Clerk’s Column December 2005

Planning and Technology. The arrival of Broadband was expected to revolutionise the life of our ancient village; we were led to believe that letter-boxes would soon only be seen as rarities on the Antiques Roadshow. Eager not to be left behind, the Parish Council decided to make a quantum leap into the 21st Century by doing away with the manual circulation of Planning Applications. So they appointed a sub-committee of computer-literate Councillors to exercise their right of scrutiny by logging on to the TVBC Website, where all was to be revealed at the touch of a button and the entry of a reference number incorporating the 7 digits and 5 letters demanded by the Planning Department’s new System. No need for three guesses at the outcome – four months after it was promised that the “initial” glitches were rectified it is back to the letter-box if your Council is to continue to comment on the steady stream of requests from Conservatory Constructors, Tree Surgeons and Architects desperate to squeeze new houses into the village or to extend those already there. Rest assured that Councillors will never lose their touchingly optimistic impression that the Planning Authorities will fall over themselves to take their views seriously.

Litter. No doubt the packaging industry uses all the latest technology, but no-one has invented containers that will bio-degrade as soon as they touch the ground, so we are (sometimes literally) stuck with it. One Parish clerk has persuaded his Borough Council (Basingstoke and Deane) to fund two part-time litter-pickers and tells his colleagues that they are particularly useful in reporting burnt-out cars, dead animals – and perhaps “distressed” fish. An attractive job-prospect? Under the provisions of CNEA 2005 (Clean Neighbourhood and Environment Act – see last month’s Newsletter) these worthy citizens could be designated as “Authorised Officers” with powers similar to those of the Victorian Beadle.
To guide their work, the Act carefully defines “litter” as including the discarded ends of cigars, cigarettes and like products (Do they mean illegal smoking materials, or lollipop sticks?), also chewing gum and the remains of other products designed for chewing (whatever else is designed for chewing apart from teeth? Do litter-pickers keep an eye out for abandoned dentures?). Furthermore “land” on which litter may not be legally dropped is subject to an array of elaborate definitions and exclusions; the latter include “land which is covered but open on at least one side” and “relevant land of a designated undertaker or educational establishment”, which seems to mean that we are allowed to dump as much as we like on a cemetery or a school playground, or anywhere where there is a roof but only three walls.

New Language. Government agencies seem to be trying to minimise the effects of the Freedom of Information Act (FIA) by writing in code. On the issue of Social Inclusion, a Hampshire document can be summarised as insisting that SIPSE has a role to lead a review, on which SEEDA, SEERA, GOSE and RAISE must work together, as part of LSPs, to assist the work of VCSs. Most reassuring.

Council Meeting November 24 2005

This meeting was devoted to financial matters, and almost set a record for brevity, having lasted only 80 minutes. As soon as they have recovered from their New Year celebrations, the Mandarins of Beech Hurst have to start the process of deciding how much they will charge us for living in the Test Valley from April 2006; so before Christmas your Councillors have to work out how little they can ask the Borough to peel off, in the form of the Precept, towards the cost of living
in Abbotts Ann. Apart from routine running-costs, the Council had to consider whether it could afford to respond to three main requests for its (well, actually your) carefully-managed money:
1. The Sports Field Tractor. It was quickly decided that Mrs. Wilkins and Mr. Sims would not take “Maybe”, let alone “No”, for answer, and £1,800 was voted towards the repair-bill.
2. The Sports Field Swings. The removal of the old swings had left a gap in our recreational facilities, so it was decided that it was up to the Council to replace them. With money set aside from the Kings Yard development under a Section 106 agreement (don’t ask) and a little help from their friends, the Sports Field Committee would be able to proceed if the Council could back them with £3,500. It was resolved to provide this sum from the current year’s budget.
3. War Memorial Hall Roof. Mrs. Alyson Godman and Mr. Ron Lockhart explained that, after many years of patching, the Hall roof required a major overhaul, costing up to £20,000; the Hall Committee had been saving up for some time, and could cover about half of this. Various sources of grants could be tapped for the balance, but before approaching these, it was essential to have a commitment from the Parish Council to fund part of the cost. It was resolved to provide an initial allocation of £2,500 from the budget for 2006/7.
In conclusion it was decided to set the Precept for the year 2006/7 at £19,500.

Council Meeting 1 December 2005

The Council welcomed a visit from our Hampshire County Councillor, Mr. Michael Woodhall, who was able to make some valuable contributions to the discussions which included:

Planning. The Council had no objections to raise on the items listed in the Planning Summary, except for a second application to build a new two-bedroom house next to “85 Clatford Road.” Though most of your Councillors have lived in the village from time immemorial, and their forefathers before them, none had heard of this address. It was hoped that the Mandarins had not suddenly decided to rewrite the Domesday Book, but it was soon realised that they meant 85 Little Ann.
The Council saw no reason to revise their opinion that this development would create excessive density together with problems of access and traffic hazards, while also having a negative impact on the local Conservation Area.

Clerk’s Report. The Clerk has attended a useful seminar, run by that invaluable body, the Hampshire Association of Parish and Town Councils, where the participants ranged from the Town Clerk of Romsey, with a population of 14,591 and a staff of twelve, to the Parish Clerk of Stratfield Saye with about 166 inhabitants and a Council chaired by the Duchess of Wellington. (Our population is 2,271, making us the second largest village in Test Valley after Wellow). Among other useful lessons, the Clerk was reminded that the Council should nominate one notice board as its main location for the display of those notices required by statute. This has previously been the one at the War Memorial Hall, but it was decided henceforth to designate the more central one at the Village Shop (Church Path side), the others being purely informative. Since the board at the Village School is only a few steps away, it was suggested that a better location would be at the top of the village for the benefit of Bulbery, Kings Yard and Criswick Close.
Having noticed a number of areas where litter, graffiti, fallen leaves, peeling paint etc. were letting the village down, the Clerk asked for consideration to be given to the appointment of a part-time factotum. Watch this space.

Local Organisations. HCC Cllr Michael Woodhall reported on the Government’s plans to impose 120,000 houses on Hampshire by 2026. Those destined for the Andover area were most likely to be built to the North and East, but there were concerns about the infrastructure keeping pace. The County Council would also strongly resist the Government’s latest centralising dreams for abolishing Borough and District Councils, and though there were some oddities, such as the Borough collecting the rubbish for the County to dispose of, it was doubtful whether efficiency would improve, and the whole operation would be hugely expensive and disruptive. He had recently spent time in Burghclere Down, for whose residents one of the main advantages of belonging to this Parish is being in the catchment area of the Village School.
For Neighbourhood Watch, Mr. Downey reported that on its visits the Mobile Police Station would now park for a time at Bulbery. The difficulties of communication with the 0845 number had not improved, though it had been found helpful to ask for the Andover Control DESK, or to ask for connection to our Village “Bobby”, Bill Williams. However, it is important to continue to report incidents; otherwise Abbotts Ann could be considered too crime-free to merit police protection.
Abbotts Ann Action was not represented at the meeting, but the Chairman wished to record the Council’s great appreciation of its work, as reflected in the securing of the Local Gap between Abbotts Ann and Andover.
Footpaths. The condition of Church Path was continuing to cause concern, and Mr. Downey was asked to nag the County authorities with the backing of Cllr Woodhall.

Correspondence The main items required attention, but not immediate action, included an extract from the Report of the Inspectors on the Test Borough Local Plan Review contained the good news of the securing of the Local Gap, including the “Railway Triangle”, and a Briefing Pack on the new plans for Refuse Collection. (Copies of these will be appended to the Minutes in the Village Shop). Mr. Downey had attended a seminar on Safety in Burial Grounds and provided a summary of the information gained; there is a great deal of thinking to be done on this topic in view of the intention of the Council to take over the maintenance of the old churchyard, now closed, so the Councillors were asked to take it home to read before discussing the issue at the next meeting. Mr. Downey has already undertaken a massive survey of the churchyard, including the photographing and recording of each grave, which will be an invaluable resource. The Council expressed its appreciation of his current and projected work and insisted that this should not leave him out of pocket.

Finance. The only financial matter not dealt with at the previous meeting concerned a request from the Highway authority for £1,000 towards the £4,000 cost of the changes to the Jubilee Oak junction. It was decided to show willingness to contribute, but not before completion of the work, including installing the direction signs and improving the visibility of the bollards, the stated purpose of which is not to stop pedestrians from straying into the roadway, but to prevent parking on the pavement.

Other Business Mrs Wilkins related a significant failure of the ambulance service, in which a crew, called to the aid of a fallen rider near the Dutch Barn on Dunkirt Lane, had taken some 25 minutes to get there from the village centre. It appears that they were instructed to listen to the directions of a remote Controller instead of asking the way from a passing postman, the village shop, or indeed anyone at all. In view of the proposed relocation of the local ambulance station to the outskirts of Basingstoke, the Clerk was instructed to write forcefully to County Headquarters.

Minutes. Full Minutes of all meetings are available in the Village Shop, on the Website, and, by request, from the Clerk, who wishes all Parishioners a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Meetings. The next Council Meeting will be held in the Jubilee Room of the War Memorial Hall at 7 p.m. on Thursday January 5th 2006. Members of the public are welcome to attend. Items for possible inclusion in the Agenda should reach the Clerk at least 7 days in advance.

Adrian Stokes
Clerk to the Parish Council