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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 2024 editions

  • January 2024 Issue (December 2023 meeting)

    January 2024 Issue (December 2023 Olney Town Council Meeting)

    Preamble

    ‘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 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.

  • February 2024 Issue (January 2024 meeting)

    January 2024 meeting (published in the February issue)

    Public Participation

    Trevor Aldred spoke on behalf of the trustees of the East Street Community Centre (previously the Youth Club). Trevor explained that the building is well utilised by about 50 groups each week, including karate, music, Zumba, drama, and others. It is run by a team of three unpaid volunteers and a modest rent is paid to Milton Keynes City Council (MKCC) as the landlords. Trevor said the heating in the building was installed in around 1966 and is now completely rugged (Mercury may have misheard this bit) and will cost around £30,000 to replace. MKCC will only assist with funding for a heat pump solution but the poor insulation and general state of the building makes this unsuitable. Trevor said he recognised that Olney Town Council (OTC) have no responsibility for the building, but MKCC had been inert, lazy, unresponsive, impolite, and unprofessional in their dealings with the trustees. The trustees have some money available, but Trevor said he thought it unfair that they should have to pay for repairs when all around were saying it was not their responsibility. As this was an item on the meeting agenda Trevor asked that the council bear this in mind in their discussion.
    Mayor Debbie Whitworth said the council had received a letter from a young person who lives in the High Street supporting the introduction of a 20 mph speed limit and warning signs. It would make Olney a safer place, she thought.

    Apologies for absence and declarations of interest

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

    Ward Councillor’s report

    Keith Mclean gave the ward councillors report. MKCC had prepared their draft budget for the next Financial Year and Council Tax is likely to rise by 4.99%, 2.00% of which is for social care. Bids are now being invited from parish councils for their own projects, he said. Mercury assumes that this for the parish precept, the amount collected with the MKCC Council Tax which is then returned to parishes. Keith said he was shocked to receive an email stating that Willen Road will be closed for over a year from next month between Marsh End and Tongwell Roundabouts. He then went on to say that it won’t actually be closed but extensive roadworks to widen but not dual the road will be taking place which will lead to long delays, particularly as most people are using it as the unofficial diversion route to get to Junction 14 while the A509 is closed. There had been no holistic view of how to manage traffic over the next few years, he thought, particularly as the ‘white elephant’ bridge had been built over the A509 and then pulled down. There had been mixed reactions to proposals to introduce a 20 mph speed limit in the town, particularly as there was no evidence that the accidents that do occur are due to speeding, but the consultation would continue. Keith said that it was important that OTC are represented at a forthcoming meeting with MKCC planners to provide input to the impending Milton Keynes Local Plan. Over the past 4–5 months there had been a call for landowners to put forward sites to be considered for development. Although there had been changes to the National Planning Policy Framework in December Keith said he had been assured that the changes would not ‘trump’ any Neighbourhood Plans produced by the parishes.
    Colin Rodden asked when MKCC would be installing the posts for the Speed Indicating Devices (SIDs) that had cost OTC £10,000 and were currently sitting in boxes. Jane Brushwood interjected to say that it was in hand, leading Colin to ask when? Debbie Whitworth replied that OTC was going through the stages and Colin, clearly exasperated asked what was the problem? Jane Brushwood, equally exasperated said the problem was that OTC does not own the land that the poles will be installed on. Who does, asked Colin? MKCC replied Jane. Why don’t we put them on the lampposts like we used to asked Colin? Because we’re not allowed to and never were replied Jane. Debbie closed down the conversation saying she wanted to move on but Colin, eager to have the last word, said it would be useful to get a date.
    Debbie informed Keith that the Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) restricting parking in Osier Way would go ahead, but the similar order for Oakdown Crescent had been delayed due to complaints from some residents of Weston Road who use Oakdown Crescent to park. Mercury was not remotely surprised to hear this as this very issue was the subject of many heated discussions at OTC meetings some years ago when a residents only parking scheme was being sought by a relative of an elderly Oakdown Crescent resident. MKCC are suggesting that the provision of dedicated disabled parking spaces goes ahead without delay, she said. There was a problem with the proposal to introduce a 20 mph limit at Yardley Manor, said Debbie, because the roads were not yet adopted by MKCC. The solution was for residents to lobby the developers to request a ‘Section 38 agreement’ whereby the developers can ask MKCC for their own 20 mph orders. If that is agreed it can be ready and in place for when the adoption takes place, she said.

    PCSO’s report

    Jane Brushwood said PCSO Arlene Ormstom had managed to get the monthly crime stats produced on her first day back after Christmas. One point of interest was the theft of a sheep from The Goosey. Other crimes included 2 x assault without injury, 1 x attempted burglary, 2 x criminal damage to cars, 2 x drink/drug driving, 1 x shoplifting from the Co-op, 1 x theft of handbag from shop, 1 x theft from vehicle.

    Representatives at outside meetings

    Debbie Whitworth said she and Jane Brushwood had attended the Amazing Grace 250 service at St Peter and St Paul which had been very well attended. The event had included the showing of the video ‘Amazing Grace: Legacies at 250’ detailing the highlights of the year, which can be viewed via the museum website. They had both also attended a meeting of the Social Prescribers, Debbie said. There will be a drop in coffee morning on the third Tuesday of each month to link residents of Olney and surrounding villages to local services and activities to improve health and wellbeing. Debbie said she had also attended a meeting with a group that are keen to set up a ‘new vision for a youth club and crisis drop-in centre’ for teenagers with mental health issues. Since emerging from Covid Debbie said she had heard from schools and parents that many young people are having problems with their mental health, so she had reached out to Mind BLMK who have agreed to run sessions at the Olney Centre with a qualified outreach worker funded by MKCC. Jane Brushwood reported that she had attended the Christmas lunch at the Olney Centre to assist organiser Naomi Brock which had been attended by around 30 people. Lunches had also been delivered to those who could not attend. Deirdre Bethune said that she had recently joined the Cobbs Garden Surgery Patient Participation Group and reported that a new GP would be joining the surgery in January and a new partner in March. As a result, the patient list had been reopened from the beginning of January.

    Ex Football Club Building

    Jane Brushwood said a questionnaire regarding the future of the building had been included in the recent Neighbourhood Plan survey and the results had been collated and it was clear that the majority of residents want it as a community building for all to use. She presented a draft plan detailing the various stages of the project. Colin Rodden noted that the plan seemed to assume that the existing building would be demolished and replaced, but Jane said that was still to be decided by ‘the experts,’ although it might turn out to be the cheapest option. Ian Stokes agreed that the feedback showed that there was a desire for mixed community use and suggested that some preliminary work could start now, such as high level concept design and grant application. He wondered why the project currently sat with the Development Control Committee rather than the Recs and Services Committee, since it would be necessary to consult with the Joint User Group and other experts. David Tyler wondered if the Recs and Services had the capacity to take it on. Jane said that now that committee was smaller and had a chairman it took less time to make decisions, so she believed that had sufficient capacity. Deirdre Bethune said historically such projects did not sit within Recs and Services because several past councillors had also been associated with the sports clubs, implying that there could be a conflict of interests. Ian Stokes proposed that the progression of the project moved to the Recs and Services which was agreed unanimously.

    Review of Council policies

    Some years ago the council produced policies for communications, complaints, and Co-option which are reviewed each year at the annual meeting. An additional policy had recently been produced for biodiversity. Jane Brushwood said that the size and number of the policies meant that it was too onerous for one person to review effectively so Jim Cooper and Dan Rowland had spent some time reviewing them and proposing the necessary changes. Colin Rodden was of the opinion that the Biodiversity policy was too general and did not go far enough in stating what OTC specifically was doing. Jane said that she had suggested engaging the services of an advisor to do just that, but the members had decided that the quote was too expensive and rejected the idea. Colin reminded members that there used to be a team of volunteers who worked on biodiversity projects, but the council had dispensed with them as they were not insured. Dan Rowland noted that the face to face communication section was very prescriptive in identifying negative body language (specifically, eye rolling, tutting, sighing, glaring, finger tapping, finger pointing, aggressive gesturing, and excessive sarcasm). Deirdre Bethune said it had been necessary because such behaviour had been evident from some members of the previous council. Additionally, it was agreed to change the references to ‘he/she’ to the now more commonly accepted single pronoun ‘they’.

    East St Community Centre (Youth Club) Asset of Community Value

    Background: Some years ago OTC applied to purchase the building and land from MKCC for the princely sum of £1 under the Community Asset Transfer (CAT) Scheme. The site had been registered as an ‘Asset of Community Value’ (ACV) meaning that MKCC could not sell the site to anyone else without giving OTC the option to buy it first. Since the necessary building repairs at that time would have cost in excess of £150,000 MKCC were happy to oblige, and negotiations commenced. Before the process could complete OTC allocated the site for the new health hub in the Neighbourhood Plan (NP) and intended to gift the land to the surgery. A condition of CAT is the asset must remain in its original use, so MKCC withdrew from the process. The ACV registration ran from 2017 to 2022 and has now expired. MKCC have stated that reregistering the ACV might conflict with OTC’s desire for MKCC to sell (note sell!) the site to Cobbs Garden for the health hub, because it cannot be a designated development site and an active ACV site, since it would render the site undevelopable in something of a Catch 22 situation. In 2022 MKCC valued the site at a minimum of £250,000 but stated that it could be higher if there is an uplift in the market.
    Jane Brushwood said that the current committee of volunteers running the building had asked if OTC could help with the required repairs to the building (as mentioned by Trevor Aldred in the public participation section) but she felt that OTC could not be seen to be spending time and money on a building which they didn’t own. However, she said she recognised that it was an important asset to the town and wanted to prevent MKCC from selling the site for any purpose other than the health hub. She said she didn’t think that MKCC had any plans or desire to sell it for any other reason than for the health hub but that could not be guaranteed. Jim Cooper said if a developer came along with a big offer, then MKCC would have to accept it. Colin Rodden wondered whether it would be possible for MKCC to transfer the building to OTC and retain ownership of the land, enabling OTC to assist with the necessary repairs? It was agreed that Jane would reopen negotiations for CAT with MKCC and look at the various possibilities, depending on the outcome of those negotiations.

    Planning application for St Joseph’s Convent

    As discussed previously, David Coles Associates architects have submitted plans to build 11 new homes on the site of the now disused convent under Application no: 23/02713/FUL. Debbie Whitworth explained that this would normally be dealt with by OTC’s Development Control Committee but they are not due to meet until 29th January and the deadline for comments to MKCC is the 27th, although under certain circumstances comments may be accepted after the cut-off date. It was agreed that Jane would speak to Chris Tennant, chair of the DCC and then respond on behalf of the council. She asked if anyone had particularly strong views on the matter and the general consensus was that no one was in favour of the development. Deirdre Bethune thought it a great pity that it couldn’t be used as the site for the new Health Hub. Debbie said that many residents had been in contact with her expressing their opposition to the development.

    Parking restrictions at Johnsons Field

    Debbie Whitworth explained that currently applications for double yellow lines have to be submitted to MKCC as highways authority via the Ward Councillors. MKCC are now placing the onus on parishes, meaning that parish councils will provide a sanity check to requests from residents and apply to MKCC direct if they support the request. She said an enquiry had been received from residents of Johnsons Field, which is currently on hold until MKCC publish details of the revised process. OTC will then request a formal application from the residents and discuss and progress accordingly. Colin Rodden noted that if MKCC is going to invest in the proposed development of the play areas on Johnsons Field and then prevent visitors from parking nearby they are going to look ‘a bit silly’ and Jane Brushwood agreed, saying that it might lead to parking elsewhere, possibly across residents’ driveways during the school run. Jim Cooper thought that perhaps the residents were requesting the double yellow lines now in anticipation of parking problems once the development had taken place. Deirdre Bethune suggested that it might be something for the council to consider once the development had taken place and if it became an issue.

    Odds and Sods

    Colin Rodden noted that the monthly expenses sheet included £2600 to a firm of tree specialists and asked why the council’s own grounds staff couldn’t do the work, since they presumably had chainsaw experience? The quote was for six or seven items of work which the ground staff are not qualified or equipped to carry out, replied Jane Brushwood.

    The Next Meeting

    The next meeting will be held on Monday 5th 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 2024 Issue (February 2024 meeting)

    February 2024 meeting (published in the March issue)

    Preamble

    Thank heavens for Peter Geary. And it’s not often you’ll see those words written in the esteemed columns of the Mercury Report.
    But, credit where it’s due, if it wasn’t for the hard-working Ward Councillor, February’s Olney Town Council get-together would probably have been the shortest in its history.
    Or in the history of any other town council in Britain, for that matter.
    Even with Councillor Geary’s report included, the entire meeting lasted just 17 minutes. If he hadn’t been there to deliver his statement, the gathering would have been over like a shot.
    Blink and you’d have missed it. Hmmm, now there’s a thought…

    Elizabeth Knight

    The meeting started with a tribute to the widely respected local writer and historian Elizabeth Knight who died recently. Mayor Debbie Whitworth addressed the hushed chamber with this opening announcement:
    “I’m sure you are aware of the sad passing of Mrs Elizabeth Knight on 17th January.
    Councillors will know we wouldn’t normally mention every passing in the town, however I feel we have to acknowledge the passing of this great lady. Mrs Knight was a brilliant historian who, back in the day, ran the Cowper & Newton Museum. She had such a fascinating in-depth knowledge of our town. Liz was most helpful and supportive of the council; her suggestions for street names and the reasons why, have been invaluable. So on behalf of the council I’d like to express our sincere condolences to the family. Elizabeth was a much loved and well respected lady.”
    Deirdre Bethune noted light-heartedly that Elizabeth ‘considered herself a foreigner’ because she was not born in Olney.

    Apologies for absence and declarations of interest

    There were no requests from members of the public to speak so the Mayor moved swiftly to the agenda. ‘Swiftly’ was clearly going to be the theme of the evening.
    Apologies for absence was the first item on the agenda. Chris Tennant, Colin Rodden, Debbie Hall and Ian Stokes were all unavailable. There were no declarations of interest on this occasion so the Mayor asked for approval of the OTC Meeting of 8th January (proposed and seconded by Deirdre Bethune and Mary Prosser) and an EGM (Extraordinary General Meeting) on 22nd January (Mary Prosser and Jim Cooper). Dan Rowland noted that the minutes for the EGM showed the meeting ‘ending before it had begun’. A simple typing error showed a 7.30pm start with a 6.50pm finish, when it should, of course, have been a 6.30pm start. But it brought much laughter around the table. Well spotted, quipped Town Clerk Jane Brushwood.

    Ward Councillor’s Report

    I see we have Councillor Geary here this evening, said the Mayor. Yes that’s right, Madam Mayor, came the reply and with the niceties out of the way Peter got down to the business of delivering the longest item on the evening’s agenda by a country mile.
    Some of you will probably know most of what I’m going to talk about, said Peter. That opener didn’t exactly ignite the flames of fervent anticipation, but councillors settled down to listen anyway. He previewed a planning meeting due later in the month (February). This is probably one of the most crucial meetings coming up, said Peter. This is the first time that Milton Keynes will grow significantly outside of its bounds since the city was first formed, so what’s coming up is pretty crucial.
    He went on to explain that the MK Council budget is ‘ongoing’ and there are budget consultation papers in circulation which OTC members would probably have seen, but he added that the consultation is now over. The headline fact from it is that Council Tax will rise by 4.99%, the maximum that it can go up by. When the budget went through and was put out to consultation there was £2 million of contingency left in there. In other words unallocated money, explained Peter. The money will be allocated quickly, he added, and we will see where it is going.
    Moving on Peter said that within the next week or so there will be a decision made about the future of MK Connect (the transport service for residents who don’t have access to a bus). There has been talk about that service for the last couple of months, said Peter, and there was supposed to have been a decision made on its future already but that was deferred for more debate with the operator. But hopefully we will find out just what is happening with MK Connect because obviously it is quite crucial for us here and in the rural areas, he said.
    There was a new set of parking charges in MK that came into effect as of 1st February, and the minimum time you can stay has been changed, he explained. So where you could have stayed for 15 minutes and paid for that in the past, said Peter, the minimum is now an hour and you pay the minimum charge for that.
    Thank goodness this OTC meeting wasn’t being held in MK then, or councillors would not have got their money’s worth from one hour’s parking charge.
    The 20mph speed zone consultation was due to start that week, said Peter, because they have to get it ‘over and done with’ before purdah (the period of time when restrictions on local councillor communications are imposed) at the start of the election period. That will run until Friday 22nd March, he added.
    Peter then moved onto Oakdown Crescent in Olney where, he said, there are some issues going on there and these are being looked at by Ward Councillors, who are well aware of the situation.
    Peter opened the floor up for questions or concerns from councillors. Is there any update on the One-Stop crossing, asked Dan Rowland. I have received no further update on that, said Peter, other than the fact that there was a meeting held six months ago, which the Mayor was at, and at which they basically said ‘this crossing is safe’ and since that point I have heard very little more. There was certainly a push-back from Graham Cox (MKCC Highways chief) saying he could do nothing for it. I have to say it is a very complicated issue as I am sure you are aware, added Peter. Especially in terms of if you moved the crossing what would happen then. Peter added that he would ‘wait and see’ if anything changes and if it does he was sure that OTC would receive an update. It was clearly a case of ‘cross that bridge (or road) when we come to it’.

    PCSO’s report

    PCSO Arlene Ormston was not present at the meeting but she had sent councillors a crime statistics report for January. The list of shame included one anti-social behaviour of driving on a grass play area and doing ‘doughnuts’, one further anti-social behaviour, one assault with injury, one attempted house burglary, eight cases of shoplifting from the Co-op, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s, and three reports of suspicious vehicles or persons.

    Expenditure Report and budget to date

    Has everybody gone through the documents, asked the Mayor. General nodding around the table confirmed that everyone had. Are there any views on the expenditure report, asked the Mayor. General shaking of heads confirmed that there weren’t. And the budget figures, does anyone wish to say anything or comment, asked the Mayor. Further silence around the table confirmed a similar response.

    Councillors representing at external meetings

    Mary Prosser said she had attended an Anne Hopkins Almshouses meeting where the maintenance programme was discussed and reported to be going well. They are awaiting quotes for some quite big jobs that they are hoping to address, she added. In some rooms the plug sockets have been moved higher up the wall to a more comfortable level so residents don’t have to bend, she said. A coffee morning has been planned for the residents, giving them the opportunity to open up and chat about anything they want to talk about, said Mary.

    S106 spending

    The Clerk said that work at the Olney Centre had now finished. It has been suggested, she added, that we apply for a defibrillator and a throwline in a lockable accessible cabinet for the riverbank, under ‘emergency services’ S106 funding. Deirdre Bethune added that she had sought advice from Cobbs Garden Surgery who said there could be scope for another throwline at a different part of the river. Public sessions on how to work defibrillators were also suggested, she said.
    The Clerk added that talks to open a lido in the town, previously a popular idea, had ‘unfortunately come to a standstill’.

    Update on river water pollution

    As you know we have monthly meetings on this, said the Mayor. And since the last meeting it was agreed that we should reach out to the city council, who are very supportive. A cabinet member there said they are currently requesting discharge and water quality readings but she didn’t know how long it would take. She said she would have more updates later.

    Biodiversity Policy

    There was an agenda item on updates for the ex-football club building, but there was nothing to add there, so the agenda moved to a plan to consider adopting the Biodiversity Policy recommended by Recs and Services Committee. It was recently recommended at an R&S meeting when it was noted that an additional 18 trees have been planted in the town this season, said the Mayor. MKCC had also agreed that Olney was to mow less and cut back hedges less frequently in a bid to encourage wildlife.
    Christina Diamandopoulos said she would like to know how ‘we were going to bring the town with us’ when they start to tell people what’s happening and what has worked, to enthuse people about biodiversity.
    This is a policy that has been put out, said Deirdre Bethune and we are just adopting it. So is the council agreement that we should adopt the policy, asked the Mayor. The general consensus was that they should. Deirdre proposed that it be adopted and Christina seconded that thought and the council voted in favour.

    And that, as they say, was that. Councillors gathered their still-warm coats to leave as Peter Geary gave a cheery wave goodbye, happy that he had brought something to the (brief) party.

    The Next Meeting

    The next meeting will be held on Monday 4th March 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.

  • April 2024 Issue (March 2024 meeting)

    March 2024 meeting (published in the April issue)

    Preamble

    Unusually, there was a full complement of councillors present for this month’s meeting. David Tyler declared an interest in the agenda item regarding the tennis club as a family member plays there. Chris Tennant declared an interest in the item concerning the 20mph speed restrictions as a resident of one of the roads impacted. Ian Stokes declared an interest in the item about the ex-football club as the chairman of Olney Town Colts, whose clubhouse is adjacent to the building, and also in the item about the tennis club as the Colt’s training area butts onto the proposed new fence.

    Public Participation

    Kevin Viney spoke regarding plans for additional housing in Olney. He said that when he had previously mentioned plans for a further 300 houses, he had been accused of scaremongering, but it appeared that Milton Keynes City Council (MKCC) is now ‘with shameless face’ pushing for up to 1100 homes. He noted that MKCC had yet to provide details of additional infrastructure such as a bigger surgery, school or even a by-pass to support such growth at the recent presentation to parish councils. Last year, the ‘shadowy’ Integrated Care Board announced that there was now insufficient money to fund the earlier-proposed health hub. Kevin thought Pete Townsend’s song ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ seemed appropriate. He believed a ‘united front’ was necessary to truly represent the views of concerned residents who were fed up with stretched school, health and transport problems groaning under the weight of existing building in Olney. He said Olney could count on MKCC, with their ‘cosy developer relationship’ to push Parish Clerks and councillors to sell the proposals to residents. Kevin thought the goal of MKCC was clear: to expand the town by one-third with large houses but reduce the number of affordable homes, and with land prices going for £1 million per acre, it would be a tempting offer for landowners.

    PCSO’s report

    PC Daniel Allen and PCSO Duncan Peerless were present to give the report. PC Allen explained that from May there would be four PCs and four PCSOs looking after Newport Pagnell, Olney, and the rural areas, which he said was the highest for some time. The crime figures for February were: 1 x burglary business, 2 x criminal damage, 2 x harassment, 1 x malicious communication, 2 x public order, 8 x shoplifting, 1 x theft. He said these figures were quite low compared with Newport Pagnell, which shows that Olney is a relatively quiet and safe area, based on reported crime. Mayor Debbie Whitworth said that PCSO Arlene Ormston once again had reiterated the importance of residents reporting crime rather than just being vocal on social media since the actual number of incidents occurring was much higher. Deirdre Bethune questioned figures for shoplifting, saying that shop owners had told her that incidents of shoplifting were ‘incredibly high’. PC Allen said that it was very difficult for the police to investigate shoplifting reports without evidence, particularly CCTV. Very often, businesses would report occurrences but would not provide the CCTV files for several weeks. Colin Rodden asked if the larger supermarkets that were more likely to have enhanced security arrangements were reporting incidents since they should be leading the way for the smaller shops, he thought. PC Allen said that in his experience they were not. Colin also asked about the policing of antisocial behaviour by the river during the summer months, and PC Allen said that it would be the primary focus of one of the new PCs.

    Ward Councillor’s report

    This month it was a double act with Keith McLean giving the first part. He welcomed the news that the police numbers were effectively doubling and said that the Police and Crime Commissioner are very focused on the issue of shoplifting. The public consultation by MKCC on the 20mph speed restriction was due to close on 22nd March, and although he did not know how many residents had responded, he had been asked by a resident why it did not include Weston Road. Later in the meeting, Colin Rodden asked why other areas had not been included, and Town Clerk Jane Brushwood replied that she had asked the same question and been told that it was because Aspreys, Yardley Road and all roads leading off from those had been chosen because two of the schools are on Aspreys and Yardley Road. They had been chosen for the trial, which might then be expanded to other areas of the town. This was just the first stage, said Debbie Whitworth. What about the High Street? asked Colin. There is not a school on the High Street, Jane replied. Colin said he thought it was fair to ask why other roads had been excluded. I’ve just given you the answer, responded Jane, bringing the somewhat circular discussion firmly to a close.
    Keith said there were some forthcoming changes to the MK Connect transport service. Some MKCC decisions are taken by the full council, some by cabinet (sub-committees), some by delegating decisions to cabinet members, and some by delegating to council officers. This matter was supposed to be decided by a cabinet member, but Keith said he had recently been informed that a decision had been made that from 11th March, a change to operate the service on a zonal basis would be implemented. For example, a resident wishing to travel between Astwood and Olney could do it in one journey as it would be within the northern zone. However, if they wished to travel from Olney to the hospital, they would be taken to the bus stop at Market Hill Newport Pagnell, where they would have to catch a bus. Naomi Brock asked if this would result in a separate charge for each leg of the journey, effectively doubling the cost. It was a further example of the rural population being treated as second-class travellers, thought Keith, particularly as Olney Ward, together with Newport Pagnell North and South combined, makeup 70% of the land area of Milton Keynes. He said he and Peter Geary had met with the Director to express their deep concerns, and it was likely that the implantation date would move to the end of March to early April.
    Peter Geary then took over to provide an update on the New City Plan for MK. He said that Kevin Viney was 95% correct in what he had said during public participation but emphasised that the plan was not the finished article and there are numerous stages yet to go through. It would be vital to listen to residents’ and professional views on what infrastructure needed to be included, he said. Olney currently has up to 1100 additional houses proposed, but some sites have already been rejected. MK, as a whole, has 300 sites proposed, but only 100 have made it to the next stage. However, the situation is evolving as landowners provide additional information, so some more will drop in, and others will drop out. The northern rural parishes will be working together to share information, he said. Deirdre Bethune said that Cobbs Garden Surgery is looking at obtaining planning permission for the new health hub, even though they still needed to get the funding to build it. Those plans would need revisiting to allow for 1100 new homes, so what should they be doing, she asked? Peter replied that he had been working with the surgery for a number of years to bring forth their plans, but a rough calculation of the potential Sect 106 income from 1100 new houses had indicated that it would not even be sufficient for what was needed already for the current population. The early planning application was important in order to get a principle in place for the site, he said. Colin Rodden asked if Olney would be expected to take additional housing before 2030, which was the expiration date of the current Neighbourhood Plan (NP). Peter said it depends on what happens in June 2025 when MKCC wants to present the plan to the Planning Inspector and at which stage it becomes an ‘emerging policy’. Nothing will happen until the final plan comes back from the Inspector, probably 12 months later. The plan may then require amendments before it is adopted, but from that stage onwards, planning applications could then come forward.

    St Peter and St Paul’s 700 anniversary

    2025 will mark the 700th anniversary of the founding of the church, and David Philipson was present to explain plans for the celebration and request the support of the town council. He said he’d been fortunate enough to obtain some archive material from local historian Liz Knight before she sadly passed away, and one particular item of interest was a program for the sexcentenary in 1925. Although there was no ‘smoking gun’ of definitive evidence that the building started in 1325, there was more evidence supporting it than there is of the pancake race starting in 1445, he said. The current proposal is for a week of celebrations commencing with a service on 29th June 2025, followed by the Cherry Fair, running through to 6th July, with a possible re-enactment of the Battle of Olney Bridge, which took place in 1643.

    Representatives at outside meetings

    Chris Tennant reported on the recent presentation by MKCC policy officers to the parish councils regarding the New City Plan. It pretty much echoed what Peter Geary had said, but Chris said that the additional 1100 houses for Olney was by no means a done deal, as may have been reported elsewhere. There were still a number of stages to go through, he said. Again, Colin Rodden expressed his concern that the existing NP was supposed to be valid until 2030, but the New City Plan could create more houses from 2026. Chris said that whatever was contained in the plan would not be adopted until 2026. The current NP was adopted in 2017, and the additional 300 houses had still not been completed six years later, he said. Naomi Brock asked how could the NP that had been voted on by residents and adopted now be overruled. What was the point of it, she asked? Chris said the original NP had served its purpose and was in the process of being modified to align with the current Plan MK policy. A new version would eventually be required to align with the New City Plan. Deirdre Bethune noted that a NP actually ‘has some bite’ whereas previous plans produced by residents and councils could be and were totally ignored.

    River Pollution Working Group

    Debbie Whitworth explained that a group of councillors had been working closely with two members of the Olney and Clifton Fishing Association as a result of concerns about phosphate run-off and algae in the river. A meeting was held last month, and another is due soon. MKCC are now on board, she said, and Nick Hannon, Assistant Director - Environment, Waste and Commissioning, is keen to bring in an ecology and water health perspective and has agreed to arrange representation from the Environmental Agency (EA). Debbie said this would be essential in order to compare the EA data with that measured by the Fishing association because they just do not match up. When the flooding subsides, the working party intends to investigate the E.coli levels, and she said there is video footage of raw sewage in the river north of Olney from surface water discharge. The council is actively trying to stop people entering the river in the summer due to dangerously high levels of pollution but has also given permission for Riverfest to take place, she said. Debbie Hall thought that the council would stop Riverfest ‘at their peril’, but Debbie said she was just referring to the raft race element.

    Ex Football Club Building

    The Clerk said the council have now taken possession of the building and has engaged surveyors and builders to investigate the drains, roof, and asbestos situation. During a recent visit, rainwater was observed dripping onto the electricity supply, which had now been switched off, she said. The rear wall is dangerously bowed and cracked, so Heras fencing will be erected at the rear of the building to prevent access. Renovation rather than demolition and rebuild might be possible, she thought. She hoped that some plans would be available for the next Recs and Services meeting on 18th March. Naomi Brock asked about security as the building was bound to suffer vandalism, she thought. Deputy Clerk Rob Mungham said the existing CCTV would be a good preventative measure. Ian Stokes said metal bars would be installed across the doors to prevent them being jemmied open.

    Double yellow lines

    As reported previously, responsibility for collating initial requests for additional yellow lines will now rest with parish councils. Requests from residents will come into OTC, who will then consult with impacted residents and businesses. If over 50% are in favour, then OTC will forward the request to MKCC. MKCC will review and then instigate full statutory consultation. Because of the volume of requests that MKCC currently receive, they have asked for them to be submitted en-bloc rather than in dribs and drabs. It was agreed that OTC would submit all requests annually in October, depending on volumes. Dan Rowland asked if the new process would come with enforcement. Debbie Whitworth said she had been assured that MKCC would enforce three times a week.

    Odds and Sods

    A vote was taken as to whether the council should support the proposed 20mph zones and associated traffic calming, which was passed unanimously.
    Ward Councillor Keith McLean has given OTC £150 from his ward budget to replace the trees on the Dinglederry mound. It appears that the mound is not a natural geological feature, nor was it created for any aesthetic reasons, rather the builders just dumped a huge pile of rubble which eventually grassed over.
    The Quaker Garden pergola has rotted and will be replaced at a cost of £2,850.
    The Tennis Club have requested permission to move their fence to enclose the club house. They have also made tentative enquiries about building a Padel court adjacent to the existing tennis courts.
    Naomi Brock reported that Olney is Kind (OIK) runs a community foodbank which gives out 20-30 food parcels a week. It is currently run from a private house, and they have asked for some storage space at the Olney Centre and permission to run it alongside the community fridge.
    As previously reported, the town clock, which was purchased by public subscription for the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, needs refacing. As repairs have not been forthcoming, the current owner of the building to which it is attached, DCa Architects, has asked for it to be removed within 25 days as per the agreement. The Clerk asked if anyone had any thoughts about where it could be relocated to. Debbie Hall suggested, somewhat mischievously, that perhaps it could be situated next to the Millennium Floral Clock. This was met with much hilarity from Mercury, Councillor Ron Hall and David Pibworth (public attendee), who all recalled that the mechanism of said timepiece had disappeared in mysterious circumstances some 24 years ago before it was ever installed and was never seen again.

    Next Council Meeting

    The next meeting will be held on Monday, April 8th, 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 at townclerk@olneytowncouncil.gov.uk.

  • May 2024 Issue (April 2024 meeting)

    Mercury Report for April 2024

    Wheelie bins rolled into the conversation again at Olney Town Council’s monthly meeting. But this time it wasn’t the new red and blue bins that were the cause of some heated exchanges, but the good old-fashioned black and green ones.

    Apologies for absence and declarations of interest

    There were no requests from members of the pubic to speak so Mayor Debbie Whitworth moved immediately to apologies for absence on the agenda. Councillors Ian Stokes and Naomi Brock were unable to attend and had sent their apologies. Councillor David Tyler was also absent – but Clerk Jane Brushwood had not heard from him by the start of the meeting.
    There were no declarations of interest from anyone so the Mayor asked for approval of the minutes from the last meeting, held on 4th March. Everyone seemed happy with what they had read and Mary Prosser was pleased to propose the approval while James Cooper seconded.

    Ward Councillor’s Report

    Councillor Keith McLean was in attendance to deliver the news from MK Council as his colleague Peter Geary was tied up with other council business elsewhere. Indeed, Keith’s night wasn’t going to be over after the OTC meeting – he had another gathering to go to following it.
    Since the last meeting, a few major items have come up, said Keith. The new City Plan discussions have been ‘active’ he added. But no decisions have been made yet, he added, to no surprise to anyone around the table. There’s still a consultation going on, and certain landowners have put their areas forward, he added. It should have been wrapped up in March, said Keith, but unfortunately we won’t see anything until June as (at the time of the meeting) we are in ‘purdah’ when sensitive political items can not be discussed with the local elections looming.
    A new MK Connect ‘zoning system’ scheme had just started, continued Keith. It’s a plan that means the MK Connect buses run in zones rather than across the whole MK area. He said he had ‘popped over’ to Newport Pagnell that day at about 11am, and someone there told him that there had been no incoming MK Connect buses at all. Keith said he had also heard that there were problems with the service’s booking system.
    I’m not surprised it hasn’t gone smoothly, he said with a shrug of the shoulders and the look of a seasoned pro who has seen all manner of delays, debacles and disappointments throughout his illustrious council career.
    He said he had asked for statistics to ‘see what has happened’, adding that local people had told him they use MK Connect to get to work and that they were very worried. The ward councillor added that he would be waiting to see what the bus company’s reaction was.
    He said people have to consider not only getting to their destinations but getting back again too and they would have to consider ‘when the last bus runs’.
    With buses done, it was time for the subject of black bins to come up, particularly about them being collected fortnightly. There has been ‘activity’ on social media about the bins, said Keith, adding that the matter ‘was discussed’ at Milton Keynes Council level.
    What was? The Mayor jumped in suddenly. The possibility of the collection of black and green bins going to fortnightly, replied Keith. They were talking about going fortnightly, and those proposals are something that they would consider. So, it’s not pie in the sky, he reiterated, it was discussed at a formal MK council committee.
    I have also been asked about what’s called street cleansing or roadside cleansing, of the A509, the A422 and the B-roads, said Keith. I keep being told that it’s coming, and some of the verges have been cut from Olney up to Emberton. The challenge that I have is that those roads have 40 and 50 mph speed limits, and they are declared to be safe, whereas you can’t cut verges that are 60 mph routes unless you have traffic management which means you have to close the road.
    He added that he was disappointed that the work had not started. I’m confident those roads will be treated but I don’t know when, he said.
    The Mayor picked him up on the bins report. I hear what you’re saying about the bin collections and that report was a council officer’s report at full council in Milton Keynes, she conceded. There was a ‘but’ coming.
    But it’s not actually policy, there’s obviously speculation and lots of residents are getting concerned about it.
    About what? It was Keith’s turn to jump in.
    About the bins, said the Mayor, going fortnightly. It is a report by a council officer, but it’s not been taken forward, so I think it’s best to leave it there.
    Keith smiled wryly and did what the Mayor suggested: he left it there. And so did everyone else – there followed a long and awkward silence as everyone was again left to consider the thorny subject of bin collection.
    James Cooper thought MK Connect is an example of how something has been ‘thought about’ but ‘not thought about’. People aren’t sure what to expect, he said. It seems a bit strange to change something that’s working into something that’s not working.
    The Mayor reiterated that residents who do have any issues with the service should tell ward councillors who have been instructed to report directly back to MK Council who will look into them. We have been told today that they could look to pull the trial, she added ominously.
    Is this new MK Connect scheme a trial period? asked Chris Tennant. Yes it is, said the Mayor but I myself, I have to get an MK Connect to Newport Pagnell and then get another bus (to Milton Keynes). We have lots of residents who have hospital appointments, for example.
    And on the bins, said Chris, checking his notes. Everyone looked round at him in horror – oh, not the dreaded bins again? Obviously, there is a lot of consultation over the changes from the old system to the new system. You would hope there would be a lot more consultation on the fortnightly plan rather than just an officer’s report. So, we should take that with a pinch of salt.
    What’s the time frame for MK Connect? asked Dan Rowland. It hasn’t been published, but it’s a six-month trial, Keith replied. And the data from that will help to form the tender document for the new service that will start in 2025. That will be very tight for time though, he warned, but I’m sure officers are considering their options.
    And residents are urged to contact any of the ward councillors or customer services if they are having any issues, reiterated the Mayor.

    Roman coins

    Local historian Rachel Lewis was present to give an account of her work at the ancient Roman find alongside the construction site for the new Aldi store. More details are given on her private study on page 34 of this issue of Phonebox, but Rachel explained to interested councillors that she had been given access to the site and had also received artefacts from MK Museum, which she was able to split between Olney’s schools.
    There’s a lot of data here that will come out in the future, and because I went to school here, I thought it was right that the schools got something back. In return, she had made 1800 replica Roman dinaris, which were being made available to school children in the town. She thanked the council for their support.
    Rachel was thanked by the council for her work and research of Roman history in the town and received a warm round of applause for her efforts.
    Colin Rodden once again stated that he was sorry that developers had buried the Roman mosaic – he has long been a critic of that decision – but he added that he had reassurances from English Heritage that there will be representations about the ancient findings once the supermarket has been built and finished.

    PCSO’s report

    New PCSO Connor Braddish had sent the report, and Clerk Jane Brushwood read out the list. It appeared to be a little ‘assault’ heavy this month – there had been 21 of them, seven with injury and 14 without. The Clerk added that there were also five burglaries (two business and three residential), three cases of criminal damage, four of harassment, two malicious communications, six shopliftings, four thefts and two car or motorbike thefts. Among non-crime-related items were two suspicious persons.
    Deirdre Bethune asked why the crime report was not given to councillors before the meeting started. The Mayor explained that they like to read out the figures during the meeting so that the public (and therefore Mercury) gets to hear what’s been going on in Olney’s shady underworld of crime.

    Expenditure report

    All of you had those, said the Mayor, looking down at her report. Let’s take expenses first, she said, without a hint of irony. Everyone looked at the expenses sheet without much conversation. It looks as if the council is running up a significant operating loss, said Chris Tennant, because of the works we are doing at the Olney Centre. And we continue to report that we are, he added.
    The Clerk allayed everyone’s fears. In the next couple of weeks, we will have about £250,000 coming through the door, she said. But unfortunately, it will be after the year end so it will look disastrous. But, she added, year by year we are very similar. If you took out S106 income and expenditure, let alone what’s due to come in and what has been spent in advance, we are only £2000 different from last year.

    Updates on S106 spending

    James Cooper asked about the Yardley Manor building plans. They are due to start in May and are finishing by the first quarter of 2025, replied the Clerk. Someone had also asked me about the play area there, she added. That has been commissioned and will be finished by May.
    And Johnson’s Field? James pressed. I had a meeting with Laura Clancy, MK Council’s project development manager, and she is gathering all the information together for all the different areas, said the Clerk. She has to justify how she spends the money.

    Water pollution working group

    The Mayor said she and the working group were due to have a meeting with MK Council about the state of the local river. The big shock, she said, was that it’s the worst it has ever been for E.coli and the Ouse was now considered among the top five worst rivers in the country for being polluted. It’s considered very serious and unsafe to go in certain parts of the water, she added. Testing has been delayed in our area, said the Mayor, due to the flooding, but it will be restarted soon. Milton Keynes Council officials will be meeting with Environmental Services and the Environment Agency to discuss next steps.
    A clearly shocked Chris Tennant wanted clarification. You say that the river is among the top five worst in the country? he asked incredulously. Yes, said the Mayor, adopting the tone of a High Court judge passing a death sentence. Well, that’s awful replied Chris, getting the vote for understatement of the night. According to the river report the Ouse is as bad as the Thames now, James Cooper dropped in cheerfully.
    Chris was still reeling. Are we mindful of future river-based activities he said, presumably thinking of this year’s annual Raft Race. Yes, came the Mayor’s reply.

    Ex-football club

    It’s all going to plan said the Clerk. We are where we need to be (on plans), but we need to know the funding. It’s a little bit chasing our tails at the moment. The planned toilets at the end of the building are going to cost more than £100,000 she said. I am really keen to pursue that because the current toilet block down at the Rec is not fit for purpose now, especially with Olney’s growing community.
    We had a JUG (Joint User Group) meeting and reached out to all the clubs down there and none had any objections to having a new toilet block there, she said. It was agreed that the toilets should be incorporated into the current building plans and the application process for the new sports building, she added. In terms of cost, the council have to look at what they actually need and what they don’t need.
    James Cooper started to explain the technical details of the building’s walls and cladding and how it’s all put together, but the Clerk was having none of that. Well, that’s for the experts she interjected, we are meeting with them next week.
    Councillor Cooper hadn’t finished. Well, I probably know more about building design and what goes into it than most people around this table, he said proudly. But that didn’t impress the Clerk. I’m not professing to know anything about it, she replied. I’m asking the experts. Well, be aware of experts, that’s all I would say, James added, somewhat cryptically.
    Would it be worth having Jim in the meeting? asked Chris Tennant, thinking he was being helpful. The Clerk shot Chris a withering glare. To be honest, it is an initial meeting, she said. It’s about discussing the different options there, so I don’t think there’s any point at this stage. We’ll look into it in more detail later.
    The storage space there – is that for various clubs to use the facilities, asked Ron Hall. Yes, said the Mayor. The fishing club said they have 650 members and were saying they were desperate for storage, said Debbie Hall. Well, I’ve already spoken to them about it, said the Clerk. The existing toilet block will become partly a Men’s Sheds Association charity space and partly for use by the fishing club. If they want to have a meeting space, they can use the new building like any other club or party or individual. No one person is going to have exclusive right to it, she added.

    Tennis club and padel court

    More sport followed and it was the turn of the local tennis courts and a potential padel court. The tennis club want to change their fencing, which is going to improve their clubhouse, but they need to be more definitive regarding the fencing, said the Clerk. They also mentioned a padel court, which has gone to Recs and Services and the JUG. Nothing is set in stone, again it’s just a wish list.
    The Clerk explained what a padel court is. It’s a cross between a tennis and a squash court. The ball goes off the wall and you can carry on playing without having to go and get the ball, so it’s more encouraging for children. If you look at a map of where padel courts are, it’s north of London, and then it’s Derby, and there’s nothing in between.
    So, this is why it was brought to me, added the Clerk. Are we keen to carry on doing it? Any sports we can get in Olney is probably good for the town. So where do we put it? The plan was to have it near the tennis courts and the MUGA (Multi Use Games Area). It doesn’t interfere with anybody, so how do we feel about it?
    Deirdre Bethune said that the one important thing was that it was see-through. There were objections to a cricket pavilion scheme there previously because it would change the look down towards the river, she said. Even though it’s glass you won’t be able to see as easily, she added.
    I think it’s a good idea, said Mary Prosser, with children getting their eye in with all sports, it would bring creation. Yes, it’s a good idea – just where to put it? added James Cooper.
    If the club can’t get the money together for it, said the Clerk, is this something that we would be prepared to try to invest in for the tennis club and for the town? Have we got a problem with putting one there? And if the club are not prepared to put one there would we be prepared to? The proposal that the padel court be put in the tennis court vicinity was approved in principle. The revised layout of the tennis court’s fencing was also approved.
    And with that, it was game, set and match for the meeting.

    Next Council Meeting

    The next meeting will be held on Monday 13th May, 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.

  • June 2024 (May 2024 meeting)

    May Council Meeting

    The first meeting of the Council Year is known as the Annual Meeting of Olney Town Council (OTC), not to be confused with the Annual Town (Public) Meeting, and is largely given over to administrative functions, such as electing a new Mayor and Deputy Mayor, reviewing the membership of sub-committees and reviewing standing orders and procedural and financial regulations.

    A standard council term is four years, although the current council had served three years, owing to the previous council having run for five years due to the Covid pandemic, and an election was therefore due to be held in May of this year.

    Councillors Ron Hall, Debbie Hall, and Naomi Brock had all stood down. No one else had put themselves forward for election, which meant that all existing members who wished to remain on the council continued to do so, and no election was necessary.

    This was in marked contrast to the events of 2021 when there were a large number of candidates and most of the existing councillors had either stood down or lost their seats, although few of the new councillors remained for very long and their resignations were either filled by co-option, by-election or remained vacant.

    The council now consists of Chris Tennant, Christina Diamandopoulos, Colin Rodden, Dan Rowland, David Tyler, Debbie Whitworth, Deirdre Bethune, Ian Stokes, Jim Cooper, and Mary Prosser (and later Chris Shaw).

    Public Participation

    There was no one wishing to speak at this month’s meeting. Perhaps everyone was storing up issues to take to the Annual Town (Public) Meeting the following Friday, mused Mercury somewhat optimistically.

    Election of Mayor and Deputy Mayor

    Deirdre Bethune proposed Debbie Whitworth for Mayor, and Mary Prosser seconded. Is there anyone else wishing to stand asked Debbie? Silence. Is there anyone there asked Deirdre? Still silence, so in the absence of any other candidate, Debbie was elected without a vote, and she accepted.
    For the role of Deputy Mayor, Debbie proposed Mary Prosser, and Deirdre seconded. Jim Cooper suggested the absent Chris Tennant. Has he shown an interest? asked Town Clerk Jane Brushwood. No, admitted Jim. In that case we can’t accept the nomination responded Jane, although she said she recognised that Chris is a very valued councillor.
    Mary was therefore also elected unopposed.

    Apologies for absence and declarations of interest

    Colin Rodden and Chris Tennant had sent apologies. Dan Rowland was not present and had not sent his apologies, although he arrived later, having been unavoidably delayed. Nobody declared an interest.

    Co-option of new member

    Chris Shaw had previously been a co-opted member of OTC from July 2014 to the election in May 2016, when he had stood down. Chris said he moved to Olney in 1992 and had lived in the town or surrounding villages since then. He has had 40 years of professional experience in the property market and social housing, and since Olney is expanding, whether it wants to or not, he said the council needed expertise in that area. He has also had experience in the charity sector as a trustee of the MK Parks Trust and chair of a care home charity with local and national care homes and is currently a trustee of the MK Community Foundation. Chris was unanimously elected and took his seat at the table.
    Note: This still leaves four vacancies on the council during a time of rapid expansion for Milton Keynes so if any resident would like to offer themselves for co-option please contact the Town Clerk at townclerk@olneytowncouncil.gov.uk or visit the council office in The Olney Centre.

    Annual business

    This consisted of a review of the following items:

    a. To review the Scheme of Delegation and Terms of Reference
    b. Appointment of Members to Committees
    c. To review and adopt the Standing Orders
    d. To review and adopt the Financial Regulations
    e. Review the inventory of land and other assets including buildings and office equipment.
    f. Confirmation of arrangements for insurance cover in respect to all insurable risks.
    g. Review of the Council’s and/or staff subscriptions to other bodies.
    h. Review of the Council’s complaints procedures.
    i. Review of the Council’s policies, procedures and practices in respect to its obligations under freedom of information and data protection legislation.
    j. Review the Council’s policy for dealing with the press/media
    k. Review the Council’s employment policies and procedures.
    l. Determining the time and place of ordinary meetings of the Council up to and including the next annual meeting of the Council.

    The makeup of the various committees will remain the same, minus the members who have stood down, meaning that some will struggle to be quorate. Deirdre Bethune noted that there was no mention of the Annual Town Meeting in the Standing Orders, although it is a statuary obligation to hold one between 1st March and 1st June. Deirdre proposed that the Standing Orders be amended to state that it will normally be held each May, except in an election year when it will be held in April, i.e. before the election, so that the council can present reports for the previous year. She noted that this hadn’t happened this year, and as a result the council no longer had a Chair of Finance to report at the forthcoming Town Meeting. The proposal was agreed.

    To Approve the draft AGAR for submission

    AGAR stands for Annual Governance and Accountability Return. The AGAR is a set of documents and financial statements that local councils are required to prepare and submit each year. It is an essential part of the external audit process. The Clerk explained that this is then subject to an internal order before being reviewed by the Finance Committee and then full council before submission to the external auditor. All this must be done before 1st July, but the internal auditor has been unable to complete the task due to a family bereavement, but it was now underway.
    The meeting closed 19 minutes after it started, which is incredibly brief in Mercury’s experience.

    Post-meeting odds and sods

    Although the meeting was now closed the Clerk reminded councillors that the beacon on Barnfield would be lit at 9.15pm on the evening of 6th June to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
    Ian Stokes noted that the problems of antisocial behaviour on the Rec had started with the recent hot weather. There had been comments on social media asking what OTC was going to do about it, he said, but last year when the council had asked for volunteers to act as marshals residents had not supported them. This will be an agenda item at next month’s meeting.

    Next Council Meeting

    The next meeting will be held on Monday 3rd 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 any time the mayor deems appropriate, please contact the Town Clerk, townclerk@olneytowncouncil.gov.uk.

    Annual Town Meeting

    The Annual Town Meeting will be held on Friday 17th May. Read all about it below.

  • June - Olney Town Meeting

    Annual Town Meeting Summary

    Attendance

    When there are any contentious matters to be aired by the town then we can expect a packed hall so with all things relatively calm in Olney in recent times there was a small but friendly crowd of mainly stalwarts of the town to hear the great and good of Olney have their twopenny worth.

    The Ann Hopkins Trust (The Alms Houses, Weston Road, Olney)

    First to speak was David Chennells representing the Ann Hopkins Trust (or more commonly known as) who run the Alms Houses Weston Road Olney. I certainly didn’t know that it was nonprofit making in that no actual rent is charged to tenants except funds to cover costs of maintaining the buildings. Unsurprisingly there is a waiting list of 17. David gave particular thanks to Betsy Williams, a trustee who is always on hand to keep an eye on the tenants and their needs.

    Cobbs Garden Surgery

    Dr Chris Herman from Cobbs Garden Surgery spoke about where the surgery was at now in terms of staffing with at present 4 doctors and various ancillary staff. Chris acknowledged the help from the Patient Participation Group and Olney is Kind. Both of which are making a tremendous difference to Olney.
    The story of when and where they will ever get planning permission for a new surgery off East Street rumbles on with various roadblocks in the way. Chris lamented the fact that with new housing and the new care home the need for a new surgery was critical. It seems the mantra infrastructure before (homes) has been cast aside.

    The Mayor, Debbie Whitworth

    Debbie Whitworth, Mayor of Olney at various points in the evening referred to the achievements of the town. Debbie mentioned the Community Fridge which has saved 7 tons of food going to landfill.

    The allotments where bulk containers and rainwater harvesters have been provided.

    The community orchard has seen the mass planting of trees and crocuses.

    The recreation ground is always a concern due to concerns re the quality of the river water and the OTC is working with the Fishing Association to tackle and reduce sewage in the water.

    The ex-football club is is to be a community building and is undergoing extensive works, particularly the planning of new toilets.

    The Olney centre has had many improvements in the past year and more space has been made available to Olney Pre School.

    Finance - Although there appears to be an overspend it is because of the delay in waiting for 106 monies. In general income is up and expenditure is down.

    Future works: the play areas in Olney which are in bad shape- there is work starting soon and hopefully will mostly be completed by the school summer holidays.

    The Olney centre in conjunction with MIND are hopefully starting a youth club for after school. Volunteers needed who are DBS checked.

    Aldi is due to open in August.

    There are CPR and DeFib training sessions coming up soon.

    The Olney Centre

    Deirdre Bethune talked about the Olney centre improvements, Dickens of a Christmas (footfall down a little due to the weather but steady trade). HR- there was a good team of staff headed up by the Town Clerk Jane Brushwood.

    The Development Group

    Report from the Development Group referred to the neighbourhood plan and how it affects Olney with the various suggested sites for building new houses or facilities.

    Olney is Kind

    Naomi Brock from Olney is Kind talked about their work with the Patient Participation Group and the new initiatives to help fund services at Cobbs Garden Surgery that would not be funded by the NHS. These include funding for a nurse for the elderly as well as ante natal classes in Olney.
    Naomi made a plea for foster carers as there are 400 children in the MK area who need care and only 70 foster carers. Could you help?

    Cowper & Newton Museum

    Tom Jones from the Cowper & Newton Museum outlined the work of the museum which has international recognition with visitor numbers growing all the time. This has led to the need for new toilet facilities which are now in the planning stage.

    Newport Pagnell & Olney Lions

    Trevor Aldred from Newport & Olney Lions gave a summary of the events and fundraising the Lions have been involved in. These include marshalling events such as the Fireworks to organising events such as Motorama (this year is 9.5.24)

    David Phillipson talked about the 700-year anniversary of the church SS Peter & Paul, Olney which will be next year (28th June 2025 to 6th July 2025, See separate info in other articles in the Phonebox as and when.

    Keith McLean Ward Councillor outlined the fact that MK Council is consulting on the NEW City Plan with a report due out soon.

    700th Anniversary of St Peter & Paul church

    David Phillipson talked about the 700-year anniversary of the church SS Peter & Paul, Olney which will be next year (28th June 2025 to 6th July 2025, See separate info in other articles in the Phonebox as and when.

    Ward Councillors report

    Keith McLean Ward Councillor outlined the fact that MK Council is consulting on the NEW City Plan with a report due out soon.


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