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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 in our 2023 editions

  • January 2023

    Mercury issue for January 2023 (December 2022 meeting)


    It was a bitterly cold December night when Olney Town Council gathered for their monthly get-together and councillors turned up stamping their feet and blowing into their hands. Thankfully someone had turned the Olney Centre’s heating system up to full chat to take the edge off, but even that over-worked boiler wasn’t prepared for the frosty atmosphere that was to come. Milton Keynes Council were not happy…

    Apologies for absence and declaration of interest

    Maybe it was the freezing weather or perhaps just that busy time of year but there were several absences. Trevor Aldred, Deirdre Bethune, Naomi Brock, Ian Stokes, Jane Varley and deputy mayor Debbie Whitworth all sent their apologies. The council chamber echoed with emptiness. Mayor Ben Brown asked if anyone had any declarations of interest. There were none. The minutes of November’s meeting had to be approved next, and they duly were. So, it was all going smoothly.

    Ward Councillor’s report

    But here’s where the good cheer and bonhomie of a pre-Christmas council get-together took a turn for the worse. Ward Councillor David Hosking was in town to deliver his council’s regular report and you could see there was something troubling him. The body language was all wrong: there was a slight shaking of the hand that gripped his notes, he moved from one foot to the other, and there didn’t seem to be any eye contact.
    Councillor Hosking started with a reference to an item that was further down the agenda: seeking feedback on the MKC proposal for electric vehicle (EV) charging points on Olney’s Cattle Market car park. He and his colleagues wanted to know if local people think the site, near Market Place, is suitable for additional vehicle chargers. Olney already has some electric plug-in points at the other end of town plus one on Market Place. The focus of the Cattle Market chargers, said David, was on Olney residents, rather than people who come in from outside of town. They would be useful for residents who need to charge their cars but don’t have their own chargers at home. Eight bays are considered to be economically viable, he said. The Ward Councillors’ role is to listen to residents and represent their views as best as possible, he reminded everyone, and to find the best solutions he would also like to hear the views of OTC as part of that process.
    His second update concerned another service provided by MKC, namely the Highways. I’ll touch briefly on the A509 closure (near The Swan pub), he said, as the icy atmosphere returned to the room. We did our utmost to reduce disruption here, he boomed. There was gas, electric, and water utilities all at the same time along with a number of other improvements to the road, and the problems were exacerbated by contractors finding a sink hole, which meant the road would have to be closed for a further three days to try to minimise disruption to residents and visitors to the town.
    He stopped for a pause and the room knew that this was the root of David’s unrest. On he went: it was disappointing that there were some people that took it upon themselves to speak to retailers in particular and to offer advice about how they should deal with that particular problem. And all I say to that, he added, the anger palpable in his voice, is that four out of five roads into Olney during that eight day period were open. Candidly I say to the town council that criticism of our officers – many of whom live in the town by the way and who have social media accounts and look at what’s going on – has not gone down well.
    Hindsight remains a very inexact science doesn’t it, he asked without requiring an answer. It was a strange comment but, whatever he meant, David’s message was clear – MK council felt very aggrieved.
    Barely pausing for breath he continued: secondly, we have published a number of upcoming closures on the Noticeboard because one of the criticisms that we took was that communication was poor. Just to confirm that doesn’t include any emergency closures. OTC had taken criticism not just for the A509 issue but for other issues too and David agreed that residents are now confused about who is responsible for various services in Olney. It’s not just highways, he said, it extends to a number of services provided by MK Council – planning for example, 5G masts, waste and recycling collections to housing and social care services. All of those are the responsibility of MK City Council. So please, said David looking directly now at the Mayor, between us can we make it clear about who is responsible for what in the town so that we can serve our residents – the people we are supposed to be serving – together.
    Colin Rodden jumped to OTC’s defence. A number of retailers have contacted me about that closure. I think it might have been helpful if we had said businesses were still open even when the road was closed, he suggested. There are lessons to be learned from that, if the A509 was ever closed again. We should let the businesses know that we are working together. I feel that for councillors in situ who speak to retailers and so on, on a daily basis, there is going to be some criticism. Yes countered David the fury still blazing in his eyes, but I would not go on to the Noticeboard and criticise your Clerk for example, I would do it in a different way.
    So, the problem is councillors posting things on the Noticeboard, is that what you are saying, asked Colin. Yes, said David, at the end of the day, our officers are human beings and nobody likes being criticised do they? Especially when they have tried to make sure things were done well and, in my opinion, taken good decisions.
    People don’t understand the legislation behind these closures, Peter Geary waded in. They don’t realise that if there is going to be a closure you try to co-ordinate it so that the three services can be done together. Peter agreed that signage does need to be discussed but added that very few people read signs these days anyway.
    Well, there must have been something wrong, said an incredulous Debbie Hall. There are pictures of enormous lorries going through Coneygere (the narrow road at the back of Olney). Yes, repeated Peter, people don’t read signs. Debbie added that a day into the roadworks and with so many roads closed, Olney had the feel of a town that wasn’t open. Colin Rodden agreed: the town was incredibly quiet he said, and shops’ takings were considerably down.
    And there is the problem, said Peter, his hands raised in dismay. You’re criticised if lorries come into the town trying to get through and then you are criticised when the road closures are working and the town feels empty. You will never, ever get it right, he added with the shake of the head.
    The Mayor said it was obvious that education, and learning from this, was an important part of the process. He said he appreciated that MK Council had done what they could to minimise the disruption in what he described as ‘one of the hardest places in the Milton Keynes area to close a road’. He said he had been contacted by local businesses and that some of the emails were ‘not pleasant’ but he added that his council were not criticising MK officers – on the contrary they were supporting them. He proposed that both councils get together and have a meeting to discuss ways to improve the situation in the future.
    Residents don’t know who is responsible for which services, he said, and it was noted that OTC are not responsible for example, for planning, waste management, housing and the highways and should not be responding to residents on these matters. The Ward Councillors should be dealing with these. Chris Tennant said it might be useful if OTC and MKC agreed a schedule of who does what concerning town matters. People in the street don’t know what’s going on, he said, and it would be good if people could be directed to a website perhaps, with information on what’s happening in the town, then everyone is clear, he said. Yes said Ben, there are lessons to be learned here and the main one is communication. Let’s get a date in the diary for that meeting to discuss improvements. Councillor Hosking had another meeting to attend and left the table in a flurry of annoyance. He must have kicked himself then, that he had to return to the room because he had forgotten his car keys. Have a Happy Christmas David, Colin Rodden called after him.

    PCSO’s report

    PCSO James Andrews was unable to be present at the meeting but he had sent in crime figures for November to the Clerk. The Mayor read through the gory details: two cases of stalking and harassment, three suspicious persons, two suspicious cars, two suspicious ‘other’, three thefts, two public orders and four road collisions. Overall said Ben cheerily, there was a decrease in crime and if there are any questions James can be contacted.

    Expenditure report and budget to date

    The Mayor gave a summary of the main points: they are projected to exceed budget on income he said, for the Thursday Market and the Farmer’s Market, which is held once a month. The Farmers Market might be affected for the next couple of months because December’s one was Dickens of a Christmas and there is no Farmers Market planned for January. There are a good number of stall holders he said. The Olney Centre has also generated good income, with many rooms being booked out throughout the day and into the evenings. The MUGA (Multi-use games area) was likewise – there are already nine regular bookings during the week and targets for that are expected to be exceeded.
    On water rates and utilities, expenditure is up but they are often not used much in some areas as consumption hasn’t been as high as expected. Expenditure for maintenance on the Rec is up but that’s to be expected, he said, considering the extra work they had to do there controlling visitors and ensuring extra waste collections on the recreational space. Staffing is a big use of budget and there was a slight increase in payments to temporary staff and contractors said the Mayor. We are in a healthy place, though, and let’s ensure we retain that position.
    Councillors who represent at external meetings
    There were no external meetings by councillors to report but Ben had been busy. He attended a past players lunch at Olney Rugby Club where they also unveiled a memorial at which Mary Prosser attended in her capacity as British Legion Standard Bearer. There was also the Remembrance Sunday event which was well attended by councillors (and Mary was Standard Bearer again), he opened the Christmas Tree Festival at the church and was hosting at the annual Dickens event, for which he had already received great feedback including praise and thanks from towns-people.

    Section 106 spending

    Work on the MUGA has been halted, said the Clerk, because of the colder weather. It hasn’t had its final top surface coat she said and it hasn’t got its lines yet but it is useable as it is she added. That will all be done when the weather gets a bit drier, added the Mayor.
    One thing that does use up money is the Rec and a separate report was given about this land. The newly-installed CCTV cameras have been very successful said the Mayor and are providing excellent coverage of the area. There are other security issues to be covered including getting more volunteers to help keep an eye on the Rec and advertisements asking for people’s help will go out for that.
    Related to that was an agenda item to approve annual events on OTC land. They get asked for permission throughout the year said the Mayor on events such as the March Pancake Race, Motorama on the Market Place, the River Festival, Fireworks at the Rec, BOFF food festival and the Dickens event in December. There is a one-off request for July for an AG250 (Amazing Grace) event on the allotments field. Chris Tennant said that there will also be a Rugby Sevens match which uses Rugby land, of course, but also OTC land for parking. It’s a potential income generator he said, for parking. Five pounds a car, 200 cars, he added with a glint in his eye and the cash registers clearly ringing in his ears. There were nods of agreement all around the table for that little enterprise.
    The Farmers Market at Dickens will be discussed at a later date, said the Clerk because some people think the first week of December is too early for this festive event. However, if it’s not held on the 3rd or 4th of December, some of the market stall holders could be elsewhere, she added.

    Proposal for twinning with Olney, Illinois

    This is the most interesting item on the agenda this evening said the Mayor. It was certainly quite an unusual topic to be discussing at an OTC meeting. The Clerk had received a letter and some information from the US town asking for the two Olneys to become ‘sisters’ as the word ‘twinning;’ isn’t actually used. There are three other Olneys in the States, said the Clerk but is this something that we would like to do? Has anyone ever been to Olney Illinois, asked Peter Geary. No, said everyone around the table. Well, I have, said Peter proudly. The jet-setter had passed through the town and knew all about its rare albino squirrels. He thought the ‘sistering’ idea was a good one, well worth exploring further. Ben agreed, he would like to explore this – there’s a unique connection with the name, he said, and it could open up opportunities such as visits and education for local schools and the museum. He proposed that the matter is further investigated and everyone agreed. Peter said that Milton Keynes had been twinned with a city in Belgium but that had ‘fizzled out’ as ‘nothing had happened’. The council would not want the same happening with the two Olneys.

    EV charging points on the Cattle Market car park

    The Mayor said he was in favour of more EV (electric vehicle) points in the town but that the parking bays should not be exclusively set aside for EVs, which is similar for other parts of Olney. The council has not historically been in favour of EV-only parking.
    Peter Geary said he thought the charging points could work well during the day for visitors and then double up as chargers for residents who do not have their own power point at home. It should be a reliable and secure site, he added, and said that what the town needs is fast-chargers which power up cars at a much quicker rate than the trickle charge of home units. It’s time also to change the one on the Market Place for a fast charger, he added. For residents using the car park overnight, a slow charger would be fine but not for visitors looking for a quick power boost.
    David Tyler is an EV owner and he agreed that fast chargers are definitely needed and that ‘EV-only’ parking should be enforced only overnight when local people want to make use of them. Debbie Hall said she thought electric charging bays should be for EVs only as visitors want to be sure that there is a good chance of a bay being available for them if they come into the town. Peter Geary said the Market Place bay is often empty even though there is no enforcement against petrol cars there. In fact, he said the person who uses it most is the traffic warden when he comes to do his regular inspections. There might come a day when it is enforced, he said, but that’s not now. The main aim of this latest plan is to help local people who need to charge their cars overnight, not for visitors who require a boost for a couple of hours. Chris Tennant proposed that the council support the installation of new chargers but then add afterwards (and here is the kicker, he said) that they want to see some more fast chargers and also ensure that there’s more security at that car park.
    Talking of charging, another item on the agenda was a proposed art installation on the new Yardley Manor estate. Peter Geary was straight in, asking if there was a charge for ownership and upkeep. It will have a running cost for the maintenance of it and there needs to be a debate about who owns that artwork, he said. There’s potential for vandalism too, and what happens if someone runs over it and knocks it flat: is there insurance? Usually, said Peter, developers give councils a sum of cash and say: go and sort out some public art. But this developer has decided that they are going to organise the art themselves and they have commissioned an artist who has the backing of the MK arts officer.
    It was proposed that the council takes ownership of the sculpture, subject to negotiations. That commits them to nothing but demonstrates their interest and allows the Clerk to start negotiations.

    The next meeting

    The next meeting will be on Monday 9th January at 7pm 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.

  • February 2023

    Mercury issue for February 2023 (January 2023 meeting)


    If December’s meeting of Olney Town Council had been a tad light on personnel, the same could not be said for January’s gathering. The Olney Centre’s council chambers were positively buzzing with activity and renewed 2023-inspired vigour as councillors got back into the swing of things with the dawn of a new year.
    In fact, when Ron Hall arrived with just seconds to spare before the 7pm start time, fellow councillors on his side of the table had to shuffle up reluctantly to let him in – like passengers making room for someone who has just managed to jump on a train as it pulls out of the station.

    Apologies for absence and declaration of interest

    So it was that only Deirdre Bethune, Trevor Aldred and Colin Rodden had passed on apologies for no-showing. Councillor David Hosking was back to deliver Milton Keynes Council’s regular update and with both Town Clerk Jane Brushwood and Deputy Town Clerk Rob Mungham in attendance, there wasn’t an awful lot of elbow room at the table.
    Are there any declarations of interest, asked Mayor Ben Brown. There were three: Ian Stokes and Ben (sports club committee members) and Chris Tennant (association with the Caveman Conditioning group).
    Well, I’m not going to say Happy New Year, said the Mayor, adopting the tone of Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s the 9th of January and I only say that in the first week.
    There was a pause while everyone took in those rather un-festive comments. We were half-expecting a ‘boo!’ but that brief silence possibly prompted Ben to have a change of heart: Happy New Year everyone, he finally uttered.
    The minutes of the December meeting were duly approved and it was on with the business in hand.

    Ward Councillor’s report

    David Hosking was in attendance once again. He, at least, was willing to wish everyone a Happy New Year. And a healthy one too, he said, 2023 is likely to be a challenging one for many and I hope that together MK City Council and OTC can continue to serve the residents of Olney and particularly those that need us most.
    He had six updates to run through: EV charging points, litter, roads, Olney High Street, MK Councils budget consultation and housing growth. So a fair bit to cover, he said.
    Those round the table noticeably settled themselves into their chairs for a long night ahead at that point. But they needn’t have worried – Councillor Hosking pranced through business like a Lipizzaner stallion. There was skill and finesse on show here as well as speed – David had another meeting to attend himself, so he wasn’t hanging around.
    He mentioned that he had been seeking feedback since December on potential electric vehicle (EV) charging points in Olney’s Cattle Market car park. The vision was for eight parking bays with emphasis on people living in the town rather than on visitors. What was clear from the feedback David had received was that there was general support for the introduction of the charging bays but not necessarily at the expense of existing parking spaces in the town. That feedback was passed on to MK council officers and the plan to provide those spaces has now been removed.
    David went on next to litter: a problem that blights our area, he said, particularly on roadside verges. Ward Councillors have received several comments from residents about the A509 from the Land Rover roundabout right down passed Chicheley Hill into Olney and out towards Warrington. Part of the problem is that much of the vegetation has gone over the winter months so you can now see more litter. David and his team have spoken to MK officers who will publish a new cleansing programme for that road, he said, and also Chicheley Hill out to Stagsden. The cleansing programme had been interrupted he said, with officers doing other jobs but it will be re-started.
    Traffic management will be necessary on some stretches of the road, said David quickly, hoping it would be a throwaway line. ‘Traffic management’ usually translates as ‘temporary traffic lights’ and everyone knows that’s not a prospect that Olney residents driving home for the night ever want to consider. However, an accident on one stretch of the road a few years ago means that traffic management is necessary, said David, the memories of the furore surrounding the roadworks outside the Swan Inn in November clearly still hurting back at MK Council’s offices.
    Moving on David said that the roadworks on Lime Street and Weston Road over Christmas had been completed and that traffic lights had been removed. He said he had noticed that Anglian Water were ‘back in town’, almost as if an old nemesis had turned up uninvited. Ian Stokes stuck his hand up sheepishly. It’s my house, he said, there’s a flood. Thank you for that confirmation, said David, I should come here more often.
    One disappointing item was the works being done to repair a strange and faulty piece of road on the A509 that refuses to go away, reported Councillor Hosking. It’s known as the ‘Roller-coaster’ and drivers will know it from the way it dips up and down alarmingly. A repair attempt had been made but hadn’t been successful. Ward Councillors had asked officers to look at that again and report back. They are also looking at repairing some potholes that have appeared around the town, keeping residents awake at night especially when HGVs pass through Olney in the twilight hours.
    Moving on to the High Street and providing support for retailers in the town, David said that it was well-known that businesses had been affected by Covid and that MKCC were keen to do whatever they could to help. There will be some further information on that coming up soon, he added, but I wanted to keep everyone up to speed at this point. We hope that it will be financial support as well as other types of help.
    MKCC are currently consulting on its budgets for 2023/24 and the headline is an increase in Council Tax of 4.99% which includes social care precepts and social housing as well. OTC will be able to review that budget and comment on it to Milton Keynes. Finally he wanted everyone to know that an outline planning application for a further 800 new houses was granted as part of the Milton Keynes East project. This will increase traffic during the construction phase and also once the houses have been completed and people are living there, he warned. It won’t be helped by a new crossing which will almost certainly slow traffic down and might result in safety issues for pedestrians. David and fellow Ward Councillor Peter Geary have both voiced their concerns and spoken in objection to that decision but the vote has gone against them.

    PCSO’s report

    Local PCSO James Andrews wasn’t able to be at the meeting so Ben said he would run through the report for December. The Clerk interjected and said that a last-minute report of stalking and harassment had been received which slightly changed the report. Breaking news, said Ben, there’s an extra one to add. The list included the following: one stalking & harassment, two suspicious persons, three suspicious vehicles, one theft, three criminal damage, one public order, two burglaries, two road collisions and four concerns for safety. If anyone has any queries, they can be passed to James via the Clerk, said Ben.

    Expenditure report and budget to date

    The main part of the meeting tonight is agreeing next year’s budget, and that will fall into that, said Ben. Nobody knew what he meant by that second part.
    We have seen a progression, said the Mayor, and there’s going to be a small surplus. There’s nothing in there where we’re way over budget apart from the obvious open space budgets such as the Rec, but on the positive side the council have made some really good savings. They have reviewed contracts, for example, and it has certainly helped with budget setting this year. Ian Stokes asked about a particular expense under ‘Market Projects’: what’s that for, he queried. Is that on the Market, asked Ben, desperately trying to find what Ian was talking about. Yes, said Ian, fourth line from the bottom. Ah yes, said Ben, that’s for the refurbishment of the toilets. No it’s not, said the Clerk, who had clearly been waiting to see how Ben was going to answer. It’s for the electric bollards – the power points, she said adding without a hint of irony: it came as a shock to us. We held some money back originally, she said, but now the balance is due.

    Councillors who represent at external meetings

    Did anyone represent the council at any meetings asked the Mayor. Well, there was the AG250 event on 1st January, said the Clerk, and you were there. Yes, said Ben, that was the kick-off event over the Christmas period and of course Olney was featured on Songs of Praise on Sunday. There will be the AG250 events throughout the year and we will make sure we advertise those and attend wherever we can.
    We also had the Christmas Lunch which some councillors took part in, said the Clerk. On Christmas Day? asked Ben. Yes, said the Clerk, and you could see she was thinking: well, when else would it be? It wasn’t a council thing, she said, but it was held here in the Olney Centre. The volunteers are too modest to take any credit but thank you to those who gave up their time to do that, said Ben.

    Update on S106 spending

    The Clerk said she’d had a meeting with Vistry Homes who are building on the Yardley Manor development on the outskirts of Olney. The discussion was about the proposed community building – Vistry were concerned that OTC were not prepared to take it on and were confused as to why the council had rejected it. They were asking what it is that OTC do want. I told them that it doesn’t meet any of our requirements as it’s neither a sports hall nor a community centre, said the Clerk.
    Separately, she had shown S106 officers from MKCC around the Olney Centre to demonstrate to them how things are done there and what improvements are needed.
    The council now have a feasibility report about the Olney Centre. Ben said that the report was about looking at improvements to the building such as windows being changed and double glazing and the building of a mezzanine floor on the pre-school area so that they can have an office and kitchen upstairs and give more floor space for the children. They also want to increase door widths and add in solar panels and improve the heating system and refurbish the toilets.
    The Kitchener Centre has also been informed of funds available to them and they will make applications directly. Anyone can look at S106 availability, said the Clerk. There’s a computer programme on it, which is sat on my laptop and I will find out how it works and let people know, she said. But it is publicly available – it’s supposed to be all-singing, all-dancing.
    Chris Tennant congratulated the Clerk’s office on the work they have done on the Olney Centre project. He said one of the main benefits of the work was in reducing carbon emissions. Yes, agreed the Clerk, we are trying to get rid of the gas completely, she said, and we are looking at alternative ways of heating the building.
    She said they had been looking at something called a varied refrigerant flow system. There was total silence at this revelation. Clearly no-one had heard of it before. Someone had to break the hush: that sounds good, said the Mayor, to sighs of relief around the table.

    Updates on the Recreation Ground

    The Mayor said that updates on the Rec will appear on the agenda every month even though ‘there’s not a lot of swimming going down there at the moment’. The Deputy Clerk said that, in fact, two people had been in the water a few weeks ago.
    Ben said that CCTV, which had been improved recently, is now offering greater coverage of the Rec and the car park. Some of the sports clubs there have added in their own CCTV on top of what the council had contributed, he added. The message for everyone is that if you are doing anything silly down there, you will be seen. The quality of the cameras is now so good, said Ben, that ‘you can see the raindrops on the river’. Volunteer marshals have been meeting to discuss what they have learned from previous years and there will be a call for more volunteers.

    Schedule of charges

    At this point two members of the public – Phonebox columnist David Pibworth and Kevin Viney, both of them former councillors – upped sticks and left the meeting without so much as a ‘by your leave’. Was it something I said?, asked Ben. Always, replied Ian Stokes. And we were just getting to the most exciting part of the night, said Ben, the draft schedule of charges.
    These are what the council charges tenants to use its facilities and there had been a proposal to increase these by 2.5%. There was one exception to that: the Olney Centre where there would be no increase. Ian Stokes had been doing his maths homework. There seems to be an anomaly on our proposed rentals, he said. Rentals for the East Street building were different from that charged in the Olney Centre. We are not being consistent, he said. There’s nothing to stop us doing that, said the Mayor, we are entitled to. He added that they need to review it which could be done by the Recs and Services committee. Ian said he thought the council were undercharging for the East Street building and other facilities including the MUGA recreation area when compared with the Olney Centre. Peter Geary said that the council have a duty by law to make the best use of its facilities and can’t be seen to be offering lower rates. The Mayor said that he understood Ian’s frustrations and that further reviews would be made when they had clearer comparisons.

    Draft budget for 2023/24

    The Mayor reported that there was a forecasted income of £160,114.40 for the coming year and a forecasted expenditure figure of £500,050, which meant that there would be a precept request (what the council earns against what it spends) of £339,935.60 to Milton Keynes City Council. This is a 2.9% increase on the current precept. This was approved by the council and the precept sent to MKCC. Ben thanked Peter Geary for ‘getting his head in a lot of budgets’ at the Milton Keynes offices. It’s a budget we can be proud of, said Ben, and we have delivered good value to the people of Olney. On the subject of budgets, Peter Geary said that Ward Councillors have a discretionary grant of £1000 per year each to spend on community events and he was open to suggestions. Applications to receive this funding, as long as it’s match-funded, should be directed to Ward Councillor Keith McLean. The King’s Coronation later this year has been suggested for example, said the Clerk.

    Johnsons Field update

    The Mayor thanked the MKCC team for helping to develop a plan to improve the Johnsons Field recreational area in Olney. The Clerk said that planning permission would be required because new features are being proposed, not just repairs, before a public consultation process could be started.
    Ian Stokes has always been a big fan of a new skate park and this was another opportunity for him to campaign to get one built. I think this is a good plan, he said. It’s a good use of space and offers facilities for a wide range of ages. Can I recommend that we do push for the skate park, he said. That is something that consistently comes back and children in the town ask for again and again. Ron Hall agreed that the plan had been mentioned several years ago and it is an ideal opportunity now to build it.
    Residents of Johnsons Field have expressed some concerns about these plans and I think we should be mindful of them, said Dan Rowland. There were nods of agreement around the table. Any other comments, asked the Mayor. From our experience, let’s not make the same mistakes again, said Ian. Can we include CCTV into these plans? There was again a long silence (and perhaps even a groan from someone) as it became clear that Ian might be on his own where closed circuit cameras were concerned. Again the Mayor had to break the hush: that’s a question we can go back to, he said. Councillors agreed that they would keep Olney residents informed about the Johnson Fields plans with exhibitions or displays so that people could make their own minds up in time to give their views. The Olney Centre and the Farmers Market were both identified as sites for the displays and information. A new footpath going across the Field is also proposed but where to put it? Peter Geary said the best way is to see where the grass becomes most worn out by people and then put the path there. Nobody could disagree with that logic.
    A 28 day public consultation process was proposed and agreed. The council will also propose to MKCC that the current zipwire and an unused tyre swing on the Johnsons Field site is removed to make room for the proposed skate park.
    Could Ian Stokes finally be getting his wish of a proper place for people to take their skateboards? Park that thought…

    The next meeting

    The next meeting will be on Monday 6th February at 7pm 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.

  • March 2023

    Mercury issue for March 2023 (February 2023 meeting)

    Public participation and letters to the council

    There were two members of the public present but neither expressed a wish to speak, so the meeting quickly moved on to:

    Apologies for absence and declarations of interest

    Apologies were received from Naomi Brock, Ian Stokes and Trevor Aldred. There were no declarations of interest and no comments made on the minutes of last month’s meeting.

    Ward Councillors report

    David Hosking gave the report on behalf of the Milton Keynes City Council (MKCC) ward councillors. The first item concerned the litter on the A509 between Newport Pagnell Cazoo roundabout, (previously known as Land Rover roundabout but actually called Tickford Roundabout) and Chicheley. He reported that this stretch has now been ‘cleansed’, a term used by the MKCC officer responsible he explained. There are plans to do further stretches of the road which will necessitate traffic management. The ward councillors are leading on an initiative to clean up parts of Olney and will be organising community litter picks on the first Saturday of every month, starting on 4th March and meeting at 10am in the Market Place. Tea and coffee will be provided free of charge by The Cherry Tree for all volunteers, he said. He thanked Judy Spencer, who already organises a group of regular litter pickers, and said there was an opportunity to work together.
    Regarding the much discussed Aldi application, he said Historic England had requested a report from Oxford Archaeology, as evidence of a Roman building had be found on the site. Until that report is published the planning application will be held in abeyance by the planning officers. They will then make a recommendation to MKCC planning committee whether to grant or refuse the application. He stressed that the decision will be made purely on policy and not public opinion. The fact that the application conflicts with the Olney Town Council (OTC) Neighbourhood Plan (NP) and MKCC’s own policies means that it will have to go to the committee. Regarding the NP, he reminded councillors that it designated the site of ‘the Old Youth Club’ in East Street as a new health centre. Contrary to what has been said in the press and elsewhere it has NOT been confirmed that it will not be built. It was disappointing that after 12-18 months of work put in by the ward councillors to ensure an option for the land purchase from MKCC that things had stalled. They were continuing to work with the practice, the Integrated Care Board (which replaced the Clinical Commissioning Group) and the member of Parliament to ensure that the scheme moves forward.
    He then moved on to the much discussed issue of changes to the bus service. He said the ward councillors had been speaking with the Britannia bus company who had now submitted their plans to MKCC, West Northants Council and Bedford Borough Council to run a two hourly service starting in early April using two single decker buses, to include diversion through Olney and Lavendon. With two other attempts having fallen by the wayside, this would seem to be the best chance or reinstating the service, he said. It would be incumbent on the travelling public to use the service to ensure its long-term sustainability, since Stagecoach already operate on part of the route. The ward councillors would continue working with Britannia to ensure that the service starts as planned and to support the long-term viability.
    Next on David’s list was a meeting that the ward councillors had attended with MKCC regarding the new waste and recycling service which is due to start in September. An announcement had been made that sacks would be provided to those properties deemed unsuitable for the multi-wheelie bin proposal. A postcode check will shortly be available on the MKCC website where residents will be able to identify the proposals for their property, with an option to appeal if they do not agree.
    Next David spoke about an incident on the ‘One Stop’ zebra crossing where a pedestrian had been injured. Improvements had been made some years ago to improve visibility and lighting, but the ward councillors felt that it could be made safer still and have arranged a site visit with the MKCC Head of Highways and await the police report before deciding on the next steps. Deirdre Bethune thought that the lit posts were more of a hindrance than a help. The brightness of the lights actually made it difficult to see pedestrians waiting to cross. Colin Rodden said he thought there were too many bollards. Several other members then related their own experiences of near misses on the crossing.
    Finally, David reported that MKCC would be making £50,000 available to be distributed amongst parishes for the King’s Coronation. There would also be funding available from the National Lottery, he said.
    Regarding litter, Colin Rodden asked what was happening to tackle those causing the problem, noting that there was a particular problem around the benches by the war memorial. It was great that the community was being urged to clean up but he felt that education was equally important. At this point Deputy Mayor Debbie Whitworth left the meeting in some obvious distress. David continued, saying that 80% of litter in MK was takeaway food packaging and waste discarded from vehicles. He said a trial of technology already in use elsewhere in the country is due to take place later in the year in MK using number plate recognition technology. Debbie Hall then returned to the subject of the number 41 bus and speaking with barely concealed anger she said she would like it to be put on record the amount of work that Debbie Whitworth has put into resolving the situation and suggested that was the reason she had left the meeting. She had arranged meetings with all parties involved, including MKCC, and David had made no mention of this in his report, said Debbie H. David said he was more than happy to acknowledge the work she had done and apologised if that had not come across. Returning to the litter issue Dan Rowland agreed it was good for the public to be involved but questioned if MKCC’s cleaning contractors Serco could do more. Peter Geary said that councils were being asked to take on extra responsibilities with less money and the budget is therefore severely stretched already. Chris Tennant returned to the subject of the new health centre, saying that as landowners MKCC had the ability to ‘unstick’ the project which was currently stuck due to a funding issue and asked if MKCC had any capital funding which could be used for this. Peter Geary responded saying there is, but it wouldn’t get the funding over the line as there were lots of things that have happened, lots of things that currently aren’t happening and some of the things that Chris had mentioned were part of it but there were other things as well and we will just have to wait and see what happens, but he was confident that Olney would get its new medical centre! The Elephant In the Room was probably in grave danger of disappearing up its own backside after that very clear and concise summary of the situation, thought Mercury. Although nobody appeared to want to acknowledge it, it was clear that the funding the practice had expected to get from the CCG and subsequently the Integrated Care Board has not been forthcoming and therefore the project has stalled. Peter continued by saying he thought the funding would come from a range of sources, but it was difficult to talk about it in public when agreements first needed to be reached in private. Colin Rodden said he was disappointed with progress since it had been known for a long time that Cobbs Garden would not have the capacity to meet the forecasted demand. The Neighbourhood Plan had been in place for some time, he said. Peter said that Chris Tennant was working with the surgery and the right people to get things moving but MKCC had no control over the Integrated Care Board. Previously, Milton Keynes had its own Clinical Commissioning Group, but the new Integrated Care Board was now responsible for Milton Keynes, Luton and Bedfordshire so suddenly there were many more GP practices and things were being dragged in numerous ways.

    PCSO’s report

    There was no PCSO present and no report this month.

    Expenditure report

    Mayor Ben Brown presented the report saying that there was nothing unexpected this month and the council was on course for a small surplus at the end of the Financial Year.

    Reports from External meetings

    Town Clerk Jane Brushwood reported that she, Ron Hall and Debbie Whitworth had attended the waste and recycling meeting mentioned earlier by David Hosking. She had noted some interesting statistics: MKCC currently processes 38,000 tonnes of recycled waste and 36,000 tonnes of black sack waste each year. They have purchased 300,000 new wheelie bins of which 100,000 are already in use and the electric vehicles that will be used in the future for collecting bins will be powered by the waste that they collect. The recycling plant is currently powered by generating electricity from the collected waste and in the future this will be used to charge the electric vehicles. She reported that she’d also been to the Emberton Park Liaison User Group where the proposals to make part of the circular roadway pedestrian only had been discussed. The Adventure Cycles that were trialled last year are due to be reinstated on a permanent basis from Easter. Ben Brown reported that Debbie Whitworth had attended the reopening of the Oxfam Bookshop following refurbishment and he had officially opened the Community Fridge (he confirmed that the light did indeed come on). It was something that the community could be proud of, he said, and is available to anyone who wants to use it to reduce food waste.

    Section 106 allocations

    Town Clerk Jane Brushwood reported that she had shown the MKCC ‘Section 106 lady’ around the refurbished Multi Use Games Area (MUGA) on the recreation ground who was impressed with the work and the fact that it is regularly used by a range of different groups and S106 funding will be made available for resurfacing of other areas, including the driveway to the allotments.

    Recreation ground and volunteer scheme

    Ben Brown said that the now fully functioning council CCTV was working well in conjunction with the CCTV operated by some of the sports clubs. He expected to shortly start forward planning for the expected influx of summer visitors. Ben thanked the volunteers who had helped last year and asked the members to encourage anyone they knew who might be interested in helping this year to come forward.

    Talk with your councillor and Community Events

    The Clerk said she and Mary Prosser had attended a series of presentations by the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) and had been particularly impressed with the session on Community Enrichment. Woughton Community Council do some fabulous work, she said, and felt that the Olney Centre could be used as a facility for residents to come and talk to the council, but also to run things like a youth club, adult social care tea and chat and similar. She asked for permission to further investigate the possibilities. Jane Varley said in principle it was a brilliant idea and in the past OTC had held a weekly surgery but there was very low take up. Consultations on specific issues, such as Johnsons Field development and Yardley Manor Community Centre were well attended though. Peter Geary said the ward councillors currently hold a monthly surgery and attendance is variable. The OTC office is open during the day and residents can contact the clerk or councillors via the phone or email, so the council is already pretty open, he thought. Debbie Hall said it was a shame that the youth club had closed in East Street but understood that it had been run largely by volunteers. Peter Geary said he had been a trustee for a few years and past councillors Steve Clark and Jeremy Rawlings had sat on the management committee for some 30 to 40 years. While there had been paid full and part time youth workers there with volunteers it had been fine, but the full time employee had then been spread across several other clubs but eventually there were not enough volunteers or trustees to carry on, so it had ‘fizzled out’. A similar situation had occurred at Lavendon, he said. The Clerk asked if it would be possible for OTC to pay for a part time youth worker. Peter said there were youth teams at MKCC that could advise. It was agreed that Jane would investigate and report back at a future meeting.

    Civility and Respect Protocol

    Ben Brown presented a 10 page document produced by NALC which gives guidance on how councillors and officers of the council manage their working relationship. The Clerk said that it had been discussed at one of the NALC presentations and she felt that OTC should adopt it. Peter Geary said it fitted with the Nolan Principles (of public life) which all councillors had signed up to anyway and added flesh to the bones of what the council should be doing. There had been some recent changes to standards rules and members’ register of interests which could be included in training when the opportunity arises, he said. Ben proposed that it was adopted, David Tyler seconded and it was passed unanimously.

    Coronation Celebrations

    Ben Brown said that since the last meeting Buckingham Palace had released details of the guidelines for events over the bank holiday weekend. Monday had been proposed as a ‘volunteers day’ he said and invited suggestions as to what could be done in Olney. He noted that other organisations and businesses in the town were looking to put on events. Colin Rodden asked if the council needed to make a budget allowance and Ben said there is a grant available from MKCC but members needed to bear in mind what had happened with the application process for last year’s jubilee celebrations! The Clerk suggested using social media to find out what residents want and Peter Geary agreed, saying if people wanted to close their cul-de-sac for a street party, for example, then OTC could advise on how to do it. Debbie Hall suggested that residents could clean their street signs or perhaps weed the areas outside their properties. Dan Rowlands asked if the council would be organising events or facilitating events for others. Playing devil’s advocate, Ben wondered whether the council could justify a ‘big money event’ in the middle of a cost of living crisis. Dan suggested forming a sub-committee to collate feedback from the community which he would steer, and that was agreed. Colin Rodden wondered whether the Market Place should be pedestrianised for the day for the retailers to ‘put something together’ but it was pointed out that closing the Market Place was very unpopular with the traders. Peter Geary suggested buying some new flags as the existing ones were dirty when they’d been put away in the shed and hadn’t got any cleaner when they were pulled out 10 years later!

    Cycle and footpath links to surrounding villages

    The Clerk reported that she had received an email from Emberton Parish Council to consider using Section 106 funding to improve the footpath and cycleway connectivity between Olney, Emberton and Sherington. Emberton P.C. does not have any S106 funding available and wished to use some of that allocated to Olney, she explained, but she didn’t think it would be possible to use S106 for such a project, particularly as footpaths and cycleways were the responsibility of Highways. Peter Geary was of the opinion that Olney already had good links with Emberton via the existing cycle path and Emberton Park. The cycle path continued to Alban Hill and then shared the road to Sherington Village, which he admitted was not ideal. There is an existing path to Weston Underwood and a right of way to Clifton Reynes, which only left Lavendon with no connectivity and unless they could find £1M would not happen. He suggested working with Emberton P.C. to see what ideas they might have and how much it was likely to cost. He agreed to speak to the chair of Emberton P.C. Chris Tennant noted that in and around Cambridge the council had reached agreement with farmers to segregate vehicular and pedestrian/cycle traffic by ‘jumping’ hedgerows and locating cycleways on the edge of fields.

    Local events

    The Cherry Fair committee have requested permission to use the Glebe Field between 23rd to 26th June although it wasn’t stated what date the event would take place. The Lions have requested use of the Market Place on Sunday 11th June for Motorama. The Olney Group (TOG) have requested use of the recreation ground for Riverfest, including the raft race, on 1st and 2nd July, with parking on the Nursery field. All requests were granted.

    The next meeting

    The next meeting will be held on Monday 6th March, 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.

  • April 2023

    Mercury issue for April 2023 (March 2023 meeting)


    What’s a fiver worth these days? A pint of beer, according to Councillor Chris Tennant. That’s what he wants to charge people to park their car on the recreation ground’s Nursery Pitch on East Street. It’s small change to most people you’d have thought, and hardly worth any consideration. Not a bit of it at Olney Town Council’s monthly meeting – that fiver took up more discussion time than any other topic on the night’s agenda.

    Public participation

    The public seating area was quite busy – eight members of Olney’s populace had braved the wind and turned up for the meeting and, as it turned out, three of them were up for speaking.
    First came former councillor Kevin Viney who was angry that Cobbs Garden was ‘bursting at the seams’ and no longer taking any new patient registrations. He linked it to the explosion of new homes in the area and on that point he added he was disappointed that plans for a new ‘health hub’ in the town were not going ahead. He asked that OTC writes to Milton Keynes Council to convey ‘dismay’ at this decision. With just the merest of glances in the direction of Ward Councillor David Hosking – who was due to present at the meeting later – Mr Viney added that he thought Olney townsfolk would like to see the ward councillors, and our elected MP for that matter, all ‘doing something’ about this health situation regularly, and not just near election time.
    Mr Viney was followed by two more public speakers; teenagers who wanted to show their support for the proposed redevelopment of Johnsons Field. They had turned up with dad Martin Mayes. The likeable pair told councillors how much they enjoyed skateboarding and were looking forward to the new development. They spoke well about how the sport helps their physical fitness as well as their mental well-being. Personally, said one of the lads to a hushed council chamber, skate boarding makes me feel free and alive. It reduces stress and stops me having any worries I might have, he added. There was hardly a dry eye in the house and the boys rightly received a round of applause from councillors as they sat down. Thanks for that, said Mayor Ben Brown, we will keep you updated on Johnsons Field. Well done for coming in to speak, he added, you spoke a lot more sense than some people do. Ben kept his gaze downwards at that point to avoid glancing at anyone and giving away who he was thinking of.
    You can go now if you want to, said a smiling Deirdre Bethune to the two boys. She had clearly had a quick glance down the agenda and knew that this was hardly going to be an evening of fun and laughter for a couple of teenage lads. We’ll stay for a bit, said Dad, the boys want to see local democracy in action. Hmm… you had to admire their enthusiasm.
    I’ll try to keep this as interesting as possible but feel free to leave at any time – we won’t be offended, reaffirmed the Mayor.

    Apologies for absence and declarations of interest

    Peter Geary, Jane Varley and Debbie Whitworth had sent apologies. Trevor Aldred was also absent from the meeting. Any declarations of interest, asked the Mayor. Ian Stokes said that a later item about parking on the sports ground might affect him as chairman of a local sports club. The minutes from the meeting held in February were duly approved.

    PCSO’s report

    Local PSCO James Andrew was on hand to deliver his report personally and asked if everyone around the table had seen his latest crime figures. There were nods of agreement. So were there any questions, asked the officer. David Tyler wondered how to report badly parked cars on zig-zag lines outside schools for example. Not to me, said James. It’s MK Council’s responsibility where zig-zags are concerned – we only do unnecessary obstruction of the highway. Colin Rodden raised the subject of cars sticking out from their parking bays along the High Street. At least that stops them parking on the pavement, said Deirdre. Well, some vehicles do both, returned Colin. As long as those cars are not bringing traffic to a complete stop, said James, there’s nothing we can do about it. Colin also asked about speeding issues in Olney. PC Andrews said there have been talks between the local police and the Thames Valley Force about bringing Community Speedwatch (where local residents use police equipment to do their own monitoring of roads) into the area. He said he would report further when he could. Ben thanked James for all the work that he does. Recreation ground marshals are due to meet soon as the spring and summer seasons approach and Clerk Jane Brushwood invited the PCSO along to the next meeting of the group to support the volunteers in their roles.

    Ward Councillor’s report

    David Hosking was again in attendance to present the ward councillors report to OTC. With local ward councillor elections looming in just a few weeks, David was anxious to show support for OTC, its local initiatives and the town in general.
    He first wanted to cover the ‘Bins on Tour’ event, held at the Olney Centre. David made it sound like a grunge metal concert. The subject of wheelie bins has been trundling along for some time now and lots of people had come out to talk and make their views heard, he said. Everyone was respectful toward MKCC’s officers, regardless of their view of them, and he was pleased about that.
    One thing I will say, said David, is that the bins are coming, rightly or wrongly, and we will be working hard to make sure that people who can’t store them will have coloured sacks provided. ‘Rightly or wrongly’? That certainly didn’t make it sound like David was 100 per cent behind the wheelie bins idea. He added that he’d spoken to the council’s ‘waste team’ and, given the number of people who had attended the ‘Bins on Tour’ meeting and the types of questions raised, they will provide a report about the whole rubbish situation moving forward.
    David also told councillors that a ‘stage 3’ road safety audit is planned for the troubled zebra crossing near the One Stop store on Olney High Street. MK councillors do think that the crossing could be made safer, he said, but it’s important that safety officers do their work with a comprehensive review of road safety measures before any proposals are made.
    For anyone who drives on the A509 between the Chicheley Hill roundabout and Sherington High street will notice it’s now litter free. Councillor Hosking said that the section would be closed overnight for a week in late March to allow for safe litter picking. Other roadworks will be carried out near the roundabout while it’s closed, he added.
    He then went on to talk about school places. Ousedale School, he said, had been massively over-subscribed for this year’s Year 7 entry in September. Because of this many children from the surrounding villages have not been offered a place at either the Olney or Newport Pagnell campuses. It’s the first time that this has happened he warned. Although it won’t affect Olney children this year, he added, it might be worth thinking about for future years.
    It took a little longer than hoped, said David, but a retail forum and networking event for retailers was organised at Olney Rugby Club. It was organised by an group called Collaborate UK and supported by the ward councillors as part of their backing of local traders and hospitality suppliers.
    David also reported that MK Council had set their budget for the 2023/24 financial year and that it included a 4.99% increase in council tax. He was sorry to announce that no provision for a new rural bus service had been included in that budget.
    Councillor Hosking said that a community litter pick had proved highly successful with ‘an army’ of litter pickers collecting more than 30 bags of rubbish. Trash was collected from various areas of town but mostly to the east of the High Street. Talking of community spirit, David thanked David Phillipson and his Pancake Race committee for another successful event and congratulated Deirdre Bethune for completing the course and Eloise Kramer for winning it.
    Naomi Brock said she was concerned how long it had taken for any movement on the High Street crossing, because every day there is an issue there, including a near miss for herself recently, she said. Will someone have to be killed before something gets done, she asked with exasperation evident in her voice. Well I certainly hope nobody is killed before something gets done, countered Councillor Hosking. He said he was recently nearly hit by an HGV truck that had ignored the red lights outside the Bull Hotel further down the High Street. The point he was making was that these things happen on light controlled crossings as well as zebra crossings. He was confident that road safety officers would be starting investigations and reporting on the crossing in the next few weeks and everyone should wait for the report so that they have some findings to talk about. I’m sorry if that’s a bit of a non-answer, he added.
    Deirdre said one of the easiest places to cross the High Street was near the old NatWest Bank where there is an island. That’s where she always crosses, she added. Could a ‘splitter’ island be installed by the One Stop crossing, she wondered. Even looking at something like that slows traffic down, she said. But David wasn’t going to be drawn. I’m not a professional on this he said, and I want to wait for that report to come.
    Colin Rodden asked whether OTC could launch a campaign to encourage people to use the town’s bins more and thus reduce litter. Debbie Hall said the state of the town’s rubbish bins was a cause for concern and could be putting people off using them. Are they ever washed, she asked, they are disgusting. The Clerk agreed that they could all do with a scrub down and added that she would like to get the whole lot of them cleaned but it’s not easy to get that done. Perhaps it’s something we could have sorted for the Coronation, proposed Debbie.
    The lustre was starting to wear off for the two teenagers and dad Martin had seen the warning signs. The boys had started to get fidgety (and who can blame them?) and so they thanked everyone and left straight after David Hosking’s presentation. Perhaps they sensed that it wasn’t going to get any better than that. If we insist on talking about bins, that’s what’s going to happen, quipped Ben.

    Expenditure report and budget to date

    There was no unexpected expenditure said the Mayor. Income from the Olney Centre is up, he said, and generally the council are tracking for a small surplus for this financial year. A wall at the back of the playground in the pre-school collapsed recently, said the Clerk. It was during the Christmas holidays when there was nobody about, she said. It could have been bad, she added with a shiver, you don’t want to see the pictures – it’s really scary. That will cost £16,000 to repair, she reported. It can’t be covered by insurance and just goes to show that you can’t take anything for granted in terms of expenditure, said the Mayor. The Clerk said OTC are hopeful of covering the expenditure through S106 funding (money for community projects).

    Councillors who represent at external meetings

    Did anyone attend any meetings, asked the Mayor. Ian Stokes said that he and the Clerk had been to a meeting with the Football Association, the Football Foundation, local councillors and turfing specialists. It was about promoting how local councils offer facilities for sports. Applications for grants from the Football Foundation have been opened up to parish councils now, said Ian, to help provide more sports facilities and with upkeeping them. The Mayor and Mary Prosser had attended the Pancake Race, said Ben, and he was delighted with the way it went. It’s a good advert for the town, he added. The Mayor, Naomi Brock, Debbie Hall, Mary Prosser and Debbie Whitworth all attended the grand opening of the community fridge, the facility behind the Olney Centre. Donations have mainly come from residents – with not much from shops so far, said a disappointed Clerk, but the service is proving a very popular way to cut waste. Have my five jars of gherkins gone, asked the Mayor, who’s a big fan of the pickles. All gone, confirmed the Clerk. People will take anything, said Ben.

    Update on S106 spending

    The Mayor confirmed that feedback received from residents about the Johnsons Field proposals had now been collated and will be sent to the relevant MK Council department so that it can be added into the final proposals for the planning application. There is clear messaging from these comments said the Mayor. The Clerk reported that resurfacing is planned to take place at the allotments, the MUGA (multi-use games area) and the East Street car park entry road including re-marking of parking bays and disabled bays.

    Updates on the Recreation Ground

    The Mayor said the Rec’s volunteer marshal group will be meeting later in the month with the target to get as many people involved as possible. It has to be well manned to be effective, said Ben. There will be advertisements going out to attract new volunteers, he added. He said that the issue of parking enforcement in the area had been raised, particularly in the summer months when it gets very busy. Ian Stokes wanted to raise an issue: have we got plans for disabled parking there? It’s in the plans, said the Clerk. As part of the re-lining work down there it will include disabled spaces. We did re-marking temporarily last year and it worked, she said. How do we enforce that, pressed Ian. Preparations were being made and lines for the bays will be properly painted and marked out, said the Mayor. Watch this space, he said, pleased with his irony. We could produce cards for volunteers to put on people’s cars asking them to park considerately, said Debbie Hall. Can we do that, asked Naomi, incredulously. Can we actually do that? There were nods around the table that suggested they could. Yes that’s one for the volunteers said the Mayor. I don’t think there’s anything off the table in terms of what we can do for enforcement. David Hosking said he would consult with his ward councillor colleagues on ways to enforce parking regulations while, on the subject of volunteers, Ian Stokes said there should be a JUG (Joint User Group) meeting to encourage people to volunteer for marshalling duties.
    The Mayor said the local Olney and Clifton Fishing Club has been doing some more testing of the water that runs through the Rec area. The river, especially down by the Victorian bathing steps, is a popular attraction but samples had confirmed that water pollution is a problem there.
    The Clerk said she would like to organise some signs for the area to discourage swimming down there. Colin Rodden said the council should ’push back’ and find out why water companies, farmers and other industries are polluting the waterways. We have a duty of care to inform people about the water, said the Clerk and if we don’t and people get sick, they can come back at us about it. Yes we should challenge the water companies about it, said David Tyler. Ron Hall agreed. This is a national problem and it’s a disgrace, he said.
    The fishing club are continuing with their testing, said the Clerk. They are doing the swimming steps and a bit further up and I have asked them to let me have a report on it. They will do it for us and we will contribute towards the cost, she added. And would you like us to ask for you officially to do that, asked the Mayor. No, said the Clerk, I didn’t ask, I just did it, because I think it’s important. OK, said the Mayor, clearly not in the mood to continue with that conversation. The Clerk also thought the extra signage was important. Debbie Hall wondered what words can be used on any signs. How do you define ‘dangerous’, she asked. It’s dangerous because of the reeds and the foam in the water and all the rest of it, but this is pollution, said the Clerk. Could we perhaps have a colour coded system, said Dan Rowland, a kind of red, amber, green, so people can judge the toxicity for themselves. That suggestion sounded complicated and the total silence in the room that followed it did nothing to encourage its deployment. The Mayor agreed that measures should be looked at that discourage people from entering the river, a view shared by all around the table.

    Requests to use areas for parking for Rugby 7s and Olney Open Garden Events

    Various requests have been made to use the nursery pitch at East Street for car parking for these two important events. The Rugby 7s events has previously been marshalled and controlled by their own organisers, said the Mayor. Ian Stokes said that parking for long periods can compact down the earth which can affect the pitch.
    They have also requested parking on the strip of land outside the football club, said the Clerk. But I don’t think you can do that when that area is used by visitors.
    Colin Rodden remembered past events in that area where visitors have parked badly in surrounding streets and ‘across residents’ drives’. Is there anything we can learn from those events, he asked. Nobody else thought the Rugby game would have that same impact though.
    Chris Tennant brought up the subject of charging for parking in that area to ‘remunerate the potential impact’ of cars stopping there and the resultant repairs. This subject has come up before and is always hotly discussed. He suggested levying ‘the price of a pint’, £5 for each car. It would only be right and proper he said. The main problem with that is that cars then spill out onto the surrounding roads because people don’t want to pay for parking and although it’s only five pounds, most people don’t carry cash any more, said Naomi Brock. Ian Stokes said they have to be consistent. We don’t ask people to pay when the Raft Race is on, he said, so why would we ask when it’s the Rugby?
    Dan Rowland asked Chris why OTC had not considered charging before. We have never been that commercial, was the quick reply. Naomi thought that people will try to park in the Rugby Club car park which is free, and fill it up. It is a well-attended event, said Chris with a shrug of the shoulders.
    On they went: Do we need to charge £5 or can it be a smaller sum? What sort of damage does parking do to the pitch surface? How will the £5 charges be collected? Who’s collecting the money? The questions continued as the minutes ticked by. Eventually the proposal to charge £5 to park at the Rugby 7s event was approved.
    And so it started all over again…
    The Olney Open Gardens had also requested to use the Nursery Pitch for their event this year. It will be especially busy in the town that weekend as it clashes with the regular Motorama event down at the Market Place.
    Should we charge for them to park there, asked Debbie Hall, adding that while the rugby club will be making money from their event, the Open Garden was for charity. Are all groups equal, she asked. We should talk to the individual clubs first before we just say, here’s a charge, said Ron Hall. There is an environmental impact here and the £5 levy offsets that impact, said Chris Tennant. I don’t know why the Open Gardens need parking, said Deirdre. It’s not that big a thing unless there are a lot more gardens this year. Yes but Motorama’s on the same weekend, said the Clerk, that’s why they think they won’t be able to get parking around the town. Why don’t they change the date of their event, posed Ian Stokes. The gardens will still be there, he added with a degree of logic. No, said Deirdre, bringing Ian firmly back to earth, it’s linked to a national thing, working with Willen Hospice.
    OTC voted to allow the Open Gardens to use the pitch as a car park but it did not agree to charge the £5 levy – that was voted against. It was a close thing though – the Mayor having to us his casting vote to say no.

    Other matters

    The Mayor thanked ward councillors for their grant of £150 towards the forthcoming Coronation’s flags and bunting. The interim audit report was received with thanks to Deputy Clerk Rob Mungham for his work. Coronation celebration plans in Olney were discussed. There will be celebrations in the town on the Saturday including big screens showing the ceremony at Olney Baptist Church, while tea parties, lunches and a ‘Big Help Out’ of sign cleaning and litter picking will also take place. The resolution to participate in a ‘Sister City’ programme with Olney, Illinois was signed by the Mayor. And a request for new signage for three houses along Aspreys was received. Councillor Hosking said he would raise the issue with MK Council as signage is their responsibility.

    The Mayor

    Ben Brown confirmed that this would be his last meeting as an Olney Town Councillor as he no longer lives in their area. That makes him ineligible to stand as a councillor. He thanked fellow councillors and wished them well. Ian Stokes led the applause and gave praise from councillors for Ben’s work saying everyone recognised all the work he had put in.
    Ben had enjoyed his time in office and would be taking some good memories away with him. A fiver for his thoughts…

    The next meeting

    The next meeting will be on Monday 3rd April at 7pm in the Olney Centre. If you would like to contribute to the Public Participation section at the start of the meeting, or at any time the Mayor deems appropriate, please contact the town Clerk: townclerk@olneytowncouncil.gov.uk.

  • May 2023

    Mercury issue for May 2023 (April 2023 meeting)


    Prior to the formal opening of the meeting Milton Keynes City Council (MKCC) Ward Councillor Peter Geary noted that the first item on the agenda was ‘To elect a Chairman’. This item was necessary following last month’s resignation of Mayor Ben Brown. Peter observed that more correctly it should be ‘To elect a mayor’ since it was not possible for the meeting to take place without a mayor. While most members present probably assumed that Debbie Whitworth would chair the meeting as the Deputy Mayor, Peter pointed out that this was only possible when the deputy was substituting for the incumbent mayor. Without a mayor the meeting would have to be adjourned, he said.

    Election of new Mayor

    Town Clerk Jane Brushwood opened the meeting and asked if there were any nomination for the role of mayor? Dan Rowland nominated Debbie Whitworth and there being no other nominations Debbie was formally adopted as mayor. She later signed the declaration of acceptance of office but declined to wear the chain of office.

    Public participation

    Local resident James Cooper spoke on the subject of the expansion of Olney without adequate infrastructure being in place. James said he was concerned to read in The Phonebox that Milton Keynes has withdrawn the promised funding for the new doctors’ surgery and that there is a shortage of places at Ousedale School. Milton Keynes had forced the town to accept the building of 400 new houses which equates to 1200 people, 300 at least of which would be children, he thought. With the existing surgery having now closed its list it is time for Olney to stand up to MK and say enough is enough until funding can be found to put things in place and stop exploiting Olney, he said.

    Apologies for absence, declarations of interest and matters arising

    Apologies were received from Debbie Hall, Ron Hall, Chris Tennant and Ian Stokes. Ward Councillor David Hosking had sent apologies although not strictly necessary as he attends in his role of Ward Councillor and is not a member of OTC. Note: Trevor Aldred was not present, having recently submitted his resignation from the council. No declarations of interest were received.

    Ward Councillors report

    Peter Geary gave the report in the absence of David Hosking. Council Standing Orders do not permit discussion of items raised under Public Participation unless they are a formal agenda item at the current or future meeting but on this occasion Peter used the Ward Councillor report to respond to the points made by James Cooper. He said neither Milton Keynes Council (MKC) nor central government dictated that Olney should take additional housing. Referring back to the Neighbourhood Plan (NP) referendum in 2017, he expressed his opinion that ‘Olney’ was the place that had decided to accept additional housing. Many months before (six, nine, 12 months he suggested) MK had set a target for growth outside of the urban settlement, including Woburn Sands, Hanslope and Newport Pagnell, which more than exceed that figure. Olney did not have to expand; it chose to expand he said. He said he didn’t want to go through the arguments again as it was ‘quite difficult for certain people at the time and raised the temperature a lot’.
    Some of the warnings that people made at the time may or may not have come true, he thought. The lack of school places is not due to expansion but a ‘birth blip’ and some other issues that have cropped up. Normally some children go to schools outside of MK or to the private sector but for whatever reasons that has not happened this year. There are 26 children within the catchment area that have not got a place at Ousedale but none of them are from Olney parish although seven are from Lavendon. The line for the catchment area runs through the middle of Lavendon so currently some children who have been together at Primary School are currently due to go to Ousedale and some to Stantonbury. There are others from North Crawley, Sherington and Stoke Goldington equally impacted, he said.
    The ward councillors have met with the MP and Head of Ousedale to try and find a resolution, but the school is not prepared to exceed the cap on the entry numbers on an ongoing basis, although it will do so this year if three additional teaching staff can be recruited. Olney Middle School has been able to cope with ‘the blip’ by providing additional classes for the year groups affected but those classes are not full.
    Dan Rowland later noted that there was some Section 106 money which had been allocated to education and wondered how much and what it had been spent on? Peter could not remember the figure but thought it in the region of £2M and said it would have been split across MK College, the university and all three schools but it was unlikely that it could be spent to alleviate the current blip. He suggested that the Development Group ask for a report from MKCC on how the money was being spent.
    Moving on to the doctors’ surgery, he said that MKCC had never agreed to fund it, apart from a contribution from Section 106 (Planning Gain) which comes from the developers, not the council and the cost to build the new surgery will be many times that amount. At the time there had been ‘positive talks’ with Milton Keynes Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) but that had since merged with Bedfordshire and Luton to form a new Integrated Care Partnership (ICP) and since then things had become much more difficult. There are other issues going on at the surgery which need to be addressed but which he could not talk about he said. The existing building is insufficient for the needs of the community as it has the highest ratio of patients to floor space anywhere in the area and if money cannot be found from the ICP it will have to be found from elsewhere.
    Returning to the issue of the ‘One Stop’ pedestrian crossing where there had been recent reports of some pedestrian near misses, Peter said a safety audit had taken place both during the day and at night and the report completed. However due to the forthcoming MKCC elections on 4th May it had been embargoed under purdah rules as it could be construed as an election issue. Nothing will happen until after the election which he thought extremely disappointing, particularly as the report had been available for publication a week before the start of the purdah period. Colin Rodden noted that when the crossing was originally installed MKC Highways had said it was the safest design possible at the time so he was not sure how it could now be made safer.
    Regarding the proposed Aldi development, Peter said the archaeological survey of the discovered Roman remains and subsequent report had been completed and the decision now rested with the MKCC planners. The developers will now decide how they wish to proceed and MKCC will then decide whether or not to grant planning permission. The option of displaying the mosaic under a glass floor in the store was not possible since the current design locates the car park over the mosaic. This would mean changing the design and he thought the construction of the shop over the top of the remains would be considerably more detrimental. He hoped a decision could soon be made as there is without doubt a desire in the town for an Aldi. Colin Rodden asked if there was anything that OTC could do regarding the mosaic, presumably with regards to preserving or displaying it. Peter said that OTC can request permission to speak at the meeting of the Development Control Committee where the application would be discussed and make their views known. He suggested the council discuss it at a future meeting and decide what they would like to happen.
    Deirdre Bethune questioned Peter’s assertion that it was ‘Olney’ that had decided to take the additional housing by voting in favour of the Neighbourhood Plan. She said OTC was only told that MK would already reach its target growth without additional housing in Olney at a very late stage in the process of producing the NP. OTC had observed what was happening elsewhere in MK where parishes were having additional housing ‘put upon them,’ and having been told to put a development plan in place decided to go ahead and plan for housing where they thought it would be suitable. It wasn’t a case of just wanting more housing but having prepared the NP to include infrastructure that was expected to be in place, such as the new surgery, it seemed the best decision to go ahead with the plan to include additional housing. Peter said he completely agreed but wanted to get rid of the myth that Milton Keynes dictated that Olney must have additional housing.
    Colin Rodden recalled that at the time OTC was told there would be development in Olney with or without an NP. Peter agreed but said it was a matter of scale and came down to a decision of whether Olney wanted 100-150 houses or 350. Jane Varley observed that the eventual number was actually 457 and Peter replied that there were lessons to be learnt from that since some of those had been built on land that had been identified in the NP for employment use, but the developers had successfully appealed, overturning objections from OTC and the refusal of planning permission by MKC. Where land is allocated for development and is not developed for the intended purpose, i.e., employment, then it automatically reverts to housing and that should have been considered in advance, he thought.

    PCSO’s report

    There was no PCSO present, but a report had been provided for February and March. Mostly the figures showed no change or a slight decrease in each category although Mercury noted an increase from three to six in cases of Stalking and Harassment. Criminal Damage had risen from one case to four.

    Expenditure report and budget to date

    The Clerk presented the final report of the Financial Year, saying that there was nothing unexpected this month and the budget was pretty much on track.
    There was a large outgoing of £24,418.05 for the resurfacing of the allotment track but that would be returned from S106 in the next F/Y. A similar situation exists for outgoings to the Tennis Club and for the Multi-Use Games Area (MUGA), Jane said.

    Reports from External meetings

    The Clerk and Debbie Whitworth had attended the Parish Forum. The Bucks Fire rep had reported that the average callout rate for July is 41 events but last year it had risen to 220.

    Section 106 allocations

    As mentioned before the allotment lane has been resurfaced, although installation of speedhumps is outstanding. Resurfacing of the track beside the MUGA is in progress and the delayed final surface and marking out of the MUGA was due to take place over the Easter Bank Holiday.

    Applications for Accessibility Fund

    The Clerk said she had received a request for a section of additional pathway to enable easier access to Johnsons Field. Debbie Whitworth said she would be investigating this and noted that previous applications to MKCC had been successful, such as the dropped kerb outside Out of Office. She said she had placed an article in The Phonebox inviting residents to come forward with other ideas.

    Coronation Celebrations

    The Clerk reported that she had applied for grants from MKCC which had been verbally agreed. There will be a public screening of the Coronation ceremony in the Baptist Church on the Saturday. Street parties will be held on the Sunday. The Scouts, Guides and Brownies will all be involved in ‘The Big Clean-up’ on Bank Holiday Monday. Peter Geary said that the community litter pick which David Hosking has been leading for the last couple of months will also move to the Monday.

    Merging of Planning Sub-committee and ODG

    The Planning Sub-committee and ODG (Olney Development Group) will be merged into one, since many members sit on both. There was a long discussion around about what the new committee should be called and eventually Peter Geary suggested the name Development Committee, since it would deal with applications that needed to be dealt with immediately plus the long term vision. He noted that the current ODG membership contains some people who are not councillors and therefore would not have a voice on planning matters. Colin Rodden was concerned that including the word ‘Development’ might suggest that the council was in favour of the town ‘growing like topsy’. Dierdre Bethune responded that the term Planning implied a subsequent development and suggested members were overthinking the matter.

    Odds and Sods

    A volunteer marshal meeting has recently taken place with another due to take place at the end of April. There will be ongoing appeals for more volunteers in The Phonebox and social media.
    FoLiO (Friends of the Library in Olney) requested a grant towards their summer entertainment (usually £100) which was agreed.

    The next meeting

    The next meeting will be held on Monday 15th May, at 7pm in the Olney Centre, the previous two Mondays being Bank Holidays. This is known as the Annual Meeting where elections to the role of mayor and make up of sub-committees, amongst other things is agreed. 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.

    The Annual Town Meeting

    The annual Town Meeting will take place on 19th May where the council will report to residents what it has been doing over the past year and what the plans are going forward. Residents can raise questions and have their say on matters which are of concern to them.

  • June 2023

    Mercury issue in June 2023 (May 2023 meeting) and The Annual Town Meeting (19th May)


    It was a big night for Olney Town Council at May’s monthly gathering – the election of the town’s Mayor was on the agenda, as was the prospect of a new Deputy Mayor, and the room had a positive buzz about it as councillors came in and took their places. But with those two key appointments in the offing, the night wasn’t going to pass without a high-profile resignation too.

    Public participation

    Only one member of the public had taken his seat on one of two rows of chairs placed around the official meeting table, and he indicated he did not wish to address the council. But wait a minute, someone else appeared at the last gasp and sat himself down in the far row of public seats – it was Peter Geary, a long-standing and hard-working Olney town and Ward councillor. It seemed slightly odd that he chose to sit there but maybe he just needed some space. Perhaps he had heard that fellow councillor Ron Hall had recently recovered from Covid and didn’t want to get too close to him. Oh well, each to his own and nobody seemed to take much notice at this point.

    Election of the Mayor and Deputy Mayor

    This appointment has to happen every May, regardless of the length of time the current incumbent has been in office. Debbie Whitworth had only been keeping the seat warm for a matter of weeks, after Ben Brown had quit and left town, so in theory, we were facing the potential of Olney having three Mayors in as many months if someone new got the nod.
    It was the Mayor’s post to fill first and Debbie Whitworth duly called the meeting to order and asked for nominations for the post. Dan Rowland said he would like to propose Debbie and, as there were no further suggestions the job was hers if she accepted it. Of course she did and gleefully signed the declaration of office or, as Town Clerk Jane Brushwood cheekily put it, she ‘signed her life away’.
    Next up was the post of Deputy Mayor. Any nominations? Up stepped Dan again: I nominate Colin Rodden, he said. Any others, asked the Mayor. Mary Prosser put Debbie Hall’s name forward. Both nominees accepted and so we went to a vote.
    Now don’t expect any Eurovision Song Contest-style voting committees or brightly lit, computer-controlled results boards here. At OTC they do it the old fashioned way – a bit of paper. Round the table the slips went for each councillor to write down the name of their chosen favourite. But here’s where it got interesting.
    Someone passed a slip to Peter Geary who refused it. I have resigned, he said. Cue hushed silence as everyone waited for an explanation. It hadn’t been this exciting since Liz Truss stepped down as PM. There are too many meetings held locally on the first Monday of the month, said Peter, and I can’t be at all of them. He attends several parish meetings during the month and he had reached the point where he ‘has to be in other places’, so the decision was made to resign.
    Business had to continue, even after that announcement, and the Clerk looked at the collected scraps and declared four for Colin and six for Debbie Hall which meant that Debbie was declared the new Deputy Mayor. Did she accept? Absolutely, she said with a smile and received a warm round of applause from everyone, including Colin.
    Debbie H was handed her official chain upon which she gazed with awe and amazement. Made from pure gold, it’s worth a few bob. That’s a Consort Chain, said Deirdre Bethune as if trying to take some of the shine off the prize, not a Deputy Mayor’s Chain. No matter, Debbie H loved it and held the item in her hands like she was never going to let go. She would have to do so eventually, of course – it was destined to be returned to the council’s safe.

    Apologies for absence and declarations of interest

    Councillors Ian Stokes and Jane Varley were unable to attend on the night and there were no declarations of interest. In fact, the silence that followed this particular item on the agenda was about to set a standard for the night, because very little else on an agenda containing more than 20 items, brought any input or involvement to speak of, from anyone around the table.
    Perhaps councillors were trying to work out how they were going to cope with the prospect of the two most senior members of their committee both being called Debbie.
    Or maybe they were still reeling from the Peter Geary bombshell.
    Nevertheless that’s how it panned out – until Mercury was given his marching orders under an exclusion clause on the basis that publicity would be prejudicial to the public interest because if its confidential nature. But more of that shortly.
    The minutes from the last meeting in April were approved by all and we moved into Annual Business. There were no comments made about receipt of the minutes from the last meeting of various committees such as Finance, HR and Planning. There were numerous items on the agenda such as review of delegation arrangements to committees, terms of reference, appointment of members to committees, review of standing orders (council rules, not the bank instructions), review and adoption of financial regulations, review of inventory of land, council subscriptions, the complaints procedures and council policies, but nothing produced any debate or dialogue of any great note. Everything is ticking along quite nicely at OTC it seems.
    There were further items concerning payment schedules, the AGAR (annual governance and accountability return) and approval of the council’s bank signatories but again all of this – much of it red tape to be fair – was nodded through with alarming speed.

    Press and Public Exclusion

    It was at this point that the press (Mercury) and public (Peter Geary and the other member) were excluded from the meeting because of a confidential matter, so that wrapped up business as far as Phonebox was concerned.

    The next meeting

    The next meeting will be on Monday 5th June at 7pm in the Olney Centre, If you would like to contribute to the Public Participation section at the start of the meeting, or at any time the Mayor deems appropriate, please contact the Town Clerk: townclerk@olneytowncouncil.gov.uk.


    The Annual Town Meeting took place on 19th May in the Olney Centre, and an Open Forum, where the public can speak, was included.
    The Mayor’s report takes up a large part of these proceedings. Debbie Whitworth started by thanking outgoing Mayor Ben Brown and also paid tribute to councillor Trevor Aldred, who has also resigned. OTC is looking for a new councillor and anyone interested is encouraged to talk to current members.
    The Mayor’s report ran through many of the items and activities the council has been involved in during the last year. They included the Community Fridge which was opened in February, the resurfacing of the lane to the allotments, CCTV at the Recreation Ground and the Market Place, remedial work at the MUGA (multi use games area), bay marking at the East Street car park, river monitoring at the Rec, traffic speeds and SIDs (speed indicator devices), the AG250, Jubilee and Coronation celebrations, sistering with Olney, Illinois, the Yardley Road Community Centre and the on-going Roman mosaic situation at the new Aldi store.
    She says new things for 2023-24 will include a refurbishment of the Olney Centre, new play areas for the town, refurbishment of the Rec toilets, new water fountains and new bins for the High Street.
    Olney has entered the Best Kept Village competition and, with the Olney Open Gardens in June, the Mayor said she was hoping the town would continue to look ‘blooming’ lovely.
    There was also a Thames Valley Police Report, reports from the town’s Finance, Olney Centre Management, Development and Recreation & Services committees followed by brief summaries from the Ann Hopkins Smith, Cowper & Newton Museum, Newport Pagnell and Olney Lions charities and the Ward Councillors.

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