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Clerk’s Column September 2006

Climate Change. To bring folk down to earth after enjoying their globally-warmed holidays, a Private Member’s Bill, introduced by Mark Lazarowicz (a Scottish MP), has become The Sustainable Energy Act. Disappointingly this has nothing to do with keeping older folk full of beans, so that they can go on working into their 90s, but is aimed at the alleviation of “fuel poverty” and the introduction of “a renewable heat obligation”. Clause 20 cheerfully lands Parish Councils in England with new powers to encourage or promote any of the following:

  • Microgeneration
  • Use of electricity or heat produced by microgeneration
  • Efficiency in the use of fuel or other sources of energy
  • Reductions in the use of energy
  • Production of biomass or any fuel derived from biomass or of electricity generated, or heat produced, from biomass or any such fuel, if you see what I mean.

Any expense incurred in providing encouragement is to be covered by Section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972. We look forward to receiving the prospectus of the Pill Hill Brook Hydro-Electric Company and the Planning Applications for anything from a Wind Farm on Abbotts Ann Down to a whirligig mounted on the chimney of a listed cottage. Perhaps we could plant some olive trees around the Sports Field and run the tractor on olive oil like the canny farmers of France.

Code of Conduct. While we are still waiting for the Government to unmuddle the Code of Conduct, further horror stories of the “gagging” of local Councillors continue to emerge. The instigator launched this body in 2001, when he was still allowed to run two Jaguars simultaneously, claiming that it would ensure high ethical standards through a network of unelected officers each paid £61,000 a year and assisted by a host of “monitors.” Several spanners immediately began causing breakdowns in the works of local democracy, including:

  • Malicious “sneaking”, whereby a councillor would report an alleged misdemeanour by a colleague against whom he/she had a grudge. The amount of time and money wasted on this mischievous activity is indicated by the fact that in 2003-4, out of 3,500 allegations, only some 200 were found to be justified even by the Board’s own inquisitors.
  • The crime of “predetermination.” If Councillors have spoken out about an issue before it has been debated they can be banned from speaking or voting simply because they are perceived to have a view. So, for instance, the good citizens of Rushmoor elected a Councillor specifically to oppose plans to turn Farnborough aerodrome into an executive jet centre, but the inquisitors ruled that his predetermined position barred him from speaking or voting on the issue.
  • “Prejudicial Interests.” Members of a Cambridgeshire council were warned that they could not “pronounce” on a Park-and Ride scheme if they drove a car; they were further told that they might be disqualified from discussing the placing of a mobile phone mast if they owned a mobile phone. And a Co. Durham Councillor organised a referendum in which 4 out of 5 local people opposed the installation of a wind farm, but found himself excluded from the room when the Planning Committee discussed the issue.

The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail enjoy flaunting their own prejudicial interests in publicising the madness of mandarins, but there are encouraging signs that sanity is creeping back under the pressure of public opinion, at least on the subject of prejudicial interests. There are plans to revise the draconian Code after which it is hoped that the revised text will make it crystal clear that Councillors who merely have an interest shared with the community as a whole should be able to take part in a meeting. It should only be where they would get a clear personal advantage from a decision that they should be excluded. New guidelines say: Not all matters in which a Councillor may have a personal interest are necessarily prejudicial, although the personal interest should always be declared (and written down by the Clerk in a little black book). If the matter is not prejudicial a Councillor may speak and vote; if it is prejudicial he/she must leave the room.
An interest is prejudicial only if it has a significant impact on yourself, your friends or relatives (or any of the categories set out in paragraph 8(1) (a) to (d) of the Code [please don’t ask]), so that a reasonable member of the public would consider that your judgement of the public interest was prejudiced. So now we know, don’t we?

Message from the Department of Acronyms. The admirable Newsletter from CAH (Community Action Hampshire) is full of encouraging items about the work being done to improve everyone’s quality of life by dozens of voluntary organisations with splendid names which are often reduced to initials. The August issue seems to have got the message that readers cannot always remember what the initials stand for, and is providing translations, such as BGOP (Better Government for Old People); CAN (the Co-operative Assistance Network); DED (Disability Equality Duty) – one is tempted to comment that we are all equally disabled when we are dead. Some of us, however, would still like to know what a BME event is. The energetic Chief Executive of CAH is anxious about the apparent struggle for status among voluntary organisations; she has written to NCVO (National Council for Voluntary Organisations), NAVCA (National Association for Voluntary and Community Action), and ACEVO (Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations) in her capacity as Chair of RAISE (Regional Action & Involvement South East) to ensure that messages given out by these national organisations reflect the reality for local charities. Stay awake, please, because there is a message here, that local bodies, including Parish Councils, have to be on their guard against another anti-democratic threat, namely that of creeping centralisation.

Village Halls and Functions. There is good and less good news for village halls. Concerning Fire Regulations it seems that someone should have a look at Guide No 6, all 145 pages of it. Try www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1162115. If you replace the last 7 digits with 1500383 you will be amazed to find the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) order 2005. It also appears that from 2007 marquees and tents, e.g. at village fetes, will come under the new Fire Regulations. Further, HAPTC (Hampshire Association of Town and Parish Councils) advises: that anyone responsible for premises (including open spaces and open-air events) must carry out a fire safety risk assessment by 1st October 2006. The Fire and Rescue Service will carry out inspections and failure to comply could lead to enforcement action or even prosecution. Better news concerns the Licensing Act 2003. Sir George Young has elicited a two-page letter from the busy Tessa Jowell, who runs the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). It re-assures us that the guidelines to Licensing Authorities have been changed, so that bodies representing persons living in the vicinity of licensed premises, such as Residents’ Associations or Parish Councils, can make representations about applications. There are no plans to increase the number of TENS (Temporary Events Notices) allowed for individual unlicensed premises above 12 per annum, but for those who want their Hall to serve alcohol more often, a proposal is under consideration to allow village hall committees as a whole to take on the responsibilty of licence-holders rather than lumbering a single individual (usually a volunteer) with the task of “designated premises licence supervisor”, which sounded too daunting for most volunteers.

Fire and Rescue. Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service (formerly known as the Fire Brigade) is providing free home safety checks and can arrange:

  • A free safety visit
  • Fit smoke alarms
  • Give advice on what to do in event of a fire
  • Help devise a home fire escape plan

For information phone 023 8062 6809 or visit www.hantsfire.gov.uk

Burghclere Down. TVBC Revenues Department has eaten a big slice of humble pie. The sharp-eyed Councillor, Mrs. Hawke, spotted that some 425 properties in Burghclere Down which, as of course you all know, is part of Abbotts Ann, had been incorrectly included in the Council Tax base for Andover. The residents will shortly be receiving a letter which will include the unwelcome news that the Council Tax for Abbotts Ann is a little higher than that for Andover. It has transpired from other sources that there is a Residents’ Association in Burghclere Down; perhaps we should prepare for a Declaration of Independence and cries of “No taxation without Representation!” echoing from behind the Hexagon Post Office.

Ambulance Service. A lesson can be learnt from another rural Council, a member of which collapsed at a Council Meeting. An ambulance was sent for, but took 35 minutes to arrive, and that was only when a Councillor pursued it in his car. The reason was that no-one knew the post-code of the Village Hall, and the crew were depending on sat-nav. The Clerk involved advises that the post-code, full address and other useful information should be posted prominently in the Village Hall, preferably alongside the telephone if any, and recommends first-aid training for committee members, adding that, if all other first aid training is forgotten, remember this – if pale raise the tail, if red raise the head.

Disposal of Vehicles. The Clerk of another Parish tells of the headaches experienced when a family wanted to inter the remains of a deceased person’s beloved motor-bike. It is fervently hoped that no such local requests will be forthcoming in respect of vintage motor cars.

PARISH COUNCIL MEETING: 7th September 2006

War Memorial Hall. The Meeting was attended by Alyson Godman and Ron Lockhart who presented the case for the funding of repairs to the roof of the Hall. It is clear after many years of patching that a complete overhaul is required; the work has been put out to tender with the sensible proviso that the hall should not be out of commission for longer than the summer holiday period, which would minimise loss of income from such regular users as the Primary School and the Nursery School. A commitment from the Parish Council was needed in order to trigger grants from the Borough and the County, and Councillors had no hesitation in offering to find 12.5% of the cost, half of which was allowed for in the current year’s budget with the rest to be found in the next financial year.

Planning. Manor Farm, Monxton Road. It was clearly desirable that the farm should not become derelict, and the Council appreciated that the application for industrial use had been dropped, but Councillors were still concerned that the change of use to offices would generate a considerable increase in traffic through Abbotts Ann and Monxton. So an objection was registered.
Out of Town Cafe site. The Council registered an objection to an application to add two more houses to the two already under construction, on grounds of design, density and traffic hazards.

Vandalism. The Sports Field does not exist for the use of riders of motor-bikes or scooters, let alone quad-bikes, which have been observed in the field and can cause a great deal of disturbance and damage. Likewise, the recreation area at the War Memorial Hall is intended for the use of children of an age and size that matches the swings and slide there. It is suspected that the recent breaking of windows and lighting of fires was the work of rather larger individuals.
The Police have been informed and would be grateful for evidence of identity. The Council would be even more grateful if those who know the perpetrators’ identity would use parental or other pressure to stop it happening.
The Council wished to point out that the main source of funding of repairs following an act of vandalism is the Council Tax, so that in the long run every household loses by it, including those in which the culprits live.

Red Post Lane. A correspondent requested that something be done about cars travelling at the legal limit of 60 m.p.h. along Red Post Lane. It seems to take about 20 years to get a speed limit established, but the Council is willing to try. Meanwhile it would be appreciated if those who use the lane would allow a little more time to get to school, work or the Village Shop and spare the nerves of riders, cyclists and pedestrians on this notoriously awkward highway.

Village Fete. The Council greatly appreciated the hard work of the Fete Committee, who reported that the takings were similar to those of last year, despite the damp and windy weather. The return to the Sports Field was welcomed with enthusiasm. Towards the end of the day it was suggested that Air Traffic Control at Middle Wallop should be warned of the possibility that airborne gazebos would appear on the radar, not to mention an errant falcon who decided he had done enough demonstrating and was observed on his way home, flying downwind at about 60 m.p.h. above Red Post Lane.

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

Next Meeting. Thursday 6th October 2006 at 7 p.m. in the Jubilee Room of the War Memorial Hall. Members of the public are welcome to attend.

Adrian Stokes, Clerk to the Parish Council

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