Annual Report 2004-2005

Buxted Parish Annual Assembly 3 May 2005

 

Chairman’s Report

 

And so another year has flown by – my third as Chairman.

So fast has it flown by, that the happenings of the year blur by – but with the assistance of Colin Reed as our proper officer and indeed the Parish Council’s ‘saviour’ – I hope I am able to remember and report most of the important happenings.

We did not lose any Parish Councillors – a good thing in what seems to be an age when getting anyone to commit their time to be a Parish Councillor becomes more and more difficult. We live in times when there appears to be largely disinterest and the most the Parish Council can expect is gentle bellyaching. Why any of us volunteer to be Parish Councillors amazes me – I still do not know why I am here – other then I agreed once to be Parish Tree Warden as I was keen to contribute something to the community I had moved to. That is I think why most of my colleagues volunteer to be Parish Councillors to help protect the communities in which we live and to help the Parish develop in a positive way.

It’s not a task we are rewarded in any way for – as a Parish Council none of us take any expenses for the time we give to Parish business – although the Government allows, indeed encourages Parish Councils to do this.

The Parish Council is the grass root tier of ‘government’ and is largely and most definitely in this Parish apolitical.

As I have said before and have no qualms about saying again – if we care about our countryside and villages as a way of life in an age of what seems largely unstoppable urbanization, it is vital for village communities 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! With new housing developments in the Parish and facing further larger developments we can but hope that people who chose to come and live in Buxted (be it in new developments or existing housing stock) will at least share something of a desire to retain Buxted Parish as a rural and not an urban Parish. And as this Parish Council gets older or simply longer in the tooth that there will be a flow of others willing and eager to become involved in the Parish Council and the activities that this Council will spawn in its current term of office – largely led by the findings of our Parish Plan – and into the future.

And so on to what is the Council, who is the Council – how does it work and what has it done.

Council members

As I said there have been no changes to faces on the Council – just what they do.

Peter Coxon continues as my Vice Chair. As well as being Chairman of Footpaths Committee he has remained as a School Governor at Buxted School during a rather tumultuous and sadly difficult year for the School where he has played a constructive but not always pleasant role. On top of that Peter has been the champion of the Parish Plan – without him it is absolutely clear we would not be on the point of having a Parish Action Plan.

 James Chalmers remains our wise counsel providing me and others with sound advice when sought. He continues to chair the Recreation Grounds and Properties Committee and represents the Council on the Ionides Memorial Centre Management Committee which he has also chaired. He also retains important contact with the Wealden Association of Local Councils along with Peter Bowdery – an association that encourages an exchange of issues and ideas amongst Parish Councils (and Town Councils) in Wealden and also allows a collective voice for Parish Council to Wealden and beyond that to the National Association of Local Councils. He also remains a member of Wealden District Council’s Standards Committee – monitoring the doings of Parish Councillors ensuring I think we don’t get like our national politicians. Oh and yes he is supposed to be taking it more easy!

 Mike Kettell continued to chair the Finance and Policy Committee in an admirable way up until October when, as planned, he handed the mantle to Henry Wilkes – and we hope Henry’s experience in international banking will help him continue ensuring Buxted Parish’s monies are well used to the good of the communities we serve.

 Peter Bowdery from High Hurstwood agreed to take on the mantle of Chair of the newly established Communications Committee – a Committee which was established ahead of the Parish Plan in the expectations that one of the outcomes of the Parish Plan was likely to be enhanced communication with the community – both in terms of communicating what the Parish Council does but also enabling better dialogue with and between the communities in the Parish – particularly to assist in making elements of the Parish Plan happen. The Committee while formed has been largely a Committee in waiting – but Peter’s role grew when we asked him to become Chair of the newly formed Planning Committee – something I will mention further. Suffice to say that in taking this role while being of key importance it will leave us with a gap in Communications which we will have to fill.

 I will leave the Chairmen of the various committees to talk about their committees and members but I will summarise the contributions of all Councillors as I feel it important to recognise their collective roles in making the Parish Council work – roles that keep them out of mischief.

 Jean McQuillen has continued to chair the HH Ward and has taken the role as Vice Chair of Planning, and is a member on the Communications Committee and Footpaths. 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. Francis Harding and Dr Martin Rogers have played key roles in chairing the Buxted and FAD Parish Plan Committees, with Peter Bowdery chairing HH. Francis has joined the newly established Planning Committee to ensure good representation for ‘FADonians’ and with Michael Turton has sat on the FAD Village Hall Management Committee. Michael Turton along with Cllr Rose sits on the Finance and Policy Committee and John also sits on the Recreation Ground and Properties Committee and the Ionides committee. He also represents the Council on the Buxted Pavilion Charity Management Committee and most recently has become our Councillor Community Safety Contact ie is responsible for Police liaison and interaction with WDALC and Safer Wealden Partnership where we are sure his diplomacy and experiences will be well communicated for Buxted Parish’s benefit.

 Through the last year this Parish Council has retained good working relations with our ESCC Cllr Tony Reid and both our WDC Cllr’s Norman Buck and Pat Kennedy. I think it fair to say that having good relations helps this Parish best represent our communities’ views and we are pleased to have what we believe are good local councillors. And I hope I can say that without fear of any criticism of any partisan bias at this time!

 For anyone interested, the contact details and areas of responsibility for each Councillor are posted on the Parish web site www.buxtedparish.org.uk and on the Parish notice boards – and are freely available from the Clerk at any time.

 It is fair to say that the work of the Parish Council is well spread across the Council through Committee responsibility and through the efforts of individuals. This is a necessity not only for the democratic process but to prevent any one of us from going bonkers!

 Of key importance to the Council and to the communities we serve is that to ensure this there have been changes in the responsibilities of Councillors and Committees and to the way we work. We adopted and have followed new Committee Standing Orders and Terms of Reference which we hope will ensure the workload of the Council is better handled. 

 The one area where the whole Parish Council historically got involved was Planning. However in reviewing our Standing Orders and Terms of Reference and listening closely to the wisdom of others and most particularly the Council for the Protection of Rural England of which the PC has become a corporate member, we have established a Planning Committee. While all Parish Councillors have a right to a vote on this Committee to allow the continuation of ‘grass roots experience and knowledge’ in the light of the complexities of planning matters, issues with enforcements being enacted and in the face of urbanite-led pressure to develop (some of us would say overdevelop) in the countryside it became apparent we would risk doing our Parish a disservice not to become more specialist in Planning Matters.

 In preparation and as part of this we have also worked to improve relations with WDC Officers to effect better dialogue with them – to understand their needs better and to represent this Parish’s needs better. We hope that this dialogue will help as we enter not only the period of the new local plan but most importantly the period of the local development framework and a time when not to try to be as savvy as planning officers risks both the Council and developers walking all over this Parish – and particularly the parts not protected by the AONB.

 Members of the Planning Committee – chaired by Peter Bowdery and ‘viced’ by Jean McQuillen include James Chalmers, Francis Harding, John Rose and Geoffrey Sheard.

 Oh and Peter Coxon and I are ex-officio members of each and every committee and are active!

 Colin Reed – our Clerk and responsible financial officer holds all this together – and I think it is fair to say keeps me in daily check. His contribution to this Parish and to this Council is tremendous. He is patient, diplomatic and very efficient. And for those in the community who ask ‘does anybody know what is happening’ – a call or email or letter or fax to the Clerk will effect a reply – or ask a Parish Cllr who if they don’t know will find out – usually through the Clerk.  If it were not for the Clerk not only would this PC not function but I doubt I’d have personally remained Chairman – too often I get exasperated by some of the sheer nonsense. Colin helps me laugh it off.

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

Planning

We dealt with 101 Planning Applications over the last year – a decrease of 17 on the preceding year – but while most were largely acceptable we had some new controversies and a reflux so to speak of some of what have become old chestnuts/bad pennies – whatever you wish to call them.

 The infamous to be a barn or not to be barn at Newnham Park having been thrown out yet again by Her Majesty’s Inspector in the preceding year hey presto came back and went to appeal again and was thrown out again. This Parish Council believes it is time that the not finished – never properly used barn with now no land to use it for (as barn and land were separated by the property speculators) – and a building that should never have been allowed in the first place as it seems clearly designed as a house not a barn – should now be removed from the AONB returning the area to the Ancient Woodland it was before it was sadly butchered. But while we have strongly suggested this to WDC as the best course of action we are advised they can’t make the owners take it down – and so who wants to open the book for when they reapply for a whacking great house?

 Another growing horny chestnut is Grove Farm in Howbourne Lane which was refused by Wealden last year but again – abracadabra it is back. We have opposed it again – its position at the bottom of narrow no through road – indeed on a private farm track owned by another landowner – is as we said before frank madness. However the applicants have applied with supposed support from ESCC Highways – through Cllr Buck has been in dialogue on the basis of this finding and it would appear that such support may not now be forthcoming – deja vu – that happened last time.

 The monstrous developments proposed by property developers interested at Littleham in Buxted High Street has been thrown out by HM inspector too – they tried threatening a block of 22 flats at one time in the hope the community through the Parish Council would agree to the houses but we stood firm. An interesting twist here was the developers trying to get the Housing arm of WDC to support the flats – 30% affordable – to ‘play’ them against Planning. When this was flagged by the Parish Council to WDC a planned meeting was cancelled and thus far no further application has come forward.

 An issue we have to consider is whether we as a community feel that demolition of perfectly good housing stock to cram in bigger houses in smaller plots or blocks of flats is one that we want to see – if we do then perhaps we should encourage places like Buxted High Street to WDC to earmark for total demolition and rebuilding as part of the local development framework and South East Regional Assembly targets. We know some people in the High Street wanted to see what happened at Littleham – did not object lest they might want to do the same – sell up to developers and go. Not wrong but is it right?

 We’ve had the usual rash of applications for changing use of land/buildings or building new houses in the AONB or outside the village development boundaries. We always wonder why. Development boundaries are there for a purpose. We cannot support any application however laudable the applicant may feel it is. We could only ever consider an application if it was an exception site – ie a landowner offering land for affordable homes – ie not selling to make a mint. So applications such as land adjacent to Conifers, land adjacent to Pound Green Oast, land at Kiln Farm could not be supported. They are way outside the Wealden Local Plan. In the case of land outside the development boundary at Lower Totease Farm we were faced with an application for a house with an office that was ostensibly needed to support a business but then objecting to it and it being refused by WDC we had an application for an office that looked like a house to support the business and an applicant freely advising Parish Councillors that it would become a house and if we didn’t support it the business would be closed and local people would lose their jobs. Not an easy situation. But we objected requesting a reapplication for a building more like an office closer to the business. WDC however approved the application albeit with considerable conditions. Despite the application being so vital for the business – some considerable months on no signs of development as yet – but at least employment at the business continues.

 On the side of what might be considered success – learning from previous demolitions of vernacular buildings for palatial developments, the Parish Council sought to protect the cottage and land at Upper Lowlands Farmhouse by requesting and being supported in applications for Tree Preservation Orders and most importantly Grade 2 listing of the farmhouse. In the confidential process of applying for the listing the new owners put in a planning application for a wholly inappropriate house and adjoining garage the size of the house along with another garage the size of a small house, with chimneys last seen (metaphorically) on a power station. No sooner had WDC turned it down on delegated powers than the listing came through. It was considerable work for the Council to achieve this – such community inspired listings are rare – we had to have WDC support to do it but had to keep it confidential in WDC so Planning Officers not aware. This was a first for this Parish Council –– but it is unlikely to be our last.

 The application forthcoming after the listing was accepted by the Parish Council after modifications to the garage area and with a host of conditions which we will monitor closely to see are enforced.

 Sadly WDC Enforcement has we feel let this community down – an example being the  case of Forge Cottage at Shepherds Hill which has sadly suburbanized an otherwise rural setting adjacent to important listed buildings and gutted out of 100s of metres of established native hedgerow. We hope that with the move of enforcement within building control that there may be better enforcement – but we remain concerned and repeatedly urge WDC to put more resourcing into making sure that enforcement matters have teeth and our countryside is protected.

 On the dreaded telecommunications front Popeswood Reservoir reared its head again – we were informally asked if a pine tree structure would be acceptable – we advised no – a pine tree amongst other trees might be a solution but a lonesome pine on the green ridge horizon of the grassed reservoir was not. All has fallen silent for the time being though fly-tipping at the site remains 18 months on despite repeated attempts to effect removal!

Wealden Local Plan

After the debacle of developers taking WDC to court for not going to Public Inquiry because of the time overlap of the Plan period with LDF, and saving tax payers money by informally adopting a plan – we have gone from 110+ homes proposed for Buxted and ~15 in FAD – to 40 in Buxted behind the Buxted Inn and the 15 in the Walled Garden at FAD.

I won’t at this time go into saying much more on this – We wait feedback from WDC on what the final terms will be – is a doctors surgery still earmarked – will the access be lights or the roundabout on the hill – will there be more parking at the station as a requirement? An issue is will it now happen with the closure of the Grampian Site or will both happen? Will developers go to appeal even wanting more than 40 houses in the knowledge that WDC originally proposed ~90. All issues we may as a community still face.

Grampian Site and LDF

At the time of closure of the Grampian factory we were approached by Montagu Evans acting for Grampian. They want to realise the closure of the factory site for housing. WDC Officers have intimated a wish to retain the site for industry not best suited for other earmarked sites such as the long and still awaited Maresfield Business Park – but perhaps industry FADonians might not want hard on the heels of the long standing issues with the chicken factory.

We agreed to dialogue with the agents if they would share their aims and take counsel from the community. This they agreed – and have freely accepted that part of any development should include Planning Gain for the community – including Recreation ground for FAD and other possible developments in the Parish. A first in Buxted Parish even!

 A Public Exhibition was held over 2 days manned by the agents and Parish Councillors. We have however had less than 40 responses back. Is that the level of lack of interest or do we assume the community at large is happy with a general proposal for 120 odd houses? We will be going back to the community soon to discuss further – knowing an outline application will be made this summer. We have an opportunity to dialogue with a developer in their approaches to WDC – we will not turn it away if there is a chance that by doing so we might at least get a development that fits with and contributes to the community. I think it is fair to say that none of the others have. 

 

Affordable Homes

We commenced working with WDC on the HOPE scheme for Affordable homes for people in the community. We failed to be included because we couldn’t identify suitable land. While part of the Ionides land might have accommodated 2-3 small dwellings the terms of the Ionides Trust it was felt by the trustees prohibited it. WDC ditched the dialogue and went elsewhere. A recent approach regarding possible use of garage land in Gordon Rd for 2-3 homes it transpires would be outside HOPE and thus the homes would be available for anyone anywhere on the WDC housing list and not for sole consideration by locals. We are in dialogue as we do not feel this is satisfactory.

These are the reasons we now have a Planning Committee. The workload to tackle all this and the expertise we need to develop in our various dialogues is best handled we feel by a few acting with all the Parish Cllrs working with the communities involved. Peter Bowdery has a vital role to play in Chairing that Committee.

Parish Plan

I will say no more on this than it is one of the key steps this Council needs to make to set an action plan for work over the coming years – providing targets for the Parish Council, information to use with third parties and community needs the Parish Council can facilitate/help happen. It would not have been possible without Peter Coxon and others including the village sub groups and John Dennison and Dianne Coutts as chair and secretary of the Parish Pan Steering Committee. Grateful thanks.

Village Design Statement

We have commenced work on identifying a list of important buildings in the Parish and this will be completed in the next few months and provided to WDC so they are aware of local concerns when they receive applications. Work on a Village Design Statement will commence – we have met with WDC officers and within the local development framework this will be of major importance in ensuring respect for local vernacular and rural environment – something sadly lacking in so so many applications – form individuals as well as developers.

Road Safety

What can I say. We have a 30mph speed limit in the offing with speed indicator signs – running from Pound Green to just below the Station. It will encompass some but not all the surrounding lanes in the village – and will become operational by the summer once the necessary consultations are completed. We do not have 40mph out to the school – yet. We will not rest on our laurels but we will work with ESCC to complete this phase.

We have a crossing – some 20+ years after the villagers started asking for it. The process has been full on angst from the moment it was mooted. We have had criticism – almost personal – from local businesses as well as individuals: – its in the wrong place – it should have been a pelican crossing – we’ve been short changed – its only got one beacon – its leaning. And now we hear people placing odds on when someone will be killed on it.

 Its siting was not what we wanted but was the best achievable – minimising impact on the local business parking, minimizing impact on local residents, minimizing problems with existing services, maximizing potential usage and safety. That is what the Parish Council have been advised by the road safety consultants. The PC did not put the crossing in. We have had and have voiced qualms but the fact is – do we trust the road safety experts or are we all suddenly road safety consultants?

 We now have a crossing which many people have wanted for a long time and we hope it works alongside the speed reduction.

Policing

We have an active NHW led by Richard Stanton and Homer Cox and have assigned a grant to facilitate their work. We have an excellent community Support Officer in Karen Juniper and David Smith has spent time with NHW as crime prevention supremo – albeit with far too large an area to cover etc etc. Through the Police Volunteer Bob Duffy we have regular bulletins through BPEC which are supplemented by local NHW.

 Cllr Rose attended a recent planning meeting with the PCSOs and other Parishes and from this we may be implementing other steps to help local policing through vigilance and information.

 We may be getting vehicle number recognition cameras operational in parts of the Parish.

 Through Karen dialogue with the Police is better than last year – and we hope for and will work for further improvements not only with dialogue but with policing.

Parking

Parking has become something of an issue in parts of Buxted because of lack of parking at Uckfield and improved train services, alongside the station parking charges implemented at the end of last year. The car park cannot cope with the flux of commuters – some now coming form Newick as the line is considerably cheaper than traveling form Haywards Heath, parking is cheaper – and the trains are nice and the line is more efficient.

 Some people also prefer not to pay the £2 daily charge. This has meant there is increased road parking in Framfield Rd, the High Street and indeed we are advised Gordon Rd. The PC has written to ESCC and the Rail operators and is now consulting with residents through a survey. We will then pose some solutions.

Thus far we have a response rate of ~29% of which 93% feel they are affected by overflow Station Parking. 87% want white lines, 40% want a Parking Scheme but only 23% would but a parking permit and only 4% would help financially support.  54% want notices and 65% want handbills? Only 30% would be prepared to assist though.

 The Police have advised photographing number plates of cars parked illegally or inconsiderately can be provide to the police and they will take up with the owners. This might be one option and with full analysis of the survey we will go back to those most affected to agree what might be the preferred option and what support the community is prepared to give. Parish Councillors sadly do not have time to photograph number plates themselves – and none of us live in the affected areas ad thus are on the spot to get out with our camera. We need more input and action from the community at large on this and other matters.

 But parking at Uckfield has to become a priority before we push for extending the car park at Buxted. Apart from anything else the rat running on the lanes is not acceptable.

Property

Discussions with Uckfield TC on the Dene and Nevill Road playground areas have taken place. We do not feel it ‘best practice’ to just hand assets over at this time. We are therefore cutting grass on the Dene for the time being.

Cllr Chalmers will discuss other property and recreation matters.

 But we still have new Notice Boards but thus far have not erected the one in Buxted but hope it can be sited outside the Surgery since the owners of the old Bank do not want it and the Shop have also refused its erection on their side wall.

 We are working to ensure restoration of the War Memorial at St Margarets having secured grants and in the face of what seems to be a shrinking Buxted village sign are having it restored to its former glory and put on an oak post that we can feel proud of. In discussions over developments at FAD maybe its now time to look to FAD having its own sign.

  

Parish Post Offices

We no longer face closure at FAD – we have an active Post Office and burgeoning community focused shop. Excellent.

Correspondence

Colin advises that we have dealt with 427 items of correspondence – 30 less than the previous year even! They have included consultations on Wealden Local Plan, Wealden Local Strategic Partnership,  WDC Car Park charging, Common land,  Conclusive Map of SE England,  Payphones, ESCC Tourism Strategy, Parish boundaries, East Sussex Transport Plan, Uckfield Line Community Rail Partnership, WDALC Police Liaison, NHS ‘Best Care, Best Place consultation / Orthopaedic  Services, New Licensing Act, Countryside Agency – AONB boundary criteria, DEFRA Clean Neighbourhoods initiative, ODPM Why Neighbourhoods Matter initiative, Standards Board Review of Code of Conduct and on. We deal with all. We feel it our duty.

Other matters       

Coming soon will be the LDF and SEERA – where will all the houses go?

So at risk of sounding like a scratched record 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 – and we’d welcome any expressions of interest from people who feel they wish to contribute or can do it better.

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

 Alison Crowe

Chairman of Buxted Parish Council

Posted in Featured Stories