Annual Report for Parish Meeting – 25th April 2018
Message from the Chairman – Chris Stevenson
- Finance, Policy & Personnel Report – Andrew Savage
- Environment & Highways Report – John Gili-Ross
- Premises & Recreation Report – Brian Butcher
- Planning & Development Report – Bob Tyrrell
- Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group – Brian Butcher & Chris Stevenson
A Message from the Chairman – Chris Stevenson
Welcome to the West Bergholt Annual Parish Meeting. This meeting like countless others all over the country is for you and your community. Although it has the word “Parish” in the title it is not a Parish Council (PC) meeting but organised by the PC to allow local issues and topics to be presented and discussed. I very much hope you enjoy the evening and if you subsequently think of ideas for future meetings we would very much like to hear from you.
We have seen very few changes to the Parish Council makeup in the past year. In my message last year, I reported that we had a vacancy and I’m pleased to say that was swiftly filled by a familiar face, David Short who has re-joined the PC after a short break. David now takes his place supporting the Environment and Highways Committee amongst other roles. As is now usual there was competition for joining the PC with at one point three people expressing an interest to be co-opted, something I and my colleagues welcome as in other parishes sometimes vacancies exist for Councillors for many months and even years. It is heartening to know that there is a pool of willing volunteers for this important and influential role in our community.
The themes of our annual meeting this year are, as ever, community-focussed. Instead of a headline speaker however, we have this year allocated more time evenly for what we hope are popular as well as topical matters. There is a strong historical theme with our first two speakers who will introduce us to the rich archives of parish history as well as the existing and ongoing project to refurbish and repair one of our oldest buildings, St Mary’s Old Church. The agenda then turns to very much the present day and the future with topics covering the Neighbourhood Plan, the work of our handymen, crime trends in West Bergholt and the work of the Village Bulletin Editorial Board. Finally, we make two awards to local organisations before wrapping up with a discussion on issues raised from you our audience. I do see this as an opportunity for discussion rather than our version of Question Time, so whereas I may as your Chairman for the evening, attempt to answer queries I would imagine that the audience themselves will be the mainstay for providing insight and suggestions, whatever the nature of the issue raised may be!
So, what are my reflections on activities of the past last year or so, especially those with a community feel. There are many, but I will confine my thoughts to items mentioned at the last two Annual Parish meetings. The first that springs to mind and one which we covered last year is Broadband – yes, I know perhaps we devote too much time to this topic, but after many years of trying we do now have three major presences in the village in County Broadband, Virgin Media and BT. Was the disruption caused by the Virgin works worth it? I’ll leave you to judge, but it at least shows that high speed broadband services are at last for the majority and not the few, and more and more villages are now connected in a way unimaginable just a few years ago. The main push for me would be to encourage the providers to connect those who cannot access any of the services currently whatever the technical reason. Last year we also heard from Jane Gardener about the work of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office and the new push for Community Special constables dedicated to an area. I’m pleased to say that an initiative is under way to recruit such a person and following an advertising campaign and joint work with the Police, we have at least one possible candidate. Who knows by this time next year we may have our own Special Constable looking after us! Finally, I want to make a plug for the Neighbourhood Plan. There is a report elsewhere in the booklet, but if we were in any way doubtful about the value of this initiative, this should have been dispelled by the recent applications for large-scale housing in the village. It is far better that we plan collectively for development rather than to have what looks to many like a free-for-all. Significant progress has been made this year to update our draft and to make it a true planning document capable of withstanding the eagle eye of a Planning Inspector – so look out for the final local consultation and support the work of the Steering Group when you get the chance later in the year.
Elsewhere in this booklet, you will read of the activities carried out by Parish Councillors working on behalf of the village during the last year in the committee reports. Councillors donate many hours of their free time addressing village day-to-day issues and activities, and I thank them for their commitment, professionalism, hard work and support. I would also like to thank our Hall Administrator Vicky Beckwith-Cole the handymen David Hewitt, Nigel Weall and Matt Harkness. We have increased the activities of the handymen, and you will get an update on their work from Cllr John Gili-Ross as part of this evening’s agenda. It is highly appropriate here to give my heartfelt thanks to the “snow-patrollers” who under the guidance of Harry Stone kept our paths, car parks and other areas clear of snow during the recent wintery weather. Last but by no means least I would also like to give thanks to our mostly invisible but hugely effective webmaster Dave Kingaby.
Finally, I would like to give particular thanks to Laura Walkingshaw, our Parish Clerk who must be far better known to you all than myself. Laura is our Chief Executive Officer, who fields all your queries and runs the business of the Parish Council. If that wasn’t enough she also supports the Neighbourhood Plan Group, and spearheads (sic) the Litter Warriors. Where she gets her energy from I do not know, but once again thank you Laura from us all for a hugely successful year – long may it continue.
I hope you will enjoy the meeting and presentations. Do ask questions and thank you again for supporting the Parish Council by attending tonight.
I’m pleased to announce that the External Auditors have ‘signed off’ the 2016/17 accounts. My thanks therefore go to Laura for all her hard work and to Gerry Allen for undertaking the Internal Audit.
The accounts for the following year, ending March 2018, are currently being prepared and the pre-audited figures can be summed up as follows:
The Parish Council’s General Accounts show an income for the year (including contributions from various Charities, Trusts, Grants and VAT refunds) of over £125,000 as against an expenditure of nearly £101,000. Nearly £20,000 of the £24,000 difference is due to receiving two grants near the end of the financial year. The first was a grant of £15,000 to fund a Village Warden for West Bergholt over the following three years whilst the second, from Groundwork UK, was to provide professional assistance for the Neighbourhood Plan thus saving money from one of our planned projects.
The Orpen Memorial Hall Accounts show, including VAT refunds, an income of over £39,000 and an expenditure of around £55,000. The difference, of about £16,000, is basically a combination of VAT and the use of Reserve funds for various elements of maintenance work.
Moving forward to this year’s finances, the Parish Council will continue to endeavour to obtain external sources of funding but with less available this has a significant knock-on effect when reviewing future projects. We have therefore again reviewed which projects and other expenditure items are required to be funded in accordance with best practice recommendations for local councils. From this list, the items agreed for this year are:
|Upstairs meeting room/Hall storage||£1,000|
|PC Special Constable – first year set up costs||£2,000|
|CCTV (fixed to Hall, but monitoring village vandalism hotspot)||£5,000|
|Queen’s Head Pond||£4,000|
|Neighbourhood Plan Projects||£8,000|
Despite the extent of these projects, the precept has only increased by 3%. For a household in a Band D property this equates to less than 4 pence a week extra.
One of the primary aims of the Parish Council, discharged by the Environment and Highways Committee is that of keeping the village as attractive and interesting as our budget will allow. The past year has been no exception and with the mixed weather conditions over the last 12 months, it has been feast and famine in growing terms. During Summer and Autumn, the village handymen were hard pressed to keep the grass cut and the public footway areas clear. Then the bad weather arrived and whilst the growing stopped the conditions were so wet and cold that many of the routine winter jobs were put on hold in favour of salt stock replenishment, distribution of salt to the holding stations around the village or just helping to clear the snow from the car parks and footways around the village.
A few years ago, Harry Stone arranged for the purchase of a salt spreader. This provided great insurance cover against snow fall in the early years but changed for the last two winters and so much so that in March the village was down to its last few bags of salt in spite of having stockpiled previous years supplies. Harry has been tasked with purchasing a second salt spreader and hopefully this will come with further insurance policy cover against snow falling next winter.
Over the last few years it has become clear that Essex and Colchester Councils have cut back more on the standard services we enjoyed in the past. In recognising this fact, the Parish Council began purchasing equipment to supplement dwindling grass cutting, footway maintenance and hedges and tree maintenance carried out by Essex and Colchester Councils. It was clear the old and leaking garage rented from Colchester Council was no longer fit for purpose to store the equipment needed to maintain our village. A new prefabricated garage was purchased and erected behind the existing storage units serving the Orpen Hall with our handymen laying the foundations for the new garage. The Parish Council are grateful for the co-operation and good spirit demonstrated by Bluebells and the Orpen Players who agreed to move into alternate storage premises freeing up suitable storage for Parish Council equipment.
In December 2017 Essex County Council launched its Local Services Fund and the Parish Council applied for a grant to establish a Village Warden position. Our bid was successful and we were awarded a grant of £15,000 towards setting up the new position. This additional money allows us to carry out village priority schemes directly rather than waiting for either Colchester or Essex to find funding to carry out routine work. The grant permits an increase to our maintenance workforce in the form of two Village Handymen and a Village Warden, each giving an average of 8 hours a week.
Much of our budget is spent on trimming back the numerous hedges and trees that are on and around our open spaces together with cutting the grass around the play areas where the main contractors do not have the equipment to maintain these areas at a reasonable level and cost. A specialist contractor is employed to complete the annual hedge flailing and this work quickly followed up by our handymen to complete the work. All Parish Council managed trees were independently surveyed for safety during the year supplementing the routine safety inspections carried by our handymen and committee members. The survey provides a written tree condition report and its pleasing that nothing untoward was found.
During the year, David Short re-joined the environment committee as a Parish Councillor bringing us all welcome experience on how to get things done in the village. I would like to say a big thank you to all committee members and our maintenance team for their hard work and enthusiasm. We never lose sight of what is important to village residents.
Welcome to the Orpen Hall 2018, I hope you have noted the differences since last year! Before I point them out to you I would like to thank our Hall Administrator Vicky, our cleaner Zoe and of course our parish clerk Laura, without whom the Premises committee would be floundering! Thanks must go also to all members of the Premises & Recreation committee for their work and support over the last year.
In the last year the Hall has had a new projector installed, the walls and ceiling painted, the pictures reframed, the floor varnished and new badminton courts marked out. What some of you will have noticed also are new Hall hire conditions. What cannot be seen are the drainage repairs undertaken and the boiler replaced, and repairs to the roof. The Orpen Players and Bluebells have moved to new storage units, thank you them for their cooperation all the way through the process.
The Hall User group met earlier this year and have arranged to meet again on 19th July. If you would like an invite please do let Vicky or Laura know, high on the list will be discussions on new chairs!
It is anticipated that by the end of May the servery will have been refurbished and new curtains hung in the Hall. Quotations have been received for a new all-encompassing external CCTV with hoped for installation before the summer.
Also close to being finished is an online booking facility to launch it is hoped in May. You will be able to see when the halls are free for hire, the cost and hire terms. Make a provisional booking and if a regular user you will be invoiced, if a casual user the hall is used as soon as it paid for!
Finally, a big thank you for all of you that have used our halls over the last year, we look forward to welcoming you back this year.
The West Bergholt Planning Committee has several functions:
- It is a statutory consultee on planning applications submitted to Colchester Borough Council (CBC) and Essex County Council (ECC);
- Similarly, it is a consultee on development planning generally, examples being the Local Development Framework for Colchester Borough Council area or for Minerals and Waste proposals from the County Council;
- It develops guidelines and forward planning advice covering the way the village should maintain its distinctive character, and wherever possible enhance this through sympathetic development.
- Full terms of reference for the Committee are available on the village website
The most active of the above activities concerns planning applications. These may range from a simple house extension, to new dwellings or indeed an application for commercial premises. As a consultee, the Parish Council cannot prevent or stop a development from taking place, but its recommendations do form a powerful local response, to be weighed in consideration with other evidence submitted to Colchester Borough Council.
In 2017/18, WBPC received 56 planning applications, this was 47% more than in 2016/17. Of the 56 applications, the Parish Council supported 27, objected to 12 and gave observations on a further 17. The Parish Council supports the majority of the applications and we try to offer proactive suggestions where needed to enhance the proposals.
This year we have received three larger planning applications for housing developments on the edge of the Village. All outside the established Settlement Boundary and contrary to the proposals set out in the West Bergholt Neighbour Plan
- Land to the north of, The White Hart, Nayland Road, Punch Partnerships Ltd Residential development of ten dwellings. REFUSED. currently being Appealed
- Land adjacent, Hill House Farm, Colchester Road, Mr Gladman, Outline planning application for the erection of up to 97 dwellings. Pending Decision – May 2018
- Land Adj Colchester Road, West Bergholt Colchester Mr Roger Raymond, NEEB Holdings 18 dwellings including affordable housing, 36 retirement living/sheltered accommodation units, 60 bed care home. PENDING DECISION – Jun 2018
Recently CBC won an appeal for: Land off, Bakers Lane, Colchester, this was for an outline planning application for the erection of up to 122 dwellings. This offers hope for West Bergholt, as it demonstrates that CBC has granted planning for a five-year housing supply, this is one of the main reason behind all the speculative planning applications.
Colchester Borough has a new Local Plan 2018 -2033 the emerging document is due for approval late summer. The West Bergholt Neighbourhood Plan is being prepared in parallel with the CBC Local Plan, with the changes to the CBC Local Plan and the finalisation of the Village NP, we can expect planning application testing the validity of these documents. Having worked closely with CBC we expect their support, if the applications fall outside the revised village envelope.
The Village Design Statement (VDS). Has been CBC policy for the past seven years and is used to assist determining the Parish Council’s response to Planning Applications. The VDS highlights some basic design principles covering new buildings and extension, as well as setting the context for development in the village by outlining the distinctive character areas of the village and its rural setting. The VDS is available on the Village website.
To provide greater consistency Parish Council comments on Planning Applications will quote the relevant VDS Policy number and text as a reason for an objection.
The Committee has regular meetings on the third Wednesday of each month at 7.30pm in the John Lampon Hall. The agenda is published three days in advance. Anyone who wishes to express their views on a planning matter is welcome to attend, and in particular, the Committee welcomes pre-planning application discussions.
I would like to thank my colleagues on the committee for their hard work over the past months.
1. Neighbourhood Plan (NP)
Although we have reported on progress for several years, there are many people who are still unaware of the ability of communities to create planning documents for local use. So as a reminder, Neighbourhood Plans are a new form of community-based planning which enable villages, parishes or similar-sized localities to produce a planning document which covers how they would like to see their areas develop in the future. Once adopted they form the blueprint for new development and sit within a District or Borough Council’s own local Plan document. Although NPs are primarily about future development, they can also include projects like those in the present Parish Plan. It is likely that ours will include elements of both.
A steering group of Parish Councillors and other members of the community has been formed over the previous 5 years to produce the plan. The group liaises with Colchester Borough Council and receives help and guidance from a variety of organisations. West Bergholt has been in the vanguard of local parishes producing a plan and has made presentations and offered guidance to others seeking to follow suit.
2. Commentary on developments in 2016/17
We were successful in our discussions with Colchester Borough Council who adopted a similar approach to West Bergholt in their proposed local plan to our draft Neighbourhood Plan. Both documents are now in harmony stipulating 120 new homes to be built over the next 15 years. However, both will have to be presented for examination to a Government Inspector before they can be confirmed and in our case prior to a referendum.
With the recent planning applications by Gladman Homes and those of NEEB Holdings the need for our Neighbourhood Plan to reach its final stages has been highlighted, reinforced by the many objections that many of you have put to Colchester Borough Council in respect of all three applications.
Twelve months ago, the steering group hoped that the Plan would be finalised this year and currently it is with the publisher, inserting pictures and maps into the document, tidying up the format, and checking our spelling! So, in the next two or three weeks the Plan is expected to be its near final version and will be will be out for one final local consultation.
To help us tighten up on the planning policies, a planning consultant has been employed, a game keeper turned poacher really, as she is also a plan inspector, funded by a grant to the PC received last month.
You will all receive a flyer through your door which will let you know where the Plan will be available for inspection, the day of the exhibition and how you can comment. You will have six weeks to do so though.
You will find the areas of proposed development have not changed, but a number of the accompanying policies have. No policies have been removed, but they have been rephrased and some instance combined, the planning consultant taking the wording of the lay members of the steering group and turning them into planning speak. All the community policies remain and again have been enhanced.
As the steering group chairman has said we passed our O level with the last plan but now we need to pass our A level!
The publication and consultation stage of the next few weeks is part of the statutory approval process, something called Regulation 14! Next is Regulation 15 which requires a consultation statement to be written and a statement that demonstrates the Plan policies are in accord with CBC policies, these have been stated but can’t be completed of course for another couple of months. Not surprisingly then comes Regulation 16 and CBC’s own six-week consultation!
So, in summary the timetable is:
- Regulation 14 Consultation: May 2018
- Regulation 16 Consultation: Summer 2018
- Examination: Autumn 2018
- Referendum: Winter 2018/19
We are close to the end but have a few hurdles still to jump, but all the consultations done over the last four years should ensure such can be done with relative ease. Indeed, to those who have worked on the Plan and those who have commented and attended the various events that have been held by the steering group over the years a big thank you in helping the Plan see the finishing post.
4. Getting Involved
Although there is a steering group already formed, it is not a closed shop. It is never too late to get involved so if you wish to help the Plan come to fruition please do contact the steering group. Anything as simply delivering leaflets in your road would a great help, there’ll be about 1500 to deliver by hand!
The contacts below are the ways to get in touch
- Chris Stevenson, Chair, ([email protected]) or 01206 241708
- Laura Walkingshaw, Secretary ([email protected] ) or 01206 240772
- Murray Harlow, Communications ([email protected]) or 01206 242007
Please visit www.westbergholt.net for further details and click on the Neighbourhood Plan tab.
5. Thank you
Attempting to produce a complex Neighbourhood Plan is not easy for busy people who are all volunteers with little background in town and country planning, many of whom volunteer in other activities in the parish as well, and many of whom also have a full-time job or other employment. We are indebted to the enthusiasm of all those on the Steering Group, past and present.