6th April 2017
The Neighbourhood Plan
The Neighbourhood Plan has progressed well. Following several rounds of public consultation the final draft was submitted to Wycombe District Council in August 2016 within 12 months of the official start date. This is a record performance as we are told most Neighbourhood Plans take about two years to reach this stage.
We thought the majority of the work would be completed with our final draft in August, but the work continued with meetings with Wycombe District Council about amendments, and then the threat of a Judicial Review by the developer of the Molins site. Wycombe District Council addressed the issues raised by St Congar and the latest position is that unless there is an injunction the Neighbourhood Plan will be put to a referendum on May 4th.
I must thank all those in the Parish who contributed whether as members of the Working Group, the individual Task Groups developing the policies, or indeed the public who attended the consultations – I estimate some 50 people in all.
I gave evidence to the planning enquiry on the Molins site in September as did Councillor Sage. Several other members of the Neighbourhood Plan Working Group also attended. The enquiry has subsequently been ‘called in’ by the Secretary of State, but this appears to have been delayed by St Congar’s application for a judicial review.
The development of Wests Yard continues to be delayed. Cllr Blackwell tells us the site is severely contaminated and may even have contained secret WWII bunkers. The Environmental Agency was called in, all building work ceased and specialist contractors have been decontaminating the site. The contractors’ work has finished but rumours persist that the site is still polluted. At any rate building work has yet to resume.
Beat the bounds
In August Cllr Cox took a group of councillors on a tour of the Parish to familiarise them with features of note within the area. This was much appreciated by all concerned and as a result Cllr Bird is working with Cllr Cox to compile a map of the Parish’s assets.
Cllr Butler continues with her work on restoring the record by ensuring that all the footpaths in the Parish are registered well before the deadline of 2026!
Princes Risborough Bypass
In the latest proposals the line of the proposed Princes Risborough bypass has now been drawn to run near Culverton Farm well away from Shootacre Lane. I wish to thank Cllr Bird for her work on this matter.
While there are still plenty of potholes in the parish – as elsewhere – hedgerows are now becoming an issue with many overhanging branches causing complaints from drivers of larger vehicles including the Risborough Community Bus.
Speeding continues to be a problem, particularly in Bledlow Ridge. Cllr Lord has started a Community Speed Watch programme and volunteers from Bledlow Ridge completed their training in February.
Cllr Reading who has taken over attending the Local Area Forum on my behalf, has managed to attract a £7,360 towards the total cost of making the Pheonix Trail’s crossing of Sandpit Lane safer. The Parish Council funded the remaining £4,000 from CIL funds.
As part of the government ‘localisation’ initiative the Parish joined a consortium led by Princes Risborough Council to carry out verge cutting in 2014. 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.
It is likely Buckinghamshire will be reorganised into a ‘unitary authority’ by merging District and County Councils. However there are two proposals:
- A county-wide authority is proposed by the County Council, and
- Splitting the county into smaller unitary authorities proposed by Wycombe District Council
After receiving representations on both approaches, the Parish Council has concluded that it would be preferable to adopt a county-wide model. This is simpler and more cost effective. From the parish’s perspective a county-wide approach avoids yet another troublesome local government boundary and groups us with more similar parishes than would be the case under Wycombe’s proposal.
Of the 10 or so cabinets serving the Parish only one near Saunderton Station is fibre enabled. Though details have not been finally confirmed, we have been told to expect four additional cabinets to be upgraded; these are likely to be the ones serving Bledlow Ridge and are predicted to improve the service to 300 houses of the 880 or so in the Parish, leaving the rest in their current state. So after years of promises of faster broadband, we have set up a Working Group on Broadband. Progress has been rapid:
- We can now offer 4G loan equipment to those who want to test this in their own house. 4G can deliver the latest Ofcom target of 10Mbps sometimes more.
- Most remarkably there is now a test aerial on the roof of Bledlow church tower delivering speeds of 130Mbps to those in line of sight and also to those close enough to the Church for the signal to penetrate the trees.
- But on Superfast Broadband Connected Counties continue to keep their plans to themselves claiming commercial confidentiality.
Bledlow Village Hall
The extensive renovation of Bledlow Village Hall for which we had budgeted £10,000 has been delayed while the balance of the funds are raised by the village hall committee and will now be carried out in two phases, the first expected later in 2017.
Our much improved website suffered a relapse following a recent upgrade forced by aging software. The clerk applied some emergency repairs, but I am hoping we can find a volunteer in the parish to help with the occasional maintenance the site requires.
Our new clerk Jocelyn Cay has now been with us for over a year. With Councillor Castle she has already made an impact with improving our financial management and I look forward to further progress as she learns the peculiar ways in which local government operates.
Cllr Castle has been working with the Clerk on improving our financial management; we now have regular quarterly financial reports being presented to the council.
Owing mostly to the expense of the neighbourhood plan after grants, the Council’s reserves have reduced by about £20,000 to about £82,000; this level of reserves is considered more than adequate against most measures. Given the adequacy of our reserves the Parish Council continues to hold the precept at the same level as previous years. After going through Local Government’s budgetary arithmetic, our precept actually declined by 0.1% after last year’s unintended increase.
Community Infrastructure Levy
During 2016/17 the council received £1,328. This and levies from previous years continues to be spent on capital projects such as the Sandpit Lane crossing. We enter 2017/18 with £7,500 CIL revenue to be spent on capital projects within the next three to four years.
Finally, I wish to thank the Clerk and my eight fellow Councillors for their commitment and support during the year. For the Neighbourhood Plan: apart from the contributions from numerous volunteers including Cllrs Sage and Castle, I again 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 has developed.