Clerk’s Column January 2006

Local Government Reform. Hands up all those who know who David Milliband is. He is well-known at ODPM, and we all know what that stands for, as Minister for Communities (that inescapable word) and Local Government. Under the steady guidance of John Prescott, Mr Milliband is hard at work on a plan (according to a carefully-planted leak) involving a major shift to unitary authorities in county/district areas, giving existing authorities only three months to submit proposals. In looking at the “tiers” in Local Government, there seems to be something magical about the number three. You will probably not remember the day you woke up to find that a fourth, unelected, body had been added to the simple but effective system of Counties, Districts/Boroughs and Parishes in the shape hereabouts of SEERA, the Regional Authority for South-East England, with a headquarters somewhere in – wait for it – Surrey.
It seems that we can look forward to the following:
* Regional Government through government regional offices, regional assemblies (non-elected) and RDAs (try Google for a definition).
* County and City-based unitary principal authorities in which ‘super-counties’ may be formed by mergers; so out goes Rutland again while Middlesex never stood a chance.
* Community Governance, which is where we come in, provided through new and existing structures, built into the ‘neighbourhoods’ agenda, including a new and developed role for town and parish councils.
The plan clearly recommends the chop for Borough Councils, considering them inefficient, expensive and too remote from local communities. Is this our experience of TVBC?
Mr. Milliband’s vision includes:
* Creation of new Parish and Town Councils; smaller parishes, some perhaps not a million miles from here, might find themselves in forced marriages.
* Town or neighbourhood Managers; a sudden chill descended on the Jubilee Room when your Council looked at this provision.
* Community Forums with devolved budgets; don’t ask.
* Directly-elected ‘mini-mayors’ (addressed as Your mini-worship?); clearly six-footers would be considered too much of a match for the Neighbourhood Managers.
Seriously, though, if this ever happens it will involve a major change in the local government landscape and could make the work of Parish Councils (and their Clerks) even more interesting if more demanding.
Incidentally, it emerges that we ought to know about two Government bodies: ODPM has a Neighbourhoods Project Board and DEFRA has a Parish and Town Councils Group; information about what they do and whether the twain shall ever meet, is hard to obtain. It is also considered important to promote take-up of LCR and DIS, which is surely a good idea.

TVBC Clean-up Campaign. For a limited period TVBC is offering two free services:

Graffiti removal for domestic properties and small businesses.
Removal of abandoned vehicles; it is possible to “surrender” a defunct vehicle to the Council for free disposal. The Borough received over 600 reports of abandoned vehicles last year.

Local Councils Survey. The Clerk had to fill in a lengthy questionnaire from NALC; as an incentive, there was the offer of entry into a prize draw. This turned out not to be a holiday in the Bahamas, or even a year’s supply of headache pills, but a free place for 2 at the NALC National Conference, excluding travel and accommodation. Imagine the delighted reaction of Mrs.Clerk.

Lotto. The Big Lottery is to launch a special Community Buildings Fund in Summer 2006, which should be good news for Village Hall Committees everywhere.

In case you did not know, Community Action tells us that representatives from HCYVS, CAH, Community First New Forest, Winchester Area Community Action, NCH, Hampton Trust and HCFF will be launching a People’s Voluntary Section Alliance at the CYPP VCS consultation events at Eastleigh and Aldershot in early 2006. Hands up…

Council Meeting January 5th 2006

We had a full complement of Parish Councillors, but none of our Borough or County Councillors was able to attend the meeting, so we have still not had the pleasure of meeting Cllr. Andrew Dunnett who was elected last November to Anna Ward, which covers our parish together with Upper Clatford and his home village of Goodworth Clatford; he sits with Cllr. Arthur Peters on the Borough Planning Committee.

The Borough Committee, by a narrow margin of votes, has given permission for a new 2-bedroom house to be built by D.C.Li next to 85 Little Ann (which the Borough still seem to wish to re-name Clatford Road, though it is not believed ever to have led directly to either of the Clatfords). The local water-voles were not asked for their opinion – if they want to affect planning decisions they should learn from the slow-worms of Red Rice Road.
Of other Planning Applications, Councillors were most concerned about the proposal to add a 2-storey extension to 23 Red Rice Road because of the effect on the daylight available to neighbouring properties, despite the architect’s efforts to reduce height by means of a ‘mansard’- type roof; technically this is a form of flat-topped gable which would perhaps be more characteristic of a Parisian boulevard than a feature of a thatched cottage.
Regarding a request to fell some trees in Dunkirt Lane, councillors decided to take the advice of the Borough arboriculturalist as to whether the woodman could spare one of the two trunks of a double-barrelled beech.

Clerk’s Report.
A person is still being sought to take on a modest amount of litter-clearing and general tidying around the village at a negotiable rate of pay. The need for this is underlined by the state, in particular, of the bus shelter at Bulbery (which had acquired offensive graffiti) and the playground at the War Memorial Hall of which the Council is well aware; the former problem was recently brought to the Chairman’s attention on behalf of residents by Mrs. Colwell of Testway Housing; the ensuing dialogue included an assurance that the Council was working on it.
Councillors were finding the use of the TVBC website less than satisfactory for adequate scrutiny of planning applications, so it was decided to re-introduce a modified form of manual distribution. Potentially controversial applications will be circulated prior to full meetings at the Chairman’s discretion.

Parish Organisations.
Sports Field. TVBC had confirmed that under the Section 106 agreement (still no point in asking) the £2,500 held by them was indeed available for provision of recreational facilities, but the Borough, though assuring us that they were not trying to be awkward, needed to look at quotations and specifications before signing any cheques. Puzzling, because we thought that it was our, or rather your, money.
School Governor. Mr. Stanton reported that a replacement for the temporary classroom was promised for Easter. As it had to be dropped in from above there might be a need to trim some tree-branches.

Footpaths. Mr. Downey reported that the repairs requested to two finger-posts and a stile had been promptly carried out. His request for attention to the surface of Church Path had been acknowledged with the promise of attention “in due course”.
A local charity walk by members of the Methodist Church had taken place on January 1st; the organiser had paid tribute to the condition of the paths and the quality of the signage.
The Chairman reported on his difficulty in getting a defunct bulb replaced in one of the Church Path lamp-posts. Because he had installed a temporary replacement himself at some personal inconvenience, the contractors eventually turned up, had a look, saw that the light was burning and went away again.

Jubilee Tree. Hampshire Highways has signalled its intention to install “Keep Left” signs at the junction “in due course” and has reminded us that the bollards there were installed, at the Council’s request, to protect the foundations of neighbouring properties from intrusive vehicles.
Bollards again. Hampshire Highways is quite excited about new high-tech bollards, which are mounted on a spring and will bounce back even if hit at 45 mph; as they use the latest retro-reflective technology they need no bulbs. However, they offer no solution to the problems of disorientated pedestrians in Duck Street, nor are they considered necessary in the region of the Poplar Farm Inn, at least while it is closed for business.
Lobbying. HCC has asked for support in their protest at Government policy which cuts grants to southern counties in order to increase funding for northern areas. Meanwhile Hampshire Constabulary requests support in their resistance to a proposed amalgamation with other forces; another chill fell over the room when it was suggested that a possible partner would be Surrey, where, apart from anything else, the Police precept costs each household £40 a year more than we pay for the Old Bill hereabouts. The Clerk is to write seriously to our MP on both topics.
Party at Buckingham Palace. The Lord-Lieutenant, in her capacity as the Queen’s local representative, has announced that Her Majesty and Prince Philip are to host a reception and luncheon on 19th April for people whose 80th birthday falls on the same day as her own (officially 21st April). The Clerk will be happy to point any candidates in the right direction.

Other Business.
Christmas Lights. Concern was expressed at the danger that the installation of decorative Christmas lights could become competitive and out of keeping with what is appropriate for a rural village. It was felt that Andover’s extravaganzas did not provide suitable models for Abbotts Ann.
Fireworks. Much greater concern was expressed about the proliferation and timing of firework displays, which, as encouraged by commercial interests, were no longer confined to November 5th. Some recent displays had broken the legal restrictions forbidding use of fireworks between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., causing extra disturbance to residents, while great distress had also been caused to animals. It was pointed out that fallen debris had been found in the surrounding fields as well as within the village, which could be extremely hazardous in view of the number of thatched properties. The Council takes a very serious view of the inconsiderate use of fireworks and asks residents to make sure that they are only used responsibly in future.

Minutes. Full Minutes are available in the Village Shop, on the Website, and from the Clerk.

Meetings. The next Council Meeting will be held in the Jubilee Room of the War Memorial Hall at 7 p.m. on Thursday 2nd February 2006. Members of the public are welcome to attend.

Adrian Stokes, Clerk to the Parish Council