Chairman’s Report 2002-2003
This last year has been one that has seen a number of rather important changes for the Parish Council’s work for you.
Before I expand and report on the work of the Council in its last year of this term of office I would like to stress that what we as a council (and as individual councillors) are here for is for the people in the three villages – Buxted, 5 Ash Down and High Hurstwood – that make up Buxted Parish.
I’d like to stress what none of us is here for is any personal gain or glory – and I think I speak for everyone that is hear in saying that. And I say it because personally I feel people sometimes think otherwise.
The most momentous change in my view this last year has been the fact that James Chalmers after 16 years on the Council and 10 years as Chairman decided he wanted to step back – and that Bill Hepworth after 9 years as Clerk decided he wished to retire to other activities.
In the time I have been on the Council and before that when I was involved as the Parish Tree Warden I have always had utmost respect for both of them. James in my mind made an excellent Chairman and with Bill they did a tremendous job – James in leading the charge and keeping everyone in order and working collectively for the good of the Parish and Bill in executing the ever increasing workload of the Parish Council.
Knowing their intention to step back and in Bill’s case to retire was a key concern to me.
When Mr Ron Giddens moved away from the Parish having given many years good service as Vice Chairman I reluctantly agreed to become James’ Vice. In the relatively short time I was in that role I was happy and I suspect many in the Parish considered I was a real Vice!!!
Knowing the wishes of James and Bill and to effect some form of ‘succession’ – using ‘jargon’ – I reluctantly agreed I would accept the nomination at the start of the Council’s last year of term to be Chairman – and this Council voted me into the position of Chair. I would like to state for the record that I agreed very reluctantly and only in the knowledge of James and Bill’s personal needs and the fact that James would become my Vice.
I am – as my fellow Councillors know – a reluctant Chairman – and a Chairman who has had a very hard act to follow.
On a personal note the position has brought personal grief. I have been shocked at some of the things that have been said about me and written about me.
I won’t go into it but for those who said it and wrote it and for those who seem to think it is a good idea to try and frighten me or accelerate when you see me walking my dogs in narrow country lanes – I feel I want to make the point strongly and this is my only opportunity to do so. I would give up this position tomorrow and if another wanted it. My involvement with this Parish Council is because I hope I along with my fellow Councillors can ensure that this Parish benefits in whatever way we can make it – and that we remain villages with character not anonymous suburbs. As for any suggestion that my involvement has been for personal gain in any way – then you are so very sadly mistaken.
So moving on.
The first momentous change was James stepping back – the second was Bill retiring – this brought great angst. James was I think you all agree going to be a hard act to follow. I hope I have been a half way decent Chairman for my fellow Councillors and for the Parish as a whole. James’ counsel and indeed leniency in letting me find a way for me has been a god send. Bill’s support was stalwart – I know I was a very different animal to James but we worked well and he too was so supportive. Very quickly I discovered the sheer magnitude of the work the two of them progressed through.
The whole Council was panicked at the thought of losing Bill – but when a small group of us interviewed prospective candidates we all individually felt the same warmth and confidence that perhaps the man from the Post Office – Colin Reed – might well be the right man.
Colin madly accepted our offer and in his own time shadowed Bill for three months to learn what he could and ensure as smooth a hand over as possible.
So the next momentous change was Colin – who in the 4 months of his office and the time before that to my mind and I hope to all of us on the Council has been, well, marvelous.
Underpinning all this as another momentous Change is that this has been the first year of operation for the Code of Conduct – which means we follow a set of stringent rules in how we operate as a Council and as individuals and we have to declare more in the way of interests than Members of Parliament in many ways – and yet – please remember we get naught by way of gain. As a Council we decided against claiming expenses for being Councillors – all of us felt we’d prefer the precept went to the Parish not to any of us – despite new Government guidelines.
The next change has been that of the faces of Councillors.
Cllrs. Godfree, Gray and Scott left during the year. Kerry reluctantly because of family commitments, Keith Grey sadly because of Ill health and David Scott because of business interests.
That left holes in the Council but fortunately we were able – albeit eventually – to get back up to full strength with the Co-option of Cllrs.Jean McQuillen, Henry Wilkes and Mary Mustin.
The next sea change in people comes with the end of this Council’s term of Office.
Cllrs. Chalmers, Emsden, Davey and Mustin have decided not to stand for re-election. Peter Coxon because of business commitments and the confusion over timings of when forms have to be filed missed the deadline – I too nearly missed it but was dragged into filling the forms and Colin took time to submit them for me.
And so come this next term this Council is again depleted of members – so we are on the hunt to co-opt people who are willing to actively contribute to the good of the Parish.
So we will start this next term of office unable to become a ‘Quality Council’ under yet another new Government initiative as we don’t have a full quota at the time of election.
Now to the work we have somehow managed to get through on your behalf.
Over 90 have been dealt with during the year
Most simple some not so simple – some downright controversial including the continued sorry saga of the telecommunications mast at Popeswood Reservoir which is now at Appeal stage.
There have been Changes and events that we have as a Council had to be involved in
The most significant was probably the Post Office – I won’t go into any details this is not the right time but in summary the PO finally closed 27 July – the Village meeting was 21 August to present the village survey results – unanimous support for reopening a Community Post Office ventures providing other services that would complement what was available in the village – Ionides Trust offered site – a Working party was set up – this Council pledged support for setup costs – and Industrial Provident Society will need to be established to run it – and most recently Planning Permissions have been granted. The issue now is making it happen.
Parish Plan – preliminary work has been initiated but it needs support – not just from Councillors – A Parish Plan covering the future needs of the three villages to allow an action plan and supplementary planning guidance to be accepted is very very needed – but it will require input from all sectors within the three communities to make it happen. This will be the work of the next Council.
Footpath maintenance – Peter – will review
White Posts – repairs have been commissioned – some basic wear and tear but sadly a lot of mindless vandalism or in the case of at least one – vehicle damage from work commissioned by WDC to tidy land up but which resulted in one of the skip lorries demolishing a post but we have been unable to get recompense and so the Parish Council will pay for it – with your monies.
There have been discussions with Uckfield TC about the Dene and Neville Road playground/ which we own for various reasons and which they have maintained for the benefit of Uckfield residents. The futures are unresolved but this Council feels it is our duty to ensure the interests of this Parish are best represented in any transaction.
Police – this council has commented on the changes to policing in East Sussex – and while we have like many have had concerns about the effect on rural policing – would it be better – we wait and watch and continue close liaison –PC Hudson remains our Rural Beat Officer albeit with a bigger beat!
The War Memorial at St Margarets needs repair – costs identified are provisionally in the order of £10K – which has shocked everyone and we are exploring options – in the meantime be assured the Memorial while in need of maintenance is neither in distress or a danger – and so this too becomes a project for the future Council.
In terms of land this Council expands its holdings with the forthcoming momentous acquisition of the Littlewood triangle – as the land is transferred by Prowtings to the Parish Council.
And to the 21st Century because of the hard work and of Peter Coxon in his personal time with no personal gain (a lot of angst) there is now a Buxted Village website – website designed/ demonstration at meeting of December 02/ went live in March 03 and can be accessed at www.buxtedvillage.org.uk
It is work in progress and Peter is anxious for wider input and support – as are we all. If any of you have questions then Peter I am sure will be happy to answer.
Another Government initiative has been the Model Plan for Freedom of Information Act which has been adopted by the Parish Council – and the Web Site means we will go beyond the basic model in ensuring free and easy access to information pertaining to the Works of this Council.
And so to the Draft Wealden Local Plan. The Parish Council arranged for the first public meeting with WDC Planners in November 2002 meeting before the Plan was ‘live’. The second public meeting held on 8 February if I recall the numbers in the press correctly had at least the same if not more people at it than attended a similar meeting at Uckfield. Our strongest objections have been lodged with WDC – and I would personally like to say – and I think all my fellow Councillors agree that the job Colin did in preparing that submission was tremendous – Thank you – and I hope like all of you here that WDC planners realise the madness of their proposals to basically destroy the social fabric of this community. This will be a battle that the new Council will have to continue.
To more pleasant matters – and the play area proposed for Ionides Trust site in Buxted – This Parish Council has already pledged £25K pledged – the planning application is in progress – we are yet to see it – and I believe the grant from the Countryside Agency brings the Trust near to its goal. Unless there are planning issues – perhaps because WDC secretly want to pus another 1000 houses on the Trust’s land – then hopefully at last the children of Buxted and no doubt form rather wider will be able to enjoy the wonders of a play ground in the village – which this PC will I suspect be charged with maintaining.
And to the Reading Room – redecoration has started – while it remains standing it will be smarter and brighter for all who use it.
And now to Consultations during the year
These have included:
Local Waste Plan
Local Strategic Partnerships
High Weald AONB
The Boundary Commission
Proposed South Downs National Park
Planning & Compulsory Purchase Bill
East Sussex Community Strategy
And many other bits of paper that litter my tiny home office and take up the little personal time I had – how James coped with it and how Mrs Chalmers put up with it is a mystery.
And for the future work of this Council we will have to find a way of sharing the workload more – already this is happening and the new term will have to bring more changes.
Through out the last year – as with previous years this Parish Council has maintained excellent relations with our two District Councillors and our Country Councillor to – we hope – ensure the best for the Parish. I wish our DCS good luck on Thursday – and will state for those who may not be aware I am an apolitical animal – it is the person that counts in my view not the colour of their ribbons – and I am so pleased to be part of Parish Council that has worked cohesively – without internal conflict – for you as parishioners I think that has been very important.
That I hope gives you all a fair report from this last year’s reluctant Chairman.
Thank you James – thank you Colin – thank you Bill – and thank you fellow Councillors for your hard work and support of me
For the next Council – who knows what is to come!