Clerk’s Column May 2007

Election Time. Parish Council. Since the media kept banging on about them presumably everyone knew that there were elections all over the place on May 3rd; and as no-one in the village lives very far from a notice-board, it is hoped that most of us were aware that these included elections to Parish Councils. Here this election was uncontested, as no new names were put forward; but two members decided not to stand again. They will be sorely missed; Professor Peter Gibson has spared an incalculable number of hours from his busy life for the benefit of the village – one remembers particularly his work on such issues as the Design Statement and the Conservation Area – and Mr. Brian Sims, whose service as a Councillor covers nearly three decades, provided a wealth of common sense and experience from his deeply-rooted knowledge of our corner of Hampshire. The remaining five, after signing on for the next four years at the May meeting, will be looking for another two public-spirited parishioners to join the team.

Borough Council. An unusually high turn-out returned our sitting Councillor, Arthur Peters, who needs no introduction, and newcomer Graham Stallard – a strong team who will surely look after our village, since one lives in Abbotts Ann and one in Little Ann, though, of course, they also represent the Clatfords and Burghclere Down (do I hear cries of Where’s that?). The Clerk will now have to be careful not to confuse two people called Graham with the address of Rose Cottage. We look forward to their contributions to Parish Council meetings.

Village School. The meeting in the War Memorial Hall on April 25th , arranged by Paul Stanton, wearing two hats as School Governor and Parish Councillor, provided an opportunity to view the plans for the new school and to talk to representatives of the School, the County and the Parish. It was well attended, and provided useful feedback. Although several visitors were disappointed that the school had to vacate its present central site, it was generally understood that the move was essential in view of the need for improved and up-to-date facilities, without which the school could not continue. And it has to be remembered that it is fortunate that there is a new site available. Some anxiety was expressed about the future of both the current school site and the Manor Close playing field.
Included in the won’t-go-away question of traffic, two particular suggestions stood out:
(a) A bigger off-road drop-off circle to minimise on-road congestion.
(b) Separate “In” and “Out” access.
Unfortunately a roundabout at St. John’s Cross, or even a mini-roundabout at the School entrance, seem doomed to remain just a beautiful dream.

Where Taxpayers’ Money goes. Talking of dreams, or perhaps more appropriately of nightmares, does anyone remember the birth, assisted by Him of the Two Jags, of the twins called SEERA and SEEDA? There are plenty of rude interpretations of these initials, but they actually indicate the South East of England Regional Authority/Development Agency. They are part of a whole tier of government, spending £2.3 billion a year without any visible democratic accountability. SEEDA’s chairman earns £76,000 a year for a 3-day week and has totted up £93,000 in secretarial expenses alone since 2002; the combined taxi bill for this gentleman and his Chief Executive amounts to £55,000 a year; his share, as calculated by a sharp-eyed reporter from the Brighton Argus, has averaged £230 per day. So what do they do?, one asks. Well, they produce stuff like this:

SEEDA has launched a study “to propose ways of measuring progress against actions in the Region’s Social Enterprise Enabling Framework. Capacity building within Business Links is underway and SEEDA is piloting a social audit tool that will help measure business’s social and environmental impact.” Surely pilots are far too busy driving the aeroplanes in which these officials jet round the world on Southern England’s business than to spend time working out how to get an audit tool to take off.

Impact. The Powers that Be seem to be obsessed with measuring impact. Most of us would think of judging impact by how much it makes you yell, but this is different, and it looks as if small organisations, if they hope to get funding from bigger ones, will get nowhere without demonstrating a positive social outcome. Apparently SEEDA and ESF (No, I don’t know either) offer a training course called SIMPLE which coaches managers in the use of a social impact assessment toolkit, not available in DIY shops. It has just been revealed that part of the audit of our Parish accounts must include an assessment of their impact. Well, how do you measure the impact of a simple ledger showing about eight items of Receipts and Payments per month, unless the Clerk gets so fed up trying to work out why there seems to be £1.73 too much in the bank that he throws the book through the window?

Insurance. Stories of the weird and wonderful world of insurance are brought to mind by the decision of our own insurers that our dedicated volunteer Footpath Warden is not covered against damage to his person if he owns the tools he uses in the course of his work for the Parish; a pair of loppers and a small saw will now be added to the Council’s property.
The Parish Council of Everton – no it’s a small Nottinghamshire village – thought it would be nice to have a flowerbed by a main road. First they were told to apply for a ‘Licence to Cultivate’. No problem; but then they were told to submit a Health and Safety questionnaire and a full risk assessment for the work. Action Clerk… Next came the requirement for approval by the Nottinghamshire Landscape Team, followed by a visit from the Accident Investigation Department looking for any traffic hazards likely to be caused by, one assumes, a Rambling Rector or a Creeping Jenny. Even then planting could not start, because all the utility companies had to be convinced that their cables and ducts were not threatened by an amateur gardener’s dangerous trowel. By this time the only flower the Councillors felt like planting was the Hellebore. But the last straw was the requirement to take out public liability insurance for at least £5million. The Councillors did not have the heart, or the energy, to think of somewhere else to plant their flowers.
However, common sense prevailed in the Court of Appeal, when the judges dismissed a claim for £100,000 compensation from a lady who broke her leg in the hole left by the village maypole after the fete at East Dene in Sussex. The Court ruled that if the claim had been granted it would have meant the end of all fetes and traditional activities which are part of life on the village greens of England. Lord Justice Scott Baker said that villages must be free to uphold their traditions without the fear of being sued. And so say all of us.

Climate Change? Investigations are now under way to discover why the Pill Hill Brook still cannot stay within its traditional banks. Meanwhile the summer outlook seems promising – the leaves of the oak trees seem to have won their spring race with the ash trees:

When the Oak’s before the Ash
You will only get a splash;
If the Ash do beat the Oak
You will get a proper soak.

This month’s Consultation is from the County Council and concerns – guess what – the impact of climate change. For once, the Clerk has run out of words.


Formalities. As this was the AGM, the first item of business was the re-election of Mr. Bernard Griffiths as Chairman; the appointment of a vice-chairman was postponed until there is a full complement of Councillors. The team of representatives of Parish organisations was confirmed without change, but the existing regulations had to be altered under the terms of The Local Authorities (Model Code of Conduct) Order 2007 (SI No 1159) which the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has made in exercise of the powers conferred by Sections 50(1) and (4), 81(2) and (3), and 105(2), (3) and (4) of the Local Government Act 2000. Nothing daunted, all Councillors were happy to sign a commitment to observe the Code, which replaces one which contained a number of provisos which turned out to be unworkable or incomprehensible, or both.

The Chairman paid tribute to the retiring members of the Council, Prof. Peter Gibson and Mr.Brian Sims, and a unanimous Vote of Thanks was passed in appreciation of their long and fruitful work for the Council and the Parish. He also welcomed the two Councillors for Anna Ward, who assured the meeting that they were determined to protect the interests of our rural communities in the deliberations of TVBC.

Vacancies. The Act requires the two vacancies on the Council to be filled by co-option within a shortish time, so an airing was given to the names of a number of people whose arms were thought to be twistable, with a view to having a full complement of seven members for the next meeting. At the suggestion of Cllr Arthur Peters, much thought was given to the fact that the good citizens of Burghclere Down (turn left at the Hexagon Stores) might like to have more say in the affairs of the Parish to which they belong, probably much to the surprise of most of them.

Planning. Four applications for conservatories or extensions did not detain the meeting for long, but many reservations were expressed about the Poplar Farm Inn’s request for retrospective permission to retain the thatch-topped notice urging people to turn off the Salisbury Road, not least in consideration of the possible effect of its 10 inch diameter oak supports in terms of impact.

Reports. More government regulations have made it necessary for the Clerk to have a new Contract of Employment, but in a meeting with so much else to do he was able to have any discussion postponed, which means he will have time to translate the draft model document into English and then to see what difference, if any, it might make.
Abbotts Ann Action is involved in the setting-up of a steering committee for co-ordinating the reaction of the whole neighbourhood to the Tesco project on the old airfield. Every one is wondering why there has still been no sign of a planning application and asking what lies behind the activities of bulldozers and weed-killing sprayers on the site. Our War Memorial Hall is the venue for an inaugural meeting on May 17th.

Correspondence. Concern had been expressed about the depositing of builders’ rubble in the poplar copse off Cattle Lane. Mr. Griffiths explained that all the materials for which he was responsible were there for a purpose, some to provide hard standing within the gateway and some to provide materials for maintenance of the river banks. A considerable amount of unauthorised material, such as garden refuse, had been dumped there by persons unknown in disregard of a “Private” notice.

A correspondent had passed on a rumour that helicopter training hitherto carried out at RAF Shrewsbury was to be transferred to Middle Wallop. If true, this would represent a major increase in helicopter activity, with around 30 extra aircraft operating day and night. Not as bad as living under the Heathrow flight path, but a cause for considerable concern.
Another ongoing cause for concern is the amount of fouling of footpaths and even parts of the burial ground, by dogs. The provision of more dog-bins was considered, but they are both expensive and intrusive, and Councillors felt they should not be necessary if owners were more considerate, took plastic bags with them on their walks, and disposed of the contents at home. If owners are not going to bother to do that, will they bother to use a bin?
And talking of bins – another reminder:


Finance. More formalities included the adopting of the final accounts to go forward for audit and the signing of the quaintly named Statement of Assurance, in which the Council assures anyone who is interested – mainly the District Auditor in far away Plymouth – that everything is OK, not forgetting to declare that they have carefully assessed the impact of the accounting system.

In considering projects which would help to keep the village happy, it was resolved to advance funds to enable the Sports Field Committee to replace the decrepit gang-mowers. It was also decided to contribute £240 towards the cost of running the Parish Magazine, £150 towards keeping the church clock ticking, and £250 towards the repair of the frame in the church tower without which the bells could fall silent and another village tradition would be endangered; all this comes under the Council’s oddly-named “Power of Wellbeing,” otherwise known as Section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972.

Minutes. The draft minutes will be available in the Village Shop, on the Website, and, if requested, from the Clerk.

Next Meeting. For various reasons this will be on Wednesday 13th June in the Jubilee Room at 7 p.m. Members of the public are welcome to attend.

Adrian Stokes, Clerk to the Parish Council