THE leader of New Forest District Council has spoken of his pride at the response of the community to the coronavirus crisis as the local authority cuts back on a raft of services.
Cllr Barry Rickman praised local people for helping their neighbours, thanked hard-pressed public sector workers, and promised flexibility for those struggling to pay their council tax.
The authority has had to temporarily close many of its facilities, but is working under the leadership of Hampshire County Council in setting up a network to get vital supplies to those most in need.
A new helpline for frail or vulnerable Hampshire residents has been launched on 0333 370 4000. The helpline is available seven days a week, from 9am to 5pm.
There is more information here: www.hants.gov.uk/socialcareandhealth/coronavirus/volunteer-welfare.
Cllr Rickman said: “As we go into the second week of the more stringent national measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, I remain so proud of the people in our community.
“I have been out in my local neighbourhood checking on my neighbours and getting shopping, and I have seen so many others doing the same. These offers of help and acts of kindness I know are a great comfort, and are happening all across our district.”
He added: “The best thing we can all do right now to look out for each other is to stay home and follow government advice. Thank you for all you are doing to help prevent the spread of coronavirus and to help your friends, families and neighbours.”
NFDC has closed all its information offices, including Lymington Town Hall and Appletree Court in Lyndhurst, as well as facilities including leisure centres, public toilets and playgrounds.
Town and village car parks will remain open for use but charges have been suspended for three weeks to help volunteers obtain essential supplies. Parking clock sales have been suspended.
NFDC is also playing a part in setting up a network of community hubs with HCC and voluntary groups to ensure supplies are delivered to vulnerable people having to staying indoors for 12 weeks.
Residents struggling to pay their council tax due to loss of earnings resulting from coronavirus can seek financial assistance through NFDC’s council tax reduction scheme, with flexible payments an option.
Funeral services in NFDC cemeteries are still permitted, but only immediate family should attend and only where it is safe for them to do so in line with current government restrictions. Interments for cremated remains and burials are expected to continue unless the government advises otherwise.
Local authorities have been ordered to find shelter for rough sleepers, and NFDC said its outreach workers had offered a roof to all homeless people it was aware of, working with private landlords and using its own stock to provide extra accommodation.
Only vital or emergency repairs to council homes are being carried out, with all non-essential work programmes stopped until further notice.
Rubbish collection is continuing but there will be adjustments. Households affected by coronavirus symptoms are asked to double-bag tissues and not put them out for collection for at least 72 hours. The garden waste and bulky item pick-up services have been suspended.
Environmental protection work will continue to respond to alleged nuisance complaints, and residents have been urged not to burn waste, including garden cuttings.
To support businesses beyond the government’s announced measures, NFDC has also expanded the retail and nursery business rates discount from 1st April, which will be applied automatically.
Cllr Rickman said: “The district has one of the highest numbers of small business and self-employed people in the county and we are working hard to ensure they have access to the support and information they need.
“Our main focus has been on making sure businesses know about the help and support available from government. And, through the New Forest Business Partnership, we have organised our first online virtual support event, focusing on marketing in challenging times, with a plan to do more of these.”
The planning team continues to process applications which can be submitted in the normal way, although there will be no site visits for inhabited properties. The same rule applies for building control which New Forest District Council warned could affect its ability to issue certificates.
Routine food hygiene inspections, taxi knowledge tests and safeguarding training have all been suspended until further notice.
Cllr Rickman added: “If you can do so safely, please help us by sharing the key information we are adding to the web pages with people who are not online.
“And please check here regularly for updates as our services are likely to change over the coming days and weeks.”
To find out more go to newforest.gov.uk/article/19348/Coronavirus-Information-about-council-services or follow New Forest District Council on Facebook and Twitter.
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