Friday brief: Flooded out residents question holiday park living
News on the terrible floods that led to the mass evacuation of a Northampton caravan park, plus the county's health services are operating well over budget
It’s our first Friday brief of the new year and this week we have two longer stories plus our usual news in brief.
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Residents who have sold up to live on a Northampton caravan park say they and others are starting to question their decision, after the second major flood in just three years.
More than 1,500 people have left their static homes at the Billing Aquadrome site following the New Year flood which swamped the site and required an emergency evacuation.
Heavy rainfall brought to the region by Storm Henck meant the River Nene’s water levels rose to dangerous heights, and local emergency services had to rescue some people by boat from the popular site.
Robert and Elaine Griggs, who have lived at the caravan park for the past 12 years after selling their home in Daventry, experienced the Christmas Eve floods in 2020. They left their home at 4am on Tuesday morning as water levels started to rise. As Elaine works at the on-site hotel, they were able to have a room at a discounted rate.
“Without a doubt this is much worse than 2020. It is a lovely place to live - it is a community, but we do know people who are now starting to question whether it is the place to be, because of the floods.”
Terry Horwood moved onto the site six months ago. He is unsure whether his mobile home has been flooded and said not enough information was being passed on to residents.
His friend and neighbour Jason, who has lived at the address for more than 14 years said the site was becoming a less attractive place to live amid rising ground rents and the cost of living crisis, which has seen the cost of gas and electricity soar.
Gas bottles for the caravans have to be purchased on site and he says electricity can cost as much as £25 per day. Electricity also has to be paid for on site through prepaid cards. Since he moved in, the cost of the annual rent has increased from £3,800 to £6,500.
As part of a condition of living on the site, residents have to vacate for a month a year. Since the pandemic however the conditions have been waived and residents were allowed to live on the site for a full 12 months. This year was the first time in recent years conditions have been enforced again and people are due to leave this Saturday. But the early evacuation has meant that many are unable to gather their belongings.
When NN Journal visited yesterday we were told some people were struggling to get access to their passports - as many will go abroad for the short break.
Some residents were attempting to find out whether their homes had been flooded. Yesterday lunchtime they had not been allowed back on the site and were unsure of when they could gain access again. Water levels were dropping, but then more rain fell last night.
The onsite leisure facility The Venue was used as a community centre throughout the evacuation process and a spokesperson for West Northamptonshire Council said staff went down to assist. In total 34 people have been given temporary accommodation by the authority.
The caravan park, which was created in 1945 on a former gravel pit site, is currently in administration after RoyaleLife owner Robert Bull went bankrupt, with reported debts of more than £700m. He had purchased the site in 2021 from previous owner Pure Leisure and had promised to heavily invest in the site.
Administrator Oliver Haunch from Grant Thornton said there had been a number of offers received for the purchase of the park and conversations were currently happening with lenders about the bids.
Northamptonshire’s Integrated Care System is facing an overspend of more than £40m this financial year with the county’s two acute systems, the mental health trust and Northamptonshire’s commissioning service all predicting they will go over budget.
Agency costs, the industrial strikes by staff, costs of prescriptions and inflation on utility prices are all being pointed to as factors in why the county’s health services are likely to spend more than they have.
And worrying the committees that monitor performance have been expressing concern for months that plans being put in place to make savings and recover the financial position are ‘weak’ and not being followed through.
The predicted deficit follows a £31m overspend in the most recent financial year of the Northamptonshire Integrated Care Board (ICB) - which has responsibility for developing a plan to meet local health needs, manage the overall NHS budget and commission services.
The ICB, which has a budget of just over £1bn, was established in June 2022, replacing the former Northamptonshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).
In the latest financial report presented to the board last month, the ICB’s chief finance officer Sarah Stansfield said the overspend for 2023/24 was predicted as £43.2m. This had risen from an anticipated £32.2m in month five of the current financial year.
The overspend included a £13.3m overspend of the ICB’s own budget plus overspends of several millions at the two acute hospitals. Both have now been instructed by the government’s health department to get their finances in check, as they are in breach of their licence agreements.
Since September, a number of committees have been sounding the alarm bells about the finances. In December the ICB’s integrated planning and resources committee chaired by Andrew Hammond said it lacked assurance that the plan would be achieved.
In October the ICB’s delivery and performance committee was also damning of ICB leaders, finding:
“The Board need to challenge themselves regarding the art of the possible and strive to make some step changes.”
In a review of the ICB’s first nine months (to April 2023) Julie Grant, director of strategic delivery for the East Midlands, said ‘Finance is the most challenged area for Northamptonshire ICB’ and that performance was a ‘significant concern’.
Her letter to ICB chair Naomi Eistenstadt says:
“Overall, Northamptonshire ICB has delivered positively in your first year as an ICB although there remain challenges in delivering financial balance. The ICB has recovered services well: Elective and Cancer with the elimination of 104ww two year waits for operations] and the consistent delivery of the Faster Diagnosis Standard. Going forward there needs to be a continued focus on finance and ensuring robust oversight is in place to support providers in delivering high quality care.”
Detailed further in the report she says:
“The ICB NHS Oversight Framework (NOF) rating deteriorated during 2022/23 from a NOF 2 (Quarter 2) to a NOF 3 (Quarter 3). This was reflective of the deterioration in provider finances with all three providers delivering a deficit in 2022/23. The system reported a year end deficit of £31.1m deficit against a balanced financial plan for 2022/23.
“Financial performance remains a significant concern moving into 2023/24, whilst a balanced financial plan has been submitted there are material risks to delivery with 38% of efficiencies unidentified. In 2022/23 the system delivered 79% of the efficiency target. As such, this is the area for which we consider Northamptonshire to have the most challenge and therefore considered not to be meeting the requirements at this point in time.”
NN Journal asked the Northants ICB, whose chief executive is Toby Sanders, about the predicted overspend.
A spokesperson said:
“The NHS has faced significant financial pressure during 2023/24 and partners across Northamptonshire Integrated Care System are working together to minimise the overspend by increasing efficiency over the course of the rest of the financial year.
“The overspend is being driven largely by inflation, costs of industrial action and levels of service demand over and above planned levels.
We are working closely with NHS England and system partners and are in the process of finalising our year end expected deficit position.”
News in brief
Three teenagers have been charged with attempted murder after an 18 year old was stabbed in Barton Seagrave in the early hours of New Year’s day.
Three boys from Kettering, aged 15, 16 and 17, appeared before Northampton Magistrates' Court earlier this week. The trio, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were released on bail and will appear at Northampton Crown Court on Wednesday.
West Liberal Democrat unitary councillor Jonathan Harris has been selected as the parliamentary candidate for Daventry. The seat has been held by secretary of state for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris since 2010.
Cllr Harris said:
“This Conservative Government has been an utter disaster for so many in our country.
“With the cost of living crisis we have seen the worst drop in living standards since the war; we are experiencing a catalogue of disasters and poor government that is compounded by Conservatives fighting amongst themselves at every opportunity. It’s time for a change – we all deserve so much better.”
Former Northampton councillor Jill Hope is the Lib Dems choice to take on Conservative Andrew Lewer in the Northampton South constituency.