2021 in review: A look back at the year's biggest stories from County Hall in Wakefield

The decisions councils make affect us every day of our lives.

Tuesday, 21st December 2021, 3:08 pm
It's been an eventful year in Wakefield.

How our money is spent; how smooth a drive you have to work; how well our vulnerable relatives are cared for; how our towns and city centres look and whether or not those new homes we don't want on the nearby field will be built.

Up against a global pandemic, the role of local government in looking after its own has never been more important.

Over the last 18 months, their usual duties have been expanded to helping businesses with emergency funding and ensuring workplaces are Covid-secure, among many other things.

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The council's flood risk manager warned in January that maintaining defences is a struggle.

With all that in mind, here's a rundown of some of the big stories that have come from the council chamber in Wakefield during 2021.

January

The council defends its gritting operations after local MP Imran Ahmad Khan blames the authority for the "shockingly dangerous" state of the city's roads. Days of snowfall and ice have crippled the transport network.

Maintaining the district's flood defences is described as a "constant challenge" because of a lack of government funding, by the council's flood risk manager.

Job losses at the Hepworth Gallery, which turned 10 years old in 2021, were revealed in February.

February

Councillors approve a 3.99 per cent increase in council tax, to kick in from the beginning of April. Labour says the rise, which is the lowest across West Yorkshire, is needed to fund social care and invest in parks and green spaces.

Opposition councillors attack the Budget however, saying the increase is too large and accuse Labour of copying their ideas.

[email protected] opened in Pontefract in April.

March

A Cabinet report reveals the council has been paying £17,500 a week to a school roofing contractor over the past six months, despite them having done no work in that time.

Amid an outcry, council leader Denise Jeffery orders an independent inquiry into the issue.

Following a motion by the Conservative group, the council sets up a 'Women in the Workplace' working group to assess levels of harassment against female staff.

Labour lost six seats to the Conservatives and one to the Liberal Democrats the local elections. The party did gain one vacant seat themselves, however.

April

The partial demolition of Wakefield's historic Clayton Hospital is approved, to make way for new facilities for Queen Elizabeth Grammar School and Wakefield Girls High School.

The council's new £21m leisure centre at Pontefract Park opens.

May

The Conservatives make six gains from Labour at the local elections, increasing their number of seats to 17. Labour's majority on the council, which they've always controlled since it was created, is cut to 23.

With the party struggling in other areas across Yorkshire, council leader Denise Jeffery says Labour needs to "get its act together".

The Sandal Magna inquiry exposed a number of failings in how the school's repair works had been managed over many years.

June

July

The Sandal Magna inquiry finds multiple failings with the management of repair works at the school, which lasted several years. It also says the £17,500 a week contract with roofing firm McConnell's, during which time no work took place, was "not appropriate".

Campaigners welcome the publication of a damning report into the management of the controversial waste tip at Welbeck, which has run since 1998. The council insists it will press ahead with plans to convert the site into a country park, as was originally promised

August

Figures show nearly 200 drivers have been given parking fines between April and early-July, despite the council bringing in two hours' free parking for off-road car parks.

September

The district's population will near 400,000 over the next decade, according to projections.

Councillors criticise Arriva for axing local bus services and making sweeping timetable changes, which the operator says has been forced by a driver shortage.

October

Wakefield misses out in its bid to become the UK's next City of Culture, but the council plans to hold its own year of cultural events in 2024 to compensate.

It's revealed local councillors are no longer doing surgeries by themselves, following the death of Tory MP Sir David Amess in Southend.

November

The long-awaited revamp of Newton Bar roundabout is put on hold after campaigners object to its cost and removal of trees around the area.

Ofsted returns to inspect Wakefield's children services, which it last graded inadequate in 2018. It's findings are set to be published in January 2022.

December

The 'Women in the Workplace' group makes 13 recommendations to the council, including one to set up a wider support network for harassment victims.

Wakefield Trinity gets planning permission to redevelop the club's Belle Vue ground, having loaned £3m from the council to buy it in 2019.

Local Democracy Reporting Service

A planned revamp of the Newton Bar roundabout was put on hold in November.