Mercury report for the Council Meeting of Monday 4th February 2013
The only person wishing to speak at this monthʼs meeting was Isobel Ager-Righinioti. Isobel said that she uses her bike for short journeys around the town in preference to driving a car. One afternoon last July she was riding down West Street and as she drew level with ʻThe Archʼ a car caused her to fall off her bike. She felt that a contributing factor had been the presence of the cobblestones in the road, which she said should not be there on such a narrow street and said she had legal advice confirming this fact. Would it not be better if East Street and West Street were both one-way, she suggested? Deidre Bethune responded, saying that one of the conditions of the planning permission which was granted for the houses served by The Arch was that some form of traffic calming must be provided and the cobbles were not actually part of the highway.
Co-option of new councillor
Following the resignation of Andrew Dooley, a vacancy had arisen on the council and, there being no call from the electorate for an election to fill the post, it fell to the council to fill the post by co-option. Only one candidate had put his name forward for nomination, that being Joe Stacey. Joe was invited by Mayor Steve Clark to give a brief resume of his reasons for wishing to join the council. Joe said he moved to Olney from Suffolk, where he had previously served as a councillor, in July last year and had found it to be a
“smashing place”. He had worked for 40 years in the construction industry, he said, and hoped to bring some of this experience in serving on the council. There then followed a short discussion on what was the minimum period of residence before one could become a town councillor, with periods of between one and three years being suggested. Peter Geary said there was no statutory minimum and the council could elect “whoever they wished”. There being no other candidates, Joe was co-opted unopposed and took his seat at the table.
Following the discussion at last monthʼs meeting about a possible extension to the Kitchener Centre, Dr Brian Partridge and centre manager Helena Newbold were present to discuss the proposal. Brian explained that the Kitchener Centre offers day care to older people from Olney and the surrounding villages and, with over a quarter of local people now being over 60, the need for this day care is on the increase. OTC had always been receptive to the needs of the elderly and took up the challenge of getting the centre built when the nearest similar facility was in Newport Pagnell, he said. One of the key roles of the centre was to enable the elderly to continue to live in their own homes rather than go in to residential care but the ability to remain independent becomes less as we grow older. The centre currently provides for 14 people per day between the hours of 10:00 am and 3:00 pm, enabling them to have a hot meal, meet other people and be gently supervised. Helena explained that there are two waiting lists in operation: The first is for people wishing to join the service and there are currently nine on the list with another six in progress. The second list is for people who already use the centre but want additional sessions and this currently stands at 12. Sadly, the only way that people move up the list is when others go in to residential care or pass away. The clientele covers a wide range of ages (more than 30 years) and abilities, with some people in their sixties with dementia attending sessions with those in their nineties. Over such a range it was inevitable that people would have different interests and ideally separate sessions should be available for different age groups, she said. Brian concluded by that he was garnering views as to whether there was a perceived need for further provision for the elderly in Olney and the surrounding area but so far the indication were positive. However, he wanted to be sure that if the centre expanded it would continue to be financially viable, particularly when public finances are being cut back. He did not have time to personally spearhead a fundraising campaign, he said, but thought that perhaps an individual with the right skills and sufficient time might be persuaded to volunteer. Ward Councillor Peter Geary suggested that a Business Case should be prepared and funding sought from MKC. Tony Evans said that since the centre opened in 2000, OTC had supported it and thought there was no question that they would want to be involved but wondered what sort of costs were likely to be involved and would it be just for the building and running costs or staffing as well. OTC could help get the ball rolling but agreed it would need someone to manage the fundraising on a full time basis.
East Street Car Park
As previously reported, OTC has sought advice from MKC related to the East Street Car Park extension, prior to it submitting a formal Planning Application. One of the points that MKC identified was that the Football Club had applied for Planning permission to erect a protective fence around their pitch to comply with league regulations and a condition of that permission being granted would be that there must be a six metre over-run area between the football pitch and the fence, The Football Club was subsequently able to argue that the 6m run off area suggested by planning officers was not actually an element of the league regulations, so the officers eventually agreed not to require this as a condition. Steve Clark said there were still a number of issues around the planned car park and the council recognised that an application for car parking may not be popular, so they intend to conduct a survey to gauge the amount of local support. If the outcome is reasonably positive, they would then apply for planning permission. Tony Evans said that in his opinion the town desperately needs more car parking spaces and was passionate that it should go ahead. Peter Geary was sure that there would be flak from residents and said that he did not want the council to start work on the scheme and then back out. He said he, personally, would not be voting for the scheme because it was too expensive for too few additional spaces. Jeremy Rawlings thought that additional parking was required but only at specific times and would only support the scheme if the additional parking was only available as an overflow on match days. John Sharp disagreed, saying that it was needed seven days a week and would be used. The existing East Street (Rugby Club) car park is too far away and too dark, he said. Eventually a vote was taken on whether to progress with the survey which was narrowly passed by four votes to three, the rest of the members present inexplicably choosing to abstain.
Budget and Precept 2013/2014
The finance committee have recommended an increase of 5.84% to the precept. This is the portion of the council tax which is collected by MKC on behalf of OTC. The Income & Expenditure Budget vs. Actual appeared to show a deficit of £15k, although there seemed some doubt as to whether it was a ʻrealʼ deficit. Peter Geary felt that the budget should balance and said that the council needed a plan to reduce the deficit and balance the budget. MKC is capped in terms of the amount it can increase the council tax and OTC could be the same. Tony Evans felt that they were a good set of figures and easily understandable. The budget was passed by a vote of five to three. Electoral Review of Milton Keynes
As previously reported, The Local Government Boundary Commission for England has undertaken discussions with MKC and consulted publicly on council size and has decided that the number of councillor should be increased to 57, from the current 51. Each a councillor will cover 3300 residents as opposed to 3000 at present. The draft proposal as now been published and recommends that Milton Keynes be divided into 19 wards, each represented by three councillors. In most of urban MK this is fine but in the rural areas this leaves very large geographical areas with many individual communities requiring individual attention from their councillors in attending parish council meetings etc. For example a merged Sherington and Olney ward would comprise 17 parishes, which Jeremy Rawlings described as ridiculous. Steve Clark proposed that OTCʼs response to the document should be a request to maintain the status quo such that the current Olney ward continues to be represented by two councillors. The motion was passed by five votes to two, again with a number of abstentions.
The council had received a copy of the document ʻQuick Guide to Neighbourhood Plansʼ. Since April 2012 local communities have been able to produce Neighbourhood Plans for their local area, putting in place planning policies for the future development and growth of their neighbourhood. The plan is subject to examination and referendum and then forms part of the Local Development Plan. This statutory status gives Neighbourhood Plans far more weight than parish/community plans, such as the
'Olney for You' document that was produced by members of the community over five years ago. Tony Evans thought that a plan for Olney is a 'must do' as it is an opportunity to influence the planners and wondered if it might be possible to reuse some of the Olney for You output. Peter Geary pointed out that if Olney produced a plan ii must fit in with the existing development framework and could not be used to override MKC plans. If, for example, MKC strategy was to build 400 new homes in the town then a Neighbourhood Plan could not be produced proposing no new housing. Unlike Olney for You it would need to be council led and the effort involved would be massive in comparison. Several such plans were being produced elsewhere in Millon Keynes, he said, and were clos€ to going to referendum. The council agreed to set up a working group of members to investigate the feasibility of producing a plan for Olney.
Superfast Broadband for Olney
Town Clerk Uarn Costello reported that he'd had meetings with MKC about the position of street cabinets that will be required for superfast broadband to be rolled out in Olney. Pete Geary explained that this is being enabled by an alliance between MKC, Bedford Borough and Central Bedfordshire Councils to provide superfast broadband to areas that are not part of BT's commercial deployment plans, as described in the Councillor Comer article in January's Phonebox. MKC has set aside £2.4m and has won a government grant of £ 140k to appoint a contractor to do the work, the contract being due to be let in August or September this year. However, since the meeting this has been overtaken by the recent announcement from BT that Olney is now part of its own commercial deployment some time in 2014.
Next Meeting - 4th March
The next meeting will be held at 7.30pm on Monday 4th March 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.