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Ron Hall Editor of Phonebox Magazine

Phonebox Magazine send a reporter to the Olney Town Council Meetings on the first Monday to each month. We have our report of the meetings here. Earlier ones are available.


Mercury's reports for 2020

  • January 2020

    Mercury issue for January 2021 (December 2020 meeting)

    COVID Crisis Meetings

    For the duration of the COVID crisis meetings of Olney Town Council will be held as online audio meetings using Microsoft Teams. Members of the public can listen to the proceedings and view the presentations by clicking on a link on the OTC web page www.olneytowncouncil.gov.uk Click on the ‘Meetings’ tab and scroll down to the announcement about the next meeting where you will find a link to the agenda and another to join the meeting. A recording will also be available for a few days following the meeting.

    Public participation

    In the absence of the opportunity to speak at public meetings the public may submit written items to the clerk to be read out. Mercury would normally name those who speak at an open meeting unless they specifically ask not to be identified. Under the new regime the clerk redacts the names from any correspondence and official minutes, although the authors can request that their names are published in the Mercury report. Only one such request has been received this month, so Mercury assumes that all other correspondents prefer to remain anonymous. Mayor Jeremy Rawlings said there were six emails to be read.

    The first email was missed from last month’s meeting for which Jeremy apologised. The email was requesting that OTC produce a Town Plan which would have a wider scope than the existing Neighbourhood Plan. Jeremy explained that this would be discussed as an agenda item later in the meeting.

    The next email was regarding rubbish bags being put out on the High Street as early as Thursday evening. The correspondent thought this unhygienic and liable to encourage vermin and stated that bags should be put out no earlier than 5pm on Sunday evening. Ward Councillor Peter Geary said that the issue had been reported to Milton Keynes Council (MKC) and Clerk Andrea Vincent said that any resident with similar concerns could report them via the MKC portal. The email also expressed concern about vehicles speeding on the High Street and said that traffic calming would be most welcome.

    The third email was concerning the use of the OTC land east of the allotments where, according to the correspondent, OTC is considering granting permission for a football training pitch. The Allotment Association are in the process of submitting a proposal for an orchard to the west of the field and hope that the rest of the field can be left as an eco-friendly wildflower meadow. This would be better for the environment and would help reduce Olney’s carbon footprint as it would not require mechanised mowing, bearing in mind the council’s declared Climate Emergency. Considerable justification for this proposal was listed and the correspondent concluded by saying that in time the area could become an attractive and tranquil area. Later in the meeting Desmond Eley said that there had been no council resolution to change the use of the field from wild meadow whilst there was no other demand for its use but as the town develops there is a greater demand for sports pitches. Any such change would be discussed by the Development Group he said. Creating wild meadow is expensive in itself because it needs to be cut by heavy machinery and the mowings removed twice a year to stop them rotting down and fertilizing the land. This, plus loss of rental from the sports pitch would be a great expense to the council. The majority of OTC owned land, consisting of Barnfield and The Goosey, is already wild meadow he said. The cutting is necessary because the land has been found to be very high in nutrients, having been over fertilised. It will take at least five years of cutting and mowing to make it suitable as wild meadow. Peter Geary said in his expert opinion it would be decades before the land could become wild meadow as the nutrient level is well above that of even agricultural land. Such nutrients do not leach away and can only be removed by continual growing and cutting, he said, and all that would grow in the meantime are pernicious weeds such as thistles and nettles.

    The fourth email appeared to be from the Allotment Association stating that the lock on the eco toilets had been damaged and hoped that this “wasn’t the work of the person who quoted the allotment toilets at the previous meeting” in an email regarding access to the toilets by allotment holders that are not members of the association. The toilets had been erected by a lottery grant and fundraising by the association, not OTC, the correspondent said and were maintained solely by the association. To change the management to OTC control would set a precedent to other organisations in the town. Jeremy said that there were no plans to do this as the facility was for allotment ‘users’ only although there seemed some confusion as the original debate had been around access to the toilets by non-members of the association.

    The fifth email related to the discussion at last month’s meeting re plots of land that have recently been identified as belonging to OTC and the possibility of creating a Community Land Trust for local housing. The correspondent requested confirmation that the land would be gifted without charge or any element of retained council ownership and asked why OTC would require council representation on the trust when such a trust’s activities are legally defined. Jeremy explained that this would be discussed later in the meeting.

    The last email, also relating to the plots of land asked that OTC draw up a map of all of them and displayed in the Olney Centre so that residents could use it as a reference source, since there is a great deal of interest in the matter. David Pibworth has contacted The Phonebox and asked to be identified as the originator of this email.

    Planning matters

    An application has been made for an extension to a house in Stonepit Close and a neighbour has raised an objection. The extension will extend up to the boundary of a shared driveway which Steve Clark agreed with the objector’s opinion that it might make access to other properties difficult for larger vehicles and will reduce the amount of car parking space available from four to two, due to relocation of the parking space to the front of the property. Steve also agreed with the objector that the extension would also have an impact on the nature of the cul-de-sac. Chris Tennant expressed concern that this might be a breach of MKC’s off-street parking standards and could lead to additional roadway parking. Peter Geary agreed and recommended that the MKC Planning officer was made aware of this concern and it was agreed to write to MKC accordingly.
    Chris Tennant gave an update on five detailed planning applications concerning the mixed commercial development on Wellingborough Road, being marketed as Olney Park by Angle Properties. The plans include a 66-bed care home, a hotel, car showroom, office space, industrial units and a nursery. The applications dealt with infrastructure and access, drainage, phasing, and relocation of elements from outline planning permission. Colin Rodden reminded councillors that the council had had previous dealing with Angle Properties on the ‘Sainsbury’s’ site which had resulted in the company gaining planning permission for residential development on the site in contravention of the Neighbourhood plan (NP). Could they do the same thing on this site, he asked? Chris replied that the plans being considered were compliant with the NP and there was nothing to indicate otherwise. Peter Geary said that now the principle of development on the site had been determined there is nothing to stop Angle Properties coming back at a later date with a different application. A much-guarded discussion followed and there seemed to be deep suspicion that this might happen so Chris Tennant suggested that the applicant be asked the question.
    The next application was regarding the 250-home development on Yardley Road by Taylor Wimpey and Bovis Homes. The applicants had originally requested permission for a temporary off-site construction compound to the north of the site, but OTC had objected because it was outside of the agreed settlement boundary of the town in a farmer’s field. This had been withdrawn and replaced by a request for split compounds within the planning application boundary (but closer to existing homes, noted Mercury). The original construction access was to be along the farmer’s track to the rear of properties in Woodpits Lane, which OTC had objected to, and that has now been amended to move further away from those properties.

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    Parking outside Olney Infant Academy

    As a school governor, Jeremy Rawlings introduced this item to note complaints from residents of Spinney Hill Road about inconsiderate parking by some parents dropping off and collecting children from school. He said he had been contacted by two residents, one of them an on-call emergency worker, who had suffered verbal abuse when challenging motorists who had parked across their driveway. Jeremy said the school had regularly sent out letters to parents asking them not to block driveways, which usually worked for a while but then the problem reoccurred. He said he had asked the PCSOs to visit the area and encouraged residents to report any instances of abuse to the police. Steve Clark, as an ex-governor, said in the past parents had been asked to use the old car park on the other side of Spinney Hill Road. It would probably worth the school including a map to show the location of the old car park in any letters, he thought.
    Andrea Vincent reported that emergency repairs are required to two walls at the Olney Centre, which have become very dilapidated, partly because previous repairs had not been performed correctly. It appears that cement had been used, so quotes were being obtained for a ‘dry stone wall’ repair. There is considerable variation in the quotes and a rather confused conversation followed so Desmond Eley suggested that the quotes be documented in a clear and concise way and revisited at the January meeting, which was agreed.
    The Olney Centre heating is in need of some urgent maintenance. A leak occurred under the floor of the pre-school and when it was fixed the heating for much of the rest of the building was found to be ‘unserviceable’. The work will require the re-routing of some of pipework to now be exposed above the floor and there was concern that they would need some sort of protection for safety reasons. Andrea said that they would be lagged rather than boxed in because the number of bends meant that there would need to be several access points. Colin Rodden was concerned that this would look rather ‘industrial’ bearing in mind that the centre is used for weddings and other events. Again, there is a huge variation in the quotations. The cheapest was considerably cheaper than the rest but was from a reputable company with several testimonials. Paul Collins suspected that heating companies in general were busy at present and inflated quotes might have been provided. It was agreed to accept the cheapest quote subject to detailed investigation.

    Covid Marshall plan


    Andrea Vincent presented a plan to use funding from central government, via MKC, to deploy COVID Marshals in the town whose role would be to chiefly serve as a friendly and reassuring face in public places, providing advice and guidance to the public. Some would be deployed at weekend evenings when footfall to hospitality venues is at its busiest. They will be tasked with visiting pubs and other hospitality establishments to check that COVID-19 Secure measures are in place. Actions would include checking whether pubs have door staff to manage entry and exit, checking whether social distancing measures were in place in businesses, ensuring that track and trace customer information collection was taking place, and noting any large gatherings. The role would be strictly one of observation and advice, and marshals would be not authorised to intervene in issues of enforcement. The intention was to use existing OTC groundsmen plus public volunteers, including OTC councillors. Joanne Eley observed that the marshals would be powerless, and many police forces were baffled by the role. It could give rise to confrontational situations and no amount of guidance would modify the behaviour of those who did not want to comply. Is Olney in need of this, she asked? Having consulted local retailers, they felt the money would be better spent proving masks and hand sanitisers she said. A long discussion took place and no member expressed support for the scheme, although Colin Rodden thanked Andrea and Deputy Clerk Sarah Kennedy for their work in producing plan. Paul Collins observed that the Olney Covid Support Group had 300 volunteers so surely they could provide 10 for this, if required? He would not want to use the already overstretched council ground staff as marshals, he said. Eventually it was decided that OTC would invite volunteers from other organisations to fulfil the role but would not be providing resource itself. The funding would be used to obtain items such as high viz vests, masks and hand sanitiser which would be passed to the volunteers to use and distribute.

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    OTC Strategic Plan

    Jeremy Rawlings introduced the draft plan, saying that it is a plan to provide a medium to long term vision of where the council want to be in three to six years’ time and how they want to engage with the public. Desmond Eley thought it ‘a good starter for ten’ and suggested that councillors take time to read and review it and then bring back to a future meeting. Mercury observed that this document was more of a plan for the council, rather than a plan for the town which had been requested in the email from the resident discussed in Public Participation.

    Town Clerk’s report

    Andrea presented the report, noting that the ground staff are fully employed at present. Colin Rodden enquired if there is any intention to employ more staff as he was concerned that they might be overloaded. As chair of Recs and Services Desmond Eley said he regularly spoke to the staff who were happy with the workload and any additional seasonal work would be covered by contractors.
    The recreation ground toilets have been vandalised for the third time in as many weeks at apparently the same time of day each time. Repairs are costing around £200 each time and it is unlikely that the council’s insurers will continue to cover the repair costs without a hike in premiums so Andrea suggested that the toilets should be closed at lunch time. A discussion took place as to how the vandalism could be prevented, including use of CCTV, but eventually it was agreed that they should be closed at lunchtime.

    Freedom of Information Act 2000 request

    Joanne Eley thanked the staff for being ‘fantastic’ in supporting the town and councillors during the pandemic. In her HR report she said that social media and ‘local press’ comment regarding lack of response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request was a misrepresentation of the situation. The council office has replied and complied, she said and the ICO have been consulted and the matter is now closed. The complainant had been advised and had the right to appeal but did not appear to have done so, she said.

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    Contributions, please

    If you would like to contribute to the Public Participation section at the start of the meeting, please contact the Town Clerk: townclerk@olneytowncouncil.gov.uk

    Identity

    If you would like to be identified as the originator of any correspondence to that meeting in the Mercury report please contact The Phonebox at: editor@phoneboxmagazine.com

  • February 2022

    Mercury issue for February 2021 (January 2021 meeting)

    Public access to meetings

    For the duration of the COVID-19 restrictions, meetings of Olney Town Council (OTC) will be held online as audio meetings using Microsoft Teams. Members of the public can listen to the proceedings by surfing to the OTC web page, www.olneytowncouncil.gov.uk, clicking on the ‘Meetings’ tab and scrolling down to the announcement about the next meeting, where there’ll be one link to the agenda and another to join the meeting listen-only.
    If you would like to be identified in the Mercury report as the originator of any correspondence read out, please contact Phonebox Magazine at editor@phoneboxmagazine.com.

    Public Participation

    The first communication was entitled “Amazing Olney Heritage Trail”. Organised by the Archaeological Society, Cowper and Newton Museum, Olney Circular Walk, and Olney and District History Society, this is a project to make Olney’s history more accessible to the community. It may also encourage visitors to spend more time in the town, exploring local shops and businesses. The proposed project aims to make a trail around the town, signed by informative interpretation panels, accompanied by a downloadable map of the trail and, hopefully, also QR-code driven facilities. The groups involved would part-fund the project and offer their time and expertise, and it was hoped the Council would fund the approx. £15,000 cost. Recognising that money was tight at the moment, the letter noted that the time feels right for the town to come together around a project which would “shine a light” and look to the future.
    The second item read “Dear Mr. Mayor, I would like to ask again why your Council has not met their obligation under the Local Government Transparency Code. There is a requirement to publish, on a quarterly basis, details of all tenders and contracts exceeding £5,000 and all items of expenditure exceeding £500. I should like to be identified as the author of this request. My understanding is that NALC guidance states that members of the public speaking at meetings should be named in the minutes. Finally, I would welcome details of your response to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) ruling IC-52639-C8L9, as referenced in the January Phonebox Mercury report, as I don’t see it on the agenda for the January meeting.”

    Jeremy commented on the main three points this raised:

    • Re the obligations under the Local Government Transparency Code, OTC does publish on a quarterly basis all tenders and contracts exceeding £5,000, but there hadn’t been one for some considerable time. However, one had been awarded in December, for heating repairs in the Olney Centre, and that would appear on the website in due course. Re items of expenditure, the Council was a little behind with publishing these, but they will become available on the website. Remote working and resulting lack of access are presenting additional challenges currently.

    • Re the contributor being named in the minutes, Jeremy said he couldn’t find anything in the NALC guidance stating members of the public should be named in the minutes. OTC had also taken advice from other Councils, none of whom name public speakers in their minutes. If the meetings were taking place physically, the contributor would obviously be able to identify themselves but, again, their identity would not be included in the minutes. OTC believes this is the correct and proper way to handle this, compliant with GDPR regulations.

    • Finally, OTC believes it has fully responded to the ICO ruling. The information on the Information Commissioner’s website is not complete and OTC would be taking the matter up, citing additional emails and exchanges it’d since had with the ICO, which conclude this ruling. Again, he said, the ruling is not complete on the website. This would be dealt with over the next week or so.

    Declarations of interest

    Desmond Eley declared an interest in a later item on wall repairs, one of those who’d submitted a tender being a personal friend. Graham Harrison declared an interest in the Community Orchard item, his wife having an allotment in the town.

    Allotment Field Community Orchard

    The Council had received a proposal from the Olney Allotment Association for the creation of a Community Orchard. Graham Harrison outlined the proposal. The Allotment Association proposed to apply for planning permission to plant a Community Orchard consisting of heritage apple trees on a strip of land, approx. 150m x 12m, adjacent to and East of the allotments, naming the Orchard “Amazing Grace” in support of the 250th anniversary celebrations due in 2023. In addition, it proposed to support the continued management and rewilding of the remaining Allotment Field as a wildflower meadow. It believed the resulting space would be a great asset for the community.
    The Orchard, estimated creation cost around £5,000, would not result in a cost to OTC – the Allotment Association is raising its own funds. The Orchard would be fenced, and have a footpath through it with seating and display boards.
    Graham proposed and Steve Clark seconded that OTC support this proposal. Jeremy Rawlings asked whether that the proposal was effectively asking OTC for the use of the land, which Graham confirmed. Desmond Eley, in favour of the proposal, wanted to check whether this land could in fact be used for an orchard instead of allotments. Chris Tenant and Peter Geary did not think there would be any planning issues, Chris noting that the Orchard did not represent an Eastern limit to the allotments – if the area did expand, it’d simply have a strip of orchard within it.
    Colin Rodden asked if community consultation was required before moving forward. Jeremy felt this was not needed, the strip already being allotment land. Also, as noted by Joanne Eley, the proposal had effectively come from the community, with the community, specifically the Allotment Association, having done all the work. Peter Geary noted that the high level of fertility in the Allotment Field would make it difficult to establish a wildflower meadow for a significant time – a plan to strip nutrient out of the soil would be required. Desmond asked whether, given the history of the site as a football pitch, Milton Keynes Council (MKC) might expect parking to be provided. Peter Geary did not think this would be the case – people would walk to an orchard.
    Councillors voted unanimously in favour of this proposal

    Town Meeting

    The Town meeting is proposed to be held online, Friday 16th April. The Council is working with its IT provider, hoping to give the public the opportunity to ask questions live during the meeting. The proposed date necessarily falls before that of the next local elections, Thursday 6th May, with the first meeting of the resulting new Council Monday 10th May.

    Wall repairs

    Three walls, one at the Olney Centre and two the Cemetery, required emergency repair and three quotes had been obtained. MKC has a duty to maintain the Cemetery walls, had seen the quotes and said it’d be happy to pay its part of whichever OTC chose. Andrea Vincent, Town Clerk, believed MKC had previously had work done poorly, requiring remedial work, and was thus keen to have this repair done properly.
    Desmond Eley believed that Quote B, the most expensive, was for significantly more work than the others, this difference in scope making it hard to judge value for money. Andrea explained that all three companies had visited site, judged the work required and come to different conclusions. She felt the company which had judged the most work to be required had included work to stabilise the whole wall concerned, rather than addressing only the specific issue requested.
    After some time spent discussing these differences, Desmond noting the quandary over job scope and that he was no expert in wall repair, Andrea felt it was a choice between having the job done completely and lasting a long time, or partially with more work required soon after as a result. Peter Geary noted that most of the variability between the quotes was in fact for the Cemetery walls, which MKC would pay for – the variability for the Olney Centre walls was very much less. Peter also felt that Quote B, while not the cheapest, would be the most economically advantageous over time. Desmond, noting that he’d earlier declared an interest, meaning his hands were tied, felt Quote B gave the best value provided the resulting quality of work was good.
    Jeremy proposed, Peter seconded and Councillors voted unanimously to accept Quote B, Desmond abstaining.

    Returning Exclusive Rights of Burial

    Jeremy explained that this item had arisen because a member of the public had previously purchased an Exclusive Right of Burial (EROB) and now wanted to return it and receive money back. EROBs reserve a physical space in which to be buried, Olney’s issued in perpetuity. The rarity of someone wishing to return one meant there was no existing policy on the issue. Opting not to allow the EROB’s return would lead to a space between graves which could not be used.
    Steve Clark felt the Council should allow return, with the money back allowing for a handling charge to reflect the administrative work involved. Demand for EROBs would be ongoing, so it would not be hard to sell the space. Peter suggested the refund be 80% of the original purchase price. Paul Collins asked whether the administration required was significant, Andrea replying not. Colin felt the handling charge must not result in profit for the Council.
    After further discussion, Peter proposed, Desmond seconded and Councillors voted unanimously in favour of a policy allowing EROBs to be returned, refunding 80% of the price paid at purchase.

    Olney Town Council Strategic Plan

    Jeremy thanked Desmond for his work on the plan, and thoroughly recommended adopting it. Desmond, noting he’d taken the original supplied by Andrea and adapted it, thanked Jeremy for his feedback. Desmond asked if Councillors should vote to accept the plan as a draft, which the newly elected Council could then choose whether to adopt, or to adopt the plan, which the new Council could then decide what to do with. Peter suggested the latter would be the best policy, with a caveat that the six month rule should not apply, meaning the new Council, likely elected in May, could change it immediately if it saw fit. Steve felt the Council should adopt it in principle, with the suggestion it be reviewed annually.
    Desmond proposed, Jeremy seconded and Councillors voted unanimously to adopt the plan in principle, with the suggestion it be reviewed annually. It would be published shortly for all to see.

    Town Clerk’s Report

    A small water heater in the Pre School has leaked onto a hand drier, both having to be replaced. Works to update the Olney Centre heating system have been commissioned and will start Monday 11th January. The Markets continue to take place, each subject to the COVID restrictions in place at the time, although the January Farmers’ Market would not take place due to insufficient traders willing to attend. The ground staff continue to mow the grass – unusually, it had not been cold enough to pause its growth.
    The public toilets remain open, and the vandalism has abated. Graham noted the poor state of the fence between the allotments and the Allotment Field. While Andrea noted the Council was due to look at this, Graham felt it should be regarded in the context of the Community Orchard work, which itself included fencing there. A complaint had been received about a malicious Facebook post. Finally, Andrea concluded by noting a compliment received from a Market trader about how the Council was supporting the markets through the ups and downs of the COVID regulations.
    Joanne asked if it was correct that the Council had received several letters from the complainant associated with the ICO ruling. Andrea confirmed, noting the same complainant had been responsible for more than one ICO request. Joanne noted her concern about this. She then asked if the malicious Facebook post was the one recently discussed on social media. Andrea confirmed it was, noting the Council had posted a Christmas letter, under which a malicious follow-up comment had been posted under the Council’s Facebook account, thus suggesting it formed part of the Council’s Christmas message. It did not. The Council’s IT support is following this up, including tracking the IP address via which the post was made.
    Referring to the ICO request, Peter felt the Council should respond as the law says it should and, if it feels it has done, the Council’s job is completed. If the complainant is not satisfied, it is for them to take it up with the ICO, which may then choose to contact the Council again. He also noted that a person may make as many requests as they want. Re the Facebook post, once the person is identified, he felt they needed to be reported to the authorities, their actions being a clear breach of the law for which they deserved the consequences.

    Statement of Expenditure

    Here, Councillors had the chance to review the Statement of Expenditure. Paul questioned an £825 payment of professional fees to EMW Law, included under Administration / Legal fees. Andrea explained this was for a Human Resources (HR) issue, Paul feeling it should thus be included under HR Support. Paul also noted a couple of oddities in the Staff section, with two Pension charges rather than the expected one, and some maths related to staff salaries not adding up. These were felt due to administrative issues, which will be corrected.
    Desmond queried the £350 charge for Olney Centre / Electricity, given that the Centre was closed, asking if perhaps it was due to drying out costs following the heating leak. Andrea confirmed this, the drying out requiring five large dehumidifiers running continuously, some of the cost also due to portable electric heaters being used in place of the central heating. Paul asked whether the drying out costs were being covered under the insurance payout due to the leak, Andrea saying she’d check.

    Development Group update

    Chris Tenant reported that Angle Properties had given a useful presentation of their emerging proposals for the site off Warrington Road. Angle is looking to implement the outline planning permission granted in 2017, bringing this forward on a phased basis: infrastructure, employment, then a care home.
    Peter Geary explained that a stakeholder group had been set up by MKC to solve issues between OTC and a number of nearby residents, and the developer of the Aspreys site. The pre-Christmas flooding issue which affected, amongst other places, the Aspreys - Yardley Road - Driftway roundabout, and a section of Driftway to its North East, was discussed. As a result, on Christmas Eve, the developer dug a number of ponds on site, improving the situation should that much rain occur again in such short order. Peter explained that roads, gardens and garages had been flooded, but no homes. There was also a ditch between the old and newer parts of the Aspreys development, the drainage of which had never been properly finished. This must be resolved, he said, and that should happen in the next few weeks. Work on the development site had caused the flooding problem, and been admitted by the developer who was working to repair any damage caused. Chris thanked Councillors for the swift action taken when the flooding occurred. However, he noted that the flood mitigation measures taken on the site were temporary, the final works not being due for completion until April. Winter still has some way to run.
    Peter also discussed the Community Centre on the Aspreys development, recommending the Council appoint its own Quantity Surveyor, paid out of Section 106 monies, to ensure the proposed building offered good value for money. Desmond and Chris agreed.

    The Next Meeting

    The next meeting will be held online on Monday 1st February, at 7.00pm. If you would like to contribute to the Public Participation section at the start of the meeting, please contact the Town Clerk, townclerk@olneytowncouncil.gov.uk.

  • March 2020

    Mercury issue for March 2021 (February 2021 meeting)

    Public access to meetings

    For the duration of the COVID crisis, meetings of Olney Town Council (OTC) will be held as online audio meetings using Microsoft Teams. Members of the public can listen to the proceedings and view the presentations by clicking on a link on the OTC web page www.olneytowncouncil.gov.uk. Click on the ‘Meetings’ tab and scroll down to the announcement about the next meeting where you will find a link to the agenda and another to join the meeting on view/listen only.

    Public Participation

    In the absence of the opportunity to speak at public meetings the public may submit written items to the clerk to be read out. Mercury would normally name those who speak at an open meeting unless they specifically ask not to be identified. Under the new regime the clerk redacts the names from any correspondence and official minutes, although the authors can request that their names are published in the Mercury report.
    The first communication came from the organisers of the Cherry Fair requesting permission to hold the event on the Glebe Field on 26th June 2021, recognising that it may not be possible for it to take place. Permission was granted, in principle, and it was agreed that Town Clerk Andrea Vincent would progress.
    The second item was regarding a previous request for a Town Plan to compliment the Neighbourhood Plan. The correspondent noted that his request had seemingly been hijacked and re-presented as a Strategic Plan for OTC. It is the facilities and provisions for residents of a fast expanding town which should be under discussion and not some memoranda for councillors, he thought. This letter was also published in the February edition of The Phonebox where the author identified himself as William Parlor. Mayor Jeremy Rawlings said the request would be dealt with by the Development Committee, rather than full council.

    Milton Keynes Council (MKC) New Councillor Code Of Conduct

    Jeremy Rawlings introduced this item, explaining that OTC would need to consider a revision of their Code of Conduct as a consequence. There were a number of changes, he said, particularly around the use of social media. MKC Ward Councillor Peter Geary said that MKC was currently scrutinising the document and felt it better for that to take its course and see what recommendations came forth and then adopt them for OTC. Jeremy proposed that it should then be discussed at next month’s OTC meeting.

    To Agree The Budget For 2021/2022 And The Precept

    For information, the precept is the sum collected from residents by MKC via the Council Tax which is returned to OTC to provide local services. As Chair of Finance Paul Collins presented the budget document, explaining that it had initially been formulated by himself and Town Clerk Andrea Vincent, followed by reviews with the Chairs of budget holding committees and then a final review to full council and finance committee. He said OTC was still recovering from the effects of poor historic financial management. The council does not have significant reserves on which to fall back but progress has been made over the past two years. Notwithstanding that the level of reserves is still below the level he though prudent for an authority of OTC’s size. It was essential to set a balanced and not a deficit budget and to rebuild reserves.
    Regarding income and expenditure, there was the issue of the Market Place refurbishment, long term decline in income from the Sunday and Thursday markets, plus the need for OTC to pay rates on the Market Place which had previously been paid by MKC. The Olney Centre is underused, which calls into question the need for a further Community Centre on the Yardley Road development. The ‘precept base’ would show growth in the future as the current pipeline of new housing is delivered. Open space income should be ‘relatively stable’, he said, as clubs have received government support.
    Provision has been made for anticipated legal costs, IT support, and the community newsletter. The cemetery costs now properly reflect the cost of cemetery maintenance, he said. £5000 per annum for the next three years has been granted to the museum for the Amazing Grace 250 year anniversary in 2022/23, the purpose of which is to encourage community groups to come forward with small-scale projects as part of those celebrations. Provision has been made for OTC by-elections, although the costs of the full-council elections in May will be paid for by MKC. Although it is difficult to budget in current circumstances Paul said that in the event of overprovision the net result would be to build up reserves so that the incoming council inherit financial stability and are able to look ahead rather than dealing with ‘legacy issues’ as had been necessary over the past two to three years.
    The precept will be set at £285k which on a tax base of 2580 households equates to £110.47 per Band D household, an increase of £9.58 per annum. This equates to approximately four cups of coffee over the year which he felt residents would not begrudge. Peter Geary thanked Paul saying that OTC was very nearly bankrupt, having run a deficit for six out of seven years and used up its reserves. Desmond Eley noted that there is a considerable list of outstanding work required on the renewals and maintenance of the Olney Centre and the modest amount already earmarked plus that in the budget would not cover the full extent of the work so more would be required in future years. The budget and increase in precept were passed unanimously.

    Documents previously suppressed by the Council

    Jeremy Rawlings introduced this section saying that certain documents were originally discussed under confidential items (when press and public were excluded) and subsequent information received indicated that most should be made available to the public. Peter Geary said that OTC regularly vote to exclude press and public for reasons such as HR and other things, but it would be sensible to review to see if they are still relevant at a later date. No one could be in any doubt that problems and angst had existed within OTC over the past year or so and people had been listening to and speaking of things that only told half the story. Everyone ‘from The Phonebox down’ should be able to see as much as possible, he thought. Many documents will be straight forward and can be released immediately, but others will need some thought and advice. As part of his initial local government training he had been told that anything that would have to be provided as part of a Freedom of Information Act request should be provided straight away and not kept confidential. Some matters, such as tenders or financial information, could justifiably be kept confidential at the time but should eventually be made public he said. There are other issues that might provide residents with a wider knowledge of what has gone on, rather than ‘people’s memories, hints and talking’ he said. He proposed that the clerk review all confidential documents going back five years and any obvious one be released immediately. Any that need further discussion should be discussed in closed session prior to the public session of next month’s meeting and then the decision to release would be made in the public section with the documents being made available shortly after. It would be necessary for some documents to be redacted to remove words and names. Jeremy Rawlings supported the plan, saying that there had been ‘issues’ with the council going back ten years or more and releasing the documents would show that they were moving towards a well-run council that has proper governance and makes correct and proper decisions. This would put them in a good position to hand the reigns over to new councillors come May, he said. The proposal was seconded by Chair of HR Joanne Eley and passed unanimously.

    Town Clerk’s Report

    Andrea Vincent reported that Deputy Clerk Sarah Kennedy had been working through the many council contracts and had identified some duplicates that had already been cancelled and others that were no longer required, such as the franking machine, which would be cancelled when they came up for renewal.
    The year 2019/20 Annual Governance and Accountability Return (AGAR) was submitted on time and the figures approved by the external auditor. The supporting papers were submitted to the internal auditor but not to the external auditor because of an administrative oversight. The public right to view was properly publicized and exercised by the public.
    Andrea reported that the Olney Centre is ‘showing her age’. The works to future-proof the heating system have started, although a second leak had been found. A buddleia tree has been removed from the centre chimney and the roofing contractor is looking for a leak in the roof which is causing water ingress to the centre. Work has begun on the wall at the Olney Centre. All external public toilets remain open and vandalism seems to have abated.
    There have been two complaints to the monitoring officer about two individual Councillors.

    Yardley Road development

    Chris Tennant reported on the monthly liaison meeting between Taylor Wimpey, Bovis Homes, OTC/MKC and local residents. The problems of deliveries to site and the temporary traffic lights on Yardley Road were amongst the matters discussed. On-site wheel washing facilities are being provided to resolve the mud being deposited on the roads. A new website has been set up to assist in communication with the local community and to enable them to have a single point of contact. A link will be provided on the OTC webpage and Facebook page, along with the Olney Noticeboard. Temporary drainage measures had been put in place following the ‘surface water drainage incident’ i.e. flooding, which occurred on Christmas Eve. The permanent drainage will not be completed until at least April. Peter Geary said that an online public meeting is due to be held to discuss the planning applications for the temporary access roads and impacted residents will be notified by post. Desmond Eley noted that one of the proposed access roads would be on Aspreys opposite the Foxhill junction. A proposal for a permanent access road on the original design had been rejected, he said, so how could a temporary access in the same place be justified? Peter replied that it was in the position of the proposed permanent footpath/cycleway/bollarded emergency access and just because a planning application had been made it did not necessarily mean it would be granted.

    Odds And Sods - Correction

    Joanne Eley reported that a Teams Meeting had been held with several shopkeepers regarding the 'Opening up the High Street’ initiative and the funding available. The shop keepers have been invited to apply for funding from OTC.
    The printed Mercury report for February, printed in the March edition, had the Odds and Sods section of the previous meeting (January 2020 meeting) inserted in its place. A cut and paste error which we have corrected on this on-line edition.

    Town Meeting

    The Town meeting is proposed to be held online, Friday 16th April. The Council is working with its IT provider, hoping to give the public the opportunity to ask questions live during the meeting. The proposed date necessarily falls before that of the next local elections, Thursday 6th May, with the first meeting of the resulting new Council Monday 10th May.

    Next Meeting

    The next meeting will be held online on Monday 1st March. The start time may be later than usual, due to the pre-meeting discussion on release of confidential documents. If you would like to contribute to the Public Participation section at the start of the meeting, please contact the Town Clerk: townclerk@olneytowncouncil.gov.uk.
    If you would like to be identified in the Mercury report as the originator of any correspondence read out, please contact Phonebox Magazine at editor@phoneboxmagazine.com

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  • April 2020

    Mercury issue for April 2021 (March 2021 meeting)

    This month's meeting

    This month’s Olney Town Council meeting was too long to report in full, so we have listed here a summary of the highlights. As the full Town Council report is available on-line those wishing to listen to the full details should go to www.olneytowncouncil.gov.uk
    A full written report by our Mercury reporter can be found on our webpage: phoneboxmagazine.com.
    The printed magazine report has been assessed by the editor to give an overview of the meeting, describing the most important aspects, without listing every single point made.
    In this way readers can decide for themselves how much they want to read and in how much detail – and can draw their own conclusions on the decisions made by the Council.

    Public Access to Meetings

    For the duration of the COVID-19 restrictions, meetings of Olney Town Council (OTC) will be held online as audio meetings using the conferencing platform Microsoft Teams. Members of the public can listen to proceedings by clicking on a link within the OTC web page: www.olneytowncouncil.gov.uk. Click on the ‘Meetings’ tab and scroll down to the announcement about the next meeting, where you’ll find one link to the agenda and another to join the meeting on view/listen only.

    Public Participation

    The first letter reported the dumping of rubbish on the small island of the Goosey river stretch, noting that with recent flooding this had been an environmental disaster. OTC is in contact with the owner’s solicitors and will keep the correspondent informed of progress.
    The second letter, sent anonymously, expressed concern at the treatment of the Council on social media. The correspondent requested that the Council replies to the questions publicly on social media and in the local press.
    Note: The Council’s reply to the above letter, posted Wednesday 3rd March, and other posts going back to at Wednesday 3rd February, provide some background to recent changes at the Council. These can be found at:
    facebook.com/pg/OlneyTownCouncil/posts, and can be viewed with or without a Facebook account.

    Public Art

    Louise Izod, Public Art Officer at Milton Keynes Council (MKC), gave a brief presentation on Public Art, and specifically how OTC could utilise its Section 106 monies for Public Art purposes.
    Looking at Olney, her investigations suggested that around £27,000 was available to spend now, with potential for a further £233,000 in the near future. She recommended OTC seek public involvement to produce a plan.
    Chris Tenant explained that OTC maintains a tracker of Section 106 monies, so he would be able to help tie down what was available. He calculated the total pot of Public Art money to be about £345,000.

    MKC Councillor Code of Conduct

    This item was to review the MKC Councillor Code of Conduct and consider its adoption in place of the current OTC Code of Conduct. Jeremy Rawlings noted that MKC was yet to approve it.

    Demand-Responsive Transport proposals

    Jennifer Wilson-Marklew, an MKC Cabinet member with areas of responsibility including public transport, had been invited to speak concerning significant up-coming changes to bus services.
    A new demand-responsive, all-electric transport service called MK Connect, a mix of shared taxi and bus, will be introduced on Wednesday 31st March prior to the withdrawal of various subsidised services. The to-be-withdrawn services affecting Olney and its surrounds are no. 37, and the no. 21 Olney–Lavendon stretch. The new service may be used up to 11pm, seven days a week, where no fixed service exists or none is running at the time.
    The service will cost £3.50 during peak hours (7am–9am, 4.30pm–6.30pm), and £2.50 at all other times. Concessions are available, costing £1 for All in 1 MK cardholders for example, with Older Person’s and Disabled Person’s bus pass holders travelling free after 9.30am on weekdays and all day at weekends. The service will arrive within 30 minutes in urban areas, 45 minutes in rural locations, and pick-up and drop-off within 400 metres of locations requested. Once booked, users will be guaranteed a seat, and wheelchair-accessible vehicles will be available on request.
    Further information is available here: https://ridewithvia.com/mk-connect/, and the booking line is 01908 252526. The changes will be publicised, including posters in bus stops, leaflets posted to homes in affected areas and by Parish Councils, including Olney’s.

    Amendments to OTC Standing Orders

    Jeremy Rawlings put forward two proposals: all elected chairmen of committees must have attended chair training within six months before or after their appointment; and all members of the Finance, Human Resources and Planning Committees must attend subject-specific training within six months of appointment and then at regular intervals afterwards.
    Chris Tenant asked that “regular intervals” be defined, Peter Geary replied that it meant yearly, with additional training when underlying changes to the subject matter demanded it. Councillors voted unanimously in favour of these amendments.

    Rugby 7s tournament

    Olney Rugby Club has requested use of the Recreation Ground for the Rugby 7s tournament on Saturday 17th July. Permission was granted subject to COVID restrictions in place at the time, and similar conditions to those imposed in 2018.

    Tenders to repaint the Olney Centre interior

    Two quotations had been received, other companies declining to quote due to the size of the job. Of those two, only the first had quoted for all the work required, the second planning to do so in the next few days. The Council is keen to complete the decoration before the Centre reopens so, once the full second quote is received or seven days have passed, the Council will accept one of them.

    Town Clerk’s report

    The request for the up-coming year’s precept has been submitted, and documents for the Annual Governance and Accountability Return (AGAR) are being prepared. Annual staff appraisals have been put back to early in the new financial year, bar the Town Clerk’s already completed one. The Council will be testing technology to allow the annual Town Meeting, planned Friday 16th April, to be online. The Olney Centre heating works are almost complete. Work on external walls has been finished, as has that near the Church.
    All the Markets are taking place, the numbers of stalls being increased gradually in line with emerging COVID regulations. The Cemetery continues to function under COVID guidelines.

    Clerk’s report: Complaints about individual Councillors

    Two complaints had been looked at by Monitoring Officers, each concerning an individual Councillor and on separate matters. Both were dismissed as having no case to answer. Jeremy Rawlings concluded by explaining that, for members of the public listening to proceedings and considering standing for Council, there is a complete set of rules and regulations, a Code of Conduct, and also the OTC Standing Orders, to which Councillors are bound by law. He noted that there is a route for both public and Councillors to complain and raise issues about Councillors’ conduct, as exercised here.

    Clerk’s report: Complaints about the Council as a whole

    Andrea Vincent explained that other complaints, more general to the Council as a whole, had been received in the past year. All of these had been found to have no foundation, she said, but had caused great cost to the public purse.
    Another complaint was from a former member of staff who was concerned that their personal information had not been handled properly. They had become aware that OTC had disclosed information from their personal record on its website and also published the same information on its Facebook account.
    The Council thanked the correspondent for the letter, adding that it understood the concerns raised and said that the complainant was “within your rights to contact the ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office)”.

    Human Resources Committee report

    Joanne Eley said that an allegation – reported in the Phonebox Magazine – that HR documents had been shredded, was untrue and urged anyone with factual evidence that this had taken place to come forward to the Council, MK Council or the police, as it could be a criminal matter.

    Finance Committee report

    Paul Collins reported that the Council has allocated £5,000 per annum over three years to support the Amazing Grace 250 celebrations which, it is hoped, will take place in 2022–2023, but added that a report in the Phonebox Magazine that the money had been allocated to the town’s Museum was not accurate.

    Recreations and Services Committee report

    Desmond Eley explained that the Town and Deputy Town Clerk have completed specific cemetery training, and are getting the records in line with current legislation. The grounds staff continued with all maintenance on open spaces except the watering of hanging baskets.
    The sports pitches soil has been tested, with scientists recommending no more general fertiliser be applied for at least another five years.
    Public toilets have been kept open throughout most of 2020. The failure of the old Victorian underground pipe-work in the Olney Centre has been remedied and future-proofed.

    Planning Committee report

    Steve Clark reported a Planning Application related to the ‘apple store’ at the top of the lane down to the orchard in East Street. Members of the Planning Committee had been given an informal presentation by the family concerned and their developers regarding the potential development of a small part of the orchard site. This would require access from East Street – that currently existing is too narrow due to the presence of this property. A Planning Application has been lodged with MKC to remove the property, due to its poor state of repair, allowing access to any subsequent development on the orchard.

    Development Group report

    Chris Tenant first declared an interest, living near the Aspreys / Yardley Road development. There has been concern about surface water run-off from that site, though there has been no further incident, temporary measures having been put in place by the developers. The full drainage scheme is slated for completion by April. Construction traffic routing has now been tightened. It appeared some vehicles had not followed the procedures in place: that Yardley Road and Driftway must be used to access the A509. Also, there will be further closures of Yardley Road due to associated works by Thames Water, noted on the Council’s website.

    Library and Museum reports

    Colin Rodden noted that, while Olney library is currently closed due to COVID, a click-and-collect service is available. Books can be ordered from milton-keynes.gov.uk/libraries and collected from Olney Library at times available via that page. Paul Collins noted that the Cowper and Newton Museum now has an online booking system and an online shop. It is hoped that the shop and gardens will open mid-April, and the Museum mid-to-late May, subject to the lifting of COVID restrictions.

    The Next Meeting

    The next meeting will be held online on Monday 12th April, at 7.00pm. If you would like to contribute to the Public Participation section at the start of the meeting, please contact the Town Clerk: townclerk@olneytowncouncil.gov.uk.

    Your identity

    If you would like to be identified in the Mercury Report as the originator of any correspondence read out, please contact Phonebox Magazine at: editor@phoneboxmagazine.com

  • May 2020

    Mercury report for the Olney Town Council meeting 2020

    Public Participation

    Annual elections and appointments

    Inventory review

    The Kitchener Centre

    Naval Cadet Corps

    Speed Indicator Display units

    Private and confidential?

    Anemometer

    Hanging baskets

    Heading

  • June 2020

    Mercury report for the Olney Town Council meeting for May in the June issue of Phonebox 2020

    Public Participation

    Cuts to Bus service

    Naval Cadet Corps

    Church Hall renovation

    The Olney Centre Community Asset Transfer

    Future of MKC Parish Wardens

    Council protocols

    Odds and sods

  • July 2020

    Mercury report for the Olney Town Council meeting for June 2020 in the July edition of Phonebox 2020

    Introduction

  • August 2020

  • September 2020

    Mercury report for the Olney Town Council meeting held in September 2020 for the August meeting

  • October 2020
  • November 2020
  • December 2020

    Mercury report for the Olney Town Council meeting in the December issue for November 2020

    Public Participation



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