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Life in the Parish

Report of the Chairman of the Parish Council 2019/20

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It is an honour to present my first report as Chairman of the Parish Council.  I was elected as Chairman by the Council in January this year, when Sue Biggs stood down from the role. Little did I know what the future would hold. So I feel that it is important to say thank you to all my fellow councillors, a huge thank you to Mr Penfold, and thank you to all the residents of the Parish; we have all had to learn new things this year and I am grateful for all your support.

Before I continue with this report, I have to thank Sue for all her hard work. Sue had been Chairman since May 2012, and the Council achieved a lot during the time she was at the helm.  She brought enthusiasm, energy and tenacity to the position, and, frankly, will not be an easy act to follow.  I would ask you all to join me in thanking her for everything she did for the Parish and its residents in the past nearly 8 years – we owe her a lot.

Fortunately, we have not lost Sue from the Council.  The Council appointed her as Vice-Chairman in January and she remains as Chair of the Neighbourhood Development Plan Steering Group, driving forward the preparation of that Plan.  More of that later.

You may have realised that the Annual Parish Meeting of the electors of the Parish is usually held in the Spring: the law requires it is held between 1 March and 30 June annually.  Indeed, the Council had decided that the 2020 APM would be held in April. This was before the world changed.  The Covid-19 pandemic developed and the Government introduced restrictions which, effectively, made holding such a meeting illegal.  Later, when Parliament passed legislation allowing virtual meetings for local authorities, it “forgot” about APMs.  It was only in August that the Government introduced legislation including APMs in the definition of meetings, allowing APMs to be held on-line. At the first opportunity in September, the Council decided to hold the APM in November. This is a historic time and I am honoured to be delivering my first report to you all tonight via Zoom.

I, as Chair of the Parish Council, and my fellow councillors, would have been lost with out the guiding hand of our Clerk, Mr Penfold. At the start of lockdown in March, and faced with our meetings being illegal in the future, the Council delegated all its powers to the Clerk, so that the operation of the Council could continue during the pandemic.  The Clerk surrendered those powers when the law was changed to allow virtual meetings.  The Council has met on Zoom, or other such platforms, since May, and will continue to do so while restrictions are in place.  The Parish Room, where the Council has met since the 1890s, is, unfortunately, not big enough to accommodate 10 councillors and the Clerk, the county and district councillors, and members of the public, in a Covid secure setting.

The adjective “unprecedented” has been much used to describe the pandemic and its impact.  I was very impressed, but not surprised, at how quickly the various communities in the Parish set up support groups and mechanisms to help those residents who were self-isolating or otherwise unable to leave their homes.  It was and remains a great community effort, and I feel that, although things are marginally easier in this second lockdown, the communities in the 5 villages have been strengthened by their response to Covid-19.  May I pay tribute to all those residents who have helped, and continue to help, fellow residents in these difficult times. I am humbled by your strength and generosity, and I feel privileged to live in such a supportive community.

Clearly, the pandemic has been the most significant issue for residents of Cane End, Chalkhouse Green, Gallowstree Common, Kidmore End and Tokers Green since the last APM in March 2019.  Nevertheless, other important matters have continued to exercise your Council, not the least being planning and roads and traffic, mentioned by Sue as the top issues last year.

In terms of highways, the statutory authority for roads and traffic management is the County Council.  I should point out that your Council itself has no powers in this arena.

Sue reported last year that your Council had secured the reduction of the speed limit in Kidmore End to 20mph.  All the other settlements in the Parish, except Cane End, are covered by 30mph limits, following a policy decision of the County Council some 20 to 30 years ago.  There are now increasing calls from residents for enforcement, or reduction, of the existing limits.

Setting limits is a matter for the County Council while enforcement is a Police function.  I, some of my colleague councillors and some residents have been trained to use the vehicle speed indicator device (SID) available from Thames Valley Police and have deployed it in the Parish on a number of occasions to carry out SpeedWatch.  The data captured by the exercise is passed onto the Police.  We have, for instance, found that many vehicles are driven through Gallowstree Common on Horsepond Road in excess of the speed limit, a matter of mounting concern for residents of that village. Gallowstree Common has a static 30 mph speed indicator sign, but residents are urging for other measures to be put in place to remind drivers to slow down. Unfortunately, the Covid pandemic has prevented volunteers from carrying out as many SpeedWatches as we might have liked to do, but we are determined to continue as soon as restrictions are lifted. I would like to thank Trevor Perchard for organising SpeedWatch.

Similarly, residents in Tokers Green would like to see the speed limit in Tokers Green Lane and in Rokeby Drive, which runs into the neighbouring Parish of Mapledurham, reduced to 20mph, while residents of Cane End are concerned that there seems to be no enforcement of the 40 mph speed limit in Reading Road, Cane End, although there is, of course, a speed camera there.

Your Council’s Transport Committee is looking into these matters with officers of the County Council, although Lockdown 2 will probably lead to a delay in the discussions.  In the meantime, there may be virtue in concerned residents lobbying the county councillor, Kevin Bulmer, given that the statutory responsibility rests with his Council.

In the past, there have been concerns about the condition of roads in the Parish.  I have detected an improvement in the roads over in the past 12 to 18 months, and I know that the DragonPatcher has been very busy during Lockdown 1 to the delight of many parishioners.  A resident, Chris Brook of Kidmore End, has become a “Superuser” in respect of reporting pot holes and other road defects to Highways.  She measures and reports pot holes that meet the criteria for intervention direct to the County Council, who then arrange for the repair without sending a member of staff out to inspect them first.  This has lead to quicker repairs, so I heartily thank Chris for her sterling efforts, which have led to a reduction in the number of potholes in our Parish and an improvement in our roads.

Nevertheless, I would urge residents to report the defects they see to the County Council direct, via the FixMyStreet link on the County Council’s website.  This is for 2 reasons.  The first is that the earlier the defect is reported, the sooner it is likely to be rectified.  The second is that the highway authority has no legal defence, when a claim is submitted, if a defect has been previously reported to it but has not been repaired.

There has also been an increase in fly tipping in the area, so if you spot this, please report it to FixMyStreet, or by completed a fly tipping report form on the District Council’s website – www.southoxon.gov.uk.

Despite the best efforts of your Council, and County Council officers, the roads near Kidmore End pond continue to flood after heavy rain. Recent work carried out in September has reduced the severity of this flooding, but weather events have led to other flooding in the parish, notably on Wood Lane by Oakridge Farm, in the dip towards Sonning Common on Kidmore Lane, in the dip between Tokers Green and Kidmore End, and on the lane heading out towards Emmer Green from Chalkhouse Green.  There has also been flooding in the dip in Horsepond Road, Gallowstree Common, outside Allwrights Cottages, caused, it seems, by inefficient highway drains.  The County Council has installed a bund on the edge of the highway there, in an attempt to protect the Cottages.  Whether this is a long term solution remains to be seen.

As has been reported in the past, your Council has taken over the maintenance of highway verges, in the Parish, with the exception of the A4074 road through Cane End, the work being undertaken by Ian Kendrick Ltd, a locally-based contractor.  This arrangement has worked well – your Council has received far fewer complaints about verges over the last couple of years.

It is important to note that your Council does not, however, have any duties in respect of roadside hedges.  These are the responsibility of the owner or occupier of the land on which they grow, and I am grateful to those people who have cut back their hedges this winter.  However, if hedges start to impede use of the road, please report them to the County Council using FixMyStreet, as mentioned above.

The footpaths and bridleways etc in the Parish are in good order, save perhaps becoming a little soft under foot recently.  The paths have undoubtedly been used much more since March 2020, as people have been at home and taking exercise. Problems reported to the County Council, which has responsibility for the footpaths, have been quickly sorted out.  While your Council has no statutory responsibility for them, there is a Council sub-committee which keeps the paths under review.

As to transport planning generally, the prospect of a third vehicle bridge over the River Thames in the vicinity of Reading continues to be concern: this was first mooted before the World War 2. The matter came into prominence in the summer, when Reading Borough Council published for consultation its Transport Strategy 2036 – the latest version of its Local Transport Plan.  This included the third bridge to the east of Reading, a northern orbital road from that bridge to the A4074 road and strategically sited park and ride facilities.  Although details were sketchy, the orbital road and park and ride facilities would almost certainly be in Oxfordshire, rather than Reading, and in this Parish.

Your Council, led by the Transport Committee – Sue Biggs and John Swift, spearheaded a grouping of parish councils in southern South Oxfordshire, to submit objections to the Borough Council about the inclusion of these measures in the Plan, not the least because they were predicated on a growth a vehicular traffic: the pandemic, for instance, has led to a reduction in vehicle movements because of changed working practices. Subsequently, the County Council and the District Council also submitted objections.  The reaction of Reading is awaited …

As to planning, local decisions about individual applications are taken against national policy – the National Plannng Policy Framework – and local policy – the South Oxfordshire Local Plan: more about the latter later.

However, the Government has recently consulted on changes to the planning process, arguing, primarily, that the national rate of housebuilfing is not meeting demand.  Your Council responded to the consultation documents, expressing concern about the some of the proposals, which your Council saw as too centralising or too much in favour of developers, some of whom are considered to be unscrupulous.

Turning to the Local Plan, the District Council submitted it, for examination in public, in the Spring last year, after the hasty review to which Sue referred at the last APM.  Then the political control of the District Council changed, after the elections in May 2019.  The new administration can be characterised as opposed to the housing levels proposed in the submitted Plan: it argues that the councillors had been elected on a platform opposing the housing numbers.  The District Council was, as result, minded to withdraw the submitted plan, and reworking it.

The Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, intervened, and made it clear that he might ask another Council – the County Council – to take over the development of the Plan if the District Council withdrew the submitted plan from examination.  Ultimately, faced with this potential loss of control over the Plan, the District Council decided not to withdraw the already submitted draft.

The examination of the plan, by a Government-appointed inspector, took place, virtually, over the summer.  The inspector is prepared to declare the Plan “sound” (in other words, approve it), if certain modifications are made.  The District Council has consulted on these modifications, and your Council has responded to them.  In short, the Council is concerned by the increasing housing numbers required from larger villages, like Sonning Common, and the housing density increases proposed by the inspector.

You will all know about the Kidmore End Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP).  The draft Plan was put out for “Regulation 14” consultation earlier this month, and I urge you all to take time to read the draft and comment on it.  Sue Biggs will report separately on the draft plan and the process, later this evening, but I do want to thank all the volunteers on the Neighbourhood Development Plan Steering Committee for their hard work over the past 3 years.

There seems to have been little activity over the past year in respect of the draft Oxfordshire Plan 2050.  This derives from the deal struck by the County Council, the Oxford City Council and the 4 district councils with the Government – the Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Deal.  Under this arrangement, the Government has guaranteed funding on affordable housing, infrastructure and economic growth in the County.  The Plan is designed to guide development in the area up to year 2050.  The general feeling is that the Plan is predicated on much greater economic and housing growth than has been envisaged thus far in, say, the South Oxfordshire Local Plan.

All that sets the scene for the Council’s views on planning applications relating to the Parish. Your Council was invited to comment on 61 applications in the year following the 2019 Annual Parish Meeting.  This represented an increase of 56% over the number reported in 2018/19.  The applications have been for the usual fare of house extensions, but there were 4 applications for new or replacement dwellings.

In terms of these applications, for the most part, the District Council, the planning authority, acknowledges our comments on the applications, and reacts accordingly.  Increasingly, however, there are instances where your Council has recommended refusal but the District Council has granted permission.  Notably, the Council objected the conversion of the barn at The Coach House, Tokers Green Lane, Kidmore End, and the significant extensions to, and remodeling of, Campestri, Rokeby Drive, Tokers Green, but the applications were approved.

As to planning appeals, there was 1 relating to the Parish determined in the year to 31 March 2020, for the erection of 2 new houses at Kempwood, Reading Road, Cane End.  It was dismissed.  The public inquiry about another appeal, against the enforcement notices issued by the District Council, requiring cessation of the use of the Copse, Mill Lane, Kidmore End for weddings etc, was postponed recently.

Sue mentioned the possible development of Reading Golf Club in her report last year, a matter of significant interest in that the golf course straddles the boundary between Reading and the Parish.  Earlier this year, the Golf Club, and its partners, submitted an application to Reading Borough Council for the development of that part of the course in Reading with c250 houses.  Although not approached by the Borough Council, your Council has submitted a strong objection to the application.  The Borough Council has yet to determine the application, but, it is said, the application has attracted a record number of objections.

The application documents suggest that the remnant of the course (in Oxfordshire) will be preserved as a country park and for other amenity uses, with a view to be it being managed by your Council.  The applicants have not, however, had the courtesy yet to enquire of your Council as to its position on this.  The Council has yet, therefore, to address the question of whether it wishes to be the custodian of the proposed facility, going forward.

The Council’s ambition, to secure the inclusion of the whole of the Parish in the Chiltern Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), has been reported before.  Sadly, there has been no progress with this, although this is in part not surprising, given the pandemic.  Nevertheless, the Council remains committed to achieving this outcome.

Turning to the other infrastructure in the Parish, the Council owns the Recreation Ground at Gallowstree Common and the Play Area at Kidmore End.  The Recreation Ground is managed, on the Council’s behalf, by the Kidmore End Playing Fields Committee, a registered charity.  The Chairman of the Committee will report to you later in this meeting, but I want to thank the Chairman, Iain Pearson, for all the extra work that he has had to undertake to adhere to the ever changing Covid-19 regulations regarding sports fields and halls.

Without wishing to anticipate the Playing Fields Committee’s report, there was a major leak on the water supply to the Diamond Jubilee Pavilion in the Autumn of 2019, leading to water bills totaling over £19,000. The Council bailed out the Playing Fields Committee who did not have funds of that magnitude.  Fortunately, the Council insures against a range of risks in respect of its properties, so the insurers reimbursed the Council’s outlay, and paid for the repair of the leak, which was behind the houses in Paddick Close.

In addition, the Council has agreed to buy the strip of woodland between the Recreation Ground and New Copse from owners who live locally.

Following the investment programme of recent years, the play areas in Kidmore End and Gallowstree Common are in good shape.  The play areas are professionally inspected annually, and the inspectors invariably make recommendations about minor repairs.  Both play areas were shut during Lockdown 1. Before they could be reopened, Covid-19 risk assessments were carried out. Following this, I decided that urgent repairs had to be carried out at Gallowstree Common before the play area could be reopened in a Covid-safe way. Repair works were also carried out at Kidmore End. Further repair work is scheduled for Gallowstree Common, which should be completed early in 2021. I can report that the new play house at Kidmore End, funded with the aid of a grant from the County Councillor, Kevin Bulmer, is fabulous.

Your Council also owns the wells at Gallowstree Common and Kidmore End, the ponds at Kidmore End and Tokers Green, and the former telephone kiosks at Cane End, Chalkhouse Green and Kidmore End.  The Council has been asked to arrange for the silt to be cleared from the Tokers Green, a project for which the Council has made budgetary provision.  However, it has proved difficult so far to find a contractor prepared to undertake the work.

The Council manages the allotments in the Parish, at Cane End and Gallowstree Common, provided in the 19th century Enclosure Awards.  The Allotments’ Manager, Sarah Hall, has submitted her report.  In the meantime, suffice it to say that water supply has been an issue at both sites in the last year.

The Council decided, in January last year, to request the District Council to list the Reformation public house in Gallowstree Common as an asset of community value.  If the premises are granted that status, the owners cannot sell them before offering the community the opportunity to purchase them.  The District Council rejected the Council’s first and second application.  It accepted the third application, but removed the Reformation from list in response to an appeal by the owners, Brakespears.  The District Council recently rejected a fourth application, so your Council is now working on a fifth application.  Let us hope this one is successful.  In the meantime, of course, the owners of the pub building have sold the land on either side to developers.

The Council will have extra funds to help improve the infrastructure in the Parish as the years go by, as it will receive 15% of the Community Infrastructure Levy raised by the District Council from new houses built in the Parish.  That percentage will rise to 25% when the NDP is adopted.  £38,000 is presently due to the Council from this source, although it is being held for the Council by the District Council for the time being.

The Council cannot use the money to reduce the Council Tax – it has to be spent on improvements to the infrastructure of the Parish, or nearby. We have canvassed residents about possible projects on which the Council could spend the CIL monies. There is now a list of some 28 projects.  The Council decided in March to defer consideration of the list, because of the pandemic.  However, it will revisit the subject in December.

Aside from the CIL, all of your Council’s activities are funded from the Council Tax, collected by the District Council.  The Parish Council’s element of the Tax is £58.59 this year for an average (Band D) dwelling – just over £1.10 per week.  This was increase of 4.3% over 2019/20.  Although I cannot easily find the information on the District Council’s website, I think the Kidmore End figure is, even with the increase,  very much below the average parish or town council precept across South Oxfordshire.  I hope you will agree with me that this represents excellent value for money.

Much of what I have said above has been reported already in the Parish Newsletter or on the website – www.kepc.info.  In this connection, I would express my gratitude, on your behalf, to the other members of the Newsletter editorial team – Ana O’Reilly, Sue Remenyi and Jackie Russell. The Newsletter team have given their time and worked hard on your behalf to share news and to lift the spirits a little during these difficult times, and I am lucky to have such an enthusiastic team to work with. I would also like to thank Andy Miros, who only left the editorial team because he moved away from the parish last year.  Given the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, we have stopped printing and delivering the Newsletter, but I am grateful to all my newsletter distributors for all the years of support that they have given me.  At the moment, the Newsletter is now only available on line, although we can provide a paper copy if you need one.   We will be revisiting this decision, because I do think that many parishioners enjoy having a paper copy of the Newsletter posted through the letterbox. May I also pay tribute to our webmaster – Ana O’Reilly – who has recently revamped the website.

There was an election for parish councillors in May 2019, when the 9 candidates were elected, unopposed.  We were all persons who had previously served as councillors.  Subsequently, in September last year we co-opted Andrew Harland from Tokers Green to make up a full complement of councillors.  Sadly, in February and March this year we lost Hugh Thresher and Andy Gitsham, both from Tokers Green, who resigned.  Hugh, in particular, had served as a councillor for 12 years.  However, in September, we were pleased to co-opt Jim Ducker, from Gallowstree Common, the first councillor from that village since March 2018.  We anticipate filling the remaining vacancy later this evening.

I would like to thank my fellow councillors for their unstinting support.  They are all volunteers, receiving no payments whatsoever, unlike their counterparts at the County and District Councils.  Their help and knowledge has enabled the parish council to work for and on your behalf. Thank you to you all.

May I also thank, on your behalf, our County and District counterparts, Kevin Bulmer, the county councilor, who sometimes visits our meeting, and Peter Dragonetti, the district councillor, who was elected in May last year, and who has been very supportive of this parish council.

I would like to finish this report by extending my gratitude and thanks to Mr Penfold. We have all struggled to understand the latest Covid-19 restrictions. Mr Penfold has diligently sent updates, links and further information so that the parish council was able to function and keep residents Covid-19 safe. Legislation has changed, but Mr Penfold has guided us. I would not have been able to act as Chairman without his professionalism, humour and patience, so thank you.

Caroline Aldridge

Chairman of the Parish Council

November 2020

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