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Clerk’s Column July 2006

Regional Government. The National Association of Local Councils has been keeping a close eye on the activities of the energetic David Milliband, Minister for Communities and Local Government; now freed from the burden of covering up for his old boss, J–n Pr—-tt, he is putting the finishing touches to the new White Paper on Local Government. This was promised to be out in July, so perhaps it may be ready in time for Christmas. However, much of its content has been comprehensively leaked; among the offerings is a menu from which local communities ((buzzz) may be able to choose:

  • Community (bzzz) forums with devolved budgets
  • Directly elected mini-mayors at community (bzz) level
  • Town or neighbourhood managers (HELP!)
  • New powers to spend money on any activity which benefits the community (bz)
  • Power for Parish Councils to change their name, choosing from the following amazingly original list: Local Council (wow!); Village Council (brilliant!); Community (z) Council (fabulous!); and (here we are in at the birth of a new buzz-word) Neighbourhood Council (words fail me).

The definition of Neighbourhood has furrowed many a Whitehall brow for months. The nearest guide-line so far unearthed is that in urban areas a Neighbourhood is seen as containing about 8,000 souls (TVBC Wards have a population of about 2,000, and at the last count, Abbotts Ann had 2,271 residents). Though a good old Anglo-Saxon word, it has never designated an area with defined boundaries as “Parish” has for many centuries. The only advantage in dropping the word Parish would perhaps be the end of the constant confusion of the civil Parish, as a unit of local government concerned with the affairs of this world, with the Parochial Church Council, which ensures the maintenance of the more spiritual activities of the Parish Church.

Regional Government is also kept under observation by another body, an independent registered charity called SPISE which stands for Sane Planning In the South East. A helpful paragraph in their Spring Newsletter gives us much useful information about SEERA. Of its 112 members, 70% are elected Councillors from the region; the remaining 30% are from social, environmental or economic sectors, including WWF, CPRE, RSPB, Wildlife Trust, National Housing Federation, CBI, TUC, NHS; there are also three Parish Councillors (Big Deal!) and a lonely single member from the New Forest. All of these have voting rights. Under the Draft Regional Assemblies Bill 2004, which seems to have got lost somewhere in the Whitehall filing system, SEERA would have only 35 members, directly elected, with impossibly large constituencies to represent. However, it looks as if, in one form or another, SEERA will survive, despite the proposing of a motion by the worthy Councillors of Binstead at the AGM of the Hampshire Association of Parish and Town Councils, which questions the right of SEERA to act for the people of the region, declaring that it has no mandate; it is unelected , unaccountable and its existence should be subject to a democratic referendum. This is unlikely to happen, because the only time such a referendum was tried the North-East told the Mr. J*** P******* exactly where to put what it considered to be an unelected, unaccountable body whose main aim would be to cover most of Yorkshire with millions of new houses.

The survival of Parish Councils also seems assured, whatever they are called, though how they fit in with the Neighbourhood concept is far from clear. The “Quality Parish” scheme is constantly being promoted by outside bodies with gentle hints that parishes not so qualified could find themselves at a disadvantage; but although it is claimed that the scheme is progressing well, the figures show that, out of some 5,000 parishes nationwide, 262 (Wow!) have actually been accredited since 2003, which is all of 6%. Without being complacent your Council does not hanker after a Diploma or a bright pink logo on its writing paper, but prefers to trust the judgement of its electors. Meanwhile the Clerk has been authoritatively told that to attain Quality Status this Clerk would have to take an exam (which he has not done since 1952), acres of forest would have to be felled to provide the paper required, and Newsletters would have to be straightforward summaries of Council proceedings – in other words, dead boring.

DECLOG. Now that ODPM has disappeared (though, like the Cheshire Cat’s grin, the DPM is still around; what he does all day, now that he has lost his croquet lawn, has to be left to the imagination of the News of the World) DCLG is headed by Ruth Kelly, whose brief requires superhuman qualities; on top of existing responsibility for regeneration, neighbourhood (bzzz) renewal, housing, planning and local government, the redoubtable Ms Kelly has been lumbered with (and I quote from Community Action Hampshire’s newsletter) active communities (bzz), civic renewal, equalities and community (zz) cohesion including policy on race, faith, gender and sexual orientation (nicked from the Home Office) and the Women and Equality Unit (shifted from the DTI). Superwoman is also Cabinet Minister for Women.

Older Folk. Various Hampshire publications have been concerned with the welfare of the not-so-young, and one Alex Burn has been appointed Head of Hampshire’s Older Persons’ Well-being Team (HOPWET?). She aims to set in place a partnership (bzz) strategy across all partners (bz) who have an impact (is that the right word?) on older people. According to Age Concern, older folk have seven main areas of concern: housing; neighbourhood (z); social activities, networks and ‘keeping busy’; getting out and about; income; information; health (I make that eight). Anyway, they are sure to be glad to be living in a sustainable community in partnership with a neighbourhood forum run in perfect harmony by a Mini-mayor and an unelected Manager on a devolved budget.

Buckingham Palace. The Council’s message of good wishes on Her Majesty’s 80th Birthday has been graciously acknowledged with the words: “Your thoughtfulness on this special Day was much appreciated and the Queen sends you her warm best wishes in return.”

“Clatford Road.” The TVBC Planning Department is still unsuccessful in preventing its computer from printing “Clatford Road” whenever it deals with an address in Little Ann. The matter has now been referred to TVBC’s GIS Manager, but what GIS stands for and who manages it remains mysterious.

Highways. Hampshire Highways have been asked to deal with all the matters mentioned in the Minutes of the June Meeting; they seem to be lost in thought. However, a site meeting to look at traffic problems in Cattle Lane and elsewhere has been arranged, to be attended by HCC’s Traffic Engineer, our County Councillor, Michael Woodhall, and Parish Councillors.

Other Parishes. Mr. S., 58, a Parish Councillor in the Forest of Dean, was in court recently for bashing the Chairman, Mr. T., 73, over the head with a shovel. They had fallen out after the dismissal of the Clerk, Miss M., (age undisclosed), a friend of Mr. S., who described the Chairman as a “dictatorial bully.” One day Mr. T., perhaps unwisely, went for a walk passing Mr. S.’s house. In evidence Mr.T claimed that he had walked on after ignoring a rude remark, but suddenly hearing footsteps, he turned to find Mr. S. running after him waving a broom. In the ensuing struggle, Mr. T received a few kicks, but gained control of the broom. Mr S. ran off but soon returned brandishing a shovel, so, though Mr T. tried to fend off the attack with the broom, he received a resounding clonk on the head from the shovel. As happens in court, Mr. S.’s account differed; he claimed that he was only using the shovel as a shield because Mr. T. was trying to hit him over the head with the broom. Miss M. was not called to give evidence on either side.

PARISH COUNCIL MEETING, 6TH JULY 2006

Four of our seven Parish Councillors were unable to attend the meeting, and the Borough and County Councillors also sent their apologies, so a shorter-than-usual meeting might have been expected; but this was not to be. Not that there were earth-shaking issues to be discussed, but as always the well-being of the village depends on a whole series of decisions on a wide spectrum of importance; here is a selection.

Nagging. The County and Borough Councils are responsible for maintaining much of the infrastructure, such as lanes and drains, highways and byways, and their correspondents are splendidly polite, in that they express their gratitude to the Clerk for reminding them about pot-holes, overgrown vegetation or blocked culverts; and they never complain if they have already been reminded three times about the same problem. They proceed at a dignified pace, just as drivers have to do at Red Post Bridge – though here much of the vegetation belongs to Network Rail and nagging correspondence seems to be dealt with by a remote office somewhere in the region of Berwick-on-Tweed. Be assured – the Clerk’s computer contains a range of nagging formulae, at least two of which are posted or emailed after each meeting.

Safety. RoSPA, which is dedicated to the prevention of accidents, has inspected the play equipment. A few minor defects were noted and are being rectified. In the case of the small gate leading to the slide and swings by the War Memorial Hall the danger of a child being biffed by fitting a spring to the gate has to be balanced against the possibility of running out across the car-park and into the street. RoSPA is against the idea of a spring.

Planning. Readers may remember that the application for a new dwelling next to Rosebank, Red Rice Road, was delayed while the environmental experts decided how to prevent the previous occupants of the site from having nervous breakdowns. As these tenants were slow-worms, who enjoy a good sleep between October and May, the solution to their difficulties was bound to take some time. However, Councillors were greatly relieved to hear that it was all sorted; nevertheless, they are still seriously concerned about the location of the driveway and the likelihood that it would present yet another traffic problem, at least for humans, on an already hazardous highway.
Other proposals to which no objection was raised included extensions to Water Cottage in Mill Lane and to 85 Little Ann; a new temporary classroom and Head Teacher’s office at the Village School (“temporary”, of course, is a very flexible term); and surgical operations on a variety of trees. Concerning the proposed new dwelling at 9 Farm Road, Little Park, the Council did not support the applicant’s request for the removal of restrictions on “permitted development”, being of the opinion that any further development on that site should be subject to Planning Permission.
The Clerk was further instructed to enquire about two mysteries: (a) whether the previous dwelling at “Formosa”, Cattle Lane should still be there after completion of the new property and (b) what on earth is the big red box with cables sticking out of it doing on the top of the restored chimney of the Poplar Farm Inn.
Councillors understood the concern of everybody involved in the proposal to enlarge “Dingwall” in Little Ann, but could do no more than take note of the fact that the application had been comprehensively demolished by the planning officers who sent it all back to Square One.

Footpaths etc. The Council is extremely grateful to the indefatigable Mr. David Downey, who organised the Footpath Survey on June 18th, at which no less than 121 people (not counting dogs) enjoyed an outing along Dunkirt Lane. Only 53 out of the 200-odd Hampshire Parishes participated, and the Brownie Points earned seem to have helped to attract funding for Mr. Downey’s other enterprise, now almost completed; this is the preparation of a new Parish Map, of which a pocket-size version will soon be available.

Licensing Act. As a result of some particularly labyrinthine legislation in the Licensing Act 2003, a dark cloud hangs over Village Halls throughout the land, while it also appears that Town and Parish Councils are excluded from having any say in the granting of new licences. This story will run and run, so watch this space.

Litter. Show me the Parish Council that has no litter problem and I will show you one that employs a paid tidier-up. This Parish would much prefer its residents to show their respect for their environment by taking their litter home, thus making use of the Borough’s inspired ABC scheme – you know, the Alternate (or is it Alternative, or just Altered?) Bin Collection. Meanwhile the Clerk has been directed to investigate the possibility of providing tasteful and strategically-placed bins. Is it too much to hope that these would be used?

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

Future Meetings. There will be no Meeting in August, but this does not mean that your Council will relax its vigilance on your behalf. The next meeting will be held on Thursday 7th September.

Adrian Stokes, Clerk to the Parish Council

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