Mercury Report – Our reporter was there …. June 2022

For the June 2022 meeting

 

Public participation and letters to the council

There were two members of the public present at the start of the meeting but neither of them indicated a wish to speak in the public participation section. Another entered after the meeting had started. At the end of the meeting he raised an issue regarding the eviction of an allotment holder. Mayor Ben Brown let him speak and then Town Clerk Jane Brushwood said the allotment holder had been into the office to speak to her and the matter had been resolved.

Ben Brown said several letters had been submitted by members of the public, all thanking the council for the recent Armed Forces day. It had been pointed out that all attendees were over 70 years of age so Ben asked that if anyone knew of any service personnel in the town who wished to be added to a register they make them known so that they can be invited to future events. He thanked the councillors that attended and the office staff for making it a successful day.

 

Apologies for absence and declarations of interest

Apologies were received from Debbie Hall, Phil Geach, Dan Rowland, Chris Tennant, Keith McLean and David Hosking. The latter two are Milton Keynes Council (MKC) Ward Councillors who are now invited to Olney Town Council (OTC) meetings to present a report, along with Peter Geary who is also a Town Councillor.

There were no declarations of interest at this stage.

 

Ward Councillors report

Peter Geary said that this was the first time there had been a ward councillor report to OTC for 14 years, although it was a regular agenda item for other local parish councils. Mercury recalled that this was a regular feature when Steve Clark and Graham Mabbutt (who sadly passed away recently) were Ward Councillors.

Peter gave an update on the new footpath along Aspreys which is being constructed to provide connectivity to Yardley Manor. It had been noted that the existing lampposts are currently situated in the middle of the path, but he said new ones were on order and would be provided in the correct location and MKC would not adopt the path until the work was completed to their satisfaction. Naomi Brock said there had been much discussion about the path on the Olney Noticeboard Facebook group and asked if there was any cost to the Council. Peter replied that although it appeared that the work might be being done twice there was a certain logic to the order of the work, since the existing lights could not be switched off until the new ones were available and ready to be installed. There would be no cost to the council, he said, and admitted that he didn’t look at the Olney Noticeboard much as it was ‘too depressing’.

He gave an update on the proposed new doctors surgery on the site of the old youth club (now East Street Community Centre). There had been something of a ‘log-jam’ with MKC regarding the purchase of the site over the last six months, which the ward councillors were working to clear. Colin Rodden asked if some timescales could be provided, since MP Ben Everitt had been chasing MKC but had not had a response. Peter replied that much of the information was commercially sensitive, but they hoped to be able to provide more information in the next six to eight weeks.

MKE (East) will be an issue for the next 15 years said Peter. Work has started and the A509 road closure between J14 and the ‘Land Rover’ garage for two weeks from the end of July and will have an impact. It will then be closed for six months from the end of October to March 2023. The Holiday Inn will remain open and there will be access in either direction, but Moulsoe will effectively be cut off. With one of the main arterial routes into MK closed more traffic will go down the H3 past Newport Pagnell, causing significant congestion. Ward councillors were challenging the need for the duration of the closures but very little could be done, he said. Ian Stokes noted that this would have an impact on emergency vehicles getting to the hospital and Peter agreed.

 

PCSO’s report

Town Clerk Jane Brushwood said no Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) report had been received, although a response had been received to a question raised last month as to why an incident of arson in the football pitch dugout was not included in the crime stats. She explained that the dugout did not qualify as a business premises so it would have been included elsewhere in the stats, although councillors said it would have been nice to know under which category.

Ben said he and Jane had recently attended an informal meeting with the policing team and it was the same old story of lack of resources. The area north from Newport Pagnell is geographically 57% of Milton Keynes but is currently policed by one full time PC and three PCSOs. He emphasised the importance of reporting incidents to the police so that they could decide if a crime had been committed. The issue of antisocial behaviour on the recreation ground had been discussed, particularly the lack of police presence to issue fines for violation of the alcohol exclusion zone. The Chief Constable can give powers to private security firms to issue the fines, and this will be investigated. Peter Geary noted that in MK the Parks Trust have employed wardens to carry out this function and suggested that advice was sought from them as to how that was working and even the possibility of them coming out to Olney. Jane Brushwood said training could be given to locally appointed wardens to do this but felt that they should work in teams of no less than two. Ian Stokes asked if it would be possible to claw back funds (presumably from MKC), since Olney residents were paying the police (through the council tax) for a service they were not providing. Ben said they could ask but he was pretty sure what the answer would be.

 

Expenditure report

Ben said it was difficult to get an accurate picture of the council’s finances three or four months into the financial year, but a better picture would emerge in the next couple of months. Jane Varley asked if the costs of the Jubilee event had been covered by S106 contributions to which Deirdre Bethune replied that they had been more than covered. Trevor Aldred questioned the costs of IT and Jane Brushwood said that a revised quote had arrived that day on which she would be seeking Trevor’s advice.

 

Reports from External meetings

Debbie Whitworth reported on the recent Parish Forum and North East Rural Community meetings, the highlights of which were:

 

  • Central Government support for bus services will cease in October and routes may see minor adjustments.
  • MKC has produced a bus service improvement plan but did not receive any government funding.
  • The MK Connect service is growing and on the whole MKC consider that it is working well but residents are still advised to email or ring 01908 252526 with any issues or complaints.
  • Emberton residents have problems with the No. 21 bus service and are unable to use MK Connect.
  • MKC will be demonstrating the new wheelie bin scheme later in the year and answering residents’ concerns.
  • SABA parking enforcement attend Olney three times a week and in future will also visit the OTC office weekly for a list of parking ‘hotspots’ which they will then target.
  • There is no longer any central funding for Speed Indicating Devices (SIDs) and in future each parish will need to fund their own devices at a cost of £3000 to £6000 each.

 

The subject of SIDs caused considerable discussion. Thames Valley Police (TVP) will only consider deploying mobile speed monitoring cameras once six months’ worth of SID data has been provided to them and it was not clear to members what the criteria for further action would be. Naomi Brook thought that this was contrary to what TVP had previously advised. Peter Geary said the first point of collecting data was a local speed watch initiative with speed guns, then ‘truvelo strips’ which monitor traffic 24/7 for 2-3 weeks. His experience was that TVP would only then deploy mobile units if there was a likelihood of 15-16 offenders per hour. He noted that the closure of the A509 would lead to an increase in traffic along Aspreys and through Weston Underwood as motorists attempted to avoid the resulting congestion. Ian Stokes asked what the process was for getting average speed monitoring cameras installed. Peter Geary noted that along the Bedford to Northampton road there were such cameras in several places. There needs to be a request from the local authority and the police to kick the process off, he said, and while Bedford and Northampton police and councils were ‘on it’, Milton Keynes and TVP were not. It will be an agenda item for the next meeting.

Deirdre Bethune reported on the recent Emberton Park Liaison User Group (PLUG). Consideration is being given to closing the two existing roadway gates to prevent cars driving all the way round, although exemption is likely to be given to fishermen. Park Manager Sam Flowers had received an award from MKC for his prompt action in saving the life of a heart attack victim and is a true asset to the park, she said.

 

Section 106 allocations

A list of headings for Section 106 proposals has been created in what appears to be an attempt to identify which committee is responsible for applying for each category of the overall pot of funds. Jane Brushwood felt that it should not be the responsibility of a single committee. It was agreed that each committee would consider proposals within their own remit and then bring them back to full council for ratification in order to avoid lengthy discussions at full council. Peter Geary said it was essential that OTC identified the priority areas to allocate this one-off sum of money which would not be repeated, since there was no appetite for further significant growth in the town. Trevor Aldred said it was important for residents to know how to apply for S106 funding and Peter agreed, saying that this was community money, not just OTC money. Most of it will be ‘hived off’ for services such as schools, universities, and health long before it ever reaches parish level, he said, so it is not actually a huge amount that will come to OTC.

 

Committee membership review

New member Mary Prosser has already joined the Finance Committee and will decide which others she wishes to join. A discussion took place about the term of reference of the various committees, as there was felt to be some overlap. Ben Brown said Phil Geach had written to say that he wished to be on all committees. Deirdre Bethune pointed out that the HR Committee had a limited membership so that other councillors could be consulted in the event of a dispute, although it appears this limit is not documented in Standing Orders. Peter Geary agreed, saying he thought it had been documented previously. Deirdre expressed her opinion that Phil Geach’s request should wait until he attended a meeting since he had not attended any since he stood down as mayor. A vote was taken with only three members voting in favour and one (Deirdre) against. Ben asked if there were any abstentions, which resulted in what appeared to be an embarrassed silence, and no one put their hand up, effectively abstaining to vote to abstain! Mercury was concerned that the fence might collapse with so many members sitting on it… Deirdre then said she would ‘decline to vote’ and expressed her dissatisfaction with the result. Ben said the vote had been taken and passed and Ian Stokes said assumptions had been made without knowing why Phil had been absent.

Update: Phil Geach has subsequently resigned from the council. This means that two vacancies now exist, following the resignation of Leanne Ward. Most often vacancies are filled by co-option but 10 residents have written to the MKC Returning Officer requesting an election (at a cost of £7000 to the pubic purse) for Leanne’s vacancy, so Mercury assumes that this will only be required if more than two people put their name forward to fill both vacancies.

 

The recreation ground

A long discussion around the problems caused by visitors to the bathing steps on the recreation ground took place, a brief summary of which follows and not in chronological order: Ben Brown said there had already been one day where there had been a large number of visitors which had led to complaints about BBQs, consumption of alcohol, and traffic congestion including blocking of emergency access in the East Street car park. Naomi Brock said she had observed a PCSO’s vehicle blocking the emergency access. The problem will not go away, she said, and thought the council should look at how it could make money from the situation by charging for parking during the summer months, charging ice cream vans, and providing portaloos. She requested that white lines marking the parking bays should be repainted which would lead to more cars being able to park. Jane Varley felt that it was the responsibility of OTC to provide parking for visitors, for which it could charge to cover the costs of rubbish collection, security etc. and wondered if local businesses might like to make their car parks available. Debbie Whitworth suggested providing additional car parking on the football pitch for around 250 cars, as had recently happened for the Rugby 7s and Riverfest. There was no point in attracting more people until the parking issue was resolved, she said. Ian Stokes immediately declared an interest as Chairman of Olney Town Colts FC, saying that additional parking should be on an area designed for parking. Naomi Brock asked what the objection was to cars parking on the football pitch and Ian replied that the Colts rented the pitch from OTC and their season started in August so there was an overlap. There were also concerns around health and safety. Riverfest and Rugby 7s organisers had done a brilliant job in litter picking but who would remove every bottle top, which could cause horrendous injuries to players, he asked? Cars constantly driving over the pitch would damage the surface and it was a pitch, not a car park. There is an area between the pitch and East Street which had been used for the Rugby 7s parking and had room for around 30 cars, he said. Peter Geary said that MKC had previously approved plans to use that area for parking and had provided a grant for the mesh membrane, but it had not been popular with residents and had been dropped. Ian Stokes suggested it could be marshalled or locked and used for visiting sports teams in the event of charging being introduced to the rest of the car park. Peter Geary said the whole issue was a problem which had been discussed by the previous council in the first lock-down and could not be resolved in half an hour. A plan needed to be drawn up to decide whether to stop [the problem] or monetarise it and then consult with the public. Charging would bring problems of visiting sports teams having to pay to park, he said. Trevor Aldred said the council had no strategy on the issue, but Ben Brown said the solution to that is for members to bring proposals to the meeting for discussion. The discussion eventually moved on to the issue of antisocial behaviour and it was agreed that this was more of a problem in the evening after family groups had left, so the private security patrols will be increased.

 

Odds and Sods

Jane Varley has updated and circulated the Standing Orders so the agenda item was deferred to the next meeting. Likewise, the Employment Policy and Procedures document will be reviewed at the forthcoming HR meeting and brought back to full council at the next meeting.

The Risk Register has been updated and individual actions will be identified and allocated to individual members.

 

Exclusion of Public and Press

Mercury had to leave for this section, but the council’s draft minutes reported: ‘An update on personnel matters: Rob Mungham has been appointed as Deputy Clerk. We were lucky enough to have several excellent applicants who we would be happy to work with, but Rob stood out and we’re looking forward to him starting 1st August.’

 

The next meeting will be held on Monday 1st August, at 7.00pm in the Olney Centre. If you would like to contribute to the Public Participation section at the start of the meeting, or any time the mayor deems appropriate, please contact the Town Clerk, townclerk@olneytowncouncil.gov.uk.

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