Lambourn Parish Council meeting, 3 February 2021

This report has been written by Penny Post as a result of attending (by Zoom) the most recent meeting of Lambourn Parish Council (LPC) on 3 February 2021, the minutes for which can be seen here (on Lambourn.org, not LPC’s website). It does not pretend to be an official version of the meeting and may not cover all the items discussed: it has merely picked out aspects which are likely to be of immediate local interest and offered some background and context, which council minutes generally do not.

Every reasonable effort has been made to provide a clear and dispassionate summary of the points covered but the article may contain expressions of opinion which might not accord with LPC’s official view. It may also refer or have links to what Penny Post believes to be relevant matters which were not discussed at the meeting.

The minutes will eventually appear in this section of the Lambourn Parish Council website.

LPC = Lambourn Parish Council. WBC = West Berkshire Council. LNDP = The Lambourn Neighbourhood Development Plan.

Tree-planting in the parish

Lambourn resident Penny Brewer thanked LPC for its support for the project and suggested that more tree planing should be encouraged throughout the parish, by or on behalf of individuals, perhaps in celebration or remembrance of a particular family event. She said that Arthur Cullen, WBC’s Grounds Maintenance Office, had agreed to help the important matter of suggesting suitable sites, types of tree and planting details. She asked if LPC would support this initiative, which would be at not cost to the council. LPC agreed that it would.

Co-option of a new councillor

Vicky Rieunier from Upper Lambourn said she was willing to join LPC. The discussion and decision on this was deferred until the Part 2 (from which the public and press are excluded) at the end of the meeting, after which it was agreed that she be co-opted.

Laura Farris MP

Local MP Laura Farris joined the meeting and stressed that attending parish council meetings, albeit virtually at present, gave her valuable insights into local concerns, not all of which were raised with her directly. She urged any resident with any local concerns to get in touch. Click here to see her contact details.

The issue of sewage was the main one discussed on this occasion, concerning which she reported two encouraging pieces of news.

The first was that she felt that Thames Water had finally woken up to its obligations, in part at least due to representations she had made, and that under a new dedicated engineer “a pretty comprehensive job of sealing the pipes” in the upper Valley had been done. This was, she estimated, about 80% complete and due to be finished by mid 2021. So far, the sewerage pipes seem to be coping, although she pointed out that the area had not yet experienced the extra test of sustained and heavy rainfall. It was agreed at the meeting that Thames Water had previous proved intractable on this matter. (See also this post concerning Thames Water’s work on this.)

The second concerned the related matter is the permitted discharges of foul water into waterways, a practice which enables water companies (with the Environment Agency’s permission) to use this as an emergency measure to avoid sewage entering homes. The accusation has been made that, far from being a last resort, this has become the norm, water companies therefore having less incentive to fix the pipes. A private member’s bill – the Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill – was brought before the House of Commons last month by Philp Dunne MP in order to limit the number of discharges which the EA can permit and to beef up the fines for breaches. Laura Farris confirmed that this has now been withdrawn as the government has agreed to incorporate this into its forthcoming Environment Act; which should, drafting details permitting, allow the intentions a smoother and more certain passage onto the stature book. (More on this, and the problems of water leaks generally, can be found in this post.)

In answer to a question, the Chairman Mike Billinge-Jones said that he had been given to understand that, if the sewerage system were functioning properly that another 200 homes could be constructed. (WBC’s draft local plan currently provides for 90 homes in the parish, in addition to the expansion on the industrial site at Membury. 65 of these have already been allocated across two sites (60 + five) leaving 25 more to be found: these do not have to be on one site. This figure may change as a result of further revisions to the local plan up to 2037.)

Planning applications

Six applications were considered at the meeting. One (21/00099) was objected to as being not in keeping with the area: the others were accorded ‘no objection’.

Also discussed was 20/00074/AGRIC at Stroud Farm, Lambourn Woodlands, “an application to determine if prior approval is required for a proposed steel portal framed building to be used as a general purpose store. Length 30.67m, breadth 24m, height to ridge 11.53m.” LPC had some reservations about several issues of the proposal as they understood it but could make no further comment until an application were submitted.

Lambourn.org

Christian Noll of Lambourn.org made a presentation about this excellent not-for-profit website which contains a large and ever-increasing number of historical articles and photos about the parish, as well as covering more contemporary matters such as events, local businesses and news. His request for a grant of about £115pa from LPC to assist with the website’s costs was agreed. It was agreed that the website was a valuable local resource and made a positive contribution to life in the village.

Litter picking

It had been previously suggested by LPC that a litter-picking operation would be a good idea in the Upper Lambourn Road area. It was reported at the meeting that the local community had decided to organise this.

Mineral and Waste Consultation

It was agreed that LPC would make no response to this long and technical consultation from WBC. Individuals are able to respond to this consultation: closing date is 15 February 2021. Click here for more.

Local Plan consultation

Councillors Sue Cocker and Bridget Jones had prepared a draft response to this consultation (which is even longer than the Minerals & Waste one), which focussed on aspects of likely “immediate impact.” Sue Cocker said the LNDP Steering Group will be “submitting a much larger response” as part of its work. It was agreed that the draft response would be approved to be submitted by LPC. Individuals are able to respond to this consultation: closing date is 5 February 2021 (ie very soon). Click here for more.

Drainage at Membury

Due to the increased business development and the removal of soil and vegetation, water now had little alternative but to run off into Ramsbury Road, which prone to icing and which suffered from only being gritted at times of snowfall. it was agreed that this problem should be borne in mind, and mitigation measures recommended, with any new applications in the area. It was agreed that a complaint would be made to WBC’s Highways Department to try to resolve the current problem.

CCTV in Membury

There was concern that traffic levels in and out of the industrial area were increasing and that some may be contrary to conditions about operating times. WBC required evidence before any action could be taken. One proposed solution was installing CCTV cameras, although various logistical, financial, technical and legal issues were raised. it was agreed that further discussion was needed to find the best solution.

The proposed Greenway development

Various pre-application meetings had taken place between the possible developers and member of LPC: however, Councillor Cocker stressed that such informal meetings with a range of bodies were an increasingly common part of the planning process and that at no meeting had any LPC member suggested that they could speak on behalf of LPC: they were, as she put it, an opportunity to listen. It appears that there are serious obstacles to the successful development of this site along the lines currently proposed, not least due to the access. However, LPC could offer no collective opinion until any plans were submitted: so far, they have not been.

“Representation of parishioners”

The question of LPC’s collective opinion reared its head in this item. A member of the public had contacted LPC criticising its recent decision to approve at an earlier meeting (after a “lengthy discussion,” the Chairman said, and by a majority of five to three) application 20/02922/FUL relating to 39 Newbury Street. The two main grounds for this criticism were, firstly, that the orange application notices had not been displayed at the site; and, secondly, that subsequent refusals, including the one at this meeting, had been hard been on grounds that should have applied to this application.

LPC pointed out that it was WBC’s, not LPC’s, responsibility to ensure that the orange planning application notices were displayed. (Note: this section of the gov.uk website suggests that requirement, for the planning authority, depends on the nature of the application. This section of the same site says that “Local planning authorities have discretion about how they inform communities and other interested parties about planning applications.” I also believe that WBC has, in the last few years, stopped sending letters to neighbours about planning applications. I’m also not clear what, if any, responsibility the applicant has in ensuring that such notices are displayed.)

All this is, however, slightly beside the point as the criticism turned on the fact that, as the lack of publicity had prevented residents from making their views known, LPC’s decision in favour of the application was defective. It was suggested that, as this oversight was known before the meeting, that the item should have been deferred until residents had been able to respond. It was also alleged that site visits had not taken place and that LPC had not noticed that the plans displayed the wrong scale. (The agendas not seem to be published on LPC’s website which makes it all the harder for residents to know when the next meeting is or what applications are going to be discussed.)

LPC said that it was only a consultee in the process whose views were not binding and that WBC could over-ride or ignore LPC’s views. Whilst true, this argument slightly suggests that all planning discussions by PCs were pointless, whether or not they had all the available information. The question was then asked if, the views in the letters of objection that have since been lodged were known to LPC when discussing the application, it would have made a different decision. An interesting point, but one that was hypothetical and which LPC, reasonably enough, declined to answer. The matter had, it pointed out, been decided.

All of this throws an interesting light on the respective roles of applicants, residents, parish councils and planning authorities in what’s clearly an imperfect process (although better than the private-sector free-for-all proposed in the 2020 government white paper). Unless an application is called in by the ward member or attracts more than ten objections, it will be decided by WBC’s officers. They will use process, policy and precedent to make their decision. If it goes to planning committee there will be a further opportunity for local views to be aired. This incident shows how emotive the planning process is and how it can turn on small errors, oversights or misinterpretations. However, it might be wise not to expect too much of any reformed system (if it ever arrives) as that will doubtless have plenty of cracks and grey areas as well. The moral, perhaps, is to keep your eye on all possible sources of information including the agendas of parish council meetings, (which should be publicly published in advance) and local media sources. As Thomas Jefferson (allegedly) said, “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” This clearly extends to planning applications as well…

Anti-social behaviour

Following on from previous discussions about this matter it was suggested that some form of “boot camp” or other outdoor activities might be organised to try to address the boredom which, particularly during lockdown were being felt by those aged between about eight and 16 and which had led to to some unwelcome incidents. It was agreed that this would be looked into further with the aim of starting something, initially for a trial period, once the clocks went forward own the spring.

Lambourn’s neighbourhood development plan

Sue Cocker, the Chair of the LNDP Steering Group, explained that a good deal of work had been done recently. This included the Steering Group’s detailed response to WBC’s local plan consultation; engagement with businesses; and developing the settlement character appraisal.

See here for more on Lambourn’s neighbourhood development plan; and here for more on neighbourhood development plans generally.

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Covering: Hungerford, Marlborough, Wantage,   Lambourn, Newbury, Thatcham & Theale