Minutes of Annual Parish Meeting 24th April 2024

Minutes of the Annual Parish Meeting

Held in the Orpen Memorial Hall Wednesday 24th April 2024 at 7.15 p.m.

In the Chair:            Cllr Brian Butcher

Clerk:                    Laura Walkingshaw

Present:                 Parish Councillors, City Councillors Dennis Willetts & Sara Naylor, speakers Mrs. Pamela Donnelly (CCC), Lieutenant Colonel Ed Rankin and approximately 55 members of the public

Head table at Annual Parish Meeting on 24th April 2024

Before the meeting started, refreshments were served and there was time to browse the various displays. West Bergholt Parish Council’s PC Achievements 2023-2024 were shown on the boards, as were the unaudited Trust Accounts for the Orpen Memorial Hall, WB Allotments, Lorkin Daniell Field, Poor’s Land and Village Green (Heath) for which the Parish Council is Sole Trustee. Other exhibits included a Friends of Hillhouse Woods quiz on local wildflowers & birds, Young Photographers Competition winning entries, Bee Squared project and announcements from local clubs & organisations.

Apologies were received from Tony Morris, photographer, and Parish Councillors Sara Cullis & Bob Tyrell.

1.     Welcome and introduction from the Chair – Cllr Brian Butcher

As chair of the meeting, Cllr Brian Butcher, welcomed all to his second Annual Parish Meeting as Chair of West Bergholt Parish Council, and reminded those present that although this meeting is for the electors of West Bergholt, it is not a Parish Council meeting.The minutes of the 2023 Annual Parish Meeting were approved by those in attendance and signed by Cllr Butcher as a true record of the 26th April 2023 meeting.

Before the speakers had the floor, Cllr Butcher drew the audience’s attention to the Parish Council’s Achievements in 2023, which since the last Annual Parish Meeting (APM) include:

  • WBPC Newsletters produced after each PC meeting.
  • registered the Mumford Close greensward as an Asset of Community Value.
  • welcomed Paul Chamberlain as a new, co-opted Parish Councillor.
  • built the Orpen Memorial Hall external, accessible toilet.
  • continued campaigning against the National Grid Norwich to Tilbury pylons.
  • installed all-inclusive play equipment at the Lorkin Daniell Field.
  • held a Young Photographer of the Year competition.
  • established a Youth Engagement Working Party.
  • paid for a speed survey this month on Colchester Road.
  • introduced the Volunteer of the Year Award.
  • successfully erected the Parish Christmas Tree again – even though fought by Storm Eunice!
  • installed an Honour’s board in Orpen Hall.
  • and held another Village Quiz – this time raising money for SEND equipment at Bluebells.

He also laid out the Parish Council’s ambitions for the current year or what you can expect to see before the 2025 APM:

  • after-school Drop-in Café on Wednesdays in term time starting from 18th September.
  • the transfer to the Parish Council of the 3-acre William Sims Sports Field.
  • the construction of the WB Community Hub.
  • the building of a servery and accessible w.c. on the Poor’s Land.
  • a refreshed Village Bulletin magazine.
  • an update of the West Bergholt Neighbourhood Plan.
  • a new booking system for the tennis courts/MUGA to help increase usage.
  • application for a Local Council Award Scheme Gold Award.
  • the establishment of a ‘Cycling West Bergholt’ Working Party.
  • application for a Rural Community Council of Essex Award – Village Hall of the Year.
  • 600-meter squares of wildflowers in resident’s front gardens – Bee Squared project.
  • ECC to agree to a zebra crossing on Colchester Road near Heathlands School.

2.     CEO of Colchester City Council – Mrs Pamela Donnelly

Mrs Donnelly began by stating that in her two years since becoming CEO of Colchester Council a lot has been going on and although it has been a delight and a privilege, it has also been a most challenging time.

The CEO admitted that there is tension between the current severe financial restrictions and the sudden increase in local investment Colchester has received as a newly defined City. The public sector, as residents are aware, is struggling in every aspect at present. The collapse of Birmingham City Council, for example, where the government has had to step in and take over, feels like a challenge to democracy as local elected members are no longer present to represent their constituents. Therefore, Mrs Donnelly is determined that CCC will be resilient and financially secure, however this has meant that the finance budget has had to be reduced by 25% this year. There is a plan, secured with cross-party agreement of all the City Cllrs for the next 3 years. Colchester City Council are having to reduce the public services available, and the staff employed, but take this responsibility extremely seriously, and are well aware that those employees may have families and financial obligations.

On the upside, Colchester is a new city, and with that brings hope and optimism, along with £40 million of investment through the Town Deal and Levelling Up Fund. Although by receiving healthy investment in CCC-owned sites, it has resulted in a lot of disruption to the city centre at present, due to the refurbishment of Trinity Church, St Nicolas Square and Jumbo, which although disruptive should be taken as positive as it means jobs and money coming into Colchester.

It may be difficult for the rural communities to feel the connection with the city centre, however there is also another £1/2 million available through the Rural Prosperity Fund to help ensure that there remains a connection between the rural parts of Colchester and the city.

Mrs. Donnelly then opened the floor to questions:

Q: Cllr Gili-Ross asked about the lack of grass cutting services the village has seen of late?
A: The CEO agreed that the number of cuts has had to be reduced as both grass cutting and the recycling/waste collection are the biggest expense in services from CCC, both of which have been reduced.
ACTION: Parish Council to drop PD a line so that she can look into this specifically
Q: A resident asked if the CEO had heard the “You and Yours” Radio 4 programme today which had a debate on antisocial behaviour, with a specific reference to Colchester from a lady caller?
A: Mrs. Donnelly had heard the programme and remarked that although the lack of police presence on the streets is an ongoing issue, the evidence in Colchester is that actually antisocial behaviour is decreasing, even if the perception of it is increasing. The Colchester Community Safety Partnership is working to reduce the fear of antisocial behaviour and although the particular issues referred to in the programme had been persisting for some time she suspected that it is an ongoing issue, which may need the intervention of the Community Conflict Resolution team.
Q: A resident asked about the 3 Year Financial Plan, as bearing in mind Thurrock Council no doubt thought they had a plan, but had to effectively be declared bankrupt in 2022?
A: Mrs. Donnelly replied that she was not sure that Thurrock did have a plan, whilst Colchester’s productivity plan within its 3 Year Plan has been through a long and detailed scrutiny process. Unlike Thurrock, CCC has made the political decision never to invest in any buildings outside of Colchester and although it has a commercial arm, that is mainly for holding events to generate money, it is not for speculative investment.
Q: A resident asked how CCC could justify the proposed expensive redevelopment of St Botolph’s roundabout during a cost of living crisis?
A: Mrs. Donnelly replied that the redevelopment was being funded by government money received by CCC and the City Council were working in partnership with Essex County Council.

As there were no more questions, Cllr Butcher then thanked Mrs. Donnelly on behalf of those present, as she needed to leave to attend another meeting.

3.     Parish Council Grant Awards:

West Bergholt Parish Council’s Grant Awards for 2024 were then presented:

Friends of St Mary’s Old Church (FOSMOC) – £300

Of the annual grant allocation of £1,000 to local organisations, this year the Parish Council awarded a grant of £300 to the Friends of St Mary’s Old Church for a permanent display panel to inform visitors about the medieval wall paintings that were discovered during redecorating work and to launch an appeal for donations to conserve them. Martin Long, chair of the FOSMOC, collected the award and thanked the Council. He explained how the 1,000-year-old church is supported by a group of Friends, a committee of people, who put in a lot of time and effort to continue to do good work.

Bergholt Youth Group (BYG) – £494.85

The other grant awarded in 2023-24 was to the Bergholt Youth Group for new traffic cones to ensure the safety of the children when using part of the car park for outdoor games and for new equipment to replace those lost to wear & tear. Matthew Slark, longtime volunteer at BYG, collected the award and explained that 80 children on average use BYG, when it is open, every other Friday evening.

Also celebrated, were the monies donated from the Spring Village Quiz:

SEND Equipment for use at Bluebells Pre-school – £271

The £271 raised from team fees and raffle tickets at the 10th Feb Village Quiz helped contribute to a Sensory Den (see in video below) purchased by Bluebells Pre-school for children with mental & physical health issues. Jackie Leach of Bluebells has told the PC that the children love it, as they also love the new inclusive play equipment in the Lorkin Daniell Field.

4.     Commander of the Colchester Garrison – Lieutenant Colonel Ed Rankin

The Lieutenant Colonel came to Colchester in 2009 and in 2021 was selected as Commander for the Garrison. He stated he was immeasurably proud to serve as Commander of the Garrison, it is a 3-year term, but he has pushed to make it 4 years and is about to go into that 4th year. As a solider, originally joining at Catterick Garrison, he has been posted everywhere, but has bought a house for his family in Essex and now calls Colchester home.

The 6th Air Assault Brigade are housed at the Garrison and the Garrison provides support for the brigade. 1,000 Colchester soldiers were in Afghanistan during Operation Pitting, about which there is a hard-hitting Channel 4 documentary detailing that harrowing time, i.e. the evacuation which successfully recovered over 15000 Afghan civilians from Kabul in under 14 days.  The Brigade’s current focus is readiness, in fact residents may have experienced a lot of congestion on the A120 lately, as many of the troops have been moving, along with their equipment, out to Estonia for Operation Firm Base (training and deployment in host nations).

There are 964 service families accommodated at the PFI site (Private Finance Initiative: long-term contract between a private party and a government entity) worth over £3.3 billion and a community of up to 10,000 people on the spread-out site. Military thinking has changed of late, with the military and the private contractors having a lot more links now, for example in Colchester there are partnerships with ECC and CCC, with a focus on the Cadet organisations. The Army is currently recruiting and tries to attract and inspire locals to join in the role of trades and ensuring future opportunities, even after the army. There are over 10,000 people on the apprenticeship programme which covers a whole variety of trades, with sex no longer a barrier, women can compete in any role as long as they can meet the physical criteria required as a solider.

In Colchester, the Garrison is spread across Merville Barracks, Goojerat Barracks, the Reserves, MOD land on Friday Woods and the Military Corrective Training Centre in Berechurch Hall. There is a plan for this all to be net zero by 2050 and indeed they have been trialing a hydrogen-powered unit off-grid generator for the last four months.

Most recently, the barracks received a visit by the Lord Lieutenant of Essex and global events have highlighted that the world has entered a new time of threat which has influenced the military’s thinking. The Garrison was happy to help Colchester celebrate its city status and was honoured to be part of Operation London Bridge, specifically the gun salute for her late majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. It was a very powerful event, and the Lieutenant Colonel was proud how the country came together to commemorate her.

Coming events include the 6th June D-Day 80 Years of Peace events, the King’s Birthday on the 15th June and Armed Forces Day on the 29th June, during which the 16th Brigade will be on Abbey Fields at a completely free event and chance to meet the military. And of course, the Remembrance Ceremony in Colchester which is so very special to the Garrison.

The Lieutenant Colonel thanked residents for their forbearance with the helicopters that often fly over West Bergholt but stressed that night flying practice is so important for training. He expressed that having a relationship with the local community was hugely important and would like to be more accessible to the public and not just behind the wire as in the days gone by. The Garrison has never been one to shy away from difficult issues and of course the mental health issues around those in the military have seen huge changes and commitment recently in looking after each other. He thanked residents for their support.

The Lieutenant Colonel then opened the floor to questions:

Q: City Cllr Willetts asked if the helicopters could possibly fly higher!?
A: The Garrison Commander apologised for the disturbance, but the key thing is to alter the routes, he shares the concerns and can promise to try to minimise the impact of such flights. However, other residents found it reassuring to see the helicopters up there taking care of us.
Q: A resident asked about public access to Friday Woods?
A: Friday Woods is an ancient woodland and part of the training areas of the Garrison. The Lieutenant Colonel explained that due to antisocial behaviour, fly tipping and the cost of the clean-up there is no intention to reopen it to the public again. It is unfortunate that the absolute majority of locals would go out and enjoy the area with no problems, but due to the cost of the repairs of late it has been a ministerial level decision to keep the area closed.

As there were no more questions, Cllr Butcher then thanked Lieutenant Colonel Rankin on behalf of those present, but asked him to stay ready for the presentation of the next award.

5.     WBPC Volunteer of the Year Award 2024

Before Cllr Butcher announced who had been nominated as West Bergholt Parish Council’s Volunteer of the Year, he wanted to say a few words about some of his fellow Parish Councillors non-Parish Council roles which residents might not know:

  • Cllr Harry Stone is chair of West Bergholt Care Network
  • Cllr Andrew Savage is chair of the Friends of Hillhouse Wood
  • Cllr John Gili-Ross is vice chair of the Essex Association of Local Councils, chair of Essex Police, Fire and Crime Panel and Chair of the National Association of Police Fire & Crime Panels.
  • Cllr Butcher, himself, is chair of Colchester Association of Local Councils
  • One of the Councillors, who wishes to remain anonymous, is a Samaritan volunteer.

Moving on, Cllr Butcher noted that having had a number of nominations to be the recipients for this year’s award one person stood out:

‘He has been the treasurer for 1st West Bergholt Scout Group since September 1997 which, in itself, is an achievement. But, in addition, he has also helped as a skills instructor with the Scout Troop since the early 2000s, turning out most Wednesdays to help run the Troop and provide instruction and guidance to our young people. In this role, he has also helped organise and run hikes and camps for the Scouts and the Group. Furthermore, he has been the main person behind the maintenance of the Scout Hut for over 25 years, giving up his free time at weekends to repair, replace and renew the Hut and its fixtures and fittings. As the Group Scout Leader said the Group would not be what it is without his dedication and support.’

The recipient of this year’s Volunteer of the Year Award was Philip McNeill. Lieutenant Colonel Rankin then presented Philip with his award. (photo) And Kevin Sturdy of the 1st WB Scouts expressed his thanks to Philip for the work he has done for the Scouts over the years and how lucky the organisation has been to benefit from Phil’s time and the money he has saved them.

6.     Issues from the Floor

The Chair of the meeting, Cllr Butcher then introduced the other Parish Councillors present ready for the issues from the floor section of the meeting.

He expressed his thanks to the chairs and members of the council’s committees and sub-committees, the three village handymen, Matt Harkness, Nigel Weall & Simon Forrester. Thanks too were also given to Victoria Beckwith-Cole, the Hall Administrator, Dave Kingaby, our webmaster, Laura Walkingshaw, Parish Clerk and Assistant Clerk, Julie Gillott.

What You Say Matters – Make your point and ask questions

Cllr Butcher then invited the leaders of BYG to address the audience and opened the floor to questions:

BYG: Jamie Bowden and Matt Slark expressed their sadness at coming to the difficult decision to leave Bergholt Youth Group after seven years of leadership. They took over at the young ages of 17 and 18 from their parents, when BYG last experienced difficulties in finding volunteers. These days the group can have up to 100 children, mainly Years 6-9, attending every other Friday during term time and it has become an immense success. They both really hope that people will step forward to take over the main volunteer roles at club and are happy to support a transition. They would both love to see it carry on in its current form, but it might be necessary to reduce the numbers in attendance. The overall message is please spread the word as BYG would love to see a new team of people take it forward.

Cllr Butcher: The Parish Council will give Jamie & Matt as much support as possible and really want BYG to continue, even if in another form.

Others present also expressed the same issues in finding volunteers and certainly the number of children attending BYG although impressive makes it more difficult to sufficient volunteers.

Q: A resident remarked that they were sad not to see the village sign “now entering West Bergholt” returned to its former site.
A: Cllr Gili-Ross explained that the sign had been vandalised and ripped down from its site. It has taken some time to get it back up, but now it is drier the Village Handymen will be tasked with putting it back as soon as possible.
Cllr Gili-Ross spoke about areas in Colchester marked as Anti-Social Behaviour hotspots, he experienced a night-time visit with the police to such areas and found it very informative and effective. With the coming Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner elections on the 2nd May, he would ask people to go out a vote, whichever way they choose to vote.
Q: A resident asked for details on the proposed West Bergholt Community Hub.
A: Cllr Butcher replied that it in its most basic form it will be a Parish Council and Orpen Hall office where residents will be able to contact staff face to face, rather than based at their own homes as is presently the case, which is clearly unsatisfactory. However, as a Community Hub it will be so much more, a book share, a place to hire the tennis courts and borrow equipment for them and many other things.

Notices from clubs/organisations:

  • Vocal Zones Choir – Concert for RNLI 200th Anniversary on Fri 10th May at 7.30pm at Orpen Hall
  • West Bergholt-run NCPCC booksale, held each October – with many volunteers in their 70s and 80s request was made to younger people to help carry the books.
  • Gardener’s Club – a call to join, they meet every 3rd Mon of the month Sept-Dec and Feb-May at the Orpen Memorial Hall, with trips planned, very enjoyable.
  • Elections May 2nd 2024, the local polling station is the Orpen Memorial Hall, voting is taking place for your City Councillor and Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner.
  • Colne Valley Flower Club – meet the 3rd Wed of month in Orpen Hall. Each exhibitor that visits creates displays by demonstration and holds a raffle for members to win.

Cllr Butcher thanked the Colne Valley Flower Club for their beautiful flower display at the front of the meeting and kindly presented it to the Clerk as a thank you for all her hard work over the year.

Cllr Brian Butcher, Chair of the Annual Parish Meeting, then thanked all of the speakers for their time and for residents for attending.

The meeting closed at 9.15 pm.

Signed:                                                                   Date:

Video presentation of some images from the event:

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