Olney Council report for February 2020
Prior to the main meeting, Victoria Southern from Bovis Homes presented the outline plans for the new development off Yardley Road to the members of Olney Town Council (OTC). One point of discussion was the large area of land allocated for recreational use at the north end of the site. It appears that the landowner is only prepared to sell part of the land, initially, and will fence off the remaining one Hectare section which was expected to remain as publicly accessible open space (effectively retaining it as a ‘ransom’ strip as leverage to get permission for a second phase). Any future development would be beyond that which is currently agreed in the Neighbourhood Plan (NP). Chris Tennant observed that this would be outside of the ‘red line’ town boundary agreed in the NP. One member wryly observed that the fence might not stay up very long. Peter Geary requested that a meeting be arranged between Bovis, Milton Keynes Council (MKC) Planning Officers and Ward Councillors, and residents of adjacent properties to address any concerns that they may have.
Two residents wished to speak at this month’s meeting. First was Catherine Rose from Olney Sustainable Futures group (OSF) and also a member of the Climate Emergency Working Group, who was attending with fellow member Jane Varley. Catherine thanked the members and staff of OTC that had been involved in their work so far and said that much of the proposed action would go through the council’s Recreation and Services Committee, but she wanted to bring the rest of the council up to speed. She said they would be attending the Pancake Race to provide some plant-based recipes and are looking at organising a free Eco fair, hopefully in the Olney Centre. This event was an item on the agenda of the main meeting. Catherine went on to say that the Rugby Club has developed its own sustainability strategy, and the group are looking to them to be a model for other community organisations in the town.
Next to speak was James Cooper who talked about the problems of parking in Conygere, particularly on market days. With parking on both sides of the road, there is very little room for traffic to pass and it is an accident waiting to happen, he thought. He had personally seen several near-misses and asked if double yellow lines could be provided. His second point was about prohibitively expensive property prices in Olney preventing young people from getting on the property ladder. His own daughter had been affected, he said, and quoted an example of a town similar to Olney where preferential treatment was given to local people who could show an ‘attachment’ to the town. If Olney had some land that could be used in a similar manner could a deal be done with a local trust to build such houses in the town? Olney will be a town without young people if something isn’t done, he said. Mayor Jeremy Rawlings, whilst having some sympathy, said that OTC does not have any building land. Peter Geary and Chris Tennant explained that of the 250 new houses that will be built at the north end of the town, 75 will be ‘affordable housing’ with shared ownership and 10% of those will be for local people, managed via a Housing Association.
This item followed on from Catherine Rose’s input to the public participation section. The proposal is to hold the event in the Olney Centre on Saturday 18th April. It would be a ‘co-production’ between OTC for which it satisfies a number of its aims for the Climate Emergency plans, and Olney Sustainable Futures which would undertake the planning and execution. It would consist of a number of elements: The food section would promote plant-based catering with snacks and cakes being available, along with tasting, demonstrations and recipes. The activities section would consist of games, non-food products, and information on climate plans, waste and recycling and grow your own. The repair section would cover gadgets and small white goods, and furniture and clothing. The Library might also be involved. Colin Rodden and Deidre Bethune supported the idea of having a joint OTC/OSF event. Deirdre suggested that OTC should waive the hire charge for the event. Paul Collins asked if the stallholders would be commercial entities, in which case consideration should be given to the rental aspect. Joanne Eley was concerned about the partnership aspect of the event, since OTC would be seen to be endorsing everything that happened at it, and suggested that it should be supported by way of a grant in line with the discussion about rental fees at the previous month’s meeting. The Climate Emergency Working Group of OTC is a separate entity to the Sustainable Futures group, she pointed out. A vote was taken and passed by a majority of 9 to 2, with those who voted against saying they did so only because they did not know enough about OSF as an organisation. Jeremy Rawlings said that the Climate Emergency Working Group would be tasked with providing a plan to be presented to full council at next month’s meeting to enable OTC to endorse the entire event.
VE Day Celebrations
The government have moved the date of the traditional ‘May Day’ bank Holiday from Monday 4th of May to Friday the 8th in order to celebrate the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Chris Roberts was in attendance representing the Royal British Legion. Steve Clark said that in the past similar events have been marked by the lighting of the beacon on Barnfield. It appears that other local organisations are waiting to see what OTC organises before making plans. It was agreed that OTC would work with them to come up with a plan. Peter Geary noted that although it will be a Bank Holiday, it will be the day following the election for members of OTC, and the count will be taking place.
Mayor Jeremy Rawlings read out the following statement:
“Some councillors have breached the code of conduct by discussing confidential matters with individual members of staff and with others. They have commented disrespectfully and incorrectly on member colleagues and staff by name outside the realm of confidential council business. Some councillors are also misrepresenting council policies and decisions. This is of detriment to the council as a whole and must cease. In the same vein, I have asked the town clerk to speak to staff to remind them that they are not to discuss council matters or individual councillors in or outside work in such a way as to the detriment of the council, which is covered in the Staff Handbook, as this will result in disciplinary action.”
He explained that this has come about because a specific incident which is ongoing has been made more difficult by comments that certain councillors have made. He said he did not propose to hold any further discussion at the meeting but invited councillors to speak to him individually, if they wished.
Annual Town Meeting
This will take place on Friday 24th April at 7pm in the Olney Centre and is your chance to find out what the council have been doing during the past year and question them on any matters you wish.
This is the time of year when OTC produce the budget proposals for the next financial year, which in turn determines how much the precept (the portion of the Council Tax collected by MKC for local services and returned to OTC) will rise. Chair of Finance Paul Collins reported that the budget will increase from £243K to £260K which, allowing for the additional 27 taxable dwellings, will be an overall increase of 12.36%. The Band D ‘baseline’ figure will rise from £89.79 per month to £100.89. Desmond Eley said that it was important to have clarity as to what Section 106 money would be available from MKC now and in the future. Section 106, commonly known as ‘planning gain’ is a mechanism which makes a development proposal acceptable in planning terms, that would not otherwise be acceptable. It is focused on site-specific mitigation of the impact of development, and a proportion is usually made available to local/parish councils for capital projects. This can be a considerable amount of money in the case of major developments, such as that proposed for Yardley Road. Desmond said that he understood that MKC would be retaining this money in the future rather than passing it to the parishes. In this case, the precept is the only income that would be available for capital projects. Jeremy Rawlings thought that this was an ‘absolute disgrace’ particularly when MKC are looking to off-load more and more service provisions to the parishes. He pointed out that it had been necessary to significantly increase the fees that the council charges for things such as hire of the Olney Centre and market stalls. Burial fees have almost doubled, but that still made Olney almost 50% cheaper than Milton Keynes, he said. The budget was passed on a unanimous vote.
Motorama, run by the Newport Pagnell and Olney Lions, will be held on the Market Place on Sunday 14th June. The Olney Group (TOG) will run Riverfest on Sunday 5th July on the Recreation Ground with the Riverfest Rocks musical event the night before in the marquee. Olney Rugby Club will be holding the annual 7s Tournament on Saturday 20th June.
Odds and Sods
Kevin Viney noted that council website is now considerably out of date. A recently elected councillor had submitted their profile information, but that had still not been added. The most recent set of minutes were from June last year, and he had received complaints from residents who wanted to check that details of planning discussions had been faithfully recorded. The clerk reported that this is due to be addressed in coming weeks.
Graham Harrison said he had received complaints from residents of Timpson’s Row that car parking by people using the sports facilities was causing problems. Also, the pavement by the gate is now a ‘sheet of mud’ due to players removing their boots and scraping the mud off. He noted that the new LED street lighting was failing earlier than expected, particularly along Aspreys. Peter Geary responded that in some case it was the sensors that had failed, rather than the LEDs.
Colin Rodden noted that a bench on Weston Road had been removed for repair over a year ago and still not replaced. He also reported that he’d recently had to use the public toilets on the marketplace and wondered if there was any money in the budget for air-freshener? Desmond Eley said he had been carrying out some research as to how much refurbishment would cost, which was in the region of £50K, and every member of the public he had spoken to had said that they would rather the money was spent elsewhere and they would prefer to use the facilities of the nearby pubs and cafes.
The next meeting will be held at 7.30pm on Monday 2nd 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 any point that the Mayor decides is appropriate.