4th May 2016
The Neighbourhood Plan
As I reported last year there was significant public concern caused by the various proposals for the Molins Site; this together with the solar farm proposed at Holly Green in 2014 removed any possible doubt that the Parish needed a local plan reflecting the wishes of local people.
Initially Wycombe District Council suggested an Area Action Plan for Saunderton. Reviewing existing Area Action Plans it became clear that this, usually urban process, assumes development shall go ahead rather than addressing whether it should go ahead. So in June we invoked the Neighbourhood Planning process and despite initial resistance from Wycombe District Council this approach was agreed and a Work Group officially started work in late August.
Local support for the process was demonstrated in January when a survey sent to all households in the Parish yielded a 39% response – significantly higher than 30% which is usually regarded as a good response rate in this context. In February and early March there were well attended public exhibitions in the village halls followed by an extended initial public consultation period.
The task is now to produce policies which will gain support. The first draft plan should be sent to the Parish Council for review later this month before further rounds of consultation with the public, Wycombe District Council and others before being sent to an independent examiner and finally being put to a local referendum in 2017.
After having made proposals for a Greater Saunderton of 800 or even perhaps 1,000 houses, quite remarkably Wycombe District Council are now defending an appeal by St Congar the Molins developers by arguing that the appropriate quantum for development should be the equivalent of 25 three bedroom houses. We sought a counsel’s opinion on this point and have been advised that this is very much a tenable argument. Meanwhile the Work Group is constructing policies which will remain effective whatever the outcome of the appeal this autumn.
As if there was not enough for the people of Saunderton to worry about, Dandara the West’s Yard developer has uncovered what is thought to be a WWII bunker and there are now rumours of a second bunker possibly containing mustard gas. Cllr Blackmore acting, independently in a manner that is all his own, has alerted the relevant authorities though they are perhaps not proceeding as quickly as he might prefer.
Princes Risborough Bypass
Planning continues to be a concern with the return of proposals for a Princes Risborough bypass. The people of Shootacre Lane having successfully resolved the Hemley Hill travellers’ camp, are now faced with the possibility of a bypass running past their houses. Wycombe District Council is unable to advise us whether this is a bypass or a relief road, or whether it will be an ‘A’ road or a ‘B’ road. Cllr Bird drafted a response for the Parish Council to the public consultation on the Princes Risborough Town Plan, asking that the route should skirt Princes Risborough as closely as possible thus minimising the impact on both the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Shootacre Lane.
New Bledlow Ridge Right of Way
Cllr. Butler has succeeded in her quest for a footpath alongside part of Haw Lane down to Deanfield. The new Right of Way was approved in July and added to the definitive map as BR 55.
Slow broadband speeds continue to hamper local businesses and cause house sales to fail. Political promises of improvements continue not to materialise. The latest position is that the tender process has been delayed because of “485 Hertfordshire postcodes being erroneously included within the BT submission as part of the Bucks programme”. According to Wycombe District Council, this “shows the importance of a detailed programme assurance approach”. I think this event shows something quite different!
However, Cllr Redding continues to lobby on the Parish’s behalf, no doubt with more tact than I could muster.
The past year has seen three clerks: Mick Evins retired in August after 16 years’ service. Helped by Cllr Butler we recruited Julie Bunker, who is also Clerk to Little Kimble, to become our clerk. Unfortunately in February she felt obliged to resign as one of her other employers had offered her greater rewards and wider responsibilities. Thankfully we now have recruited Jocelyn Kay as clerk who shows every sign of being as excellent as her two predecessors.
With new clerks come new ways of working.
New Standing Orders & Financial Regulations
Cllr Castle worked with Julie Bunker to draft updated standing orders and financial regulations which were adopted in April ready for the new financial year.
We also have a much improved website capable of supporting the Neighbourhood Plan and the ongoing business of the Parish.
Owing to the level of our reserves the Parish precept has not increased for about ten years. In January the Parish Council decided to continue this practice but with a small increase of £144 in proportion to the number of new properties built in the Parish so as to keep the liability for each household the same. Unfortunately the Parish portion of Council Tax increased in error by 7% or about £1.70 per household. This coincides with an exceptionally expensive period for the Parish owing to the £25,000 cost of developing the Neighbourhood Plan of which only £9,000 is funded by grants. The Council has decided that we will base the calculation of the 2017/18 precept on the increase in housing since 2015/16 to rectify this error, thus returning to our intended course.
Community Infrastructure Levy
During 2015/16 the council received almost £10,000 with over £1,000 expected in 2016/17. This money has to be spent on capital projects. During 2015/16 we made grants for capital expenditure to both village halls and replaced the aging Parish Noticeboards.
During 2016/17 we have committed to support the extensive renovation of Bledlow Village Hall and partially fund a project to increase safety at the point where the Phoenix Trail crosses Sandpit Lane.
As part of the government ‘localisation’ initiative the Parish joined a consortium led by Princes Risborough Council to carry out verge cutting. So far this is running at a modest surplus. So we intend to spend at least part of this by introducing a three year cycle of cleaning all the road signs in the Parish.
Finally, I wish to thank all three Clerks, and my eight fellow Councillors for their commitment and support during the year. For the Neighbourhood Plan: apart the contributions from numerous volunteers including Cllrs Sage and Castle, I also wish to thank Luca Guerzoni and Derek Stone who have made a huge contribution by respectively project managing and assembling drafts of the plan as it develops.