Annual Report 2003-2004

Buxted Parish Council Chairman’s Report 2003/2004

This last year has been the first of the new term for this Parish Council and my second year of office as Chairman. I hope that for the Council and for the Parish as a whole my role has been beneficial and largely welcomed.

In my experience Buxted Parish Councillors are people who give of their time not for themselves or for any ‘glory’ or gain but to help protect the communities in which we live and to help the Parish develop in a positive way . We do this not for money or fun but because we genuinely believe that without this grass root tier of ‘government’ that the rights and reasons of the villages in the Parish would be swallowed up in the incessant urbanisation of our countryside. A vital part of the survival of rural villages is for the community to care and to be involved. Each of us giving in our own ways – with what time we have to share. We hope as individuals and as a Parish Council that we are at least in part successful for Buxted, High Hurstwood, Five Ash Down and the ‘hamlets’ within them!

 I personally hope that with the changing face of people in the Parish and new developments that the people who chose to come and live in Buxted will at least share something of a desire to retain Buxted as a rural and not an urban Parish. Even with the demands of work and family in today’s society that they genuinely want to live and contribute as part of a village community – with its warts and all – and that they may even wish to become involved in the Parish Council and the activities that this Council hopes to spawn in its current term of office. 

 And so on to what the Council has seen and done in this last year.

Council members

We started the new term with one brand new councillor elected – Peter Bowdery from High Hurstwood – who in his first year of office, has already made an important mark and positive contribution to the Council and the communities the Council represents. However beyond the election of Peter and reelection of the rest of us who stood it was not the best of starts as we did not have a full council quota – so cannot currently seek (should we so wish) to be deemed in a ‘Quality Council’ whatever that is to mean. Fortunately we were able to co-opt James Chalmers, Peter Coxon, Francis Harding, and Martin Rogers. James with Maureen’s agreement remains as a Councillor and as well as providing me and others with sound advice, also communicates our activities well in the Messenger each month. He chairs the Recreation Grounds and Properties Committee and as well as representing the Council on the Ionides Memorial Centre Management Committee also chairs it – and with Peter Bowdery continues the important contact with other Parish Councils through the Wealden Association of Local Councils. All this and he is supposed to be taking it more easy!

 Peter Coxon agreed to my proposal to be considered for Vice Chairman and was unanimously elected by fellow councillors to this position as well as Chairman of the Footpaths committee and Parish Representative on the Buxted School Governors Board. He has put in a tremendous amount of work in this last year on various Council matters (which I will refer to) and I thank him sincerely for this – I know it has not all been easy for him by any means.

 Francis Harding and Dr Martin Rogers bring new strengths and interests to the Council representing FAD and Buxted well. The rest of the team also continue to contribute importantly. Mike Kettell has continued to chair the Finance and Policy Committee in an admirable way. Jean McQuillen has chaired HH Ward and Jackie Downing has continued to chair the Buxted (and FAD) ward and to represent the Council on the Ionides Committee, the ESCC Transport Liaison Committee and with Geoffrey Sheard sits on the Uckfield Rail Line Parishes Committee. Vi Treacher has remained the Parish Representative on the High Hurstwood School Governors Board as well as the Council’s representative on the High Hurstwood Village Hall Management Committee. Michael Turton with Francis Harding have sat on the FAD Village Hall Management Committee and Cllr Rose as well as being an important member of the Finance and Policy Committee and the Ionides committee also represents the Council the Buxted Pavilion Charity Management Committee.

All of which keeps them out of mischief.

 Increasingly too as we spread the work load of the Council each and every one of them gets involved in the review of the constant deluge of papers and policies from all corners – to which as a Council we by and large always try to respond to ensure the Parish’s voice is heard.

 The one area where the whole Parish Council gets involved is in Planning. We have resisted (thus far) the establishment of a specialist Planning Committee since this is an area where we feel each and every individual needs a voice so that we always seek to represent the Parish at grass roots, tarmac even level. Each Councillor has their  own ‘patch’ assigned to them – to keep en eye open and be the local ear, not just on planning applications but on other happenings (or non happenings) whether that be in relation to developments, fly tipping, trees etc. Basically being the most local contact for their respective villagers. This isn’t always easy for them and it doesn’t put them top of some people’s Christmas card lists – but they do it unflinchingly.

 And holding all this together is Colin Reed – our clerk and responsible financial officer – whose contribution to this Parish and to this Council is tremendous. We have been so blessed with Colin – his dedication, diligence and burgeoning expertise as well as his humour has been incredibly important. I could not chair this Council without such support and this Council could not function without it.

 So on to what this Council has seen and done for the Parish in the last 12 months.

Thus far we have not violated the stringent Code of Conduct under which we work for the community for free. If only higher echelons of Government had to do likewise.

Planning

We dealt with 118 Planning Applications in the last 12 months – a 30% increase on the previous year. 

Most were simple but an increasing amount are not. Some like last year were controversial and some are turning into local sagas – bad pennies that just keep turning up. A number went to Appeal. The saga of Newnham Park was thrown out yet again by Her Majesty’s Inspector – but none of us hold our breaths that it won’t be back. Others like Rosehill Farm – despite all efforts and against sense and sensibility HM Inspector let through – the applicants at Rosehill however don’t seem to know what to do now – but from this application other farm building conversions for industry have come forward.

One at Mount Pleasant Farm that turned out not to be very pleasant but with some considerable to-ings and fro-ings has received approval for restricted business use that must not adversely impact the locality as it had been and we hope pleasantness will return.

One at Grove Farm in Howbourne Lane was refused by Wealden – its position was frank madness and while it has thus far not reappeared – we sadly learn to realise this means nothing.

Interestingly while on the one hand we get a rash of applications desperate for conversion of farm building to what we are told is much needed business use – on the other hand with sites such as Mascalls Farm we are told the approved business use of the farm buildings is not viable and we have to fight against the desire to spawn another house instead when it was made clear right at the outset that 2 houses on the site was a complete no no.

This Council dislikes frank creeping development and retrospective planning applications – particularly from speculators, developers or builders who surely know when planning approvals are required. It seems sadly that those who know the planning system, can afford to fight the system, don’t care – or live outside the norms of society do what they like – and get approval for it – or get away with it. As in so many realms of society it is the little man who gets hardest hit. We have no panaceas for this we just work as a Council to try and ensure Wealden (and other authorities) see what is happening and deal with it. We are very sad that the enforcement department at Wealden is both lacking in resources and teeth and that violations such as gutting out of 100s of metres of established native hedgerows remain unenforced 12 months later even after formal statements are provided, Wealden lawyers get involved and the perpetrators admit their actions. But we continue to do what we can.

This last year saw Broad Oak completed and the face of the High Street changed forever – not necessarily for the good. We hope the new residents integrate. Not all our new developments have done so.

Even before the paint was dry on Broad Oak yet more applications have been received for the demolition of what is otherwise characterful and good housing stock to be replaced with buildings so far out of keeping with the village as to be laughable – if only we could. And so currently we are fighting the demolition of Littleham to be replaced with one of two schemes – a ridiculous scheme of 3 five bedroomed 4-storey porticoed monstrosities – or three 5/6 bedroomed 3-storey developers dream homes (ie maximum profit) crammed cheek by jowl overhanging and overshadowing the neighbouring properties. In FAD we opposed the outline planning application for back development behind the garage – outline planning applications are always an issue – how can you approve something when you don’t know what it is! The developers have gone to Appeal claiming that Wealden did not determine their application in time – in time for what? And so this is now out of the hands of the locality and with Her Majesty’s Inspector.

Where does it start and where will it finish?

We learn also that even if plans are inadequate with little scaled information we cannot simply refuse to review them. We have to become mind readers and adept in the skills of scale rules and review plans and comment fully even if we can’t from the information we have before us. Where we think we know the system we are surprised to find we don’t or perhaps that is the way Local Planning Authorities prefer it – each and every problem we encounter is another learning step – and in the years I have been with the PC we continue to have to live and learn….

On a more positive note the High Hurstwood School extension was approved. We did not simply rubber stamp it we argued to see how the complex roof layout would impact – knowing that once built if it adversely impacted on the street scene there would be nothing that could be done. The fund raising of HH to make this project happen is admirable and testament to HH community spirit – please can Buxted have a little more!!

On the dreaded telecommunications front with the local villagers we fought off Vodaphone’s attempts to erect a mast at Lower Totease in what was a wholly inappropriate site but supported the application to the Station site which has yet to be built. T-Mobile applied for what we felt was the most unobtrusive telegraph pole of a mast at the triangle at Toll Farm and we approved that – most people driving past it will never know it is there. O2 however and the saga of Popeswood Reservoir continues. Having gone to appeal for their last inappropriate application Her Majesty’s Inspector threw it out on the grounds of inappropriate in an environmentally sensitive location. We start our new year of term with another cynical application from O2 and Orange yet again at Popeswood Reservoir. The Council will review the application next Tuesday.

And on from Planning to other Big Issues.

Wealden Local Plan

We started out with110+ homes proposed for Buxted and ~15 in FAD.

The Parish Council submissions like those of the villagers were hard hitting.

The findings were published and it was particularly concerning for this Council to see so many landowners and house owners in FAD willing to put forward their properties for consideration for development as part of the new Local Plan. Buxted residents were slightly less willing to fall into the arms of property developers and the building industry.

This Council felt that we should respect the views of the villagers but that most was to be gained by working with not against Wealden. Much as many of us would prefer a moratorium on house building in the locality the reality is it won’t go away. We therefore worked with District Cllr Norman Buck letting it be known what this Council would be prepared to accept. We were pleased that the land allocation by Nursery Field was removed from the revised plan but disagreed with the revised numbers of 70 houses on the field area behind the Buxted Inn. We noted that the maximum development we felt Buxted should take at this time should not be in excess of 30-40 houses particularly in light of the considerable development in the last 15 years much of which has yet to integrate into the village – something which jeopardises the so-called sustainability of the community. Cllr Buck made representation on this basis and we are pleased that the revised Plan will allocate only 12/15 houses on the Walled Garden at FAD and no more than 40 in the field behind the Buxted Inn with access through the Pub Garden and probably with traffic lights not a roundabout – and with a 30% allocation of smaller houses. The Station car park is to be extended and there is a proposal for some more business unit allocation behind Weald Packaging.

Two caveats in this;

1)    Any developer may appeal against this lower number

2)    The Local Plan will be an interim and not wholly formal plan superseded by the Government’s Local Development Framework – something else this Council is reviewing.

We know not everyone will be happy with the new Plan proposal not least the developers who stand to make vast profits from it. What we sincerely hope however is that with the new Local Plan and new development that for the first time ever perhaps Buxted will gain something positive – that the developments will meet local needs more (with smaller dwellings) – that they will be more in keeping reflecting something of the vernacular and rural setting and that we may receive some planning gain – which of course would have been easier with more houses – a sad catch 22!

Affordable Homes

We are pleased to be working with Wealden to identify the need for smaller affordable homes in the Parish and to review where they might then go.

This is an initiative across Wealden. The aim is to identify the real need locally in villages for affordable homes – the definition of affordable in Wealden being homes for rent – and in the case of this initiative homes to rent for people living locally or with close family contacts locally. The intention is not for shared ownership since with the first sale of such properties the prices escalate making them unaffordable.

We have not yet received the survey results we know only that there has been a 45% response – much higher than had been expected – perhaps reflecting how high an issue this is in the Parish. We will update you when we can.

In terms of where these properties may go – that is something we cannot say at this stage. Again – something to discuss in the future.

Parish Plan

This is something the Council agreed it should spearhead – and in the last year we have taken the jump off the precipice to do it – in the full knowledge of the work it means for Councillors and the community both in the planning process – but particularly for the Council in the most important stage – ie implementation.

Peter Coxon again plays a focal role in this –firstly in kicking us into action after attending the Action in Rural Sussex planning day late last Spring – helping in the preparation of the all important initial Public Meeting in November – and in helping in the establishment of the village sub groups and the Plan Steering Panel.

For the Parish Plan to be at all relevant its creation has to not only involve but largely be led by the community – so while the Parish Council is central to it we are seeking to not wholly drive it. Following excellent attendance and interest at the Public Meeting on November 26 and a subsequent meeting of those volunteering to be active in the Plan process, three village subgroups have been established involving villagers and councillors – along with a Plan Steering Panel chaired by John Dennison as a villager, with Dianne Coutts as secretary. With particularly excellent input from FAD and HH the smaller of the three village work groups we are now distilling and developing the all important Parish Survey to identify what the real issues of importance are. From that an action plan can be developed with the Parish Council to take things forward The Parish Council hopes that one of the key actions will be the identified need and support for a new Parish Community Centre – perhaps encompassing a Post Office, a Doctors Surgery or who knows what – these are things we want to identify from the Plan – and we try not to pre-empt.

Village Design Statement

In light of recent housing developments in the Parish and the new Wealden Local Plan the Parish Council has agreed to progress the development of a Village Design Statement which once prepared should be adopted by Wealden as part of supplementary planning policy guidance. The Council has advised Wealden of our intent but we still await their formal feedback. It is this Council’s proposal to seek professional architectural design assistance to enable this to be of the utmost standard and relevance to ensure Wealden Planners, Developers and Builders take it seriously. In the process of development we will also seek as a Council to set policies which we will seek to judge future applications against.

Road Safety

The Council established a sub-group headed by Peter Coxon and involving Henry Wilkes, Martin Rogers and John Rose along with villagers.

 Having established the group and commenced lobbying for action we had to stop in as much as ESCC asked us to bear with them while they finished their internal review. Prepared to work with ESCC than against to achieve a positive outcome we stepped back. ESCC implemented the agreed (but not without some controversy) 30mph limit to HH and in December when ESCC finally held their Speed Management Conference with the Parishes, Peter Coxon attended to hear what we as a Parish could do working with ESCC and to make our voice heard. Since then we have had ESCC present to the Council (and the Public) and having promised action at that meeting, members of the Road Safety group met with Colin Clarke of ESCC on 25th March and as some of you may have noticed we have more nice new red mats and particularly nice ones at the school. Most importantly you may have seen speed detector strips on the High Street  – they are there as part of the formal process of consultation with ESCC Speed Consultants – with a ‘promise’ for a 30mph limit to extend from Saxon Court in the East to below the railway bridge in the West – much more than we’d ever thought possible – and not before time I hear many of you say! There will be some more warning signs and the like for the school area and the particularly dangerous area around the White Hart – not a urbanised proliferation of signs (we will resist this) but improved warning signage for those drivers who appear to leave there brains and respect for what is the law behind just because they are in or on a motorised vehicle. That at this stage it does not look like we will get 40mph out to the School you can be assured saddens us – but we are prepared to take this one step at a time – to get 30mph in as much of the village as has been indicated is as far as we see it an important – but only first step. We feel it is not the right time now to muddy the water.

 The Council have agreed to put funds toward a SID (Speed Indicator Device) to share with others – Henry Wilkes will be coordinating volunteers to use this around the Parish – including the lanes – where ESCC Slow Lanes initiative may well be something we implement in this coming year. So please sign up with Henry.

 This Council will continue – rest assured – to work towards reducing the antisocial speeds in the Parish.

Recreation Area

This last year saw the much awaited and overdue opening of the Children’s playground on the Ionides Site made possible by a rejuvenated Ionides Management Committee (including the energies of Mrs Trish Lawson) and the Council funding 50% of the costs – a grant from the Countryside Agency and some local fundraising. We hope the children from throughout the Parish enjoy using it and we are pleased that thus far there has been respect for the equipment – with limited if any antisocial vandalism.

Property

Discussions with Uckfield TC on the Dene and Neville Road playground areas continue and the Council has been appraising the assets it holds. Sadly the Buxted Surgery having indicated a possible interest in acquiring the Reading Room site have advised this is no longer the case – so we may have to explore other avenues if we are to realise the profits from sale of the site to put into a new facility elsewhere. The surgery we understand have other ideas of any expansion – one potentially to explore the inclusion of a surgery within a section of any new Parish Community Centre.

 Cllr Chalmers will discuss other property and recreation matters – including the redecoration and patching up of the Reading Room.

 We have new Notice Boards but thus far nowhere to put the new Buxted one since the owners of the old Bank site have refused its hanging on their wall to replace the old one.

 We continue to pay for the reinstatement of white posts that periodically are senselessly vandalised and have had to even reinstate the village sign when it too succumbed to what was not amusing youthful exuberance.

Footpaths

I will leave this entirely for Peter Coxon to report on other than to say that the work Peter has done with the footpath committee is excellent. We have a marvelous network of walks in beautiful countryside – and we hope more parishioners make use of them – respecting the environment and the hard work of the farmers and landowners who are very largely responsible for both creating and keeping our countryside in the manner we find it.

Policing

From a positive area to one less so. With the final loss of our neighborhood beat manager about 12 months ago and with rising crime statistics we finally had the presence of the new Neighbourhood Inspector Richard Allum at our Council meeting on 11th November. This was not an auspicious occasion and achieved little by way of healing the rift that had sadly developed between this Council, and community, and the Police. The Council has written a number of pointed and questioning letters to the Sussex Police hierarchy – the majority of which have gone unanswered. Neither the Council let alone the community have any named contact yet but we are at least being included on email communication from the new volunteers based in Uckfield (as is BPEC – Buxted Parish E Community) and the Council also gets occasional correspondence from Inspector Allum – largely warning of the Traveller’s situation but also more recently giving some crime statistics. While from 1/4/03 to 28/02/04 Buxted is seemingly only 1.64% of Wealden Crime statistics as no comparator is yet available to us we do not know if the new police structure means we have less or more problems than we used to have. We await that information with considerable interest.

 While welcoming the police activities in Uckfield to reduce anti-social behaviour we hope that problems do not spread out and arise in Buxted, FAD or HH. With the light evenings and fine weather returning the latest information from Police Volunteer Bob Duffy indicates we have in one week had issues at the Station, by the Reading Room and in Gordon Road and separately we hear that some of the younger residents of Littlewood Lane are causing concerns with older residents in their use of the speed humps as ramps for bikes and skateboards.

 On a positive note where we may feel we have lost the police to police us, through the actions of Homer Cox with BPEC and Richard Stanton as Neighbourhood Watch Coordinator for Buxted Village there is a rejuvenated and active self policing at least in Buxted. FAD and HH have access to BPEC too (if villagers sign up) and seem to self police quite well. The Council as well as providing moral support for these initiatives has also confirmed willingness to provide financial support when needed – pending of course what for and how much!

 Homer receives the continued respect of this Council for his community efforts and we hope will become part of a new Council Communication sub group/Working Party to be formed at the start of the new year of office on 11th May. Richard Stanton – a newcomer to the Parish – has shown his willingness to become part of the community into which he has moved by both his leadership of Neighbourhood Watch and his involvement with the Parish Plan.

Communication

This Council has supported Paul Whittam (our local Broadband champion) to get Broadband to the Parish. LTT has not been the success we had hoped and while the BT trigger was reached some 7 weeks ago there has been an ominous silence from BT ever since. This Council is in dialogue with ESCC on this and is awaiting both ESCC and BT responses on this – hoping that having exceeded the set trigger that BT set they will rapidly activate the exchange to allow for villagers to sign up with their respective ISPs. In all this we hope too that BT or LTT or whoever will remember its not just Buxted village – but the Parish as a whole – many in HH are we know keen for improved and faster internet access – this helps ensure sustainable local business not just better gaming on the net!

 

Parish Post Offices

Despite best efforts it has not proved possible to re-open a Post office in Buxted as no-one came forward willing to take the commitment after the initial candidate sadly stepped out of the potential position due to personal circumstances.

 Moreover Mrs Grey at FAD Post Office wishes to retire and it seems no buyer has been forthcoming for the shop and Post Office. This Council agreed to help assess what options and interest there may be in a community led initiative in FAD. We championed a Public Meeting in March and a local action group is now investigating – Local Councillors are involved with this group and the Council has pre-approved funds for the possible establishment of the formal Provident Society which will need to be formed to allow for a community initiative to progress.

 The Post Office plays a key role within a viable community – as does the local shop, pub and other businesses. Having had the PO in Buxted closed and facing another potential closure in FAD is not healthy. At least HH retain their partial service. This Council hopes the FAD Action Group will be successful and that a willing postmaster comes forward – something which has thus far thwarted the establishment of a Community initiative in Buxted.

Correspondence

Colin advises that we have dealt with 457 items of correspondence including Wealden Local Plan, Wealden Local Strategic Partnership, Flooding on the Uck, Draft AONB Management Plan, SE Regional Assembly Minerals Strategy/ Waste Strategy, GOSE Regional Transport Strategy, WDC Car Park charging, ESCC A26 Herons Ghyll speed signs and 448 other reams or individual sheets of paper – many of which Colin kindly spares me by dealing with or divvying them up amongst my colleagues – but all of which have to be processed and so many replied to.

Other matters       

We have as a Council had to make some changes:

A risk assessment process was reviewed and improved – which I believe includes an assessment of me as Chairman as a risk – quite a big one I like to think!

A new Financial Model was reviewed and adopted and Cllr Kettell may say more on this in this report.

In its second year of operation we have already adopted a revised Code of Practice for handling complaints on Councillors in terms of the Code of Conduct.

To ensure that this Council can evolve and continue/expand the work it does – our aim being to be more pro-active – we have developed and adopted a new Committee structure and Terms of Reference which will see its first year of implementation when the new committees are formed at the forthcoming meeting on 11th May.

 So for those in the community who wonder what the Parish Council does I hope this explains a little. And if anyone is left feeling we do this for personal gain or fun or something – please think again. We do it for you – for our Parish and its communities.

 Thank you Peter– thank you Colin – thank you each and every fellow Councillor for your hard work and support.

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