Annual Report 2007-2008

Buxted Annual Assembly 2007/2008

 Chairman’s Report

 This report outlines the workings of the Council over the last 12 months – to set the scene of what the Council has done or not done in the past year. There are separate reports on specifics of some of the various committees. Copies of the full reports are available on the Parish Civil web site and through the offices of the Clerk. The year commenced with the elections. These were uncontested – ie we had no more people stand than there were places on the Council. On one hand this is good as its saves money – on the other it may be seen as bad as the same old faces remained – but perhaps that’s a sign the communities of the Parish are happy with the working of the PC and not simply a side effect of collective apathy. We therefore commenced the first year of the four year term of office with sufficient Councillors to allow the Parish Council to add another tick in the box towards qualification as a Quality Council. While some question what that actually means – we remain of a view that while the real meaning in terms of powers or clout may be uncertain what it does bring is  recognition of the operational quality of the Council and thus provides a positive mandate for the Council’s work for its communities. However while we started with a good quota we have subsequently lost 2 councillors – both had already advised of this and it was sadly inevitable. Mike Kettell gave us 6 good months as Chairman of Planning before his planned retirement and in that time brought some new suggestions to the ways of working for the Planning Committee. Martin Rogers then resigned at the end of March as he had moved from the Parish and as such was losing touch with the communities – and workload and family life were taking precedence as can happen. We were thus left with three vacancies within the Council – one of them we recently very successfully filled with the co-option of Margaret Dopson – who as many of you may know is post master at Five Ash Down. In the short time Maggie has been with us she is already actively contributing to the Council and on the discussions in relation to redevelopment of the Grampian site.

 Additionally as all of you are no doubt aware Colin Reed advised at the end of last year of his intent to retire as Clerk and Responsible Financial Officer to the Council. While this came as a major blow to most of us I for one fully understood the reasons. What started out as a part time job grew into a very full time one to which Colin has given his all – something I think all of you will agree has been the case. We all wish Colin well with his future as he explores new horizons. I hope you will all join me in thanking Colin for all his hard work, good grace, humour and commitment to this Parish and its communities. We have 2 more months of his support – support which I personally have found invaluable. He has made it so much easier and better for me as Chairman. While on the subject of Clerk and before reporting on what has gone before this year I would like to take the opportunity of formally advising you all of the appointment of Rebecca (Beccy) Macklen to the post of Clerk and Responsible Financial Officer. The Council having advertised the position was fortunate with an excellent response from which an interview panel was formed with the agreed Council mandate of selecting and appointing a new clerk. We interviewed a number of the applicants all of who had various strength with 4 outstanding candidates from which collectively and to a man (and woman) we all agreed Beccy was the preferred choice. Beccy will formally join us at the beginning of June and will work alongside Colin for 6 weeks – time which will be vital to effect as smooth a handover as possible. Beccy comes with 9 years local government experience with Wealden District Council and with glowing references. Her bosses were not too mad when I called to speak to them. Although they are sorely disappointed she is leaving them they are delighted for us to have such a capable and vibrant individual join Buxted Parish Council. Beccy is just completing her NVQ in democratic services and will then start the formal work towards the Certificate in Local Council Administration (CiLCA) which is an imperative for this Council to be eligible to go for Quality Council status. Her soon to be ex-boss as one of the adjudicators will be watching with a close eye! The Council have committed to give her all the necessary support towards training which she will do alongside the daily workings of the Council. The employment of a Parish Clerk nowadays is not as it was in the past. The role for a Council the size of Buxted Parish is a very responsible one. A Parish Council is a Public Body and an integral part of local government and for the communities to be best served having a good clerk is an imperative. A clerk is not an administrative clerk as the title might seem to some – the role is akin to that of a Chief Executive in a company – and understanding that I hope helps everyone understand better the importance of Colin and the forthcoming importance of Beccy. I am sure she will have all of your support.

 So turning to the work in the last 12 months.

Parish Council members – who has done what

 As previously it is important to recap on the roles people on the Council have as nothing happens on the Council without the efforts of all the individuals involved. Everyone remains assigned to represent a part of the community – so that locally residents have someone they can contact should they want to voice a concern or has an idea. From a planning perspective this also allows the Parish Council to have a closer ear to the ground beyond the planning committee. We had a re-jig of the committees to better represent what they all do. Peter Coxon has remained as Vice Chairman and Peter and I remain of course as ex-officio members of all the committees. The Planning Committee started the year chaired by Mike Kettell as I said earlier. With his retirement we have remained without a Chairman but Geoffrey Sheard as Vice Chair has largely taken that role – although for a while we agreed to rotate the meetings with each member chairing one in turn – latterly Geoffrey has taken the mantle as we all started to forget who was next! James Chalmers, Louise Daniel, Francis Harding, John Rose and Michelle Warner are all members and share the bulk of the work. Within the Planning Committee we have a Local Development Framework (LDF) Working Party to which Peter Bowdery the previous planning chairman remains involved – particularly in the many three tier meetings we have with Wealden District Councils and East Sussex County Council and also with various developers – something I will explain later. The Finance & Policy Committee has remained under the chairmanship of Henry Wilkes, supported by Jackie Downing and John Rose – with Mike Kettell until his retirement. The Recreation Grounds and Properties Committee has been chaired by James Chalmers, supported by Jacking Downing, John Rose and Vi Treacher, and Evelyn Smith has remained a co-opted member. A new Environment Committee to encompass, Footpaths (chaired by Peter Coxon), Environment (chaired by Michelle Warner) and Speedwatch (chaired by Henry Wilkes) also included Louise Daniel, Francis Harding and Vi Treacher. A Community and Communications Committee was formed with Louise Daniel as Chairman and editor for Community Voice – the Parish Council quarterly Newsletter – with Peter Coxon responsible for the web site and Michelle Warner for the youth Council – Next Step – supported also by Francis Harding and Martin Rogers before he stepped down from the Council. Jackie Downing has remained Ward Chairman for the Buxted ward – which also encompasses Five Ash Down – and Michelle Warner is Ward Chairman for High Hurstwood.  Michelle Warner is also the Parish Council invited school governor for Buxted with Vi Treacher in the same role for High Hurstwood School. We are pleased that in the revamp of the school governors that both schools have invited the Parish Council to remain involved. James Chalmers and John Rose represent the Parish Council within the Wealden association of Local Councils. John Rose remains the Police Liaison Officer. Jackie Downing and Geoffrey Sheard sit on the Uckfield Rail Line Parishes Committee and Jackie Downing on the ESCC Transport Liaison Committee. Francis Harding and Margaret Dopson sit on the Five Ash Down Village Hall Management Committee and Vi Treacher site of the one for High Hurstwood. Henry Wilkes is the Council’s representative on the Buxted Almshouse Charity and John Rose on the Buxted Pavilion Charity Management Committee. James Chalmers, Peter Coxon and John Rose sat on the Basil Ionides Memorial Centre Management Committee but laterally John Rose has stepped down to avoid any potential perception of conflict of interest in relation to current discussions on the land and Michelle Warner has taken his place. I have remained Tree Warden.

The work of the PC continues to be spread across the Council in an effort to make the Council more receptive and pro-active for its communities. This Parish Council enjoys good working relations with our ESCC Cllr Tony Reid and our Wealden District Councillors, Norman Buck and Ken Ogden. We have more daily workings with Norman as the two of them have sensibly split the ward for workload ease – but Ken pays a close interest and he and Norman discuss issues. We remain keen to work with other Councils on matters of joint concern and interest including with Uckfield Town Council on the issue of station parking. While nothing has manifest itself we understand it remains an issue for Uckfield and we hope in the current town master planning they are undertaking that it retains a high position on the agenda. We retain improved working relations with officers at both Wealden and County and in the face of forthcoming development are working to try and ensure that all three tiers of local government share a common page to work from for the best for the parish communities and to avoid developers trying to leverage and play one off against the other.

 Some of the bigger issues and matters dealt with included were: Wealden Local Development Framework Issues and Options consultation process – Where may development have to go in the forthcoming 20 years? Some of it will come to our Parish and its vital we continue to inform the higher authorities on both the numbers we can take if we are to remain separate villages and also where they are best placed to maximise the opportunity of them being sustainable additions to our villages contributing to the infrastructure, services and life in the villages.

 New Community Hall Lottery Application – While being shortlisted we were like so many not finally allocated any funds – such are perhaps the pressures when perceived priorities such as the Olympics occur. Dealing with ongoing parking problems in Buxted. The new Traffic Order which affected residents input to will be publicly notified shortly now that all statutory authorities have formally agreed it. We hope that the degree of yellow paint is beneficial without being too obtrusive and without it pushing the problem to further areas. And that with the agreed development behind the Buxted Inn coming forward that there will at least be an extension to the car park. Though we hope for the sake of Buxted village that there are also more station parking facilities forthcoming in Uckfield if Buxted is not to become a magnet for yet more commuters park and riding on the train. Tackling the thorny issue of speeding, Speedwatch was launched with PC Paul Stephens at Uckfield responsible from the Police and Colin Mills valiantly agreeing to coordinate it with a growing team of volunteers trained and out in their Hi Viz vests with the police laser gun regularly. The sight of the vests alone reduces the speed of traffic as those who give of their time can testify. Since the first team hit the streets at the end of November, teams have been out over 40 times and over 190 letters have now been issued to offenders by the Police. Those living locally and particularly those doing ridiculous speeds in the 30 and 40mph limits on the A272 through Buxted – or who are seen on mobile phones or gesticulating adversely at the team etc have had visits from the Police to hand deliver their written warnings and take the opportunity for a verbal chat. Up until the end of March sadly over 1/3 of offenders had been local to the village! In the last month this has dropped.  Of 43 letters sent in the last month, 36 were Sussex residents and 7 out of the county. Of the Total, 8 were Buxted residents and 6 from Uckfield. So locals seem to be better heeding the speed limits. But we will continue to monitor closely. The first repeat offender letters have gone out! As speeding is the most regular crime of concern amongst Sussex village communities and it’s the reason why the community is cooperating with the Police on Speedwatch it is with dismay that local Sussex drivers in the community can’t heed the speed limit. No car on the road is incapable of being driven at the posted speed limit – if it is then it is not roadworthy. It’s us as drivers who need to think more. Please think. Not everyone I hear feel Speedwatch works and some say it’s a way of the Police getting their job done for free. That’s all as maybe – but let me just say that in the world we live in if we don’t all try and pull together and work to a common good then nothing will change. I personally am grateful to the willingness of the Police to engage with us mortals and for the contributions of each volunteer who is trying to help lower the speeds through the village by being part of Speedwatch – and as more Parishes engage there will be more teams out there to remind us drivers. So if there are more budding volunteers in Buxted, Five Ash Down and High Hurstwood to come forward – many hands will make lighter work and we can have teams set up in all three villages.

 The Youth Council – Next Step has gone from strength to strength and will report separately. Community Voice has hit the streets 3 times now and the next issue will appear soon. While we have not had vast quantities of feedback what he have had is very positive and we hope it helps ensure everyone is better informed of the Council’s workings. People are also always welcome to attend the Parish Council’s formal meetings.

 After what seems like an eternity the land at the bottom of Littlewood Lane has passed to the Parish Council.

 With the support and hard work of George Clayden as a volunteer the Buxted Parish Community Emergency Action Plan was developed to help inform us locally and also inform the various emergency services and higher authorities if ever faced with dealing with an emergency in the Parish. This was an important piece of work the Council was requested to undertake and without George would have been an added onus on the Council. It was a clear testimony to the way the Council and members of the community can work together. The plan has details of a number of people with specialist skills or equipment that might be useful in an emergency and if there are others in the community who feel they could assist if something bad happened then do let the clerk to Council know so that the information can be included.

 Members of the Parish Council attended the first two meetings of the newly emerging Buxted and High Hurstwood Residents Action Group – an initiative largely for Wealden tenants in Buxted and High Hurstwood. We have agreed we will try and send representatives to their meetings and it is hoped we will work together shortly on two initiatives: Disabled access audit – to enable us to better support any action/take action to make it easier for infirm as well as disabled people to get around. Local transport review when ESCC initiate their review or rural buses to involve the community through the Parish Councils to guide where buses are needed and where they need to go.

 Finally we were involved in the consultation process for the new Wealden Design Guide. We understand this will be adopted in the not to distant future and will be invaluable as a tool to help inform householders and larger developers as to the importance of any development – be it a fence, new windows, a house extension or a new estate even – to have a sense of place – an understanding of the character of the locality. That does not mean everything is the same but that design, quality and materials all matter. As an example – close board fencing on the road suburbanises – the character of Buxted for example up the A 272 would be ruined if everyone put up 6 foot high close board fences with 6 foot high wooden or metal gates – not withstanding a reminder that these all need planning permission. The work that has gone into the Design Guide is tremendous and those responsible at WDC need congratulating – all the relevant staff are being trained and we look forward to its formal publication. To everyone thinking of making change to their property whether it needs planning permission or is classed as permitted development – we hope you all take time to follow the guide – it is not prescriptive but there to help inform and lead to better and more sympathetic development that respects the locality that we have chosen to live in.

 Correspondence – 507 items had to be dealt with compared to only 445 in the previous year. For a complete list do feel free to contact the Clerk but key elements included: Uckfield station car parking, NHS ‘Fit for the Future’ consultation/Uckfield Hospitals rally – which Councillors attended, Revised Code of Conduct – which we all signed up to, Wealden LDF consultation/workshops/Design Guide, Buxted Football Club events – some which we won’t mention – suffice to say we are not as the press may have been led to believe ‘disgusted of Buxted’ as the Football Club themselves know – rather more concerned at the way community land was rather hijacked –  Planning White Paper consultation; affordable housing; Fairtrade proposal, Police Street meeting/local parking issues – which helped air the local and Police issues with Highways leading at last towards action; Wealden Parish conferences, WDC consultation- planning procedures& delegation + budgets etc and the Sussex Association of Local Councils – and more recently Blue Tongue – a problem that has already hit at least one local farmer. Fortunately local farmers, small holders and other keepers of stock will have access to the new vaccine (unlike many other parts of the country) so let us hope they all seek to protect their livestock and stop the prospect of animal movements to new grazing being prevented or the option on a cull – the two stand – byes if animals are not vaccinated and Blue Tongue takes hold. Given the level of gnats and their biting it does not for sure look good. So as usual it’s been a diverse bag!

 Policing PCSO Karen Juniper remains our key contact with the police along with PC Paul Stephens as the local Neighbourhood Specialist Constable. We continue to respect the work they are both doing and the efforts of the Police towards closer community engagement. From a perhaps rocky start we also have excellent relations with Inspector Allum who has had to allocate more time to Buxted on matters related to parking than might have been wished but let us hope that the problems reduce. It is sad to see the vandalism that occurred on the late evening of Friday May 2nd – with many of the Parking notices ripped off – commuter or youthful vandalism we don’t at this point know – either way regrettable and costly given its the Parish Council’s money and thus all of our monies that have ended up in whatever hedge, garage or other dumping place the perpetrators feel.

 Planning and Development This is reported more comprehensively in a separate report. However there were 150 applications in the last year compared to only 84 in the previous and 102 in the year before that. So a busy year. Most of these were minor and dealt with as a matter of routine at the fortnightly Planning Meetings – which members of the Public are always welcome to attend. An enormous amount of time has however also been spent on more major matters including development at the Grampian Site in Five Ash Down and land west of Church Road in Buxted. So as always if you have managed to read through this well done.

 I hope it provides you with a useful record of what this Parish Council does and has done in the last year. And finally as last year – a call for anyone interested in: – becoming a Parish Councillor – getting involved with the Parish Youth Council  Next Step – becoming a Community Speedwatch volunteer – getting involved as a volunteer in other Parish Council initiatives – and finally becoming chairman of the Council – the latter a most serious point. Finally a personal thank you to all my fellow Councillors who have collectively worked together largely as a cohesive team on behalf of you the community and again to Colin who has held it all together and been such a diplomat throughout. We wish you happy and less angst times ahead.

 Cllr. Alison Crowe

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