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Chairman’s Report for the Year presented at the Annual Parish Assembly

CHAIRMAN’S REPORT TO ANNUAL PARISH ASSEMBLY, 14TH MAY 2015

Bernard Griffiths

I would like to start by thanking all the parishioners of Abbotts Ann who took the trouble to turn out on 7th May to cast their votes in the three elections.    A large turnout gives validity to all elections and the parish councillors who have been elected can only be grateful for the strong show of support amongst the parish.  We will all do our duty to work for the good of the parish and to maintain – and improve where necessary – the quality of life for those who live in it.

I must thank all those who spent so much time publicising the parish council election, and all those who had the courage to put their names forward for nomination.   In past years, although councillors are re-elected every four years, there have not been sufficient candidates standing for election to necessitate a public vote – if only seven people offer themselves for seven places, there is no need for a poll.   It is certainly not true, as some have stated, that there has been “no election” for 20 years, but this criticism, and similar thoughts, does emphasise that we must go to greater lengths to advertise elections, beyond what is required by law.  Perhaps the council could have done better in this regard, and we are grateful for this constructive criticism.

I am delighted that the parish has now been given the opportunity to give its opinion.  The high turnout may, of course, have something to do with some other little election that was apparently going on at the same time…

The parish council has never operated along either party lines or in factions, and it is my earnest hope that, now that a further, and clear, democratic decision has been taken, your council will be able to move forward as a united body – no doubt with different ideas and aims, but certainly with the underlying intention of supporting and enabling the wishes and aspirations of all the residents of this parish.

The election has brought a historic change to the council – never in its history have so many new councillors been elected at one time.  There will be a learning curve for all of us, and much professional training required.   A parish council, however humble and few its powers, still has to follow the laws of the land with regard to statutory procedures.  It is not a glorified committee, but a layer of local government.  I am sure that the new councillors will soon become a unified body working for the benefit of the village as a whole.

The past year has had brought its administrative difficulties on the council, and we were sorry to lose Adrian Stokes as Clerk.  He had served the parish loyally and diligently for nine years, besides having served a previous term as clerk.   We were very pleased to welcome Arthur Peters in his place, and the work Arthur undertook was enormous.  The hours and effort that he expended on behalf of the parish were much appreciated by the council and villagers alike.  His efficiency and attention to detail were exemplary.

We were sorry to have to accept his resignation at the end of April and since then the clerical duties of the council have been undertaken by Mrs Amy Taylor, who is a qualified parish clerk and has long experience in the law and procedure of parish councils.    We have been delighted with the manner in which she has dealt with the statutory requirements of the council at this very busy time of year, and at very short notice.    In due course, the new council will be advertising the post of Clerk so that we can recruit a new permanent employee to this role.

I wish to thank, very sincerely and personally, the two clerks who have served in the last year – Adrian Stokes, and Arthur Peters.  Their knowledge, experience, advice and sheer hard work, have seen the council through some difficult times.  

I would also like to express my personal thanks to the councillors who have not stood at this election, and who have given this village many years of solid, and devoted, service.  They have given their free time, as will the new councillors, to deliberating on decisions that in some cases affect only individuals, in other cases affect the whole parish.  I thank them for their unfailing support, despite differences of opinion over the years, and their loyalty:  Penny Wilkins, Graham Whyte (former vice-chairman), David Paffett, Stan Oram, and Rebecca Bone.

I would also like to thank all of you here, and others who are not, for all the support, encouragement, and useful criticism you have offered in the past year, and for your interest in the affairs of the parish and the parish council.

So, what else has been happening in the parish this year?

MANOR CLOSE PLAYING FIELD

A lease was signed by the Parish Council and Hampshire County Council, giving the Parish Council management over the field for 99 years.  The negotiations had begun following a meeting with the vice-chairman, Graham Whyte, the former Clerk, Adrian Stokes, and the then leader of Hampshire County Council.   Subsequently, however, news of the potential for open spaces in villages to be protected under the legal “Village Green” status was publicised by the BBC, and Dale Wells led a very successful campaign to push for Manor Close Playing Field to be designated as such.

Hampshire County Council were unhappy about the strictures that such an official status would bring, and as they did not wish to give up their ownership of the land, they agreed the 99 year lease with the Parish Council, under certain conditions (eg. no buildings to be erected, no commercial use, and no allotments).  This was at the exorbitant rent of £1 per annum.

Ideas from villagers have been sought by the Parish Council for the use of the field, within the terms of the lease – remembering that the purpose of acquiring it was to ensure the preservation of an open space for the use of all villagers.  The new Parish Council will be working with the village to fulfil these ideas.

WAR MEMORIAL HALL CHILDREN’S PLAYPARK

As you know, the play park was closed for part of the last year, while EU regulations were verified.  The park had passed its RoSPA inspection, and the inspector had praised the work of the constructor, Adam Rose.  However the Clerk, Arthur Peters, was quite rightly assiduous in ensuring that the highest degree of safety and compliance was met, so that users of the park could be assured of as enjoyable and safe an environment as possible.  We must thank Arthur for his unstinting efforts and determination in working towards a successful outcome while he was Clerk.

OTHER ACTIVITIES

The Parish Council has continued to work during the year for improvements particularly in highways.

The HCC Highways Officer visited the village and our Clerk, Arthur Peters, produced an excellent report summarising all the many aspects of road and traffic improvement that were discussed.  This has provided a checklist for progress over the coming months, and was attached to the December Minutes.

The Council has continued to press for speed restrictions in the village.  We were advised by Cllr Andrew Gibson of HCC that the county council’s budget for traffic speed checks was very limited, but that after their initial trial survey of villages, it might be possible for Abbotts Ann to be included in such a project.  St John’s Cross is a perpetual problem;  it is not good enough for the authorities to say it is not a high priority danger area because there have not been enough serious accidents.

We have recently been informed that Burghclere Down’s 20 mph limit appears not to be working, and there are still issues of bad parking there.  These pose a threat to pedestrians and children, and I hope that councillors, including myself will be visiting Burghclere Down soon to meet residents and see exactly where the problems lie.

A problem with street lighting at Abbotts Ann Down has been solved by the HCC dimming the light after midnight.

BURGHCLERE DOWN

Problems have also been reported from Burghclere Down regarding dog fouling and again the council needs to know exactly where residents would like bins located, and if there are any other measures they feel might be helpful.  We are pleased that, following information from walkers along Dunkirt Lane in the village, we have been able to arrange a dog bin from TVBC, and are arranging for more elsewhere.   Details from Burghclere Down would be welcome.

With regard to Burghclere Down in general, I was pleased to see that prospective councillors were keen to promote links with that community and to try to make the residents feel more included in the parish activities.  We were very sorry to lose Mrs Lynda Stockings, who was a stalwart representative of Burghclere Down at Parish Council meetings.  She kept the council informed of residents’ views and aspirations and we tried to respond positively.   We would like to express our thanks to her for trying to keep the parish unified.   Following  her advice to us that she would not be able to continue in this role, we have been looking for another representative to attend council meetings and to develop stronger links with Burghclere Down.  Anyone is welcome to attend parish council meetings, and we would particularly encourage residents of Burghclere Down to come – if there are issues you would like discussed at meetings, please contact our locum clerk, Mrs Amy Taylor, who will add them to the Agenda.  This applies to any member of the public, incidentally.

I sincerely hope that, with the declared intentions of the new councillors, our links across the parish will be strengthened in the coming months.

OTHER ORGANISATIONS

There are many other organisations and groups in this community, with different specialised interests and expertise, without which Abbotts Ann would be very much the poorer.  All the volunteers, like the volunteers of the parish council, give their time and energy for the good of everyone who is fortunate enough to live here.

You have reports from some of those organisations printed for you.    I would like to thank Abbotts Ann Vision for all their work promoting and following up the Village Consultation, organising the points raised there into working groups that can actively do something to improve life for residents.  Again, much of what they do is behind the scenes, and the hours of their free time that they devote to the village, often in very technical and demanding subjects, is known only to a few.  But the results of their labours may be spectacular.   Ray Lucas, in particular, was instrumental in publicising the election, to ensure that the result represented a fair view of the community.  The current project is a Housing Needs Survey, which will try to ascertain the need in the village for affordable housing, so that village families can remain in the community where they grew up.

Abbotts Ann Action has ensured incisive and intelligent comment at Planning hearings in TVBC, putting forward structured arguments in defence of our interests.  Here, we must particularly thank Dr John Moon for his excellent input at these sessions, and also in his own communications with the authorities on our behalf.

The Countryside Group has organised successful and extremely interesting meetings and visits over the past year.   There is so much to learn about the countryside on our doorstep, and it is a delight to be able to be instructed by experts in such a sociable and entertaining way.

The Sportsfield Association is working tirelessly towards raising money for a badly-needed new pavilion that will serve the community for many years to come – I urge you to support their next event, which will be a “black tie” dinner with an Auction of Promises, held in the War Memorial Hall on Saturday 27th June.

Abbotts Ann Green Action has worked hard over the year to encourage more environmentally-friendly thinking in the community, including the offer of a thermal imaging survey of houses to discover sources of heat loss.

The War Memorial Hall has hosted numerous events for the benefit and enjoyment of the village, and now has the advantage of an entirely refurbished new kitchen area, with improved storage arrangements.

The PCC has been very active in promoting restoration and repairs to St Mary’s Church, which is a very unusual and special building.  One of the aspects should be the erection of a public lavatory, outside the building.  This facility is a pre-requisite for large grants towards the building works.  The PCC is working with the Parish Council on a long-term maintenance plan for the churchyard and we look forward to progressing this with the new council.

Paul Kelly has been indefatigable in his efforts to keep Abbots Ann a Tidy Village.  With help from his loyal group of litter-pickers, and pressing TVBC for assistance with Sparkle Days, he has been tireless in maintaining a pleasant environment for us to live in.  Recently, he was supportive of the council’s and village’s efforts in his timely riposte to an anonymous letter to the Andover Advertiser criticising the parish council for lack of effort in litter-picking.   If the anonymous writer cares to contact Mr Kelly, he will be much welcomed on the litter-picking group.

Tim Tayler is the honorary village archivist, and last year saw a magnificent series of displays about the effects of the First World War on the village and villagers.  A phenomenal amount of information was gathered by a dedicated and enthusiastic group, shedding light on not just the horrors of the fighting itself, but on the day to day lives of the real people who lived and worked in this village at the time, many of them in houses we live in to-day, and it brought them back to life in a special way.  One particular photograph was particularly poignant – through computer art, it superimposed a ghostly figure from the past on a modern view of one of the village houses.  It reminded me very much that those who have gone before are not that far away, and maybe we should pay heed to what they might be thinking of how we develop and change the village that was their physical home once upon a time.

The W.I. has always been a backbone of village life, and we thank all those involved in the work of the movement; in providing informative and interesting meetings that we read about in the parish magazine, and in always being ready to support village events with refreshments and good humour.

The Fete Committee worked tirelessly, as every year, to give us another excellent village function last autumn.  The village fete is an institution that perhaps we tend to take for granted, but to provide all the stalls, games, food, entertainment and general traditional village fun takes much time and effort, with long hours meeting to decide what is needed; the contacting of numerous outside organisations; and the physical task of actually setting up all the marquees, tables, show rings and so on.

We are very grateful to Chris Davis and Neighbourhood Watch for keeping the village abreast of crime in the locality.  We are very lucky to live in a relatively safe environment, and the warnings that Chris relays to us from the local police, via Neighbourhood Watch, keep us all on our toes.  It is good that someone is keeping an eye on our security and we are very grateful.

The Nursery School is another central focus for the village.   Children are our future and we must give them happy memories to look back on, as well as a strong and ethical background to face the vicissitudes that will surely come in their lives.  We cannot thank enough those who help so much in their development and growth.   If these children can learn to appreciate the good and important things in life, and to value and respect their community – both the environment and the people who live in it – we will have left a wonderful legacy to Abbotts Ann.

Members of the parish council were delighted to be invited by the Primary School council to visit the school earlier this year.   The pupils prepared a most business-like agenda and showed the councillors round.  They asked very perceptive questions, and I look forward one day to seeing some of them serving the village on the parish council.  The work of Mrs Jane Hall and her staff is vital to the welfare of the next generations, and the council hopes very much to continue and develop the links between the council and the school over the coming months, so that the pupils can learn more about how the village runs.

I must thank Dr John Moon for his expertise, wisdom and patience in his role as Tree Warden for the parish.  We very much appreciate the time and knowledge that he brings to the task of commenting on the tree works that may or may not be needed in the village.  It is certainly my personal wish that he will remain in post for many years to come.

Another central point in the village is the Shop.  It not only provides the essential, and surprise, items that we suddenly find we have run out of, but is also a focus for social contact for many villagers.   Having the post office, and a place to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee and chat, is an absolutely vital contribution to the unity, continuity, and happiness of village life.  We wish the shop and its very willing and hard-working volunteers and the dedicated committee every success as they proceed under their new management, and we thank Georgina very much for all she did to bring the shop to the success it is to-day.  

The Village Website has taken great strides this year, under the guidance and management of Keith Saunders, for whose expertise and hard work we are extremely grateful.  He has been ably assisted by Lorna Haigh, and we all hope that the site will become an increasingly well-used forum for the sharing of information about what is going on in the village.   It has become much easier for individuals to post their information directly.

There are many other people in the village, both individuals and organisations, who need our thanks for all the work they do, often unsung, and without whom the parish would run far less smoothly.   If I have not mentioned you by name, do not think your efforts have gone unnoticed or unappreciated.  We notice; we appreciate.

It is my fervent wish that we can all now move forward and work together, not for dissension or personal agenda, but for the general good of all the people living here.    There will of course be differences of opinion among individuals, but we are going to face extraordinary pressures from outside in the not too distant future, some not yet foreseen.   It is only by presenting a united front that Abbotts Ann will be able to preserve its unique, friendly, and traditional English quality.

Bernard Griffiths

Chairman, Abbotts Ann Parish Council

14th May 2015

 

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