Clerk’s Column January 2007

Parish Power “What does the Parish Council do?” is an oddly difficult question to answer, because strictly in terms of direct action the reply is “Not a lot.” It is easier to answer by indicating what it would be like if the Council did not exist. So, a recent small drama, though not part of the Council’s regular duties, could serve as an example. Around school-closing time, a particularly hostile gust of wind selected just the right ivy-covered elder tree with which to block Church Path. Within minutes of the news breaking (by bush telegraph?), one Councillor and the Clerk, with the help of two passers-by, had man-handled the tree (should I have said “person-handled” as three of the team were ladies?) onto the verge, just as the Chairman arrived with a chain-saw in his bicycle-basket. Problem solved.

At present, however, most of the practical jobs, such as putting up road signs, unblocking drains, mending pot-holes, let alone protecting the village against speeding motorists, planning disasters, rubbish-dumpers, fire, plague and famine, are the responsibility of other larger bodies in the Borough or the County. But these authorities are a bit like brass monkeys, who see or hear no evil unless it is drawn forcefully to their attention, so your Clerk, who is normally employed more as a scribe than a forester, spends many waking hours and centilitres of printing ink (did you know that this is a more expensive fluid than champagne?) on the good old Anglo-Saxon task of nagging, with a growing vocabulary of words expressing disappointment, anxiety or even desperation. It is interesting that after some twenty years of nagging about the Lake Little Ann outside Ash Barn, it seems to have been the word “despair” that succeeded in conjuring up men in fluorescent jackets with pneumatic drills from Hampshire Highways. Unfortunately some regulation with a 12-digit reference allowed only a small adjustment to the level of the pavement, so welly-boots should still be kept handy. There are still lakes at St.John’s Cross and the Poplar Farm; maybe in another twenty years…

Likewise, the Parish Council does not have the legal power, the funding, nor indeed the insurance cover to undertake or arrange for the solution of problems such as the obstruction of the footpath up to Bury Hill by a substantial tree, which required some five weeks of carefully-aimed nagging. However, the enthusiastic Ruth Kelly, if the Press and the Prime Minister allow her to keep her job long enough, is promising that her new law will bring power closer to the grass-roots; and talking of grass, it might be a good thing for the Parish to be given the power (and the cash) to keep the road verges tidy and to control the weeds in the pavements, which is currently the job, not as you might expect, of Hampshire Highways, but of Test Valley. But then perhaps the Clerk would be on the other end of the nagging process.

Hampshire in action. Two recently formed pressure groups have been at work, with the backing of CPRE, keeping a close eye on the activities of the regional planners; their unity of purpose is underlined by their unusually witty acronyms, namely PUSH and SHUV (Partnership for Urban South Hampshire, and South Hampshire’s Unheard Voices). Our only worry is that if these bodies are too successful, the Planners may look more closely at the areas where less assertive folk are thought to be enjoying idyllic and acronym-free lives among the meandering streams of the Test Valley, far away from the grim fortress of the Castle in Winchester, where a recent publication assures us that LSPs are to develop SCSs after a review of local provision linked with LAAs and CYPPs, while new legislation will empower any VCS to approach the OSC in HCC direct. This sounds like good news, as does the fact that the number of national performance targets will be slashed from 1200 to 200.
The latest jolly set of initials is about to take bodily shape in the form of a whole lot of HATs, consisting of friendly County Councillors forming Hampshire Action Teams with a mission to listen to, and advise, local communities; no ordinary headgear would be appropriate for the inaugural meeting of the Test Valley HAT, as it is to be held at the Thruxton Race-course. It is hoped that the Chairman will attend in a car with a top speed of 42 mph.

Police. The mention of speed puts one in mind of the fact that the Police have been catching people driving at this sort of speed on the Red Rice Road, where the bus shelter provides a useful photographic hide. So be warned.
We are losing the services of PC Bill Williams, who will be succeeded as our local Bobby by PC Jimmy Jewell (Really. But we are sure that he takes his job perfectly seriously). We hope he will be able to visit us before long, maybe at the Annual Parish Assembly.

MEETINGS The date of this year’s Assembly will be earlier than usual, on 30th March. All members of the public have the right, and indeed are welcome, to attend, as they are also at ordinary Council Meetings, which are usually held on the first Thursday of the month.


Village Shop Competition. Councillors had been delighted to hear of the success of the Shop in winning the Regional Final and voted unanimously to send a letter of congratulation and best wishes for the National Final at the House of Lords.

Planning. If Councillors were looking forwards to a lively debate on the plans to extend Dingwall in Little Ann, they were disappointed, as the application had been withdrawn, apparently for technical reasons involving an 800mm measurement discrepancy. Strong feelings will have to be kept bottled up until the plans are re-drawn.
Our Test Valley Councillor, Arthur Peters, was able to sandwich this meeting between two others, and was heartily thanked for resisting the growing tendency for planning decisions to be delegated to officials. It was considered a vital component of local democracy that controversial applications, such as those at Dingwall and White Smocks, should be fully discussed in Committee.
It was noted with regret that The Lady Boughey Trust had been given permission for the change of use of Manor Farm, Monxton Road, to offices, despite the objections of both Abbotts Ann and Monxton to the expected increase in traffic through the villages.
A request to open up a gate in the fence at Gemella Cottage, Catherine’s Walk, had been refused on the grounds that any encouragement of parking there would increase the danger of an already hazardous part of Red Rice Road, which is why it had been a condition of the original plans that there would be no direct access to the highway.
An application for improved landscaping and fencing around the Poplar Farm Inn was welcomed, not only as an improvement but as a sign that the owners were at last moving towards re-opening.

Clerk’s Report. The Clerk had enforced the Council’s policy about its Notice Boards, namely that these were for public announcements, notices of Parish organisations and those of the Council itself, many of which were required by statute. It was pointed out that any notices of a private or commercial nature could be displayed, for a small fee, at the Village Shop.

The Council had been asked to consider putting the Parish Accounts on the Website; in discussion it was pointed out that the website could be accessed from anywhere in the universe, and Councillors considered that this kind of publication would not be appropriate and would be several steps beyond its legal obligations. There is a statutory requirement to display the Annual Statement as approved by the Audit Commission; this not very detailed document stays for a fixed period on the central Notice Board and in the Village Shop; it can be posted on the website if the Clerk’s scanner is in a good mood. Also the law requires that the accounts and audit documents should be available for inspection on request at times which are published on notice-boards and the website, and the year-end accounts are presented at the Annual Assembly; the Council would have no objection to a request for a copy to be made available to any individual elector on paper or by email, though of course it would prefer interested people to come to the Assembly.

It was noted that Mr. Butt had found an accumulation of litter, including 24 tins and bottles, at the War Memorial Hall playground, obviously not left by toddlers, for whom such objects make the area unusable. If other young people use the area, it would be appreciated if they would not leave it unsafe for younger children. There are enforcement officers in the Borough, with powers to impose on-the-spot fines, but who wants to have officials, uniformed or otherwise, patrolling our village, when all that is needed is a little bit of thought? Especially when there is a bin within 20 yards.

A load of rubbish dumped in the Drove had also been reported; this is regarded by the law as the serious offence of fly-tipping, and can be punished by a fine comparable to many times the cost of the new sofas and TVs which the dumped items are replacing, though of course it is pretty rare to catch the perpetrators, who often come from miles away. It is feared that the new recycling routines will only make this problem worse.

Correspondence. The Council found itself responding to a number of recent letters and emails with a considered “Thanks, but no thanks.” The Highway Authority’s suggestion of painting a wiggly yellow line to control parking outside the Village School was thought unlikely to help. Considering a request to designate dog-control areas, Councillors were very reluctant to impose another batch of regulations, warning signs and threats of on-the-spot fines, let alone another lot of Enforcement Officers, regarding the ancient and inalienable right of the English to walk the dog as requiring no more control than their native common sense. Likewise, in response to the invitation to enter the Calor Best Village Competition it was considered that previous experience indicated that the tremendous amount of work required did more for Calor, in terms of publicity, than for the village. And anyway civilisation, in the form of mains gas, reached Abbotts Ann long ago.

As a matter of courtesy a Borough official had asked the Clerk what the Council would think of the proposal to name the new development at the Out of Town Café site “Danebury Mews”. The Clerk had reminded him that the site was nowhere near Danebury, although it offered prospective purchasers a glimpse of Bury Hill, while a mews is defined as a set of stabling in a yard or alley, so he knew very well what the Council’s reaction would be; could he therefore try again?

Minutes and Meetings. Full Minutes are available in the Village Shop, in the Website and on request from the Clerk The next meeting will be on 1st February at 7 p.m. in the Jubilee Room.

Adrian Stokes, Clerk to the Parish Council