Present: Cllrs D Hayward (Chairman), P Clark and I Houston.
In Attendance: District Cllrs M Lawarence, R Legg, Mrs T Chapman (Parish Clerk) and 26 members of the public.
Mr D Hayward welcomed the members of the public to the Annual Parish Meeting and summarised the Parish Council procedures. Mr D Hayward discussed the roles of each Councillor. The Parish Council is full with seven Councillors. Each Councillor is allocated to at least one of the two working groups (Planning and/or Playing Field) and represent a few of the organisations within the village.
He welcomed County Cllr M Hall and the District Cllrs M Lawrence and R Legg.
- Apologies for absence: Cllrs L Bennett, D Coffin, T Hunt and S Longdon.
- Minutes of the Meeting of 05.04.2016
The minutes to the meeting were provided to each member of the public in attendance to review. It was resolved the minutes were an accurate account the meeting and signed by the Chairman.
- Chairman’s Annual Report
It has been another busy year for the Parish Council. The level of communication from District and County Councils seems to be steadily increasing and there have been some important changes to the way planning applications are to be handled in the future. This all makes for more work, especially for our Clerk.
The council dealt with twenty one planning applications in the year, up from sixteen last year and five applications for work on trees in the Conservation Area.
The long running application to turn The Grange into a venue for weddings was withdrawn in November 2015, but with the applicants still proceeding in the belief that they hold the weddings without formal approval. We had to put a lot of pressure on the enforcement officer and environmental control over the following months to take appropriate action. The threat was only finally removed when the applicants did not renew the lease on the property
The application to build a bungalow in the garden of No. 7 Wessex Drive resulted in a considerable number of objections. As observed in my report last year, the application was in our view riddled with technical and legal inaccuracies, and unfortunately, unsubstantiated and defamatory accusations by the applicant’s agent that our parish councillors and Clerk were misusing their positions; which WDDC chose to publish on the planning portal and would not remove. The application was finally refused by WDDC in June 2016.
The substantial redevelopment of Mill Farm has caused concern locally. Walkers have been worried over continuing access over the footpath, others to the felling of trees and the final form and usage of the site. The council did take issue with the Planning Authority over the demolition and replacement of the wall in front of the farmhouse and has had contact with the various on-site contractors, the agents and finally a discussion with the owners themselves to seek assurances on the issues that the public have raised. At the moment we are satisfied that the final form of the development will be as current planning applications suggest and that the intention is that work will be substantially complete during this summer.
The most controversial recent application was the one to erect five houses on the land in front of the Rose and Crown. This resulted in 44 responses from the public. The application was refused for reasons very much in line with the Parish Council objections, and we are grateful for the level of public participation and support received, especially given the short time given to respond, which is now normally only three weeks. It remains to be seen what further action the applicants will take, if any.
As reported last year the Parish Council in cooperation with WDDC and the Housing Association Hastoe has again been exploring the possibility of building a small number of affordable homes in the village. We had got to the point where Hastoe was in discussion with a local landowner regarding release of land but quite rightly the landowner was keen to ensure that people with a strong connection with the village would have priority access to any properties built. Whilst this is a key discriminator in the points system used by the Housing Association and District Council to allocate social housing it is ultimately beyond the direct control of the Parish Council. We have therefore been considering how we might be better able to give sufficient assurance in the future to potential suppliers of land.
Very recently there have been two new initiatives. The Parish Council had become aware that the owner of the farm on Compton Road was exploring the possibility of demolishing the largely derelict buildings there. These are in a poor state and currently occupied by squatters. We approached him to gauge his interest in building a small number of Affordable Houses the land and also spoke to a Housing Association to get advice on the potential viability of the site. Initially reactions were positive, however, in recent days the landowner has decided to await the outcome of the ongoing revision to the West Dorset Local Plan which has identified this area and adjoining land as the site for 425 houses; although WDDC state that no detailed work has yet been done on this and is unlikely to be until around 2019.
As some of you may also now be aware, the Sports and Social Club, as a means to ensuring its future financial viability, has recently been considering the possibility of building Affordable Housing on a narrow section of the sports field opposite Pettitts Close. Since they were anxious to have control over the allocation of any resultant housing, and saw it as a legacy for the community, the Parish Council recommended that they considered doing this through a Community Land Trust arrangement and we supplied them with information on this and other possible ways of developing such housing. They have considered this and looked at a local successful scheme at Buckland Newton, but have concluded that such a venture would be a considerable financial and project management undertaking, require financing through loans and grants in excess of £1m and take many years to complete. They have therefore concluded that it beyond their capability and have not made the intended application for outline planning permission. Since this site is within a few yards of the one being considered by the Parish Council we thought it prudent to see how it progressed in the short term before we continued with our own plans, which we will now do.
As ever we are grateful to all who make an effort to keep the village looking tidy. We are particularly indebted to Chris Williams who has again been doing a great job all year litter-picking throughout the village, to Alan Martin who keeps the road between Underdown Hollow and Park Lodge litter free and Tom Sugrue who clears the litter in the Playing Field on a weekly basis; and of course the children of St Mary’s School who litter pick on Church Road and Mill Lane. Tricia, our clerk, advertised and organized a community litter pick alongside the A30 last Saturday. This was principally the section of old A30 in the bushes away from the highway on left hand downhill section of the dual carriageway which WDDC won’t clear, apparently because it is too close to a dangerous highway. Sadly only two members of the public volunteered to join the Parish Councillors but approaching twenty bags of rubbish were collected plus eight warning posts that the Highways Authority seem to have thrown there when replacing broken ones.
Road Traffic and Safety
As you may be aware the Highways authority are no longer prepared to maintain fingerposts which are an iconic feature of our countryside. Last year the Parish Council completely refurbished the fingerpost at the junction of Back Lane/Underdown/Old Compton Lane as a pilot scheme.
This year we have completed work on the posts at the junction of Westbury and Bishops Lane, at the junction of Quarry Lane and Underdown and at the Clifton Road junction. The latter is not actually in our parish but gets associated with Bradford Abbas and Clifton Maybank parish has been unable to do it. Next we will do the one at Park Lodge, which although it is in the parish of Castleton also gets associated with Bradford Abbas and Castleton parish are contributing £100 towards this. We are very grateful to Bob Skett for volunteering to help with this work. The one remaining post will at the junction of Church Road and Grants Hill near the Old Rectory. This too dangerous to work on in situ and whilst the Highways Authority were to have removed this for us to work on remotely, they have since decided that they have neither the money nor resources to do this. We are considering alternative approaches.
Road surfaces have continued to be a concern, despite work completed in the last year; but all roads between the village and Yeovil, Sherborne and Stoford will have new surface dressing over the summer. Back Lane is not included but Old Compton Lane, and East Farm lane are. Unfortunately, the work completed last year which was to have provided a sound base for the surface dressing this year has been badly affected by the high levels of traffic using these roads to avoid the Lyde Road works in Yeovil. Trent and the Comptons are also suffering from this and attempts are being made to arrange a meeting with South Somerset District Council to get some form of compensation and to seek better traffic management for when the A30 will be closed completely in coming months between the Babylon Hill Roundabout and Mole Valley Farmers for drainage works.
I reported last year that we had been successful in getting an improved planting scheme on the Babylon Hill roundabout and were waiting to see if the level of maintenance had improved as well. I think it fair to say that it is now much better.
As reported last year the new Transparency Code for Smaller Authorities requires Parish Council information to be openly available, not only by traditional means such as the Parish Council noticeboard, but also online. We are very grateful to Iain Houston who has very generously given large amounts of his time constructing our website, which is now up and running. Iain will give us a briefing on this after my report.
We have continued our policy of replacing woodchip in the play areas with synthetic impact absorbing material to reduce the high level of maintenance previously required. Over the last year the fence around the toddler equipment has been removed and new impact absorbent grass mats and turf installed. The Churchwell Street entrance rails have been replaced with a footpath style gate and the boundary with Churchwell Street and Churchwell Close has been cleared and reseeded. During the coming year many of the pieces of apparatus will be repainted and the refurbishment of others is planned. We also intend to refurbish the seating.
Footpath Through East Farm
I reported last year that after a seven year battle we had been successful in getting approval by the Regulatory Committee for a change in the Definitive Map to allow a formal footpath through East Farm. Another year has now passed and the County Council has again failed to publish the official order as promised, so we are still unsure if there will be objections from Charteroak Estates, owner of the Saxon Maybank development at East Farm, and whether there will be need for the Secretary of State to determine the final outcome by written representations or a public enquiry.
In closing, on behalf of the parish I would like to thank the Councillors for their efforts during the last year. We are also grateful for the support given by Robin Legg and Margaret Lawrence our District Councillors and Matt Hall our County Councillor, both to our meetings and for helping resolve issues at district and county level. I would also like to thank Tricia, our Clerk, for her continued hard work and the efficiency with which she manages the council’s affairs.
- Parish Council Website
Cllr I Houston gave a presentation on the working website for the members of the public in attendance. He noted the website was required by the government via the transparency code for smaller authorities mainly for accountability purposes. The most recent audit and its supporting documents are on the website as well as the transparency code.
The website is slowly growing and is offered to local organisation, example the History Society has all the upcoming events on the website.Cllr D Hayward thanked Cllr I Houston for all his hard work producing the website.
- Any Other Information to include questions from the public
Members of the public mentioned the following items:
Proposed Housing Development on Compton Road: A member of the public asked why they were not told of the consultation.
A member of the public queried the locations of the affordable housing intended for the village. Cllr D Hayward noted the area the Parish Council found most suitable is near Pettitts Close / Queens Road. The landowner has some concerns and was keen to ensure all other sites were considered and thoroughly discussed by the Parish Council. Cllr I Houston has represented the Parish Council on many of the Right to Buy meetings and felt there was assurances that communities under 3,000 residents will have more control over the sustainability of the community.
Cllr D Hayward reported the Parish Council is in the process of formulating a Village Design Statement. This will look at the environment and style of the area and could develop into a Neighbourhood Plan (NP). A NP is produced by a community and requires a community committee / working group. The idea is for the community to have a say in the future development in the village. Cllr T Hunt noted there is not as much support from WDDC due to budgetary cuts as previously available.
The wear and tear of the roads was mentioned, numerous potholes in the village and the unfortunate tarmac covering the cobblestone at the top of North Street. Cllr D Hayward assured the public work completed at the top North Street was not requested by the Parish Council.
A member of the public directed a query to the District Councillor noting the WDDC Planning Officers have numerous conversations with an applicant and members of the public have restricted access to the Officers when voicing their objections. The member of the public requests the same right as the applicant and agent receive when it comes to discussing applications. Cllr M Lawrence noted the immense pressure WDDC planning officers are under at the moment.
Cllr D Hayward discussed DCC is changing the bus services available after the 11th April. The Parish Council was not made aware of the upcoming changes and did not respond to the consultation in January. The bus 74 will no longer arrive in the village from Yeovil approximately at 3pm during term time, the service will only run during school holidays.
A member of the public queried if the top of Back Lane is now named Old Compton Lane. Cllr D Hayward noted the issues with WDDC / DCC concerning naming the part of the lane from Underdown to the A30 that mistakenly included the section of unnamed road between Cross Road the Underdown, locally known as the top of Back Lane. The Clerk will proceed with the request renaming the section of the road to Back Lane.
Cllr D Coffin thanked Cllr D Hayward for his hours (and hours) dedicated to the Parish Council no matter how large or small the issues may be. Cllr D Hayward thanked the public for attending the meeting and showing their support.