Chairman’s Annual Report 2011

And so another year comes to an end – indeed the end of the elected four year term. As part of the statutory requirements of the Parish Council, the Chairman has to report to the community (as its electorate) on what has been achieved throughout the preceding year. The Council also has to be available at an Annual Parish Assembly – this year held on April 19th. This is not a Parish Council meeting but a meeting of the community with the Parish Council – to provide the community with an open and public opportunity to ask questions and find out what the Council has been doing.

In the past the Chairman used to read the Annual Report – but we have found that the community prefer to have a more relaxed meeting where Councillors are on hand to answer questions and as Councillors we prefer not to have to read reports and risk ‘droning on’!

This report is therefore comprehensive and made available at the meeting and is also posted on the recently revamped Parish web site and published in the Parish Newsletter – Community Voice – the latter being sent to every house registered on the electoral role. We hope that in making this report and other Parish Council publications so widely accessible, that every household in the Parish is better aware of Parish matters and thus better informed and able to be more engaged within the local community that they have chosen to live in.

In addition, and as part of the historical record of Buxted Parish and its three villages, the report is also archived with the other Annual Reports that go back to 1894 and are held by the Parish until they are sent to Lewes Records Office.

Councillors

During the preceding year Pat Wood was co-opted as a Councillor to the High Hurstwood Ward. Pat has lived in High Hurstwood for some 7 years and with her background as a school headteacher she should bring a wealth of skills to the Council. Pat is currently ‘getting her feet under the table’.

This has been the final term of this elected Council and the forthcoming elections are on 5th May. The Parish will enter the election with 15 candidates for 15 places – 10 in the Buxted Ward (encompassing Buxted and Five Ash Down) and 5 in the High Hurstwood Ward. This ‘full quota’ means the community won’t have to ‘vote’ in the traditional sense (as we don’t have any extra candidates to vote for) but importantly it also means that the Council will finally be eligible to apply for Quality Council Status.

In entering the elections with a full quota – three existing Councillors will however step down – with three new candidates standing. On behalf of the Council and, I hope, the wider community, I would like to pay tribute to those departing. Henry Wilkes (Chairman of Finance) is stepping down after 8 years on the Council as his work commitments increasingly prevent him giving the time he would like and on balance he feels it is time step out – at least for now. Jackie Downing is stepping down after 28 years as a Parish Councillor – for many years she has played an active role in helping make the Parish Community a better place, including 23 years working for ESCC as a classroom assistant at Buxted C of E Primary School –and many more years than most of us have even lived in the Parish! We have no doubt Jackie will remain active in other warps of Buxted life. James Chalmers is also stepping down. James has lived in Buxted for 48 years, been a Councillor for 24 years and was Chairman from 1991 to 2001. I have always joked that I was James’ ‘Vice’ (-Chairman – that is) – and it was a result of James stepping down from the Chairman’s role that meant the Council voted me to take this position. James has taught me so much in my time on the Council – and personally I am very grateful for that and for the utter commitment he has given to the Parish. I will never have the immense knowledge of people and places in the Parish that James has. This breadth of knowledge has served the Parish well. Nor do I or will I ever have the utter diplomacy that James has! As many of you are aware James has not been well for some time – but his support of the community and his involvement really has never faltered. We all have benefitted. So in writing this 2010-2011 Annual Report we mark a real end of an era. We have no doubt that James, as well as Jackie and Henry, will remain involved in community matters and many of us will still seek wise counsel from James and I will encourage him to remain involved.

As we go forward to the election, three new candidates are standing for election – 2 in the Buxted Ward and one in the High Hurstwood Ward – and Louise Daniel, who was a Councillor, but stepped down late in 2010 due to work commitments, is rejoining after a short leave of absence which will be extremely useful for the future of the Web Site revamp that she coordinated and Community Voice which she has edited.

As well as Parish Council and Committee meetings and progressing various projects, Councillors represent the Parish on a whole range of outside bodies – school governors, conservators of Ashdown Forest, Wealdlink community transport, Uckfield line users group to name but a few. Their time is given freely and generously.

Training is vital, for new and old. Councillors act on behalf of the corporate body and cannot fight one man crusades using the name of the Parish Council. The new Localism Bill will increase the need for more professionalism from Councillors and so there will be a greater emphasis, as well as encouragement on training, understanding and following the national Standards Code of Conduct. Training and guidance is on hand, not least from the Clerk. In the future, failure to declare an interest in any item is likely to be a criminal offence! Sometimes I do wonder about some of the ethics unpaid Parish Councillors have to work under – and marvel at what happens up the ‘food chain’….!

Clerks

The Parish Council relies heavily and quite properly on the expertise and experience of its ‘proper officer’ – the Clerk. As Chairman I do very little without the Clerk vetting my actions – thus ensuring I operate within the requisite codes of conduct of Public life – even when I might wish to say or do something otherwise!! Naturally other Councillors do likewise.

Most of you may be aware that our Clerk, Beccy Macklen gave birth to twin boys in 2010 – rather earlier than expected – and is currently on Maternity leave. However just before ‘rushing off’ rather unexpectedly to have Arthur and Albert she was awarded her Certificate in Local Council Administration (CiLCA). This qualification is awarded on the basis of the compilation of a portfolio of evidence of knowledge, experience, structure and organisation – and is a necessary step for a local Council seeking Quality Council Status. We never doubted Beccy’s ability to qualify and when Beccy returns post-election – she will complete the portfolio of evidence of the entire Council so that in the coming term we will achieve Quality Status – which will give us more ability to do more for the community but actually won’t be noticeable to the community as we will simply continue working as we have been for some years. However it is important to ‘Qualify’, as it confirms the competencies of the Parish Council as an elected body.

During Beccy’s leave of absence Buxted Parish has been extremely fortunate to have enjoyed the experience and expertise of Malcolm Wilson as ‘Acting Clerk’ who I feel has ensured that a tight hand on the reigns of the Council has continued seamlessly over the last 6 months and who like Beccy makes the daily working of the Council and my role as Chairman much more enjoyable.

Recognising the workload increase of the Parish Council in recent years and that the Localism Bill will bring more responsibility to Parish Councils – and knowing Buxted has benefitted not simply from having well qualified clerks but also people who have given their ‘all’ – we have for some time known that we would need to employ more support. In discussion with Beccy and Malcolm, the Council has therefore decided to retain both of them as ‘Clerk’ on a job-share basis. So when Beccy returns in September on a part-time basis, the job will be shared with Malcolm also on a part-time basis. This arrangement suits them both and the wonders of technology mean they will both receive all emails and will work together to divide responsibilities. The Parish Community will benefit immensely from the breadth of skills the two of them have and we are fortunate to have two such like minded and capable people committed to this Parish. While Beccy has already received her CiLCA qualification, Malcolm has just commenced the work towards gaining his and we anticipate that like Beccy he will ‘sail through’ it.

In discussing the Clerks we ought not to forget and also need to thank the Reading Room caretaker – Mrs Eileen Holmes – who keeps the hall in as good an order as is possible and manages its various bookings.

Parish Youth Council – Next Step

As well as the ‘adult’ Council, Buxted Parish is fortunate in having an established and functioning Youth Council. This is not some ‘social club’ but a body of young people living in the Parish who consider the needs of our younger generation and to whom the Parish Council turn to for input on matters relating to younger people. We are not qualified to decide what facilities young people need or what they may aspire to from the Parish in which they live – and so Next Step was established to allow a formal voice and Michelle Warner acts as the adult interface with them.

In the last year they have input to the design of the proposed new Community Parish Hall, the relocation and new equipment for the play area on the Ionides land in Buxted and attended County Council events with Parish Councillors.

Next Step have sought, and been awarded, various grants to assist them in their endeavours – including provision of new play equipment suitable for an older age group than much of the existing play equipment in Buxted and also grant funding with training in project planning and personal development with the O2 ‘Big Think’ scheme – that will be used for future projects including inter-generational IT support.

What surprises us older types is that for a Parish with a relatively large number of young people – how few get involved with Next Step – even on an ad hoc basis. At the end of the day much of what is being discussed with the ‘higher authorities’ and planned will actually be for the younger members of the community and not for many of us. It would therefore be great to have more young people involved in Next Step and indeed also to have more young adults involved with the Parish Council. Naturally education, work, family and relationships all eat into time – but members of Next Step manage OK – as do most of the Parish Council where the large majority work and many have families.

So if you are a young person or a parent of one – do think about the importance of Next Step as a proper Youth Council. Members expenses are covered with a small stipend for their input at meetings and funnily enough it looks great on their CV’s – as well as helping them prepare for wider life and helping the Parish benefit from the active minds of younger people!

Planning matters

The Planning Committee, chaired by Geoffrey Sheard has commented on almost 100 planning applications during the last year – 30% up and returning closer to 2008 figures. Most Planning meetings are low key affairs but at one in November over 120 people, including our PCSO and her sergeant from Uckfield, made the trip to High Hurstwood Village Hall to comment on an application for a traveller site at Mockbeggar Farm, Coopers Green. This was objected to by the Parish Council and refused by Wealden for a host of reasons. While there may be a need for some more traveller sites this application provided insufficient justification and detail, and was in the wrong place.

The Grampian site in Five Ash Down – being marketed as ‘Ashdown Place’ – has continued to be built. Not always in an easy or neighbourly manner and various issues have arisen – some which have been resolved – but some which will sadly never be. It is unfortunate that new developments do not always consider the locality in which they are built – but then the reality is that the developers focus is on finishing the project at lowest cost and moving on –leaving a development that new residents move into and who then have to work hard to overcome some of the local resentments. But ‘was it always so’? Quite possibly.

One of the saddest things to emerge on the Grampian site was the discovery that the WDC housing allocation policy for affordable homes – while ostensibly being to enable 50% of tenants to come from the local area – basically the Parish or neighbouring villages – had a little sting in its tail – that it is was impossible to even get allocated one of the 2 bedroom flats unless you had children or were at least ‘fairly pregnant’. As we published in Community Voice and as we have clearly voiced to WDC – we felt this was social engineering and not focussed on providing inclusive sustainable development in a rural location. While we absolutely recognise the need for affordable homes for rent – we were concerned at the developer’s desire for so many flats on this site and rather appalled to find these are now wholly inhabited by families. The Parish Council has made WDC aware that we will be extremely sceptical about the focus on affordable homes in the future if this policy remains. We have alerted other Parishes. We understand that WDC may well be reviewing their policies.

The Parish Council reviewed, and wholly supported, the revised plans for the Care Home at the north end of the Grampian site and this has now been approved with work due to commence soon – but no date given.

The new development on ‘land west of Church Road’ – behind the Buxted Inn is due to start yesterday (18th April)! Although Taylor Wimpey has taken over development from Rydon Homes the site plan looks virtually identical to the one the Parish Council and Wealden officers spent so much time preparing – which is good.

We are in dialogue over street names which hopefully will reflect the heritage of the site as being adjacent to one of the first, large scale iron-working sites in England. Naturally we hope also that the build of the site will run smoothly with few neighbourly issues. It is estimated to last 2 years. The entrance road will be built early in the scheme – which will mean disruption on the A272 where a new roundabout will be constructed. We are advised this will take 6-8 weeks and in the interim before it is built that some form of temporary construction access will be formed during May. While not everyone by any means thinks the roundabout is a good idea – it is what we have to accept – although we will continue dialogue on the degree of lighting at this prominent site. Some junction control will be necessary not just for cars but importantly too for pedestrians. That is clear. We will remain in active engaged dialogue and hope we do not have any ‘battles’. After each development we learn lessons. However, it appears that no matter how much we think we learn and prepare to pre-empt, the issue is there are always other issues – some we may foresee – some that come ‘out of the blue’. Change is never easy and the process can be painful. The results we sincerely hope will be positive in some form. Maybe the Developer will care about the existing community – we hope so.

New Surgery

As work commences on land West of Church Rd so too will work begin on the new Surgery. Gosh what a painful year that has been for all. There were issues with the design – some changes were made – but at the end of the day pragmatism ruled over many architectural aspirations by WDC, the Parish Council and others, and the much debated design was finally accepted, by most parties, as the need for a new surgery outweighed the endeavours to get the best design possible on this prominent site. The new building will be large – it has to be – April Cottage is beyond a joke – how the staff have held together in that shoe box and cared for so many patients within it is a feat of endurance. The reality of the health system is, that while it is a national health system, it has to be economically viable. To do that there has to be a sensible economy of scale. That is what is planned – a facility for now and the future. However, no sooner was planning permission secured (with PCT representatives vocalising that the design was as it had to be and fitted their budget) then the news was released that the PCT had pulled the funding. So, many headaches and palpitations later – with a lot of deep breaths from the doctors, councillors and others – and many letters from parishioners – the PCT found the funding again. Further behind the scenes hiccups have been ongoing – more deep breaths – but finally as I write this I am advised not only have the doctors signed their lease but the Ionides Trust have also now signed and work is scheduled to start in the next few weeks and complete by November 2011 (with luck!).

In the meantime the Boys Club was demolished – once the alleged bats had been re-roosted – not least because due to Southern Water’s failure to listen to the Parish Council and Environmental Health the building and its land were contaminated by the joys of the blocked sewage pipe in Framfield Rd.

The reptiles on the site have also been encouraged to relocate – bribed by the promise of safe haven in a fenced area lower down the site. Similar ‘bribing’ is now happening on the Iand west of Church Rd – Buxted is blessed with its wildlife.

Community Hall

Alongside the finalising of the surgery development on the Ionides Site, the community architect Simon Barker has been working with the embryonic hall group to meet the aspirations of the various stakeholder groups while providing a design for a new facility that will be developed and used probably not so much by many of us around today but for the young and future generations. The facility too – unlike the Reading Room – will have to ‘pay its way’ and ‘self-fund’. The key focus is to use the Ionides Site and adjacent Recreation Ground to create a new ‘Heart to Buxted’.

A phenomenal amount of work had been done by Simon and the group with a lot of forward and back stepping and a lot of discussion with WDC planners to ensure it meets their aspirations too.

Designs were displayed at a community consultation in March. Feedback from the majority attending was extremely positive and the few concerns have been addressed by the hall group. The needs of existing users of the Reading Room will be met so far as is reasonable and affordable – considering the wider scope the new facility will have.

A charitable company is now being formalised with representatives of many groups sitting as directors. At the community consultation many other people came forward keen to get involved and lend their various skills and expertise which was extremely welcomed by those who have been getting this exciting project off the ground. A planning application will shortly be made – this will be done through the Parish Council to save money – but the project will not be directed by the Council – it will be under the control of the charitable company. The Council will however retain a role and Geoffrey Sheard and Maggie Dopson will sit on the board of trustees.

With the submission of the planning application the real work will begin. The formal costings will be done (a broad build cost has been calculated) and the fundraising will commence in earnest. The Parish Council will sell the Reading Room site (at an appropriate time) and contribute the proceeds, along with other funding to the project. We will also work to use the new legislations coming in to secure additional contributions from development in the community – and as we feel we need we will retain professional support to do this.

Localism, the ‘Big Society’ and the future Development – the ‘Core Strategy’

The Localism Bill is likely to be in place in about 9 months – all the guidance says the devil will be in the detail, which is still being worked on and the lobby groups are still active pushing their own vested interests – many of these being developers and construction companies. Planning will be a central focus with more expectations of Neighbourhood Plans and (even) more of a presumption in favour of development – albeit somehow it’s supposed to be more locally led! We must hope it is not a developer’s charter although as the government seeks growth from a sluggish economy there could be challenges ahead.

The Council was very keen to become a Neighbourhood Planning Vanguard Council – to test bed the Localism Bill and help shape it rather than cope with its imposition. Sadly, however, while we were committed to being involved and to retain specialist professional support to help us (as we felt that would be of most benefit to our community) – WDC weren’t able to support us due to ‘resource constraints’ and their internal focus on the ‘Core Strategy’.

Budget pressures at County and District levels will see them try to cut service or pass responsibility to Parish Councils, which are perceived as being more able to get more funding from the public via the Precept. This may not be the collectively most efficient way of controlling total expenditure across ‘UK plc’ (as surely with all their professional purchasing expertise they ought to be able to source services cheaper than a small Parish Council?) – but it’s a new world we will likely have to all enter.

With the change in Government – the Local Development Framework, to which we have had input, has evolved to become WDC’s Core Strategy which will guide development throughout Wealden until 2030. The proposals currently out for comment (not consultation) have seen the end of the development boundary in Five Ash Down. This theoretically means significant development will only be allowed with community support or if it provides affordable housing. This change has seen WDC officers refuse to engage with discussions with developers about land behind Coopers Row as it was clear, from a public consultation meeting in September, that there was no local support for such a scheme.

In High Hurstwood the AONB continues to rule – but there is a danger through this of the villages in the AONB becoming “pickled in aspic”. Some may like the idea of ‘no change’ but what this also means is that people living in such a community can often not down size or get onto the housing ladder (purchased or rented) should they wish to. Such communities may risk becoming unsustainable, losing their soul and facing the closure of facilities. The Parish Council and High Hurstwood Councillors are keen to ensure High Hurstwood does not go that way and we are confident residents will feel likewise.

In Buxted, the development boundary is set to remain largely as is with the idea of Buxted’s share of WDC’s rural target being confined to the land west of Church Road and the extension that we agreed to out to the pathway to the sewage farm – in a community involved and planned environment rather than random developer led cul de sac estate developments.

The Council’s formal response to the Core Strategy has been submitted – we are generally acceptant of it as it affects the Parish, as this reflects the extensive work and discussions progressed for the LDF process. As well as being reviewed at WDC this will be used as part of the evidence base that WDC have to submit to Government. The Parish Council will also use it in onward discussions and actions.

ESCC/WDC/Police

We retain pretty positive relationships at all levels with councillors and officers. Indeed when I hear some of the issues other Parish Councils have with their County and District Councillors I am so happy to know that we have such positive support from ESCC Cllr Tony Reid and WDC Cllrs Norman Buck and Ken Ogden. This community has been served well by them – so much as they can within the wider sphere of Wealden and East Sussex.

We’ve had two ‘Strengthening Local Relationship’ meetings in the year with ESCC which largely discuss Highways matters. There is some value to these but we have expressed to ESCC our wish to extend beyond Highways to encompass Education and other departments on matters that affect the Parish. We want this, not least, because we are anxious to ensure that funding secured from new development towards education etc is used within the community the development impacts. For example, the funding towards pre-school education, secured with the Grampian site in Five Ash Down, could be well used within the Parish for the aspirations to relocate the Saplings Play Group to initiate improved and largely dedicated facilities in a new Community Parish Hall. Likewise funding toward primary school education from land west of Church Rd should go to Buxted School which will sorely need it to help provide the facilities required for the significant increase in numbers anticipated this year requiring a new teacher but with extremely limited classroom space!

In the discussions we have had with ESCC Highways we have acknowledged the issues that they faced with a second difficult winter with the severe early weather which I’m sure we all look back on with a fond nostalgia ‘wasn’t it pretty’. The issues that arose during the period of bad weather and the subsequent pot holes have been a major challenge for all concerned. The Parish Council set out its policy on grit bins very clearly and people seem to have largely understood and accepted this. On the whole we believe Highways coped better than in the winter of 2009/2010 and local communities pulled together to cope – ‘Big Society’ in action – I believe is what the government would say!

We’ve had a frank exchange of views with WDC over its current housing allocation policy for affordable homes as I have previously outlined. We find it regrettable that the policy they use means that to get more than a one bedroom flat you need to be a couple with a child or pregnant. This does not fit with their own wider polices on sustainability – nor does it reflect wider views. For young couples without children or long standing older community couples who wish to downsize there is not a chance of them staying in the Parish unless one bedroom properties are built and they are happy to share a bedroom and not have anywhere for a family member or other visitor to stay overnight. We believe a review of the policy is now underway. We sincerely hope so as it will affect our onward discussions regarding affordable homes for rent in the Parish.

We saw the departure of our much respected PCSO Katie Breeds – but congratulate her on her qualifying as a Police officer. We have a new PCSO Mark Carter who has been getting to know the community and getting involved in helping the local community keep the Parish a safe and enjoyable place to live. Neighbourhood Watch has also been rekindled within Buxted led by Mick Gosden – a resident in Gordon Rd, with most lanes in and around the village now having coordinators as well – again – a ‘Big Society’ type initiative to help keep the community a good place to live.

Finance

The Parish Council has robust reserves earmarked for specific projects – the new Parish Community Hall, replacement of play equipment and computers etc, and resources to cope with the unforeseen. Its General Reserve is in line with national guidelines. We believe that this prudent approach building up reserves gradually over the years is better that a sudden demand for a much increased Precept in response to emergency capital expenditure.

The Council continues to strive to get ‘Best Value’ for the money it spends. An example concerns the old Manor Park playground area of woodland in Nevill Road, Uckfield which is owned by the Parish Council. Regular inspections of the trees and their safety are undertaken, which allows free unfettered public access. Work needed to be done and after competitive tendering the work was contracted out at a cost of nearly £900. At the same site the fence was damaged by an uninsured driver – a quote to do full, pristine repairs was received at nearly £500 but a perfectly acceptable repair using existing materials was achieved for £75!

We also audited the costs we were spending on various maintenance contracts to ensure we were still purchasing at ‘Best Value’ from existing suppliers. We were delighted to find we were – that most of our regular suppliers appreciated that working for a Public body ensured they did provide value to the community that was paying for the service.

During the year the Council made grants to outside bodies totalling £4,695. Importantly, the conserving and close attention to spend meant, that while continuing to fund activities and projects, we were able to make savings this Financial Year allowing a return to budget surplus from the slight deficit we experienced in 2009/2010.

A full review of Council Standing Orders and Financial Regulations, which govern how the Council operates, was undertaken in the year and the revised documents approved by the Parish Council in February. They are published on the Parish Web Site and available on request for the Clerk. This was a robust scrutiny of how we ought to function as a government body. We have established a new Policy and Scrutinee Committee to allow the Council to strategically plan better – we hope – something that will be important in the brave new world we move into.

In accordance with national guidance we have also changed our internal auditor to ensure the internal scrutiny of our finances is optimally managed. John Moffat of Five Ash Down served the Council well in the 7 years he acted as internal auditor – a role he decided to take without funding. Our thanks to John for the support he gave us in scrutinising how we handled the public finances. Our new internal auditor is also the auditor of a number of other Councils and the Sussex and Surrey Association of Local Councils and highly experienced. He has already provided good guidance on streamlining our working practices to allow some future proofing as the role and responsibilities of Parish Councils grows. He also helped us in choosing the new accountancy package we will implement in the new financial year to better manage our financial reporting. Our financial reports for this year will, as normal, be externally audited but we have also been selected as one of the random 5% subject to more detailed scrutiny by the nationally appointed external auditors Mazars LLP. We are confident we will pass muster!

Allotments

The rejuvenated Parish allotment site in Buxted continues to thrive. There are currently about half a dozen people on the waiting list but there could well be some additional turnover at lease renewal at the end on the month. Rents for next year are from £30 a plot. The smaller plot sizes generally seem to be well accepted and well used by their tenants and mean the site is active.

The community Pig Project has continued to share the site using the land under the trees which would not make good growing sites. Manure from the pigs is collected twice daily and is available free to allotment users and anyone else wanting to ‘feed’ their compost bins and encourage the production of quality compost.

Plans to convert a Parish Council owned field in High Hurstwood, currently let for grazing, are being pushed by a small group of local residents, but there has also been strong local opposition and it is not yet known if the cost of conversion would be good value for the wider Parish – or whether there are sufficient local Parish residents to make use of the site which lies in a prominent position within the AONB. The matter is to be considered by the Property Committee in June.

The Buxted Parish allotment site is managed through the Council but the day to day matters are handled by the embryonic allotment management group. In this manner it seems to work well and it is not intended to change this arrangement at this time.

Some members of the Parish Council are allotment holders or part of the Pig Project and in accordance with the Statutory Code of Conduct have no involvement in decisions and are not present during Parish Council meetings when vegetable and pig growing is discussed!

Community Issues

Speeding remains a concern residents report to the Police in their neighbourhood consultations and panels. The SpeedWatch team now coordinated by Homer Cox, continue to help road safety in the High Street in Buxted – sadly now to a lesser extent in Five Ash Down where few volunteers have come forward. More volunteers would be welcome. Indeed, without volunteers the scheme will not be able to keep up sufficient presence and submit sufficient data to the Police to allow the Police to focus resources on the issue many Buxted residents consider to be a prime concern. If that happens, and people feel the speeding motor bikes and cars are an issue, we will only have ourselves to kick as it is quite clear that the Police will target most where the issue is most. SpeedWatch allows them to target Buxted Parish – something the blue signs at the entrance to the village alert! The work to get those was another chapter altogether!

Concerns over the speed of traffic and the rather nonsense 60mph speed limit between Buxted and Buxted C of E Primary School has led to parent-generated action and a ‘Walking to School’ petition. The Parish Council has wholeheartedly supported this and given what advice we could and input where requested – and are delighted that this initiative has been spearheaded and made to happen by local people.

Sadly in the last year the funding that we thought we had secured from the new housing development in Buxted for improvements to the pathway from the village to the school was thwarted at the 11th hour. The ESCC Highways Department formally asked for a contribution towards improvements of the pathway between the main village and school in their consultation response to the application. However, under the Community Infrastucture Levy Regulations WDC considered this an inappropriate request! The Parish Council conveyed the concerns over this ‘utter nonsense’, particularly given the developers did not argue against it, but once again we learnt a lesson – that no matter what you do to work with ‘The System’ – along the way you encounter obstacles and decisions you could never foresee. Even County Highways were astonished and rather embarrassed as their Director of Transport and Environment conveyed to the local MP that this widening of the footpath was to happen – after we had been advised it was not!

These, and other matters including advice from our County Councillor, led Cathy Hemming and other parents at Buxted School to set up the ‘Walking to School’ Petition. We so sincerely hope that the evidence base of over 400 names helps the local authorities see how much concern there is for the problem that prevents so many parents walking their children the relatively short distance to school –and instead leads them to drive them.

Parking in Framfield Road, Gordon Road and Church Road

The problems of congested and poor parking in the centre of Buxted on week days has continued to be raised by residents as an issue and the local Police are frequently called to deal with this. Cllr Katie Seddon volunteered to visit this problem again – something the Parish Council has spent time on in the past but to which there is no simple solution.

Taking experiences from the village of Falmer who suffered from years of bad parking from what was found to be University overspill, they collected parking diaries that were then used as evidence with the various authorities in discussions on the need for action and in their experience led to a solution. The Parish Council has agreed that we will engage with the residents living in the affected area to assess their willingness to work to gather evidence. Without the local community doing this work however there will be little more the Parish Council can do.

Environment – Footpaths and Trees

In October the Parish Council helped a local resident choose and plant a tree, which she had provided, in Buxted Recreation Ground in memory of her husband, a long time resident of the Parish and a local GP. We also rely on members of the Parish to report to us any issues arising from problems with footpaths which we can pass on to ESCC, and hope that they will have the time and resources to deal with any problems. Sadly some of the chestnuts in the Parish are suffering from both old age and disease and some had to be felled on Buxted Recreation Ground – decisions on replanting still need to be made.

Buxted is a lovely area in which to live and we are surrounded by some glorious countryside and we, as a rural Parish Council, feel it is very important to work hard to keep and enhance these aspects of the environment in which we live.

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If anyone thinks Parish Councils are merely talk shops or like the Vicar of Dibley – then they ought to get more involved. Councils have been changing for many years – Buxted has – and we will have to change even more if we are to cope with many challenges ahead. Just as Parish Councils will have to take on more responsibilities, so too will local people. The Council cannot do things alone. Councillors are unpaid volunteers and in this Parish we do not even take expenses. This involvement of local people in the local community is what ‘Big Society’ is about – and rural communities are largely better able to cope. The issue is that many new people moving to rural communities don’t seem to ‘engage’. There is a risk they live in their houses like they would expect to in towns – with little consideration or involvement with their neighbours and an assumption that the Council or some other authority ought to deal with it. We can but hope that within the Parish the spirit of so many older people who have done so much continues to be passed on to the younger people – by some ‘Buxted Parish osmosis’. The signs are there it is – not least by the various initiatives, activities and interest in community matters. Good communication networks are great but local people need to get more involved – not just communicate issues.

While the Parish Council ends this year and this 4 year term of office, and a new and a full quota of Councillors will be duly elected – positions on the Council will then be elected by Council members in May. If people in the community want to engage more and get more involved with the Council that would be great. There is a natural turnover of Councillors and we can co-opt new Councillors between elections to fill spaces – but in addition we can appoint Working Party members and we do champion and assist local people who want to help tackle local issues or make positive things happen. Indeed we have a community grant scheme – something that is being used to cover the cost of the insurances for the Royal Wedding celebrations taking place in the Parish.

I hope this gives you an overview of what Buxted Parish Council has done on your behalf over the last year. We hope that this Annual Report and future issues of Community Voice keep you updated, informed and more eager to be involved.

If we didn’t see you at the Annual Assembly we hope we do so in 2012! It is an opportunity to ask questions and discuss important local issues and shape what the Council does and does not do. Please remember too that all Parish Council and Committee meetings (including the fortnightly Planning meetings) are open to the public. Although technically we can’t let you join in council discussions once the meeting has begun – as they are meetings of the Council – members of the public can ask questions at the beginning or you can contact us outside of meetings.

Finally, I would like to say a BIG THANK YOU to my fellow councillors for their efforts and work throughout the year and to Beccy and Malcolm as our Clerk(s). Councillors don’t always agree on everything but we make decisions collectively – indeed we sometimes make decisions I wonder why we make and may disagree on (but fortunately haven’t needed to cast a Chairman’s vote) – but as a democratic body that is the way of things and we learn to cope with each other’s foibles and fancies.

Personally I would also like to thank my Council colleagues for their support during what has not been the easiest past year for me on a personal level. Whether they still elect me as Chairman in the new Council – as I write I wait and see. As they know, I have no issues with succession!

Particular thanks to Michelle Warner who as Vice-Chairman provides stalwart support and involvement on so many matters and has interest and expertise in areas where I know I am weak.

Thanks also to Beccy and Malcolm on a personal level for making my role as Chairman sane. As many will know, I often feel the Parish is a mere microcosm of global upset. If only it were not so. However I hope people realise that the Parish Council is there to try and make things run better and ensure that the local communities have a better voice in decisions that affect us all. Well that’s my perspective.

Alison Crowe, Chairman

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