Annual Parish Meeting 2009

 

Minutes of the Annual Parish Meeting held on Monday 20th April 2009 at 7.30 p.m. in the Village Hall, Freeland, Oxfordshire.


PRESENT:

Chairman:   Bill Pinkerton

Vice-Chairman:  Peter Newell

District Councillor:  Colin Dingwall

County Councillor:  Louise Chapman

Neighbourhood Police:   Not present

Parish Councillors:Janet Dalton, Joyce Williams, Bill Phillips, Martin Shann, Linda Day.

Officer:  Clerk

Plus 53 Electors of the Parish


1.APOLOGIES:  Toby Morris.


2.DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST:  There were no declarations of interest to be made for any items to be discussed at the meeting.


3.UPDATE ON PROGRESS TO THE VILLAGE WEBSITE

Peter Newell gave a report regarding the progress made with the village website www.freelandoxn.com over the past year.  At the last APM the website had just been set up and had only been running for a few weeks.  Since then a lot of work had been done - changing the format of the pages, having bigger pictures and more headings to make the website more user friendly.  The Maps section now had Multimap and Ordnance Survey maps available that gave a higher resolution.  A new section for planning applications had been introduced allowing residents to view a list of planning applications that had been received each month.  This page also gave the planning reference number for each application, which allowed users to access the WODC website and view the whole application on line.  There was a News and Notices section, although to date not many had been received.  The Forum and Adverts section was often quiet, but could at times become energised, most recently when the Cuckoo Wood Farm planning application had been submitted.  Unfortunately Peter reported that this liveliness had attracted some undesirable sites, although he had taken steps to block them. A page giving the current temperature in Freeland together with a Plant of the Month page had been introduced by Martin Shann and these would be developed further in time.  Peter had been gradually adding photographs to the photo albums on the website, with some beautiful pictures of the winter snow in Freeland now available to view.  After a resident’s suggestion about having details of the origins of road names in Freeland, a page giving this information had been created.  The Footpaths section had also been updated and more work was imminent as Martin and Peter would be walking each of the footpaths with the intention of giving more information and detailing some circular walks around Freeland.   

Joyce Williams advised that she gives the details of the website to any new residents and asked to be made aware of any new neighbours in the village.  Peter also asked for any suggestions or feedback about the website to be directed to him at witney42-web@yahoo.co.uk .

Martin Shann was thanked for bringing the equipment along and setting it up so that villagers could view the website.


4.MINUTES OF THE ANNUAL PARISH MEETING ON 14TH APRIL 2008

This item was taken after the break so that electors could have the opportunity to read the copies of the minutes on display.   The minutes had been displayed on the village notice boards for two months following the meeting and circulated to the parish councillors who had made no amendments.   The minutes of the meeting on 14th April 2008 were then signed as an accurate record of the meeting. 


5.ANNUAL REPORT BY THE DISTRICT COUNCILLOR

Colin Dingwall gave a brief report regarding progress made during the past year by WODC.  He apologised that the WODC Council Tax had had to rise by 4.9% this year but the Government had only increased their grant by 0.5%.  This increase amounted to £3.74 per year, just over 1 pence per day which he felt was excellent value for the amount of services provided.  He advised that despite this increase, WODC were still the second lowest charging shire Council in the country with a £75 per year increase for a band D property.  Other local districts were more than 3 times more expensive with Oxford City charging an increase of over £237 for the same services as WODC.  Interest on deposits held with the Icelandic banks had been lost this year which at the time of investment were AAA rated by the Treasury.  It was hoped that 80% of the invested money would be recouped, but interest on this money would be lost.  The Marriott’s Close development in Witney was well under way with a new M&S, Debenhams and a 5 screen Multiplex cinema all due to open in October this year.  This was a £53 million development and one of only two in the country going ahead in the current difficult financial climate.  He thanked the Parish Council for all the hard work and hours put in by the Councillors.  He also offered to meet with anyone who had concerns about the planning application at Cuckoo Wood Farm.

A question about the old shop site was put to Colin but unfortunately there was no further news on this piece of land.  The Clerk had asked WODC Planning Dept to contact the landowner to find out their intentions as the existing planning permission was valid for a further year.  A response was awaited.


6.ANNUAL REPORT FROM THE COUNTY COUNCILLOR

Louise Chapman was the Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Families.  She was elected 4 years ago and represented the residents of North Leigh, Bladon, Cassington, Hanborough and Freeland.

Louise reported that the budget figure had been set for the County with an increase of just 3.75%.  A big commitment had been made last year to get the figure down to 4% which had been achieved as they had gone below 4%, although things were extremely tough.  Louise advised that whilst the budget overall was extremely fair, it would mean ultimately that the Council Tax would go up for households.

The use of resources was one of the big challenges the County now faced and within the Children’s Services there was a low number of social workers.  Since the Baby P child abuse case that had recently been televised, there had been a 30% increase in child welfare cases being referred to the County, so there had to be an increase in the number of child care social workers with 8 new posts, and there was lots of work to be done around prevention.  More money had been allocated for youth clubs to open on Friday and Saturday evenings which was the first time money had been made available for youth activities.  There was also the Chill Out Fund which had been a trial but would continue this year, and Freeland Parish Council had applied to this fund for assistance in replacing the wooden floor in the village hall, which was hoped would be successful as the Parish Council would provide the required matching funding.    Education was the key to life and Louise advised that the schools in the local area were very good but popular and the County had to take a hard line, whilst doing everything they could to meet requirements.  However, this year’s GCSE results were improved from last year. 

Potholes were a big issue, and although in Oxfordshire roads are looked after, there was a huge backlog of potholes to be dealt with.  It is an area that is often cut in Highways budget, but they were doing all they could with the money they had.

Another of their biggest challenges is that people are living longer; therefore care for the elderly population.  The County’s ethos was to try and keep those who want to live in their own homes for as long as possible whilst providing the help they needed.  

Louise responded to questions as follows:

Speeding – comment was made about the speeding problem by young people around the Green and what was being done about it.  Louise responded that actions had been taken last year and the County were trialling 20 mph speed limits in the City, which if it worked would be rolled out across the county.   She asked if residents had any suggestions to put them forward to the Parish Council who can discuss it at their next meeting and site visits by an Area Engineer could be arranged.  A full consultation would be required for speed bumps. 

Flashing speed signs – A query was raised that last year flashing speed signs had been promised in the village but had not been installed.  The Chairman advised that they had not been promised but had been considered.  However he felt that as most people travelling along Wroslyn Road were Freeland residents then after a while the sign would not be effective as it would be ignored.    Residents stated that the flashing signs in Bladon seemed to work well.   The Chairman recognised that they sometimes worked well but not always.  The biggest age group of people who were at risk of speeding were 18-26 year olds, who were unlikely to be deterred by a flashing sign.

Traffic lights system – one resident suggested a solution that she had seen in Portugal whereby a traffic light system that can detect an oncoming vehicle’s speed is installed.  The traffic lights would turn red if the vehicle was speeding so it would have to stop.  Louise advised she would take this forward to the Highways dept and get them to conduct a feasibility study with costings.  She also advised there were currently 2 sorts of signs – SID (Speed Indicator Devices) that flashed up a vehicle’s particular speed, and VAS (Vehicle Activated Signs) that flashed if a vehicle’s speed was too high.  She could get an Area Engineer out to look at the options for Freeland if the Parish Council so wished.

Sunken drains – residents reported 2 sunken drains round the bend on Wroslyn Road by the Green which meant that cars had to swerve round them often over the white lines which was extremely dangerous.  Bill Phillips advised these had been previously reported.  The Clerk would report these again and Louise was happy to chase this up.

Evening Bus Service – Joyce asked Louise if the County would still assist with helping to fund an evening bus service to Witney to enable residents to use the new cinema complex.  Louise advised she would assist in any way she could and stated that funding via grants might be possible for a mini bus as Freeland was a village in a rural location.



7.ANNUAL REPORT BY BILL PINKERTON, CHAIRMAN OF FREELAND PARISH COUNCIL

This item was taken first following the Chairman’s welcome to all residents.  There had been changes in the Parish Council during the year with the departure of two Councillors, Liz Warby and Francis Spratt and an appointment of a new councillor Martin Shann.  There was a further vacancy which would be filled by co-option as no election had been requested.  He appreciated the work done by those who had left and welcomed the new member.

He thanked the previous Clerk who had retired in July 2008 for all her hard work, dedication and commitment over the past 9 years which had been very much appreciated and wished her well for the future.  The new Clerk was introduced to residents and the Chairman commented that she was doing an excellent job.

Website - The Chairman advised residents of the opportunity to view the new vibrant village website and told them that it was there to be used as a benefit to the village so encouraged residents to put their views forward.  He also stated that the Parish Council had won a £100 prize for the website as part of the Villages of the Year Competition.  The Chairman expressed his sincere thanks to Peter Newell for all the hard work he had put into the website which was an excellent resource for the village.

Affordable Housing was still a major issue; it had been a bit of a rollercoaster ride over the past year with many ups and downs. Currently there were three or four sites that the Parish Council would like to finalise for affordable housing, but various problems with ownership and planning had been experienced.  However the Parish Council were committed to this project and would continue to pursue all avenues until a positive outcome could be achieved.

Highways – The village now had white lines and chevrons round the bend at the Green and 30mph round repeater signs had been painted along Wroslyn Road.  The Parish Council were fairly certain there was a speeding problem within the village and had been successful following the Speed Survey in obtaining speed camera vans in the village which would continue to be encouraged. Dropped kerbs and a new hard standing at the bus stop had been provided, together with weed clearances around the gutters.

Flooding continued to be an issue at the bottom of the hill on Wroslyn Road on the sharp bend and by the entrance to Pigeon House Lane.  The Parish Council had been talking to Highways recently to see what remedial action could be taken.  Potholes were still apparent and were being reported to Highways by the Clerk, but if residents noticed any they could be reported directly to Highways via the website or a telephone helpline.

Two new open style notice boards had been erected in the village, one outside the school and one outside the village hall.  These could be used by residents to advertise local events, and the boards would be regularly maintained and cleared so that they remained tidy and up to date.

The Cemetery is an ongoing project with Peter Newell chairing the Cemetery Committee.  Considerable progress had been made over the past year, and the plans for the new gates and storage building were on display which residents would have the opportunity to view and comment on during the break.

The amenity area in Broadmarsh Lane continued to be discussed at each meeting.  There were two pieces of land in Broadmarsh Lane that were designated as amenity areas but the registration of this land had never taken place so it had no apparent owner.  The Council had written to the Crown Solicitors who had replied that a charge would be made to find out who owns the land.  The Chairman asked if anyone had any information regarding this land to contact him.  Martin Shann would be investigating this further via the WODC archives.

The play park had had weekly inspections carried out by the Councillors and two RoSPA inspections to ensure it is kept as safe as it can be.

The Chairman congratulated Mr & Mrs Foote and Mr & Mrs Lay who had won the Best Kept Garden competition last year, and this would be organised again for this year.

The Village Hall was a cause for concern and various major problems had become apparent over the past 6-9 months.  The windows were sinking, the uprights were rotting, the roofing felt had deteriorated and the floor was not inviting to users.  The Council were trying to make the hall a better place, and raising money to fund a new hall was particularly difficult in the current climate.  Three schemes were being proposed and Peter Newell would be explaining further about these.

Footpaths had been walked and problems reported.  Peter Newell and Martin Shann were putting a lot of effort in to developing the footpaths for community use and trying to make circular walks which would then be published in the Grapevine and on the village website.

It had been a busy year with responses to consultations on transport, minerals, Local Development Framework, risk assessments and financial reviews.  Various training courses had been attended by the Councillors on planning, how to be a better Councillor and the new Code of Conduct.  27 planning applications had been received and commented on, with 22 being granted and 2 currently awaiting a decision.

The Chairman thanked all of the Parish Councillors for all their work during the past year.

He also thanked many volunteers in the village and in particular special mention was made to the Gardening Club for the super display of bulbs that had been planted throughout the village and for the two lovely trees outside the village hall;  Les Hole who carried out an excellent job in looking after the playing field; Nigel Green, who although paid, cuts the grass in the village and kept it tidy; the Grapevine team who produced a worthwhile and excellent resource for the village; Bill Phillips who kept the village clear of litter and a special thanks was paid to Peter Newell who had worked particularly hard this year and done a fantastic job in looking at options for the village hall and the cemetery.  The recent group set up to fund-raise for the refurbishment of the Church Bells was also thanked for donating such time and effort to a very worthy cause.

The Chairman responded to questions as follows:

Travellers’ site – comment was made as to what the Parish Council were going to do about the traveller’s site that had recently been granted at Cuckoo Wood Farm.  The Chairman responded that the Parish Council could not do anything about it as there was no right of appeal.  Objections had been made on the grounds of site access and visibility and a request had been made for various conditions to be applied if the site were to be granted.  It was WODC that made the final decision and unfortunately only one of the conditions requested had been applied which was to ensure that all persons using the site had to be a member of the Showmen’s Guild.  Residents queried why they were not all informed of this development proposal.  The Chairman responded that all neighbours had been informed of the proposals and that details of all applications received  were now placed on the website, notice boards and in the Grapevine.  Colin advised everyone that there was a difference between showmen and gypsies and specific regulations applied to each group.  The particular application ticked all the boxes and there were no points upon which to sensibly object.  Colin did offer to meet with anyone who had concerns or if there were any valid points to raise to create a judicial review that could possibly overturn the decision.  Residents were still very concerned about the site and that the owner’s dogs had previously savaged several sheep. The owner was present at the meeting and expressed regret about these unfortunate incidents and advised that he would attempt to keep his dogs under control in the future.  Louise also offered to meet with anyone who had further concerns.


8.REPORT FROM THAMES VALLEY POLICE

In the absence of a member of the Thames Valley Police team there was nothing to report.


9.UPDATE ON THE REFURBISHMENT OF FREELAND VILLAGE HALL

Peter Newell gave a presentation on the refurbishment options for the Village Hall.  He became Chairman of the Village Hall about a year ago and the income and users had gradually dropped over time so it had become difficult to maintain the Hall.  The biggest obstacle was that people wanted a new hall but were not keen to invest in the existing one.

The situation came to a head last summer when it became clear the roof needed urgent re-felting at a cost of £10,000.  Peter approached the Parish Council for financial help and was asked to carry out a full structural survey.  SJ Treloar of North Leigh carried out the survey, and while they found the structure sound, there were several things that needed urgent attention:

•Roofing - £10,000

•Guttering/fascias/soffits all rotting - £4,000

•Wooden windows and doors rotting - £14,000

•Heaters needed replacing - £1,500

•New (wood) floor required - £10,000

•External cedar wood cladding needed re-treating - £500

•Kitchen worktops needed replacing - £3,000

TOTAL COST:  £40,000 approx.


Stephen Treloar suggested building a new hall.  However the village had tried previously to get a new hall but had been unsuccessful.  20 years ago (when the total cost was £200,000) an anonymous donor in the village offered £100,000 towards the cost of a new hall.  At the time the District and County Councils were certain to give £50,000, leaving £50,000 to be funded by the village.  The Parish Council had asked residents and the majority said yes to a new hall but no to helping to pay for it.  More recently in 2006 Clive Brimson and the committee produced plans for a new hall similar in size to the current hall, and had it costed at £615,000 excluding VAT, professional fees and building regulation fees, so total cost would be around £700,000.  Again, support from the village was not forthcoming.

So the Village Hall Committee were forced to consider renovating the hall to keep it going for the foreseeable future.  The cedar wood cladding treatment and internal woodwork and decoration of the toilets had been carried out from the Village Hall funds, and a £200 donation from the Open Gardens.  The Parish Council agreed to fund the roof and guttering and the new floor. Funding had been applied for to WODC for £7,000 which had been successful, and through the Trust for the Environment (TOE) for £8,000, plus an application had been made to the Chill Out Fund for the new floor for £5,000.  At this point the Chairman had suggested to Peter doing a feasibility study  to see if more radical changes could be made to make the Hall more appealing at a lower cost than a new build, so a local firm of Chartered Surveyors were asked to look at 3 options of refurbishment for the village hall:

1.Minimal Scheme – this scheme costs £35K and involves re-felting of the sloping and flat roofs; replacement of the guttering, fascia boards and soffits using UPVC; laying an engineered wooden floor in the Main Hall; replacement of all windows and doors with double-glazed UPVC units; and replacement of electric wall heaters in the main hall, kitchen and toilets.  Funding obtained so far for this is £7K from WODC with grants to TOE for £8,000 and the Chill Out fund for £5K submitted.  With such grant support, it was likely that existing Parish Council funds could cover the balance without needing external loans.  The result would be a refurbished (but somewhat dated) hall that might be good enough for the next 10 years.

2.Intermediate Scheme – this scheme costs £125K and in addition to the refurbishment of the minimal scheme, also involves replacing the existing North and West wooden walls with new cavity brick so that all external walls of the Hall would be brick built.  At the rear (East) side there would be a cavity brick wall extending between the extremities of the existing brick walls of the kitchen and store rooms so as to form a new enclosed room.  This area would be covered by a new flat felt roof in line with the existing flat roofs.  This scheme would need about £110K in loans through the Parish Council.  Over 25 years, the total cost of a PWLB (Public Works Loan Board which gives Parish Councils a favourable rate) 4% fixed rate loan would be approx £170K repayable at £7K per year.  This works out as roughly £13 per household per year for 25 years.

Besides the updated floor, the windows, doors, and re-felted roof, it would provide a new useful room and would look much better that at present.  However, the internal ceiling and the felt covered sloping and flat roofs would be similar to those that are currently in place.

3.Full Scheme – this scheme costs £300K and in addition to the refurbishment listed in the intermediate scheme, would entail removal of the existing roof structure and replacement by a pitched roof bearing roof tiles with a gable over the entrance hallway.  The main roof would be higher than the existing one and would span not only the existing main hall, but also the kitchen, store room and shower rooms, thereby doing away with all of the existing flat roofs.  All of the existing lighting fittings would be removed and replaced by a more modern lighting.

This scheme would need about £285K in loans, and the total cost of a 4% fixed rate loan of £285K would cost about £457K repayable at £18K per year or £33 per household per year for 25 years.

This proposal would give a much better looking hall, inside and out, essentially a new looking hall at less than half the cost of a new build.

New Village Hall

A new hall would cost around £700,000 to £800,000.  Currently there is little prospect of finding substantial grants to cover this amount so the Parish Council would have to find at least £700,000 from people living in the village.

If a loan for this amount from the PWLB were even possible, repayment costs would be very high.  A 4% fixed rate loan of £700,000 for 25 years would cost about £1,100,000 repayable at £45,000 per year.  There are approximately 550 houses in Freeland, so to fund the new Hall, each of these households would on average have to pay £2,000 each.  This represents £80 per household per year for 25 years on top of the existing Parish Council tax of £50-£60 each.  This would more than double the Parish tax rate for the next 25 years which in the current economic climate, seems excessive and unwise.


Peter explained that the dilemma is that the more we spend the better hall we get and the longer it would last without needing to be rebuilt.  The less we spend, the less we get and the sooner people would want a replacement new hall.  However, action needed to be taken as the roof urgently needed re-felting, and if this was not done the risk would be losing the use of the hall altogether.  It was difficult to get the balance right as not everyone in the village would be able to afford the costs, and the decision had to be something that everyone could bear.

Residents were asked for their initial thoughts on the proposals and comments and questions were responded to as follows:

Heating – comment was made as to whether the new refurbished hall with a higher roof would cost more to heat.  Peter replied that because the refurbished hall would have double glazing, insulation in the roof and a warmer wooden floor, it was likely be more cost effective to heat and would retain warmth better than at present.

Closing the hall – a query was raised as to how long the hall would have to be closed during the refurbishment and how much notice users would get.  Peter was hopeful that the hall would only need to be closed for approx 2 months and was mindful that whilst the hall was shut there would be no income obtained for that period.  A long planning schedule would be drawn up to ensure users were given as much notice as possible before the planned closure.

Consultation – residents were concerned about whether the Parish Council were planning to fully consult with villagers about the proposals via questionnaires and that fund raising needed to be a priority.  The Chairman and Peter explained that households had been surveyed previously which had provided a fairly negative response.  However, comment was made that that was done approx 12 years ago and there were now lots of new residents in the village so responses might now be different.  Residents felt strongly that the time was right for a full consultation with the village.  The Chairman advised that all residents had been invited to the APM, and those that were interested had come along to join in the discussion, plus details would be put on the website and in the Grapevine.  A show of hands was requested to gain an idea as to villagers’ initial thoughts on their preferred option.  The results were 20 for a new build, 17 for the full refurbishment scheme, and 0 for the minimal and intermediate refurbishment schemes.  The Chairman and Peter thanked everyone for their input and asked for any further thoughts and comments to be emailed or posted to Peter.  In the meantime Peter would investigate schemes to borrow money but no more than £500K could be borrowed.  Louise also offered to meet with Peter informally to see if she could help in any way.


10.REPORT FROM THE CHAIRMAN OF THE CEMETERY COMMITTEE

Peter Newell gave a brief presentation of the options available for the new Cemetery gates and storage shed.  Peter explained that the Cemetery is a site that is being developed, but is not yet a working site.  Eventually it would be a Parish Council site where a person of any faith or creed may be buried.  The Parish Council had set up a sub-committee whose members were Linda Day, Bill Phillips and Peter as Chairman.  Derek Thomlinson, a local architect in the village had been contacted to draw up some different designs for the cemetery gates and storage shed.  The two different designs for the gates were displayed at the meeting for residents to view and offer comments, one of which reflected the shape of the church gates.  Peter reported that after careful consideration, the gates would no longer be in line with the existing hedge, but there would be a curved wall allowing extra length for cars to turn in and open the gates.  This would also allow for a pedestrian gate, although this had not yet been designed.  The width of the gates would be wide enough for a lorry, but not for two cars.  The new storage shed building design was also displayed at the meeting for residents to view and offer comments.  The building would be used to store the mower and would provide a secure lock up area for tools, plus there would be an open lock up storage area for vases.  A veranda had also been built into the design that would be a covered area. The building could be placed on either the left or right hand side of the entrance; although Peter commented that it fitted better on the right.   The building could be made of stone with a slate roof, and whilst this would be moderately expensive, there was money held in the Parish Council’s reserve accounts to cover these costs.

Comments were invited from residents, and the general feeling was that the gates that reflected the style of the church gates were preferred.


11.AUDITED ANNUAL RETURN FOR 2007/08 AND RECEIPTS & PAYMENTS STATEMENT FOR 2008/09

Copies of the Audited Annual Return for the year to 31st March 2008 were available for inspection, and residents were supplied with a statement of Receipts and Payments for the year ended 31st March 2009.  These were accepted by the meeting.   The reserves were noted, specifically earmarked reserves of £25,000 for the new burial ground, £9.500 for play equipment and £20,000 towards a new village hall.


12.REPORT BY THE VILLAGE HALL COMMITTEE’S REPRESENTATIVE

Joyce Williams presented the accounts for the Village Hall for the year ending 31st December 2008.  Rental income initially appeared high, but as Joyce explained unfortunately in 2007 there had been some problems experienced in collecting some weekly amounts of rent, and this was not resolved until June 2008.  This meant that these rental amounts were included in 2008’s figures.  The annual payment from Greene King for the car park had been received and the money in the slot meters of £339 only went towards the cost of the heating.  A donation of £200 had been received from Freeland Open Gardens and this had been used to decorate the toilets.  As far as payments were concerned the total cost of electricity of £1,604.39 reflected the increased cost of electricity and covered lighting, cooking, hot water and showers.  Maintenance and repairs included £700 spent on repairing the roof and the windows and £500 to unblock the drains after paper towels were flushed down the toilets. The total in hand at the end of year was £6,099.14.  However, since 1st January further bills had been received for painting and repairs to the toilets and the outside cedar cladding and a further plumbing repair.

The meeting accepted the report and accounts.


13.REPORTS FROM SOCIETIES IN FREELAND

Reports from the Christian Fellowship, Gardening Club, Tuesday Club, Preschool, Baby & Toddler Group, Football Club, Guides, Beavers, St Mary’s Church and Freeland Primary School were all available for residents’ information.


14.ANY OTHER BUSINESS

There being no further business the Chairman thanked everyone for their time, interest and input and the meeting closed at 10.10pm.