Report from Michael Blake – received 9th May 2019

The following report, from the presiding Chair of Bickleigh Parish Council, was emailed to the Clerk of Bickleigh Parish Council on 9th May 2019.? Copies of the Executive Summary report were circulated to the parishioners during the Annual Parish Council meeting.

Executive Summary – Chair’s report dated 2nd May 2019

Michael Blake

Chair Bickleigh Parish Council

30 APRIL 2019

REPORT OF THE CHAIR BICKLEIGH PARISH COUNCIL:

With regard to the present Council it falls upon me to give you a report on some of the more important events in the Council?s life cycle.

One of the most important functions of any Council is to ensure that it gets value for money from spending the public purse. At the end of the day the council is charged with looking after what is Your Money and making decisions on Your behalf. Although the Parish is split into two wards for the Parish Council it is looked upon as one area when it comes to spending your money. The Council has always endeavoured to satisfy itself that both cost and benefit are the main considerations. It has a legal obligation to spend your money in a way that illustrates the benefits justify the money spent.

THEREFORE, IT IS NOT A CASE OF JUST SPENDING MONEY. We have always strived to ensure that a responsible attitude is taken when deciding if something should be supported or where money is spent.

The Council has given support in the way of grants to organisations and groups that it felt would be of benefit to the Parish as a whole. It has also given support to individual items within a ward that it felt would be acceptable to the people of the parish on the basis that it was available to all. To give details of some of the grants or items of expenditure I make the following comments

The Council has continued to recognise the Woolwell Community Centre?s place within the community and has continued to support it by giving a variable yearly grant to the trustees to assist in its running. The Centre continues to be the main benefactor of what is your money, it has an ambition of being self-supportive, but I fear we are a long way from that point in time. Unless it manages to find other sources of income there will be a continued reliance on Parish Council funding to ensure it survives.

In addition to its grant to the Centre the Council continue to make additional payments which include things such as: to repay the loan taken out to create the Centre: make payments on maintenance and repairs: ensure the provision of contracts by employing external companies to maintain both Staff and Public safety: trying to improve where possible the existing facilities as was the case with the caf? and the bar: and improvements to carpark lighting to name but a few.

It also recognises the problems of an aging building, and the main focus has been to ensure the Health, Safety, and Welfare,of those who, either work there, or use the Centre. There have been large sums spent on general repair to items such as fire doors and other fire safety measures. The Centre has produced a maintenance list which the Council has attempted to prioritise. Additionally, the Council has needed to make allowances for the fact that ultimately some items will be expensive, for example, the roof is coming to a point whereby it may need replacing that will be costly, monies have been put aside to facilitate this should it become necessary. The Council has also received quotes for the repair, refurbishment, or replacement of an ageing heating system for the main hall which has proved unreliable. Those quotes have come to almost ?20,000 (additionally there have been costs to hire portable heaters), specialist companies are involved in finding a solution. It will rest with the new Council to follow this through. The Centre has also received grants of around ?5,000 for the AM/PM club including security fencing and provision of a patio area for their use. By Law the Council had to have an asbestos inspection carried out on the Woolwell Centre and a specialist company was employed to do just that. An asbestos register was produced for the building. In order to ensure that urgent repairs could be carried out or assessed one councillor volunteered to be the point of contact and I would like to thank Councillor Turner for the many times he has attended the centre or arranged repairs in his own time. Nearly ?10,000 was spent repainting the exterior of the centre. We are in contact with Plymouth City Council regarding the provision of Lighting.

Total amount of public money spent during last 12 months on Woolwell Centre including TAPS ?80,979.

Roborough pre-school was given just over ?6,000 to assist with a new replacement outside play area. ?25,000 has been given to match fund the refurbishment of the Play area at Cann View. Other smaller grants were given to Woolwell in Bloom, The Woolwell Junior Football Club, the fireworks events, Insuring the Christmas tree and Gorilla. Roborough Recreation Hall was given funds to improve the playing areas at the playing fields. Recognising the problems of speed in Bickleigh and Woolwell two councillors attended a chapter 8 course in order to set up and use the speed monitoring device and carry out other roadside duties for the Council. Councillor C Ellis remained the support officer for inclement weather in the event of snow.

It is important that you have an idea of what your money is being spent on, but this can only be an insight. Details of how your money is spent are publicly available and the Council accounts are subject to audit.

The Council in recognising the changes ahead, increased support both specialist and monetary, to the Bickleigh Parish Council Neighbourhood Plan Working Group after the Government initiative to get local communities involved in the planning process of their area. I would like to say thank you to that group for their tireless efforts over the years to produce what our Government Inspector described as an exceptional piece of work. He described the plan as being well presented and accurately detailed. It was no mean achievement as the plan process was running ahead of the Joint Local Plan but had to take account of the Policies therein. Whilst the many people who contributed to the plan are to be thanked and congratulated for staying with it, I?d like to thank Rod Lane and Elizabeth Gilmour for their hard work, perseverance, and unbelievable enthusiasm to the last. Also, Paul Weston our consultant is to be thanked for his advice and assistance without which the Parish Council would have had a hard time. At times he was able to bring us back in the right direction and he gave me a lot of assistance and advice. It also has to be recognised that the group had to work within a legal framework set down and amended by the Government. The Council also had to study as consultees the Joint Local Plan. Some people seem to have forgotten that it was not in the ownership of the Parish Council but was produced and its content agreed by South Hams District Council.

Your representative for this process was your ward councillor. It should also be remembered that although there was a government duty to co-operate there was no duty to AGREE.

The Parish Council held and publicised a number of public consultations to obtain views and responded to the plan accordingly encompassing the views expressed.

The process is described briefly below

Table 1

detail actions Supportive actions
Joint Local Plan Four Public consultations overall. Cllr Blake attended Public Consultations with inspectors accompanied by Cllr Crowe and Elizabeth Gilmour

 

 

 

Parish Council consultations were publicized, and full public participation was encouraged

At the second public hearing with the inspectors Cllr Blake arranged with the programming Officer to speak publicly on behalf of the Council and the Parishioners of Bickleigh outlining concerns of the Council along with those who lived there Submitted a series of documents to the JLP outlining in detail the concerns of both the Council and the Parishioners

Maintained contact with Tom Jones of South Hams ensuring that He as the lead was aware of the concerns and opposition felt within the Parish towards the Joint Local Plan

 

 

2018

 

 

Inspectors interim advice issued laying down conditions for Councils to follow

 

 

Parish Council Response made

2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

Main and minor modifications published for consultation

 

 

 

 

Public Meetings called Public Participation encouraged and subsequent response made to include the public viewpoint

 

 

 

2019 JLP JLP adopted by the three councils South Hams discussion and adoption carried out by full District Council refer to SHDC minutes
2014 ? 2019 BPCNP Regular group meetings. Meetings with SHDC

Funding given for appointment of Consultant Two Public Consultations. Including

Reg 14

Inspectors Examination followed by Referendum

 

Project management programme agreed with SMART objectives created and achieved.

 

Full consideration given to public comment throughout Publication of final documents.

 

  1. At the public consultation of the JLP the land off Pinewood Drive Woolwell was identified by members of the group as being outside of the land identified as suitable for development within the JLP. Whilst creating The Neighbourhood Plan the land off Pinewood Drive was examined on at least TWO occasions for designation as Local Green Space NO LEGAL BASIS COULD BE FOUND. THERE WAS ONLY ONE PUBLIC RESPONSE GIVING A REASON TO DESIGNATE WHICH WAS ?THAT IT WAS USED FOR DOG WALKING? THE HIGHER BAR SET BY GOVERNMENT COULD NOT BE MET. (SEE CONCLUSION BELOW)

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Planning The council dealt with a number of planning applications the most emotive and controversial was the Land off Pinewood Drive Woolwell. This application was brought forward twice by the applicant. South Hams Council had rejected the application on the first occasion on the grounds that it had been identified as a ?LOCAL GREEN SPACE in the Emerging JOINT LOCAL PLAN and was therefore premature.? after a public open meeting Bickleigh Parish Council gave detailed grounds for refusal.

The application was brought back again but South Hams had been forced to remove the JLP designation of Local Green Space. I queried this with the Inspectors to clarify their position and then with both Plymouth City Council Strategic Lead Officer for the JLP and Head of Place Making South Hams District Council, asking them to justif. the reasons for the removal. They BOTH confirmed that Land off Pinewood DID NOT have:

A LEGAL BASIS for DESIGNATION AS A LOCAL GREEN SPACE and was REMOVED FROM THE PLAN. The advice given by our consultant and accepted and that from Bickleigh Parish Council Neighbourhood Plan working group has been shown to be correct.

These comments from Mr Jones of South Hams sum up the situation

?We were very much of the view that we would seek to maximise the opportunity and included sites which, with hindsight, did not achieve what has proven to be a ?higher bar?.? This became clear during the hearings and was confirmed in the Inspector?s Report.

??…It is regrettable, of course, that the approach we initially took perhaps raised expectations in the community that development of the site could be resisted??..

On a number of occasions he has confirmed that the objections and concerns of Bickleigh Parish Council had been noted by himself and other elected members.

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And from Mr Grant

?Following the close of the hearings, the Inspectors committed to setting out their post hearings advice to the Councils.? Their Post Hearings Advice Note (EXC15) was published on 15th?August 2018.? As a result of the discussions at the hearings, the Inspectors were clear that they had concluded that the Councils evidence supporting the Local Green Space designation was not sufficiently rigorous to comply with national policy.? Their reasons for making this judgement are set out in paragraph 23 of their note and focus on the fact that Local Green Space designations should be the exception rather than the rule, and that since the designation confers similar status to Green Belt, they did not believe that the evidence presented had reached the ?high bar? required to support a designation?.

Your Ward District Councillor for Woolwell would have been aware of this so I am puzzled as to the suggestion that the Parish Council could have designated it as a Local Green Space when the JLP failed

Again, after a public meeting the Parish Council gave their own detailed response to the application which included the views expressed by those who attended.

.Cllrs Blake and Crowe attended the site meeting after receiving details via the Parish Clerk during that meeting I pointed out to the one member of the public who was representing those living there that it would now be extremely difficult to prevent the issuing of planning permission as there was no Legal Basis to prevent it.

Another success story at long last the culvert in New Road Bickleigh which has been blocked for some time is at last being repaired. Many attempts but success at last.

Conclusion

This period in the Council?s life cycle has been difficult at times we?ve had changes to councillors on several occasions. We?ve seen resignations of two councillors after two acrimonious meetings. Never the less we have endeavoured to continue to serve the interests of the residents of Bickleigh Parish as best we could. Whilst our relationship with the Bickleigh Ward District Councillor has always been good and as Chair of the Parish Council he worked tirelessly despite considerable difficulties, it is a fact that unfortunately, relationships with our District Councillor for Woolwell ward have at times been very difficult and not assisted the process. In my view there was an attempt to do things her way or not at all even though she was not on the Parish Council. She has created the banner of Time For Change to form the new council using her face book page as a mechanism for doing so. This has contributed to my decision to stand down. We have always operated on a democratic basis whereby things were resolved by majority vote. During my time as Chair I have tried not to stifle debate, I have given my input to assist in the decision-making process. At times I?ve clearly upset some councillors, but my intentions have always been in the best interests of the Council and the residents of Bickleigh Parish.

I have decided to stand down from the council as I?ve decided that the disruptions of what are a very small group of residents, fuelled by others, should not continue, and there has been an organised campaign by some to cause a problem. That is not in the public interest.

There will be very difficult decisions to make over the next 4 years which will impact very heavily on Woolwell and Bickleigh. The new Council now have the responsibility of making the right decisions. I shall observe with interest how the Council operates and overcomes the clear conflicts of interest that will exist within its group. However, I wish it well as for me the Public Interest is paramount.

 

In making this report I?ve had to refer to the minutes of South Hams Council I would urge all members of the Council to examine and digest very carefully the Minutes of South Hams District Council. You need to know what the decision makers decide though you won?t know how your councillors actually vote if you want to challenge them Their decisions such as the JOINT LOCAL PLAN affect the residents of Bickleigh Parish and sadly those residents don?t appreciate just who are making what decision. As an example, I would urge everyone to read the minutes of

17 May 2018 item 15 Joint Local Plan item (a) and the subsequent decision under RESOLVED gives an indication of where we find ourselves today.

The people of Bickleigh Parish need to know who to challenge and more importantly who to hold to ACCOUNT for the decisions taken. Although I?ve not always agreed with the decisions taken by Bickleigh Parish Council I can say I?m comfortable with way the decision has been made

Lastly during the January Parish Council Meeting, I gave an undertaking to make contact with the chair of the South Hams District Council DM Committee. I did contact him with a series of emails. He assures me that each member of the Committee had been given a copy of our reasons to refuse planning permission at Pinewood Drive before their meeting took Place. I?m also assured that those reasons were taken into account in the decision- making process. Lastly, he assures me that in his opinion it would have made little or no difference to the decision had any one from the Council attended.

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Below is a copy from the Inspectors advice to the JLP which your ward Councillor would have been aware of when blaming the Parish Council for failure to designate Pinewood as a Local Green Space NOTE THE DATE.

Local Green Space

22.At the hearings we requested the Councils? submit sample site assessments for the designation of Local Green Space (LGS) proposed within the PPA. Having considered this additional evidence we are concerned that the Councils? methodology and overall assessment for LGS designation has not been sufficiently rigorous to comply with national policy.

23.The NPPF sets a significantly high bar for LGS designation given that paragraphs 76-78 state that it ?…will not be appropriate for most green areas or open space?; that on such sites new development is ruled out ?other than in very special circumstances? and that they are to be managed in line with Green Belt policy. Accordingly, LGS designation should be viewed as an exception rather than the norm. The approach in the JLP is to designate a significant number of sites across the PPA which results in the designation being commonplace rather than of a limited and special nature.

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24.We recognise that many proposed LGS areas will be important to local communities. Open spaces will be used by local communities for informal recreational uses including dog walking. However, these are inevitably commonplace activities within urban areas. Sites may also contain varying levels of wildlife, beauty and tranquillity. Nevertheless, the available evidence does not sufficiently demonstrate why sites are ?special? and of ?particular local significance? to distinguish them from other green areas and open spaces and reach the high bar necessary for LGS designation.

Wendy Burden and Yvonne Wright Inspectors 15 August 2018

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Michael Blake

 

Michael Blake Chair Bickleigh Parish Council 1 May 2019.

 

 

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