Mercury issue for March 2019 (February 2019 meeting)
For the first time in many a year there were no members of the public wishing to speak at this month’s meeting. A reminder that any resident can choose to address the council at the start of each meeting, by giving prior notice to the clerk, and will be given three minutes in which to speak. Officially there should be no discussion on matters raised in this section and any items requiring further discussion would be added to the formal agenda of the next meeting. In reality the mayor will often apply common sense and allow a limited response, if appropriate.
Minutes of previous meetings
Standing Orders of Olney Town Council:
There has been considerable debate at previous meetings on proposed amendments to the Standing Orders of Olney Town Council (OTC). The minutes of the January meeting document these changes in considerable detail and approval of the minutes of that meeting would presumably be deemed as acceptance of those changes.
Paul Collins said that he had many comments on the revisions and felt that the council would have benefited from a meeting between the dedicated working group and Liam Costello, the Town Clerk, before this meeting.
Peter Geary thought that there was a need to listen to the audio recording of the January meeting to ensure that the minutes were an accurate reflection of what was discussed and agreed.
Liam said that in his opinion the minutes were an accurate record of what was agreed, and he had advised members that some of the proposals were not legally sound, but his advice had been ignored.
Deirdre Bethune asked that her displeasure that the Clerk’s advice on the legality of the amendments had been ignored to be formally recorded.
Closure of Emberton School
As reported last month Emberton School currently has no pupils on its role and the Governing Board have asked MKC to consult on closure. This eight-week consultation is currently under way and will end on 17th March. OTC have decided not to comment on this matter, the feeling being that the school is going to close, anyway. It was noted that the Emberton Neighbourhood Plan includes new housing on the existing School playing fields.
Closure of Barclays Bank
Kevin Viney reported back on the meeting between OTC, Mark Lancaster MP and representatives of Barclays Bank. He felt it had been constructive but Barclays definition of what constituted ‘a customer’ when determining the amount of business, and therefore justification to remain open, was rather suspect. Barclays had claimed that the Olney Branch had only 140 active customers, but their definition of a customer is someone who is dependent on that branch alone and has no access to an alternative branch. By definition, even if you are a regular user and your account is registered elsewhere or you have the ability to travel to another branch you are not a customer. They claimed there had been only two complaints about the closure.
Deirdre Bethune said it was clear that Barclays had no intention of reopening in Olney but might consider setting up an office where they could assist customers by providing advice on alternative ways to access their accounts, but there would be no transactions of any type. Peter Geary said that 800 ‘customers’ had used the bank in the month previous to the closure and there had been 23,000 transactions in the previous year. He was also concerned about the state of the building and said pressure must be maintained to ensure that Barclays comply with their obligation to repair the frontage.
OTC Communications Policy
The first draft of a document setting out OTC’s Policy for Internal and External Communications was presented for discussion. It sets out the council’s commitment to use a multi-channel approach to communications including public announcements, email alerts, their website, printed material and social media.
The policy is based 90% on the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity issued by central government and 10% bespoke additions from OTC.
Peter Geary questioned the statement that ‘Any public communication from councillors or staff (in their official capacity) should reflect current council policy and not a personal view.’ The job of a councillor, he said, is to represent people not council policy. OTC is not a cabinet with collective responsibility.
Steve Clark agreed, using the example of OTC charging event organisers for use of the Market Place. Until a decision on that matter is made, he is free to express his personal opinion, he said.
Peter responded that even after such a decision individual member have the right to express their own opinions. Council staff have a responsibility to back council policy but councillors do not, he said. The document lists examples of face to face negative body languages which may be viewed as undermining the council’s compassionate workplace cultures including eye rolling, tutting, sighing, glaring, finger tapping, finger pointing, and aggressive gesturing. Peter asked that excessive sarcasm also be included.
Mercury can only hope that once this policy is adopted we will see an end to the difficult atmosphere that has been apparent at some OTC meetings in recent months.
Riverfest and Big Olney Food Festival (BOFF)
Requests to hold the following events were received and granted:
Riverfest on July 6th and 7th.
Big Olney Food Festival on 14th and 15th September. Deirdre Bethune, as a member of the BOFF committee, reported that the exact nature and duration of this year’s event was still under discussion.
Olney hanging baskets
Each year the lampposts through the centre of the town are adorned with floral hanging baskets, which are erected by a team of volunteers. This popular feature was initiated many years ago by the Floral Fiesta committee and continued by successor groups, including The Olney Group (TOG) and Olney Events helpers. The baskets have always been provided by C.T. Wilson and Sons, who have now offered to fully fund the provision of the baskets. Previously this funding was obtained by offering local businesses, groups and individuals the opportunity to sponsor a basket, but the cost of watering and ongoing maintenance fell to OTC. This sponsorship will still be sought but it will be used to fund the ongoing maintenance.
Olney Development Group
This is the sub-committee that has been set up to implement the proposals set out in the Neighbourhood Plan. It was confirmed that the ‘Site R’ (corner of Lavendon Road) will be occupied by Sainsburys with completion due in September/ October. The future of the remaining two acres is uncertain, since it is earmarked in the Neighbourhood Plan (NP) for retail use but the developer, Angle, has been unable to find a retail tenant to occupy the site. As a result, it has entered into a partnership with McCarthy and Stone to develop the site for age-restricted and assisted living accommodation use, contrary to the NP. A public consultation event will take place at the Olney Centre on 27th March. Deirdre Bethune expressed the opinion that such a development would not provide much in the way of employment since there would be very little care support. Steve Clark said it was obvious that Angle had set up the relationship with McCarthy and Stone in order to push through the development and members should be careful when expressing an opinion on the matter. Kevin Viney agreed, saying that there was an element of ‘railroading’ taking place and he was disappointed that one Ward Councillor had already posted information on social media without stating that it was in violation of the NP. John Boardman was concerned that Angle might use the event to take an unofficial ‘straw poll’ to gauge public support which might be used in support of their application. Peter Geary said regardless of this the public had voted for and adopted the NP which allocated the site for retail and that McCarthy and Webster were proposing a large development on a small plot of land. They would not have come on board unless they were reasonably confident of success, he thought, and any planning application would test Milton Keynes Council’s (MKC) planning policy with regard to NPs.
It was announced that Town Clerk has tendered his resignation and is currently working out his notice. Deirdre Bethune said she would like to record her gratitude for his work with OTC, a view that was echoed by other members.
Since the sacks have ceased to be obtainable from local outlets many residents have experienced difficulty in obtaining new sacks.
Peter Geary said it was clear that some residents were managing to obtain supplies, but others were not.
Clerk Liam Costello said that when the sacks had been obtainable from the council office in the Olney Centre it had caused considerable disruption to the staff. He felt that a better solution would have been for the sacks to be held in the library, which is open and weekends and is staffed by MKC employees.
Steve Clark was of the opinion that MKC is employing an element of rationing.
Deirdre Bethune said she had observed sacks that were not being filled efficiently because large items such as cardboard boxes were not being broken down. There was also evidence that people are using the bags to take donations to charity shops, since they are considered to be ‘free’.
Odds and Sods
Malcolm Messenger said that he had noticed many examples of bad parking on the High Street with large vehicles sticking out into the road or overhanging the kerb, and felt that the police and PCSOs should be ticketing such vehicles. John Boardman reminded members that some years ago a similar approach was proposed but MKC had advised that overhanging the kerb was permissible due to the wide pavements in Olney.
The ‘One-Stop’ pedestrian crossing is due to be improved with illuminated posts but there is still no confirmation from MKC that it will be in this financial year. Peter Geary said that additional lighting will be provided by ‘turning up’ the brightness of the adjacent street lights. It appears that when the new LED street lights were installed, they were deliberately ‘dulled down’ to avoid causing annoyance to nearby residents.
The next meeting will be held at 7.30pm on Monday 1st April in the Council Chamber in the Olney Centre. Members of the public are always welcome to attend and, if they wish, speak at the start of the meeting, or at any point that the Mayor decides is appropriate.