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Clerk’s Column June 2006

DeClog. So farewell then to ODPM and to any more John Prescott jokes. Somehow Ruth Kelly seems rather joke-proof, unless it was she who invented the acronym for the new Department for Communities and Local Government. It would be great if this meant the wholesale removal of cholesterol from the departmental arteries, especially in areas of major concern to Parish and Borough Councils, such as:

  • Creeping Regionalisation, as shown by the mysterious materialisation of SEERA from outer space, the compression of the 7 Hampshire Health Care Trusts into one; the amalgamation of Ambulance Services to include far-away Berks and Bucks; not to mention the threatened liquidation of Borough Councils.
  • Despite the persuasiveness of its smooth and glossy publications, SEERA’s plans to bury Hampshire under bricks and mortar.
  • The surreal overlaps between Defra, ODPM (sorry, DCLoG) and the Health and Safety Authority, who appear to commute between Utopia and Fairy-land, seeming to require a risk-assessment every time we fill a hot-water bottle.
  • The absurdities of the Code of Conduct as interpreted by unelected Monitors. The Oxford Dictionary has three interesting definitions: a. A person whose job is to admonish. b. A kind of dragon, possibly of a man-eating variety. c. A warship with large gun-turrets able to fire in all directions; the latest variety seems to have powers which can effectively deprive electors of their democratic rights. So hats off to the Parish Council of Belfort in Northumberland, who objected unanimously to a proposal for planting a wind-farm near their village in January. In February along came another proposal, raising the number of turbines to nearly 100. The Berwick-on-Tweed Monitor ruled that because they had opposed the previous proposal, they were disqualified from even discussing the new one. The ruling was handed down by the Standards Board (based, guess where, at the old ODPM, and presumably settling in to smart new offices at DCLog) on the grounds that they had a “predetermined view”. Belfort’s Councillors responded by passing a unanimous resolution declaring that “This Council sees no reason to obey a code which flies in the face of the fundamental right of free speech. We shall continue to represent the wishes of the community we have been elected to represent.” So there.

Roads and Footpaths. Stockbridge, together with Lyndhurst, Crondall and Hambledon, are involved in a trial run of a scheme to track down speeding drivers. Trained volunteers will stand by speed-detecting gadgets recording the registration numbers of cars which make the gadgets bleep or flash. They will wear high visibility jackets and identity badges and will work in pairs on 2-hour shifts and will transmit their findings to the Police, who will issue stern warnings. Surely a case for a Risk Assessment involving likelihood of road rage. Our projected Footpath Survey looks rather less hazardous, though perhaps, for the benefit of our brave volunteers, we should assess the dangers of being run over by a buggy or tripping over a walking-stick. In this connection our proposal form for insurance cover for volunteers required an assurance to the company that Mr.Downey was not accustomed to using explosives, climbing up anything more than a foot or two high, or indeed working underground.

Abbotts Ann Action. Ray Lucas and John Moon have admirably expressed the views of Abbotts Ann Action, which coincide precisely with those of the Parish Council, in their comment to the Planning Authority on the proposal to develop part of the old airfield, which threatens to constitute another example of the creeping expansion of Andover into greenfield territory. Do we need a “business park” there, or indeed anywhere?

Single Non-Emergency Number (SNEN). As you will have seen from the official announcement published in last month’s Parish Magazine, Hampshire is in the first wave of introduction of the new number (101) designed to stop people from dialling 999 when their goldfish has turned on its back. Hitherto, it seems, 70% of 999 calls were not really emergencies at all, so it is 101 for things like vandalism, anti-social behaviour, litter, noise, intimidation and, oddly, street lighting issues. The buzz-word here is our old friend partnership, this time between police and local authorities. You may not have noticed the extensive consultation process which preceded this introduction, but Home Office Minister (risky job) Hazel Blears (no comment) assures us, in a cascade of that other favourite word (yes, it’s a wonderful word, but repetition has a soporific effect), that the SNEN represents a significant new investment to strengthen community (buzz) engagement and tackle the anti-social behaviour that blights local communities (bzzz) It is part of a package of Manifesto measures to improve Community (zzz) Safety, as set out in the White Paper “Building Communities (zzzz), Beating Crime.” Still, not a bad investment at 10p a time.

Notice Boards. One time-honoured institution has so far escaped computerisation, as the Parish Council has to maintain at least one notice board, being under a statutory obligation to display various notices. Our “statutory” notice board is the one at the Village Shop, Church Path side, but most notices are duplicated on the other three, one of which is now attached to the bus shelter at Bulbery, where, by the way, the removal of graffiti has not been forgotten.

PARISH COUNCIL MEETING, 1 JUNE 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.

The “public gallery” was almost overcrowded this time, containing three members of the public with views on planning matters and councillors from the Borough and the County for whom having views is a vocation and whose interest in our affairs is much appreciated.

Graveyard. The closure of St.Mary’s churchyard and its consequences are proceeding at the dignified pace of a funeral march. Some time this decade the PC and the PCC will be able to settle the question of who is responsible for what.

Planning. Out of 5 applications on the Agenda, two were the subject of lively debate:

a. Dingwall, Little Ann. Everyone appreciates the work of Mr. Pearce in taming the Dingwall jungle, but his neighbours in St. Mary’s Meadow are concerned about the scale of the proposed extensions to the house, the “footprint” of which will almost equal three old Dingwalls; the new structure will be rather more of a looming presence than its almost invisible predecessor. Councillors listened with sympathy to the neighbours’ expressions of concern, but could offer no valid reasons for objecting to the application.
b. Manor Farm, Monxton Road. The Lady Boughey Trust Fund had applied for a change of use to “office, light industry, storage and distribution.” The Council welcomed the proposal to demolish, for instance, the sore-thumb silo and to rescue the site from dereliction, but a large cat escaped form the applicant’s bag when it was noticed that the plans included parking for 24 cars and 2 lorries. The Council had no hesitation in registering an objection on grounds of increased traffic, thereby, incidentally, preserving our good relationship with Monxton.

It was noted that the application for a new dwelling at 9 Farm Road, Little Park (to which the Parish Council had recently registered “No Objection”) was to be discussed by the TVBC Planning Committee with a recommendation from the officers to refuse permission on the grounds of scale and domination of its surroundings.

Reports.
a. Councillor Michael Woodhall wished to share his enthusiasm for the quality of life in Hampshire, despite pockets of deprivation, and offered to help the Parish in matters such as highway issues; as Deputy Leader of the County Council he is in a strong position for leaning on County officials. He had recently been hearing from the Fire and Rescue Service and drew attention to their concern at the rise in fatal fires and emphasised the importance of checking smoke alarms and flues. The Fire Service offers Home Safety Fire Checks, and details of these will shortly be available, so watch this space – and the notice boards.
b. Village Fete. Mr. Whyte reported that the recent Plant Sale had been very successful, and had raised £360 towards the forthcoming fete.
c. Footpaths. Mr. Downey had a full team of volunteers to monitor the use of Dunkirt Lane for the County’s footpath survey on 18th June.
There had been a regrettable increase in the amount of dog-fouling, especially on Dunkirt Lane. The Council briefly considered the installation of a dog-bin, but decided that it was unlikely to improve the situation in view of the distances involved. Some people do bring plastic bags, but they are politely requested not to leave them, and their contents, on or in the hedgerows. Dog-walkers please note.
d. Website. The Clerk’s IT skills are limited, and his job is meant to be part-time, so monitoring of the website forum is not likely to be effective. He does however offer the assurance that he will do his best to respond to emails sent directly to stokes.barnys@virgin.net; please don’t give this address to any spam-merchants.

Finance. Much to the Clerk’s relief, the auditor was satisfied with the (uncomputerised) accounts and with the various formalities that have to be observed; details are in the Minutes .

Correspondence. A long letter from a resident in Cattle Lane brought together several matters of concern, most of which had been separately considered by the Council at other times, including

a. Speeding and use of mobile phones by drivers. Photographing offenders was suggested, but local Police were not enthusiastic, because courts would take not action without firm evidence of speed, there was danger of road-rage incidents, and questions of human rights could arise. Mr. Whyte recalled that a recent speed-check had shown that though many cars gave the impression of excessive speed on our narrow roads, the actual speed rarely exceeded the limit; the fastest car recorded on that occasion had been a Police car. Prof. Gibson reminded the meeting that the Council’s bid for a 20 m.p.h. limit had been unsuccessful so far. The Council was giving active consideration to such details as improved signage, traffic-calming and supervision of children.

b. Cattle Lane. The letter reminded the Council both about the dangers in Cattle Lane of speeding cars and over-large lorries, and the increasing amount of damage to the verges by vehicles attempting to pass. Councillor Woodhall helpfully undertook to participate in a site meeting to be organised with the County Council’s Environment Department.

c. Congestion. A suggestion that the grounds of the War Memorial Hall could be used for car-parking could not be acted upon, as the grounds remain dedicated as a Recreation Ground for Children. Maybe if or when the School is re-located ….?

d. Nettles. While agreeing that the overgrowth of nettles and other weeds in the meadow alongside Church Path is unsightly, the Council has no powers over its maintenance, as it is private property, unlike nearby village greens.

e. Red Post Bridge. Overgrown vegetation here is the responsibility of Network Rail. The Clerk will nag

f. The Newsletter. Comment on the Clerk’s treatment of Government personalities and activities was noted. Councillors considered such remarks to be fair comment, whatever political party was responsible, if it had an effect for good or ill upon the Parish, and were reluctant to place restrictions on the contents of the Newsletter, which largely reflected their own opinions and attitude to excessive solemnity.

Highways. Items on the nagging list included: Jubilee Oak road signs (cont’d); floods at St. John’s Cross, Poplar Corner and outside Ash Barn, the occupant of which does not need a moat; degenerating road surfaces, especially at Dances Corner (surely you all know where that is); wobbly speed-limit signs on Cattle Lane; and luxuriant weed-growth along the Red Rice Road kerb. Hands up who said “Pigs might fly.” It will surely all come to pass, in due course.

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

Future Meetings. The next Meeting will be held on Thursday 6th July in the Jubilee Room of the War Memorial Hall. There will be no meeting in August, but be warned – there may be another Newsletter.

Adrian Stokes, Clerk to the Parish Council

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