Annual Report of the Chairman of Chieveley Parish Council Parish Assembly 12 April 2022

The text that follows is the text of the address delivered by Chieveley Parish Chair Mike Belcher at the above-mentioned meeting. The headings and bullet-point formatting have been added by Penny Post purely for ease of reading.

Welcome to the annual Parish meeting.

For housekeeping purposes, I would like to point out the emergency exits. In the event of a fire, could you please assemble on the playing field opposite the hall entrance.

Although we did not meet last year, I posted a chairman’s report which was minuted. We therefore need to approve these minutes. If there are no objections, can I therefore take the minutes as approved?

Before I begin my narrative, there are some important points that I would like to make.

The council and the councillors

  • The first is that the parish of Chieveley comprises the villages of Chieveley, Curridge, Oare and part of Snelsmore and all Councillors support the whole parish.
  • The second is that Councillors are committed volunteers and give a considerable amount of their time, skills and effort freely for the benefit of the community.
  • The third is that members of the public are welcome to attend Parish Council meetings, agendas for which are posted on noticeboards around the parish. At these meetings, 15 minutes is available for members of the public to ask questions of the Parish Council or voice any concerns they may have.
  • Finally, all discussions, resolutions and financial information regarding the Parish Council is available in the meeting minutes posted on the village website mychieveley.co.uk.

Finance and regulatory framework

This report covers the period from May 2021 to April 2022. With Covid restrictions easing during the year, the Parish Council was able to hold all but one meeting face to face, albeit with precautions against Covid.

It should be noted that the Parish Council operates within strict statutory guidelines and continues to review and where necessary revise codes, policies, operational documents and procedures. This work is ongoing.

Regarding finance, the Parish Council applies each year for a precept which forms part of the rates parishioners pay to West Berkshire Council (WBC). I am delighted to say that we are working well within budget and we will not be asking for increased funds for the year 2022 to 2023.

Parish Councils are statutory consultees for a number of central government and district council consultations. Therefore, a significant part of the Council’s responsibility is as a statutory consultee to WBC in its role as local planning authority. During the year starting May 2021, the Parish Council considered 49 planning applications and reported objections to 9 of those. Although we did not object, we did make comment on 8 other applications.

When considering planning applications, the Parish Council works to clear guidelines and in particular the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the AONB, WBC local plan and the Housing Site Allocation Development Plan Document (HSADPD). These policy considerations have been of great significance in protecting the AONB against developments such as the Grundon Incinerator application in 2011 and will play a very important role in protecting against future threats of inappropriate development within the AONB.

WBC consultations and planning applications

Apart from local planning issues, the year has seen other significant events regarding planning. In January of 2021, the Parish Council was invited to comment on the West Berkshire Local Plan Review and the Minerals and Waste Local Plan. The Minerals and Waste plan included the potential for significant sand extraction from the site behind Chieveley services. The Parish Council resolved to draft a representation objecting to the inclusion of this site. The core reason for the objection was the threat to the AONB. Also, WBC refused a similar application for sand extraction in 2011 because of the impact on the AONB and an appeal was dismissed in 2012.

This new plan was the subject of an examination in February of this year and councillor David Cowan attended the examination and presented the parish council’s objections, which included:

  • Policy conflict regarding the AONB
  • Access problems
  • Traffic movements
  • Parish plan considerations
  • Sand quality and suitability
  • Environmental issues
  • Restoration and aftercare

We await the conclusions of this examination.

In April 2021 an application for a chicken farm with two agricultural buildings, formalisation of field access with construction of new track and the siting of temporary agricultural workers’ accommodation on land to the south of Radnall’s farm was submitted, subsequently withdrawn and resubmitted in August with minor amendments. This application received an unprecedented 76 objections from members of the public. The Parish Council also submitted a strong objection citing:

  • Impact on the AONB – the proposal is not in accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework and core strategy to protect, conserve and enhance the AONB
  • Traffic – the inevitable use of Green Lane, which is totally unsuitable for large vehicles, or indeed any increased traffic movements
  • Public health – noise, odour and vermin
  • Proposed dwelling – this would be outside the settlement boundary and within the AONB

This issue is ongoing and will be considered by the West Berks Western Area Planning committee in due course, where we will be able to present our objections.

Also of considerable interest to local residents was an application to build four large houses on land behind Coombe Cottage. We objected on several grounds, including traffic emerging onto the high street in a highly congested area, overlooking neighbouring properties as the land is a couple of meters higher than neighbouring properties on the High Street and part of the development would be built in the local conservation area. The West Berks planning authority has now dismissed this application on the grounds of “The effect on amenity of the residents of Chiltern House”. As it is now proposed to take this site out of the local plan, future development is extremely doubtful.

However, it appears that a new application has been submitted. In it, one of the houses has been moved a few metres, a tree is to be planted and the height of one of the houses is reduced. We will of course object and it would be worthwhile if previous objectors did so again.

The Newbury Showground

Another significant event involved the Newbury Showground. In May 2021, we became aware that the board of the Newbury and District Agricultural Society (NADAS), the owners of the showground, were on the brink of selling the showground to developers to turn it into a distribution centre.

There was strong opposition from many members of NADAS and in August a group called the requisitionists, opposed to the sale, called an unofficial EGM where approximately 90% of well over 100 attendees voted against the board’s decision to sell the showground. Subsequently, an official EGM voted against the sale and the existing board resigned. A new board was appointed and began the process of looking at ways to make the agricultural society more financially viable to ensure that the showground could be saved.

One of the most important aspects to improving revenue is the ability to increase the use of the showground. This would involve the easing of certain s106 restrictions, which were measures limiting the number of events and the times of year that these events could take place. The s106 restrictions were originally put in place to protect the local community from excess noise, traffic disruption, light pollution etc.

In a series of meetings, including a visit to the showground to view measures newly put in place to control noise etc, the Parish Council carefully considered the impact of more usage, particularly the proposed increased use of the barn, and are confident that any increased use of the showground will not cause any significant increase in noise, traffic and other disruptions to the community. It will also substantially increase the chances that we will not have a vast area of buildings, concrete and tarmac with associated substantial 24/7 traffic movements instead of green fields and open space. We therefore resolved to support NADAS in their bid to get some of the s106 restrictions eased.

Community support

Regarding community support, the Parish Council has always considered the Chieveley Recreation Centre as a valuable community asset and continues, through the grants process, to support the maintenance of the grounds, the multi use games area (MUGA) and the children’s playground as well as an annual contribution to the eventual replacement of the children’s playground, which I understand is imminent.

In Curridge, apart from regular support funding available for the Curridge playground and Curridge Residents’ Association, the Council agreed financial support for the primary school’s forest school project and support towards IT equipment.

Oare pond also continues to be supported by Council funding.

There is now a Christmas fund for the villages of Curridge, Oare and Chieveley to support displays such as the Christmas tree in Chieveley by the village hall.

Other small grant awards were made, including:

  • Chieveley primary school climbing frame project
  • Gardening club
  • Chieveley scouts
  • Chieveley pre-school
  • The Parochial Church Council
  • A contribution to the West Berks Council library service
  • As part of the ongoing community support, the Parish Council also operates several working groups including:
  • Recreation centre liaison
  • Public Rights of Way
  • Parish plan review
  • Public relations, website and media
  • Code of conduct
  • Highways, traffic and road safety
  • Burial ground
  • Showground liaison

Unfortunately, due to Covid restrictions and the need to observe distancing, much of the work normally done by these groups has been severely restricted. Also, most groups and particularly code of conduct or parish plan review would only meet as and when needed.

We are also represented at community groups such as:

  • Trustee of the Chieveley recreation centre
  • Trustee of the Curridge playground
  • A member of the Downland Practice Patient Participation Group

All of these groups and representations are ways that the parish council can monitor and act on concerns and considerations of the community.

Thanks to…

Finally, I repeat again that all details of Council meetings can be found on the website mychieveley.co.uk which is run voluntarily by Andrew Singleton, to whom we extend our thanks for his valuable work.

To conclude my report, I would like to thank my fellow Councillors for all their hard work and considerable efforts throughout the year. Also, many thanks to Kim Lloyd, our parish clerk and responsible financial officer, for her continued highly efficient and committed hard work. As the saying goes, without these, all of this would not be possible, which leads me nicely on to the fact that there is a vacancy for a Chieveley councillor, so if you think that you could make a positive contribution to the community, please let me or Kim know.

Honorary Freewoman of the Parish

Before we move on to our speakers, I would like to take you back to early 2020. Almost as soon as the Covid virus was seen and the threat to the older and more vulnerable members of our community was recognised, a volunteer group was formed by Nicky Ager, Sarah Hutchison and Helen Singleton. The three leaders galvanised a large number of volunteers who supported around 120 vulnerable people.

A report posted in the May 2020 minutes of the Parish Council meeting demonstrated the thoughtfulness, time and selfless care given by these volunteers to the vulnerable in our community. Among the many ways that the volunteers were able to assist were:

  • Collecting groceries
  • Collecting prescriptions
  • Gardening
  • Transporting patients to medical appointments
  • Checking on people and having regular chats – most welcome to those living alone
  • Cooking and delivering meals
  • Making cakes
  • Walking dogs
  • They set up a food bank and even arranged financial support for those unable to get their usual access to cash

The list goes on.

So, I would simply like to say thank you on behalf of the whole community to all of the volunteers and in recognition of the massive contribution that Nicky, Sarah and Helen made, to present each of them with an Honorary Freewoman of the Parish award for exceptional services to the community. The photo above shows, left to right, Sarah Hutchison, Helen Singleton and Nicky Ager with their awards.

Mike Belcher – Chairman, Chieveley Parish Council

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