Parish Council Meeting, 4th February
The following is my unofficial version of yesterday’s Parish Council Meeting. The account is, of necessity, partial and I apologise in advance for the omissions—
Once again, February’s meeting was relatively well-attended by the public.
However, only six councillors were present; Andrew Harris (Chair), Roland Dodge, Mike Sharp, Steve Mowbray, Alan Pfleger and Tom Pepperall. Depleted numbers reflect the vacancies caused by the resignations of David Rees, and, more recently, Annamaria Beswick Edwards.
Councillor Cobb sent apologies, being delayed in London.
The Public Question Time proved lively, and largely good-natured. Questions included—
Could the council could improve its communications?
The website lacked profiles of some councillors, and this month’s Agenda. Could the council also publish the Appendices referred to in the Agenda? The questioner had been told before that “things would start to happen,” but he had yet to see real progress.
The Chairman acknowledged the need to update the website. The clerk explained that the missing Agenda was unintentional, as she had inadvertently “pressed the wrong button”.
Why can’t we get even the simple things done?
A parishioner explained that he had previously confessed to clearing paths and gutters, and Councillor Cobb had told him this was not a good idea because of issues of liability.
Since then, he had followed Councillor Cobb’s advice. He had reported the issue three times to Wiltshire Council through their on-line issues portal. Nothing had happened. He had received no feedback, two-and-a -half months later. The paths were dangerous, especially to those with children. The drains were in danger of blocking.
If we can’t get the small things done, how can we get the big things done?
If Wiltshire won’t act, should the Parish Council take over? At the moment, there was “a complete vacuum.” Wiltshire Council should delete its “everybody counts” motto, as clearly it means nothing.
The Chairman explained that Councillor Cobb had spoken to Highways. There were issues because of the early termination of the maintenance contract with Balfour Beatty (which could also affect the chicane and footpath). A meeting was planned with Wiltshire Council and the new contractors in April. However, the Chairman agreed a more robust approach was appropriate. The Parish Council would raise with Wiltshire Council before then.
What’s happening with the Car Park Project?
The Chairman explained that the Car Park Project Working Group had yet to meet, so there was no update. A meeting is planned for March. (Later in the meeting, Councillors Cobb and Sharp were appointed to the working group).
A parishioner then asked where the Council stood on the project following Wiltshire Council’s proposals to cut essential services? The Parish Council might need to fund these in the future.
The Chairman said the Council was “not rushing headlong” into anything. It would consider all options carefully.
Will there be a referendum on the car park?
The Chairman said the Council had “already done that.”
He went on to explain. A referendum had been mentioned during a public meeting, but had not been put forward as a course of action by the Council. However, the Council had consulted.
Although the Council had consulted, it had no duty to do so. The consultation had “opened up a can of worms.” However, the Chairman said he had no regrets. It was important for the Council to be transparent.
Can we make better use of the Jubilee Club House?
A working group will consider this further, including wider use of the car park and a possible mini-bus service.
What is the Council doing to ease traffic mayhem at the Butts?
If there is an obstruction, Councillor Pfleger advised contacting the police.
The Chairman said Councillor Cobb and a working group would be considering options carefully, and taking forward. Double yellow lines on both sides of the road could be a first step, and possibly the most cost-effective way of easing the issue.
Before the public part of the meeting concluded, Councillor Pfleger asked for an apology for derogatory comments he said had previously been made by a parishioner. However, no apology, or acknowledgement, was forthcoming.
Neighbourhood Plan update
As an interested party, Andrew Harris left the Chair for the discussion over the Neighbourhood Plan. Councillor Pfleger took over.
The meeting finally approved the draft neighbourhood plan. This means, in theory, the plan can proceed for the necessary informal six-week public consultation. The meeting also resolved to authorize minor changes to the draft chapters “in the interests of clarity, accuracy and consistency”. Major amendments would need to go back to the council for approval.
Councillor Pepperall then gave an update on recent developments. Purton has left the New V planning group, deciding to go-it-alone. Lyneham and Bradenstoke are also pulling out.
This will inevitably delay matters. However, it is not necessarily fatal to the Lydiard chapter if the remaining villages can work together successfully.
Input from Lydiard Tregoze remains outstanding. Should they not proceed, additional technical issues will arise as the neighbourhood planning area will no longer be contiguous. Councillor Pepperall offered to attend their next parish meeting in order to progress matters.
Prepare for Council tax rises and cuts to services
Councillor Sharp gave an update on the budget meeting he had attended at Wiltshire Council.
Wiltshire Council are still looking to cut £900 million from the budget. However, there is scant detail so it is hard to know how this will affect the Parish.
Parishioners may, however, get some unpleasant surprises.
Council tax rises (in contrast to the Parish Precept) are capped at 2%, and Wiltshire Council are looking to make the maximum increase allowed. They also propose an additional 2% increase specifically for adult social care (a permitted exception, which is to be ring-fenced). The fire service will be increasing their precept by 6% (paradoxically higher on account of the cost-saving merger), and the police plan to increase their precept by 4% (no explanation given at the meeting).
The Chairman said it was important to know more about what services would be cut in order for the Parish Council to set their precept, manage any reserves, and plan accordingly. Unfortunately, the lack of detail made this difficult. The Council would need to find out more, and he would appreciate the County Councillor attending the next meeting and giving a full report.
At the budget meeting, Wiltshire Council also suggested that volunteers could help to plug the gap in services.
Volunteers are hard to come by
A number of comments were made on the lack of people coming forward to help. For example, no members of the public had helped the clerk move offices. The annual litter-pick is another example. “We don’t get any volunteers anyway, and most of those come from Swindon.”
The Chairman made the point that, if people weren’t happy with what the council was doing, they had the opportunity to step forward themselves.
Volunteers sought for the annual litter pick
This year’s litter pick is now set for 10am, Sunday, 10th March. This is a week later than the date originally suggested to coincide with the Clean for Queen campaign. That date clashes with Mother’s Day.
There are now two casual vacancies.
The Chairman said the Council should write to David Rees and Annamaria Beswick Edwards, thanking them for their contribution and wishing them well.
The meeting agreed to re-advertise the vacancy left by David Rees.
The statutory notices sent following Annamaria Beswick Edward’s resignation expire on 18 February. If no election is called by then, the Council will also look to fill that vacancy.
(NOTE: The Council can co-opt a councillor once the statutory procedure has been exhausted. Basically, public notice is given. Ten parishioners can then demand an election. If an election is not called before expiry of the notice period, the Council can then look for someone to co-opt into that vacancy).
The meeting agreed not to send out poll cards in the event of an election because of the cost (up to £5,000 for a large parish). Individual candidates could send out flyers. The Council could give general publicity about any forthcoming election, for example through the local magazine. However, there were strict legal limits to what they could and couldn’t do.
The meeting discussed four applications. It raised no objections to the proposed extensions to 22 The Close (16/00310/FULL) and Unit 2 Bagbury Business Park (15/12241/FUL).
However, the Council objected to approval of reserved matters for the key workers’ dwelling at Lydiard Field Stud (15/12575/REM), which it considered “too large”. It also objected to the proposed new dwelling at Hilldrop Farm, Greenhill (15/12765/FUL), citing “overdevelopment.”
The Parish Council failed to secure a defibrillator from the British Heart Foundation. The clerk and Councillor Mowbray will investigate other possibilities.
Exclusion of the press and public
At 8.30pm, the public part of the meeting concluded. Councillors remained to discuss establishment, property and finance matters, in respect of which it considered “publicity would be prejudicial by reason of the confidential nature of the business to be transacted.”