhoon Glen are a cause for annoyance; signage is also lacking in many areas, and these matters could be better resolved by an empowered local authority.
MHKs electing Members of the Legislative Council is not democratic but I would not like to see MLCs elected as a third representative of each constituency.
I would like to see more top lawyers, bankers, entrepreneurs being appointed to LegCo, acting as the revising / scrutiny body they are supposed to be, some still being employed full time but taking on one day per week duties in the Council. In my opinion, MLCs should not be members of departments but could sit in Tynwald to enhance debates with their views on agenda items brought by the government.
Greater fairness over the water rate is also on my priority list. Why is there resistance to allowing single-person households to install a water meter, if they wish to do so, at reasonable cost and to receive reduced bills for lower water usage? That needs attention along with the end of stealth taxes.
For instance, the toilet tax of £150 now only applies as a separate charge to septic tank emptying. For 2016 it has been absorbed into the general sewerage rate of £0.92 in the £. The effect is the same for households connected to the mains, but now there is no separate charge, so it really is the very definition of a stealth tax with no consideration as to the ability of residents to pay.
Another stealth tax is arguably the steep hike in probate fees approved by Tynwald in July 2013, which amounted to an indirect tax, according to the IoM Law Society president. The cost for having a will officially approved is now calculated on the value of the estate and doesn’t reflect the work involved nor, again, the ability of people to pay. Many fees, such as road taxes, seem to have increased above the rate of inflation with little justification except the need to raise revenue.
Provision of local authority housing and schemes to enable first time buyers to get on the property ladder also need reviewing. I would be in favour of means testing so that those who can afford to pay more local authority rent do so. Generally I am in favour of a more targeted benefit system to support those in need, the vulnerable, the sick and also those attempting to escape poverty by working in low paid jobs.
Attention is also needed to determine whether more local authority housing is needed for people in some areas. For instance, building single person units in Maughold would perhaps accommodate the elderly wishing to downsize and enable family housing to be freed up for people who cannot afford to buy.
Another area of concern is the destruction of our uplands and footpaths by off-road bikes. This is one niche tourism that costs more than it brings in – on both an environmental and a practical level. Local authorities should have the right to close tracks to motorcycles in the event they are damaged or at risk of damage, for instance during wet conditions. It cannot be right that the brief pleasure of a few can result in years of destruction for the whole community.
A bridge of sighs
The replacement bridge in old Laxey cannot open soon enough to reunite the village and enable affected businesses to heave a collective sigh of relief. There is little point in criticising the design when it is almost complete. What is emerging from speaking to people on the doorstep is anger at perceived government waste and ineffective working practices exemplified by the bridge but considered common across government. Transparency and openness in government are not just words to be bandied about. Government needs to be open with the community and communicate better about what it is doing, and also to admit when things go wrong.
Flood prevention strategy
The ‘once in a lifetime’ floods that caused the bridge collapse in December 2015 are being experienced more regularly and with climate change will likely become more frequent. The Island requires a comprehensive flood prevention strategy. Local authorities are again best placed to provide input into regional strategies. Routine dredging of rivers needs to be undertaken where this is shown to reduce flooding. Equally other strategies such as clearing flood plains and planting trees in the uplands to foster natural bogs should be included in area plans.
Linked to this is the issue of untreated sewage being pumped into the sea. The IRIS scheme failed to deliver clean bathing beaches and more should be done to develop regional sewage treatment works to end the release of raw effluent.