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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 (December 2022 meeting)

    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 (January 2023 meeting)

    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 (February 2023 meeting)

    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 (March 2023 meeting)

    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 (April 2023 meeting)

    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 (May 2023 meeting)

    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.

  • July 2023 Edition (June 2023 meeting)

    Mercury issue for July 2023 (June 2023 meeting)


    The public attendance at the June meeting of Olney Town Council (OTC) was the highest that Mercury could remember, with people standing crammed against the walls and tumbling out of the doors! Town Clerk Jane Brushwood announced that the council chamber was only insured for 25 people so the majority would have to leave, which they did, although there were still well in excess of 25 people present, including the council members. Mayor Debbie Whitworth opened the meeting, reminding attendees that members of the public could address the council for a maximum of 3 minutes each, but the total could not exceed 15 minutes. If any group wished to speak on the same subject, she said they should select an individual to speak on their behalf. From the ‘public gallery’ ex-councillor Paul Collins raised a point of order that it could be extended beyond 15 minutes at the mayor’s discretion, but Debbie said on this occasion she would stick to 15 minutes.

    Public participation

    Local resident Mr Cooper spoke on the subject of the Roman Mosaic on the proposed Aldi site, which he felt was of national importance. The proposal to rebury it would be stupidity, he said, and was like ‘putting a box over the Tower of London’. For the loss of two parking spaces the developers could install a Perspex viewing window so that it could be appreciated. As far as he was aware nobody had invited the local schools and residents to visit the site. He asked who present had seen it? (nobody raised their hands). How many people knew about it? (nearly everyone raised their hands). He asked for a public meeting to discuss the options. This was an agenda item later in the meeting. Next to speak was Mr Mason, regarding the ‘One Stop’ pedestrian crossing. There had been a recent low speed accident where a lady had been knocked over on the crossing. The driver had not seen her crossing, he said.
    He was reluctant to let his own children use the crossing and there was general confusion when traffic in one direction stopped but the other did not. And only that day a pedestrian had been clipped by the wing mirror of a car that did not stop. Milton Keynes City Council (MKCC) Highways Dept claimed that the public had objected to the installation of an audible pelican crossing, but the pelican crossing by Midland Road was near flats and elderly residents’ accommodation and there didn’t appear to have been any complaints. Does it need a death before action is taken, he asked? Next to speak was Paul Collins expressing his surprise and dismay that OTC had served Caveman Conditioning with a 28-day notice to quit the former Olney Town Football Club building on the recreation ground. When he had been on the council there had been a ‘tsunami’ of emails in support of Caveman when its future had previously been under threat, he said. He presented what he believed to be a timeline of events:

    • November 2022: Recs & Services committee agrees to appoint an Agent to negotiate a new rent and recommend that £50,000 be allocated to carry out repairs to the building during fiscal year 23/24.
    • January and March 2023 – no mention of this item on the Recs and Services agenda.
    • April 2023 Finance Committee agrees to appoint property solicitors.
    • May 2023 Olney Town Council agrees to serve a 28 day notice on Caveman to quit its premises.
    The normal course of events would be a series of updates by the Recs and Services Committee, followed by a recommendation to the full council. It would appear to be a failure of governance and transparency, he said, and questioned whether ‘the smell test’ had been passed? He asked that legal action be suspended, in view of the strong public interest, and the item placed on the agenda of the next full council meeting. The paper presented to the council last month in the ‘Confidential Items’ part of the meeting be made public together with the Letting Agent’s report. He expressed the opinion that given the short notice, OTC appeared to have fi rm plans for the building and invited them to share their thoughts with residents.
    Next up was Corina House, also on the subject of the Caveman eviction notice. As a resident of Olney, Corina expressed her concern that the 28-day eviction had been served without providing proper rationale. Firstly, when members of the community had written to the council, they were told it was for Health and Safety reasons and that the owner, Stuart Dorrill, had been informed. This was incorrect, she said, as Mr Dorrill was not informed that this was the reason for the eviction notice, and she wondered why residents were being told that this was the case. Secondly, she asked what are the health and safety concerns? The last report completed for the building did not highlight such health and safety concerns, and Olney Town Council has not, as far as she was aware, been into the building since, or requested any further assessments, so what are the council basing this on? Where is the evidence for such significant concerns that it is necessary to evict a business with 28 days’ notice, a completely unrealistic timeframe to re-model a business, putting the livelihoods of those who work there at risk and causing distress to the hundreds of members. How is this in the best interest of our community? There has been no engagement here with either the owner of Caveman Conditioning, its employees, or with residents who use the facility, she believed. Corina said she understood that the council are also telling residents that it would be inappropriate for the council to discuss a private business matter in public, but they cannot disagree that there is significant public interest here, and it is their duty to address this transparently. It appeared to her that the decision to take such drastic action against this local business, without proper consultation, or consideration for the impact on the employees and the community, is a grave mistake and has potential to damage community confidence in Olney Town Council. She asked that the council please reconsider their action, conduct their business with fairness, transparency, and compassion. Finally, Matt Chandler spoke on behalf of Olney Town Colts Football Club. He said the decision to issue the eviction notice had absolutely nothing to do with the Colts. There had been a lot of ill-informed and unhelpful speculation on social media regarding the future of the building. The building in question is attached to the Colts’ building but they have no interest in it and suggested that any further questions are addressed to the council via the correct channels, rather than social media.
    At the end of this section Mayor Debbie Whitworth thanked everyone who had spoken but reminded those present that subjects raised in the open forum and not on the agenda do not warrant an immediate response. It is not a discussion forum, merely an opportunity for residents to have their say, and the open forum was therefore closed.
    She invited everyone to stay but predictably only a handful of the public remained.

    Apologies for absence, declarations of interest and matters arising

    Apologies were received from Debbie Hall and Ron Hall. Nobody declared an interest in an item of this month’s agenda. Chris Tennant said that he had declared an interest on an item at last month’s meeting, but the minutes had not recorded this correctly. For information, the published minutes now record that during the Confidential Items part of the meeting (when public and press are excluded) the Caveman Conditioning eviction was proposed and agreed and ‘Cllr Tennant declared an interest on this agenda item, as a paying member of Caveman Conditioning, therefore abstained from voting’. Colin Rodden asked that the minutes be amended to state that the reason for the eviction notice was on Health and Safety grounds, which was agreed.

    Ward Councillors report

    Keith McLean gave a brief report, saying that very little happens in May in terms of MKCC June meetings, due to the changes in the council. The much-discussed reinstatement of the 41 bus has started and, although it does not directly affect Olney residents, from July the 21 bus will go through Emberton again. There was good news regarding the rejection by Ousedale School of the applications for 25 students from the surrounding villages. The school had that day issued a statement saying that they would be offering places to all students on the waiting list as they were able to put on an extra class. A group of travellers had been moved on from Sherington using an interim injunction, he said, and MKCC were seeking an injunction to ban that group of travellers from the city forever. Ward Councillors Debbie Whitworth and Peter Geary would be meeting with the MKCC Head of Highways to discuss the safety of the One-Stop crossing but the recent audit had found ‘nothing significant’. Naomi Brock asked if it would be possible to see the results of the audit and questioned the findings since she lives on the High Street and sees the problems every day. Keith replied that he hadn’t seen it either but thought that the contents would be revealed at the meeting with ward councillors later in the week. Colin Rodden expressed the opinion that a major contributor to the issue was speeding, since he had personally clocked speeds of 50mph when participating in Speedwatch.  

    Update on the Roman Mosaic site

    Tony Williams from Angle Properties had been invited to speak at the meeting. There had been a lot of misinformation, both online and in print so he wanted to set the record straight with the facts, he said. He started by explaining the timeline of events, starting with the granting of outline planning permission for the whole of the site in December 2018.
    It was granted subject to eight conditions, but archaeological investigation wasn’t one of them, which he considered to be an error by MKCC. Tony said he then proactively
    contacted the MKCC Archaeological Officer and along with his archaeological consultant agreed a way forward outside of the planning condition discharge, since there wasn’t one to discharge. A way forward was agreed by all parties in December 2020 and in June 2021 Angle put forward a ‘watching brief’ scope as part of the infrastructure phase which included the access road, drainage, and other aspects. Oxford Archaeology undertook the work, and some very minor artefacts were found and donated to MK Museum. In October 2021 Angle submitted a written scheme of investigation to MKCC for the area which had been identified as archaeologically sensitive, which was approved, and it was under that investigation that the mosaic was discovered in February/March this year. From that it could be seen that Angle had done things entirely properly and the accusations that had been flying around, including an article in The Phonebox, about not following policy were entirely incorrect. All documentation is publicly available on the MKCC Planning Portal, he said.
    Following the discovery of the mosaic Oxford Archaeology prepared a report and several site meetings were held with interested parties, including Heritage England, to discuss the way forward. It was then that the ‘preservation in situ’ option arose as that is the established policy in this country under the government’s National Planning Policy Framework and also locally under Plan MK and the adopted Olney Neighbourhood Plan (NP). The drainage and landscaping design has been changed to avoid potential damage. Full recording and documentation of the mosaic is taking place and a detailed display provided on site, the details to be decided if the outline planning permission is approved. The current plan is for the mosaic to be re-exposed for public viewing, probably in the late summer, and then immediately covered up for preservation.
    Ian Stokes asked why couldn’t plate glass be put over the mosaic and left on public display? Tony said only a small part had been displayed and further excavation risked causing damage. It is not in very good condition, lacking the ‘wow’ factor, he said, and there was a strong risk of damage from the water table. The expert advice was that only in exceptional circumstance was preservation with display achievable. Colin Rodden remarked that Angle had ‘done really well’ out of Olney by building Sainsburys and also over-riding the NP by building 40 additional residential units on land that had been earmarked for retail use. Was he hinting that there was an element of Karma to the predicament that they now found themselves in, wondered Mercury? Tony said there had been considerable misinformation on that issue since it was well known that Aldi had a desire for a presence in Olney for some time, but they had made it clear that they didn’t want to be located behind Sainsburys on a country lane. When the Planning Inspector granted planning permission for the McCarthy Stone residences, he particularly acknowledged the fact that no mainstream retailer would be interested in that location. Dan Rowland asked if the forthcoming outline planning application would include public consultation on the future plans for the mosaic or would it be behind closed doors? Again, Tony said all of the information was live on the Planning Portal and OTC would be consulted as part of that process. Chris Tennant said that OTC had received notification of the amended plans but suggested a more proactive Public Relations approach from Angle.

    Recreation Ground matters

    Ian Stokes announced that Olney Town Colts FC had received a grant of £73,000 over the next six years from The Football Foundation for incremental maintenance of the Nursery Field pitch and improvements to the turf and soil, but it comes with conditions on usage, six monthly inspections and groundsmen’s qualifications.
    All of the money will come back into the town to pay for work that the groundsmen are already doing, he said.
    Town Clerk Jane Brushwood said that more volunteers were needed for the summer patrols as the 16 current volunteers were mainly councillors or members of council staff. Spartan will be returning for regular security patrols.
    Naomi Brock wished to raise the issue of the Caveman Conditioning eviction notice under this agenda item, but Debbie Whitworth replied that it was not on the agenda and could not be discussed, particularly as the Caveman members had left the meeting. Chris Tennant asked when would the council be discussing it? Debbie Whitworth said it could be on the agenda for the July meeting or Chris could call an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) if two other councillors supported the proposal. Jane Brushwood said the council could not revisit the decision to evict for six months and the matter was now in the hands of solicitors. She emphasised that the building is falling down, is unsafe and is a liability. The future of the building should be discussed at the Recs and Services meeting, she said, and it would not be fair to carry on discussing it without the interested parties being present. Chris thanked Jane for the timeline of events that had been sent to the new councillors to bring them up to speed and said that it was such an important matter it warranted an EGM. Dan Rowland agreed, saying the reason that the council had got into the current situation was down to a lack of communication, albeit unintentional.
    Deirdre Bethune noted that subsequent to the eviction notice the owner of Caveman had been invited to meet with the clerk and mayor but had not responded and she suggested that the EGM should not take place until after that meeting. Although Chris had put forward the proposal it was not voted on and it was agreed that he would put forward the proposal with the support of two other councillors ‘through the right channels’.
    The next meeting will be held on Monday 3rd July 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.     

    The Next Meeting

    The next meeting will be held on Monday 3rd July 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.     

  • August 2023 Edition (July 2023 meeting)

    Mercury issue for August 2023 (July 2023 meeting)


    Olney Town Council’s monthly meeting in July coincided with the first day of the Wimbledon tennis championship. It was a lovely evening and, as play continued in South London, councillors dragged themselves away from their tellies and made their way to the Olney Centre. When they arrived they found Mayor Debbie Whitworth holding (centre) court and in the mood for a Grand Slam. There was a full quota of councillors present, notwithstanding the recent resignations, and the public seating area was as packed as Roland-Garros in mid-June. You could sense that the evening was going to be a busy one.

    Public participation

    This was the time set aside for people to have their say. Resident Ian Barnes got things underway. A volunteer marshal at the recreation ground (the Rec) he had recently posted on the Olney Noticeboard Facebook page a catalogue of issues concerning the recreation area in the hope that the public would get engaged too. He said that regrettably, there were very few comments about potential improvements that they had not already seen. The few ideas they did receive were not considered ‘satisfactory’, he added. He said he visited the East Street car park daily and feels that usage is ‘pretty light’. Shoppers leave their cars at the top of the car park he said, whereas sports people tend to go further in. He said he thought the whole issue of the car park and the Rec had become a ‘bit of a monster’ with too few marshals, a lack of police presence and people with no respect for authority. He called for temporary fencing near the river to at least be trialled for a few months.
    James Cooper stood up next to address the council about the Roman mosaic find at the new Aldi site. He said that in his more than 30 years as an Olney resident, he had rarely come across a subject that has ‘disturbed’ people as much as this. We have had lots of questions he said, but not many answers and those that we have received have only come from the developers. He said Olney residents have not had the opportunity to ask their own questions directly to the developers (Angle Property). He called for a public meeting to be arranged including the developers and Oxford Archaeology (the heritage experts). He said local people wanted answers they could trust rather than hearing ‘just what people want to feed them’.

    Cobbs Garden Surgery

    With no apologies for absence and nobody declaring an interest in any agenda items, the meeting could move on to the business in hand. There was a problem already though – the Ward Councillor’s report was next on the list but the Ward Councillor wasn’t there to speak. OK, next on the agenda should have been the PCSO’s report but – guess what – there was no PCSO available either.
    The Mayor, though, had already headed that little problem off at the pass, and she elected to move item 10 ‘Updates on Cobbs Garden’ up the list so that invited experts could give a presentation on the latest news. The other items could come later. Present were Maria Wogan, Janine Welham and David Picking of the Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes Integrated Care Board (BLMKICB) who were there to give the Council an update on the current situation and future prospects for the much-loved Olney Health Centre. A briefing document that councillors had been sent earlier talked specifically about the challenges with the premises, said David Picking, and where the Care Board are in relation to it. They will answer questions, said David, but if they can’t they will take them away.
    Colin Rodden wondered if the land behind the town’s fire station that had been earmarked as a possible site for a new surgery (with add-ons such as a dentist), was available indefinitely. He also noted that there was £700,000 of S106 funding (money for community projects) available and wondered if that could be used to improve the current surgery where it is sited now or put towards the proposed move to the new site. It’s our neighbourhood plan, he said so it’s important we get involved. How do we work with you, he asked.
    David Picking agreed that it would be good to have a date to work towards concerning the proposed new site. Nothing has been set in stone yet though, he said. There’s no intention of losing the S106 money, he confirmed. We know we can work towards using the S106 money to create more space and facilities at the current site, he said. How would you do that, asked Deirdre Bethune. There is space that isn’t used all the time in that building, said David, particularly the front right-hand space where there’s an opportunity to create two more clinical rooms. But very much at the moment, he added, the ball is in the court of the partners at the practice. He had clearly been watching the tennis before coming to the meeting.
    Ian Stokes couldn’t resist a tennis pun of his own. You said previously you had an allocated amount in your baseline budget, he said to David. That was a good one. David agreed that was the case, mainly to reimburse rent and rates. So can we actually recruit doctors, asked Ian, because they have vacancies.
    Naomi Brock said she was confused on how far the current practice can go seeing as it is no longer able to meet the needs of people in the town. As it can’t take any more patients she wanted to know who was making decisions on where the practice was going next. It was proposed that a meeting should be set up between the BLMKICB, OTC councillors and the Cobbs Garden surgery partners. David agreed but said he would let OTC know when that’s appropriate as he didn’t want to arrive without having more details to bring to the table.

    Report on air quality

    I’m just going to rejig the agenda again, said the Mayor, and I’d like to invite Megan Harrison to talk about air quality. Megan, an Environmental Health officer at Milton Keynes City Council (MKCC), was visiting Olney to explain to OTC the results of the town’s recent air quality tests. She described how a test has been made at Bridge Street going into High Street South for nitrogen dioxide levels. It’s a very busy road there and articulated vehicles use it, she said, as if nobody knew that. Councillors nodded politely though. The Government has an ‘objective level’ of 14 micrograms per cubic metre for NO2 but on the High Street, the figure is 42 micrograms. This is considered to be ‘only slightly above’ the objective, said Megan. Further monitoring is going on, she added. Over the years with improvements to vehicles, national levels have come down. In Olney these levels have been at this point for nine years so testing can cease, she said.
    The environment department wanted to continue monitoring but the equipment is on an unmetered power supply which means they pay a set fee to National Grid. Being metered would mean a lower electricity bill, however, a channel would have to be dug where the monitoring box is on the Church Hall’s car park on High Street South. An ‘inconvenience’ fee of £100 was offered to the church but this had been refused – the church group had asked for £1000 so it’s unlikely to go ahead now. The plan is to apply for DEFRA funding to help provide further monitoring systems in the future. So the narrow bit at Olney High Street is OK is it, Debbie Hall wanted to confirm. Yes it is, said Megan.
    Chris Tennant said the data was interesting and wondered if there were any corresponding studies into childhood health and related illnesses. Yes, very much so, said Megan. Whenever I feel slightly worried about Milton Keynes’ levels I look at London where it’s much worse with really elevated levels, she added cheerfully. We are monitoring here without any action aren’t we, said Debbie H. Yes, was Megan’s short answer. Debbie hadn’t finished: no matter how high levels go there’s no solution is there, because that’s a national problem. We do send our figures to the Highways department said Megan, and I know that over the years there have been a number of changes. But she didn’t elaborate on what those changes were.

    Update on the recreation ground

    I have yet another rejig here now said the Mayor, as the agenda was metaphorically thrown out of the window for good. Ian Stokes was tasked with presenting an update on the Rec. He said that management of the ground was ‘still not working’ and said there were ‘still problems’ in terms of controlling crowds and the influx of visitors to the Rec and the river. Ian’s fed up with the anti-social behaviour at the recreational ground, such as visitors walking across the cricket pitch during a match or forcing their way into the pavilion to use the toilets. Now is the time to take some action, he thundered, or we are going to miss this summer.
    Proposals have been put forward such as fencing, charges for car parking, parking permits and double yellow lines. But certain things were out of the council’s control such as charging for East Street parking. We haven’t got a magic wand here, Ian added, but we need to make some decisions quickly and not pontificate again. ANPR (number plate recognition) is another option that has been mentioned and Ian added that ‘we could put two people on the entrance gate, charging for car parking’ almost immediately on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday and that would be ‘cost neutral’, He agreed that it would then have to be backed up by parking enforcement in other areas of the town as drivers go looking elsewhere to park.
    Burying our heads in the sand and sitting back doing nothing, yet again, is not the right thing to do, he boomed. There’s a mixture of things we could do here – let’s try something he said, because doing nothing is no longer an option. Naomi Brock agreed that something should be done as a deterrent and said let’s try some HERAS (temporary) fencing down near the river. That won’t work, said Deirdre, it is easily taken down by hooligans. But we can’t just sit here having these conversations without trying things, countered Naomi. Deirdre said she thought it would be ‘horrendous’ to have fencing across the Rec and was more in favour of the security personnel idea.
    Colin Rodden said that introducing paid-for parking would encourage drivers, not discourage them, because ‘we would be providing a facility to people’. Security volunteers can’t enforce anything and the public know that, said Naomi. We don’t want to discourage people coming to the town so maybe we commercialise it and have ‘official’ people and ‘proper eyes’ down at the Rec, she added. Fencing was again discussed but not everyone liked the idea – security would be needed in addition, said Deirdre. Ian proposed that a special meeting of the JUG (Joint User Group) be held, followed by a public meeting of OTC, where local people can have their say, to decide the future actions to be taken on the Rec. That was agreed.

    Ward Councillors report

    Ward Councillor Keith McLean wasn’t at the meeting but he sent his report to be read out by the Clerk, Jane Brushwood. A group of travellers had recently pitched up in Sherington, North Crawley and Little Crawley. Each time they pitch the council has to obtain an injunction to move them on, lasting only three months. Keith asked for a wider-ranging injunction which was granted for the whole of Milton Keynes district for two years. There is a power of arrest attached if they return – it’s a first for MK, he added. An update was given on the pedestrian crossing near the One Stop shop in Olney. Keith said a safety audit report had found that there were ‘no safety concerns’ with the road layout there.
    Keith and the Mayor met with Graham Cox, the Head of Highways at MKCC, who said he could alter the approach to the crossing by removing some of the parking bays to improve driver visibility.
    The Mayor was clearly disappointed by this latest decision. I would like to add that the residents I have spoken to are obviously not happy at all, she said. Just as they were last year with the CCTV exercise. With the near misses we have had on that crossing, how can Highways deem it safe? Where we go from here, I don’t know, she added sadly. She implored residents to continue sending concerns directly to MKCC. Colin Rodden said there were £10,000 worth of SIDS (speed indicator devices) available and asked if some of those could be sited near the crossing.

    Expenditure report

    Dan Rowland picked up on the SIDS just mentioned by Colin. Are we making use of them, he asked. The Clerk said they had used SIDS before and will use them again – 50% of the cost of the devices had been covered by a Community Infrastructure Fund. Dan also asked about the electricity bill for May from the football club building currently being used by the fitness company Caveman Conditioning. It appeared to be only partly paid, he thought.
    The Clerk reported that Caveman Conditioning had paid £121 for May and ‘yet it is costing us (the council) £166’. So the town is subsidising a commercial business, stated Dan. Effectively yes, agreed the Clerk. Back to the SIDS again – Colin asked when they would be put up. We only got them a few days ago, countered the Clerk, her body language saying ‘Give us a chance mate’. Is there any help needed putting them up, asked Colin. No, said the Clerk. And where are they going, asked Colin, not letting this one go. In the areas where there are Speedwatch signs, said the Clerk.
    Ian Stokes had a bright idea. Can we check out the calendar for Santa Pod events and have SIDS on the High Street on those days, he asked. It’s not just noise that’s a problem with visitors to the racetrack, he warned, it’s drivers accelerating from 20mph to 50mph up the High Street. Colin clearly hadn’t been watching the tennis that evening – he had been poring over the town’s accounts. What is this £8000 payment to the National grid, he demanded. That is to do with the upcoming refurbishment to the Olney Centre, said the Clerk. It included solar panelling and air source heat pump work.

    Councillors at external meetings

    Mary Prosser said she had been to a 25th anniversary celebration at the Almshouses where most of the trustees and residents attended. Debbie H went to the AGM of the Olney Newton Link. Debbie and Ron Hall, Colin and Debbie Whitworth went to the Armed Forces Tea at the Olney Centre. Letters of thanks had been received by the Mayor. Mary and Colin also attended the AG250 celebration event when a school from Liverpool came down to Olney as guests. Deirdre and Debbie W attended a Folk Afternoon at the Museum. And Ian Stokes logged onto a national forum on council action over anti-social behaviour.

    New Councillor

    James Cooper, who had spoken earlier about the Roman mosaic, now stood again to ask if he would be considered as a new councillor. He spoke with great feeling about his time in Olney and his enthusiasm for joining the council. I have been in Olney for 37 years, he said, so I am ‘nearly accepted’ as a local. Deirdre slapped that one down. You’ve got to be born here for that mate, she said. James continued undaunted. I feel I need to protect Olney, he said, and I hope my experience will help the town. I have a great love for Olney and we’re lucky to live here. That impassioned speech seemed to do the trick: James was voted unanimously on to the council and asked to take his place at the hallowed table.

    Other matters

    A Landscape Agreement was approved. A grant application from the Growing Minds charity in Olney was also nodded through. And ANPR came up again – with discussions planned for its installation at the Rec access road and car park. The Clerk was given permission to look for a new buggy for groundworks staff, considering electric vehicles if appropriate. Colin Rodden wanted to know if depreciation meant that the old buggy, which had been ‘well used’ according to the Clerk, would be written off. There’s no such thing as depreciation in council, said the Clerk, it’s either on or off the books. Colin hadn’t finished though. We need some financial planning in place for that, he demanded. We have it, countered the Clerk. We have planning for it and we have S106 money too, she said. This was shaping up like a tennis match. 15-love to the Clerk. If I can get this paid for, for free, she added, why would we use our own budget? When you say ‘free’, returned Colin, what do you mean? I mean the Section 106 money, countered the Clerk. Left and right went councillors’ heads as they followed this exciting rally. That’s not free money, responded Colin, clearly in the mood for battle now. No, but it’s there to be used, the Clerk returned again, this time with a backhand. Colin went for the lob. It’s not free money Jane, he boomed. It’s there for the whole community, and we’ve got to make sure we’re getting the best use from it. From a financial point of view – and I sit on the Finance Committee – we do need to make sure we’ve got the funds.
    The crowd held its breath waiting for the ball to land. Well, if you sit on the Finance Committee you’ll know that it’s on there then, accounted for within the budgeting process, said the Clerk. It was a volley of the highest quality and the winning point.
    I’m just putting it out there that we need to watch our finances, murmured Colin, realising that now was the time to back down from this particular contest. New balls, please…

    Next meeting

    The next meeting will be on Monday 7th August 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.

  • September 2023 Edition (August 2023 meeting)
    No August meeting to report in the September issue.
  • October 2023 Edition (September 2023 meeting)

    Mercury issue for September 2023 (August 2023 meeting)


    All ok for this meeting.

    Public participation

    A resident who overlooks Johnsons Field spoke about the residents’ concerns over the revised plans produced by MKCC (Milton Keynes City Council) for improvements to the play area. Although they support the plans to improve the play facilities for younger children, they are concerned about the potential for antisocial behaviour. The park will create a focal meeting point where there will be potential for misuse. It is a sad state of affairs that the freedom of many is limited by the behaviour of a few, but it is this minority that will make the lives of the nearby residents a misery, he said. The greatest concern is the proposed skate park which for some residents will only be 30 metres away. He said he had provided the council with a document describing exactly how much noise skating actually creates and it is surprisingly loud. The document contains details of legal noise limits for both day and night which he believed would be exceeded. The document also contains case studies where proposed and existing skate parks between 100 and 200 metres away are causing serious design and environmental impact problems. He quoted an example of a local council being served notice by its County Council to close a similar skate park because the legal noise limit had been broken. Finally, he proposed that OTC (Olney Town Council) re-visit the issue of the provision of a skate park in Olney after the failed plan at the Recreation Ground.
    Martin Mayes later spoke in favour of the plans for Johnsons Field. He said his sons and their friends were keen skateboarders and regularly visited larger, out of town skate parks. The proposals for Johnsons Field are much smaller and would not generate footfall from large numbers of out-of-town visitors. It would also be used by scooters and BMX bikes and combined with the fact it would be made from concrete and not steel would limit the noise generated, he thought. The health and confidence-building benefits to people with neuro-diverse needs that do not fit in with team sports are considerable, he said. He understood the previous speaker’s concerns but said he had spoken to a number of residents in the area with young children and overall they were positive about the plan.
    On the same subject, a resident had emailed to ask what plans were in place to maintain the new equipment, particularly as the existing equipment has been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair. They also asked that the additional traffic and parking be considered.
    Another resident had written to complain about dog poo (seven on the football pitch that Saturday morning) and dogs not being kept on leads on the recreation ground. There appear to be no signs for ‘stupid, inconsiderate owners’ stating that dogs must be on a lead on council land, they said, and not everyone likes dogs bounding up to them when they are playing or watching sports.
    Martyn Wilkinson spoke about a petition he is producing to introduce a 20mph limit on Weston Road. Vehicles accelerate up to Bay House and then have to stop due to cars parked on the blind bend but once past there they accelerate up the hill and 80% are breaking the speed limit, he thought. It would not be long before someone was seriously injured or killed. An awareness of 20mph might concentrate the mind, he thought. Surrounding counties all have 20mph zones but MKCC did not appear to want to know.

    Pat Brock

    Prior to the start of the meeting Mayor Debbie Whitworth acknowledged the passing of Pat Brock, a past member of OTC.

    Apologies for absence, declarations of interest and matters arising

    Apologies were received from Ian Stokes. Chris Tennant declared an interest on an agenda item dealing with the former football club building, as a member of Caveman Conditioning.

    Update on Cobbs Garden Surgery

    Dr Katie Herman, GP Partner at Cobbs Garden Surgery introduced a number of reps from the practice and Patient Participation Group, including her father Chris Herman, who had previously been a GP in Newport Pagnell and had now come out of retirement to take on the role of Managing Partner, and a new GP, Dr Brady. She also introduced David Picking who is the Integrated Care Board (ICB) Primary Care Development Lead. Katie said there had been lots of changes at the surgery over the last six months which had been tough for everyone, but they now had a plan which had recently been communicated out via Facebook and the surgery website. Chris’ role is to assist Katie and Dr Brady in stabilising the practice by implementing changes to ensure the viability and strength of the surgery going forward.
    There has been discussion with two larger practices in MK to either merge or be taken over but neither of those would have worked in Olney’s favour so they will remain independent to meet the needs of their patients. The patient list will be opened again at the beginning of next year, she said.
    David Picking said his role was to support the practice in whatever path they decided to go down. It was good news but there is still a lot of work to be done and things put in place, but there is now a clear vision and path to be enacted. Chris said one of the criticisms levelled at the practice was that they didn’t keep people informed but with constant change that wasn’t always possible. Difficulties in staff recruitment had led to the merger discussions but David’s success in recruitment meant that was no longer necessary. Although there are currently locum GPs at the practice the preference is for long-term partners or salaried doctors who are committed to the surgery. Chris said he has brought in an HR/Business specialist who he has worked with before and who will work with the partners to review all staff contracts, processes and procedures and also appoint a member of staff to be responsible for the Care Quality Commission (CQC) aspects and staff training for CQC registration and what represents good practice. They would be undertaking a ‘Deep Dive’ into how the surgery works and what is the best way of servicing patients. There will also be regular reports back to OTC. Dr Brady said that as a traditional GP she was looking forward to working at the surgery and that she and Katie have very similar ideas about taking things forward.
    Deirdre Bethune asked about the progress of the proposed new building In East Street. Chris said they now had an agreement with MKCC to buy the land, but it had not progressed because nationally there is very little additional funding for capital projects. Chris said he felt strongly that would change and he was looking to use a small portion of the allocated S106 money to get planning permission so that building can start quickly when the funding is made available. It would only take around 15 months for the building to be operational once started, he thought. The long-term aim would then be to open up the list to surrounding villages and provide consultant led community based clinics.

    Ward Councillor's report

    Ward Councillor Keith McLean apologised for sounding very nasal as he had just returned from a visit to the National Arboretum and was suffering from hay fever! Leading on from the Cobbs Garden presentation he said he and fellow Ward Councillor Peter Geary and previous councillor David Hosking had worked with the surgery on the plans for the new surgery and it was good to hear that they were moving forward with applying for planning permission after three years of stop-start.
    He had expected the Market Place traffic lights to be fixed two weeks ago but they hadn’t. He’d then been told that they’d be working that very day, but they weren’t.
    A positive email had been received that day from an MKCC officer saying that they would be looking into the 20mph zone suggestion. Colin Rodden asked if the police would monitor compliance, but Keith replied that the Chief Constable had confirmed that they wouldn’t. Naomi Brock asked if there were any proposals for average speed cameras such as those in Turvey and elsewhere in Bedfordshire. Keith said there wasn’t and expressed the opinion that there may have been political motivation involved in Bedfordshire, for what good it had done. At a cost of £100,000 he didn’t think they would be suitable for Olney High Street, anyway. Keith said he had received several compliments about the work carried out during last month’s overnight closure of the A509 between Emberton and Chicheley roundabout, which had included sign repair and cut back of vegetation. Some repairs to Olney High Street had also taken place at the same time, he said.
    The number 21 bus had been reinstated but had not been reliable and there were reports of passengers being missed. Keith said he had requested a report from the operator regarding failure and also passenger numbers. It was a case of ‘use it or lose it’ he said.
    The delayed 53-week closure of the A509 to Junction 14 had come as a surprise to the ward councillors but as the project had now moved from the plan to the build stage there was little that could be done, he said.

    PCSO's report

    Prior to presenting the crime stats Debbie Whitworth reported that PCSO James Andrews had recently progressed his career by stepping up to Police Constable in Thames Valley Police and she thanked him for his enthusiasm, hard work and commitment to the community and said he would be missed.

    Johnson's Field update plans

    MKCC has provided OTC with revised plans after considering feedback from OTC and residents. The main change is the removal of the Multi-Use Games Area (MUGA). Chris Tennant suggested that the revised plans be presented to the community, but Jane Brushwood was of the opinion that OTC had already done that and fed back the comments to MKCC who had revised the plans accordingly. It could take ‘years’ to progress if they kept going back to MKCC with every revision, she said. The correct course of action would be for MKCC to now formally seek planning permission and residents could raise comments and objections as part of the planning process. Deirdre Bethune said OTC had spent so many years debating the skate park that it would now be the children of those who originally requested it who would be using it. We now need to get on and do it, she said.
    Debbie Hall said she’d listened to arguments for and against and on balance she was in favour. Members had been elected to make decisions and in her opinion they had consulted, listened to feedback and now was the time to make a decision. Chris Tennant said that OTC must make clear to MKCC that its approval is conditional on provision for future long-term maintenance. Debbie proposed that the plans be accepted, subject to a few ‘tweaks’, and the motion was unanimously approved. Minor improvements to Dagnall Road play area were also approved unanimously.

    Ex-Football Club Building

    Jane Brushwood reported that OTC had given Caveman Conditioning notice to quit the building but at the EGM in June both parties had agreed to extend the notice period by six months to 20th December. There had already been considerable council expense in terms of solicitor’s fees and there were more to come, as well as the cost of historic electrical inspections and structural inspections and reports. She said fi ve years ago it had been agreed that the tenant should only pay one-third of the commercial rate rental and pay a capped rate for electricity on condition that they completed the necessary building work, but they had not done so. They had continued to pay the reduced rental as well as only paying the electricity at the capped rate of five years ago. Also, they had only just started paying their rates bill. OTC now needed to progress the renovations themselves but the only way they could do that was to apply for community ownership funding, which can only be used for community buildings and not ‘personal businesses’. The council should start that process now and not wait until they took possession of the building on 21st December, she said. The lease for the extended six-month period had finally been written up by OTC’s solicitors, she said, but thought it unlikely that the tenant would sign it. OTC had the choice of sending it direct to the tenant or to the tenant’s solicitor via their solicitor. Colin Rodden asked if OTC still intended to go out to public consultation as to what should happen to the building i.e., renovation or demolition and rebuild? Jane said yes but thought it best to offer some realistic suggestions rather than a blank sheet, and Naomi Brock agreed.
    A long discussion took place on the matter but eventually it was decided that Jane would draft some proposals for comment, based on plans produced five years ago. Naomi and Chris Tenant both recalled that at the EGM OTC had stated that it would charge the full commercial rate for the duration of the six-month new lease. Jane said it had been impossible to find a surveyor prepared to quote a level for the current commercial rent. It was therefore agreed the full commercial rent set five years ago would be charged for the duration of the revised lease. David Tyler proposed that the lease be sent via solicitors which was agreed upon.

    Farmer's Market

    The present make-up of stalls means that the market no longer meets the strict criteria for the name Farmers Market. At the August market there were eight stalls which met the criteria and 22 that did not although efforts had been made to increase the number of ‘farmers’ attending.
    A number of other names were suggested, including Sunday Market (Dan Rowland thought this sounded like a car boot sale), Monthly Sunday Market, Olney Town Market, Artisan Market or Arty-F*rty Market! Eventually, it was agreed to carry on calling it the Farmers Market, since it is not officially registered as such. So that’s all good then…

    Section 106 updates

    Colin Rodden asked what the £100,000 expenditure on the Olney Centre had been used for, noting that the doors into the council chamber were new. Just the doors! joked Jane Brushwood. In fact, a massive amount of work has been carried out in the Pre-School, she said, including the provision of a mezzanine floor which had enabled the kitchen, stores, and office to be relocated. This had freed up more space for children, which meant more toilets were required. All of this had been completed in six weeks ready for the start of the new term. Debbie Whitworth thanked office staff Jane, Rob, Laura and Caretaker Bruce for their exceedingly hard work through much disruption, mayhem and noise without complaint. This had involved some excessively early starts and late finishes, she said. Additionally, the Rugby Club floodlights are being updated to LED with S106 funding.

    Odds and Sods

    There is considerable silting up of the River at the north end of the Goosey which slows the flow and has resulted in excessive weed and algae growth. This in turn leads to more silting up. The Environment Agency had advised that the latter can be addressed with a non-invasive herbicide. OTC have agreed to pay for the work to be carried out by the fishing club.
    The annual Firework Display organised by The Olney Group (TOG) will take place on Sunday 5th November. Mary Prosser reported that the care alarm system for the 12 residents of the Alms Houses was being updated but most of them now had mobile phones rather than the landlines required to support traditional life-line systems. Negotiations are underway with a company to provide a sim-card based system. There is currently a waiting list of 17 people, nine of which are Olney residents.

    Next meeting

    The next meeting will be held on Monday 2nd October 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.

  • November 2023 Edition (October 2023 meeting)

    Public participation

    Residents were seeing red at Olney Town Council’s monthly meeting, and every public seat was taken before the meeting was started by Mayor Debbie Whitworth. So what was the cause of all the consternation? Redways – the rubicund cycle paths that are so popular in Milton Keynes but don’t seem to attract the same fanbase in Olney. But, as we were to learn later, the residents lining up to express their displeasure probably needn’t have worried.
    Resident Ralph Terry was the first member of the public to express his ‘deep concern’ at proposals made by MK City Council to install the cycle paths along the High Street, which he said would have severe effects on businesses and everyone in the town and cause congestion along the High Street and throughout Olney. It has been badly thought out, he said. The cycle lane would mean parking spaces would have to be taken away, which would have an effect on local shops. People will ‘go elsewhere’, said Ralph.
    A 20 mph speed limit throughout the town and proposals to make East Street and West Street one-way systems would do nothing to ease congestion; indeed, it would make it worse, he said. The Mayor told Mr Terry that his permitted three minutes of speaking time were almost up, so he just managed to call for HGV lorries to be banned in Olney before he sat down.
    Leo Murray agreed with Mr Terry that the proposals do little and asked for evidence that they would be useful. He lives on West Street and didn’t like the sound of the one-way system nor the proposed works near the road’s St Joseph’s Convent site, where redevelopment is being planned.
    Julia and Shaun Chapman, who live and run a shop on the High Street, asked what the purpose of the proposals is and what would they achieve. An impassioned Mrs Chapman even suggested that if the plans went ahead and parking was taken away, they would consider moving their business out of the town.
    Zenon Szczech was concerned that lime trees at the convent site would have to be pollarded (massively pruned) if the development work went ahead. This, he said, could affect the views of local people. He was also concerned that the Redway plans for the High Street could involve the removal of trees along the High Street.

    Apologies for absence and declarations of interest

    Naomi Brock and Chris Tennant were not available – Councillor Tennant was representing OTC at an MKCC planning meeting. Ron Hall and Deirdre Bethune said they were on the BOFF committee, matters about which were being discussed later. Deirdre also had an interest in the Redway plans for the High Street, as she lives on the road.

    Special presentation by David Coles Architects

    At this point there would normally be a Ward Councillor’s report, but as there was no other ward councillor available to speak, the mayor said she would deliver a report later, and the meeting moved on to a special presentation by well-known local architect David Coles about the proposed St Joseph’s Convent development.
    David brought with him Chris Green, a town planner, to present to the council early plans for the proposed redevelopment of the convent site on West Street. They are large buildings on the site and are little used. However, the sisters wanted to retain some accommodation and the chapel. The plan is to meet the sisters’ ongoing needs with a proposed development, said David. DCa are acting directly for the convent as a charitable trust, and this is an initial consultation with no formal planning application made yet.
    Proposals include removing two of the current buildings, to be replaced with 11 houses, accessed by several entrances from West Street. This is a sensitive scheme, said David. It’s a low-density plan bearing in mind the local area. They will retain the style of the new homes there in keeping with existing neighbouring properties on West Street and on St. Joseph’s Close. David said they were grateful for resident feedback, which has already been received, and they had taken particular note of concerns regarding potential alternative access from Long Lane, as well as concerns regarding the potential cutting or loss of trees, a point which had been raised earlier in the meeting.
    David thought that would be the end of the presentation and made to return to his seat. But Debbie Hall was having none of that. Something that I think the whole town will be asking, she said, is this: is the charity off ering the land for a new doctor’s surgery? That’s not really in my remit, returned David, clearly trying not to get drawn in. I haven’t been involved in any discussion like that, but I don’t think that would work for lots of reasons. I realise it’s not your remit, said Debbie H, but I felt this had to be raised because so many people in the town will be asking themselves: why on earth is that not going to be made into the new doctor’s surgery? Silence from David. So I’m guessing this has to do with money, boomed Debbie. David remained quiet, hoping that would be that. OK, so what will be the value of those individual houses then? Debbie asked. That’s another thing that’s not really in my remit, said David, but you know, they are a mixture of three and four-bedroom houses, and you all have your thoughts on what those values might be. Our remit is not only to achieve quality for the environment but also to get the best value for the nuns: they are our clients and a registered charity, he offerred.
    Ian Stokes wasn’t impressed with that and weighed in with some tough quizzing of his own. In their own words, said Ian, adopting the tone of an Old Bailey barrister addressing a jury, the nuns are dedicated to the service of the poor and needy. But there’s no social housing here, no affordable housing, nothing that local key workers can afford, and I think that’s just horrendous, really. There was much nodding and agreeing around the table, much to David Coles’ chagrin. He couldn’t wait to sit down.
    Colin Rodden threw him a lifeline. Will this development be environmentally friendly? he asked cheerfully. Oh yes, said David, happy to be addressing a different type of question. We will be using traditional materials and modern methods of construction where it’s appropriate. And hopefully, labour and materials sourced locally. And with that he took his seat before anyone else piped up.

    Report from Community First Responders

    There wasn’t just one presentation for councillors to enjoy this month – Steven Hickman of the Community First Responders also addressed the chambers. As volunteers, they respond to medical situations in Olney and Newport Pagnell. A small team – there’s only three of them – they have spent more than 700 hours responding this year and also attend local gatherings such as Fireworks and Christmas events, taking the total number of hours’ service up to 1200.
    There is a cost to this, and funds come from charitable donations, and it’s not cheap – to train a new CFR costs £2,500 and regular updates and training throughout the year costs up to £300, so they are always looking to get donations. If you have any revenue streams, please let us know, Steven asked optimistically. They also do defibrillator and CPR awareness training and school visits, and Steven asked that the message was ‘put out there’ that this training was available. They are always looking for more volunteers. Ian Stokes asked if the CFRs charge for the training. We ask for donations, said Steven.

    Ward Councillor's report

    Back on to the agenda they went, and Debbie W reported directly on Ward Councillor matters on behalf of herself and the two other Ward Councillors, Peter Geary and Keith McLean. Cllr Geary has written to the Chief Executive of Milton Keynes City Council asking for a full explanation on why it’s necessary to close the A509, London Road, between Tickford Roundabout and Junction 14 of the M1 for 18 months. The Councillors have asked for improved signage in the area of the roadworks following a proposal by a resident, but MKCC has so far declined to alter anything.
    Regarding the buses, said the Mayor, seven bus routes remain on a ‘use it or lose it’ basis, including the 21 and 41 services. Residents are encouraged to continue to make use of these services, which will support the justification for their continued provision after the six-month funding has ended. We need the public to use the buses, or they could lose them, warned Debbie.
    We are four weeks in since the start of the new wheelie bins campaign, and there are still some houses that have not yet received their bins, said the Mayor. The first month of replacement wheelie bins, new waste and recycling sacks and waste collections has now passed. Some collections have been delayed or missed altogether in the opening month, and it’s up to residents to report these. The success of this reporting has been mixed, though, said the Mayor. With a month’s grace period of getting used to the new system now passed, the contractors now face the prospect of penalty charges for missed collections, so it’s in their interest to get these collections right, warned the Mayor.
    The proposed 20 mph speed restriction through Olney continues to be considered, with data collection currently in place on various roads around the town. The town’s speed limits are largely under consultation, she said, and there are plans for residents to be consulted. Now she moved to the Redway issue – the reason that such a large number of people had turned out to speak. The local walking and cycling implementation plan (the ‘Redway’ to everybody else) can be best described as a ‘false start’ Debbie W read out. The relief in the room was palpable, and you could see people looking at their watches, wondering if they could excuse themselves from the meeting now that that little hot potato had been laid to rest. Debbie said that, given the overwhelming negative response to the plans, the scheme would not be progressing to the ‘next stage’. She added that residents had a couple more weeks to make their views known. Offi cially, the Council voted unanimously to throw out the cycleway proposal.

    The PCSO's Report

    Nobody was expecting much here. As Clerk Jane Brushwood said, we haven’t even got a PCSO as such. PCSO Arlene (Ormston, who covers a different area) had sent in a report to the Council. It included a list of reported crimes in Olney between September and October: two assaults with injury, three assaults without injury, one criminal damage, one dangerous driving, one drink or drug driving, one drug offence, three harassment, one public order, three shoplifting, one stalking and one theft from a vehicle. Non-crime related incidents included a road traffic collision with injury and one without. We have also had vehicle theft from surrounding villages, said the Clerk, before delivering the bombshell that popular PCSO Dave Huckle was leaving the service to become a community safety officer at MK Council.

    Updates on the Recreation Ground

    The Mayor said that this item had been put on the agenda permanently, but as summer was now over and things have ‘quietened down there’, she asked whether it could be removed for now. Ian Stokes said the Rec should be discussed at least quarterly otherwise, ‘May will come around next year, and we will have to start all over again with it’.

    Section 106 spending

    Colin Rodden asked for more detail on £200,000 that has been shown against the Olney Centre. The Clerk described how extensive refurbishment work on the Centre had been continuing with replacement windows and a new heating system that is ‘sort of in’. A pre-school stairway and more windows are due to be fitted during the school half-term week before work starts on the Clerk’s own office when she and her staff will be ‘kicked out’ and told to work in the council chambers. She added that the East Street Community Centre had been successful in receiving some S106 money, and said that she would be helping them to ‘spend every penny of it’.

    Request from BOFF for 2024

    Now, it was time for another presentation – the third of the night. Simon Timmins and Scott Rosborough from the BOFF committee explained how the event has been highly successful for the last two years. Next year, they are proposing to run the event on the 7th and 8th September, but they want permission to set up on the Thursday immediately after the Market packs up. A new comedy night is also planned for Friday (6th) evening. Debbie Hall said it would be useful because the Market Place car park would already be free of vehicles. The plan was approved by the Council.

    Updates on Astroturf project

    Ian Stokes said that a joint Astroturf project between Ousedale School and Olney Town Colts FC is about to start and will be finished by next March. The £800,000 plan means that the school will have use of the pitch during school days while OTCFC can use it in the evenings. The facility would also be available for hire. The next meeting will be held on Monday 6th November. If you would like to contribute to the Public Participation section at the start of the meeting or any time the Mayor deems it appropriate, please contact the Town Clerk, townclerk@olneytowncouncil.co.uk.

  • December 2023 Edition (November 2023 meeting)


    Ian Stokes said that a joint Astroturf project between Ousedale School and Olney Town Colts FC is about to start and will be finished by next March. The £800,000 Town Clerk Jane Brushwood opened the meeting by announcing that Mayor Debbie Whitworth was indisposed, and Deputy Mayor Debbie Hall was on holiday so, in order for the meeting to start, a Chairman would have to be elected. There was much shuffling of feet and looking at the table but, just before the Clerk sent everybody home, Chris Tennant offered his service and took his seat at the head of the table.

    Public Participation

    Andy Davies spoke on behalf of Stuart Dorrill, proprietor of Caveman Conditioning. He explained that following the EGM in June, Stuart had been pleased to receive the revised lease document for the building previously occupied by Olney Town FC in September and had responded a week later. Milton Keynes City Council (MKCC) building control had visited the site and was happy that the building was safely habitable. The Caveman team were currently in negotiations to find a new site for the business, but it was taking some time. As a result, Stuart was asking for an extension to the lease and was offering payment in advance up to February. This was the subject of an agenda item later in the meeting.
    A resident of Mobbs Close spoke regarding the access gate onto the East Street (Rugby Club) car park. This was also an agenda item, and she asked that any decision by the council be delayed as the residents were seeking further advice.
    Next to speak was Kevin Viney. Kevin reminded councillors that a little over five years ago, permission was granted for 250 new homes on what is now known as Yardley Manor. A developer is now looking to add 200 further homes on an adjacent site called Site E Extension. He believed that this was only the thin end of the wedge and Olney was being ‘softened up for more houses beyond this, which would drive a coach and horses through the Olney Neighbourhood Plan (NP) that was supposed to provide protection from such building work until 2031. The additional 1000 plus residents would place a terrible further strain on schools, transport, parking, and the doctor’s surgery which is already near collapse.
    It will bring noise, pollution, and disruption to those already affected by the current building work. Developers already have ‘form’ in riding roughshod over the NP breaching the allocation of commercial and retail use, he said. He urged OTC to send MKCC a robust objection to the plan and demand that they prioritise the well-being of the town over blind approval of construction projects, which overwhelmingly favour developers.

    Apologies for absence and declarations of interest

    Apologies were received from Debbie Whitworth, Ron Hall and Debbie Hall. Ian Stokes declared an interest in the item regarding the former football club building as Chairman of Olney Town Colts FC, and Chris Tennant declared a similar interest as a member of Caveman Conditioning.

    Ward Councillor’s report

    Ward Councillor Peter Geary reported on the new Milton Keynes local plan, MK2. A plan would normally cover a period of 10 years, he said, but MKCC had chosen to extend theirs to 18 years up to 2050. An extra 63,000 houses are required to be built, 20,000 of which already have permission or presumption of planning permission. MK2 is due to be submitted by MKCC in June 2025, so over the next 18 months there will be a call for sites to provide the additional 42,000 houses.
    Some would be in the city of MK, he said, but a significant number will be required in the rural areas. Things are likely to move very quickly, and the ward councillors thought it sensible to draw the rural parishes together. It was not possible to stop a local plan, he said, but it was important to have input to shaping it to ensure that infrastructure is provided at the right time.
    Chris Tennant said the OTC Development Committee had resolved to take an active role in shaping the plan and work with the other parishes, including Emberton and Sherrington, since they would all be expected to deliver additional growth. Colin Rodden thought OTC was ‘jumping the gun’ a bit as it was only a consultation and Olney might not be expected to expand. He reminded councillors that under the previous plan, Newport Pagnell had elected to build more than their allocation of houses, although the then MKC ‘didn’t know what they were doing until the last minute’. Peter Geary said that in all previous local plans the rural parishes, including the key settlements of Olney, Newport Pagnell and Woburn Sands, had been given an allocation of houses. However, Woburn Sands is now full so there will be no more development, and Newport Pagnell is not far off. James Cooper asked if MKCC would be knocking down the old Netherfields of this world that should have been knocked down 30 years ago and stick in twice as many houses? There is likely to be some redevelopment, thought Peter, but it was unlikely to be a major component of the plan.
    He finished by saying that there are still a few problems with the new wheely bins to be sorted out, and with the dark nights coming on urged resident to report any faulty streetlights to MKCC or the ward councillors. He then excused himself as he had to attend the meetings of Emberton and North Crawley parish councils.

    PCSO’s report

    The Clerk said that Olney does not currently have its own PCSO, but Arlene Ormston was valiantly trying to cover Olney as well as her other villages. The Clerk read out the month’s crime stats, none of which were particularly dramatic, but she noted that one of the thefts was of a Portaloo. Mercury assumed that the police were investigating but currently have nothing to go on.

    Representatives at outside meetings

    As a trustee of the Ann Hopkins Smith Alms Houses, Mary Prosser reported the maintenance was proceeding as planned, but each of the 12 residents had been delivered three wheely bins which were rather unnecessary. MKCC had refused to take them back but the trustees were forbidden to dispose of them so if anyone needs a bin.

    Ian Stokes reported that he had attended the Pre-School AGM and the committee wished to pass on their thanks to the Clerk for her excellent work in project managing the extensive refurbishment of the building.

    The Clerk reported that she and James Cooper had attended the AGM and awards ceremony of Bucks and MK Association of Local Councils, where they had accepted a long service award on behalf of Deirdre Bethune for her 45 years service to OTC. Chris Tennant presented Deirdre with her framed certificate.

    Section 106 update

    The Clerk said that refurbishment of the Olney Centre was nearly complete and solar panels will be installed shortly. The users of the centre had all been very understanding and flexible and very few sessions had needed to be cancelled. Chris Tennant thanked the Clerk and the office staff, saying that there had been times when there had been no power or heating.
    Colin Rodden said that the East Street Community Centre (Old Youth Club) had been allocated £15,000 of S106 funding but had not been able to use it because the age and state of the building did not meet the carbon neutrality requirements. The heating needed replacing but S106 funding would only apply for the installation of a heat pump, and the poor insulation of the building meant that it would not be viable. The Clerk explained that the criteria are very strict so the funding for renovations would have to come from elsewhere, although MKCC as owners would be replacing the windows. Colin asked if OTC could put pressure on MKCC to invest in the building, but the Clerk thought it would not be appropriate for OTC to ‘stick their nose in’ as they do not own or even run the building. It is down to the community group that runs it, she said.
    Chris Tennant noted that construction of the new Astro-Turf facility at the Ousedale campus, partly funded by S106 had commenced, as had the new mixed use community centre at Yardley Manor. He said the council had been approached by a developer who was looking at a short list of sites for a new open-air lido. It was a potential future project which might come in through S106, he said.

    River water pollution

    Mark Butterfield from Olney and Clifton Fishing Association gave an update on the pollution levels in the river. He said the phosphate and nutrients were now at ‘fertiliser factory’ level, leading to excessive algae and vegetation growth. The association normally spend 5–7 days a year managing the river, but this year had already spent over 100 days. One member is now qualified in weed control, he said. The main causes of the pollution is farm run-off (around 65%) and sewage discharge, and many of the local sewage outlets are not monitored. The Environment Agency have tested and claim there is not a problem, but have not provided data to back up this claim. Mark said he is testing every month, and it is clear there is a problem.
    He believed that traces of e-coli had also been found. Chris Tennant suggested raising the issue with DEFRA, perhaps via our MP Ben Everitt, and Mark replied that he had recently written ‘a rather nasty letter’ to Ben, which had resulted in him turning up on his doorstep. He hadn’t provided any answers, particularly when Mark had pointed out that he, Ben, had voted in favour of dumping sewage in our rivers. It was agreed to set up a working group that will report back to full council each month.

    Ex-Football Club Building

    As previously reported, OTC had given Caveman Conditioning notice to quit the building, but at the EGM in June both parties had agreed to extend the notice period by six months to 20th Dec. The Clerk said the council had received a letter from Caveman’s solicitors asking to extend the temporary lease to the end of March 2024, payment of the rent which had been agreed by both parties on the draft lease being conditional on the extension being granted. She then briefly referred to an email that had been received the day before directly from Caveman asking for a further extension.
    She reminded members that Caveman had only been paying rent at one-third of the commercial rate for the last five years, which equates to a loss of £42,000, which OTC could have spent on renovating the building. The council were being ‘blackmailed’ she felt. Dan Rowland pointed out that, additionally, Caveman had only been paying for part of their electricity usage. Ian Stokes said that although MKCC Building Control had spuriously declared that the building was not in imminent danger of collapse, having kicked the wall (which he likened to a mechanic kicking the tyres at an MOT), the electrical inspection had identified ed 2 x C1 defects (danger present, immediate action required), 7 x C2 (potentially dangerous, urgent remedial action required) and 3 x C3 (improvement recommended). He reminded Chris Tennant that he (Chris) himself had stated that there were parts of the building which he would not enter. Chris countered by saying that only certain parts of the building were open to the public and the dangerous area of the old changing rooms had been ‘isolated off ’. Colin Rodden thought as landlords OTC had mitigated the risks of allowing the tenant to remain and at least they were getting an income in the absence of a consultation and plan for the building. Chris then referred to the details of the recent email in which the tenant had confirmed receipt of the draft tenancy agreement three months after the EGM and stated that he had been unable to find suitable alternative premises and requesting an extension to the spring of 2024, June at the very latest. Chris said the positives were that OTC would continue to receive income while the consultation on the future of the building took place. The tenant was offering to pay four months upfront and then the previously agreed-on rent on a monthly basis until June. He suggested that a building in active use is probably better than having it boarded up and closed with the associated risk of vandalism.
    Deirdre Bethune said she thought Caveman was a very good business asset to the town but was concerned that having agreed on a temporary lease to December, they had asked for an extension to March and then to June. What guarantee was there that they would not ask for another if they could not find alternative premises? she asked.
    Naomi Brock said she thought that OTC should have issued the temporary lease immediately after the EGM in June and there had been a catalogue of errors, but the Clerk said that their solicitors were not there ‘at their beck and call’ and the period between all parties agreeing at the EGM and the draft lease being issued was reasonable. Referring back to Colin Rodden’s opinion that OTC had mitigated the risks of allowing the tenant to remain, Dan Rowland said that OTC had honoured what was agreed at the June EGM, but allowing the extension posed further safety risks which concerned him. Ian Stokes said his main concern was safety, but the residents of Olney had already subsidised the Caveman business to the tune of £42,000 in rent and were continuing to subsidise their utility bills. OTC was going round and round in circles with a tenant who time and time again over the last five years had not done what they said they’d do, he thought. Naomi Brock proposed that the temporary lease be extended on a fully repairing and insured basis to 31st March 2024. At the end of this period the tenant will be evicted, regardless of whether they have found alternative accommodation. This was voted on and passed by a majority. Secondly, she proposed that following the public consultation a plan for the future of the building be presented at the January OTC meeting. This was passed unanimously.

    Gate from Mobbs Close to East Street car park

    When the site was being built, OTC gave the builders permission to use the car park and put in a gate to allow them access to the site. When they finished, they were supposed to reinstate the fence, but it appears they didn’t, and furthermore, they gave residents a key to the gate. There is a risk of creating a presumed right of way and OTC having to maintain the area, so they are not happy and had planned to continue the shrubbery and block the access. The Rugby Club are not happy with the gate as it is very close to their changing rooms and the back doors to the clubhouse, so it has some security and safeguarding issues, particularly when women or under 18s are using the changing rooms and from dog walkers using the passageway as a short cut to the recreation ground. Having got used to using the ‘cut through’, the residents are reluctant to give it up and have asked for time to explore the options. This was agreed upon and will be discussed at a future meeting.

    Refacing the Town Clock

    Although not widely known, the clock attached to the old Nat West building, currently occupied by David Coles Architects, was paid for by public subscription to mark the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 1977. The South Face is considerably sun damaged, and the tenant has requested that it be replaced. The Clerk said that when he took possession of the building, the tenant had agreed to ‘look after the clock’ and maintain the electricity supply, but maintenance remained the responsibility of OTC. A quote in the region of £1000 has been received. David Tyler questioned whether a 1970-style clock was in keeping with the location of a conservation area, although admitting that he ‘wasn’t even a twinkle in his dad’s eye’ when it was installed! The consensus was not to question the historic decision to provide it. (At this point Mercury recalled the saga of the Millenium Floral Clock, which at the time was the subject to much critical discussion, with some saying it would make Olney look like a ‘downmarket seaside town’. The mechanism mysteriously disappeared before it could be installed and, despite valiant investigative efforts by Ron Hall at Phonebox Magazine, was never seen again). It was agreed to allocate some funds in the next financial year so that the town could collectively contribute to their clock from their Council Tax precept.

    Odds and Sods

    To mark the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings in 1944 the town beacon on Barnfield will be lit at 9.15pm on 6th June 2024.

    Next Meeting
    The next meeting will be held on Monday 4th December 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.

  • January 2024 Edition (December 2023 meeting)


    ‘Please shut the gate’ is a sign we have all seen, and most of us will abide by that request. It’s part of the Countryside Code after all, and anyway, it’s good manners – if you use a gate, you shut it after you. So when representatives of an Olney street, which has been enjoying its own access gate, attended the regular Olney Town Council meeting to secure the opening’s existence, they probably weren’t expecting it to be shut up for good…

    Public Participation

    June Keating from Mobbs Close in Olney stood to give her case for the access gate. She was there on behalf of her entire street although, to be fair it was only her and her daughter present so, compared with some resident rebellions seen at the Olney Centre in 2023, this one wasn’t so much ‘mob-handed’ as ‘Mobbs-handed’. She said that an access gate between Mobbs Close and the recreation ground (the Rec), which has been there for five years, had recently been ‘rather crudely blocked off ’ so that residents could no longer use it.
    The gate had been damaged too, and we have since found out that it was the Town Council which did this, said a forlorn Mrs Keating. She said the gate was the property of the residents of Mobbs Close – 23 people have a key to it which is used on a regular basis for people to get to the Rec, the bowls club, the tennis club and other facilities there. She said that by having the gate operated by residents, it would only enhance security down at the Rec by ‘sort of keeping an eye on things’.
    There had been a matter raised, she added, concerning the privacy of the Rugby Club’s changing rooms near to the gateway and if this was the case, surely a screen could be erected on the railings there to solve that problem. Mrs Keating said that this was a ‘trivial’ issue that ‘concerns very few people’ and wondered why OTC’s time and resources were being used here when they were ‘surely needed elsewhere’.

    Apologies for absence and declarations of interest

    Councillors Colin Rodden, David Tyler and Deirdre Bethune were unavailable. Deirdre was at another meeting – Town Clerk Jane Brushwood said Deirdre indicated that she would attend if that one finished in time. Ian Stokes declared an interest in a later item on the agenda concerning the town’s former football club building as he is chairman of Olney Town Colts, and Chris Tennant had a similar interest to declare concerning that building as he was a member of an organisation that uses it.
    Just before the last meeting’s (November) minutes were approved, Ian Stokes had a question. Was it not agreed that the current tenant of the ex-football club (Caveman Conditioning) pay council legal fees? he asked. That was met with stunned silence around the table. Can you say that again, please, said Mayor Debbie Whitworth. Well, I know this was discussed because I raised it, said Ian. We were talking about incremental legal fees and whether they should be covered because they seem to be escalating, he added. The Clerk confirmed that the matter had been discussed but it wasn’t included in the resolution.

    Ward Councillor’s report

    Councillor Keith McLean was in town to deliver the Milton Keynes ward report. He had a number of items to go through. We still have problems with MK Connect (the local transport service). The issues continue, and I’m not quite sure what the remedy is, he said. The number 21 bus service was another ‘problem’ item on Keith’s agenda. People have come to me on this, he said, and last week I had two reports: one where the bus driver decided that Emberton didn’t exist anymore and went straight up the bypass and on another occasion, apparently, people were invisible at the bus stop by The Forge. For the first one, Keith continued, the bus company said, ‘Ah that’s a new driver’. I went back and said – excuse the pun – do you not ‘on-board’ your drivers and familiarise them with the technology and routes? Keith said he was aware of an App that contains this information, but he didn’t have any more details.
    The ward councillor continued with his next item: the roadworks at the bottom of the A509 from Chichelely Hill. If you go past the road that you can’t go down, you will notice that there is something missing there. It’s a white elephant known as a bridge. I can’t believe they went to the trouble of putting the bridge up to save closing the road and then finding that they didn’t need it and took it down, said Keith. I hate to think how much it cost.
    Next on the list was the 20mph speed limits. Following a meeting back in September there has been gathering of speed data in a number of areas, he said. There were a couple of places that he was disappointed did not get checked, for example the stretch of Weston Road between the A509 and Lime Street, even though Keith asked twice for that. But the outcome is that they are going to go ahead with 20mph speed limits on Aspreys and on Yardley Road and the residential roads going off them. There is not the budget to do any more speed restricting, said Keith, this is just Phase 1 and will be starting early 2024 and finished by the middle of the year. Part of the speed limits will involve engineering works, putting in humps on both Yardley Road and Aspreys. Keith finished with one other subject that he had discussed at ‘a number of these meetings’. The question of safety of the crossing at the One Stop shop has been raised again, he said. He explained how he had been told recently by a Highways officer that there had been agreement to put in a ‘covert surveillance device’ at the crossing to record traffic movements over a week in that area. It had to go through procurement, but it had been agreed in principle.
    Debbie Hall asked Keith about the 20mph limit, which seemed to be happening only on the west side of the town. What about East Street? She asked. Keith said he did ask for the whole of Olney to be included in the research, but it was felt that there was not enough budget to do everything. He added that he thought people would be surprised at the speed of cars along East Street – it’s self-policing, he said, and in a lot of places where it’s narrow cars don’t get over 30mph. It’s done using a matrix scoring system and unless a lot of cars exceed the limit no action is taken, he explained. It also needs a pavement down there, said Debbie H, not letting the subject go.
    Keith said that’s an engineering issue. Ian Stokes asked if the High Street was part of the data gathering. The Mayor said that data gathering strips had been put along the High Street and that the information has to be sent to Thames Valley Police.
    Chris Tennant said he thought there was still an issue with speeding from the industrial estate at the north end of the town coming down to the roundabout at the top of Drift Way. Keith noted that there were actually no houses alongside that stretch.

    PCSO’s report

    Olney still does not have a PCSO, but some crime figures had been sent to the Clerk by Arlene Ormston, who is being ‘run ragged’ as she tries to cover Olney as well as her own villages. The Clerk had figures that covered 6th November to 4th December and included 1 x Action Fraud (of a banking protocol), 3 x public disorder and 1 x antisocial behaviour between neighbours. Other incidents that are not crime-related include some road-related issues and a suspicious person on the Market Place.
    The Mayor added that she had been told there will be two new PCSOs coming to Olney: one on board in December and one coming in early January. Both new officers will have several weeks of training.

    Expenditure report

    Councillors had been sent a copy of the latest expenditure report by the Clerk. Did anyone have anything to say about it, asked the Mayor. The resounding silence meant there was no comment on what was a straightforward document this month.

    Representatives at outside meetings

    There was also little to report from councillors who had represented OTC at external meetings. Debbie Hall said she had attended a meeting of the Olney Newton Link, where they are starting a project to build a new community centre rather like the one in Olney. The Clerk said that she and the Mayor had met with Barclays Bank to discuss the provision of a new financial facility in the town. It’s not a hub, said the Mayor. No, they don’t like that word, agreed the Clerk, because it suggests lots of different banks. They are putting a Barclays van on to the Market Place twice a month on the Thursday market. There won’t be cash banking there, but there will be other things – we’ll find out soon enough. It will be starting in January, she added.
    We also have social prescribers coming in. Social prescribing is sort of like a citizens’ advice, explained the Clerk, which will include advice on things like physical and mental well-being, housing, finance and heating. The council will set up a ‘coffee morning type of thing’, she added, so that people from Olney and surrounding villages in a wider area can access the service. The Council is hoping to create some advertising material about both the Barclays banking service and the social prescribers scheme.

    Section 106 spending update

    The cemetery path said the Clerk, from the road up to the lych gate, has been surfaced and from there the existing path is going to be resin bonded again. Surfacers will be coming back to do the edges and finish the job, she added. And the top surface will not be able to be done until the weather changes in the Spring next year, she said, but it is quite safe until then. Of course that’s all being done under Section 106 funding, the Clerk confirmed.

    River Water Pollution Group update

    Dan Rowland told everyone that an action plan had been put forward to monitor water quality. However, he wasn’t sure what the timescale was for this research. The Mayor said that Mark Butterfield (from Olney’s fishing association) was carrying out research on behalf of OTC and had been working with Bedford Council and their scientists there. We have also asked the Clerk to reach out and work with Newport Pagnell Council, so it is like two councils working together, said the Mayor. Testing will also continue to be carried out at the bathing steps area. We will collect as much data as we can before we take the whole situation to the Environment Agency, the Mayor added. We’ll get as much groundwork in as we can. Then we will be in a better position to request full data on the river pollution and, if necessary, we can ask for an FOI (Freedom of Information) to find out exactly what the EA are testing.
    Ian Stokes said this must remain an agenda item for the future and one to keep an eye on, especially with the heavy use of the Rec in the summer. This report can ‘dovetail’ into that, he added. The Council can get test kits for water quality monitoring, said the Mayor. What will they be testing for? asked Debbie Hall. E.coli, said Dan. OK, so what’s the action taken from that information we receive, returned Debbie H. We can share it with other fishing clubs in the area, answered the Mayor, to understand what they are doing too.

    Update on the ex-football club

    The Clerk said the present tenant’s solicitors have agreed on a lease which she has ‘yet to see signed’. It has not been signed as far as I’m aware, she added. That’s the only update I’ve had. I’ve had other small bits and pieces, and plans are being put in place for a meeting in January. We’ll have the results of the questionnaire on Neighbourhood Planning (which includes a specific question about the building), as you know, she said. The Olney questionnaire is still live, said Chris Tennant. Yes, but only until the 15th of this month (December), said the Clerk. We’ll get that all put together and the results of that will form part of the plan, she added.

    Gate from Mobbs Close to East Street car park

    This had already been brought up by a resident earlier, and now the issue was to be discussed as an agenda item. OK, well, you all know about this because it has been going round and round, said the Mayor. And we need to make a final decision this evening. Well, just like we’ve got the problem with the football club said the Clerk, this is a problem I feel that we are going to pass on to people in the future. And it’s not these residents, it’s not necessarily us councillors, the fact of the matter is that by allowing it (the gate), we are putting ourselves at risk of being sued when the path is slippery, when the gate doesn’t work or whatever. The gate should not have been there. It should be put back as a metal fence, and there’s hedging in there – that’s what should go back in. It should have been reinstated when the builders left, but they didn’t do that. We have had a letter from the managing agent of that estate, said the Mayor. In it, she said, the agent had offered to erect some signage saying that using the gate is done at ‘one’s own risk’. I’m sorry, added the Mayor, but that means absolutely zilch. The Clerk agreed.
    We all know that if someone was to slip there and crack their head open, it would be the council’s fault as it’s on council land, she said. That’s the top and bottom of it. Whether it’s in my lifetime or your lifetime or sometime in the future, it‘s a responsibility that we need to remove. Ian Stokes said he thought the council could mitigate the problem by having an agreement that people use the gate at their own risk. We have passageways throughout Olney that are exactly like that, he said, alongside Costa, alongside Allens, up to the Co-op. But they don’t belong to us, said the Clerk. The onus is on mitigating the risk; that’s my point, said Ian. I take your point about liability, but I’m talking about if the residents are signing up to use the gate at their own risk, and there’s no cost to the council for producing the signage. The point about the changing rooms is a red herring because no architect would design changing rooms that you can look into, he added. I’m with Ian on this, said Naomi Brock.
    People walk in a lot of places that are OTC land and that we wouldn’t take liability for, but we have allowed people to use this, so why has the risk changed? Because we didn’t know about it before, said the Clerk. But why did we allow people to use it then, asked Naomi. Because it was put there to allow builders who were parking in our car park to gain access to the building site and were allowed to put the gate in for that, and when they finished they should have taken the gate out. Chris Tennant wanted something cleared up. So the planning permission allowed for some new fencing there, he asked. Yes, but not for a gate, said the Clerk. OK, so the council allowed temporary access for the builders and temporary use. So now we are asking, do we as a council allow unfettered access to our land? Obviously, time has gone by – I worked on the town council five years ago, and I didn’t know about it then.
    One option, said Debbie Hall, is to make good the passageway and get the planning permission. Well, to do that we have to make sure it is constructed to highway standards and properly done, said Chris. It would then have to be policed, properly lit, it would need correct surfacing, and made a size and shape for all residents’ use: residents of the town and not just residents of the estate. Jim Cooper couldn’t believe that the constructors had given people a key to the gate when they finally left the site. Why did they think it was in their power to give a key when it wasn’t theirs to give, he boomed. The gate should have been done away with, and the fence should have been reinstalled. It’s not a great deal of difference walking down Mobbs Close and back onto the Rec than using the gate, said the Clerk. I don’t see why we should put ourselves up for possible trouble in the future. It doesn’t benefit the town, said Chris. If it was a big open access gate for the whole town to use, would the residents of Mobbs Close still want it? The Mayor agreed. It’s got to be for the whole town, and it’s not. As it stands now it’s on our land and if anything happens we will be liable, in spite of any signage going up about risk, so sadly, on this occasion, I propose that we remove the gate. Hold on, said Debbie H. It’s a locked gate – that’s the issue here. Does Olney Town Council hold the keys to the gate, asked Dan Rowland. No, was the answer. Chris thought that allowing the gate to remain would set a precedent for the future. The Mayor said they could not defer any longer. Will the builders have to make this good, asked Debbie Hall. No, we would just go in and reinstate the fence, said the Clerk. The proposal was made by Chris Tennant and seconded by Jim Cooper to close the gate permanently and reinstate the council’s fence and hedge to secure its boundary. It was carried by a majority. Case closed – or should that be gate closed?

    The Next Meeting

    The next meeting will be held on Monday, 8th January at 7pm in the Olney Centre. If you would like to contribute to the Public Participation at the start of the meeting or at any time the Mayor deems appropriate please contact the Town Clerk, townclerk@ olneytowncouncil.gov.uk.

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