Clerk’s Column October 2007

The Shed. As readers of the Andover Advertiser will be aware, the developers of the Airfield site have been bending over backwards to show that they have listened to us and actually read some of our letters. As a result they have made some pretty drastic changes to their plans in terms of reducing – we cannot say “minimising” about such a massive project – the impact of the Shed on the landscape with the associated levels of noise and light-pollution. They are also quite lyrical about the merits of the A303, that mighty, multi-lane highway which will waft Tesco’s own brand Corn Flakes to the grateful consumers of southern England; do they realise how early they will have to start if they want to beat ASDA’s lorries to the far side of the Amesbury round-about? Have they considered what will happen if they follow their sat.nav. directions to Swindon via Weyhill and Collingbourne Ducis? Will they issue ear-plugs to the residents of the Clatfords?
They also claim to be able to use new technology to keep traffic out of our village streets and lanes; maybe they can apply this to their own heavy goods vehicles, but it is hard to see how they, or anyone else for that matter, can stop “rat-running” by three shifts of employees, let alone other unconnected people trying to avoid Hundred Acre Corner, the new plans for which look about as easy to navigate as the Hampton Court maze. It has to be remembered, too, that the developers hope to have a fair number of smaller businesses on the site, whose vehicles will be lighter and harder to control; raising the horrific vision of fleets of white vans taking short cuts through Abbotts Ann and Monxton. So, although they have reacted positively to quite a number of our questions, they will be disappointed that the local watch-dogs are still baring their teeth.

CPRE. This organisation, which now calls itself Campaign to Protect Rural England, tells us that it exists “to promote the beauty, tranquillity, and diversity of rural England by encouraging the sustainable use of land and other natural resources in town and country.” It is currently running a campaign to reduce the clutter of signs on rural roads, and recently joined with the RAC Foundation to complete a “clutter audit” of the A32 in rural Hampshire. They concluded that 70% of the signs were unnecessary and served more to confuse than to inform. The RAC says that excess signs threaten bikers and cyclists by their physical presence, while the mental load required to process excess information compromises drivers’ concentration. Maybe, but in the experience of one of our parishioners, signs can also become invisible; he claimed that there were no signs warning of the approach to the Village School. Hands up those who know how many there are; actually there are four, but each one is in a place where the driver has to concentrate hard on the road ahead. And how many people follow the sign to the Anna Valley Trout Farm, which has been closed for years?

Sustainability. Some readers may have noticed that even the CPRE has fallen for the latest Buzz-word. According to the Powers that Be, it seems that everything we have or do should be sustainable. A document recently arrived, believe it or not by post, headed “Towards a Sustainable Village”; it is hard to see how there can be a problem for a village that has sustained itself since before the Norman Conquest and which survived the Black Death in 1349 not to mention the Enclosure Acts of 1795 -1812.
However, it seems we should all be worrying about it, and Test Valley is taking it so seriously that they have contracted the Environment Centre in Southampton to provide a Sustainability Co-ordinator, no doubt adequately sustained by a decent salary and a comfortable office in Romsey, who will advise TVBC on how to adopt more sustainable practices. Her first task must surely be to explain (a) what that means and (b) why, if we don’t follow her advice, we are all doomed.

Complaints. If sustainability is defined as ensuring that things don’t fall apart, the practice of complaining plays an important part. Without complaints, all sorts of wrongs would never be righted from blocked drains to tyrannical governments. Autumn brings its own crop, including ones about bonfires; of course these are an expected feature of country life, but when the wind is in the wrong direction some neighbours can feel like herrings being transformed into kippers. And while on the subject of bonfires, the Parish Council urges everyone to be extra careful and considerate around November 5th – animals hate fireworks, people don’t like loud bangs, and no-one who lives under thatch wants to provide a landing-ground for rockets. And anyway, there will be a terrific bonfire and firework display, not to mention hot dogs and cold drinks, on the Sports Field on November 4th. See you there. Council properties are, of course, a fruitful source of complaints. Among the more printable ones that surfaced recently was this: My toilet seat is broken in half; it is now in three pieces.


The Shed (again). It will not come as a surprise that nearly half the time of the meeting was taken up with discussion of Tesco’s megashed plans, despite the brisk chairmanship of our vice-chairman, Cllr Graham Whyte, who took the chair in the absence of Cllr Bernard Griffiths. It was gratifying to hear how much the developers had listened to the views of local residents in general and Parish Councils in particular, whose co-ordinating committee had summarised their objections under 17 headings. At a recent meeting the developers, who shelter behind the re-assuring name of Goodman, showed that they had considered, and acted on, every single one of these and made such a number of very significant changes from the original plans that they were submitting a revised application. It was helpful that they also produced a full-page spread in the Andover Advertiser setting out many of these changes, because the application itself would have involved many hundreds of pages of print if they had not been compressed into a CD.

To cut a long discussion short, your Councillors had to admit that the new plans were considerably less unacceptable in terms of environmental impact, but were understandably sceptical about the revised statistics and about their assurances about traffic control; it is, of course, the latter which is the major source of nightmares for us. So it was resolved that our original objections should remain on file and that we should register further objection re-emphasising our concern about noise (particularly the infuriating beeping of reversing lorries) and about “rat-running” through our streets and lanes by vehicles which could not be controlled by the hi-tech devices proposed for Tesco’s lorries – all aggravated by a 24-hour working day..

The Street Scene. In theory the Parish Council has little direct responsibility for what happens to and in its streets and lanes. For, instance, law, order and speed limits are up to Hampshire Constabulary; refuse collection is done by the Borough, although the County disposes of it; short roadside grass is meant to be mown by the Borough, but long grass on verges is contracted out by the County, who also deal with road signs; but street names come under the Borough (so that, though Test Valley put up the new sign on Webbs Lane, the County, when asked to mend a kerbstone there, had to ask the Clerk where Webbs Lane is); obstructions are meant to be removed by the owners of the offending greenery, though the County may step in to remove them, after which they will probably send a bill to the landowner. Thus many of the items in the Minutes marked Action Clerk involve him in knowing who to nag to get them to do their job. He is mildly envious of clerks in Wiltshire, where Borough Councils are shortly to be abolished, so that all roads will lead to Trowbridge.

So those keen residents who read the Minutes will see that Councillors furrowed their brows over getting something done about: congestion at the Sainsbury roundabout; the unfinished entry to Timothy’s Field; parking outside the Village Shop; a fallen tree and a broken stile on Footpath No 11; parking on the pavement outside Lane Cottage; the difficulty of getting a wheelchair through the “cuckoo pen” on Church Path; and a tree obscuring a road-sign at Red Post Bridge. One item, however, which no longer calls for Action Clerk is the thatched Poplar Farm sign; this illustrates the oddities of who-does-what, because the owners got planning permission from the Borough to put up the sign, but the County, on whose land it was sited, considered it a traffic hazard and demanded its removal. So, one rainy day, it disappeared.

Finance.Budgeting has to be carried out well in advance, and the Council adopted a budget for the year 2008-9 for presentation at the Annual Assembly at the end of next March, which involves an increase in the Precept of 0.25% following a nil increase for the current year and a decision to keep Burial Ground fees at their present level; so the cost of living and of leaving will not change very much.

Royal Diamond Wedding. The Council has been asked to pass on the invitation from the Mayor of Romsey for all those couples whose Diamond Wedding fall this year to attend a Service of Thanksgiving in Winchester Cathedral, to be followed by a reception, on November 18th. for details, please contact the Clerk, who will miss it by a year or two.

Meetings The draft Minutes of the October meeting are available in the Village Shop. The next meeting will be on 1st November at 7 p.m. in the Jubilee Room.

Adrian Stokes, Clerk to the Parish Council