PC Chair Annual Report 2019.
Having been Chair of the PC for all of 7 days, it falls to me to provide an Annual Report to parishioners – essentially my own perspective on what the Parish Council has done over the past year, and aspirations for the next 12 months.
It has been another year with more turbulence on the PC than we would wish for. 2 Chairs have resigned both from their position and from the Council, and our 3rd, Cllr Harries, chose not to put himself forward as Chair for 2019 – 20, but remains on the Council. Thanks to all of them for their hard work, and – looking for positive indicators wherever possible – I take it as a good sign that Wynne has felt able to remain on the Council after a period in the Chair. Several Councillors also resigned at various points, and for various reasons. To be honest, some, though not all, of these resignations were due to continued mistrust between Councillors, and some bad tempered and overheated debates, which have made some meetings challenging for all of us. Despite this, we were able to recruit 2 co-opted councillors, one of whom has felt able to continue with us, and a total of 8 councillors presented themselves for re-election and took up their places last week. This leave us with a shortfall of 7 places, which we will seek to fill – more of this later.
Following the resignation of our Clerk in March 2018, we again spent a while this year without a Clerk. However a silver lining has emerged – we were successful in recruiting a highly committed and competent employee, who is doing sterling work in helping us to get essential financial and other processes and policies up to date, and improving our communications and contacts with the community. We’re not where we want to be yet – but we are making progress. If we can maintain stability, I expect us to be consulting more effectively and in a more timely fashion over budget and other plans next time round.
Nevertheless, despite these challenges, the PC has continued to maintain and develop facilities in our parishes.
We have played our part in the acquisition of 2 more defibrillators, one at the surgery and one in Storridge, to improve availability across a wider area.
In planning matters, a key issue for the community, we have stressed and monitored the application of our NDP in practice, with notable success. The Plan has been quoted in planning decisions by Hereford and at appeal level, for example the report of the Inspector regarding proposed development on Chapel Lane in Cradley, which referenced the Local Plan in some detail when refusing the application. This is a pleasing indication of the power of the NDP – localism in practice, providing community influence over what development takes place where. We will continue to monitor implementation, building evidence of decisions which set precedents for future planning applications.
One of the characteristics of our villages which we particularly value is their natural beauty and the quality of the environment. The PC has worked to maintain and develop this – our Environment Working Group is actively engaged with local rare species experts in mapping evidence of flora and fauna which we want to protect. This also has impact for building development, as presence of endangered species is a significant planning factor. We have
recently been approached and agreed to take part in a pilot project, run in partnership with Balfour Beatty, to protect and develop roadside verges for native flora and fauna.
We have clarified the status of Crumpton Hill Village Green, establishing and protecting the area as a facility to be enjoyed by the community. Lengthsman work – now funded entirely by the PC– continues to help maintain our byways and network of footpaths. We have also contributed to the built environment, with a ‘clean up’ of the Cradley War Memorial, and work going on as we speak to recondition the church clock.
So what of the next year? I have some particular aspirations, which I hope are shared. My view of the role of Chair is that it should provide a lead in facilitating what the community wants – as represented to and by the PC as a whole. For me, it is a supporting and enabling role, not a policy making one. So my individual aspirations are largely concerned with processes and behaviour.
First, I referred earlier to some bad-tempered PC meetings. Meetings are, I think, becoming calmer, but we need to reinforce habits of courteous and respectful discussion, listening to each other and to the community, accepting well-informed democratic decisions, and working together to implement them. As Chair, I hope I will be able to encourage reasoned discussion and welcome new ideas that may challenge established custom and practice.
Secondly, we need to recruit and co-opt additional councillors to strengthen the council. The schedule for this will be published imminently, with dates for submission of applications. In the meantime, anyone tempted to join us is welcome to contact any councillor, directly or through our Clerk, for an informal chat about what is involved. Ideally, I would like this process to become an opportunity to make us more diverse and representative of the whole community – if you feel your locality, generation, or experiences are not represented within the existing Council, please think about joining us. But we have plenty of vacancies – the need for diversity should not deter anyone from applying! Our policy and process for co-option is available on our website, or, as I’ve said, contact any of us.
Third – and finally – I would like us to be able to be more aware of, and more responsive to, what the community wants. We’ll seek to improve means of consultation, particularly over budget and spending priorities. We want to be open to suggestions, challenge, and criticism. But – and for some this is a big ‘but’ – we will not respond to anonymous criticism, rumour or attempted character assassination. We will, of course, respect confidentiality – a very different thing. So if you have concerns, or ideas about how we can better serve this community, let us know – you will be heard and your views will be considered. We may not agree, but we will listen, and we’ll be as open and transparent as we can about the decisions we take and the reasons for them – that’s local democracy as I see it.
On behalf of the PC, we look forward to working together over the next year.
Cllr Anne Scarsbrook