2021 represented a significant and very welcome return to normality. On the COVID front most of us by now will have been thrice jabbed and some of us had a fourth. Whereas last year we perhaps knew of only a few who had caught it, by now we know of many and may well have caught it ourselves. Life has gradually returned to a degree of normality. The things we enjoy doing are more available, the pubs, restaurants theatres and cinemas are open again and those of us with a masochistic tendency can go to the Rec and watch Bath lose.
As a Parish Council we are able to meet in person and although the Barn is poorly heated it does give us more space and ventilation. In the summer it should be fine but perhaps if we invest in some logs for the winter it would be worthwhile.
The resignation of Jane Scott on her appointment as a Government Whip left a great void in the By Brook Division. We had no dedicated representation until the Council election this time last year because the planned by election was postponed because of COVID. Therefore the most significant and welcome return to normality was the election of Nick Botterill as our Unitary Councillor. Nick brought with him to Wiltshire extensive experience in local Government as the erstwhile Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council and it was no surprise to me that he was immediately appointed to the Cabinet with responsibility, after a recent tweak, for Finance; Development Management and Strategic Planning.
Nick has made himself very accessible and has been extremely active on our behalf. We have been pressing him on many topics and he has been absolutely assiduous on our behalf. We may not always get the outcome we want but for sure it’s not for the want of trying and Nick has always listens to our views and does his absolute best to get them implemented. Therefore on behalf of the Parish thank Nick for his hard work and dedication. Nick may well like to give you his first impression of being our UC later in our meeting.
I don’t plan to give blow by blow resume of the major planning matters that have arisen in the past year. These are all a matter of record. Suffice it to say that planning matters have been at the front and centre of a number of our meetings and as a direct consequence, they were well attended with robust views exchanges. Planning inevitably raises the most concerns and it is important that everybody gets a fair opportunity to express their point of view irrespective of whether that view is eventually upheld or not.
And it’s that very British sense of fair play that underpins our confidence not just in our political representatives but more crucially in the officials who provide the advice on which decisions are made. Sadly I have to report that in the last year we have seen decision making based on blind adherence to official guidance with no attempt to consider the points made in representations. We have also seen officials adopting widely different approaches when looking at the effects the same matter has on two different Parishes. This is manifestly unfair, unprofessional and bad practice. It is simply not acceptable and must stop.
I have no problem accepting a decision being made with which I do not agree provided the decision making process has been even handed and fully explored the representations made. Where that is not the case and public servants fail in their duty to be even handed and diligent in their consideration of representations made, as a Parish Council we will call out these matters and make life uncomfortable. That is our duty to you. To be more specific I refer in particular to the lack of any consideration to the representations made by residents to the request to move the 30mph speed limit through Tiddleywink and to the handling by Planning and Highways officials and the newly appointed Corporate Director – Place.
Phillips Grove is now complete and we welcome the new owners to the village. Drovers Green is well underway and we will soon welcome new families into our community. Over time it will mean more local children will fill the places in the school and perhaps, in due course, there will be fewer cars parked on the road at drop off and pick up time.
The work to revitalise Halfpenny Pond will be an ongoing project led by Danny in association with the school. It’s good to see that duck have been back in residence from time to time. We are looking again that feasibility of replacing the play equipment in Clarkes Leaze and will look with suppliers at the scope for providing replacements and the affordability.
Before finishing I must place on record my thanks to Ian our outstanding clerk. Officially he is the Responsible Officer but I prefer the title Master of Coin. He prepares our budget, maintains our accounts with masterly precision and produces reliable forecasts of outturn. I cannot overstate just how important this is to the proper conduct of a Parish Councils business.
Finally, thank you all the councillors for giving your time to work on the Parish Council. We know we cannot please all the people all the time and we certainly don’t have a magic wand. All we can do is use our best endeavours to look after the interests of our Parish and I hope and believe that we do that. As I alluded to before, we do not always succeed in getting what we want but we can at least say we left no stone unturned in trying.