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A statement from Cllr David Rouane, Leader of South Oxfordshire District Council

With another new year nearly upon us, it’s always a good time to reflect on what has been achieved in the past 12 months.

As well as reflecting on achievements, it’s also important to recognise the challenges we’ve all faced. Although the pandemic feels behind us now, it’s still having an impact on economics and community wellbeing, but more pressingly the cost-of-living crisis continues to impact on us all, especially so for our most vulnerable residents.

Looking back to council work over the last year, I’m struck once again at how much we have achieved despite all the challenges. I would like to thank everyone involved in supporting our communities. Working closely with community organisations and partners, our Community Hub has helped residents throughout the year with cost-of-living concerns. At local events our grants team and hub colleagues have been on hand to give advice on grants available and financial support. I’m also grateful we’ve been able to provide grant funding opportunities for local organisations who give vital help to people in most need in our communities.

Our housing team has been working harder than ever to support residents at risk of homelessness and help them secure long-term accommodation. Although there is still work to be done, in 2022/23 we prevented 286 at-risk households in South Oxfordshire from becoming homeless. Our outreach service for rough sleepers continues to provide a rapid response and a dedicated caseworker to help each person in need.

I’m incredibly proud of our continued help for refugees as part of the UK’s humanitarian duties to assist those fleeing war, particularly with families arriving from Ukraine and Afghanistan. A huge heartfelt thanks to all who have welcomed and supported many families seeking safety in South Oxfordshire, helping them settle well and become valued members of our community. We continue to do all we can to help our guests, and those who support them.

Throughout this year I’m pleased to say we’ve continued to build on our work to tackle climate change and promote nature recovery. From decarbonising our art centre Cornerstone and introducing energy-saving measures at our leisure centres, to adding EV car clubs in the ‘park and charge’ bays in council-run car parks. We’ve also created great opportunities for local communities to complete climate friendly projects – such as our grant to Wallingford Sports Park towards its proposal to install 130 solar panels to the club’s roof as well as LED floodlights which helps reduce its energy bills by half.

I’m pleased with the impact our ‘Let it Bee’ initiative, which gives a relaxed approach to mowing throughout the growing season at eight sites in the district to encourage biodiversity. These sites have seen an increase in the abundance of wildflowers and plants including bee orchids, cornflowers, poppies, common knapweed, yarrow, red clover, yellow rattle and ox eye daisies.  As these have come into bloom, they have provided important shelter and food for pollinators including bees and butterflies.

Our SO Charitable Lottery continues to help South Oxfordshire communities and residents. There are currently 83 organisations from local schools to charities who support people with the cost of living which are benefitting from the money raised. This community lottery provides these organisations with vital funding to continue to support our communities and make a positive difference.

I would like to note that once again with your help, we remain one of the top areas for recycling in the country.

I’m looking forward to what 2024 will bring us. Early next year we will be publishing our new draft policies for our Joint Local Plan to 2041 for consultation. Our innovative new planning policies will aim to help our district reach its full potential and address challenges we face – and you’ll soon be able to have your say. We’ll also begin our journey to shaping a new corporate vision for the council to take us up to 2028 – and again, we will be asking everyone to tell us what matters most to them to help us shape this vision.

If you need help or want to find out the details of our services over the Christmas period, including emergency support information, head to our website for further information.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their hard work and to wish everyone a happy Christmas.

Cllr David Rouane