It is an honour to present my second report as Chairman of the Parish Council, although because of the delay on holding the 2020 Annual Parish Meeting, it is only 5 months since my first report!
Obviously, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the various restrictions we have lived under for the past year, has had a significant impact on life in the Parish. May I please pay tribute to all those residents who have supported the communities in the Parish in so many ways since 20 March last year? The pandemic really has demonstrated an indomitable community spirit in the 5 villages – Cane End, Chalkhouse Green, Gallowstree Common, Kidmore End and Tokers Green – something which I am very keen that we retain and strengthen.
Your Council, for instance, has not met physically since March last year. The Government passed legislation which allowed us to meet virtually, and we have become adept at using Zoom since May 2020. However, the legislation was time-limited – it runs out on the day before the Police and Crime Commission elections on 7 May. Thereafter, if the Council meets after that date, it has to be face-to-face, which, quite frankly, would mean breaking the rules, unless they change on, say, 17 May. Your Council will decide later this evening how it can continue to function until either a relaxation of the restrictions or another change to the law.
The pandemic has not really changed the Council’s priorities, or, indeed, yours, it would seem. Perhaps because there has been more walking and cycling in the last 12 months, traffic management in general, and vehicle speeds in particular, seem to have remained as top priority. I have to point out here that the statutory authority for roads and traffic management is the County Council: your Council itself has no powers in this arena. Any expenditure the Council incurs on this is, therefore, limited to a finite sum.
As you know, the Council secured the reduction of the speed limit in Kidmore End to 20mph, a few years ago. 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. The limit through Cane End is 40mph. As I reported last November, 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 apparatus available from the Police but the apparatus has not been available during the pandemic.
Residents have called for the speed limit in Tokers Green Lane, Tokers Green, 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. Residents of Gallowstree Common are concerned about the speed of vehicles in Horsepond Road and Reades Lane.
Your Council’s Transport Committee has been in discussion with the officers of the County Council about the speed limits in question. The first stage in addressing residents’ concerns is to arrange traffic surveys. These were undertaken in March this year, at the expense of your Council, and the results are awaited.
My predecessors have always mentioned concerns about the condition of roads in the Parish in their reports. While they are not brilliant, I think there has been an improvement in the roads in the recent past. As mentioned in my last report, a resident, Chris Brook of Kidmore End, has become a “Superuser” in respect of pot holes and other road defects. She reports those that meet the criteria for intervention direct to the County Council, who will arrange for the repair without sending a member of staff out to inspect them first. This has lead to quicker repairs.
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.
A few years ago, your Council took on maintenance of the 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.
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 over the past winter. 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 in the Parish are in good order, and firm underfoot, despite having been very muddy in parts over the winter. The wet conditions has led to the “spreading” of paths as people seek to find a firmer footing, a situation exacerbated by the greater use made of the paths during the pandemic. I am, of course, talking of the paths shown on the definitive map maintained by the County Council: there are a number of paths where the public may not have any rights to walk or ride … While your Council has no statutory responsibility for the public rights of way, there is a Council sub-committee which keeps the paths under review.
I mentioned the perennial subject of the 3rd Thames Bridge in my report last November. There has been no further news about that since then.
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.
The Local Plan was finally adopted by the District Council just before Christmas. It is, in effect, the draft adopted by the former administration of the District Council, before the elections in 2019, to which draft plan the current administration was opposed. However, the Government exerted significant pressure on the District Council, which felt compelled to adopt the “old” plan, against its better judgement. The District Council is already embarked on the preparation of the next iteration of the Plan, this time in partnership with the Vale of White Horse District Council.
You will all know about the Kidmore End Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP). The responses to the “Regulation 14” consultation on the draft Plan continue to be reviewed and assessed. Sue Biggs will report separately on the draft plan and the process, shortly this evening.
Once again, I have to report that there seems to have been no activity over the past year in respect of the draft Oxfordshire Plan 2050, but that may, of course, be due to the pandemic.
All that sets the scene for the Council’s views on planning applications relating to the Parish. Your Council was invited to comment on 41 applications in the year ending 31 March 2021. This represented a reduction of 33% compared to the number reported in 2019/20, and is probably a reflection of the pandemic. With 2 notable exceptions, the applications have been for the usual fare of house extensions, new outbuildings or replacement dwellings. The 2 exceptions were for the creation of craft workshops at The Old Farm Yard, Kidmore Lane, Kidmore End, which the Council opposes, and the demolition of Oldfield, Horsepond Road, Gallowstree Common and its replacement with 3 dwellings: the Council objected to the latter application, but it was withdrawn by the applicant before determination.
In terms of these applications, for the most part, the District Council, the planning authority, acknowledges our comments on the applications, and reacts accordingly. In a few cases, however, there are instances where your Council has recommended refusal but the District Council has granted permission.
As to planning appeals, there was 1 relating to the Parish determined in the year to 31 March 2021, for the garage/outbuilding at Oakridge Farm, Wood Lane, Kidmore End. It was allowed. 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 held recently. The inspector’s decision is awaited.
You may recall that I mentioned the Reading Golf Club in my last report, a matter of significant interest in that the golf course straddles the boundary between Reading and the Parish. 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 submitted a strong objection to the application. The applicants withdrew that application, but submitted another application to the Borough Council, earlier this year, this time for 257 dwellings. Your Council has again submitted strong objections to the Borough Council. The Borough Council has yet to determine the application.
The 2nd application documents again make reference to that part of the golf course in the Parish, although, of course, that part out the course is outside the scope of the application, or, indeed, the Borough. The Council is not aware of any contact between the applicants and the District Council: certainly, there has been no contact withwhatsoever with this Council, a sad indictment of the Golf Club and its partners.
An interesting, and potentially disrturbing, recent development, was an application to the District Council that the old piggery/workshops in Gravel Hill, Emmer Green (almost the most southerly point in the Parish) be converted to residential use – 6 units, no less – without the benefit of planning permission, as it could be construed as permitted development under changes introduced by the Government in 2020. Therefore, the District Council was unable to accept any comments from your Council on the application. Given the Council’s opposition to previous applications for residential use of the site, I think it fair to say that the Council would have objected to the application!
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, but 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. The Council, however, directly manages the children’s play area at that location.
As Iain Pearson will no doubt advise, a lot of the Committee’s time has been spent trying to make sense of the Government’s restrictions in response to the pandemic, and how the Diamond Jubilee Pavilion may be used: hopefully, that will become more straightforward as the year progresses. The Committee is also grappling with how to manage the Ground and Pavilion sustainably, going forward. In addition, the unexpected lengthening of the cricket practice nets at the eastern corner on the Ground is having to be addressed, not least with the planning authority.
The purchase of the strip of woodland between the Recreation Ground and New Copse, which I mentioned in November, has yet to be concluded.
As a result of the investment programme of recent years, the play areas are generally in good shape. The play areas are professionally inspected annually, and the inspectors invariably make some recommendations about minor repairs. However, because of the increased use over the past year, more repairs than usual have been required in the recent past, some of which have been quite pricey.
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 made provision in its budget for 2021/22 for some minor works at the wells. The silt was removed from Tokers Green pond over the winter, thanks to Andrew Harland tracking down a willing contractor, from Croydon. Budgetary provision has been made for some improvements there: I was delighted to note that volunteers from Tokers Green tidied up the trees and shrubs around the pond a month or so ago. The trees at Kidmore End pond will be coppiced next month. We also have plans to repurpose the former telephone kiosks at Cane End and Chalkhouse Green, and, indeed, move the Chalkhouse kiosk to a position where it will not get splashed by every vehicle going through the puddle which accumulates right outside its door.
The Council manages the allotments in the Parish, at Cane End and Gallowstree Common, provided in the 19th century Enclosure Awards. Sarah Hall, who was the Allotments’ Manager, has retired but the Clerk has provided a report on the allotments.
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. As reported in November, the District Council rejected the Council’s first, second and fourth applications. It accepted the third application, but removed the Reformation from list in response to an appeal by the owners, Brakespears. Your Council submitted a fifth application around Christmas. Very regrettably, the District Council has ruled that one out, too. The Council will decide later tonight how best to proceed, if at all.
The Council will have extra funds to help improve the infrastructure in the Parish as the years go by, as it receives 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.
As I indicated in the last report, 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 reviewed the list of some 28 projects identified by Members and you and have selected 5 for further investigation:
- the provision of bus shelter(s) at Cane End;
- the installation of a defibrillator at Diamond Jubilee Pavilion;
- moving Chalkhouse Green kiosk;
- improving the driveway at Gallowstree Common Recreation Ground;
- extension of the footway in Horsepond Road, Gallowstree Common.
Individual members (and the Clerk) are progressing the projects, and we received a progress report at our meeting in March. None of the projects are yet in a position to proceed, and we will look at them again in June. As I am sure that you will appreciate, £38,000 will not be enough money to implement all 5 schemes: indeed, I suspect we will be lucky to deliver 3.
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 £58.99 this year for an average (Band D) dwelling – just over £1.10 per week. This is an increase of less than 0.75% over 2020/21, although the precept (the figure requested of the District Council) went up by 2%. Your Council’s element of the Tax is just over half of the average figure raised by parish and town councils in South Oxfordshire, which is £99.36 this year. 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 – Anna O. and Sue Remenyi. Jackie Russell, who was on the team, has retired since my last report. Given the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, we have stopped printing and delivering the Newsletter. In this connection, following a survey of readers last year, we have resumed home delivery of physical copies the Newsletter, as this was clearly the wish of the majority of respondents. May I also pay tribute to our webmaster – Anna O, who performs the task entirely voluntarily?
There have been a number of changes to personnel at the Council, in the short time since my last report. Sue Biggs, Sarah Hall and Anna O have resigned or retired since November last year. I paid tribute to Sue’s chairmanship last year. She joined the Council in 2008, and was the Vice-Chairman since January last year. Sarah was the “Mother of the House” – the longest serving Member – when she stood down, having joined the Council in 2001. All 3 will be missed, although Anna and Sue continue to contribute to the life of the community as Chair of the NDP Steering Group and as the Council’s webmaster respectively.
We have recruited 3 new Members in the same period – Alastair McAslan and Sonia Matthews from Kidmore End and Adrian Whyles from Gallowstree Common. Trevor Perchard was appointed as Vice-Chairman in January. These changes in the membership have led to changes in the make-up of the various committees and outside bodies which support the Council’s work. There is one vacancy for councillor remaining to be filled. Would you like to help your communities by becoming a councillor? If so, look out for the notice of vacancy on the Council’s website and noticeboards.
I should like to thank my fellow councilors for their unstinting support for you and the 5 communities in the Parish over the past 5 months. They are all volunteers, receiving no payments whatsoever, unlike their counterparts at the County and District Councils. They are vital to help sustain the buoyant communities in the Parish.
May I also thank, on your behalf, our County and District counterparts, Kevin Bulmer, the county councilor, and Peter Dragonetti, the district councillor, who submits a report at each of our meetings?
I would like to finish this report by extending my gratitude and thanks to our clerk, Mr Penfold, for his help, professionalism and good humour. I have relied on his advice and expertise throughout all 3 lockdowns, so thank you, Mr Penfold.
Chairman of the Parish Council