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Clerk’s Column November 2006

Lull before the Storm? Between the detonations of early September and the expected explosions of November 5th, October has been such a relatively quiet month that your Clerk has been able to start getting to grips with the filing system, at least to the extent that there are now two empty shelves in the Jubilee Room cupboard for use when the drawers of the home filing cabinet will no longer shut. Correspondence has been so scanty that it seems that Beech Hurst must have run out of stamps, nobody has sought permission to bury any more of the Parish under bricks and mortar, neither has anyone with a floral address been tempted by special offers of conservatories.

Bottoms Up. While all those in national politics are holding their breath in expectation of a change of tenancy at No 10, the anxiety among borough councils about the Local Government Act 2007 seems to have paralysed movement between Inboxes and Out-trays. Late in October, the dreaded White Paper appeared, described soothingly by DeCloG as “evolutionary” rather than “shock and awe” – in other words nothing like as frightening as the numerous trailers and leaks had predicted; so though not exactly a pussy-cat, the new law has none of the tiger-like qualities of its formidable predecessor of 1972. A new buzz-word, or rather two, can be heard in the marble corridors of Whitehall, namely double devolution, with the Ministry, no doubt with clenched teeth and tight fists, devolving power to Principal Authorities, and “in tandem” power being devolved from there to Town and Parish Councils. Mr. Phil (Superglue) Woolas, Minister of State for Local Government and Community Cohesion, assures us that local councils are the cornerstone of democracy, and the Government is now wildly enthusiastic about the bottom-up approach. So, if no porkers become airborne, Abbotts Ann will be plugged in to a heady supply of mysterious “power”, including a power of well-being (we hope to know what that means in time for Christmas). The Clerk, however, would still rather like someone to have the power to answer his letters and emails.

More Laws. 2006, so far, has seen masses of other interesting laws actually hitting the Statute Book. The Commons Act aims to sort out anomalies – not in the House of Commons, for which anomalies are fiercely protected as cherished bits of National Heritage, but in the green sort in the middle of villages where conscientious Clerks – mercifully not this one – have to master laws and customs going back at least to Domesday.

The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act has been mentioned before as giving birth to a quango called Natural England, the law-givers having apparently given up on attaching the adjective natural to Scotland and Wales; the new body seems to have few teeth, but some money, and is concerned with conserving, enhancing and managing the natural environment for the benefit of current and future generations; the Act also imposes a duty on Parish Councils, as if they haven’t got enough to think about, to conserve biodiversity, which is much too new a word for the Clerk’s venerable Oxford Dictionary; but there is sure to be some of it around the Parish which needs conserving.

The news that the summer of 2006 was the hottest since records started 234 years ago underlined the importance of the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act., about which quite enough was said in last month’s Newsletter. But the impact of Section 17(4) of the Electoral Administration Act, amending Section 79(1) of the mighty Local Government Act 1972, could be interesting, though nobody seems to have noticed it before, perhaps because it is not yet in force; it lowers the age for standing for election and holding office as a member of a local authority from 21 to 18 years.

Two familiar buzz-words are combined in the title of the Sustainable Communities Bill, which aims to stop the decline in such local amenities as Post Offices, shops, buses, libraries and services for the elderly. This will have to compete in the Private Members Ballot, so we are urged to lean hard on our MPs to give it their backing.

Much of this legislation, plus an item on the Freedom of Information Act, is on the Agenda for discussion at a forthcoming Professional Development Seminar for Clerks; another mysterious item recommends joining in with “interactive break-out groups.” Can these have any connection with the fact that the meeting is at Marwell Zoo? If so watch out not just for airborne pigs, but liberated llamas, escaping emus and errant elephants next March.

Meet SEERA . The South-east Plan is not yet set in stone; if it were, SEERA (your Councillors, in company with most local authorities, reckon that this stands for the South-East’s Eradicator of Rural Areas) would probably have time to wonder what it’s for. It is, after all, an unelected, urban-oriented body, imposed on the region without a democratic mandate; the attempt to plant a similar organisation in the North-East was subject to a referendum and was rejected by a substantial majority. The Plan, which covers from now to 2026, has to be “tested” in a series of EiPs (Examinations in Public) between this November and next March in Woking, Maidstone, Chichester and Reading, all of which are rather remote from the North and West of the South-east. However, HCC and PUSH are sure to make their voices heard at least as far as Surrey. The original consultation process gave rise to some 7,000 responses, most of which were probably dismissed as mere nimbyism, another neologism that is not in all the dictionaries yet (though neologism is).

Standards. The Standards Board for England is falling over backwards to present a human face, and assures us that the Code will soon be revised so as to sort out the problems of prejudicial interest, bullying and disrepute. They are also promising to issue an Ethical Governance Toolkit “to give good-practice advice on how to make parish Councils work more openly and effectively, and to help councillors in their day-to-day roles.” Hopefully the toolkit includes instructions on keeping spanners out of the works.
The Board’s latest report indicates that councils (a) are not bound to reply to all correspondence, and (b) can have a “vexatious correspondence procedure” under which, presumably, persistent grumblers can be told where to put their letters and emails. Good idea?
Under “disrepute”, only unlawful activities such as criminal or cautionable offences will be covered; merely naughty behaviour by Councillors will be overlooked. However, a Councillor of Cloughton Parish was found to have brought his Council into disrepute and was suspended (was it really a hanging offence?) for grabbing a 15-year -old youth by the neck, dragging him away from his friends and threatening him for playing ball games. It obviously didn’t help that he was the Council’s Youth Liaison Officer.

Correspondence. It sometimes looks as if officials may classify correspondence as “vexatious” when they cannot think of an answer. At the time of writing, the Clerk was still waiting, for instance, to hear why “Formosa” is still there, why there is an unidentified metallic object on the chimney of the Poplar Farm Inn and why “Clatford Road” still runs through Little Ann.. At least the Highway Authority acknowledges letters and promises action (you’ve guessed it) “in due course”. And, as can now be seen, at the Jubilee Oak and at Dances Corner, things do usually get done in the end.

Poplar Farm Inn. For various technical reasons, as explained at great and, the Council felt, officious length by the TVBC, our comments on the late opening on Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas Day could not be accepted as an objection; it would clearly have required the services of a legal eagle to draft an objection, but by the time the rejection was received the deadline had passed anyway. Some you lose…

Highways. On the basis of secret speed checks in Red Rice Road and Duck Street, the Highway Authority reports what they consider to be an unusually good record in terms of compliance with the 30 mph limit, apart from a tendency for drivers to accelerate out of the village between Bulbery and St. John’s Cross. There is therefore, say they, little justification for additional traffic management measures. However the figures (for details see the Notice Boards) show that average speeds, according to their system of calculation, were still above 30 mph near the school entrance, even in the uphill direction; the Parish Council found this disturbing and will not be letting that be that. The Police is being asked to keep an eye on the Bulbery-St.John’s Cross stretch and TVBC has been requested to add this site to their list for deployment of their electronic Speed Limit Reminder Signs when they become available, which could be quite soon.

Nice work? We don’t know the waist measurements of the new Hampshire official known as the Compact Commissioner (see last month’s Newsletter), or whether he has met the Fat Controller (last seen at Ropley Station on the Watercress Line), but we do know how important he is because he is paid, by you and me, £100,000 a year pro rata for three days’ work a week.

PARISH COUNCIL MEETING: 2ND NOVEMBER 2006

Visitor. The Chairman opened the Meeting by welcoming Steven Lugg, Director of the Hampshire Association of Parish and Town Councils, an invaluable source of support, advice and information. Mr. Lugg, an energetic gentlemen who climbs mountains, grows prize daffodils, lives in Dorset, supports a Somerset football team, and works in Winchester, dropped by on his way home. His contributions to the Council’s discussions were much appreciated.

Planning. Mr. Lugg missed out on the usual lively debates, because the only applications concerned two trees and a harmless conservatory in Hibiscus Crescent. Big issues that had gone quiet included the change of use of Manor Farm, Monxton Road, and the re-development of White Smocks.

Reports . Aided by his newly-installed Broadband, the Clerk is still working on the search for an affordable gate-closer for the playground at the War Memorial Hall because a simple spring is ruled out by Health and Safety concerns; these are beginning to creep into every corner of everyday life – it was even necessary to assess the risks involved in picking up litter in the playground. The best brains of Abbotts Ann were hard put to it to think of anything beyond back-ache and boredom, but eventually came up with the need for stout gloves and a weight/size limit on what one individual could be expected to take to the bin.

Cllr Arthur Peters gave an impressive summary of Andover’s plans for the future of its environment, but warned that our own environment could be affected by possible changes of use at the old airfield, resulting in more traffic within the Parish, as if we have not got enough worries about Red Post Lane, Cattle Lane and the village street.

For Neighbourhood watch, Mr. Downey reported on a significant increase in incidents since June, including real or attempted break-ins, “knockers” (unlicensed door-to-door callers) and unruly young people. Mrs. Wilkins had received many complaints about the practice of “Trick or Treat”, and the Council strongly supported her appeal for parents to minimise this sort of nuisance.

Concerning the Website, it was suggested that the Village Shop would benefit from an up-to-date information service on the website.

On Trees, Dr. Moon had heard from the Tree Technician at TVBC to the effect that there was no need for a discussion on the preservation of trees outside the Conservation Area; her view was that none of the trees concerned were currently under threat, and action, such as the imposition of a Preservation Order, would only become necessary if there were a risk that the felling or pruning of a particular tree would have a significant impact on the area.

Finance. The Budget for 1997-8 was reviewed, and though it was decided not to increase the Precept, Professor Gibson urged that provision should be made, if necessary from reserves, for possible expenditure on traffic calming measures. We could learn a thing or two from Monxton.

Highways. In addition to items mentioned above, the response of the Highway Authority to a request to consider a 40 m.p.h. limit on Red Post Lane was regrettably negative; the lane was not different enough from hundreds of other lanes, and even if a limit were imposed experience showed that speeds would not in fact be reduced.

In connection with speeds within the village, Hampshire Highways indicated a willingness to discuss a possible partnership scheme whereby the cost of traffic-calming measures would be shared between the County and the Parish; it was decided to pursue this as a long-term remedy and meanwhile to ask for something to be done, via better signs, to warn drivers of the existence of a school full of energetic children right in the middle of the village. It had also been noted that placing cones along the pavement opposite the school had been effective, so that it was suggested that a line of permanent bollards would be helpful even if they needed a Risk Assessment because they were (a) downhill from the Eagle and (b) invisible at night.

Telegraph Poles. Very visible in daylight are two new telegraph poles, one in Mill Lane (making 5 poles within a radius of 50 yards – oh all right, 45.72 metres) and one in Little Ann, where BT’s contractors put up a pole on the roadside to raise the level of the wires across the road, but instead of removing the old pole from Mr. and Mrs. Howard’s garden they just wired it up to the new one. As if there is not enough of a cats’ cradle of wires and poles in this part of the Conservation Area… The situation was not improved by the fact that they managed to plant the pole right through the middle of the main drain, which left many inhabitants of St. Mary’s Meadow flushed with anger. Mr. Howard spent hours on the phone and at the computer before they returned in the dark hours of a Sunday to put things right. The Council is very grateful for these efforts and will continue to press for the removal of the redundant pole.

Village Maps. The tireless Mr. Downey had seen to the distribution of new maps to every household; it will be interesting to see how the residents of Burghclere Down will react to finding themselves not in Andover, but in the farthest top right-hand corner of Abbotts Ann.

Meeting Dates. Next year’s Parish Assembly will be held on Friday March 30th. The next Parish Council meeting will be held on Thursday 7th December at 7 p.m. Members of the public are welcome to attend.

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

Adrian Stokes, Clerk to the Parish Council

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