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Clerk’s Column August 2007

Rising Tide of Democracy? In the world of journalism, the Summer Holiday period has always been known as the Silly Season, and when even the Daily Telegraph features a very large lady involuntarily doing a King Canute by getting stuck in a deckchair on a beach with a rising tide, you know it is time for the stories about silly items. One fruitful source of these is sorely missed by editors with the closure of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the advertising in Exchange and Mart of a pair of matching Jaguars and a croquet set. The same paper recorded the quiet demise of one the dreams – or, to some, nightmares – of that Department in the winding-up of Southwest England Regional Assembly based on Exeter, leaving the new Chancellor to wrestle with the problem of the pensions for its generously-paid employees. Now that it has finished advising the Government to concrete over large areas of Hampshire and the Home Counties, perhaps our own dear SEERA will soon join its sister SWEERA to enjoy a comfortable retirement in seaside deck chairs.

The Shed. Talking of concreting, one hardly needs to be a hardened cynic to see how very un-silly it is for a property developer, wanting to plonk one of the world’s largest buildings just outside our Parish boundary, to time his planning application for the middle of August. However, most of your Parish Councillors, together with those of Monxton, Amport, Penton, the Clatfords and many other parishes, have stayed put, as have our Borough Councillors and politicians Sir George Young and Lord Howell (who lives in Clanville). The organised resistance movement has been fizzing with activity; the seventeen or so emails which plopped into their Inboxes on the sunniest Sunday for weeks indicate the level of commitment and the vital input from Ray Lucas and John Moon of Abbotts Ann Action. Be assured that very few unturned stones will be left lying around.

Hedges, verges and weeds. The Parish Council much appreciates the prompt response to the request to trim hedges alongside pavements; the Clerk continues to nag, politely, to try to keep Green Lane and other rights of way open.
The Council has been concerned about the thatched sign outside the Poplar Farm Inn, not so much on aesthetic grounds as because its position on Highway land is unlawful and its massive structure would ensure that anything short of a military tank would come off worst on impact; the Highway Authority has promised to act.
There seems to be an increase in fly-tipping on roadsides (any connection with Alternate Bin Collections?), as in Webbs Lane and the Coach Road. This is illegal, and it would be appreciated if residents would report incidents in a quick phone call to the Borough Council, which is the enforcing (and clearing-up) agency.
Nobody knows why, but there has been an alarming increase in the growth of Ragwort; this is a not-very-pretty yellow plant, up to a height of a yard/914 mm if you insist, extremely poisonous to livestock, and very good at marching along verges of roads, motorways and even railway lines. Not even DEFRA has come up with a better way of checking its progress than pulling it up; so please treat it as Public Enemy No 3 (see above for Public enemy Nos 1 and 2).

Health and Sanity. Some readers may know, and love, the tranquillity of the South Hams in Devon, which includes the villages of East Prawle and Hope Cove. One appreciated reason for their peaceful atmosphere is the fact that mobile phone users cannot get a signal there – except in one place, by standing on a bench. At Hope Cove, you have to stand on the left-hand end of the left-hand bench outside the Hope and Anchor Pub; at East Prawle, the bench is by the village green. After complaints that the bench was getting too dirty and battered to sit on, the Parish Council at East Prawle came up with a plan to build a concrete plinth (immediately dubbed Phonehenge), to disguise it as a rockery and to reposition the bench out of earshot. Somebody must have stood on it to phone the Health and Safety Officials, who immediately demanded a risk assessment complete with proposals for safety railings, wheel-chair access and a light for use at night. As the chairman said, “If these officials want planning permission for a pile of earth, they might have a big problem with Dartmoor.” If you want to find the Clerk in the silly season, try the other end of the bench outside the Hope and Anchor.

PARISH COUNCIL MEETING, 2ND AUGUST 2007.

It was obvious that the Parish Council could not keep up the tradition of having no August meeting this year in view of the pressure of business, particularly the question of the Airfield Development, for which a copy of the Planning Application had to be collected by the Clerk in a carton big enough for a couple of weeks’ family shopping at Tesco. So, with the repairs to the War Memorial Hall in full swing, the meeting was held in the Pavilion.

The Shed. The need to forward any comments to the Borough by August 10th made it essential for Councillors not only to clarify their own ideas but to see that their response was coordinated with those of other affected Parishes, and this process occupied much of a long meeting. Councillors had attended various meetings from which it was clear that many Borough Councillors were supporters of the project because of the prospect of job-creation. Against this, however, others, including Sir George Young, had emphasised that the projected Tesco Distribution Centre would not provide the type of employment opportunities that were really needed, namely those requiring a higher level of skills than are currently in demand.
As representatives for a very special part of our countryside, your Councillors were determined to make every possible effort to eliminate, or at least minimise, the impact of such an unimaginably vast shed. It had to be remembered that it was not Tesco who were the applicants, but developers called Goodman who actually own the site, and even if Tesco got put off by local hostility, Goodman would soon find one or more other tenants. So the debate had to take into account the fact that although of course most of us would, strategically speaking, like to see the whole development cancelled, it would not help just to tell them to get out of our backyard; we also had to use tactical manoeuvres to protect our parish from all the potential spin-offs of noise, air-pollution, disturbance of the water-table, traffic congestion at Hundred-Acre Corner and on the A303, “rat-run” traffic through our village and lanes and our human right to peace and quiet. It was generally agreed, after lively debate, that our response should not be excessively confrontational, but would leave the planners and the applicants in no doubt about our determination to be mighty awkward if pushed. So a large batch of very carefully-worded letters from a dozen Parish Councils was, at the time of writing, about to be delivered to Beech Hurst.

More Planning. A plan to put up a very modernistic dwelling, full of eco-friendly features, at the corner of Cattle Lane and the road from Monxton to Red Post Bridge, was the subject of a lengthy presentation by its architect, Mr. David Gregory. The Council had objected to the original application, and the objection had been upheld by the Borough – yes, it does happen sometimes – on the grounds that it was out of keeping with, well, just about everything; Mr. Gregory tried to counter this with the argument that other buildings with metal roofs and timbered elevations were characteristic of agricultural areas, but he was stopped in his tracks by a growl of “Nissen Huts!” from one Councillor, while another kindly said that it was a splendid design, but for another site. Not impressed by a compromise drawing showing a tiled roof, Councillors re-iterated that they would stick to their policy that every building in Little Park should be of single-story design and in keeping, in terms of materials and appearance, with neighbouring dwellings.

Air Space. There had been some disturbing reports that the air corridor leading to the airports at Southampton and Bournemouth were being enlarged so that we might find commercial flights as well as helicopters drowning our bird-song. Cllr Oram had looked into this, and concluded that we need not worry unduly, but the Council decided in any case to obtain a report, commissioned by Kings Somborne Parish Council, from experts at Southampton University.

Andover Adopted Local Plan. Shortly before the meeting the Postman had staggered up to the Clerk’s front door with a massive parcel containing the finalised Local Plan which the Clerk presented to the meeting, thus providing him with an excuse to drive to the Pavilion. At the time of writing no-one had had time to read it, but it is available on the TVBC Website for all to see.
Ray Lucas, for Abbotts Ann Action, gave the meeting an update on the Airfield Saga, which is keeping him pretty busy. His action group is likely to look to affected parishes to contribute towards some publicity material and possibly to engage a professional advisor on traffic engineering. The Council agreed in principle to provide some funding.

Other Matters. Though darkness was falling, Councillors still found the time and energy to deal with routine financial matters, trees, conservatories, dog-fouling (again), fly-tipping, and speeding traffic, as well as expressing their appreciation of the generosity of residents in contributing to the memorial fund for the late Margot Townsend. Meanwhile most of the Councillors, and the Clerk, will be around for most of August, and will meet again on 6th September at 7 p.m. in the Jubilee Room.

Adrian Stokes, Clerk to the Parish Council

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