Annual Report for Parish Meeting 23rd March 2016

CONTENTS

A MESSAGE FROM THE CHAIRMAN – CHRIS STEVENSON

Welcome to the West Bergholt Annual Parish Meeting; this is my first as Chairman of the Parish Council, a position my colleagues entrusted to me following the elections last year.  I hope to do as good a job as my predecessor John Gili-Ross, who this time last year declared his wish to both relinquish the position of chair, but stay as a Parish Cllr. He had both wishes granted! John now heads up the Environment sub-committee.

So we have a new Parish Council elected by you for the first time in over ten years, which is good for democracy. Subsequent resignations of Rachel Howard and Phil Walby who both had leading roles in the community, meant we very soon had to advertise for new recruits, and we even had a competition to become co-opted Parish Cllrs – almost unheard of in the annals of Parish Council history! We also have a new Parish Clerk, following the resignation of Val Walsom our Clerk for many years. Many of you will have met or corresponded with Laura Walkingshaw, who is making her mark as the Council’s de facto Chief Officer!

The themes of our annual meeting are, as ever, community focussed, and reflect my desire to see more interaction between the Parish Council and the many organisations that play such a vital part of our community life. So I’m very pleased that we have Rachel Hopkins and members of the Heathlands School Council with us this evening. They will explain how they are helping with both our Neighbourhood Plan, and the much awaited 20mph zone. On the theme of volunteering we have an explanation of the fire and safety scheme which aims to recruit people in the village to assist with making our homes safer through some simple but nevertheless effective tips of the trade.  Finally, there are some appreciations to be made of prominent village stalwarts who have led by example, and provided many years of service to the community.

Turning to the two themes of the last meeting. The past 12 months have seen steady progress with the Neighbourhood Plan. When we met last year we had the exhibition boards at the back of the hall showing ideas depicting how the village might change for the better across nine key areas of our work. Over 300 people attended the exhibitions and over 250 responded to the survey. The great draw to the exhibitions was the rumour that the allotments were going to be bulldozed to make way for housing, and whilst this was always untrue, the mere thought that this was in prospect, drew more people than would otherwise have been the case.  A report on the NP can be found elsewhere within this booklet.

A word about the other presentation we had last year, the ever interesting topic of Superfast Broadband. Since that time Essex County Council has been deliberating about whether the village will qualify for this service through their programme. We still wait to hear, but irrespective of the result, it seems that other possible players may bring an improved service to the village. This includes a proposition for a community broadband project from BT Open Reach, and an improved provision via County Broadband. Even Virgin, the cable-based Broadband supplier, is rumoured to be interested. Because all of this is still speculative and subject to many provisos, I will be looking for some volunteers to help the Parish Council to decipher the many options on the table.

And now a word about the precept. That’s the money raised from your Council Tax and provided to West Bergholt Parish Council from Colchester Borough Council. Yes, the Parish Council has had to increase this and in your Council Tax statements, the figure does look a large one when expressed in percentage terms (23%). However, in actual terms this is a rise of 19p per week, which equates to total amount of around £1 per week per Band D property and I wanted to reassure you that there are very good reasons for doing this. Unlike larger Council’s, the Parish Council does not borrow money for its larger projects, preferring to finance these through grants and by using some of the precept. The last thing we want to do is to saddle the village with debt, and so we have looked at the projects and building work which needs doing or will need doing in the near future, and have made increased provisions for things such as the Orpen Hall roof and to make sure the work of the sub committees is realistically financed. Historically the precept was lower, mainly due to the availability of grant funding from Colchester Borough Council and other grant awarding bodies. However, as a result of their endeavours to maintain their own Council Tax increases to very low levels or even zero, such funding has either been withdrawn or drastically reduced.

Elsewhere in this booklet, you will read of the activities carried out by Parish Councillors working on behalf of the village during the last year.  Councillors donate many hours of their free time addressing village day-to-day issues and activities and I thank them for their commitment, professionalism, hard work and support. I welcome Phil Cook and Philip Spencer as new Councillors, following the departure of Rachel Howard and Phil Walby, last year.  Rachel and Phil provided great support to the Council and indeed the wider community and I thank them for this and hope they will remember their work for the parish with fondness. I also welcome back David Short, who despite no longer being a Parish Councillor has become a strong supporter of the environment sub-committee, and is helping out with the many projects under way. This is a great example of how people can assist the work of the Parish Council without having to worry about actually being a Councillor. I hope others will follow suit in the coming year.

Finally, I would like to give particular thanks to Laura Walkingshaw, our Parish Clerk who has taken to the role like a duck to water.  This is fortunate as, due to changing requirements, she needs to devote ever increasing amounts of time to demonstrating that we, as a Parish Council, are continually at the forefront of best practice and so forth.  Thanks also go to Vicky Beckwith-Cole, our Halls’ Administrator’; to our two village handymen who have both joined us this year, David Hewitt and Matt Harkness, and in doing so I would like to thank Steve Cook our previous handyman, who stepped down from his role last year. I must also give thanks to our mostly invisible but hugely effective webmaster Dave Kingaby.

I hope you will enjoy the meeting and presentations. Do ask questions and thank you again for supporting the Parish Council by attending tonight.

REPORTS FROM THE SUB-COMMITTEES:

FINANCE, POLICY & PERSONNEL REPORT – ANDREW SAVAGE

TO DATE – MARCH 2016

We are again holding the Annual Parish Meeting before the end of the financial year and therefore, as last year, I can’t provide income against expenditure comparisons.  Instead I’ll cover some specific items.

First of all, I’m pleased to announce that the External Auditors have ‘signed off’ the 2014/15 accounts.  The preparation of these was undertaken by Val Walsom prior to relinquishing her Parish Clerk duties with Laura Walkingshaw becoming involved as she took over that role.  So my thanks go to both of them and also to Gerry Allen for his Internal Auditor duties.

Following the completion of the resurfacing of the Orpen Memorial Hall car park   we saw a pause in considering financial projects whilst we had the Council elections and allowed our new Parish Clerk to become familiar with her duties.

Since then, however, we have developed a project to renovate the Orpen Hall toilet accommodation.  These are old facilities that will require a significant amount of work to bring them up to modern standards.  So, first of all, we approached Essex County Council’s ‘Community Initiatives Fund’ who has awarded us a £4,500 match funding grant.  In addition, our Borough Councillors have made a welcome contribution from their own fund and we are seeking some more from Colchester Borough Council’s ‘Section 106’ planning fund.  Nevertheless, we will have to provide some financial support in addition to the above sources and that provided by the Orpen Memorial Hall trustees and the Hall Account.

Whilst this is the main project we have also been involved in other areas of expenditure such as supporting the Neighbourhood Plan process with the exhibitions in April, and reorganising the Lorkin Daniell Playing Field grass cutting arrangements.

Moving forward to next year’s finances; as indicated above, the Parish Council is still working hard to secure external funding but such sources either have less available or no longer provide financial support.  This continues to have a significant knock-on effect when reviewing future projects.  We have therefore reviewed which projects and other expenditure items are required to be funded over the next three years in accordance with best practice recommendations for local councils.  From this, the desire to support the Orpen Hall toilet accommodation renovation project and continue to build up funds to assist in the re-roofing of the main hall (as well as other schemes such as the Neighbourhood Plan process) means that the Parish Council has agreed to increase the Precept accordingly.  This results in a household in a Band D property now paying a pound a week (an increase of 19p).  This was felt to be reasonable in the light of what will be provided.

ENVIRONMENT & HIGHWAYS REPORT – JOHN GILI-ROSS

As we approach the end of a financial year it has been very much a year of consolidation and planning for the future.  The first part of the year we concentrated on improvements to our village environment and facilities and to this end we dusted off our maintenance staff work schedule to ensure it remains fit for purpose going forward.  Due to family issues we saw the resignation of Steve Cook in July and immediately we concentrated on finding and recruiting a replacement.  As it was the peak summer months for both the grass growing and the never ending supply of litter deposited by the few determined to spoil the look of our village we set out to find a replacement as a priority and David Hewitt joined us on a 3-month trial period.  David immediately proved his worth and his position was confirmed allowing us to recruit a second handyman in Matt Harkness who joined us in March.  Both work an average of 8 hours a week and work independently to enhance our village.

Last year it became clear that we could no longer rely on our handymen using their own vehicles to transport tools and equipment around the village.  The committee recommended the purchase of a low cost estate vehicle to be used by all our staff when required for Council business.  The Council agreed to the purchase and a silver Ford Focus was purchased in January and immediately put to work.  The trial will continue until August when the council will be able to determine the cost effectiveness of the purchase.

A large amount of our budget is spent on trimming back the numerous hedges and trees that are on and around our open spaces.  A specialist contractor was employed to complete the annual hedge flailing and this work quickly followed up by David Hewitt to complete the work.  The hedge and trees on the north and east boundary of the Lorkin Daniel playing field were in desperate need of clearing back and the trees inspected for safety.  During this inspection several trees were found to be reaching an unsafe condition and two oak trees and an old cherry tree were removed.  During the months ahead the playing field will continue to be treated to return the maximum area to usable village use.

Cold weather fluorescent clothing was purchased complete with Parish Council logo’s to be used by our staff.  Our snow clearance, Community Speed Watch and the “Considerate Parking” volunteers can also use the clothing as and when required.

During our annual playground inspection, we received some advisory notes relating to the roundabout and the wooden climbing frame.  In addressing these issues before they became substantial we also took the opportunity to add a third toddler swing, which has proven very popular.  For safety reasons we felt it necessary to repair the holes in the hedge alongside Lexden Road and the playground.  We hope that in time the hedge will grow back and seal the gaps in a more environmentally friendly way.

The Traffic Safety Plan has all but been completed with the last remaining item in the plan being the 20mph limits being added to New Church Road, School Lane and Church Road.  Hopefully this will be completed by May 2016.

In line with popular demand the committee have created a Considerate Parking scheme following the example of other villages where parking around schools in an anti-social manner has compromised safety for adults and children. The scheme will link up with enforcement officers from the North Essex Parking Partnership (NEPP) to ticket offenders and hopefully reduce if not stop this nuisance behaviour.  NEPP has a “Parksafe” vehicle, which will take photographs of offending motorists as the vehicle passes the school and can automatically process the tickets without having to stop.

During the year Phil Walby resigned from the committee and was replaced by Philip Spencer and the committee further enhanced by David Short who returned to help with the ever increasing, environmental requirements throughout the village.

I would like to say a big thank you to all the committee members for their hard work and enthusiasm throughout the year.  We never lose sight of what is important to residents and our village but we do try to have fun at the same time.

PREMISES AND RECREATION REPORT – BRIAN BUTCHER

This the end of my first six months in the post as Chair of the Premises and Recreation sub-committee, having taken over from the previous chairman, Phil Walby, being elected a Councillor in May 2015 and taking over the chairmanship in October last year when Phil moved out of the parish and resigned as a Parish Councillor.

I am learning fast how hard Phil worked, for which we all thank him, but neither he nor I could have a chance of fulfilling the role with the help of our Hall Administrator Victoria Beckwith-Cole. On behalf of the Parish Council, the users of the hall and myself, a big thank you to Vicky. Can I also thank the Parish Councils’ new Clerk Laura for her assistance to me, but more importantly to Vicky.

As always the Halls have been in high demand, so much so that even Parish Council committees often use the small meeting room over the Orpen hall entrance! However, one thing I think all Hall users will have noticed since October is the increase in the cleanliness of the halls, all down to our new cleaner Zoe, many thanks Zoe.

One thing I would like all hirers of the Hall to note though please is the need to lock the chairs together, two clips between each chair and four chairs in a row if your using the chairs for any audience purposes. If you have any queries on the details these are available in the kitchen.

You may have noticed early this year work on the Orpen Hall roof, replacing tiles damaged in the storms. Half the roof was retiled a few years ago, but the Parish Council are now building up a reserve to complete the work in the next few years. We have also organised additional collections of rubbish from the front of the Hall which some of you might also have noticed.

The one difference I hope you will notice by the autumn this year is the refurbishment of the ladies and gentlemen toilets as you come into the Orpen Hall on the left hand side. We’ve appointed a firm of “architects” to draw up the plans and get us approval. We have donations to undertake some of the work from the Community Initiative Fund and the Borough Councillor’s fund, for which we thank them.

We also hope by the autumn to have improved the external signage, rounding up the mish mash of signs externally onto one more readable and informative sign for visitors. With the ever increasing demand on the Halls also comes a demand for increasing storage space and hopefully next year we can start to draw up plans to provide additional storage either by extending the garages to the side or a new building near the where the bins are kept at the front.

Finally, I’d like to thank my fellow committee members Murray, Bob, Rosemary, Jenny & Harry and ask if you have concerns or queries to raise them with Vicky or any of us so we can seek to resolve as soon as we can.

PLANNING & DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE REPORT – BOB TYRRELL

The Planning and Development committee has several functions:

  • It is a statutory consultee on planning applications submitted to Colchester Borough Council (CBC) and Essex County Council (ECC);
  • Similarly it is a consultee on development planning generally, examples being the Local Development Framework for Colchester Borough Council area or for Minerals and Waste proposals from the County Council;
  • It develops guidelines and forward planning advice covering the way the village should maintain its distinctive character, and wherever possible enhance this through sympathetic development.
  • Full terms of reference for the Committee will shortly be available on the village website

Planning Applications

The most active of the above activities concerns planning applications. These may range from a simple house extension, to a new dwelling or indeed an application for commercial premises. As a consultee the Parish Council cannot prevent or stop a development from taking place, but its recommendations do form a powerful local response, to be weighed in consideration with other evidence submitted to Colchester Borough Council.

In 2015/16, WBPC received 49 planning applications this was 15% higher than in 2014/15, reflecting the economic recovery. This is the third yearly increase in applications following three years of successive falls between 2010/11 and 2012/13

Of the 49 applications, the Parish Council supported 18, objected to 7 and gave observations only, on a further 23. 1 application was approved without prior notification to West Bergholt.

Generally speaking, the Borough Council supports the majority of the applications, or has proactive suggestions to enhance the proposals.

The committee strongly objected to a development in Chapel Lane that was recommended for approval and spoke against the application at CBC Planning Meeting with success, the scheme was deferred, the revised scheme recently received is far more in keeping with the village street scape and had the parish support.

The committee recently brought to the attention of CBC a sever breach of Planning, on a new property in Chapel Lane, work has now stopped and a new application has been received.

Development Planning

A review of the Borough Plan took place in 2013 in order to bring it into line with the National Planning Policy Framework. The new Local Plan will be prepared in parallel with the proposed West Bergholt Neighbourhood Plan (see next report).

Design Guidance

In 2011 the committee joined forces with the Parish Plan Group to produce a Village Design Statement (VDS). This is the third year that the VDS has been used to assist in determining the Parish Council’s stance on Planning Applications. The VDS endeavours to assist those seeking planning permission by drawing their attention to some basic design principles covering new or altered buildings, as well as setting the context for development in the village by outlining the distinctive character areas of the village and its rural setting. The VDS is available on the Village website. In an attempt to provide greater consistency Parish Council comments on Planning Applications will on occasion quote the relevant VDS Policy number and text if for some reason an objection is raised by the Parish Council.

Planning meetings

The Committee has regular meetings on the third Wednesday of each month at 7.30pm in the John Lampon Hall. The agenda is published three days in advance. Anyone who wishes to express their views on a planning matter is welcome to attend, and in particular, the Committee welcomes pre-planning application discussions.

I would like to thank my colleagues on the committee for their hard work over the past months.

NEIGHBOURHOOD PLAN STEERING GROUP – CHRIS STEVENSON

PROGRESS WITH THE NEIGHBOURHOOD PLAN

1.  Neighbourhood Plan (NP)

Although I have reported on progress for the last two years, there are many people who are still unaware of the ability of communities to create planning documents for local use. So as a reminder, Neighbourhood Plans are a new form of community-based planning which enable villages, parishes or similar-sized localities to produce a planning document which covers how they would like to see their areas develop in the future. Once adopted they form the blueprint for new development, and sit within a District or Borough Council’s own local Plan document. Although NPs are primarily about future development, but they can also include projects similar to those in the present Parish Plan. It is likely that ours will include elements of both.

A steering group of Parish Councillors and other members of the community has been formed over the previous 4 years to produce the plan. The group liaises with Colchester Borough Council and receives help and guidance from a variety of organisations. West Bergholt has been in the vanguard of local parishes producing a plan and has made presentations and offered guidance to others seeking to follow suite.

2.  Main Activities carried out to date on NP in 2015/16

Starting in April 2015 an “Issues and Options” consultation was launched comprising:

  • An exhibition
  • A leaflet delivered to each household
  • A survey via the web and the Village Bulletin
  • Presentations to village groups

The issues and options for the future covered the nine areas of our plan

Housing and PlanningCommunity Amenities
CommunityBusiness & Commerce
EnvironmentSport & Recreation
Community SafetyTransport and Highways
Communications

Over 100 people attended the Annual Parish Meeting which launched the consultation and a further 200 people came to the subsequent exhibitions. Over 250 people completed an on-line or paper questionnaire.

The full results of the questionnaire can be found on the village website but the majority of those who participated agreed that correct issues had been identified by the consultation, endorsed the draft objectives set for the plan and the ideas for making improvements.

An important part of the consultation was to determine the appetite of the community for the size of future housing developments which may be expected of a village such as ours. Three options were set out from a minimum of 100 new dwellings to a maximum of 200. Unsurprisingly the vast majority of people opted for the smaller of these options.

Since this time the Steering Group has been busy on the following activities

  • Collating the results of the surveys
  • Conducting a Housing Needs survey through the RCCE
  • Discussing development ideas with Colchester Borough Council
  • Preparing the draft NP

At the time of writing the Steering Group is hoping to make a statement on the development options for inclusion in Colchester’s Local Plan consultation which is anticipated in July. This is an important step since numerous parcels of land have been put forward by land owners and developers for new housing – far more than would be needed. In order to keep the development to a minimum an appraisal is taking place of the most beneficial of the sites on offer, and rather than let the Borough Council make this choice it is anticipated that our NP will determine the exact site or sites that will be selected. It is expected that Borough Council will not zone specific areas for development in the village in its forthcoming consultations in the summer, but say that such allocation will be made through the publishing of the NP.

3.  Programme

It is thought that the NP will not be finalised until late 2017. The rough timetable is as follows:

  • Draft plan Summer/Autumn 2016 (Formal Consultation)
  • Public Inquiry in Spring 2017(*)
  • Referendum in Autumn 2017(*)
  • Adoption of NP Winter 2017(*)

It is possible that the formal stages of the Plan’s development (*) and adoption may take more time than indicated above. Although there will be consultations taking place the NP is a statutory document and so a referendum and public inquiry will be needed to formally endorse any plan.

4.  Getting Involved

Although there is a steering group already formed, it is not a closed shop. Anyone can come to the regular meetings (normally 7.30pm on the first Wednesday of the month) or join the group either to undertake specific activities or to act as a wider group of critical friends. The contacts below are the ways to get in touch

Please visit www.westbergholt.net  for further details.

5.  Thank you

Attempting to produce a complex Neighbourhood Plan is not easy for busy people who are all volunteers with little background in town and country planning, many of whom volunteer in other activities in the parish as well, and many of whom also have a full time job or other employment. I am indebted to the enthusiasm of all those on the Steering Group, past and present who make my job as Chairman a pleasure to undertake.